Immediately after "Broken Link," Garak endures his incarceration with a little help from his friend.
Takes place immediately after Broken Link
“Can I see him?” Bashir asked Odo.
Odo grunted his consent. “I’ll be in my office if you need me.”
Bashir approached the cell. Garak was sitting on the bench, staring straight ahead. He didn’t look up.
Bashir waited a moment, then spoke softly. “Hello, Garak.”
Garak pressed his lips tight. The last thing he wanted right now was to hear that voice. He let the silence fill the space between them. Perhaps he would leave.
Instead, Bashir got that look on his face – that oh-so-solicitous, warm, helpful look. Did he learn that at medical school, he thought scornfully, or was it just another of the doctor’s innate talents? Garak concentrated on keeping his breath slow and even.
“I understand how you’re feeling,” said Bashir soothingly.
A flame, such as he hadn’t felt since the removal of his implant, shot through Garak’s chest. He could see that Bashir was not going to be satisfied until he had poked and prodded, gotten whatever reaction he was looking for. And here he was, trapped. No choice but to have this dreadful, pointless exchange.
“And just how do you think I feel?” he asked.
Bashir sighed. “I think you feel bad because you almost killed us. But you were doing what you thought was right. Just as you said – your heart was in the right place. It’s OK. We don’t blame you.” He thought of Sisko and Worf’s reactions. And Odo. “Well – I don’t blame you.”
Garak closed his eyes. His heart. His heart was most certainly not in the right place, not at all. It was, in fact, in as wrong a place as it could be.
Before he could stop himself, he thought of the time when his implant broke down. Bashir taking his hand as he lay there. He had been so sure he was dying. He remembered that expression on the doctor’s face, smiling, caring, bemused. He could still feel the human’s hand holding his own. He could hear the voice saying, “I forgive you.”
He opened his eyes and saw that face. That warm face, radiating – something, that beautiful, kind, stupid human face. Rage filled his belly.
“You think I feel – bad – because I almost killed the one I – the ones I think of as friends? Is that it?”
“Not just us. You were willing to die, as well.”
That dense, naïve, simple human still didn’t understand. Willing to die? He had been counting on dying. Though it was hard to admit, Garak knew he would never have had the strength to attempt it at all, if he hadn’t known that the Jem’Hadar were nearby, that he would have to live only minutes with the knowledge of what he had done. Not that it mattered about any of the others. Only about this one.
He spoke very quietly, conversationally, not letting the bile into his voice.
“Do you remember, doctor, the first book I gave you to read?
“Of course,” said Bashir. His face, which had begun to frown at Garak’s rigid posture, relaxed into a smile. “The Never-Ending Sacrifice.”
“Do you remember why I gave you that book to read first?”
“You said it was the finest Cardassian novel ever written.” Bashir’s smile changed into something that could almost be called a smirk.
“You didn’t care for it, though, did you?”
“No. I thought it celebrated martyrdom, elevated a sick kind of death-wish into a perverse, cultish aspiration. I thought it displayed a disdain for the sanctity of life. I thought it viewed life as cheap. I thought its values were twisted, and sad.”
Garak nodded. “Yes, doctor. That was your reaction. But what about Cardassians? Do you think they see the novel in the same way?”
“Well, of course not. You’ve told me that it’s considered a great work, that it’s a reflection of Cardassian values. The characters are seen as heroes; their actions represent the fulfillment of the highest morals. It demonstrates that showing loyalty to the state, even at the expense of – or maybe, especially at the expense of – one’s life, is…” Bashir spoke more and more slowly. “That sacrificing oneself for the good of the state is the highest, greatest good one can ever hope to –” He broke off and looked at Garak again.
“That’s right, doctor.” said Garak, his voice tight and low. “I’m not – upset –” the word tasted foul and cloying in his mouth – because I tried to destroy the planet.” And you. “I’m upset because I failed.”
Bashir swallowed. He hadn’t thought of it that way before.
“You were willing to die. To save your people. Just like a Cardassian hero,” he realized. Garak grimaced. “You tried.” Bashir whispered.
Garak couldn’t help snorting. He thought back to when he had realized that this was the only course of action he could take. When that Changeling had threatened his people, had told him that every Cardassian was doomed to die. She had dared to casually remark that they would destroy his race; had said it right to his face, brazenly, as if his people were helpless to prevent it. As if they were beneath notice. She had no clue about what a Cardassian was.
They had killed Tain – or maybe not; the Changeling hadn’t really answered, and he wouldn’t have believed her anyway, but it didn’t matter. Although he was outraged at the threat against his people, if he were being totally honest with himself, he knew that he wasn’t just thinking about the good of Cardassia.
He remembered thinking, maybe this will be enough. Maybe, somehow, Tain will know. Maybe – his face grew warm remembering his thoughts just before Worf discovered him. Maybe he’ll be proud of me. Like that day in the country…
Garak turned away, hiding his face.
“So you wish you had succeeded?” Bashir’s voice interrupted his reverie.
That didn’t deserve an answer. A brief silence, then he spoke. “But that’s not all, doctor. There’s more.”
Bashir just stood there, waiting.
“Why was I unable to compete my task?” Garak prompted.
“You tried your best. Worf stopped you.”
“Oh, yes,” he nodded. “Worf, the warrior. A fine fighter. Very strong. He has proven himself worthy in battles against his fellow Klingons, no small accomplishment. I would imagine that he could even hold his own against a Jem’Hadar or two.”
Garak turned back to him, his face perfectly composed once more.
“Remember when I intruded on your spy holosuite program, doctor?” he asked. Bashir nodded warily.
“When I first saw you, you were dispatching a rather intimidating enemy with a champagne cork.” Garak forced a smile. “Very – innovative of you.”
“What’s the point, Garak?”
Garak ignored him. “You know, I was intrigued enough by my exposure to this type of entertainment that I did some research afterwards. I accessed some spy novels to peruse.” He paused. “The stories were quite exciting. I even found some excerpts from the original source material of the twentieth century. Fascinating.”
“Do you know one interesting thing that I noticed, doctor? The heroes of these fictions bested so many ferocious enemies, yet they were not particularly, how should I put it, warrior-types themselves.”
Despite himself, Bashir found he was warming to the subject. “No, that’s the point. The hero uses his wits against his adversaries.”
“Exactly! The main villain may be clever, but he tends to send very large, strong, even brutish – what’s the word? oh, – henchmen, to defeat the hero. One would never think the hero would prevail. And yet he does.”
“That’s one of the pleasures of the genre, Garak. The hero could never defeat these thugs through sheer strength. But you see, he’s had years of training, and he knows all sorts of tricks that allow him to overcome a much more powerful foe.” Bashir stopped talking. He started thinking.
“I wonder how true-to-life that part of your fantasy is,” Garak mused. “Oh, I would guess that real spies don’t have, perhaps, as frequent access to helicopters and parachutes at a moment’s notice as your characters do, but I could believe that the real-life counterparts have also received training and may have a variety of tricks up their sleeves.”
“What are you trying to tell me, Garak?”
Garak turned and walked a few steps away. When he spoke, his voice was no longer quiet and controlled. It was harsh and raw.
“I, too, have tricks up my sleeves, doctor. I have been highly trained, and I know – things. I do have extensive experience. I should have been able to defeat Worf. Not easily, mind you. But, when it was necessary, I have prevailed over Cardassian soldiers, Romulans, even a Kingon or two, before. I am, like your heroes, a quick thinker. I always seem to find a way.” He spoke into the corner of the cell. “But not this time.”
“What are you saying, Garak?” Bashir repeated.
“I don’t know,” said Garak with shocking bluntness. His insides were churning. He was not a man given to examining his feelings. But there was battle inside him that could not be ignored. And it was spilling over into a part of him that he kept tightly sealed away. That part of him which made it possible to survive his life of exile. The part which warmed him, which was the only thing to chase away the constant cold. The most secret part that no one should ever know. The weakness he couldn’t afford.
But now, he was learning more about weakness. Was he so weak, in regards to this person, that he couldn’t even bear living with his destruction for just a few minutes? Even though the Jem’Hadar were nearby? Had he really sunk so low, become so degraded, so immoral? Had he, somehow, deliberately failed? Even if it meant the destruction of Cardassia? Just so Bashir could live?
If so, he had betrayed his people. He had betrayed the essence of himself. All sold, for the price of being able to look upon this man’s face, to enjoy and bask in this gaze. All for his selfish pleasure. He hated himself. He was trying his best to hate Bashir.
What had he lost? Oh, but what had he held on to?
He turned to look at him. All he could see was compassion. All he could feel was shame. He couldn’t allow himself the pleasure of his relief that Bashir lived. He turned away again.
“Go now, doctor,” he ground out. “Please. Leave me alone.”
Well, thought Bashir bitterly as he walked away, once again he understood nothing about this man. Here, he thought it would be a good thing to offer support, to show his friendship. There was something that always drew him to Garak, something that Bashir didn’t like to look at too closely. But it seems that you’ve once again just made a difficult situation worse, he chastised himself. Clueless, as always. He wondered if Garak despised him.
Bashir stopped to have a few words with Odo. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the Cardassian once again sitting on the bench in the holding cell, back straight, hands lightly resting on his thighs, still. No pacing or fidgeting. Even though Cardassian hearing was not especially keen, Bashir kept his voice low. No sense taking chances with this particular Cardassian.
“Odo. What are you going to do with him,” he whispered.
“What do you mean?” asked Odo, suspiciously.
“Well, you can’t keep him here for six months!”
Odo looked as if nothing would please him more. “Why not?”
Bashir just looked at him. Then, thinking about it, he said, “He’s not even a Federation citizen. How do you end up with jurisdiction over him, anyway?”
“We offered extradition to Cardassia, but they didn’t want him. Said we were welcome to him. Suggested we execute him. I think they’d have been happy to send the executioner. Garak agreed to submit to Federation jurisprudence. His only request was that he be allowed to do his time here.”
“Well… you still can’t keep him in your holding cell for six months.”
Odo harrumphed, then allowed, “Well… I suppose it would get rather annoying after a while. I don’t think I care to spend that much time in his company.” He thought for a moment, then said with a sigh, “I’ll transfer him out tomorrow morning. He can serve out his sentence as confinement to quarters. Although I think he’s getting off too easy.”
“Too easy?” asked Bashir. “You think six months in solitary confinement is easy?”
“Who said anything about solitary? He can receive visitors.”
“Odo. Think. Who’s going to visit him?”
A moment passed, then Odo replied, “It’s not my fault that the man has no friends. Besides, he’ll have all the diversions available in quarters. Replicator, library, computer access…” Odo thought, then added, “I’ll have to tighten my security protocols throughout the station…” He made note to himself on a PADD, then looked up at the doctor. “I still think he’s getting off easy.”
The next morning, once he was back in his quarters, a guard installed outside his door, Garak sat down to make a plan. It would be just the thing, to take six months off as a sabbatical. A retreat. A retreat from what, he asked himself. It wasn’t as if his tailoring work was so stressful. Still, one made do.
He would be able to indulge in reading, of course. Maybe he’d concentrate on off-world literature. There were many that he knew came highly recommended – there were some Vulcan, Romulan, even Bajoran works which had fine reputations. Why, there might even be some Terran literature actually worth reading, if one looked long enough.
Next, he outlined a physical fitness regimen that could be accomplished within the confines of his quarters. It would be difficult to keep his reflexes sharp without the holodeck, but at least he could keep his muscles in shape. He had no intention of getting soft and fat, and becoming if possible more absurd than he already was. He would get next to no exercise unless he worked at it. He sighed. It wasn’t as if he had gotten much exercise at his tailor’s shop and strolling the promenade. He shook his head, then returned to his task. What else? His mind was a blank. He glanced at the chronometer. Guls, it was still early. A slight frown appeared across his face. What next, what next…
When he finally looked up from the computer and checked, it was mid-day. He’d been quite absorbed, disabling Odo’s surveillance on his quarters (again), then, just for fun, replacing the surveillance from holding cell A with an excerpt from an old 2D Ferengi-made pleasure-novel. But that still didn’t address exactly how he was going to fill all those hours before him. Well, he would deal with that question later. Right now, he was beginning to feel hungry. He thought of his standing Wednesday lunch date with Bashir at the replimat, and felt a sharp pang of despair. Before he could stop the thought, it occurred to him that he had already had so little to look forward to in this dreary life; losing the one enjoyable part that remained would be most unpleasant.
His door chime sounded. He looked up, startled. “Come in,” he said, getting to his feet.
Of all people, in strolled Bashir. Garak was not often surprised, but the timing of Bashir’s arrival, coinciding with his thoughts at that moment, were enough to momentarily unbalance him.
“Dr. Bashir,” was all he could manage. Bashir swept by him, entering the center of the living area, and looked around critically, as though he were a decorator. The room was rather plain. There was a desk, a bar area, a shelving unit with a few items on it, and a couch with a low table in front. It did not look as though it were arranged for entertaining. Garak imagined him shaking his head, saying, “No, no, this just won’t do at all!” Instead, he found a chair and dragged it to the couch. Satisfied, he went right to the replicator as though he were in his own quarters.
“I’m starving,” he announced. “Tarkelean tea, hot, extra sweet,” he ordered. “And a double order of hasperat.” He turned to Garak. “What are you having?” he asked politely.
Garak had composed himself, and replied, “I’m… pleased, but a bit surprised to see you, doctor. You’ve never paid me a social call in my quarters before.” More’s the pity.
“It’s Wednesday, Garak. Surely you haven’t been locked up so long that you’ve lost track of time,” Bashir teased. “You can always scratch little marks along the furniture legs, I suppose.” He took his order, placed it on the table, and sat at the chair. “Oh, and grow a long, long beard. Let your clothes get torn and worn. You know, the whole ‘forgotten prisoner’ routine.” He shook out his napkin and placed it on his lap.
“ ‘Let my clothes get worn and torn’? ” Garak raised an eye-ridge skeptically. “I think not. I am a prisoner, not a castaway.” He tried to hide the delight that was surging through his body. Really, he thought sardonically, I must get out more. He turned away from Bashir, afraid that the radiance was showing in his face, and placed an order for a Bajoran root salad with grilled harak and red-leaf tea. Collecting the order gave him time to collect himself, as well. He brought his meal to the table and settled himself on the couch, opposite Bashir. Unable to help himself, he asked, “Am I to understand, doctor, that you intend to continue our traditional Wednesday lunch together?”
“Of course,” Bashir mumbled around a mouthful of hasperat. He swallowed, wiped his lips, and said, somewhat more clearly, “Why ever not?”
Garak was nonplussed. For some reason, he had assumed that Bashir would not come to see him in his imprisonment. His friends would not approve. He could hear Kira’s voice saying, “Don’t bother, Julian. Let him rot.” And, after all, he hadn’t been exactly gracious to the doctor yesterday in the holding cell. Well, well. Perhaps he would not have to commit khastribar after all.
Two days later, Garak was involved at the computer again. He had arisen at his usual time, engaged in an efficient exercise routine, taken care of his morning ablutions, and dressed and groomed with his typical care.
He had tried to read, “The Shadows at Dusk,” but found himself unable to concentrate sufficiently for such a complex work. Perhaps he would put off the great classics for another time, and try something… less challenging. The simple act of picking out a replacement also seemed to elude him today, however. With something approaching grumpiness, he turned instead to the computer.
He was amused to see that Odo had found and corrected the corrupted file at cell A, and left a short message in its place: “Very funny.” Aha. A small smile found its way to his face. Let’s see… he starting idly searching through security files. Where shall I go –next?
He was so engrossed in sniffing his way through encryptments that the door chime made him start. “Come in,” he said, turning around in his seat.
It was Bashir. “I hope you’re hungry,” he said, lifting up a bag. “Rakalean Kannish loaves. With yamok sauce. On the side,” he added quickly, looking at Garak’s face. “I know some people take theirs plain. I didn’t know your preference.” He tossed the slightly greasy bag on the low table in front of the couch. “And extra napkins.” Garak just stared at him. “What?” Bashir asked, innocently.
“Doctor,” said Garak slowly, rising from his chair. He felt as if he had opened a new book to a random page and was trying to get the sense of the thing. He was at a loss. All he could think of to say was, “This isn’t Wednesday.”
“Tarkalean tea, hot, extra sweet. Yes, I know what day it is, Garak.” He brought the steaming cup to the table. “Slow day today. Plus, the Klingon restaurant’s closed. I hear he flunked the health inspection. Twenty minute wait at the replimat, at least.”
“I thought you said it was a slow day.”
“That still doesn’t mean I want to spend twenty minutes on queue, then another ten trying to find somewhere to sit.” He drew out two large wrapped parcels from the bag and started unwrapping one. A savory aroma filled the room. He spread the paper, translucent in spots, out on the table, and took the top off the foot-long loaf. With great intensity, he poured yamok sauce over the other half in thin, little winding rivers. When he was satisfied, he returned the top and pressed down slightly. You could just see tears of dark red sauce appear at the sides.
Garak watched, fascinated. “Did – Did I invite you to lunch today, doctor?”
“Huh?” Bashir looked up, loaf poised at his mouth.
Garak could feel icy fingers clutching his gut. There could be only one reason the doctor was here.
“I don’t need your pity, Dr. Bashir,” he said with as much dignity as he could manage.
“Pity?” Bashir looked genuinely puzzled. “The pity would be to pass up a Kannish loaf. That vendor – the one opposite the florist’s, you know – he rarely has them. They’re very good.” He began his assault on the food.
As Garak continued to gaze at Bashir, he slowly felt the knot in his stomach loosen. He turned to the replicator to get a proper set of dishes and utensils. He turned back; Bashir was more than halfway finished with his loaf. A fleeting look of bemused tenderness passed over Garak’s face. As Bashir put down the Kannish, a drop of red sauce fell to the carpet. He glanced quickly at Garak. His host, setting the trappings of civilization on the table, pretended he hadn’t noticed. Bashir silently shifted his chair so that the leg covered the spot.
“I brought you something,” Bashir said, missing Garak’s exasperated expression that came and left in a pulse. He took out an isolinear rod and slapped it down on the table. “This one, I know you’ll like.” A look of triumph. “Dostoyevsky.”
Garak’s days as a prisoner began to take on a routine. He did read (concentrating on Terran works), and not just the classics. He tried mysteries (obvious and pedantic), thrillers (not very) and war epics (simplistic and naive). He discovered a passing fondness for vampire tales and spent some time exploring erotica. A certain de Sade was intriguing. He stopped a while at Milton and one or two other poets that appealed to him. Ultimately, though, he found little to challenge him, and thought about giving up on human literature. To be fair to his study of Terran culture, he put the written word aside for the moment and browsed through a bit of fine arts, music, and dance, both contemporary and historic. Michelangelo’s David, at least, did not insult his intelligence…
He designed clothing. He designed poisons. He kept up with what little personal correspondence he had. He kept up with current affairs on Cardassia and Bajor. No, he didn’t just “keep up” – he read between the lines, analyzed, filled in the gaps with information very few would know. He found hidden connections. He discovered secret plans, several betrayals, veiled sabotage, even an assassination plot in the making. He did nothing about any of these; this was all strictly for entertainment. His mind was spinning, spinning, spinning. He was bored.
One day in a fit of pique, he over-rode the environmental controls to enjoy some heat and humidity, and decided to remain in his barata robe all day. Unexpectedly, Bashir stopped by. The visit was brief. Garak was unsure which of them had been more uncomfortable; he, as he kept trying to excuse himself to change, or Bashir, who kept politely assuring him that it was unnecessary. Bashir had seemed bizarrely interested in his legs and feet; whether that was from avoiding his eyes or from interest in a part of Cardassian anatomy which was rarely revealed, he did not know. It was, however, the last day that he adjusted the temperature or failed to dress.
Every day, he sabotaged another area of station security in a way that endangered nothing but grew more and more subtle and difficult to discern each time. He always left some calling card which was activated when discovered: a small piece of embarrassing video, a rude noise or a politely-worded but insulting message. Odo, without fail, found each incursion and left a brief response in Garak’s message file. Odo began threatening to extend Garak’s sentence with each security breech. Garak asked by how much. Odo’s first impulse was to say a month, but he hesitated, deciding that Garak might decide it was worth it; he was reluctant to have his bluff called. Finally, to save face, he issued his decree: Any deliberate security breech traced to Garak would result in the extension of his sentence by one day with each breech. Of course, at the rate he had established so far, with one breech per day, his sentence would never be over, Odo mused. Garak gleefully continued to play his game, and Odo, though he never would have admitted it, actually began to enjoy the challenge.
Bashir continued to visit for lunch twice or three times a week. With each visit, they would discuss his latest book recommendations – recently, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Machiavelli.
“An amateur,” Garak dismissed “The Prince,” one Monday. “He merely states the obvious. For all his supposed craftiness, he displays no more subtlety than a newly-minted, rookie operative.” He took a delicate bite of his yabu stew. “How about this Henry Miller? I hear his work, ‘The Tropic of Cancer’ caused quite a stir in its day.” He looked blandly at Bashir. He had, in fact, read the entire book the night before.
Bashir choked a little on his I’danian spice pudding. “I, ah, actually never read that one. At least,” he amended, “not the whole thing.” His ears turned a charming shade of scarlet. Certain key passages had been passed around with great glee at school, as he clearly recalled. The great classics, the joke had been. As relevant today as they were centuries ago.
Garak decided that he was amused by his experiment with unorthodox reading material. The classics were truly the benchmark of an educated, literate soul, but to deeply understand a species, one had to be familiar with popular works as well, even if they were facile. He decided to try a few more genres before quitting entirely. He had noticed a category called, “Romance novels.” Those must be akin to the sweeping epics of love and sacrifice popular on his planet, he decided. He was thinking of trying one next.
He had endured a very strange day punctuated by three awkward visits from Dax, Kira and O’Brien, each looking more uncomfortable than the next. They each stayed barely five minutes, then ungraciously excused themselves. They had obviously been pressured to visit by Bashir; there was no other explanation. He made Bashir promise not to repeat the unfortunate experience.
The next day, Tuesday, brought no luncheon visit from Bashir. Just as well, as he had been inundated the day before. He accessed the library for a suitable example of the type of Terran novel classified as “Romance.” He was slightly puzzled by the different categories, “Romantic Literature” and “Romance novels.” Well, he was looking for popular culture, not classics, so he chose “novels.” He now had some familiarity with various forms of Terran culture, especially art and music. Romanticism, as he recalled, was an intellectual and artistic movement of the 19th century. No doubt these novels were from that period.
He began to read the first novel the computer library offered as being typical of the genre, sipping a glass of kanar as he read. He was a quick reader ordinarily, but as he made his way through the first chapter, his pace grew slower and slower. Without looking, he set his glass down on the table, nearly releasing it into the air. His mouth gradually fell open as he read.
It was like watching a shuttle accident in slow motion, he decided. It was absolutely, abysmally horrible, yet he somehow could not tear his eyes away. Feeling tainted, he nonetheless kept reading, page after page. It was the most magnificently awful thing he could ever remember reading. Finally, he pulled himself out of the strange trance he’d been in. He looked with disgust at the PADD in his hand. Shuddering, he deleted the novel – not that it deserved the term – and set the PADD down. He refilled his glass. Gradually the rounded, complex taste of well-aged kanar filled his senses, replacing the bad taste left behind by that monstrosity. That had truly been time ill-spent.
On Wednesday he worked on some new designs for the next seasonal line for the shop. He could add them to the catalog when he returned. Working on the drawings suddenly made him miss the sensuousness of the store. All those fabrics. The soft, slinky feel of Tholian silk. The warm, plush texture of Andorian mata-wool. The deep, deep pile of Enaran spun-flex. And the colors. Soothing life-tones, brilliant jewel shades, subtle water-hues. He surprised himself. He hadn’t thought he really enjoyed his work as a tailor, although he knew he was good at it. It was something he endured, something forced upon him. Like life on this station, this chilly desert that separated him from where he longed to be – home on Cardassia. But, as he closed his eyes and remembered running his hands along a bolt of cloth, rolling out just the right amount, and quickly and surely guiding the cutting tool straight across – he always cut his cloth by hand – he realized that there was pleasure in it, after all. Doing anything well, whether it was interrogation, deception, assassination, or, he grudgingly acknowledged, sewing – brought a satisfying sense of accomplishment.
He missed being in the shop. He missed the interactions with people, even in his subservient tailor’s role. He always used all his senses in every encounter, and frequently enjoyed playing invisible little games as his clients’ expense, as he guessed at their private business and agendas. It helped keep him sharp.
He missed evening strolls along the promenade. Guls help him, he even missed Quark’s. He had thought he lived a life of solitude before, but now he realized, there was a difference between solitude among people and solitude, well, in solitude. It was like the difference between a bed empty by choice or despite it.
A message chime rang. It was Bashir. There had been an accident, something in Engineering. The infirmary was packed with burn victims and other injuries. So sorry, lunch is impossible. Can’t talk now. Bashir was understandably distracted. Garak understood.
There was no Bashir on Thursday, either. No message. No doubt the doctor still had his hands full. Still, it would have been thoughtful if he had communicated his situation.
By Friday, he was restless. He tried to keep to his schedule, but accomplished little. His mind was wandering. For some reason, he kept thinking about a dreadful scene in that horrible piece of vole-droppings that dared call itself a novel. As was true with every sentence in that vile work, it was over-written, cloying, melodramatic and without hint of subtlety. His eidetic mind remembered it verbatim:
“They had been dining together for months, but he had never worked up the nerve to reveal to her how he really felt. He was sure that one so fair as she would never dream of entertaining affections from one as plain and coarse as he. It was enough that she deigned to allow this casual acquaintanceship. But, on that day – oh, that was the day that was to change his life forever! And it all began so simply, too. She had dropped her napkin. He and she both leaned over to retrieve it. And, then it happened! Their fingers touched! They locked eyes, and suddenly he knew beyond a doubt that his feelings were exposed for her to know. And yet, she didn’t recoil! She held his gaze, and he could see her chest heaving with unspoken passion. She felt it too! She must! They dropped the napkin, the meal forgotten, and he seized her by the waist. Her eyelids lowered and her head tilted toward him. Their lips met in a kiss such as the heavens have never known in all recorded time…”
Oh, it was horrible, and it went on like that for pages. But it was like an insidious, simplistic tune that was stuck in one’s head and could not be removed. He kept thinking of that passage.
Garak was not an particularly introspective man, but he was no fool. He knew what this was about. With his world so diminished, it was natural that what social stimulation he had should loom larger in his thoughts. And he had known, since the first time he had seen Bashir…. Yes, this young man affected him. But, while he had moved freely about the world, even this world of exile, he had been in control. He had been free to flirt, to retreat, to imply, to deny. To smile a smile so polite and yet so secretly lustful. To allow his gaze to linger just an instant too long. And to allow lovely, arousing thoughts to float freely through his mind. And to pretend that that was all it was…
But here, in his confinement, it was different. There was no place for those feelings to diffuse. They took on an artificially-heightened sense of importance. Oh, but that was a lie – what an old liar, lying even to himself, he thought ruefully. Those feelings had always been very strong and important. But it was more dangerous now. For now, he began to be tempted to act on his thoughts.
It was foolish. It was the temptation of an idiot. Here they were: his fantasies of his dear young doctor, lush fruit dangling in front of a fasting man. But it was an illusion. Use that superior intellect of yours, he warned himself. Do not let yourself get slack and careless. It is like resisting being broken by torture. True confinement, true solitary, true incarceration, harsh treatment at the hands of jailors – he had endured all that, without succumbing to softness. But that had been easier. He had had the luxury of hating those that imprisoned him. He had had the benefit of truly harsh conditions to steel himself against. It had been a challenge worthy of him, to stay strong and resolved.
But, in this soft, easy, sketch of a punishment, there was no one to taunt him, no enemy to rail against. Well, actually, there was one who taunted him. Back to him, again, I see, he sighed.
Think this out. He played out for himself all the possibilities in which he made clear his feelings. No matter what the details of how, or where, or when he revealed himself, his sharp mind predicted the response. Surprise. Shock. Embarrassment. Disbelief. Sometimes his mind imagined laughter. Or, worst of all, pity. He tweaked the imaginary situation this way, then that. It all came out the same. The probability of a positive response was infinitesimal.
And the risk was too great. It was (and it made him grind his teeth to admit it,) just like that wretched book. How absurd. How degrading.
But, as the days passed slowly by, when the chronometer released him from his charade of a life and he finally lay on his hard mattress in the dark, he permitted himself to take out that precious, tiny possibility, and string it out in his mind. An impossible scenario, where Julian said yes. He held it up to the light of his mind and tilted it this way, and that. He sighed at the loveliness of it. He let the muscles of his body and his mind relax, the ones that stayed tight and on guard all day. Only at night. Only just before sleep. A special treat for having survived another day. As he drifted off to sleep, the napkin fell, and his fingers and Julian’s touched.
On Saturday, in the late morning, he received a message from Bashir. The engineering accident victims had all been released, but a new strain of Rigelian fever had cropped up among the crew. This newest strain, like the original, still responded to Ryetalyn, but required additional compounds as well. It wasn’t anything serious, and he should be finished soon. Unfortunately, he had promised O’Brien he would join him for kayaking. But he’d like to come anyway. Would it be just as fine if he came rather later in the day? Perhaps they could have dinner.
Garak certainly wasn’t going anywhere, and he graciously offered to clear his social calendar to accommodate the doctor’s schedule. Bashir must be getting tired of these visits, Garak supposed. Guls knows, he was tired of these same rooms. But, he had always believed that a man with an active mind, having the world at his disposal, would never be bored. Another interesting example of the difference between theory and practical application.
“Odo. Be reasonable. Surely you have more useful tasks to put your staff to, rather than having them stand here, hour after hour, outside my door.”
Odo, predictably, grunted. “You are a prisoner. You are supposed to be under guard. Otherwise, you are just a man relaxing comfortably in his lush, luxurious quarters.”
Garak looked around at the rather Spartan setting, then back at the screen.
“Odo. You know that if I really wanted to leave this, this cell, I could. Don’t you?”
Odo sighed. “And what will happen if I remove your guards,” he cooed in a mockingly sweet voice. “Are you asking me to believe that you will stay put of your own accord?”
Garak widened his eyes and wore his most earnest expression. “Yes. I will.”
Odo scowled. “You know your word means nothing. You would lie about the color of your shirt as you stood before me.”
“Odo. I am rather noticeable. You could plaster the promenade with bulletins, warning everyone to be on the lookout for the scary Cardassian escaped prisoner. You could issue a reward for my capture.”
Odo appeared unimpressed.
“Odo, I implore you. Permit me some dignity. Remove the guards.”
“They haven’t bothered you before.”
“The waste of manpower bothers me. Your valuable staff, being reduced to such an unchallenging assignment.”
Odo almost smiled.
“It’s distracting, knowing that they are right outside my door every moment. I have no privacy.”
“That’s the idea,” Odo explained earnestly. “It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. It’s a punishment.” He seemed to be enjoying himself. “Although, since they remain outside your door, it is difficult to see how they impinge on your privacy.”
Garak tried again. “Odo. As a friend –”
“A friend?! You tried to wipe out me and my people!”
Garak shrugged. “The Founders threatened my people. They would still like to eliminate us.”
Odo just glared. This was not going well, Garak realized. Perhaps he should deal with the guards in his own way. But he would only get away with that for a short time, and the repercussions would be unpleasant.
“Odo. What can I say that will convince you that I will keep to my confinement voluntarily?”
“I can’t think of a thing,” said Odo, unhelpfully.
“I swear, on the safety and well-being of my people and planet, Cardassia, that I will remain in my quarters.”
Odo looked at him. He was being quite persistent in this. No matter what words he uttered, of course, there was no trusting him.
“Plus, you can put a monitoring device on me. And a force field attuned only for Cardassians. Anything you like. You know there are plenty of options that don’t require guards.”
This was true enough. And he did have better things for his staff to be doing. Reluctantly, Odo agreed.
He was looking forward to their dinner more than he cared to admit. He hadn’t been able to focus on any of his activities as the day oozed by. Finally, when he could cease pretending to be otherwise occupied, he treated himself to a long steam to relax. His scales had a tendency to dry out in this environment: always too cold, and never enough humidity. Then he dressed himself with particular care. What are you so worked up about, he scolded himself. Don’t even think of it. It’s just another lunch. Only it’s …later. What nonsense that was, he thought. That puerile book must have lowered his intelligence just by exposure.
So, I’m having a … response to this. Then just be aware of it, he told himself. Be alert. Be in control. Play the same game you always do. And make sure you keep yourself back. Behind the mask. This is not the time to let your guard down.
The door chimed.
Garak took a breath, approached the entrance, and pressed the open.
The door parted to reveal Bashir, his head tilted down, looking into a satchel he was carrying from one hand held loosely down by his side. His weight was on one leg, the other one slightly akimbo. Lights from the hallway were directly behind him, creating a halo effect around the tussle of dark curls. At the whoosh of the door, he looked up, his head still bowed, through his dark lashes at Garak. A small, shy-looking smile crept onto his face.
Garak’s hand groped blindly for the wall beside the door for support.
In that instant, Garak became aware of two things. With the majority of his mind, he could feel himself experiencing something very similar to what he had felt when he had one of his – attacks. Shortness of breath. Panic. Dizziness. A feeling that all the oxygen had been sucked out of the air. However, this time, the horror was accompanied simultaneously by a sharp, clear jolt of joy. One of his books had described a Terran amusement park, and the character had gone on a roller-glider, or some such nonsense. He imagined that this was the feeling. Both terrifying and thrilling.
With the small bit of his mind that was left, he could feel himself sending a fevered prayer of thanks to his childhood teachers, who produced adults with that renowned photographic Cardassian memory. He knew that this image would be forever seared into his brain, for him to look at and re-visit at his leisure.
All this passed in a moment, and then Bashir was walking inside, almost hesitantly, as if he had not been spending all those lunches here recently. Garak had arranged a proper eating environment: an actual dining table and chairs were ready to receive his guest.
“I figured you must be getting pretty tired of only eating personal replicator fare, so I took the liberty of scouring the local bistros and procuring some gourmet, hand-cooked delights,” said Bashir, with a mockingly-dramatic tone. He began removing containers from the satchel and setting them on the table. “Osso Bucco, from the Terran Café. Pasta with Bajoran Shrimp, from Chez Bajor. Sem’hal Stew, or an approximation of it, courtesy of Quark’s. Lest we not forget our vegetables, Roasted Andorian Tuber Roots with Pinenuts, and Spinach and Cranberry Salad: Quark’s, as well. And for dessert: delicious, ripe klavaatu and moba fruit salad.” He removed lids, shoved the satchel, which seemed to still have something in it, aside, then took a seat.
Garak chose a bottle from a shelf, uncorked it and poured for them both. When he saw the spread, he raised his eyeridges.
“Why, doctor, you must have brought enough food for the Fifth Regiment,” he commented, taking his seat.
“Oh, not really. See, these are all small portions, and I didn’t know what you would like, so it seemed a good idea to get a variety. Besides, I’m hungry.” He began helping himself to the osso bucco.
“What a surprise,” murmured Garak with a smile. He took a small portion of salad. His stomach still seemed to be engaged in pursuits that had nothing to do with food, and his mind was elsewhere, as well.
Seeing Bashir sitting across from him seemed different tonight, somehow. He seemed impossibly beautiful, putting centuries of artwork to shame. How could cold stone and metal compare to the warmth and glow of this creature? The smooth, raktajino-with-milk colored skin, the mercurial eyes, now sparkling, now hidden behind lowered lids? He struggled to keep up his end of the conversation.
“… ethical relativism can only take you so far. Context isn’t everything.” Bashir was saying as he devoured his food.
“But you simply cannot understand the Cardassian civilization without an understanding of its history, doctor,” argued Garak.
“I understand that you had times of great famine and scarcity, Garak. As have most worlds,” countered Bashir, abandoning his utensils, picking up his shank bone and regarding it with pleasure. “That still doesn’t” – he began gnawing at the bone – “excuse what you did to the Bajorans.” He turned his attention to the bone, determined to conquer every bit of meat possible.
Garak opened his mouth to continue the debate, then stopped, transfixed at the sight of Bashir attending to the bone. His teeth were scraping and nibbling at it, and his lips did their work, as well. Garak stared as Bashir turned the bone this way and that, until finally he turned it on its edge and began to fight for the interior.
“Hmmm, even has marrow…” he mumbled and tried sucking and dipping his tongue inside before resorting to the knife.
“… Garak? Is something wrong?” Bashir was asking. Garak tore his eyes from the vanquished shank, and met Bashir’s concerned gaze. Garak looked quite pale, Bashir noted, and there was a very strange expression on his face. Garak look a breath, swallowed and leaned back. He missed a tiny smile which flew across Bashir’s face in an instant.
“Well, I think I’m done,” said Bashir, setting the bone down with a clink and pushing his plate back.
“”Thank goodness,” whispered Garak.
“What was that?” Bashir asked, his eyes wide.
Garak’s eyes narrowed for an instant, then he shrugged. “I said, Thank you for such a feast, doctor.”
It didn’t take long to dispose of the leftover food and dishes in the replicator. Bashir turned to the satchel he had set aside while Garak refilled their glasses.
I know you’re going to love this, Garak,” as he placed some sort of game on the table. “Chess!” He began setting up the board. “Have you ever played?”
“Hhmm. A poor cousin to kotra, doctor.”
Bashir sighed. “Yes, I know. Everything Cardassian is superior to anything else.” He continued putting pieces in their places. “You know the rules, then? You’ve played? Do you need a little refresher course, maybe?”
Garak simply raised his eye-ridge. Bashir smiled. “All right. No mercy then. Choose.” He held out his fists. Garak chose. Black.
Garak lifted his glass, and they began to play.
“The thing about chess,” said Bashir, studying the board some time later, “is that it isn’t just a matter of pure, brute intelligence. That is, it’s not just a question of calculating every move and finding the ‘right’ one. Humans used to regularly beat computers because of their creativity. Cunning. Unexpected moves. Original strategies.”
“Like this one, doctor?” asked Garak mildly, taking yet another of Bashir’s pieces. The board was looking darker all the time.
“Uh – well.” He bit his lip. Garak was finding himself watching the board less and less. It was amazing, really, that he was winning. Bashir was making some mistakes that were not worthy of him. Garak wondered if he might be distracted, too. Every so often, he thought he saw a glance that might be considered… no. He was sure it was just his imagination, foolishly stoked by this confinement.
“Where did you learn to play, Garak? You’re not bad. I bet there’s a story behind it.” By this time, Bashir’s pieces were down to his queen, three pawns, a rook, and of course his king. Garak had lost some pieces as well, but the board still did not look promising for Bashir. Garak had been pursuing the queen for several moves, and was planning its demise. He now had two of his men advancing, ready to immobilize her.
“Pay attention to the game, doctor. Your queen is in jeopardy. You can’t escape capture forever.”
Bashir raised his eyes and gazed at him. Garak felt that confusing light-headedness again. To clear his mind, he broke the eye contact and looked back down at the board.
He spoke before he thought.
“Look at this.” He nodded at the board. “I’ve been chasing you for ages, Julian. If you don’t watch out, I’m going to pin you down and take you.” He reached out for his bishop.
“Is that a promise?” Bashir’s voice was husky.
Garak’s hand shook, knocking over the bishop. It clattered to the floor.
His ears must be playing tricks on him. His face grew hot. Without daring to look at Bashir and see that he was being teased, he leaned over and reached for the chess piece.
He didn’t see Bashir leaning over at the same time.
They both reached for the bishop. Their fingers touched.
“Garak?” he heard. He couldn’t draw a breath. Then he did the bravest thing he had done in a long time. He looked at Bashir.
And then he was lost. His mind started spinning, spinning. All the possibilities swirled around him. He closed his eyes…
Garak made Julian promise to keep their new relationship secret, but he should have known better. Only two weeks later, very, very late at night, Dax happened to be passing by just at the moment when Julian was leaving his quarters. It needn’t have been a disaster, of course, if Julian hadn’t instantly turned a deep scarlet and began stammering.
Within a day and a half, the whole station knew. Many people were not surprised. After two weeks of avid gossip, no one cared anymore.
The relationship continued, outliving the gossip. Far from being a fling, it deepened. It changed everything. It changed nothing. Life continued. They were accepted as a couple.
People visited the station. Station residents went on trips. Entropy increases. News travels.
Soon enough, those who had an interest in Garak knew all about it, as well.
Even after his sentence was over, Garak seldom left the station, but Bashir? He left frequently – away missions, conferences, medical emergencies, on-site research. It had to happen, eventually.
Dukat happened to cross paths with a runabout. He recognized the doctor.
Suddenly there was a new way to hurt Garak, more effectively than had ever been possible. A way that Garak had never been trained to endure. Only to avoid. Garak had made a mistake. Now there was an opening. Now, it was time…
And, Garak realized, it was Julian who would pay for his mistake.
No. No. It can never happen. Do not allow.
He opened his eyes. Julian’s fingers were still lightly touching his own. The bishop lay, forgotten, on the floor.
There was Julian’s face before him, radiating need, and want, and hope. He looked at Garak with the unspoken question shooting from his eyes, with all his yearning leaking from every pore. Here was Garak’s most cherished dreams, impossible or not, come true on a platter in front of him. The promise of happiness. But he must not accept it.
He sat back up, breaking the spell.
He smoothed out his face. “Dr. Bashir,” he managed to say, proud at least that his voice wasn’t breaking. “Are you feeling well? You look quite flushed.” He raised his ridges and settled on a look of polite inquiry. He leaned back. His hands reluctantly took refuge in his lap. He closed the moment.
“I – I’m fine, Garak,” Julian stumbled, looking confused, as if he had seen something for a moment that had disappeared. “I just got a little lightheaded, I suppose. It will pass.”
Garak saw all the possibilities collapse down into only the one that was left to him. He thought of Tain, and how he had always called Garak a weakness he couldn’t afford. What a typical Tain thing to say. Murky. Ambiguous. Garak had always taken it as dismissive, indicative of his own unworthiness. Now, he wasn’t sure.
Julian began talking, prattling on about The Never-Ending Sacrifice. His hands darted about nervously, and he seemed to be speaking a little too fast and too brightly. Garak thought about those heroic characters. Throwing themselves on the flames. For the good of the State.
Amateurs, he thought. They had no idea. He was throwing himself off the flames. But it had nothing to do with the State. It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his long and difficult life.
And worse of all, there wasn’t a Jem’Hadar in sight.