A telepathic incident with a Lethean causes Bashir to have strange dreams. (G&B)
Bashir is in the corridor again, near the landing pad. It seems darker than usual. Hotter. The bodies are still on the floor, but Sisko and Dax aren't there to pull him away. He wishes, for a moment, that he could feel worse for the dead Jem'Hadar, but he's only angry at them when he steps over them to reach the last body.
Garak seems very small now that he's dead. Bashir sinks down to his knees next to him like he did before. But Sisko and Dax aren't there. (Is Miles waiting for us? Shouldn't we be collapsing the wormhole? Where are they?)
He touches Garak's arm, as if he expects it to move. As if he expects that Garak must only be sleeping, because he couldn't have died this way. Only months after he fought for his life through brain damage and endorphin withdrawal, it can't be something as simple as a firearm to take Garak down. Not when there's still so much Bashir doesn't know about him.
He hadn't expected to feel a loss this intense. He had better friends. Friends he trusted more. Hell, the two of them had been talking over lunches for more than a year before Bashir could call Garak a friend at all.
So, why is he cold, sick... feeling the eerie symptoms of shock crawling up his spine when he has watched closer friends die than this?
"You're just fooling yourself, y'know."
Bashir looks up. Miles is standing at a few meters away at a wall panel. He's pulling out bits and pieces of Cardassian circuitry. Dropping them on the floor thoughtlessly.
"Garak's dead," Bashir says.
"Of course he is." Miles is surly... as usual when he's working on something complicated. Whatever he's doing to the wall panel looks complicated.
Bashir stands - his legs feel boneless, but somehow he can make them move -- and he goes to Miles. "What are you doing?"
"What do you think?"
Bashir stops inches away from Miles's left shoulder. "I don't know."
Miles gestures for Bashir to wait with his palm, reaching his other arm elbow-deep into the wall. "Here's the problem." He pulls out a smooth, white tibia. "This'd be yours, Julian."
Miles holds the bone out to him, and Bashir takes it.
Bashir jerked awake at the sound of his alarm. He propped himself up on the heels of his hands, panting. For a surreal moment, he had no idea where he was.
Finally, the alarm made sense, and the bed made sense, and the persistent humming of the station made sense.
"I'm awake, computer. What time is it?"
The alarm ceased. "Oh-six-fourteen hours."
He'd slept through his alarm for fourteen solid minutes? He took a deep breath and headed for the bathroom, with only the vaguest feeling that he had had an unsettling nightmare.
He'd forgotten his dream altogether until Ensign Tamra came in with a hairline fracture of her left tibia. He froze mid-examination, the entire dream coming to him in a momentary flash. He could almost feel the heat of the corridor, the smell of scorched flesh.
His patient's voice jolted him back to awareness. He forced a smile. "You've broken your leg. This will just take a moment. Just make sure to watch your step going through those Cardassian doorways next time. Those bottom lips will get you every time if you're not paying attention."
Bashir was glad that, aside from the ensign, it was a slow morning. He couldn't shake the feeling that the dream gave him. He didn't really remember many dreams -- not like this. He could practically hear O'Brien's voice.
He rubbed his forehead. He could feel a hell of a headache coming on.
The Promenade is dark and filled with what feels like a cold fog on Bashir's skin. He is outside of the infirmary, walking. He doesn't remember where he's going or when he got there, but he is gripping the smooth, white tibia Miles gave him in his left hand. He keeps walking, as though his feet are moving themselves.
A voice booms out of the fog. "Alas, poor Garak! I knew him, Bashir."
Bashir squints into the gloom. It is Sisko, sitting on a storage unit outside of Garak's shop. (But Garak's shop isn't in this direction.) Sisko is hunched over, and he has something spherical in his hand.
"That's a human skull, Commander."
Sisko looks up at him, then he laughs. So loudly that his voice echos through the empty Promenade. "I see you found the tibia."
Bashir glances down at the bone in his hand, then he nods.
"Go ahead, then," Sisko says, gesturing toward the entrance of the shop. Obediently, Bahsir goes in. Sisko chuckles lowly as Bashir passes him.
He is relieved to see that the shop is not empty. Nerys, Jadzia, and Keiko stand in a line near the center of the shop, all of them in sleek black dresses.
"Jadzia, am I glad to see you," he says as he approaches her. "Sisko's acting strangely. He thought the skull he has was Garak's, but--"
He touches her shoulder and she falls backwards, her smile unflinching, her body frozen in its exaggerated pose.
When did Garak get these mannequins?
It occurs to Bashir to look down, and he sees that the place where Jadzia was standing is now occupied by a small wooden box with two skeletal feet mounted on it. He frowns. It seems natural to press the tibia into place on the ankle bones, so he does. He is surprised when it sticks in place.
"It seems I'm collecting bones," he says to himself, and he heads for the entrance again. "May I have that skull, Commander?"
Sisko laughs. "You can't do it out of order. What would you put it on?" And he throws the skull across the Promenade.
"I think I may be completely insane."
"This just now occurred to you?" Garak asked pleasantly.
Bashir rolled his eyes. "I'm being serious, Garak. I'm hardly sleeping, and when I do, I have the most bizarre dreams."
Bashir sighed. Leave it to Garak to find the heart of the matter without even trying. "They just seem... real. I mean, there is the typical dream logic. All of it seems to make so much sense during the dream. But..." He paused.
"Perhaps your run-in with the Lethean had unforeseen consequences."
"I thought of that. I've had Nurse Jabara run test after test. Nothing seems to be wrong with me. I mean, it's possible that the Lethean's telepathic interference affected a part of my brain that--"
Garak held up a hand to interrupt him. Politely. "I meant that your problem might be a bit harder to diagnose, Doctor. From what you've told me, the experience must have been quite stressful."
Bashir snorted. "Stressful? Stressful like contracting a virus that causes aphasia, or like crossing over into an alternate universe where Major Kira is a dominatrix, or like my fantasy version of Jadzia prancing around in front of the real Jadzia?" Garak chuckled, and Bashir shook his head. "You're laughing, but it's true. If just being stressed out made me lose my mind, it'd be long gone by now. I think I'd have missed it sooner than this."
"I didn't mean to make light of your problem. Not at all." Garak paused. "Are there any clues within your dream that could point to the cause?"
"I'm. Just collecting bones, and..." The image of Garak lying dead in the corridor returned to him, as real as it had seemed when the image had first been inserted into his mind by the Dominion. He pushed his mug of Tarkalean tea aside and stood. "And I'm probably making too much of a few nightmares. If you'll excuse me, I have reports to finish before the end of my shift."
He could feel Garak's eyes watching him as he hurried out of the Replimat, but he didn't look back.
He finds the vertebrae stacked in a pyramid under a gray-gold suit that Garak once said would bring out his eyes. Bashir had appreciated the sentiment, but he hadn't been particularly impressed. He wishes now that he'd been a little more graceful about declining it.
The vertebrae take forever to get into place on the other bones he's found. He keeps forgetting what order they go in, though he's sure he should know this by heart.
"You're doing this to yourself."
He knows that voice. He's memorized it.
"Elizabeth," he says, turning to face her. "Elizabeth Lense." Valedictorian.
"To your salutatorian, yes. We know." She's wearing black from head to toe. The pants are cut too long and the fabric is dusty from dragging under her heels. "You already know how to put them together."
"Could you give me a hand? I can't remember--"
"Why are you wasting my time? We both know the truth." She shakes her head. "You're such a bad liar, but lying is all you ever do."
Bashir expected the words to sting, but he just laughs. "Lying is Garak's department."
"Right. You just lie by not saying anything at all."
"You're awfully quiet."
Bashir was startled from his thoughts. "What?"
"Is something wrong? You haven't touched your food." Dax asked
"No, ah... No. I was just. Thinking about something. That I'd... Read?"
Dax raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Dream Elizabeth was right, he thought. He was a bad liar.
He sighed and smoothed his hair back, hiding from her eyes for a moment behind his own wrist. "It's stupid." He paused. She was still looking at him. "It's just some kind of reaction to the run-in with the Lethean, I think. I'm sure if I just wait it out..."
"Are you going to tell me what 'it' is?"
Bashir leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes for a moment. The smell of Klingon cuisine that emanated through Dax's restaurant of choice was usually appealing, but today it turned his stomach. He opened his eyes again and asked, "Have you ever had a... recurring dream? Or a dream that seems to be in chapters every night. Like, your mind is telling you a story."
Dax furrowed her brow, then shrugged. "I have memory dreams from past hosts. They repeat sometimes... Chapters?"
"I can't quite explain it," Bashir said. "Like when I was in my coma, there are people who I recognize, but they aren't acting anything like themselves. But... It's not quite the same. They don't seem to represent anything. They just... seem to know what's going on. Like they're stringing me along."
Dax nodded thoughtfully. "So, what happens?"
"I'm collecting bones. Miles gave me a tibia. Commander Sisko had a skull, but he tossed it across the Promenade -- said it wasn't time yet. You were a mannequin in Garak's shop, but you gave me a set of--" Bashir stopped himself. "This sounds even more ridiculous out loud."
"A mannequin?" Dax was barely suppressing an amused smile.
Bashir couldn't help but laugh a little. "You were propped up on a set of foot bones, but I accidentally knocked you over. And since then, I've just been building a skeleton out of the bones I find around the station. I've been working on the vertebrae every night for a week."
"So, how did it start? You were just collecting these bones?" Dax asked, taking a drink of her raktajino.
"Yes. Miles ga--" He stopped and leaned forward in his seat. "No. It started with Garak."
"Do... Do you remember when we were in the Gamma Quadrant and the Founders made us think we were back on the station?"
"Of course. Those boards we were on gave me a crick in my neck for a week."
"You should have seen me about it," Bashir chastised.
Dax smiled. "Don't change the subject."
Bashir poked at his food with his fork, thinking for a moment that he might make another go at eating.
No, he was stalling. He didn't want to say it.
"Do you remember what happened? Garak helped us and..." His voice sounded low and strange in his own ears.
"We went to the Defiant--"
"No." Bashir fixed his eyes on hers. "No, I don't mean that part. Before that."
Realization came over her face. "Garak was killed."
He nodded. "The dream starts with me... and him. He's dead. You and Commander Sisko aren't there. It's just me and him. His body. And I'm... upset. Then, I see that Miles is there."
Dax reached forward, putting her hand on his. "Maybe it's not a reaction to what the Lethean did. Maybe it's about losing your friend."
"Why would...?" He couldn't finish the sentence; he could only shake his head.
"I think you're going to have to figure that out for yourself," she said, and she squeezed his hand.
It was harder to find the skull than he had expected, but he holds it now, tucked against his chest like an infant. He is nearly inside Garak's shop when Odo slides out of a shadow, first liquid, than solid and familiar.
"I wouldn't go in there if I were you," he growls.
"But, I have to!" Bashir says. His voice is childish. "I'm almost finished."
Odo liquefies into the floor, then shoots up solid again, his face only inches from Bashir's. "You don't even know what you're doing, do you?"
"That's why I have to find out."
Odo scoffs dismissively. "Solids." He leans forward. Their noses are almost touching. "If you were a Changeling, you wouldn't have to do any of this. I can make you a Changeling like me."
Odo touches him and his arm becomes golden and amorphous. For one dizzying moment, Bashir knows what it would be like to accept his offer. If he lets go of himself, he can melt away and become his own basic element. None of the betrayals of his history will exist anymore. He will be whomever he wants. He can shed that single secret that weighs on him -- in every friendship, every conversation, weighs on him.
He steps away from Odo, and the feeling is gone. He looks down at the skull cradled in his arms. "I can't. I can't give up that easily."
Somehow Garak didn't seem particularly surprised when Bashir showed up outside of his quarters in the middle of the station's simulated night. He simply invited him in, but Bashir stood in the hallway, his heart racing.
"Excuse me?" Now, Garak seemed surprised.
"I thought you were dead."
"I'm having a bit of trouble keeping up, Doctor. Am I wrong or am I dead?"
Bashir laughed weakly. "Maybe dead wrong?" He shook his head. "I just know now that the dreams I've been having... they're about you."
Garak frowned. "Please, Doctor, come in and sit down. You look exhausted."
Finally, Bashir walked through the door, but he didn't sit. He found himself pacing back and forth in Garak's quarters. He hadn't been in them since Garak was sick.
"In the Gamma Quadrant, when the Dominion had me and the others, I told you that they ran a sort of mental simulation to see how we would respond to certain things. But I didn't tell you all of it. You were in it."
Garak sat down, his eyes fixed on Bashir as if doing so would lure Bashir to follow suit. "You told me that."
Bashir shook his head. "I didn't tell you everything. I didn't tell you that you died. You were killed. I saw you shot to death by the Jem'Hadar."
"I see." Garak's eyes were still fixed on him. He could feel them.
"I didn't expect it to..." Bashir stopped speaking, stopped walking. His hands felt numb, so he balled them up together in front of his chest. Garak was sitting somewhere behind him. He thought if he turned around to look at him, he might lose his nerve, so he didn't. "I've seen a lot of people die. Hazard of the profession. Sometimes you fail."
A hand curled around Bashir's shoulder, startling him. He hadn't heard Garak walk over.
"Doctor," Garak said, his voice as careful as always. "I don't think you're having all of these dreams because of me."
Bashir swallowed, keeping his eyes fixed somewhere beyond Garak's desk. "You said something about how we wouldn't have lunch together again after all, and you died. I held on to you. I couldn't move or breathe. Sisko and Dax had to drag me away from your body. After I came back to the station, I found myself passing your shop just so that I could see you. So I could know that this is reality and that other Garak was only a shadow."
Garak didn't speak. Bashir willed himself to turn and face him.
"The dream I had tonight. I have been building a skeleton for weeks in the middle of your shop where a mannequin of Jadzia used to be. I didn't know why. I just knew I had to do it. And when I was done, I waited for something to happen. For a long time, nothing did.
"Then, I heard your voice. You said I'd gone to a lot of trouble to avoid facing myself. I looked for you, but I couldn't tell where your voice was coming from. It seemed to come from every direction. When I looked at the skeleton again, it wasn't a skeleton anymore. It was me. I'd been putting myself together."
Garak's lips were in the shape of a smile, but he wasn't smiling. There was a strange light in his eyes. "You have very elaborate dreams, Doctor."
"Maybe it was because of what the Lethean did in part. I don't know. But I needed it."
"I think what you need is a good night's sleep. I'm sure you have something in your infirmary that could help."
Bashir pushed out a breath. Garak didn't make anything easy. "I said you were wrong before."
"Dead wrong. I remember."
"You said that I didn't trust you. Because in my coma, you played the villain. But you're wrong. Your reasoning was downright faulty. Why would he take the guise of someone I mistrusted if he was out to trick me?" Bashir paused. There was no expression on Garak's face that gave away a reaction. "Maybe you would think more of me if I mistrusted you. Or maybe you'd be more comfortable with me. Or... I don't know. I don't even know why I do trust you. It probably makes me the most gullible person in this part of the universe, but I... I know you lie, but that has nothing to do with it. You're my friend. One of the best friends I've ever had. I don't think I've told you that."
"Julian," Garak said quietly, his expression still unreadable. "I already knew."
"Oh." Bashir blinked a few times, then he laughed. He couldn't help laughing. He could only imagine how monumentally ridiculous he was, standing in his night clothes rambling about skeletons and imagined deaths. "Well. Then, I'm glad."
Garak's smiled, the familiar lunchtime smile. "You should go to sleep."
Just the mention of sleep made Bashir realize just how tired he was. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had an uninterrupted night. "And I should let you sleep. I'm sorry. I told you the other day, I think I'm really losing my mind."
"Oh, no reason to apologize. I'm always happy to talk to you, even when you aren't making very much sense. And really, this isn't the worst. Your analysis of The Never Ending Sacrifice was much more upsetting."
Bashir rolled his eyes. "You will never forgive me for that, will you?"
"No," Garak said genially as he led Bashir to the door.
"Oh well." The door slid open and Bashir found himself once again in the hallway, looking in at Garak. "I'm glad you put up with me despite the fact that I don't appreciate Cardassian literature half as much as I should."
"One tenth as much as you should," Garak said. "Good night, Doctor. I'll see you at lunch."
As Bashir walked away, he glanced back to see a sliver of Garak's face as his door slid shut again. He thought, for a moment, that he had seen something in Garak's expression that said he was more grateful for Bashir's confession than he'd admitted.
Bashir smiled silently to himself, and he walked back to his own quarters for a deep, dreamless sleep.