by Your Cruise Director

Ezri found the pile of toy soldiers hidden in a box with his college and medical school honors -- things that shamed Julian, since he didn't feel he had earned them. No matter what he achieved in life, he would never believe that he deserved accolades. Some part of Julian would always remain the small boy whose parents had risked prison for themselves and madness for him to make him as clever as all the other children. Deep down, he did not believe that they had done it for him; he thought they had done it to cover their own embarrassment at having a son who could never keep up with his peers.

Perhaps he even believed that made him unworthy of love.

But the soldiers...Miles must have given those to Julian. And although she had always known how Julian felt about Miles, it was still a shock to find such gifts buried away where Julian would never come across them by accident and Ezri, presumably, would never learn that they existed. Miles was a topic she did not broach with Julian. As his counselor she knew that there must be things he needed to express, things that would gnaw away at him if he didn't let them out.

But as his fiancée, she did not want to know. She would not have begrudged Julian any happiness he might have found with the other man before she fell in love with him, but this wasn't resentment of a former lover. This was a competition with a ghost, a fantasy...with something that could never be. It was a struggle she could never win, any more than she could reach past Worf's memories of Jadzia.

She had known it was no accident that had Julian plunged headfirst into love with her the very week Miles announced his intention to take Keiko and the children and leave the station. The whole family had solid reasons for going back to Earth, yet Ezri knew that deep down, Miles' choice to leave had nothing to do with his career or Keiko's, nor with wanting his children to be raised on their planet of origin. Miles had simply run out of excuses not to make a choice between Keiko and Julian. So he chose.

By the time Ezri had met her, Keiko had already seemed resigned to the situation. Her husband's heart might have belonged to Dr. Bashir, but she had found no replacement, no surrogate father for her children, and neither of the O'Briens seemed able to tolerate the thought of splitting their family up across the quadrant. Besides, they liked each other. They had many years of happy and tragic memories together, on the Enterprise before Deep Space Nine.

From a few drunken conversations Miles had had with Jadzia, Dax also knew that he liked making love with Keiko -- the forceful, aggressive demands she made, such a contrast with her petite figure and melodic voice. Sex complicated so many things, mused Ezri, picking up one of the toy soldiers with his tiny antique gun. On some fundamental, immutable level, Miles preferred women; in addition to Keiko, he responded to Kira's molten energy and to Kasidy's fierce independence. He had also liked Jadzia, particularly once she had married Worf despite his frequent issues with the Klingon. Then, she was safely out of Julian's reach.

And Miles liked Ezri, though he had always been a bit wary of her, because he knew that as Dax and as a counselor, she could read him far too well. They had reached a balance where Dr. Bashir was concerned. She didn't pressure Julian to see whether what they had could be more than friendship, and Miles didn't interfere with what they did have, except sometimes when he just couldn't stand to be away from Julian anymore and had to drag him off to the Alamo.

Miles needn't have worried about the ghost of Jadzia ever becoming an issue. Ezri had found it refreshing to be with Julian precisely because she did not believe that he had ever really loved her symbiont's former host, not in a life-mate sort of way. Jadzia had been an ideal for Julian, someone to admire as a fantasy lover, but not someone he could have lived with. He had never understood her as a person -- her needs, her drives -- he had treated her with clinical detachment bordering on aversion when she came to him with the marks and scars of her lovemaking with Worf. He had not even adored Jadzia the way Quark had, painfully, hopelessly.

Of any of Dax's friends, Julian seemed to have had the easiest time adjusting to a new face, a new host. Perhaps his medical training allowed him to understand what it meant to be a joined Trill better than the others. Still, Ezri thought that of any of them, he was most able to appreciate her for herself. He liked her sense of humor, her playful physicality, her background as a counselor which made it difficult to shock her. Her boyishness. If that appreciation was suspect -- if it made her realize sometimes that she was a substitute -- there were positive aspects too. She did not have to worry about him seeking other women when she was away, nor seeking other men.

After so many lifetimes, no mate could ever truly possess the heart of Dax, who could conjure past lovers with the intensity of things that had happened to Ezri the day before. Perhaps Julian would always love Miles more than he loved her, just as a part of her would always love Worf and Nilani and -- somewhere deep in Curzon's book of secrets -- Benjamin Sisko.

Quietly she replaced the toy soldiers and the box, pushing aside regrets. She hadn't gone through Julian's belongings to hunt for evidence of his infidelity to her. His passions were not possessions for her to toy with. But someplace in his collection of padds and ancient books and letters from Garak, he had encoded the secrets of Section 31. And after so many lifetimes, those would be hers.


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