Little Red (mylittleredgirl) wrote,
Little Red

New DS9 Fic: "Couples Therapy"

Title: "Couples Therapy"
Rating: PG-13 for mention of sex
Category: Ezri!fic, Julian/Ezri, Julian/Jadzia UST
Spoilers: Whole series, notably "In the Pale Moonlight," "Tears of the Prophets," and "What You Leave Behind." Set sometime after "What You Leave Behind," ignoring the post-series novels.
Summary: During the war, they never had the chance to mourn all they lost.


After the war, things return to normal.

Worf is gone. Miles is gone. Odo.

Benjamin is gone.

There is very little to distract her on the station, so Ezri starts to nitpick -- her job, her mental health, her relationship.

She changes her hairstyle three or four times. She loses count. She keeps thinking she'd like it long, in a ponytail, the style she -- Ezri -- had as a girl and hated because it got so tangled, and because it always made her look younger. Perhaps by the time it's that long, by the time it grows out, she won't look like a child and no one will think the style reminds them too much of Jadzia.

People comment on the changes in her appearance -- Kira, Quark, Julian -- because suddenly there's so much less to talk about.

"Things are really starting to get back to normal around here," Quark says on a busy night.

"Normal -- what's that?"

Julian takes her to Vic's. They gamble a little and listen to a set.

"Don't you get tired of the same old songs?" She's not totally comfortable in the dress she's wearing, something styled after 1960's Earth haute couture. She used to like it.

She used to like the songs, too. Or, Jadzia did. They were fresher before she changed hosts.

Julian blinks at her in surprise. "No. I thought you liked Vic."

"I do. I do."

Julian requests All The Way, Jadzia's favorite song, and Ezri folds her napkin into a lopsided swan.

"Can we go?"

"I booked another hour-"

They're supposed to have dinner, drinks. Kira was supposed to meet them, but she rarely makes it anyway.

"Sorry," she says. Vic's singing away, but he's looking at her with worried eyes. The hologram is a magnetic compass for the emotionally troubled, probably a better counselor than she is. That career was Ezri Tigan's. It seems sort of silly now. "It's fine, we can stay."

"No, we can go." Julian is agreeing with her, but she knows he's not happy. He's giving her that look, like he doesn't recognize her. Like he's surprised and disappointed to see her sitting next to him, when he's expecting to see someone else.

Say it, she wants to tell him. Fight with me.

Julian's not really a fighter. Neither is she. Sometimes she thinks they're both just waiting for the other one to slip away in the middle of the night, to end things without causing a fuss. Without a confrontation.

She's waiting for that, anyway.

"I love you," he murmurs into her neck after they crawl into bed together, once the lights are out.

Ezri rolls over, and spends the night staring at the wall in the dark.


When she can't stand even one more lunch in the replimat trying to remember what in the hell she actually likes to eat, Ezri signs up for a psychology conference on Betazed.

"That's far," Julian complains, frowning, when she tells him. "I don't think I can get away for that long. You could have given me more notice."

She hadn't intended to invite him. She's not used to thinking that way. She's not used to being in a relationship. She's used to wartime, where no one could just get away. "We don't have to do everything together, Julian."

"I guess not. What's the conference about?"

"Specific post-war psychological issues. Helping soldiers and civilians adapt, some practical techniques, but a lot of it is academic."

"Sounds useful. I'll miss you."

Every time he says something like that, lately, it surprises her.


Her meal choices are blessedly limited on the transport ships and on Betazed, and Ezri pauses to think almost every time someone asks her name. Nametags are assigned once the panels begin, and after that, she doesn't need to remember her first name, because everyone calls her Lieutenant Dax.

"Dax..." an Andorian comments during the meet-and-greet cocktail hour. "Dax. That sounds so familiar. Are you the Dax from Deep Space Nine?"

He's not talking about her, specifically. Since the war began and interest in the Bajoran wormhole became more than just passing conversation, everyone knew about Lieutenant Dax, the science officer who helped Captain Sisko discover the wormhole in the first place. Which started all the trouble, no one ever specifically says.

"In a manner of speaking," Ezri says, shaking Kell's hand. The gesture is patently a human one, but it has spread through the Federation like English, ice cream and the desire to explore and unify the farthest reaches of space. Like Earth concepts of romance and relationships.

The Trill have always been wary of humans, even more than the general xenophobia they hold for all other species. Pleasantly insidious, was the warning of the planetary media of Emony's time. A danger to the essence of our culture.

"Hmm." Kell's antennae seem to stretch toward her. "You seem awfully young."

Jadzia would have a smart answer for that. Ezri can only shrug helplessly, because she feels too old to... feel so young.

Kell continues, "I read your paper on the specific reactions of Bajorans to the situation on Cardassia. Utterly fascinating reading, though I have some suggestions for a follow-up quantitative study that you may want to consider."

"My... paper?"

It never even occurred to her that Kell might be talking about Ezri.


The conference is five days long. Ezri skips the third day to wander the Betazed capitol city.

The architecture remains mostly intact, even after occupation, unlike some of the other worlds. Betazed was of primarily strategic use to the Dominion, but Ezri knows that if the population had put up more than a token struggle, the city around her would have been razed.

The capitol building itself was destroyed from orbit, and Ezri takes her lunch to a hilltop where she can watch the crews working on rebuilding it. A sign tells her it's being redone to the exact same specifications, with the exact same materials as the original. In a view completely opposite from that of most humans Ezri knows, the sign explained that unexpected tragedy is not the time for more disruption and change. She had no idea the Betazoids were such fans of tradition.

She remembers where she was -- in Ops and in the Destiny's mess hall -- when she heard about the Dominion invasion of Betazed. Jadzia needed to do something, because action would solve the problem, somehow. Ezri sat in the mess hall for hours, listening to everyone, her friends and colleagues, their fears and expectations and dire predictions, and assumed they were probably all going to die in this war, because she hadn't lived long enough yet to see past disaster.

Ezri goes back to the university for the evening session, and sits in the back row of a small presentation by a Betazoid psychologist about the woman's upcoming study on "wartime marriage."

There is shared trauma, she says, bringing couples together who might otherwise never have found each other, or might never have seen fit to form a relationship. There is urgency in wartime, need, a sense of immediacy, of purpose, of the brevity of life and a necessity for closeness with any living being sharing the same existence.

"The urgency is gone," Marixa, the Betazoid psychologist, says in a thick accent undisguised by the universal translator. "But the loss -- the loss is there still, and a less tangible need, and that is not as simple to share."

Ezri told Julian that she would send him a message from Betazed, but she procrastinates, and finally falls asleep with the comm unit still active and waiting for her command.


The wormhole opens as Ezri's transport is docking, and from her seat, she has a perfect view.

She remembers falling into it that first time, overwhelmed by sensor readings and scientific delight and the need for immediate action. It spat her out in a ball of light. The wormhole transformed Benjamin almost beyond recognition that day, but it changed her -- Jadzia -- too.

She was never the one the Prophets wanted, or the Pagh Wraith. She was always just... in the way, and touched and changed and damaged and killed just by being there.

Ezri misses Benjamin almost beyond words. She thinks he would know what to say, so much more than all of Ezri's educated colleagues, about post-traumatic stress. The stress of dying. Of losing herself, and landing here, like this. A year later, and she still hasn't quite found her feet, has just found a succession of things to hold onto.

Kira smiles at her when Ezri checks in. "I don't think anyone has gone any crazier in your absence," she says with a kind pat to the shoulder. "But maybe that's because none of us have too much farther to fall."

They don't really need a counselor anymore. They never had one before the war, and now things are getting back to normal.

"I've asked Deputy Moreyn to speak with you, though. He's been having more problems than most helping out with the Cardassian civilian transports. I've reassigned him for now, but..."

"I'll talk to him. Maybe I can help." Ezri jots a note down on her PADD. "He won't be the first."

Kira grits her teeth. "No, I'd imagine not." Kira continues to get Ezri up to speed on missed events as she rifles absently through stacks of reports on her desk: "The Defiant got caught in an ion storm coming back from Cardassia, and they're still working on repairs. We could have used you at the helm."

Ezri doesn't even recognize that Kira's statement is unusual until the Bajoran woman pales and corrects: "Jadzia at the helm. I'm sorry, Ezri. It's been a long few days." Her face is full of grief, quickly forced into a bland smile.

"Trust me. I do that often enough myself. Heck -- half the time I don't know whether to report to the science station or my office in the morning!" She laughs, and it sounds a little hysterical.

Kira looks awkward. "Well, you're always welcome in Ops."

Ezri thanks her and leaves as fast as she can.


Her doorbell rings just after 2100.

"I can't believe you didn't come and see me," Julian says without preamble.

Ezri puts on her best sultry smile. "Welcome back to you, too."

He kisses her back, but pulls away to frown. "I mean it. I've just been waiting in the infirmary. I had to check the docking schedule when I got out."

"I had to report in to Kira. Time got away from me."

Julian doesn't look convinced, and Ezri wants not to care. She wants not to feel guilty, even though she knows she made a mistake by not dropping by as soon as she landed, even just for a quick kiss. She wants not to feel like she's just clinging to him like any other "wartime wife," needing him because she's lost every other form of distraction.

He's lost just as much as she has, she reminds herself.

"Do you want dinner?" She heads for the replicator.

"Yeah, I guess."

Julian orders, and Ezri has the same thing he does. It's easier that way. On impulse, she orders a Tenaran Squeeze to drink -- Jadzia had a whole selection of Trill fruit juices programmed into the station's formerly Cardassian replicators. It looks delicious, and it isn't until the first sip that Ezri remembers that she doesn't actually like it.

It's too sweet. It was Jadzia's favorite, though, for nostalgic reasons, and she drank it on the rare occasions when she missed home. Her mother used to make it in twin glasses, for her and her sister.

"Do you want this?" She offers it to Julian.

His face lights up when he tries it -- he's always had a sweet tooth -- and then his eyebrows knit in concentration.

"This tastes familiar. Have you made this for me before?"

"Yes." At Quark's, when she was fixing the replicator for the Ferengi and needed to try something. Julian was watching her work with moony eyes, like she was repairing the fabric of the universe, and she wanted to treat him. "Actually, no."

That wasn't her. That was Jadzia, and it was almost seven years ago.

Julian doesn't seem to remember the incident, or he'd look haunted and awkward. In those moments, he's either unable to meet her eyes, or he searches them too deeply, like he's looking for someone who's no longer really there.

"I like it," he pronounces.

"I know you do." Jadzia always knew what he liked, even if she was never ready or willing to give it to him. Ezri relies on that knowledge a lot.

She tries to get him talking about work and patients and holosuite programs, but for once, he doesn't bite.

"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" he asks, and it's the closest Julian ever really gets to a confrontation with her.

No, she thinks, but doesn't say. "Are you going to tell me?"

He frowns. "I don't know. I'm really happy."

He doesn't sound it.

"I miss the Captain," she confesses, and is startled to feel tears springing to her eyes, out of nowhere. She misses someone, something, and she doesn't always know if it's Ben or not.

Julian looks down, grinding his booted toe into the carpet. "He always understood you." He looks like he's trying to smile. "Not an easy task."

"You miss Miles," she points out, eager to cut off that line of conversation.

"Yeah, but he's... he's just on Earth."

"Not exactly around the corner."

Julian shrugs. At least he isn't dead, she can almost hear him thinking. Neither Miles or Julian are big subspace talkers, but they still keep in touch. Jadzia used to think of them almost as little brothers, squabbling in the sandbox, and watching their continued friendship warms that part of Ezri's heart.

"I'm here for you," Julian tells her, but he says it through gritted teeth.

Joined Trill are advised not to get into serious romantic relationships for the first two years after joining. The relationship between symbiote and host is primary by nature, and is meant to be enough. That's hardly the only rule that Ezri has broken -- Curzon broke it too, and Audrid got married after only eight months -- but it's the one she's been pondering the most, lately.

"I want this to work," she says, to reassure him. "I'm just... I don't know what to say yet."

Please don't leave, she thinks, and he hears her, because he looks at the door but stays where he is.

"Just let me know when you figure it out, okay?"


It's the middle of the night when she figures it out.

They go back to his place for bed. The sex they have is quick, almost utilitarian, a required welcome-home greeting that feels like they're both holding too much of themselves back because Ezri doesn't want to cry and Julian... Julian is probably afraid of getting hurt, she figures. Or he's afraid that he's going to hurt her.

Neither of them fall asleep afterwards. He's reading a scientific journal and she's reading a novel, one of Jadzia's that she inherited when Worf showed up at her quarters after they returned from Dominion captivity with a box of Jadzia's things.

Ezri traces the clothbound cover with a finger, remembering the other times she read it through different eyes, and says it out loud:

"Do you wish I were Jadzia?"

Julian freezes, not answering right away, and for a second Ezri prays that he's asleep or in a trance or otherwise didn't hear her.

But then she pushes on. The Lela and Jadzia and Ezri in her have no patience for putting off honesty, once the gauntlet has been thrown down.


He puts his journal on the nightstand and fixes her with a serious look. His voice is deeper than usual. "That's not a fair question."

She knows. It's the least fair question she could possibly ask, because Jadzia was never his, and because Jadzia is dead.

"I miss her," he admits slowly. "I... really miss her."

She remembers dying on his operating table, the feeling of a hollow vacuum tearing her apart from herself as neural connections severed, and then horrible, horrible loneliness. Ezri bites her lip. "Me too."

Julian is so wrapped up in his own thoughts that it takes him a moment to look surprised. "You do? But..."

"Not... not miss, really. But Dax..." her hand goes to her abdomen, to the symbiote nestled safely inside, fluttering minutely with her pulse. "It's a shock, losing a host."

Julian winces.

"I loved her. Dax loved her. It's... the closest bond between two beings you can imagine, and though her memories are still here, and there's a new host, it's still a loss. Jadzia's death was so sudden, and she's so much here. On the station. With you."

She can't explain it. Nothing about the joined experience translates well into Federation Standard. Her experience, without guidance and a lifetime of preparation, doesn't translate into any language.

She looks at him, waiting for his response, and her heart hurts at the expression on his face, the same one she only saw when she first arrived on the station and Jadzia's death was still so raw. Every kind emotion Jadzia had for him and every compassionate bone in Ezri's body made her want to just hold him. To repair the damage that she somehow caused. To make him whole, when she herself felt like too many wholes all crammed in one and was missing Jadzia just as profoundly.

Julian clears his throat. "You never mentioned this before."

Ezri thinks of the war. "We were busy."

Julian bridges the gap of space between them, just barely touching her arm. "Do you? Wish you were... still Jadzia? I guess that sounds silly."

"It doesn't. Sometimes." Mostly in relation to other people. For Kira, when Odo left. For Jake and Kasidy. For Julian, when he says he loves her. "Not as much anymore."

She has even stopped wishing she could be just Ezri again. Most of the time.

Julian doesn't look at her. "I shouldn't feel this way, though. Not when you're here."

Ezri doesn't point out that her being here, close enough to remind him with every turn of phrase, probably hurts as much as it helps. "You never had time to mourn, Julian. I know you loved her. It makes sense."

"I love you. At least..." He doesn't say it, but she hears, at least I think I do. He lies back on the pillows and stares up at the ceiling. "I should be happy, Ezri."

She lies next to him, finding the spot on his shoulder where her head fits perfectly. "So should I."


The Andorian's idea for a follow-up study on Bajoran impressions of war-torn Cardassia ruminates in Ezri's brain for a week or two, and then she requests a runabout to consult in person with Bajoran psychotherapists and to do some research at the hall of records.

Since she returned from Betazed, she and Julian haven't been to Vic's. They still sleep together, still meet for lunch, but things aren't the same. They both work overtime, not because it's necessary -- things are absurdly quiet, by comparison, after the war -- but because, without each other, they have nothing else to do.

It's not the foundation for a healthy relationship, says Ezri's psychological training. Needing each other isn't the same thing as loving each other.

Rationally, they should break up. He should grieve for Jadzia, now that there's time. She should spend her recommended two years in emotional solitude. They can mourn the loss of purpose they had during the war. They can be friends again.

Trill symbiotes are, by nature, rational entities, and a calming presence on their hosts, but Ezri has rarely felt that. It's hard to feel Dax beneath eight lifetimes of humanoid memories when most of her past hosts were such passionate, impulsive people.

Maybe that's why leaving Julian doesn't feel rational. It feels devastating. The threat of losing him feels like the time she lost herself, a year ago. Like she'll recover, of course, but she'll never be the same.

Kira grants her the runabout to Bajor, and Ezri asks Julian if he wants to go with her.

"What, today? Ezri, I've got a hundred things..." he looks helplessly around the infirmary, devoid of patients. Dr. Girani is on duty as well, cataloging records. She smiled at Ezri when she came in, and told her to be sure to take a walk through the old orchard park in the capitol while she's there, because everything should be in bloom.

Ezri goads him, "Don't want to be trapped in a runabout with me for three hours?"

He shoots her a look. "You know that's not why."

He joins her, of course. After two lifetimes, she knows exactly how to push his buttons.


She meets him in the orchard. Julian has plenty of medical colleagues to check in with on Bajor, and Ezri gets there an hour or so before he does.

There are benches beneath the trees, so artfully placed as to seem almost as though they grew there themselves. The entire park feels secluded from the city outside. Jadzia has memories of the city when it was still devastated from occupation. The parks, full of plants and water and empty space, were some of the first things to be restored.

Jadzia meditated a lot during her first year as a joined Trill. Ezri never found a routine, because of the war or because it's so uncomfortable to be alone in the loud chorus of voices in her head, but she tries now in the Bajoran sanctuary space.

She starts with the voice of Audrid's meditation teacher in her head -- breathe in, breathe out -- but soon blocks out even that. She can almost feel the tendrils of connection between her and Dax, the impossible closeness that is so organic to her species, the remarkable sense of comfort and completion that being joined affords her when it isn't confusing the hell out of her.

Dax loves her, too. Love is the wrong word. Her native Trill tongue has other phrases for it, but even they never quite captured it.

When Ezri opens her eyes, Julian is sitting on the grass in front of her, watching.

"Hey," she greets him. "How long have you been sitting there?"

"Not too long. I didn't want to bother you." Julian moves to sit next to her and plucks an orchard blossom from her hair, and another from her shoulder. There are a few more in her lap, and Ezri smiles at the intricate pattern of twenty or so tiny petals, all vying for space. She's not sure what fruit this tree will bear. Jadzia was a bit of a scientific jack-of-all-trades, but exobotany was never her favorite.

"I remember when Jadzia tried to teach you Trill meditation," Ezri says.

He huffs out a bit of a laugh. He looks a little less sad than the last time she mentioned her. "I begged her."

"You never quite got the hang of it," Ezri comments archly.

Julian stares at her for a moment. "You sounded just like her then."

She winces. She always feels awkward when he says stuff like that, even though she knows it's true. "Better get used to that, I guess."

"I am. I'm used to that." Julian purses his lips for a moment until they go almost white, and Ezri can't help but wrap an arm around his shoulder. "It's not as hard," he tells her, "when you're here. That doesn't seem fair to you, though, does it? I'm not with you just because of Jadzia."

"I know that. If it makes you feel any better, neither am I."

"It doesn't."

At that moment, she feels like Jadzia as much as Ezri, like a caring older sister and a friend and a lover all at once. She's getting used to that feeling, too. "Julian, this is really hard. Most species are unable to deal with the changes that Trill undergo. Some humans have managed it, but you can't expect too much from yourself too fast."

Julian frowns. "You're saying this isn't something the human heart was designed for?"

Ezri nudges him where she's leaning against his side, knocking him a little off-balance. "I think you can evolve. With my help. If I can figure out how to live with a symbiote, I'm sure you can."

Julian nudges her back. "Have you? Figured out how to live with a symbiote?"

She's done everything wrong with her joining, from not being prepared in the first place to rejoining with Worf to remaining on Deep Space Nine and falling in love with someone with unresolved feelings for her previous host. She never got the time to adjust, at least, not on the Trill Symbiosis Commission timetable.

"I'm getting there," she tells him. She has the time now.

Julian brushes a lock of hair behind one of her ears, combing loose another blossom. "Let me know how I can help."

She smiles. Before, as Ezri, she never had anyone look at her like this before.

"Kiss me," she says.

And he does.

Tags: fic, star trek: ds9

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