eponymous_rose: (DS9)
[personal profile] eponymous_rose
Title: Simulacrum
Word Count: 11,600 (in four chapters)
Characters: Mirror Miles O'Brien, Mirror Julian Bashir, Mirror Jadzia Dax, Mirror Jennifer Sisko, Julian Bashir, Mirror Benjamin Sisko, Benjamin Sisko, Mirror Dukat, Mirror Tuvok, Mirror Kira Nerys, Mirror Garak
Warnings: None
Notes: For [livejournal.com profile] echoinautumn. Thank you to [personal profile] epershand and [personal profile] justice_turtle for their super-detailed and thought-provoking betas - this story's much better for their help, and any remaining errors are entirely my fault! Also, thank you to [livejournal.com profile] persiflage_1, who did an eleventh-hour beta for a longfic in a relatively unfamiliar fandom - I really appreciate it!

Summary: Through the looking glass, Miles O'Brien makes the acquaintance of two Julian Bashirs. He's always had a talent for fixing broken things.

AO3: Simulacrum
LJ/DW:
Chapter Four: Backlight

"Are the charges in place?"

Julian's remarkable talent when it came to communicating snideness over a comm link never ceased to amaze Miles. He bit back his initial sarcastic reply, reconsidered, then said it anyway. "Yes, Julian, the charges are in place, and I'm just sitting here on my arse taking my time because Alliance bases are so lovely this time of year."

There was a sniff of amusement over the line. "All right, but let me know as soon as you're done seeing the sights. Jadzia's already signalled her group's finished and disembarked. It's just you and me, and I'd just as soon not have a heroic death saving the likes of you."

Miles replied with a string of sunny invective, then killed the link and focused on the task at hand. The wires seemed damnably small, his hands seemed damnably clumsy, and he was sweating in the hot, stale air. No more operations against Cardassian holdings, he decided, unless he remembered to wear a short-sleeved shirt.

Finally, he managed to thread the last wire around the last electrode, saw a small flashing red light confirm the arming sequence had been engaged, and killed all outward signs of potentially explosive activity. They'd run into some trouble a year earlier when a particularly incompetent young engineer they'd recruited had insisted on including massive, conspicuous timer displays on every bomb he built. Sure, it was a bit unnerving to trust that there really was a full hour to detonation left on the clock when you couldn't see it, but Miles trusted in his own mechanical abilities. He didn't need to risk giving anyone else that particular bit of information.

He carefully replaced the panel covering the electronics, and tried very hard not to second-guess himself. One hour. Right.

He reactivated his comm link in time to hear Julian snarl, "-activate your damned comm link, you-"

Then there was the sound of disruptor fire, and Miles was crouched into a defensive position with his weapon at the ready before he realized it was just being transmitted over the comm link. "What? What is it?"

A grunt over the line, then, in a smaller voice, "Damn it. There's too many of them."

Miles cursed. "I'm coming. Just- just stay there."

"Oh, great advice," Julian said. "Brilliant stratagem. What are you going to do, bore them to death with your-" Another grunt, and this time, his voice sounded strained. "-technical knowledge?"

Miles ducked into a conduit, trying to trace the shortest route through the plans he'd examined so carefully this morning. The heat made it hard to think. "Are you injured?"

A sullen silence, then, "One of them winged me. Burn along the leg." Another volley of fire, then, "There are about ten of them."

"Ah, yes," said Miles, and paused at a cross-conduit, considering his options. After a moment, he moved left, decisively. "I suppose if there were nine, you'd have no trouble taking 'em out."

"Naturally."

"Naturally," Miles sighed, and carefully pulled a panel free from the wall in front of him. Just as he'd expected, he'd come up behind the Cardassians, and he was relieved to see that Julian had been exaggerating his plight a little – he only counted six of them. He reached for one of the newly minted flash-bang grenades in his pockets, whispered, "Watch out," into the comm, and tossed it right in their midst, flinging himself back into cover and holding an arm over his eyes for good measure.

He was just beginning to think it was a dud when a screaming brightness exploded even behind his sheltered eyes. His ears rang. Sneaking a peek around the corner, he saw the Cardassians in a state of disarray, some with bleeding noses or ears, some already being felled by Julian's ruthlessly precise fire.

By the time Miles reached Julian, all six Cardassians were down, and Julian was emptying shot after shot into the one nearest him. "I think you got him," Miles said, mildly, and was a little disturbed at the weird echo his voice made in his still-ringing ears.

Julian glanced up and smeared away some of the blood streaming from his nose – apparently the grenade had been a bit too high-powered – and very slowly and deliberately fired again at the Cardassian's extremely dead remains. There was a gash along his leg that looked painful but, to Miles's admittedly unpracticed eye, probably not dangerous. Some of his hair had come loose from its ponytail, giving him a strange, feral appearance. Miles approached with caution. "You okay?"

"Fine," Julian said, shortly. "Let's go."

He led the way, limping slightly, and Miles covered their retreat, watching behind them for any signs of enemies. Nobody seemed to be coming to follow up on the disturbance. It was making him nervous. "You might at least say thank you."

"If it weren't for you being so slow, I wouldn't have been pinned down there in the first place." Julian's voice was terse, frustrated; he was nervous, as well. They were approaching the airlock where their stolen shuttle awaited, though, and the Cardassians' ill-preparedness would shortly be their gain.

Julian hit the controls for the airlock, but they only blatted a vaguely rude tone. He scowled, and hit the controls again. Miles moved forward to peer through the airlock. "Um," he said. "Julian?"

Their shuttle was gone.

"How interesting," a new voice drawled, and Miles dropped his weapon without looking back. He turned slowly, to see a dozen Cardassians waiting with disruptors drawn. Julian started to raise his own, and Miles shot him a quelling look. The lead Cardassian stepped forward and took both weapons with a smile. "I do so enjoy visitors."


As they were taken to what had to be an interrogation chamber, Miles frantically tried to count the seconds since he'd started the countdown. If he was adding correctly, they had about forty-five minutes left before detonation. It might be wise at this juncture to admit to the bomb's location, to buy themselves some time for escape. He met Julian's hard-eyed stare, and realized he, at least, was willing to die if it meant taking down this base. He'd probably be a little less fearless in a half-hour or so, Miles thought wryly, but until it came right down to the wire, Julian would keep that heroic death in mind. No help from that quarter.

Miles glanced around, trying to document their travels, trying to fill his mind with as many details as possible that he could turn over and over in his head, later. Surely an escape route was lurking somewhere in all these twists and turns. If there was such an opportunity, though, it certainly wasn't springing to mind.

They were dragged into a small room – well, Miles walked in, and Julian stubbornly refused to move until he was bodily removed from the corridor – and the Cardassians' leader stepped inside after them. The doors closed after him, and Miles and Julian exchanged a meaningful glance. Two against one.

"Of course," the Cardassian said mildly, taking a seat at the large desk that took up most of the room, "what would you do after you killed me? I can assure you that I'd make a poor hostage. Everyone on the base would receive an instant promotion, were my untimely death to occur."

Miles couldn't fault that logic: the Alliance were notoriously cavalier about their chains of command. Julian was looking a lot like he wanted to give it a try, anyway, so Miles elbowed him. "Not worth it," he said.

The Cardassian's attention fixed on him. "You should listen to your friend, Terran," he said. He had a peculiar, overly articulate inflection that made everything he said sound condescending. Combine that talent with Julian's ability to make anything into a sneer, Miles thought, and you'd have the most annoying person in existence.

"What do you want with us?" Miles asked. Julian had been quiet for some time, now, which was making him nervous.

"Merely to know why I've had the pleasure of entertaining you aboard this base," the Cardassian said, and smiled, reptilian. "Please, have a seat."

Neither Miles nor Julian moved to sit down. Undeterred, the Cardassian swung to his feet. "All right. We could all stand a little exercise." He leaned against the desk, hands spread flat against its surface. "Gentlemen. My name is Legate Dukat. And you are?"

Julian made as though to lunge forward, but Dukat had drawn a knife before Julian was halfway across the room. "Ah-ah," Dukat said, waving the point of the knife. "A precaution only, I assure you. I'm afraid you're not doing much for the Terran reputation as a barbaric, impatient species."

"We can't all be as civilised as the Cardassians," Julian sneered. He was watching the knife, like he was thinking of making another lunge for it. Miles was half-tempted to knock him out, just so he could navigate this particular minefield of a conversation without having to worry about Julian's penchant for random acts of violence.

"Look," said Miles, "there's nothing we want to tell you." That, at least, was true for the moment. They might have to reassess their priorities at some point in the next forty minutes.

Dukat grinned, straightening. "I am overjoyed to hear it," he said. "I merely wish to know if you did prepare a bomb, when it's meant to go off, and whether its blast radius will be sufficient to destroy the entire facility."

Julian snorted. "Yeah, that's not asking too much. Would you like the location while you're at it?"

"Oh, no," said Dukat, looking scandalized. "Certainly not. If I knew the location, I might be required to disarm it."

Miles had the distinct sense he was losing the direction of this conversation. "Excuse me?"

"I might be required to disarm it," Dukat repeated, patiently. "And then the base would not explode, unless you set up a secondary explosive somewhere? No? That is a pity."

Julian looked as puzzled as Miles felt. "You want your own base to explode?"

"Of course." Dukat smiled and nodded toward the door. "Like I said, I'm not altogether fond of my compatriots, and they have no love for me. I have several political enemies on this base, and their absence would make my life considerably easier. Your arrival here was quite fortuitous. When my security advisor informed me of your imminent attack, it took some doing to let you slip through the cracks."

This, Miles suspected, was at least partly a boast – if Dukat had known all about their attack plan, he would have left the station already. Still, if what he was saying was true-

No time to think. Miles squared his jaw. "We have a device rigged to go off in about thirty-eight minutes. It will destroy the entire base, and everything within a one hundred kilometer radius."

Julian stared at him like he was some sort of traitor. Miles ignored the look, met Dukat's eyes carefully. There was a calculating coldness there that gave nothing away. "I see," said Dukat. "Is there any chance my men will succeed in disabling the device before then?"

"No," Miles said. "Not unless they know exactly where it is."

Dukat clapped, making Julian jump. "Excellent. Well done, gentlemen. If you'll follow me, we should be able to make our escape on my personal shuttle. I'll say I'm taking you both for interrogation." He paused. "No, that seems suspicious, doesn't it, me going off on an excursion alone with the two of you ready to kill me at a moment's notice. And you can't very well take me hostage, for the reasons I stated earlier. Hm."

Dukat took a step forward, and Miles realized too late that he'd been holding one hand behind his back when that hand came up in a flash. Something cool hissed at Miles's neck, and he slumped, riding a wave of nausea as the carpeted floor crashed up to meet him. His vision swam, badly, and he had a confused glimpse of Julian grappling with Dukat, yelling something that sounded strangely like his name.

Miles sank.


When Miles opened his eyes, there was a strange, astringent taste at the back of his mouth. He gagged, then rolled to his side and retched into a small tin basin that had apparently been placed there for that purpose.

"Charming," said a familiar voice, and Miles rolled onto his back, panting for breath. A featureless grey ceiling met his eyes, a couple feet lower than what he was used to, and as he slowly hitched himself onto his elbows, he realized just how small the room was. Julian was sitting against the opposite wall, which put him only a few feet away. Miles realized he hadn't even been lying down flat – his legs were bunched up against the opposite wall.

"What," he said, and had to clear his throat, which nearly prompted another wave of retching. "What happened?"

Julian watched as he pulled himself into a sitting position. His eyes looked a little vague, and the dried blood under his nose only accentuated the dazed appearance. "We were drugged," he said. "You reacted worse than I did, I think."

Was that a hint of concern in Julian's voice? God, he must really be out of it. "Dukat," Miles said, slowly. "I remember Dukat."

"Good for you."

Miles managed a sharp look. "Come on, Julian. I'm trying to figure out what happened, here."

Julian shrugged, laconically. "I think Dukat must have knocked us out and dragged us aboard that shuttle of his. We're in an escape pod." He knocked on the side. "I think we're broadcasting a general distress call, which means the Alliance will be along shortly to pick us up. And then there's this." He held up an isolinear rod.

Miles squinted at it. "Julian, I'm not in the mood for guessing games-"

"If I knew what it is, I'd tell you. I found it in my pocket when I woke up. A message from Dukat, presumably."

Miles's brain was still having trouble with things like making both eyes focus on the same object at once, but even he could see something was strange about the whole situation. "No," he said, "no, this isn't right. Why would Dukat bother setting us free after he'd cleared the blast radius? Even if we are going to be picked up by the Alliance, I mean. Why not just kill us?"

"Maybe he thought he could use a few potential allies among the Terrans." Julian managed a twisted grin, dancing the isolinear rod along his knuckles. "Maybe he did it out of the goodness of his heart."

"Right," said Miles. "Just like when he was willing to blow up a base full of innocent people to take out a few bad eggs."

"Nobody's innocent," Julian said, softly.

"Relatively innocent."

At that, the corner of Julian's mouth quirked up. "I'll grant you that." He shifted his position, gave a little hiss of pain and clamped a hand over his leg. His quick glance at Miles dared him to make any move to help. Miles made none.

They lapsed into a silence that, if not exactly companionable, was at least comfortable. Julian was staring at the data rod in his hands like he could divine its secrets just by squinting at it hard enough. Miles contented himself with trying to ignore the tiny shudders in the bulkhead at his back – apparently inertial dampeners hadn't been a priority while constructing these escape pods. His stomach rebelled at the thought, and he was grateful that the pod's cramped size meant the basin was never more than an arm's length away.

A thought hit him. "Hey," he said, "what about that Cardassian on the slave transport a couple years back? The one who helped us."

"You mean the crazy person who committed suicide-by-ally?" Bashir snorted. "Dukat seems too smooth to be involved with someone like him. I'm sure he's got an ulterior motive."

"That's what I'm saying," Miles said, doggedly. His head was swimming; it was difficult to think. "Maybe he's in charge of this whole Cardassian anti-Alliance rebellion thing-"

"What Cardassian anti-Alliance rebellion thing? We've found no evidence of that." But Bashir was leaning forward now, intrigued in spite of himself.

"Come on," Miles said. "Some of this has been far too easy. There's no way we should have been able to take Empok Nor the way we did, not with the Intendant still aboard and waiting to be captured. We've been getting help from somewhere else, and I think you know it."

Julian's brow furrowed, then he sighed and slumped back against the bulkhead. "Granted. It's a possibility."

"Wait, are you agreeing with me?" Miles clutched a hand to his chest, theatrically. "I might just have a heart attack on the spot."

Julian scowled. "If that's what'll happen if I cooperate with you, it's a wonder I didn't try it sooner. Anyway, you're delirious. Might as well relax before the Alliance picks us up and throws us in a dungeon somewhere."

Miles acquiesced, mostly because he was more exhausted than he'd ever been in his life. He was just drifting into a numb, shivering doze when Julian spoke up again. "So. It's only a matter of time before someone comes to investigate. How do you want to spend our last few minutes as free men? Vomiting into a basin?"

"Hm," said Miles, and made a show of considering the idea, tasting bile at the back of his throat. He swallowed, hard. "I don't know about you, but I think I've about explored all the possibilities on that particular front."

Julian's fingers drummed a nervous tattoo against the featureless walls of the pod. "Well," he said, "how about-"

There was a clank, and the pod jerked violently. They slammed into one wall, and Miles caught the basin before it upended. "Someone's got us in a tractor beam."

Julian's eyes were wide, but he spared a glower in Miles's direction. "You're just full of insights today, aren't you?"

A second jerk signalled a new transition – into a cargo bay, Miles supposed. Almost immediately, there was the sound of clanking against the metal as the pod's pressure seal was broken. He and Julian shrank against the opposite wall. Even through the lingering haze of the drugs, Miles couldn't help noticing that Julian had positioned himself slightly in front of Miles, shielding him. A coincidence, surely, owing to the size of the pod.

The pod's door opened. Jadzia Dax stared in at them. "What the hell kept you?"


Miles's reaction to the drug earned him a couple days in the Defiant's sickbay, while Julian's leg wound wasn't severe enough to keep him more than a few hours. Sometimes life was just unfair.

Miles had grown bored with staring at the Defiant's ceiling about two minutes into his convalescence, and had bullied one of the junior technicians into grabbing him a handful of reports. After that, he'd been able to lose himself in the morass of efficiency reports and power ratings, comfortably bland. He'd also spent some time thinking about Dukat – apparently the shuttle had dropped them off in the midst of the Badlands, right next to the rebel hideout nobody was supposed to know about. Miles's theory was starting to hold water - either Dukat was in league with the mysterious hand reaching out to keep the rebellion afloat, or he was that mysterious hand. Unfortunately for his piece of mind, the data rod had proven to be under a complex encryption, one nobody had managed to break, and the suspense on that particular front was making his skin crawl. It'd come with time, he thought, and contented himself with turning the problem over and over in the back of his mind.

On the second day of his medically imposed captivity, Julian marched through the door and plopped into the chair beside Miles's bed.

"I've been thinking," he said, without preamble, and Miles heroically kept himself from making the obvious joke. "There's no reason at all for Dukat to have saved our lives. Not only did he risk his own to get us here, he gave up the important intel that the Alliance knows the location of this particular base of operations."

"That's true," Miles said, a little warily, setting down the report he'd been reading. "Have you decrypted the data rod?"

"Yeah," said Julian. He looked... strange, Miles thought. Thoughtful. Pensive. "We weren't getting anywhere, so I tried a personal encryption protocol. There's no way he could have known it, but it worked."

Miles sat up straighter. "And? What was on it?"

"Nothing." Julian slouched with a sigh. "It was empty, just a bunch of encoded nothing."

Miles felt an itch at the back of his mind, suspicions lining up. "Seems to me he's gone to a lot of trouble to point out that our intelligence has been compromised."

"It has to be part of some larger plot. Maybe we've been programmed. Maybe we're transmitting information to the Alliance."

"Maybe," Miles said. "I'm pretty sure all the scans I went through when I got here would've turned any transmitters up, though. They were pretty thorough. Inside and out." He winced at the memory.

"What other explanation is there?"

Miles met his gaze, significantly. Julian shook his head, adding, "No, it still doesn't hold water, even if he's working with your Cardassian conspiracy group. Why would they be trying to overthrow the Alliance, anyway?"

"Maybe they just want to mess with our heads," Miles offered, then, more seriously, "Maybe it's a power grab – let us destabilize the Klingons and the Bajorans while they sneak in the back door. Maybe they're sympathizers."

Julian stared at him for a long moment. "Why would they sympathize with us?"

Miles shrugged. "Maybe we're part of some political agenda. But maybe... maybe Dukat's trying to tell us we've got allies. I think all we can do now is wait and see, keep doing what we're doing the best we can. And keep a bit of a tighter lid on recruitment and intelligence. I think this is a good thing, Julian. It could be a great help to us, in the long run."

"I hate optimists," Julian groaned, and Miles thought, No, you hate thinking about the long run, but he thought it with a fondness that surprised him. After another silence, Julian leaned back in his chair, rubbing his face. He hadn't shaved since before their mission, Miles noted. The four-day beard suited him.

"Is it so outside the realm of possibility that someone could do something decent just for the sake of decency?" Miles asked, mildly.

To his surprise, Julian just stared at him, then sighed. "This is about the other Julian again, isn't it? Dr. Perfect."

Miles blinked, startled. "No. No, I... I haven't thought about him in a long time." He shifted against the blankets, suddenly unable to find a comfortable position. "It hasn't been about him for a long time. It's about you."

They were quiet for a long moment.

Julian stood up, slowly, and lingered in the doorway. "Look, try not to take any medicine that makes you die before tomorrow, okay? Jadzia wants to throw you a welcome-back party, and I'd rather not lose a prime opportunity to get roaring drunk."

Miles quirked a smile. "I'll be there."

"Good," Julian said, and then he was gone, and the hiss of the sickbay door brought with it a newer, more peaceful silence.

Miles stared at the closed door for some time, turning things over and over in his mind, slowly and methodically. He thought about the strange and vast new political landscape expanding before them, a future of their own making. He thought about exploring that landscape, together.

He thought about things that were broken. Things that were binding.

He smiled.

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