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"I just don't understand why he had to kill her."

"The good of the State required it."

Bashir snorted. "How romantic. Are there any Cardassian romances where
they settle down, live happily ever after, and raise ten kids?"

"Fiction requires conflict in order to be interesting," Garak pointed
out.

"Yes, but the occasional happy resolution might be nice."

Garak blinked at him, holding back an affectionate smile. "This is a
happy ending, doctor. Her death saves Cardassia."

Bashir attempted a glare. "Let me rephrase that," he sighed with
exaggerated patience. "Isn't there anything where the State is saved
and the lovers both live?"

"But doctor, their sacrifice is intended to show their nobility, and the
purity of their love, both for the State and for each other. The
emotional impact would pale if she had lived."

"Shouldn't your literature attempt to show that loyalty to the State is
worth rewarding?"

"On the contrary!" Garak gasped, genuinely shocked by the thought.
"True loyalty requires no reward." He sniffed haughtily, and took a
bite of his food.

"You're right, of course." Bashir grinned at him. "I still didn't like
it."

"We're even," Garak smiled.

"I suppose I didn't expect you to like 'Romeo and Juliet.' They must be
an utterly insipid couple by Cardassian standards."

"It wasn't that so much as the contempt they displayed for their
families. I didn't think I could be shocked by human behaviour after all
I've seen of it, doctor, but this --"

"You didn't find the theme of love crossing all barriers the least bit
attractive?" Bashir prompted.

Garak chuckled. "Really, my dear, you ought to know by now that asking
leading questions is a poor way to engender the response you desire from
me."

"I was hoping you might make an exception this time," Julian sighed,
smiling affectionately.

"I'm afraid not, my dear. Perhaps if they had been adults who were
convincingly in love, I might be more forgiving. You, however --" He
paused for effect and Julian got that adorable stunned look on his face.
He smiled, trying not to laugh.

"Yes?"

"You were dissatisfied by The Sacrifice of Ratanek because he killed the
great love of his life to save the State. However, Romeo and Juliet both
died meaningless deaths due to a miscarried message, and you contend
that it is the best romantic fiction your culture has ever produced."

"I suppose I'm just a bit nervous about how cheerfully Cardassians kill
their mates for the greater good," Julian quipped.

Garak smiled inscrutably until Julian did a double take. The younger
man's eyes widened, then he flushed and gave Garak another affectionate
mock glare.

"Anyway, one would think that death for the State is preferable to
life and family. Every Cardassian in every story you've given me has
seemed all too glad to live and die in misery. If I didn't know better,"
he finished with a wink, "I'd think you were a species of masochists. Is
there something I need to know, Elim?"

Garak rolled his eyes. "Really, doctor, I must be getting back. I'll see
you at dinner."

Julian grinned and squeezed his hand. "I'll be there."

~~~

Less than two hours later he was surprised to see Julian enter his shop.
He was even more surprised by the two humans who accompanied the doctor.

"Garak, can you spare a few minutes? I need a civilian to witness some
blood screenings."

"Certainly, doctor, I am at your service."

Julian smiled uncomfortably at him. "Thank you." As he turned he said,
"Oh, Garak, pending the blood screenings, these are my parents, Richard
and Amsha Bashir. Mother, Dad, this is Garak."

Richard Bashir gaped. "'Pending the blood screenings?' Really Jules..."

"I was gone for thirty-seven days and nobody even suspected it wasn't
me. I don't take chances."

Richard closed his mouth. "...thirty-seven days?"

Garak put a companionable hand on Julian's shoulder. "We just thought he
was in a particularly agreeable mood."

"I see," Richard said. "Well, on with the blood tests then, eh?" They
turned toward the door.

Julian clasped Garak's hand and murmured almost inaudibly, "I'm afraid
dinner's off."

Garak nodded and smiled gently into the downtrodden face, which suddenly
seemed very young and vulnerable.

As he closed, Amsha asked, "Why does a civilian need to be there? They
don't do it that way on Earth."

"A procedural change; we made it last week. If several people handle the
samples, the test is harder to falsify. Theoretically, it's to prevent
the replacement of my staff and me: since we're no longer the only
people handling the samples, replacing us would be futile." Julian
sighed heavily. "That's what we hope, anyway."

Garak winced slightly. Julian was still worn from his ordeal, and seeing
his parents didn't seem to be helping the situation.

As they crossed the Promenade, Garak struck up conversation with them,
trying to ease Julian's obvious discomfort. "Tell me, are you planning a
protracted visit, or are you leaving after your interviews?"

Amsha smiled a bit sadly. "We won't be staying long, unfortunately.
Jules is busy --"

"And I have business to get back to," Richard added quickly. "It's lucky
we could get away at all."

Garak watched as Julian very deliberately did not roll his eyes. He
smiled. "Yes, it would be unfortunate if Dr. Zimmerman neglected yet
another major influence in our doctor's life."

Julian chuckled. "You just wish he would interview you so you could tell
him I shot you."

"Ridiculous! I would never tell him anything so obviously truthful."

"And you wonder why he's not interviewing you?"

Garak laughed. Julian's parents demonstrated the origin of the young
man's famous stunned look. It wasn't so adorable on this pair, Garak
reflected. Ah, well. At least Julian looked a bit more relaxed.

Julian led them to an occupied examination room. "Alright, everyone,
let's get this done so we can all get back to work."

~~~

Fascinating. Richard Bashir was a liar, and not a particularly skilled
one at that. Moreover, Julian looked as though he was terrified of what
the man would say, and Garak found himself wondering why. The man was an
embarrassment, to be sure, but hardly the type who might ruin his son's
reputation.

He couldn't say exactly what it was that drove him to investigate, but
it was curiously obvious once he found it.

At fifteen, Jules Bashir began calling himself Julian. The first test
score recorded under his full name was lower than his previous ones --
in fact Julian's grades went down across the board that term. He'd been
scoring in the high nineties on a scale of one hundred, but his average
went down to ninety five and stayed there for almost two years.

Even more interestingly, Julian scored exactly ninety-five on every
test he wrote for three terms. Then his grades began varying in a subtle
but discernible pattern; he'd obviously realized that his scores were
suspicious, and taken steps to remedy it.

Garak widened his search to include Julian's extracurricular activities
-- he watched a recording of Julian's fateful first competitive tennis
match, and nearly laughed out loud at the utter clumsiness of Julian's
efforts to lose. He wondered that nobody had seen it at the time.

Once at Starfleet Medical, Julian's grades went back up -- there was,
after all, no stigma attached to being a bright boy amongst a host of
bright children. The only question he got wrong in his final year of
testing was that oft mentioned post-ganglionic fibre.

Julian's real test scores at age six were much more difficult to locate,
but they were still available to a man who knew how to look, as was the
record of the trip to Idigeon Prime.

Garak sat back, stunned. His world shifted dangerously off balance.

~~~

He didn't know what he'd been expecting... he hadn't fully realized that
Julian had been keeping a secret from him until he'd learned what it
was. When the comm beeped he barely listened as a plaintive voice
recorded a message. "Elim? It's Julian... I need to talk to you,
something has happened and I need your help..."

Truth hadn't shifted this radically in years. He wondered if he would
ever see Julian as the man he loved again.

~~~

It had of course been ridiculously simple to fix the external situation.
One carefully scrambled call to his contact in the Federation's version
of the Obsidian Order, (which went by the drab name of Section 31), and
a chain of events was set in motion which would keep Julian in
Starfleet, in medicine, and on the station.

That done, he shut himself in his quarters and tried not think about
what would happen next.

~~~

Perhaps it was two days, perhaps a bit longer. He ignored Julian's calls
along with everyone else's. (Who else calls you, Elim? Ziyal? Well, yes,
she was concerned...) He buried himself behind security locks, kanaar,
and terrible human literature, trying to escape the ever-present
insistence of Cardassian memory, to freeze its mutability, to avoid this
new discovery's effects on the past.

"Elim?"

He looked up, then tried to ignore the intruder, turning back to his
book and his bottle. "Julian, how did you get in here?" He asked,
paradoxically inviting further intrusion.

"It took Miles and me two hours, thank you very much," Julian sighed
impatiently, looking over his shoulder. "Dickens? You must be
desperate."

Garak sighed back and turned to look at him.

"How much have you had to drink, Elim?"

Garak waved distractedly at the pile of empty bottles.

"Have you eaten?"

"Not much."

"No wonder you look so bad. Let me get you something while you shower."

Garak blinked. "You're not leaving the station?" he asked innocently.

"No. My father is on his way to prison and my secret is out, but I'm
still in Starfleet and I'm still a doctor. Zimmerman didn't ruin me.
Everything was settled before he could even make his report. Now go
shower; there'll be a hot meal waiting for you when you get out."

A quick wash later Garak hovered at the doorway, watching the other man
prepare the food. He didn't look any different, really; tired, sad,
stressed, a bit thin, utterly furious, but he didn't look genetically
enhanced. However that looked. Garak sighed and moved to the
chesterfield. Julian sat next to him and handed him a glass.

"Drink this, it'll sober you up. Then you'll be able to eat something."

"You're angry at me."

Julian smiled tightly. "I must admit I'm more than a little annoyed that
you decided to go on a bender right when I needed you most, but since I
feel like a bottle or two myself at the moment I think I can forgive you
eventually. But we'll discuss that later."

He drank the disgusting remedy obediently, then ate. He found he was
actually hungry once the remedy cleared his head.

Julian watched him, every bit the compassionate caregiver, until he'd
cleaned his plate. "Now, do you feel like talking?" his human lover
asked.

"You've kept a secret from me for over five years," Garak began. "I've
been... reassessing..." There was no human equivalent for the word he
needed. Humans had a different type of memory.

"You're reassessing because I kept a secret." Julian's voice was
gentle, softening the harsh words. "You must admit it's ironic,
considering everything you've kept from me."

"I've been more honest with you than I've ever been with anyone,
doctor."

"It may not seem like it at the moment, Garak, but so have I. I've told
you things nobody else knows."

"You didn't tell me this. It's hardly something even a human could
forget."

"You'd be surprised how amenable human memory is to human will. I forgot
about it a lot of the time, because I wanted to. Besides --" Julian
blushed and looked away. "-- I was half hoping you already knew."

"A blind spot. I trusted that you were what you appeared to be. I
underestimated you as usual, doctor."

Julian's face twisted in a wry grin. "I suppose it's foolish of me to
ask how you did find out."

"I suspect it is," Garak sighed with an answering smile. Julian patted
his thigh, and the tired green eyes grew serious again.

"I'm sorry I lied, Elim."

"You shouldn't be." A glance told him that the young human was in fact
not sorry. "And don't apologize to pacify me. We should be past that.
You did what you needed to do to protect yourself."

"If it's any consolation... I never held back with you. You take me to
my limits, make me stretch myself in ways I've never experienced."

Garak smiled ruefully. "That helps, Julian, truly. It means I don't have
to completely readjust my opinion of you. However, it's not a simple
matter of forgiveness as it is with your Federation and Bajoran
friends."

"What, then?" Julian paled as he gazed seriously into Garak's eyes.

"What do you know about Cardassian memory?"

"I know it seems to be eidetic; Federation doctors have always remarked
on the Cardassian ability to clearly recall any past event. From my
personal experience, I'd say it seems... deeper than that. Cardassians
don't forgive easily, it's as if the slight is forever fresh in their
minds." Julian paled even more as he talked. "You'll never forgive me
for this, will you?"

Garak sighed. "Come here." He drew the (unnaturally) beautiful body
close and kissed the paled cheek. "I told you it's not a matter of
forgiveness. I understand why you lied. I even applaud your cunning at
keeping me in the dark, as it were. I would have investigated anyone
else thoroughly from the start, but you utterly disarmed me. I
underestimated you, and you bested me at my own game. Furthermore, you
kept me disarmed even when it became apparent that I had underestimated
you. You learned from me and applied what I taught you. How could any
mentor be anything but proud of such a protégé?"

Julian's face warmed against his neck. "And yet?" His voice, though
still wary, had regained some hope.

"Cardassian memory is not linear in the human sense. Each new event
affects the past, even as the past stays as fresh and accessible as the
day it happened. A revelation such as this... every moment I have ever
spent with you has shifted in my mind. It always does, of course, but
not this radically. I haven't had to adjust my view of you like this
since you shot me; perhaps not even then."

"It sounds horribly unstable."

"Not unstable... simply mutable."

"It explains your view of truth, at least a little bit. So how do you
view me now?"

"You're much more like me than I realized. You are also, at the moment,
a rather unknown quantity. It's most... unsettling to realize I don't
know my lover as well as I thought."

Julian smiled. "It does make life interesting," he remarked with an
utterly innocent look on his face. "Take it from an expert."

"What concerned me the most over the past two days was the possibility
that you were a different person than the one I'd loved."

"Is that why you were avoiding me?"

"Yes."

Julian sighed. "You can be damned selfish sometimes, Elim. I needed your
support. When I thought I'd have to leave the station I needed to know
whether you'd go with me. I was afraid of losing your love too, afraid
you'd hate me for this."

"You were never in danger of being forced out of your practice, or out
of Starfleet. I took care of that, at least! I didn't want you leaving
before I knew whether I still loved you."

Julian sat up a little from where he'd been resting against Garak's
side. "I thought my father suggested the plea bargain with J.A.G."

"Regardless of how it seemed to be arranged, Starfleet would have done
something similar in any case. I still have contacts in influential
places."

"Well, thank you. I suppose by now I should trust you to be devious on
my behalf." Julian smiled. "You should trust me too, Elim. I want you to
promise me that next time something horrid happens to one of us you'll
be there with me, not hiding with a bottle."

Garak sighed. "I will," he murmured. He even wanted it to be true.

"However -- ?" Julian prompted. Garak smothered a grimace at his failure
with such a simple deception. He truly was out of practice if he
couldn't lie to his own lover.

"I've never been in a romantic relationship before; indeed, I've never
been in any sort of relationship where trust was expected. It... takes
some getting used to, my dear."

"I'll try to be patient," Julian said, kissing him on the cheek. Then he
met his eyes. "Elim?"

"Yes?"

"Do you still love me? You haven't said."

"You seem no different than you were, and you have assured me that you
never dulled your intellect for my sake..."

"Never," Julian said firmly.

Garak eyed him cagily. "I did warn you not to expect to hear it often,"
he ventured.

Julian frowned. "I need to hear it now, Garak. Do you still love me?"

Garak gazed at his beautiful young man, at the pale face and the
trembling body, watched him gasp suddenly after holding his breath too
long.

How did he feel? He hadn't dared contemplate it yet, he'd feared the
loss too much. He didn't want to lose this man, who trusted him beyond
all evidence, logic, and reason. The man who forever surprised him with
new depths of cunning and heights of idealism. If only for selfish
reasons, he had to keep him.

"I still love you," he murmured. Julian sighed and leaned bonelessly
into his neck.

"Thank God!" he declared, chuckling suddenly. "For the record, I love
you too. But if you ever put me through this again, you will learn
things about torture that they never taught you in the Obsidian Order."

Garak smiled. "I consider myself warned." He found himself pulled into a
dizzying kiss, then Julian pulled back and regarded him for a long
moment.

"I guess the honeymoon is over."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Human expression. The bliss of a new relationship wears off after
awhile. It usually takes longer than three bloody weeks, but you always
have to do things differently, don't you?"

"I would submit that it is your parents' fault, not mine."

"You always have to blame someone else. But I just remembered the real
reason why humans like Romeo and Juliet."

"And that is?"

"They die before they can have a really good fight. Their whole romance
is perfect. Rather sickening when you think about it, isn't it?"

"I quite agree. Perfectly insipid," Garak murmured, restraining a
chuckle.

Julian grinned wickedly as he pulled Garak into another hard, bruising
kiss.

~~~

END
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