By Jin Katkin
Feedback: Jin Katkin Series: XO, TOS/DS9 Pairing: Kirk/O'Brien Rating: Children will be confused, bigots will be offended, slashers will be disappointed. Archive: KFF, ascem, I guess, if you want it. Disclaimer: Paramount owns 'em! Paramount owns 'em all! This story will not affect my status as penniless college student!
*** EDWARD BEAR ***
"Ow," he said, before he was awake, and the sound pulled him up through that last dull red barrier to consciousness. "Could we possibly get through one week without playing SuperCaptain GreatWhiteGoldenGalacticHero-Man?" he added, and opened his eyes.
There was one forlorn and rather straggly orange sunbeam trickling through the hot stones above and around him, reassuring him about his oxygen supply. They looked like they were made of styrofoam. He prodded at one experimentally. Stone, definitely, and not styrofoam. But there was a definite possibility that his luck had held; the texture suggested pumice. He might be able to get out.
But what was he doing in a pile of pumice? He tried to sit up a little, which was a serious mistake. His back screamed at him, and his legs tingled warningly, and he lay back down with a thud. He remembered, now, and opened his mouth. He began, "Picard, you…" and ended several minutes later with, "didn't anyone ever show you how to check for a pulse?"
Some notable agony later, he was still half-buried in pumice. He was, however, developing a nice tan on his face and hands, and his communicator had fallen in on him. He was astonished that no one had bothered to steal it. But then again, judging from the fact that only the mountains had answered his calls, this was a decidedly lonely place.
On the other hand, it was a damn good communicator. After he'd fried the batteries on two of the old hand-held versions in order to pull down a cliff (he'd had an excellent excuse), Security had refused to let him off the ship unless his communicators were able to photosynthesize. The solar chip barely showed, and it had been useful once or twice. It looked likely to be useful now; the only things he had any amount of at the moment were pumice, sand, and sun.
He started out with excellent intentions, saying his name over and over into the communicator, calling for any ship in the area to come pick him up. He soon got bored with that, and began on a filibuster of galactic proportions. First he recited the Federation code into his communicator, and annotated it. Then he thought he'd see how far he could get with the American Constitution and Hammurabi's Law. He was halfway through the Annals of Surak when it began to get dark.
By the end of the next day, his communicator was well-instructed in the text of the New Testament and the Torah, and had a fair idea of the principles of the Koran. The day after that, it learned everything Confucius had ever said, and thought it knew the Tao by heart, as well as numerous passages from Shakespeare and practically the whole of Hamlet, King Lear, and Much Ado About Nothing.
On the fourth day, the communicator was bored out of its nonexistent mind, since it wasn't really interested in tactics. After all, it was a device for the betterment of communication, not aggression. But it received no mercy until the fifth day, when he switched to poetry and music. His voice was pretty well shot by then, and had the communicator not possessed a tin ear it would have been in a great deal of aesthetic pain. Halfway through the Mikado, though, it was put out of its stolid metal misery in a wash of blue and gold.
He felt afterwards that he should have known who the figure on the stretcher was before he even saw him. After all, irritating as Bashir could be, he usually waited for people to get into sickbay before telling them what bad patients they were. And even for those conversations, a scolding bedside manner was generally preferred over frustrated howls. Shouting, Bashir avowed, tended to upset the patients. He didn't seem to be overworried about this one, though.
They whizzed through the halls, nearly flattening his repair team, leaving behind them the impression of a purple-faced physician and a wide grin on the face of someone who belonged neither in sickbay nor on a stretcher.
The orderly trudged by a little later, looking dazed.
There was an awed silence from his repair team in the wake of this odd procession. He could hardly blame them. One more corroded circuit on a station as old as Deep Space Nine held no candle to a Bashir who had blown his cool over a patient. Still, he resented having to promise them any details he found out from his friend later, and he was not pleased that even after he'd promised their performance suffered. He'd take it out of Julian's hide later.
Quark's was stuffed. It seemed even worse than usual, although it probably wasn't. He might even have called it a good turnout, lucky Quark, but absolutely everyone he shoved past simply had to confirm that yes, he had served on the Enterprise under Picard, and yes, they'd won the bet, well done, he was indeed very glad that he hadn't gone on that last mission with them. He briefly considered staying off the ale tonight, since alcohol seemed to have made an idiot even of Dax. After being 'consoled' for the loss of his old ship for the eleventh time that night, however, he decided to stick with his original plan.
Bashir was sitting at the bar, looking as though his genetic enhancements had not assisted his skill at mood control. So he took pity on the poor, stressed little doctor, and ordered his drink before demanding answers.
His question, though admirably tactless, was not met with a snarl, nor even a groan. He was disappointed. Then Julian's head slowly lowered into his long hands, and began lurching wearily from side to side.
Suddenly Julian slanted his face at him. "Why do starship captains think universal laws don't apply to them?"
He didn't see how this was relevant, but Julian was looking so pitiful that he thought he'd go along with it. "Captain Sisko giving you trouble about his physical?"
*"No.* A man comes into my sickbay undernourished, battered, concussed, sunstruck, paralyzed from the waist down, with infected cuts all over his arms where he's been drinking his own blood to fight off dehydration and it barely *worked* and his throat practically bleeding from talking nonstop into his communicator for days without any water. And he wants to be an outpatient and allowed to walk around! And he won't let me give him any IVs!"
"Sounds like a rotten patient," he sympathized.
"And you're scarcely better," growled the doctor, getting sidetracked.
He widened his eyes. "What'd I do now?"
"Nothing," Julian returned, his dire tone robbing the words of any conciliatory power, "yet."
Abandoning valor, he asked, "Can you fix him?"
There was that snarl he'd been waiting for. "Of course I can fix him! But only if he cooperates."
"So let him up, he'll fall down, and there's an end to it."
"He'd just crawl to the bridge on his hands and knees and demand quarters from Captain Sisko directly," was the gloomy prediction. "He'd get them, too."
"Oh, come on," Miles scoffed. "Starship captains are smarter than that."
Julian grimly finished his drink. It had looked like whiskey. "This one is possessed of pigheadedness of legendary proportions."
"How long'd it take you to come up with that one?" he asked, really interested, and received a glowering silence for his pains. He ordered Julian another drink.
Once Bashir had been relubricated, he had a mild explosion. "What I don't understand," said he waving his cup around sloshily, "What I don't understand is why?"
"Because he's stubborn?"
"No, no, I'm talking about something else, now."
"Don't follow you."
"Well, look. Dr. McCoy's old enough to be an ancestor's ancestor and he's comfortably raising hell back on earth. Ambassador Spock came back from the dead and he's off being subversive on Romulus. Your Captain Scott-"
"He's not my Captain Scott!"
"You lied for him, didn't you? There you are. He got hung up in that transporter loop thing and now he's godsknowhere doing godsknowhat with godsknowho. Now this. What is the *matter* with that crew?" His voice rose on a note of increasing anguish. "Why can't they just STAY DEAD?"
Miles grinned, and passed his ale over. "Ever read about King Arthur? Maybe we need them."
Julian stared at him flatly. "I do not want to think about us in a situation where we need that man. One of my Bajoran nurses threatened to resign."
"What'd he do, pinch her from his stretcher?"
"No, knocked him off balance and handcuffed him with the IV tube so that any way he moved he'd get a wristful of saline solution. To which he is allergic. He won't resign, of course, but I had to talk to him for nearly an hour. He said it wasn't an occupational hazard."
Miles laughed. It choked off suddenly. "Wait a minute, what do you mean, 'now this?'"
The bronze man who followed Julian into Quark's was doing something with his shoulders. On someone else it might have looked introverted, or even shy, but on him it merely looked unnatural and furtive, as though he were hiding in his own skin. They sat down next to him. The bronze man stopped in the middle of a polite nod to stare narrowly at him, broad shoulders slipping back into a more natural-looking position. "I don't know, sir," he growled in a remembering tenor.
Miles nearly fell off his stool.
The hazel glare widened into amusement, and he turned away--to order his drink, of course. "A glass of--" he started, then caught Julian's warning glance in his periphery. "A glass of kava juice, he finished on a sigh. By this time Miles, having composed himself, was apparently fair game again. "I don't know, sir," he repeated, swinging back to confront him with an expectantly pleasant little half-smile.
"I can't *believe* you remember that," Miles blurted.
"I always remember when people lie to me," he was assured, that terrifying little smile still in evidence. "And you look just the same." He took his viscous blue juice from an oblivious Quark, sipped it, made a face, and added, "Only with less hair gel."
Julian nudged him, and teased under his breath, "You should be honored, Chief, he still hasn't recognized me."
"You didn't lie to him," O'Brien returned in a furious whisper.
"You seemed quite happy about it at the time," Julian pointed out.
Their conversation seemed to be the most interesting thing the bronze man had ever seen.
"Would y'just *shut up,* Julian?"
The smile quirked, and he generously turned around to scan Quark's. "Positively seething with humanity," he murmured in the tone of quotation. They followed his gaze across the crowd to where Worf and Odo had banded together to interfere in an argument between Garak, silently snickering beneath his polished innocence, and a knot of apoplectic Klingons in bright orange and cerise outside the tailor's shop. They glanced back at their seatmate. He looked as though he meant it. Thoughtfully, he commented, "I don't think it's quite their color. Maybe the one on the end. But I don't think that's his face's usual shade, so I could easily be wrong." While they were still trying to figure out how serious he was, he turned back to them and said, "I wonder what they're so angry about?"
Julian gaped at him. Miles cracked up. The man's earnest face relaxed into a satisfied grin, 'Gotcha' evident in every muscle. "I don't think we've been introduced," he hinted oh-so-subtly to Bashir.
Julian picked his jaw up of the floor. "Um, our Chief of Engineering, Miles Edward O'Brien," he waved grandly.
"Miles Edward O'Brien?" the man who needed no introduction asked incredulously. "*Edward O'Brien?*"
"Is something wrong with my name?" O'Brien asked guardedly, not sure whether to bristle or change it.
"Well, yeah! What were your parents thinking?"
"What's the matter?"
"Edward O'Brien? Are you kidding? Listen, there are seven Irish faces, and you have exactly the wrong one for a name like that. Why didn't they just call you Theodore Bruin?"
Julian's eyes widened with unholy glee. "Teddy bear!" he howled.
Quark shot him a harassed look, but dutifully hurried over with a curvy glass of maroon liquid with a clear straw in it. They all stared at it warily, then at his short retreating back. Kirk cast them a solemn glance, then reached forward with the courage for which he was famed and brought the straw to his lips. They watched him swallow. He looked bemused. "Raspberry soda with honey?" Then his eyebrows shot up, and he said, "Oh. Rum. Nope. No, that doesn't work," and changed it for his juice. "So, would either of you gentlemen care to explain what you were doing on my ship over a century ago?" Although he spoke no expletive, they heard one, sandwiched cozily between 'a' and 'century.'
O'Brien winced. Realizing that he was taking his life into his hands, he nonetheless asked Bashir, "D'you think we're allowed to tell him?"
"I don't see why not," Bashir reasoned. "It's not as though telling him would change the timeline."
They turned back to him, and his patient expression pulled the whole tribbling story out of them, complete with Yeoman Watkins in the sickbay and the lightswitch incident in the corridor.
He was grinning behind his glass before they were through. "Wait, wait, you saved my life, and the station, helped us prevent a major diplomatic concession and stuck up for Scotty? But that means I have to forgive you," he complained. "Damnit, I'm finally disentangled from regs, Nogura's dead--he is dead?"
"Admiral Nogura. He was the C-in-C for most of my service stretch?"
"I'd be real surprised if he wasn't, sir."
"Yes! Nogura's out of the picture, I'm not even in Fleet anymore, and my first real chance for a really interesting revenge on someone is thwarted by military protocol."
Julian blinked at him. "How so?"
Kirk sent him a not-very-patient look. "I can hardly rake someone over the coals for gratuitous loyalty to someone who was loyal to me, now, can I?"
"No?" Miles ventured hopefully.
"No," he repeated firmly. "I can get even, of course, but revenge would be overkill. And I think that giving your friend that teddy-bear idea is quite enough justice for one night. See? Thwarted." He sighed gloomily into his juice, took a long drink, made a truly original face, and smirked at them.
They looked at each other. "I'm not touching that one," Julian said unnecessarily.
"Well, don't look at me," Miles protested.
"But you could always make it up to me," Kirk interrupted firmly.
As one, they turned back to look at him, and then each other. Taking comfort from the fact that Julian was as nervous as he was, Miles asked, "What'd you have in mind?"
Kirk rolled his eyes. "I've been on my back for three days. I've had it up to here with newsvids. I don't know anyone here. Drinking juice in a bar has not been exciting since I was twelve. I'm bored."
"We could take him to the holodeck," O'Brien offered.
Julian slapped his arm. "Miles! He's just getting over a fractured vertebrae, among other things. We are not taking him onto the holodeck!"
In the end they played darts with him, much to Julian's consternation. Miles eventually made them both stand back. When they started playing math-darts, Miles sat down and announced, "Winner buys me a good stiff drink."
Kirk shot him a smile that was half conspiratorial, half commiserating. "That would be you," he told Julian. "Math is not my strong suit."
"Unlike darts," Julian observed. Miles suspected that Kirk thought he sounded snide. Strangers usually did, when faced with Julian failing to be clever.
He didn't seem to mind. "I grew up on the border of the American Midwest and the Great Plains," he explained, "in a town that hadn't heard of the Industrial Revolution. I can play stickball and marbles and mumblety-peg, too, and I was making toy bows and arrows before I ever saw a computer. What's your excuse?"
"I just have excellent hand-eye coordination, that's all. Um, the digits of pi."
Kirk was obviously unimpressed. "You know, doctor, once we tried to get something resembling a demon out of our computer by telling it to tell us the value of pi. It blew us a raspberry. I have always maintained that humans are smarter than machines in several very important ways. Now, some people don't agree with me, but--"
"All right, all right, just the first three digits, then. In order."
"Of course. But, to return to the topic, that's an observation, not a reason."
Julian hesitated. "I've heard that you're good at holding grudges," Miles jumped in, rescuing him.
Kirk stopped aiming and looked at him. "A little too good, sometimes. Why?"
"Do you still have a grudge against Khan Noonian Singh?"
"No, he's dead. It would be pointless. Why? Oh," he exclaimed before anyone could answer. "You're a changeling? I take it you worked out better than he did, or Fleet wouldn't let you practice. You know, my first officer was a changeling. I'm not sure he realized that, and I'm damn sure no one else did, but they did a hell of a lot of tweaking to his genetic code just to get him breathing. I thought they must have; a natural child of Vulcan and Terra is about as likely as the natural child of a human and an artichoke. Then I asked his mother, and I was right. There! Um, add your scores to get sixty-four."
Julian looked at him, bewildered. As Miles had often thought privately, it was a good look on him. "You're not upset?"
Kirk looked back dryly, and as though he had expected a little more brain. "I've had megalomaniacs try to take over my ship who weren't genetically engineered. Nor was genetic engineering what killed Spock; a torpedo did that. Besides, we got him back." Julian flubbed his first shot, probably out of sheer relief, getting twenty-five points instead of fifty. "Did you do that to get out of buying O'Brien's drink, or were you actually worried?" Kirk asked innocently.
Julian glared and refused to answer.
Miles was enjoying his friend's discomfort immensely, but he felt sorry for anyone caught by a trick question from James T. Kirk. "Go for another one, Julian, then you can get a fourteen."
"I know that," Julian snapped ungratefully.
Kirk raised his eyebrows and reached out casually to snag Quark's jacket as he passed. "Can you get tea in this place?" he asked the indignant Ferengi.
Quark was vocally offended by the insult to his stock.
"Fine, fine. Does he drink it?"
Quark followed his finger to the doctor, who was fully occupied in his darts, and suddenly got confidential. "Oh, our Dr. Bashir drinks only Tarkalean tea, which for you we're practically giving away at--"
Kirk yanked him close. The contact with Ferengi breath didn't seem to bother him any more than the state of Julian's genes. "Do not," he advised coldly, "try to bilk me. I am here for the company, not the drinks, and I don't need to give you any business at all. Now you will get me sweet black Terran tea with mint and chamomile in it for three people, and you will give it to me at cost."
After three minutes of acid bargaining (wherein Quark protested that he'd be cutting his own throat and Kirk allowed that since suicide was illegal he'd be happy to relieve the Ferengi of the necessity) the tea came, at almost the same price they could have gotten it for anywhere else. Miles was impressed.
When Julian sat down to drink, it was plainly only common courtesy that kept him from refilling his cup with what he'd taken from it in the first moment. He glared speechlessly at Kirk, round-eyed and near sputtering. "Chamomile? I do not need to be put to bed!"
"No," Kirk agreed, a touch of steel peeking through his amiable demeanor, "but you do need to calm down." It was very definitely a command voice, and a Dabo girl turned to look at them. She apparently couldn't differentiate between an English accent and an Eastern Standard one, for she sat straight down in Bashir's lap, which effectively took care of him until Garak appeared out of nowhere beside him, giving the girl a hand up with one of his patented creepy-but-polite smiles.
Something about this scene, not an unusual one, made Kirk laugh out loud and send a grin Garak's way that made Miles think a fuse was flaring before burnout. It was a warm laugh, almost entirely happy. Garak looked at him with what Miles privately called his rattler look; the one that said 'back off before I strike.' Kirk just grinned wider and brighter, and said, "Did you know that I am a great admirer of your groundbreaking work in Klingon fashion design? Now, take him away, Master Craftsman." As Garak, placated, was bestowing a bow from the knobbed neck, the Dabo girl's lovely face took on an expression of enlightenment. As the tailor followed instructions, she sat down again, this time on Kirk's lap.
Miles watched them flirt with a growing sense of wistfulness. She was lovely, with her round cheeks and bright hair and brighter, almost primitive wench's costume. She gave him a sense of timelessness: the maiden bride, too young for her years and too old for her youth, wed to some laird twice her age--or five times, in this case. And he did look a laird, despite the old-fashioned Starfleet uniform that he sincerely hoped had seen better days. Miles could easily see him exercising droit d'seignor, and he couldn't see the ladies putting up much of a fight, either. Possibly the fathers, but then again, possibly not. He looked committed, sincere, even for such a random windfall as this. He said kind things, and she melted to them, and only common sense told Miles they were false. It would be easy to convince oneself of his honor, and easier still to avail oneself of his favor. Who wouldn't want to please a power like that?
And the girls, oh, the girls would love him, right enough. He wasn't so much to look at, when you used your eyes, but that odd rhythm to his voice could catch you up in it, and something was blazing in there somewhere. You could see it in the set of his shoulders, in the quick intakes of breath. His eyes were sharp and kind and utterly *there,* but nothing you could pin down, not at all. Not their color, not their attention, not even when you had it. The light caught this shade and that, green and grey and brown, and bubbles of a tan so pale it was nearly gold, all ringed with a thin band of black and shadowed by lids shaped as kniveblades. And they flitted, there and here and there again, and then they caught you by the throat and it was the lineup again, asking you a question, focused and intense and this time gentle, and the question was a moment but the moment was eternal.
And in the stunned aftermath of that limitless second, you saw him smile, dark and silent and cannier than you'd suspected, and shift in his seat, subtle, only shoulders and thighs and a purpose that belonged to you. And the winning lass squirmed obligingly, accommodating, and before you could squeeze a breath out of petrified lungs, the tall, porcelain bowl in one long, ivory hand held high was tipping, tipping, and liquid amber spilling out, tumbling in a descending arc and splashing all over and only over an old-fashioned Starfleet uniform that you sincerely hoped had seen better days.
And after she'd cried out and jumped up and flurried about with napkins and departed, furiously cursing her own clumsiness, there was no one else in the world.
Miles wet his lips and started to speak twice before he could get audible words out. "You meant to do that," he accused, and there was Garak's smile on that very human face, quiet and hidden, and sly promise. "What for?"
The smile shuttered, and the eyes dropped to the pooling tea. "I married a girl like her once. A woman, really, but still like her. Lori." He met Miles' gaze again, open and honest and a little deprecating. "It gets old. Besides, I just spent most of a century in a quicksand paradise. I don't want any more illusion. I want to be with a real person. I've been dead, or close enough, everyone I know is dead; nobody lives a hundred and fifty years. Now I want life, now I want real life."
He could have reminded him of the Vulcan on Romulus. He could have told him about McCoy, terrorizing everyone down at Starfleet Medical, or Scott, freed from the transporter loop. He could have told him about Keiko. Instead, he said, "I'll bet Julian didn't see to it you'd have quarters. You can clean up at my place," and he barely recognized his voice.
Kirk smiled again, deep instead of bright, and said, "I think I'll take you up on that."
*** End ***
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