Absinthe Heart

By Seema


Disclaimer: Characters and places belong to Paramount. No profit or infringement intended.

Author's note: An answer to Liz Barr's cocktail challenge:

1. Your fic must feature a cocktail. Or several.
2. Your featured cocktails must be somewhere in the title.

My gratitude to Liz Logan for the beta. This story is for her because she always knows what I'm trying to say better than I do.

****

She's been coming in for the last six days to brood. She always picks the barstool next to Morn, but somehow, manages to miss the barfly's flirtatious looks and advances. She is completely oblivious, speaking only to order a drink. Some nights she drinks bloodwine, other nights it's Bajoran springwine and once, she picked kanar. Tonight, she chooses absinthe.

"An unusual drink," you comment, hoping today she'll respond. You don't get many orders for absinthe these days. Mostly bloodwine and you're hoping that someone with a liking for kanar comes by soon; you're still overstocked from last year's Cardassian occupation of the station. She shrugs as you pour the green liquid into a goblet rimmed with gold.

"Consider it part of my Hemingway phase," she says as you hand her the drink.

You don't know who Hemingway is nor do you care - unless he walks into the bar and orders a round of the foul smelling green stuff for everyone. That's not likely, she tells you with a slight smile. He's been dead for over four hundred years.

"He was an author, Terran," she says. This explains things. You never pay much attention to Hew-mons or the literature they write.

"In his books, the characters go to bullfights and drink," she continues. It's the most conversation you've gotten out of her in days. "It sounds like a dull life when you put it that way, but in a way, it's more than that. It's simple. I like simple." She's wistful as she says this. Not for the first time, you feel sympathy for her and you think that maybe she shouldn't be here, that she's only a little girl, even if you consider the fact she's on her eighth lifetime.

You figure she doesn't care for the absinthe by the way her eyes crinkle slightly at the first sip.

"Bitter," she tells you. "Stronger than I prefer. But I think it was Emony or maybe it was Lela. I can't keep them straight, but one of them liked Hemingway and sat out in the sun drinking this stuff."

"It was Audrid," you say automatically. You remember this obscure detail from the other one's zhian'tara four years ago. "Audrid liked Hemingway."

"How did you know it was Audrid?" she asks on confusion. "Even I don't even know who likes what." Then she shakes her head. "No, don't answer that. Stupid." Another slight smile. "Too many answers sometimes, not enough questions. They don't always match up. But thank you. It was bothering me. The Hemingway, that is." Her eyes narrow as she looks at you. "Do you remember other things about Audrid from the zhian'tara?" She sounds like she's pleading, that she wants anything you can offer and honestly, all you can think of now is Hemingway and his love of drink; you're considering now that if Hemingway was alive, he'd develop a taste for kanar, no problem.

"Do you, Quark?" Her voice is soft. "Remember anything at all?"

"No," you say sharply. You don't feel bad about the lie you're telling. You never wanted to be in the zhian'tara; the idea of embodying another made you nervous. It was only because the other one asked you as she carelessly stroked your ears. You could never say no to her so you said yes. You definitely don't want to do it again and you want to cut off the request to embody another host before it comes. "I don't remember anything else. Sorry."

She pushes the drink away and leans forward on the bar, resting her weight on her forearms. She looks tired, but you don't dare ask her to consider getting some rest; it bothers you just how much she reminds you of the other one and you want something - anything - to hold on to, though you'd never admit it to anyone. You're not sentimental, you don't form attachments, you're just not that kind - these are the lies you tell yourself regularly.

"That's too bad," she says softly. "I was hoping you would remember. Help me sort out this *mess* in my head." She shakes her head. "There's so much to know, so much to remember, so much to *feel*..."

The 'feeling' part - that much is obvious to you; it's not lost on you how she looks towards the door when *he* walks by. What draws her to that sullen Klingon is anyone's guess. You wonder if she's still in love with him, whether she will always be in love with him. Some phenomena, you think, will always defy explanation.

She doesn't laugh like the other one did; she's more serious. She doesn't want to play tongo or spin the dabo wheel and she smiles with patient tolerance at your bawdry jokes. She tightens up when approached, which is ironic when you think of her profession.

"I help people, that's what I do," she says suddenly, as if reading your mind. "Why is it so easy when it's someone else? I know what I'd say to someone else in my situation."

You wish you could offer advice, but you remind yourself once again that you're a businessman. You have no idea of any kind of psychology that doesn't involve profit. You consider offering her a hug, but with your reputation, you're afraid the gesture would be misinterpreted. Besides, you think, you're not really the type to go around offering comfort; that's what the station's counselors are for.

You wonder if she chooses to mope over unfinished drinks because the Klingon doesn't come to the bar when she's here. In a way, you're grateful, but it's also obvious to you from the way she looks for him and asks about him that *she* wants - no, needs - to be near him. You think it's funny, this connection she shares with the other one.

And it occurs to you, suddenly, that you never use the other one's name anymore. Oh yes, in conversation sometimes her name comes up.

"Remember when Jadzia...?" someone will say and then there is silence, a deep and brooding quiet. It's easier to not think of her, of the others lost, because the wounds are still raw, festering. The day of the funeral, you refused to say anything because you were afraid of that emotion would waver your voice. But you see now with greater clarity. You notice when a regular is missing from the dabo tables; you only have to ask a question or two to find out that he was declared lost in a recent battle.

The word 'lost' is used too often these days. It's a more sterile word than 'dead' or 'killed.' Easier to comprehend, you think, for these weak Hew-mons, because 'lost' implies that one can be found again.

"I don't understand," she says suddenly. You stare at her, hoping for more, but she is quiet again. You can tell by her expression that she is drifting again into that strange joined world you've never been able to comprehend. You're not sure where the person begins, where the symbiont ends or maybe it's the other way around - it's always confused you, especially after the zhian'tara when Audrid's personality and voice were as clear as your own.

"What's there to understand?" you ask, a little impatiently. In your world, things are simple. Profit and loss, everything else is a waste of time.

"Everything. The perspective keeps changing," she says. She shakes her head as she curls her fingers around the stem of the glass she pushed away. "I don't know what to do about it, but it's making me crazy. If I could make this jumble of voices in my head stop, I'm sure the transition would be easier. I wasn't *trained* for this, Quark." She looks at you in quiet desperation, her eyes large and pleading, making you feel like you should say something, *anything*, because this kind of silence makes you uncomfortable.

The heart-to-heart stuff, that's what your stupid brother is good for. Always prattling about something inane and you wish you could just shut him up, throw him in a closet where you can't hear that stupid voice.

You don't do it because you know if you do, you'll miss him.

You'll miss him more than you care to admit. And you wish he was here now so he could help you find the right words because you *do* want to say something.

"You've always been a good friend to me, Quark," she says now, interrupting your reverie. She looks sad again and you realize it's because, surprise, the Klingon passed by and is now heading up to the holosuite. You hope to the Great Exchequer that he won't trash the place again. "I'm grateful. You and Julian. And of course, Ben and Jake. Kira. Odo. You've all been so good to me."

You nod. Your throat feels dry because you've been treating her just like you'd treat any customer and maybe you shouldn't have. Since the day she arrived on Deep Space Nine, you've been afraid because of the shadow of the other one. You keep comparing, even though you know you shouldn't. You think that she's frail where the other one was strong. You think this one is merely attractive, delicate, but not beautiful. You notice her insecurity in the same way you were aware of the other one's confidence. You risked your life for the other one, to assure her place in Sto-Vo-Kor, but you don't have that same feeling here, that same connection.

Somehow, it makes you feel guilty.

You've never felt this off-balance and losing one's composure is never good for business. Clothed females, you know, in one way or another, are always more trouble than they are worth. You've learned it's best to keep your distance. Especially in times like this when one day your enemy is your best customer and the next day, your best customer is trying to kill you. Yes, it's always best not to get involved with the people you serve.

But tonight, you decide to break that rule.

"Would you like to try another drink since you didn't like the absinthe? On the house?" you ask in a rusty voice. She shakes her head.

"No, but thank you. I think I should call it a night."

She leaves quietly as you watch uncomfortably. You consider going after her, asking if she needs anything, maybe even walk her to her quarters. You're not like Bashir or Rom when it comes to the emotional stuff, but you could give it a shot. It's the least you could do for her.

But then Morn distracts you; he wants drinks, one for him, and one for his lady friend. The lady is tall, green-haired, with dusky green skin. Her eyes are a brilliant topaz and you're smitten. She offers to rub your ears for you, even though Morn is listening. You understand the hollowness of the offer; you understand that love isn't involved in this particular equation, only a free drink or two. You say yes anyway because in the end, you're just like Ezri. It's still another thing you don't want to admit, but you're desperate for something you can understand.

~ the end ~


 

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