Bashir was waiting for her in the morning, his long lithe body draped across the sunny window ledge outside her hotel room door. His smile of greeting was just as sunny, and where once his cheeriness might have annoyed her instinctually, now Kira couldn’t help but return his smile, enjoying its genuine warmth.
They fell into step together, an easy rhythm in the direction of the hotel’s restaurant.
“I trust you slept well?”
She glanced at him, not sure if she was imagining it or if his accent was just slightly more clipped than usual, or his turn of phrase more formal?
“Mmm,” she replied in the affirmative. “You?” she prompted when he didn’t say anything else.
He nodded. “And your new ‘friend’? He didn’t bother you again?”
“Yeoman Trob? No, I guess he never did get my room number.”
“Good.” His shoulders relaxed slightly.
“Is that why you were waiting for me? Doctor, you didn’t need to do that, he was just some drunk delegate, it’s no big deal. Anyway, I’m the one supposed to be protecting you, remember?!”
“Major!” His eyebrows shot up in feigned surprise. “You mean you didn’t jump at the chance to attend your first federation leadership conference? To provide Bajor a vital voice in the quadrant?”
She made a noise halfway between a scoff and a snort. “Now you sound like Sisko. Although Dax and O’Brien think he made me tag along to keep you from wrecking another Runabout!”
“Hey! I—” He frowned suddenly, all lightness evaporating from his features, although he kept his voice carefully calm. “Don’t look now. Delegate Blob at 2 o’clock.”
Kira sighed. She had barely turned around before Trob had all but barreled into them. He pulled up short when Bashir stepped smoothly into his path, narrowing his eyes at him and blocking his view of her.
“Excuse me,” Trob tried maneuvering around Bashir.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” the doctor supplied calmly.
Trob started plucking at his conference lanyard impatiently when Bashir made no move to get out of his way.
Kira hid a smile as the two exchanged polite greetings and forced smiles. Bashir was doing a much better job of faking sincerity for all Trob was supposed to be the diplomat.
“And you, Nerys? How are you today? Looking lovely this fine morning!” Trob strained to make eye contact around the doctor.
“Oh, you know the major?” Bashir was still smiling, he blinked laconically, but his tone was icy. Yeoman Trob was either deliberately obtuse or simply unaware.
Kira nodded at him. She should just shut this down right now, but part of her was hugely intrigued by this new side of Bashir—she had always admired how protective he was of his patients’ welfare, but this was something else, there was an indignant tension emanating from him that she had rarely experienced, and it stilled her usual instincts to take over and handle the aggressive man herself.
“The major and I are just heading to breakfast together.” The doctor’s lips coiled into a smile that didn’t reach his eyes as he kept them on Trob the whole time. Then to Kira’s surprise, he held out his arm to her in a manner reminiscent of some of the courtly holodeck heroes in the adventures Dax liked to drag her on.
To her even greater surprise, she found herself slipping her arm into Bashir’s.
“Oh, but I was hoping Nerys and I could pick up our fascinating conversation from last night,” Trob’s voice was reedy and his eyebrow lifted slightly on the words last night as if they shared some secret.
It shifted something inside her, and she felt the same coldness run up her spine that had creeped her out the previous evening, and had her abandoning the delegate reception in favor of finding Bashir, telling herself she was just checking up on the young doctor. She didn’t realize she had tightened her hold on him until she could feel his hand move briefly over hers, a feather light touch, reassuring her.
She spoke up then before Bashir could react to Trob’s obvious baiting. “The doctor and I have important station business. I won’t have any free time to meet with you again I’m afraid, yeoman. But I do hope you enjoy the conference.” The coldness in her tone belied her last words.
His face fell. Kira and Bashir walked swiftly away before the next rejoinder.
Kira had been happy with how clear and firm her voice had sounded, but once they rounded the corner and had put some distance between them and Trob, Bashir looked down at her with concern in his eyes.
“All right?” His voice was light, but carefully so.
Something about his gentleness with her made her heart lurch. She extricated her arm and he let her go immediately, ghosting his fingertips around her elbow as he released her in a gesture that once again brought to mind Dax’s courtly holodeck heroes. It made her shiver in an entirely different way than Trob did.
“Nerys?” his voice was soft.
She blinked, disarmed by his gentle manner, and even more so by her own unexpected reaction to it.
“M fine,” she responded gruffly with a curt nod. “I told you already, it’s not a big deal. I didn’t need saving, doctor.”
She turned in the direction of the breakfast buffet and grabbed for a tray, trying to shake off the confusion and more than a little disturbed at how her skin still tingled from Julian’s gentle touch.
He didn’t say anything as they made their way through the line for breakfast. By the time they sat together at one of the far tables by the windows, Kira felt thoroughly guilty for snapping at him, especially when she noticed him scanning the room before he took a seat, and she knew he was making sure Trob didn’t show up again. She opened her mouth to apologize but Bashir beat her to it.
“I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable, major,” he offered, taking a bite of some kind of granola and fruit that looked like something Shakaar would feed his pet draka.
“I’m not Maid Marian on one of Dax’s holodeck programs,” she muttered, then pursed her lips – why couldn’t she just graciously apologize as Julian had done?
He inclined his head. “Might not want to start your first diplomatic conference by knocking another delegate out cold though,” he said mildly.
“That was Guinevere!”
His eyes twinkled when she huffed at him. “Was Robin Hood any more gallant than Lancelot?”
She shrugged. “I liked being one of the merry men better.”
His smile widened, and she looked at him, smiling back. He seemed impossibly young sometimes, and other times, like this one, his eyes held such a depth of understanding she wondered how she could ever have thought him naïve.
He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at her gaze. Kira took a deep breath, recalling with sudden clarity the abrupt ending to her first holodeck roleplay with Jadzia.
“I can remember you were the only one who at least took pity on me and explained the Guinevere and Lancelot storyline,” she mused, admiring the way the sunlight played in his hair as he tilted his head. She missed sunlight, living on a space station.
“Just trying to be a gentleman.” Bashir tipped an imaginary hat and winked at her.
Kira grinned at that, and then focused on her breakfast, trying to ignore the heat that rose inexplicably in her cheeks. “After you were done laughing.”
When she risked another glance up at him, Bashir was feigning a wounded look “Hey, I made Dax stop berating you for defending yourself against an unwanted suitor!”
“I guess you did.”
He was looking at her expectantly. “Okay,” she conceded, “maybe you are a gentleman.”
Julian beamed and shoveled another huge spoonful of draka food in his mouth.
Guilt still nagged at her. “And I’m sorry I snapped earlier, when you so gallantly rescued me from Trob.”
He waved her words away with his spoon. “I’ve been to too many of these conferences, and I know that type.”
The protectiveness in his eyes surprised her with its intensity. She looked down at her food, she wasn’t used to this. “What’s on your schedule for the day?”
She nodded to the screens announcing the conference program, then taking a minute to read it herself and twisting her lips wryly. “Looks like I’m on the same track as Yeoman Trob again.” She sighed. “Guess I’ll just give it a miss. What about you, anything interesting in the medical track I can tag along for?”
He beamed, and grabbed the PADD with the conference program. “Well, actually…there is a workshop I need a partner for.” He patted a linen napkin to his mouth, looking at her speculatively.
Kira raised an eyebrow. “Me? What kind of workshop?”
He waved his hand. “But before that, look, there’s a seminar on battlefield triage you might find interesting – lots of great case studies, might be some disturbing images though…” he trailed off.
Kira rolled her eyes. “Of severed limbs and arterial spurts? That kind of thing?”
“You’ve probably seen worse during the occupation, I’m guessing.” His voice was softer now, his eyes on hers.
She shrugged. “What else?”
“Crisis and command post leadership?”
“That’s in the medical track?”
“Well no, it’s in yours, but I was thinking of checking it out. One of the lecturers on the panel did a series at Starfleet Academy when I was in my first year. I was a bit starry-eyed at the time—”
“And you’re not now?” She couldn’t resist teasing him. He gave her a sheepish smile. Feeling a little guilty, she dropped her hand on his arm for just a second, giving him a brief squeeze.
He perked up. “Aren’t you going to eat that?” He indicated her breakfast sandwich.
She handed it to him. “There’s so much free food here, I’m still full from last night.”
“That’s the point of conferences. Well, that and the open bar.”
Trob seemed to think so anyway. She shook off the shiver that stole up her spine.
“Nerys?” Julian must have seen something in her face, his eyes had turned serious.
He just waited patiently, his warm gaze holding hers.
“Just thinking Yeoman Trob enjoyed the bar all right. Seemed to think everything here was his for the taking.” She failed to suppress a slight shudder, annoyed at herself for coming back to him again.
Julian’s expression darkened and his jaw set. “If he comes near you again I’m talking to security.”
Her eyes widened. “Julian, let’s not make a fuss.”
He looked like he wanted to say something more, but she stared him down. He lifted his hands in defeat and turned back to the program, returning to planning their day. He really seemed determined to stick by her side. She looked past him, outside to the tropical arboretum surrounding the conference center. The sun was shining and a breeze stirred the trees and exotic looking plants. She decided to put Trob out of her mind completely and just enjoy this time planetside.
Kira tilted her head back, letting the sun warm her face and the gentle wind lift her hair. The fresh air smelled so good, especially after being cooped up in lecture halls all day. She was glad Julian hadn’t minded skipping out on the last session so they could get some air before the sun went down.
The young doctor was walking by her side, babbling away about a workshop or something, she was only half-listening. His enthusiasm was adorable though—and he had been right at least that the case studies were interesting. Her own experience was hard-won, but limited to one planet, and one occupation.
One was enough, her mind supplied, bringing her back to reality. Wait, what was Julian saying?
Her footsteps halted. “You want me to what?”
“You don’t have to,” he said quickly, “but…look.” He reached for her hand. She straightened in surprise as he led her to a fallen tree trunk under the some trees and guided her to sit down beside him. Her curiosity only grew when he didn’t let go of her, her breath hitching when he leaned in.
But his touch was so gentle, his eyes so hopeful, that when he held her hand in his, just waiting for a moment, she gave a slight nod.
She stared down at his hands when they started to move. The slightly darker hue of his skin covered her own pale hand before he turned it carefully palm up and cradled it between both of his. He was watching her carefully, and she could have pulled away at any time, but she found herself mesmerized by his tenderness. She wanted to ask what he was doing but then he would know she hadn’t been listening to a word he had said.
But also she didn’t want to break the spell between them. The arboretum had fallen silent except for the melodic trickling of a sun-dappled stream, dust motes the only movement in the rays of sun that filtered through the canopy of leaves that surrounded them.
Had she ever been touched by him other than the brief and cursory minimal press of a hypospray or other medical necessity? She remembered the first time quite clearly: she had sprained her wrist clearing out a cargo hold and resisted going anywhere near the infirmary for a whole day as it had recently been taken over by the Federation, and at the time she didn’t trust them anymore than the last occupiers of the station – a fact that she let the young doctor know at every available opportunity.
The following morning she could barely even hold the PADD with Odo’s rundown of station security items, and the constable had marched her over to the infirmary himself, ignoring her protests, and stood there, arms crossed over his chest, blocking the exit, until she submitted to the young Starfleet doctor’s ministrations.
He had been gentle then, she remembered now, and very professional, letting her acerbic comments wash over him without retort, binding her wrist with an expert touch. There was no gloating like she might have expected from the smug self-congratulatory Federation who loved nothing more than to lord it over everyone else, and no leering or opportunistic fondling like she had come to expect from Cardassian overseers. He was just calm and professional, releasing her quickly back to Odo with only a suggestion that he hoped she would come back if it bothered her, and a mention that he would like to be able to check on her progress in a day or so, if she wasn’t too busy.
She hadn’t gone back though. She had thought about it but it would have been ridiculous to ask Odo to accompany her, and yet without him she couldn’t quite bring herself to take the risk. How silly that fear seemed now that she had gotten to know Julian; he wouldn’t hurt a fly. And for all his hapless attempts to hit on women, he had asked her only once, had taken no for an answer immediately, and never bothered her on that account since.
She couldn’t help but wonder what she would say now, if he asked her to dinner.
“Major? You okay?”
She nodded, looking down at where he was still holding her hand in his.
He smiled uncertainly. “You look distracted.”
“You want to go to dinner, Julian?” What? Where had that come from?
He blinked. “You hungry? We can do this later.” He released her hand, and Kira felt a sudden pang of regret.
“No, I can wait, let’s keep doing…what are we doing?” She reached for his hand again before she could change her mind.
He looked a little puzzled but that slight hopeful smile was back, and Kira found she loved the light in his eyes when he smiled like that.
“Okay, so, okay promise not to roll your eyes at this bit, but research says…”
Her lips quirked. He had resumed his lecture mode again as if he had never stopped.
“Yeah yeah, but the research says, doctors who touch patients have a higher treatment efficacy—I mean, success rate, things work a little better.”
She tilted her head to encourage him to go on, and his shoulders straightened a little, obviously happy to have an audience.
“In the past there were many doctors who would simply hold a patient’s hand,” he cradled her hand in his as he spoke, “to comfort them when there was bad news or a procedure was painful.” He began slowly stroking the back of her hand with the long fingers of his free hand and it sent shivers all the way up her arm and down her spine.
“It fell out of fashion for a while with some litigious societies and the medical profession going too far in pulling back from patient centered care.”
“Mmm,” said Kira, feeling like she should make a noise to show she was listening, when in fact she was more entranced by the feelings his touch was igniting under her skin.
“But then had something of a revival with the first scientific evidence of the benefit of human touch—”
“Research shows…” she mumbled with a smile that he matched.
“Indeed. And then there followed research into alternative medicine practices like massages and pressure point stimulation.” He turned her hand over in his and began kneading her palm with his thumbs, gently at first, then slowly increasing the pressure.
Kira had to bite her lip to keep from moaning in pleasure.
His eyes flicked to her lips, and she realized just how closely he was watching her reactions.
“Okay?” he asked softly, his forehead creasing slightly.
“Mm hmm,” she murmured an affirmative. Her eyes began to feel heavy-lidded.
“Last time I was at a conference like this, I picked up a few techniques. So that’s why I was hoping we could go to this workshop this evening…”
Had his voice dropped lower in pitch or was she imagining it?
She focused on him again as she sensed him moving closer to her as his hands moved up her wrist, massaging and stroking her skin. Kira drew in a breath.
He raised a questioning eyebrow, his movements slowing, picking up again when she nodded in response to his unasked question.
Her breath stuttered at his nearness, at how incredible his hands felt on her forearm now, long lithe fingers soothing the muscles. One hand moved underneath her arm, cupping her elbow.
“Relax,” he whispered, “let me take the weight of your arm, ok?”
She nodded rapidly, trying to comply, but it was impossible,
He watched her for a moment, then slowly backed up, with smooth movements switching his attentions to her other hand.
“Symmetry is important,” he stated in a slightly pompous professorial voice, then smiled at her lopsidedly to undercut the authoritarian tone.
She breathed out in a rush, half laughing at his silliness, wondering if she looked as ridiculously disarmed as she felt.
He took his time working his way up her other arm until her entire body was covered in goosebumps spreading from his touch.
“Breathe, Nerys,” he whispered, looking just a little concerned.
She tried to breathe out but her lower lip trembled and she quickly clamped down on it, afraid he would notice.
His hands stilled, “you all right?” his tone was light but his eyes looked like he was afraid he might have overstepped.
“Yes,” Kira answered in a rush to reassure him and to ignore how much she was missing his touch already, because that was preposterous. “And yes.”
He raised that eyebrow again. It was adorable, and she HAD to stop thinking like that. A hand massage and she was smitten? Really, Nerys?
“Yes to the seminar tonight. I’ll be your partner.”