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A Slow Ripening Fruit

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"Lift your arm up if you would, sir."

Commander Sisko sighed and lifted his arm. Bashir pretended not to notice the tension in his jaw--a sure sign that he was hiding his pain again.They'd been doing these checkups in Sisko's office since they'd returned from their eventful trip to Earth. Even a 21st century weapon could do enough damage to require prolonged treatments, especially so close to the heart.

"What sort of pain is it? Sharp or dull, would you say?"

"Dull," Sisko admitted with a frown. "But only when I lift my arm."

Bashir smiled tightly. "You may put it back down now. Have you been going to the holosuit for your stretches and exercises like I asked?"

"Yes." Sisko rolled his shoulder gingerly. Bashir lifted his eyebrows at him, which elicited another sigh. "Not every day. Twice this week. I'm a busy man, Doctor."

"And I'm the only one on this station that can give you orders, Commander. However... I'd prefer to just keep it a suggestion. It is only half an hour."

"All right." Sisko showed his palms in surrender, but the movement caused his jaw to clench again.

It was to be expected, but Bashir didn't like seeing anyone in pain. He'd been told he'd get used to it, but he certainly hadn't yet. "How about this? I'll put off your next check up for another week if you promise to do your stretches everyday."

"Deal." Sisko was pulling his uniform back into place. "Is that all?"

"Er, well. Just one more thing, if you don't mind..."

"By all means."

Bashir focused on putting away his equipment to avoid making eye contact. "Are you... well... How are you feeling since we've been back?"

Sisko tilted his head slightly. "Didn't we just go through that?"

"No, I mean. I didn't mean physically. But, well, it was quite an ordeal. Seeing Earth--seeing humanity in that state of... Well, it was rather disturbing, wasn't it?"

Sisko was at his desk now, already looking at some report as if Bashir had left. Distractedly, he said, "I was already familiar with that time in our history, Doctor. There are worse tragedies in Human history. The Crusades, the American Civil War, World War II, the Eugenics Wars..."

Bashir's heart sank and he was sure that his face was flushed. He was glad that Sisko was no longer looking at him.

"Being aware of them isn't the same as being there," Bashir said quietly.

Sisko looked up again, his brow furrowed. "No, it isn't."

"I thought, perhaps, if you wanted to talk about it sometime... Perhaps we could have lunch sometime. Or... or whatever would--"

"I'm fine," he said. Then, as an afterthought, "I appreciate the concern, but it's misplaced."

"Right, well. I'll be asking Quark if you're showing up for your holosuite appointments."

Sisko grumbled and looked back at his reports. "All right, Doctor."


"You've known Commander Sisko for a long time." Bashir stirred at his tea. The noise of Quark's bar was grating on his nerves, as it usually did during peak hours. Too many conversations, too much movement.

Jadzia smiled one of those enigmatic smiles that told a thousand stories Bashir knew he'd never hear. "Yes, I have."

"Do you think-- I want you to be honest with me. Do you think he doesn't like me?"

"Doesn't like you?" Jadzia watched Bashir thoughtfully. "What makes you think he doesn't ilke you?"

"I don't know... I can never seem to start a conversation with him. Or, when I do it's rather like trying to hold a cat that's always squirming to get away. I know I can be..." He paused, trying to think of the right word. He could think of about ten that O'Brien would fill in. Annoying, aggravating, arrogant. And that was just the a's. "Overeager?"

Jadzia laughed. "You could say that." Bashir started to speak, but she held up a hand to stop him. "Listen, Julian. There's nothing wrong with the way you are. For every time you're 'overeager' you're also kind and thoughtful and good at your job, which is enough for Benjamin not to dislike you."

"But not enough for him to like me." Bashir furrowed his brow. "This is going to sound odd, possibly, but when we were in that Sanctuary District, it was... different. We got along. We had conversations. It felt like we were beginning to build a friendship. As soon as we got back, it's just the same as it was before. I feel like every conversation we have, he's doing whatever he can to make it end as quickly as possible."

"Ah..." Jadzia chewed at her lip, and he could tell that she was trying to think of the best way to say what she wanted to say. "You know, when he was I first met him, he could be the life of the party once you got him out of his shell. Everywhere we went, he'd have a roomfull of friends by the end of the night. He'd make the effort, he'd keep in touch, he'd be open and honest... In a way, he was like you. Your personalities are very different, but you both genuinely like people."

"You're not exactly making me feel better about not being able to spark up a friendship with him."

"That was when I first met him. People change. Sometimes, when you lose people in your life... you start closing yourself off to avoid losing more."

Sometimes it unsettled Bashir to see those old eyes in Jadzia's face, to hear the voice of centuries of experience that was as young as his own. It felt like being talked down to sometimes, but if it was... Well, she was certainly justified in thinking she knew better.

"A person can't survive without friends, though. New friends, not just the old ones. No offense."

"None taken. I'm in the unique position of being both." Jadzia's eyes sparkled with humor. "And he'll come around. I've been through it a few times myself. You'll probably go through it one day too."

Bashir rubbed his chin. "I certainly hope not."

"I hope not too, but when you do, I'll be here to help you through it."

Finally, Bashir smiled. Really smiled. "I know you will. I--"

His comm badge chirped, calling him away to the infirmary. He sighed and gave Jadzia an apologetic look before replying, "I'm on my way."


Bashir gave Kira and Odo and brief smile as they left Sisko's office. Whatever meeting they'd been having looked like it had been somewhat contentious, but he knew the two of them would make up. They always did.

"Come in," Sisko called to Bashir. He was already shrugging off his uniform jacket when Bashir set his medkit on his desk. "Hope I didn't keep you waiting."

"Not too long. I heard from Quark that you've been making your holosuit appointments everyday. How did that go?"

"You know, Doctor, after the first couple of days, I actually started to like it."

Bashir chuckled. "Good! You have to admit, it has some additional benefits. Half an hour to yourself everyday is hard to come by when you're the commander of a space station."

"You've got that right." Sisko lifted his arm before Bashir had a chance to ask him to do it. No tension in the jaw this time.

"I can always extend your prescription for another week," Bashir said as he did a quick scan. It showed him exactly what he expected; the wound had healed nicely. "But you're not going to need it."

Sisko glanced toward his office doors--surely another meeting would be starting soon. "I might just take you up on that."

Bashir opened his mouth to find some small talk to keep their conversation going, then stopped himself. "Well... if you have anymore pain at all, let me know so I can come to see you. Otherwise, you've got a clean bill of health."

"Excellent. Thank you, Doctor."

Bashir pressed his lips together in a narrow smile and nodded. He turned to leave, but Sisko spoke again, "Doctor. I was wondering if you'd like to come by for dinner tonight. I'm making étouffée."

"Really? I've never--" Bashir began excitedly before it occured to him. His shoulders drooped. "Jadzia talked to you, didn't she?"

"She... might have said a thing or two."

Bashir cringed. ""I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to say... I didn't ask her to tell you that..."

Sisko held up a hand. "Doctor, she would be the first one to tell you that I wouldn't have listened to her if she didn't make a few damn good points. Besides, you and I shared an experience that not many people ever will. Maybe we should talk about it."

"I-- I'd like that. I've been doing some research about the time period since we came back, actually, and there were a few things I, er." He took a deep breath. He was rambling again. "I wouldn't want to think that you're having dinner with me just because Jadzia put in a good word."

"You underestimate what it means to have Dax vouch for you," Sisko said with a grin. He rounded his desk and put a hand on Bashir's shoulder. "But she only reminded me of something I already knew. I saw what kind of man you are in that Sanctuary District. I'd like to get to know that man a little better."

Bashir glanced down to try to mask his grin. "Thank you, sir. I think I'll take you up on that dinner invitation."

"Good." Sisko returned to his desk. "I expect to see you at nineteen-hundred sharp!"

"Yes, sir," Bashir replied with mock seriousness.

As soon as he was out of Sisko's office, he went straight to Jadzia's station in Ops.

"Don't you look cheerful," Jadzia said.

"And don't you look pleased with yourself." Bashir leaned down and quietly added. "Thank you."

"Everyone needs a little push sometimes and all the friends they can get. Just don't make him regret it." Her eyes sparkled mischivously.

Bashir stood straight. "I'll be on my best behavior, promise."

"Good. And we're still on for lunch tomorrow?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Bashir said with a wink.