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Come Live With Me and Be My Love

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“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” The words kept repeating through Garak's head as he stormed away from the Replimat. All the effort he had put into staying pleasantly casual in his dealings with Julian and, once again, he'd lost his temper. He knew exactly what he should have said. “You're very kind, Doctor, and I'll be sure to call you if my headache gets any worse.”

"I should have stayed," Garak told himself, closing his eyes, partly with frustration at his own behavior and partly at the pain behind his eyes.

“Watch where you're going!” The words and the impact of the Galipotan bulling his way down the middle of the Promenade told Garak, as nothing else could, that his order had arrived. Preventing himself from taking the man to the ground and watching the life drain out of him, Garak forced himself to relax tensed muscles. Just as he should have stopped himself from yelling at Julian.

For a moment he was tempted to go to the freighter dock and claim his merchandise. Or he could turn around and find Julian and apologize. Instead, Garak reversed direction and headed to his own quarters. People would just have to do without a new dress shirt for another day.

Lights that had always been too bright now blazed through his eyes and splashed themselves into fireworks on the back of his skull. It was getting impossible to pretend that what was going on was just another temporary adjustment to the implant. Something bad was happening and, regardless of the cost and the potential danger of bringing himself to the attention of the Cardassian authorities, it was time for a more drastic approach.

Two things – find a replacement implant, and find some medical professional who could exchange the one killing him with that replacement.

Surely someone could get him what he needed. Even if the model woven within his brain wasn't used anymore, there would be at least one available on the black market. It might bankrupt him but of what use would the money be, if he were dead.

The operation. Garak had been avoiding thinking about this for the last few months. The idea of someone not a Cardassian playing around inside his head turned him cold. Garak knew how little information on his species had been allowed to filter out of the Empire. It was considered information that could be used to create bio-weapons.

Garak had, himself, killed two different men who had profited from the sale of Cardassian medical information. Maybe it would be possible to find out if they'd been part of a cell that might still be operating. That was a thought to come back to later. Always assuming that there would be a later with this skull-crushing pain. At this point, he admitted silently, he'd put himself into the hands of a veterinarian.

It was no wonder that Julian had pulled away from him again. If he weren't forced to live with himself, he'd be tempted to leave, too. Well, the way his head was feeling, he might just be leaving permanently. Action/reaction. Planning/Contingency. How was he expected to think things through when he couldn't even think?

Julian had been long-suffering and had tried to be understanding through all of Garak's explosions over petty annoyances. And the more uncomplaining the man had been, the more Garak had tried to blast apart his calm and make him react the way Garak felt. Stupid! Just how was that going to bring Julian back? It wasn't, of course. Garak just found his control slipping over and over again. He, who prided himself on control.

And it wasn't even the lack of sex between them at the end that had driven Julian away. He would have waited, if Garak could have controlled his constant irritation at the smallest thing going wrong. Garak knew that. But it seemed as if Garak needed to drive the good doctor away and, finally, he'd succeeded. Now he was right where he wanted to be. Alone. Alone to use his hypo-spray whenever he needed it. And now was when he needed it.

Reaching his quarters, Garak hurried to the drawer where he kept the triptacederine. His hands were shaking as he shoved an ampule into the injector and pushed it into his neck. The minor pain of the shot was as nothing compared to the easing that almost immediately flooded his body. He let the hypo-spray fall to his desk and moved quickly to a chair while he could still sit with control, and not just collapse. Blessed relief. It wouldn't last long a distant twinge warned him but, for now, it was enough.

**************

They were in his quarters and their fight was over. The anger drained out of Garak as he let his head fall. Why did he even try to fight this man. If Julian said that Quark had failed to get the implant, then there was no future for Garak. Just death.

“The desk. Second drawer.” The words repeated in Garak's head as he stared down, listening to the sound of the drawer being opened and objects being moved about.

“I should have recognized it.” Julian's soft words pulled Garak out of his numbed state.

“How could you, Doctor? I made it myself. For all you knew it might have been a remote control to turn out the room lights.” He watched Julian's hand poised over the switch. “Turning it off is not going to work, Doctor. All you're going to do is condemn me to a slow death instead of a quick one.”

“You don't know that, Garak.”

“Of course I do.” The desperation in his own voice was obvious even to Garak. He let out his breath in a long sigh. Control. “I'm sorry, Julian. I know you want to help. But sometimes it's better to just let things proceed to their natural ending.”

Julian came around the desk, and put a hand on Garak's arm, squeezing tightly. “You don't want to die, Garak. You're the tough one, remember? You'll get through this.”

“Am I, Doctor? Will I?” Garak leaned his head against Julian's shoulder. They stayed like that for minutes.

“You'd die for me. I know that.” Julian whispered softly. There was only the slightest movement of Garak's head. “So live for me.”

It was so like the man, Garak thought. Always believing there would be a better outcome than reality should have taught him to expect. But wasn't that part of what Garak loved about him? That Julian would face insurmountable odds with the supreme confidence that he would prevail. And though Garak knew that this was one fight Julian couldn't win, what did he, Garak, have to lose? Pain! The word screamed in his head. Garak forced it back down. What had he trained himself for if not to stand fast. He didn't really have anything he could leave this man he loved. But if his slow death was what Julian needed in order to know that he'd tried everything, then that was something Garak could give.

It was a moment before Garak straightened up. Leaning forward, he kissed Julian lightly. “If you need to try to save me, then try.” Julian's hand reached toward his badge, but Garak stopped him. “Just promise me one thing. When it's over – when you have to give up – promise me that you'll be there holding my hand. Swear.”

Julian's return kiss was much harder – determination rather than triumph in his voice. “What I'll promise is that I will be standing in front of the gates of hell to make sure that you don't go through them. You are not going to die, and we will get through this together.” At the supplication in Garak's face, Julian added, “And I promise that if you do die - which you won't - mine will be the last face you see and the last voice you hear and the last touch you feel. Now can we get the hell out of here and get you to the Infirmary?”

At Garak's nod, Julian finished his motion, slapping his com badge. “Bashir to Ops. Medical emergency. Two to beam to the Infirmary. Energize.”

**************

Julian stood at the side of Garak's bed, looking down at the sleeping man. With the required permission obtained from Commander Sisko, there was now nothing more to do than make his way to the runabout. But he was finding it difficult to leave. He knew he was doing the right thing. He'd known when he'd stood in front of that computer display that he would have to get to Cardassia and try to get the needed information.

He'd known that Tain was the one who'd put the implant into Garak's head. And now he knew where Tain was. The Arawath Colony. Now he had a place to go. He'd found the navigational maps and should have no trouble getting there. The problem would be not getting blown out of the sky when he got there. But he was determined to get the answers out of Tain if he had to shake the whole Cardassian Empire to do it.

Forgiveness was well and good for Garak's peace of mind. They'd forgiven each other a hundred times before and, if Julian had anything to do about it, they'd forgive each other a hundred times more. But everything depended now on his saving this man - this love of his though, if Julian had his way, Garak would never know the hold he had on his soul.

What really scared Julian was that there was always the chance that he would be held up too long. The whole trip was a gamble, and that warm hand that he had held could become cold in death before Julian ever made it back. The thought was agony.

Fifty-two hours. That still gave him two days to be back here in case one last hand-hold was all he could give. But if he had to choose between trying to save Garak and letting him die alone, then to hell with promises. To hell with compassion. Garak had had his hand held. It was time he had his life saved.

He glanced around at the empty room, then leaned down to kiss the sleeping man, letting his tongue part the lips so that they could share breath, warm and regular and, oh, so familiar. “Please,” Julian begged the deities to whom his friends prayed, “let him still be breathing when I come back.”

A last squeeze of the hand, and Julian turned away. He had work to do.

**************

A familiar place, this Replimat. A familiar banter. Oh, but it was good to be alive and out of pain! Garak couldn't get the smile off his lips.

“Especially the lies,” Julian repeated. “Now what exactly does that mean?”

“It means, my good Doctor, that I've always found truth to be more interesting when clothed in fantasy. Haven't you?”

“No.” Julian's answer was flat. “I like plain and simple answers. But, then, I'm a plain and simple man.”

“Hardly. A plain and simple man would never have gotten in to see Enabran Tain.”

What a glorious mate! There was no way he could have chosen better. Beneath that beautiful face, perfect hair and hard—muscled body lay a heart that an Elian courador would have envied. In a world of betrayal and deceit and despair, Garak had chosen to love a man of honor and loyalty. How his father would have laughed.

His father.

Garak looked down at his plate for a moment, then back up. “You promised that when I got out of the Infirmary you'd tell me about your visit.” He waited. When Julian didn't answer, Garak prodded, “What did you think of Tain?”

“A bastard.” There was no smile that accompanied the bald declaration.

“Well, of course, Doctor. But a magnificent one, you must admit.”

“He's no friend of yours, Garak. Or do you prefer 'Elim'?”

“Oh, he told you that, did he? I'm surprised. What else did he tell you about us?” Garak was not really expecting to have been acknowledged as a son but, as usual, hope had its own way and could not be controlled.

“Nothing, really. Just that he wished you a long and miserable life, surrounded by people who hate you.”

A shadow crossed Garak's face before he could control it. Hope was ridiculously overrated. “How like Tain. Forgiveness is not part of his character. Oh, well, I suppose I should be grateful that he was willing to help give me that long life.” Garak looked over at Julian's plate. “If you're really not going to finish that pudding...”

“Garak! Forget the pudding.” But he shoved over his plate as he said it. “We really have to talk. I said once that honesty was important to me and that's not what I'm getting.”

“Excellent,” Garak said digging the last bit out of the corner of the dish. “You will remember that you also said that we would still have our secrets.” He settled back to his stew. “Some of us simply have more secrets than others. You, my dear Doctor, are practically an open book.”

Julian coughed. “Yes, well, I still want to hear more about your past. Whatever you can tell me.”

Images of bodies and fires and explosions whipped through Garak's mind. He refrained from shaking his head to get rid of them and applied himself to his lunch. “If it's important to you...”

“It is.”

“Then perhaps we could start tomorrow evening. That will give me time to filter out the stories that really can't, even now, find their way to the good Constable.” Julian had the grace to look embarrassed. “And I need to talk with you, too.”

Reaching across the table, Garak took Julian's hand in his, a move that sent Julian's head rotating to see what people would think of this strange move on Garak's part. He tried to pull his hand back, but Garak was determined. “I want to make our relationship official. Thanks to you, what was driving us apart has been corrected, and I think it's time that we eliminate one secret from both our lives.”

“Marry me?”

Ignoring the shocked sarcasm in Julian's voice, Garak got up from the table, smiling broadly and still holding Julian's hand. If his dear Doctor was going to walk into a verbal trap, then why not let him? The ever-present mischief rose joyously. “I'm almost speechless, my dearest Doctor. I was only proposing that you move in with me, but marriage...” He interrupted Julian as he began to splutter. “I need to think about this. It would be a huge step for both of us. Marriage! We'll talk tomorrow.” And with that, Garak was gone.

Julian sat there, hand still in the air and stared at the Promenade down which Garak was rapidly disappearing. Throwing back his chair, and ignoring it when it fell to the floor, Julian ran from the Replimat calling, “Garak! Wait!” But Garak had already vanished. Running a few hundred yards further on, Julian looked into shop doorways, but Garak was nowhere in sight. Turning in a wide circle, Julian took a deep breath, then headed for Garak's quarters. This had to be straightened out. And quickly!

**************

Getting up early, Julian had tried once again to contact Garak who, once again, hadn't answered. So here he stood outside Garak's door, tempted to use medical authority to force his way in when the door knocks and bell had produced no response. But it went against his principles to say that there was an emergency when there wasn't, and so he started to turn away. Just then the door opened behind him.

“I'm sorry. I was just getting dressed. Come in.”

“Where have you been? I've been trying to reach you since last evening. We have to talk, Garak.” Moving past the man, Julian turned to face Garak as the door closed behind him. “You got the wrong impression. I wasn't proposing marriage, whatever you thought you heard me say. That's just not the way I feel about you. And I've been trying to tell you that all evening and half the night.”

Julian watched a series of expressions pass over Garak's face, ending in his publicly pleasant one. “Of course. An unfortunate misunderstanding. Consider the matter completely forgotten.” With a wave of his hand, Garak opened the door and indicated the way out. “Please don't let me keep you. I still have a few things to do before I go to work.”

Tempting as it was to run, Julian mentally gritted his teeth. He knew when he had hurt someone and he knew his obligation to make amends. “I'll wait for you. Just let me get a cup of tea while you finish up.” So saying, Julian turned around and stopped, staring into the once familiar room. Behind him he could hear the door closing and Garak's loud sigh.

Moving past him into the room, Garak stopped and looked around as if just seeing it for the first time, himself. “One never knows when the redecorating instinct will strike. I'm afraid that the Infirmary gown's horrible colors became too much for me to bear and I felt the need to surround myself with a more subtle pallet.”

Subtle it might be, but it contained all the colors of a dying sunset. The ceiling lights had been modified so that the colors were more restful, the predominant room color now a range of blues, rather than the harsher reds and pale greens. If Julian could have stood back from himself, he might have been shocked to see how well his Starfleet uniform fitted into the color scheme. But the lights were the least of the changes.

Gone was the center bed that Julian had tended through a long night. Instead a mirror stood before the window, behind which could be seen a bed much like his own, but positioned to look out at the surrounding space and the occasional ships moving to and from the space station. The mirror visually enlarged the space, reflecting back an immense sofa done in the exact shade of mauve that showed at the neck of Julian's uniform. Throw pillows in the uniform's turquoise blue invited the viewer to relax and perhaps enjoy the bowls of holobooks and music that were positioned on each of the end tables. Separate spotlights lit the corners of the couch so that one could easily read without having to brightly light the entire room.

Julian turned to stare at Garak, unable to think what to say. Without a doubt, this change was meant to make the space comfortable – to make it a home – for one person. Himself. “Garak...”

“I know. But, really, I did it for myself. You know that I was complaining how sterile these spaces are. Well, I decided that if I was going to have to live out my life here, then I should put as much effort into designing the space in which I live as I do the clothes I wear.”

That would have been more believable to Julian if a short walk to the bed hadn't revealed it to be a comfortable double one, with pillows neatly arranged side by side. The closeness of the window almost made him feel as though lying there would be like lying in space, itself.

“I do so dislike feeling cramped and crowded. I took your advice about the sofa but I came up with this arrangement as a way to keep the open feel of the room. I'm sure I'm going to enjoy sleeping here.”

Julian turned back from the window and let his eyes wander over the space, noticing two desks pushed together against a side wall so that the users could look up at one another when not working. He glanced at Garak, who had followed his gaze. “One desk for my tailoring. Additional space if I'm working on something else.”

If it weren't so early, Julian would have been tempted to order something stronger than the tea which he walked over and got from the replicator. “Tarkalean tea. Extra sweet.” The drink came out at his exact preferred temperature, and Julian took a long swallow before sitting down in what he was certain was his corner of the gigantic sofa. “We're not getting married.”

Garak brought over his own cup of tea and settled at the other end of the space. “Exactly what I had decided myself.”

Indicating the room, Julian asked, “Then why all this?”

Garak looked down at his cup for a moment before finally meeting Julian's eyes. “I hoped that you might want to move in with me now that this...” He tapped the side of his head. “has fixed the problem that pushed you away.”

Julian's cup of tea required his undivided attention for a full minute. It was all so frustrating. Garak really asked so little, and gave so much. Julian had never doubted that he loved the man. But he knew himself. Someday he was going to want a wife and children – a family. And there was no way he could let that dream die by giving free rein to a love that would kill the dream. Besides, there were Garak's own words from long ago. Never a patient. Well, maybe there was a middle ground.

“Look, Garak, I do enjoy spending time with you but I'm not sure that I'm ready to get back into any sort of a relationship with you. You said it yourself. Never a patient. I'm your doctor. How can I also be your lover? I need time to figure out what I do want.”

“I may be a patient, my dear Doctor, but I'm also very patient. I can wait. But since you do want to think about us, could I suggest that the best place to do that is right here?” That brought Julian's eyes up to meet Garak's. The man was perfectly serious.

Garak continued. “You want to know more about me, and I promised you that I would start telling you the stories. Why don't we spend several evenings a week here together. I assure you that you will be most comfortable and, in fact, if you won't share my bed, you can sleep right here on the sofa.”

Unconsciously Julian ran his hand over the soft velour, so much like the covering on his own. This sofa was larger and quite luxurious. A slight bounce said that it would also be firm enough to not do in his back.

“There are sheets in the closet.” The tone was inviting.

Julian's guilt resurfaced. All this because he had inadvertently misspoke.

“After all, a relationship isn't just about sex. It's about companionship and compatibility. What you should be thinking about is how well we sustain an intimate...” Julian looked up in panic. Garak smoothly corrected himself. “a close association.”

Put that way, Julian thought, spending time with Garak did make sense. That future family was a long way off, and there was no way he was going to be celibate until dream became reality.

And the stories! This time he would get to the bottom of Garak's endless lies. When he thought about it, Garak hadn't any idea just what Tain had told him. There would be no harm implying he knew more than he did. Enough to get Garak speaking the truth. Finally.

“Three nights a week.” Julian said firmly. “The other four I sleep in my own quarters.”

“Alone,” Garak replied quickly. “After all, the whole point is to decide whether we can be a couple. You can't do that while you're sleeping with other people.”

There was, unfortunately, a logic there, Julian realized. “Alone,” he agreed. Getting up, he went over to the disposal to get rid of his cup. “Now I need to get to work and so do you, or how will you ever afford this lovely new décor?”

“Exactly, my dear Doctor,” Garak said, walking Julian to the door. “I'll expect you tonight and will plan on dinner here to celebrate our first night together.”

And with that, Julian found himself outside in the corridor. He let out a long sigh. That had really gone much better than he'd expected.

**************

Inside the room, Garak leaned against the wall and silently laughed until his sides hurt.

**************

“So there it was. The last test that I could think to try. You have a gene that I've never seen before, and that gene is probably why you have so much tolerance for triptacederine. If you'd be willing to give me a few more samples, I could confirm it.”

“Take all the samples you want, Doctor. Think of me as your personal laboratory specimen. As long as you remember that none of this goes into a research paper,” Garak warned. He leaned down to take off his shoes and put his legs up against Julian's. The sofa had been a very good idea of his. His quarters were starting to feel like a home.

“Tain really didn't put any restrictions on the data he transferred to me.”

“Believe me, Doctor, the continued good state of your health depends on you being very discrete with that information. Men have died for making that type of information public.”

“I can't believe that, Garak.”

“Oh, believe it, Doctor. I heard about it from Tain himself.”

“Well, if you're sure.”

“Quite sure.” Garak banished old images with another sip of the kanar. He made a mental note to go through the good doctor's files and make sure that he wasn't tempted into an indiscretion that might turn out to be his last.

“At least I can make use of what I learn for treating you.”

“That was Tain's only purpose in giving it to you. Consider also that if you're at all reticent to let your friends on the station know that you're spending nights here, you might want to let it be known that you're taking this opportunity to make a deeper study of Cardassians. I'm always ready to be of service to science. Or be serviced, if that would be more appropriate. The deeper your study, the better, in my opinion.”

They were back to the sexual banter of their early days, and Garak could see that Julian was enjoying the control he'd felt he had over it for these past few weeks.

The sofa was common territory until bedtime, when Garak would retreat to the relative privacy of his bed and listen to the sound of Julian's breathing changing as he fell asleep. Even over the loud background hum of the station, Garak could always pick out the sounds of his lover. And only then did Garak also sleep. He didn't think it would be that long before ex-lover became current one. But perhaps, he thought, it wouldn't hurt to help the process along.

“I was thinking, Doctor. You haven't been enamored of the novels I've given you so far, but there is another type of novel that I have to admit that I do occasionally read. They're considered shocking on Cardassia because they focus on the more elemental aspects of relationships rather than on matters of family and of honor. But they can be quite entertaining.” While he said this, Garak sorted through some holobooks on his side table, choosing one. “Yes. I found this one rather intriguing. It provides insights into the – shall we say mechanical – interactions between individuals.”

“You're not telling me you have pornographic novels there, are you Garak?” Julian said, reaching for the tape with a grin. “I would really like to know what a Cardassian considers shocking.”

“Then, by all means, be my guest. Consider it part of your anthropological research. Meanwhile, I will indulge in some of your ancient Earth poetry. Matthew Arnold, I think, would go well after such a fine dinner. Since it's so difficult to get off this station, I shall have to make do with words.”

“Ye are bound for the mountains!
“Ah! with you let me go
“Where your cold, distant barrier,
“The vast range of snow,
“Through the loose clouds lifts dimly
“Its white peaks in air -
“How deep is their stillness!
“Ah, would I were there!”

Garak's sigh, that followed the fading echo of the words, was followed by Julian's pat on his leg, assuring Garak that his frustration had been heard. That was another thing that was so pleasant about having a roommate – there was someone with whom you could share your feelings. Oh, how Tain would have laughed. With a laugh, himself, Garak settled to his own book.

“I wanted to ask you, Garak, before you get lost in that, where are you getting those replicator recipes? They're really excellent.”

“They are, aren't they? Quark has been good enough to trade me some of his favorites for a small amount of help implementing some security safeguards for his computer. He thinks that someone on Ferenginar is trying to access his financial records.”

“Ask for his Malovian cake recipe. I love that one.” Julian's voice was fading off as he became absorbed in the first few pages.

Remembering just how explicit the book was, Garak felt fairly sure that the cake would not be the only thing rising in the near future. Julian had a limited tolerance for chastity, and Garak was willing to wager that that tolerance was rapidly running out.

Their evenings together had become exactly what Garak had hoped for. Julian had adjusted quickly enough to having his personal effects in emptied drawers, and some uniforms and casual clothing in the half-emptied closet. Making room for Julian had given Garak the opportunity to pare down his wardrobe to his favorites, and the incentive to construct some lounge outfits for Julian that matched Julian's taste and Garak's hopes. At-home robes predominated.

At first, Julian had kept to his planned three nights a week, but Garak had discovered that a prematurely terminated spy tale could be guaranteed to work on the man's mind during the day and have him arrive on off-evenings to continue the tale, and then spend the night. Whether Julian was aware how much of the stories were fiction based loosely on truth, Garak couldn't tell. But he was enjoying telling the stories, and Julian was delighting in the semi-gory details.

After about an hour, Garak stretched, reciting from the page he was on.

“Let the long contention cease!
“Geese are swans, and swans are geese.
“Let them have it how they will!
“Thou art tired; best be still!”

“And with that, I, too, find myself tired and will take myself off to my well-deserved rest. But, please, feel free to awaken me if your reading leads you to want to verify any particular points of interest. You know that I'm always available for research consultations.”

“Go to sleep, Garak.”

**************

It wasn't until Garak had awakened to his own internal clock that he realized that it was his normal wake-up time. He felt refreshed and, from the feel of the familiar space, completely alone. With a quick motion he was out of bed and around the mirror. The room was empty and, by all indications, Julian was gone. The main indication being a holobook sitting next to a small PADD on the table by the replicator.

Smiling, Garak padded over to pick it up, the smile increasing as he read, and ending in a very wide grin.

Dear Garak,

You should know that I'm not one for being manipulated. But good try.

Thank you for a very enjoyable read. Due to your invaluable instruction, I have taken care of any residual frustration from which I might have been suffering. A number of times. I appreciate your choice of literature and see that I shall have to examine your library in greater detail.

Expect me this evening. Make it a special dinner and be prepared to finish the story you neglected to finish last night. The Malovian cake would be appropriate.

Love,
Julian

The grin turned into loud laughter as Garak collapsed onto a nearby chair and laughed with an abandon he had all but forgotten he could. Bless that man for always being smarter than Garak expected. So Garak's Scheherazade act had been duly noted and encouraged. The player had been well played. Clearly he was going to have to up his game. That thought started the laughter all over again.

**************

“I take it that was to your satisfaction,” Garak asked, carrying the empty dishes to the disposal.

“How can those recipes be better than what Quark serves if they come from his replicator? His Pyrean casserole never tasted that good.” Julian stacked together the remaining empty dishes and handed them to Garak. “And the cake...”

“Apparently he uses cheaper variations in his bar. The 'good stuff' he saves for friends. Either we've graduated to that status, or I've sold my soul for future computer work.”

“If the latter, consider it a fair price. That was delicious.”

“I'm so glad you're pleased, Doctor. And, now, do you have any further ideas for this evening?”

“In fact, I do. You shower, then I'll take my turn.”

“It would be more environmentally responsible for us to shower together.”

“My evening. My plans. Off you go.”

Reluctantly, Garak headed into the small bathroom and proceeded to strip down and enjoy the heated water. He enjoyed more wondering just what Julian was planning. But this was certainly a lovely way to start if seduction, as seemed likely, was on the menu.

He soaped himself with meticulous care, remembering Julian's favorite spots. Then soaped himself more slowly as he remembered just what Julian would do with those spots. With a sigh and a last stroke on his aching organ, he stopped himself before he spoiled Julian's fun. The best techniques relied heavily on anticipation over completion. Garak was used to waiting.

A tease in the back of his mind made him question whether Julian might be actually planning an evening of frustration for him, but surely Julian would never be so cruel. But it wouldn't hurt to remind the man just what he'd been missing.

Naked and bouncingly erect, Garak came back into the central area to see if clothing was de rigour. Since Julian moved quickly past him for his own ablutions, with nary a glance at the bobbing hardness preceding Garak, apparently they were. With a sigh, Garak went to the closet to choose appropriate apparel. Something clingy, perhaps, in a fabric that encouraged the hand to stroke it, as well as whatever was underneath. He had made several of those robes during lonely, but hopeful, evenings. The green velour. Its colors flowed artistically into the colors of the room and it was, he thought, while light-weight, still pleasantly warm. Perfect. It even felt good slipping over his head. Of course, the tenting effect disturbed the purity of the robe's lines. A simple meditation trick restored the classic drape. No sense being vulgarly obvious if subtlety was Julian's game tonight.

Now what for Julian? Garak could hear the water being turned off. Quickly he ran his hand over the robes he had made for his lover. He stopped when his hand reached a gossamer breath of silk in the exact colors of Julian's uniform. Again, perfect. He had it shaken out in time to hand it to Julian as the man emerged from the bathroom, gloriously naked and apparently oblivious to the fact. Taking the robe with a smile, Julian slipped it on and walked over to his end of the sofa and settled into the corner, indicating the other end to Garak.

“You were telling me about an operation to silence some friends of yours on Odom 4. The Obsidian Order was going to have them killed and you had just decided to intervene and save them.”

“That's really a very uninteresting story,” Garak said, settling down. “Let me tell you, instead, about an op that I went on when I was still a teenager. They wanted my class to...”

Julian interrupted. “You're not getting out of the other one so easily, Garak. You've succeeded in raising my curiosity. You learned about the assassination order and...” Julian prompted.

“My class story is really far more interesting, Doctor.”

“The Odom 4 story, if you please.”

From the tone of Julian's voice, Garak knew that any further delay would just make the story more intriguing, and he wasn't sure just what records might still exist. All right, then, Odom 4. With the skill of long practice, he forced the mental images that were racing through his mind deeper down.

“If we must.” Garak turned himself around and lay beside Julian, turning him so that they were spooned and Garak didn't have to allow the sometimes too discerning man to watch his face. Light fingertip caresses, hopefully distracting, were allowed, so Garak lightly stroked Julian's chest and began his tale.

“As I told you, Muther was a friend of my youth who had gotten himself into some black market trouble. He'd always been the mischievous type, even when we were children, and I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't been doing it more for the challenge of getting away with it than for the money. Anyway, I learned from a friend who was involved with op planning that Muther had been marked for assassination.

“By now he was thirty - married with five small children. He'd introduced me to his youngest once when I bumped into them unexpectedly on Bajor. Odom 4's not far from there. Cutest little girl of two years old. Curly black hair and a liking for painting her forehead teardrop in the wildest colors, according to Muther. It was bright red that day, I remember. I don't think I have ever been overly fond of children, but I will remember her smile for the rest of my life. Tansy was what they called her.

“Well, my friend in op planning told me that they were going to make an example of Muther and his entire family as a warning to the other black marketeers. They were going to kill that marvelous, innocent little girl. I just couldn't let them do that, could I?”

Julian's hand covered the one on his chest and squeezed. “Of course not. So what happened?”

The blast of the explosion filled Garak's eyes again. “I was too late. They were all dead.” He shook the images away. “I told you it wasn't a worthwhile story to tell.” He teased his fingertips down below Julian's balls and kept them there until Julian stopped trying to remove them.

With a sigh, Julian snuggled back against him. “I'm sorry.”

“Yes, well, there are consequences for illegal behavior. And I'm sure that someone must have been deterred by the lesson.” He sat up. “Can we move over to the bed? For some reason, I feel an overwhelming need to be made love to right now.”

Julian rolled over and looked at him, his hand rising to stroke Garak's ear. “So do I.”

**************

Julian had been asleep for almost an hour when Garak awoke, senses alert to some change in the atmosphere of the room. Something was wrong. His instincts told him that. What it was he didn't know. The room was almost black, only a few dim lights providing illumination. They'd wanted to make love under the stars. But that meant Garak's eyes were dark-adapted.

There was no sound – no obvious sign of what had awakened him, but Garak had survived by trusting his instincts. Moving slowly, he got his hand on the phaser he kept by the bed, but it was his weak hand. His strong one, the right, was pinned under Julian and left him in an awkward, vulnerable position to counter whatever threat was in the room.

If he wakened Julian, then there was an extra variable to consider, and Julian was probably safer lying low. There was a slight brush sound, as if fabric had inadvertently touched some piece of furniture. Since the room was sparsely furnished, that gave only a few possible locations for the intruder.

Garak braced himself and strained to hear anything – another soft collision, or even the temporary blockage of some air flow from the vents. Again, almost instinct told him that whoever was there, was staying on his side of the room. Better. He wouldn't have to try to shoot over Julian, while praying the man didn't move.

Pressing hard into the mattress, Garak began slipping his arm free but, just as he did, Julian turned and a faint light on the wall was simultaneously obscured. The scream and the shot occurred almost together. A second shot and the scream was abruptly cut off.

As Julian sat up, Garak was out of bed and checking the rest of the room. Nothing. Whoever had been there had been alone.

Julian, alert but confused, called out, “What was that?” as he raised the room lights.

Garak walked back to the bed, phaser still in hand. He had just opened his mouth to tell Julian when he closed it again. The threat was gone and he didn't want Julian to be, too. This was the first time in months that the man was back in his bed. Tomorrow was soon enough to explain.

“Only my own stupidity. I keep a phaser where I won't again and must have rolled over and accidentally fired it. Then I fumbled and shot it again.” He laid the weapon on the bed and stared at it in apparent disbelief. “I can't believe I was that stupid.”

Grabbing the gun, Julian checked the safety. “This was set on kill! Which we both could have been. I think I'll keep it on my side of the bed for now,” he said, doing just that. “Are you okay, Garak? I thought I heard you scream.”

“Just startled. I can't imagine where my mind was.”

“Probably where mine was. Now come back to bed. Computer, lights down. We have to be up in just a few hours and I, for one, need my sleep. You wore me out!” Julian lay back down, drawing the cover over himself.

One more check of the room and Garak lay beside him, pulling the man against his chest. A quick search had shown him that the backup phaser was still in place. Though he really needed to practice weak hand shooting. Two shots for one opponent was unforgivable.

For a long time, Garak lay like that – testing the room, listening to the steady rhythm of Julian's sleeping breath. He knew what he'd have to do to upgrade his security system. And Julian's, as well. But for the life of both of them, he couldn't understand why an assassin would come after him now. Unless Tain had regretted his impulse to save Garak's life. On that thoroughly depressing thought, Garak eventually allowed himself to fall asleep, but it was a fretful sleep and his hold on Julian was tight and unyielding.

**************

“And you have no idea who you killed.”

Garak's voice held biting sarcasm at the disapproval in Odo's. “Would you have preferred Julian and I were killed instead?”

“Of course not, but it's going to be difficult discovering who it was if you can't even tell me the race of the attacker.”

“Next time someone tries to kill me I'll be sure to ask for identification. Could you just see if there's someone who's arrived on the station recently and isn't here now?”

“I'll see what I can do.” With that, Odo got up and left the bar. Garak went back to watching Julian, who was celebrating his racketball win with some of his Starfleet friends. Noticing Garak looking his way, Julian gave a small wave and went back to talking to Major Kira.

“What's this I hear about you being attacked last night?” Quark stood behind the counter, empty drink tray in hand.

“Does the Constable tell you everything?” Garak asked with disgust.

“Usually.” Quark leaned forward. “So tell me. What happened?”

“Someone was in our quarters last night. I was able to remove them without worrying the good doctor, and I'd prefer it to remain that way.”

“That's the nice thing about blasters. No unpleasant mess to clean up later.” He indicated Julian across the way, who was laughing uproariously, as were the rest of the table. “And he really didn't wake up? You must have some technique if you wiped him out that thoroughly.” Ignoring Garak's silence, Quark continued, “And maybe it would be better if you got a chance to do that computer upgrade you owe me. Just in case.” A small pat on Garak's back and he was gone to clear a table.

Garak shook his head, then smiled. Always practical. It was one of the things he liked about the Ferengi. If Odo didn't get back some information soon, it might be better to get Julian off the station for a short time. But where was it safe to go? And where would he be willing to go? Garak took a small sip of the kanar in front of him. Until he knew what was going on, it would be better to keep his wits about him.

**************

“I tried to reach you two nights ago and the Infirmary said you could be reached at Garak's quarters. What's going on?” The other people at the table had drifted away to join other groups, and Kira's voice was low.

Julian attempted not to look embarrassed as he explained, “After getting all the Cardassian data, I'm taking the opportunity to use Garak as a test subject for my research.”

“If you'll take my advice, you'll find yourself another line of research. We already know more about them than we want to.” A thought came to her. “Unless what you're studying has applicability to bio-weapons?” At the look on Julian's face, she stood up. “Just let me know when you're not where you might be expected to be. Ops has to be the central communications hub, and there's not always time to go through the Infirmary.”

Julian could feel the heat rising in his cheeks as he nodded. “Yes, of course. I'll do that.”

She had barely cleared the next table when Commander Sisko slid into the chair she'd just vacated. “What's with you and Mister Garak? I'm hearing you've almost moved in together.”

“I'm studying Cardassian...”

Sisko interrupted impatiently. “Yes, yes. I've heard that story. I don't care what you get up to in your personal life. That's your business. But you just got information out of Enabran Tain and that is my business. All I'm suggesting is that if you accidentally learn something from our simple tailor that has some connection to what we're doing here, that you let me know.”

Julian's face was now blazing. “Of course. You want me to spy on our station spy. I assure you that I always pass on any information I think is appropriate to Constable Odo. Whatever Garak has done in his previous life, I can assure you that he is doing nothing now that would undermine the station or Starfleet. He's my patient and, yes, he's my friend. But I believe I can walk that balance line between protecting him and protecting Starfleet security.”

Patting Julian's arm, Sisko stood up. “Good. That's all I ask. Keep your eyes open. Good game!”

Noticing Miles approaching with a wide grin and two full mugs, Julian glanced over at Garak who met his eyes, raised an almost full glass of blue liquid in toast and smiled proudly at him. Julian sighed. It looked like the news was spreading, whether he would or not.

“Julian! Now that game was more like it. Did you see my kill shot left? No? maybe that was when you were sitting on your rump.”

“You do remember that you lost, I hope?” Julian said, sipping at the pro-offered brew and ignoring the spreading puddle of beer from the frothing mug being slapped down on the table.

“By a hair's breath. All I would have had to do was raise the angle of the next shot and I would have had the game. Next time, Julian, you are going to know what it feels like to go down to an old man.” Miles' face tightened as he glanced across the room to where Garak was talking with Odo. “Which reminds me, are you certifiably crazy? You aren't really going down for that damned Cardassian, are you?”

Julian spit his beer onto the table and Miles got up to slap him on the back, taking the opportunity to whisper into his ear, “I don't care how many sex tricks they know, it's not worth it. If he's got something on you, let me know. I have some friends and we can take care of him.”

Coughing, Julian got out, “No, please don't! It's research. We're friends.”

Miles backed away, hands up, then leaned back down. “Your business, but take it from me, you can't be friends with one of those. The only thing you're gonna have up your ass is trouble.” Grabbing his beer, Miles began to walk away then turned back and said in a loud voice while staring at Garak, “But that offer still stands.”

If the table hadn't been wet with beer, Julian would have put his head on it. Catching Garak's eye and noting the confusion on his face, Julian shrugged an explanation. He was pretty sure he could come up with a good one later. He just needed to lubricate his thought processes a little more. Realizing the mug was now empty and that another friend was on their way over, Julian signaled a passing waiter that he'd have a shot. Double.

**************

The music was slow and rhythmical, and Garak kept time with long deep penetrations. As usual, the sensations were exquisite, but he wasn't satisfying himself tonight. He had a pillow tucked under Julian's groin as Garak tried to find the angle that would get the best result for his partner. From the moans of the drunken man into whom he was pushing, the angle was pretty well optimal.

He needed Julian awake and sober enough to talk, but relaxed enough to go along with his plan. The problem was that his lover refused to shut up long enough to give Garak the opportunity to present it as it should be. He needed the doctor off the station. Now!

“So then Jadzea came over. She has this friend she wanted to introduce me to...” The words faded out as Garak ran his hand just above Julian's back and let it slide slowly above the rump that wouldn't stay still long enough to let the effect build. But since the man was now quiet, it had worked well enough.

A fast, hard push back from below was a more pleasant surprise, and Garak couldn't stop himself from responding with some fast thrusts of his own. It was so hard to concentrate when Julian was in this sort of mood – playful and open to anything Garak wanted to try. He consciously slowed down. But he promised himself that he was going to screw the man into the mattress once he'd gotten Julian's agreement on the field trip plan. Odo had gotten a piece of information that had surprised Garak.

“Odo came over to talk to me, too.”

For a moment Garak had the fantasy that Julian was reading his mind. He shook his head and bent to his task.

“He actually congratulated me and told me to ignore what the rest of them were saying. He thinks you're a gentleman, even if also probably a murderer and a couple of things worse. And he said he hopes that someone loves him someday as much as you love me. Quark joined us and asked if we'd like to have a party in his place to celebrate getting together. He offered a fifteen percent discount on an open bar.”

“If you keep talking, I'm never going to get this done.”

“I was counting. Of the thirteen people who were sure we were having sex...”

“Trying to have sex,” Garak interjected through clenched teeth.

“Four of them thought it was a great idea, five were sure I was making a big mistake, three of whom offered to set me up with friends, two couldn't have cared less, and two propositioned me. Both men. Three others seemed to buy the research story.”

"Eliminate distractions. Focus on the objective. Create a tunnel in your mental vision that shows only what you need to see." Garak could almost hear his father's voice reciting those old, familiar aphorisms. Which did absolutely nothing to help him concentrate on his current goal. Goals.

“I've been thinking that we need to get away somewhere together. Somewhere where we can do this all day and all night...” Garak made clear what he intended them to be doing. “and not be distracted. I know we said it wasn't safe to go off station, but I was thinking we could go to Bajor, like we did before.” Julian wiggled his rump impatiently and Garak focused on business for awhile.

“We could find another concert on some other planet. Somewhere that doesn't have an original DNA scanner. And you can turn me into a Vulcan or a Romulan. How would you like that?”

“Remembering your little Romulan diplomat? No, thank you.” Julian wiggled his rump. “Do you remember that time you combined deep muscle massage with your normal deep massage?”

Garak did. The moans increased.

“Then what about a spy tour?” Garak panted. There was a reason he didn't use this technique very often. “I'll take you somewhere I went on an op and walk you through it? What about the 'Tale of the Blue Rose?' Where I convinced the planet's president to fund a revolution against himself. I could show you the house where I had the documents forged.”

“Harder. Deeper.”

After another two minutes of harder and deeper, Garak collapsed on Julian's back. “Then you suggest somewhere,” he got out between gasps.

Julian looked back over his shoulder and smiled. “Odom 4.”

Garak leaned up on his hands. “No. Palos 10. Where I was in a gunbattle with a Ferengi.”

“Odom 4.”

“Arcon. The collapse of the national economy.”

Julian was relentless, his smile never wavering. “Odom 4.”

“Why?” Garak asked desperately.

“Because you really don't want to talk about it, and I want to know why.”

“Can't some things remain private?” Garak asked.

“Not if you want us to be truly intimate.”

Garak made some half-hearted thrusts. “This isn't intimate enough for you?”

“You know that's not the important kind of intimacy. If you want me the way you claim to, it's time for you to let me in. Speaking of which, if you're just about finished, I think it's my turn.” Julian put his head back down on the pillow. “And then you can turn off that music.”

Odom 4. Of all the places Julian could have asked to go. Garak began moving mechanically toward his climax. Everything he'd learned from Odo said that Odom 4 was probably what this whole problem was about. After all, it's why he was exiled in the first place. Taking Julian there was just taking him into the fire.

Well, maybe it was time to face this full on. His lover was no weakling. Properly prepared, Julian would be a full partner, and not someone who needed protecting. Who would have ever guessed that Garak would have chosen so well on that long ago, fateful afternoon? Whatever else he would have thought next was lost as his head exploded in climax and the world exploded around him. Just like on Odum 4, came a distant whisper.

**************

He would have known what planet he was on if he'd been blindfolded, Garak thought. It was the smell of the air and its weight. The smell had something in common with crushed flowers, perhaps a day past optimal freshness. The weight just made it more difficult to breathe.

They were walking down a winding road, houses peeping out through exuberant foliage. There were, indeed, flowers everywhere he looked. The colors not quite the same as those that had grown in the fields around his house when he'd been a boy.

“I can't believe you shot someone and I didn't notice.” The comment, with some variation, had been a frequent theme since Garak had explained to the doctor just why a trip to this particular planet was one he shouldn't undertake casually. As expected, the warning had only increased Julian's determination to go.

“They lived just over that hill,” Garak said, pointing. “I knew the husband from around the neighborhood when I was young. We entered the Obsidian Order within a few years of one another. We weren't close. Just nodding acquaintances, actually.”

“I thought you said Muther was into black market smuggling.”

“It was a bit worse than that. Information on the order was showing up in the underground press. No one knew what secrets were going to be exposed and, believe me, the order had secrets that would have embarrassed us all if they'd ever come out. Whoever was betraying us had to be stopped.”

“And Muther was that man,” Julian said.

Garak shook his head. “I didn't think the evidence was as strong as it was made out to be. But they needed an example to keep the rest of us in line. I'm certain it was a careful calculation. If he was guilty, the punishment was appropriate. If he wasn't, then he still held great value as an object lesson. One might be willing to risk one's own life, but few people would put their whole family at risk.”

“And you came here to warn him. Wouldn't that have gotten you into trouble, too?” Julian glanced over at Garak. “It did, didn't it? That's why you were exiled. Because you tried to tell him about the hit.”

Garak smiled. That wasn't so far from the truth. Except that he hadn't come to warn Muther. He'd come to kill the man, his wife, his two sons and his three daughters. That bush they'd just passed had been one of his observation areas. The others had been closer to the house. There. And over there. He'd spent those four days deciding the best way to kill an entire family. His job was assassination, and he'd been very good at it in those days.

If the house had still been there, it would have been visible by now. It wasn't. But Garak could still see it in memory. He'd lain in those bushes up ahead watching the family's pattern. And at night he would move in so close he could watch the family through their absurdly open windows.

“The op was planned for an early evening in the summer. It was the youngest child's birthday and everyone would be there for dinner – even some of the extended family. So it would be a strong demonstration of the power of the Order.”

A fence still surrounded the razed building, and Garak opened it, closing it conscientiously behind him, as if anything within its environs still needed to be protected. He stopped and looked around at what landmarks there were. Play equipment dangled haphazardly from rusty poles, and a large, nearby sandbox still held some evidence of the massive destruction that had happened not far away. By instinct he moved to the sandbox.

“It was an explosion,” Julian said quietly, unable to look away from the damaged play space.

“Rather cleverly constructed. It was a minimal configuration of explosives calculated to take out only the house, with no damage to surrounding buildings. The Order wanted no harm to come to surrounding properties, so that the tragedy would be soonest forgotten. Except by the people who were meant to profit by the lesson.”

“Where were you when it blew up?

“Right here. The blast was art, itself. Blinding, deafening, but the concussion waves went inward, not outward.”

“Were you hurt?”

“A stray brick hit my forehead. It was nothing.”

“On the contrary. You were drenched in blood, as I remember.”

“Freel!”

Garak froze for a moment, shaken by the all too familiar voice, but quickly steadied himself. He'd been expecting this. He glanced over at Julian, who had a hard look in his eyes. Good. Slowly he turned. In front of him was a Cardassian of his own age, though taller and harder. Handsome in the classical mode, with the bearing of someone who believes he will always dominate. But the greatest similarity was in the eyes – each man's cold and merciless.

“You're older. You've aged well.” Garak's statement was flat.

“You haven't. Must be all the soft living. I remember someone slim and tough.” Freel glanced over at Julian. “It's him, isn't it?” At the confused expression on Julian's face, he looked back at Garak. “You haven't told him about me?” There was surprise, but also pain in the voice, as if it was difficult to believe he hadn't been an integral part of Garak's story.

“There was nothing to tell.”

Now the anger rose in the other Cardassian. Freel turned to Julian, whose face still showed that he had no idea what this conversation was about. “Nothing except the fact that we were lovers for over a year. We knew each other's body as well as we knew our own. You think you know him because he screws you? You're nothing. You're human. We were the kings of the universe and I know him in ways you'll never imagine. He uses you. We loved each other.”

“You exaggerate, as usual.” Garak allowed amusement to creep into his voice, all the time listening and looking for clues that would explain the vulnerabilities of this always emotional ex-lover. “We were practicing skills on each other like all the other nineteen year olds we knew. You were good, I'll admit, but not exceptional.” A small smile at Julian to imply that the man before them wasn't up to Julian's abilities. Yes, Freel rose to that. Garak watched as Freel focused on Julian, his words almost spitting out in fury.

“That's not what he said then. It was love, not sex. We'd go at it for days on end, rest for hours, and then return to the play. Does he still call it play? Does he still like to wrestle naked until one of you slides into the other.” At Julian's involuntary glance at Garak, Freel laughed. “Of course not. You're weak. All humans are. He rides you like an Andorian pony, doesn't he? Does he dig his spurs in?”

“Enough, Freel!” The words cut. “You've made your point. He's aware of my past partners. Now he knows that you were one of them. He has nothing to do with our past. This should be between us. Let him go and let's settle this as we should. We can wrestle naked again, if you'd like. But perhaps we should do it in Tralian style. With knives.” He ignored the gasp from beside him, concentrating on the small changes of expression in the man before him. But the response wasn't what Garak expected. Freel's face showed shock as he turned to Julian.

“He loves you! He's trying to protect you. He's never loved anyone more than himself in his whole life. I gave him everything. I asked him to marry me and he laughed at me.” Freel's voice rose to almost a scream. “He laughed.”

That was the cue. Garak laughed now. “You have to admit that you looked rather funny trying to get the bonding ring out the box it was stuck in.”

For a moment, Garak thought he'd gotten the man off-balance but, with difficulty, Freel regained control. What a shame. He'd been much easier to manipulate when they were young.

“I still have it, you know. It helps me remember just how much I hate you.”

“The feeling, I assure you, is mutual.” Garak kept his voice calm.

Julian, who had not really been a part of the conversation, interrupted quietly - his voice that of a doctor. “What went wrong between you?”

The question was for Freel, Garak noted, applauding Julian's attempt to draw the man's attention away from Garak, the professional in these matters. He looked for an opening, running his mind over the ways he could use the various weapons he carried, or something from the immediate environment, if it came to that.

But Freel wasn't really interested in Julian. He looked at Garak and there was real pain on his face. “I don't know. What did go wrong?”

“We were too young. It was that simple. I wasn't ready to settle down with one person.” Garak only barely stopped himself from glancing at Julian, who brought that same problem to their relationship. “No matter how good we were together.”

“But we were good?” Freel's voice was pleading.

Garak let himself smile. “Oh, yes, we were. Do you remember that mission we took to Droxlen?” Moving a few steps he attempted to maneuver Freel so that he was turned partially away from Julian. “You were supposed to blow the hydroelectric plant, and I was supposed to seduce the plant supervisor to get him out of the way while you planted the explosives.”

“And I made you promise that you wouldn't let the old tanya get his hands on you. And after he took his clothes off, you stole them so he couldn't come out of that storage area.”

“But when your explosion went off, he ran out completely naked.” The grins they shared were real this time.

Freel's face went suddenly blank. “And then you ran off and spent the weekend with that dancer.”

“Freel, I was nineteen!”

“So was I, and I never treated you like that.”

“No, you didn't. You were faithful, and I wasn't. It was an uneven relationship, and that's part of why it didn't work.”

“Why couldn't you love me?”

“You can't snap your fingers and have love appear. It's there or it's not.”

“It was there for me.”

“I know.”

Julian's doctor-voice broke the following silence. “What could either of you have done that could have helped make things better?”

Garak used the opportunity to move a few more steps so that Freel was forced to turn a little more to face him. To his side, Garak could see that Julian was recognizing his tactics and preparing himself for whatever chance presented itself. “I truly don't know. Talking wasn't what either of us were doing back then.”

“But we should have been,” Freel said. “And you should have let me know when you felt tempted toward other people and let me help you direct all that toward me.”

“We could have moved in together.” In the corner of his eye, Garak could see Julian freeze. “If there was any chance that I could have loved you, maybe I could have tried to turn us into a couple. Love deserves something.”

“Garak!” There was desperate hope in Freel's voice.

Garak held up his hand and directed himself now to his ex-lover. “But I didn't love you. We were nineteen and I didn't love you then, and I don't love you now.”

“But you love him.” The flatness of the statement turned Garak cold. The many ways this conversation could go so very wrong moved through his mind so rapidly he was barely aware of analyzing them. As his body tensed, ready to be thrown between Freel and Julian, Julian spoke again.

“You know, sometimes it can be just as painful to be the one that's loved, as it is to be the one that loves.”

Freel turned to stare at the man, seeming to just then remember that Julian was still there. Almost, Garak moved but before he completed the decision Freel re-positioned himself to the canonically correct position from which to hold a weapon on two opponents. Damn old Rassler's class in tactics! Freel had always beaten him in that one. Garak forced his body back to relaxed alertness.

“You don't love him?” Freel asked Julian, disbelieving.

Julian echoed Garak's words. “It's there or it's not.” He shrugged. “I can't make myself love him just because he loves me anymore than he could make himself love you. It's not any of our faults. It's just the way it is.”

A chuckle from Freel turned slowly into loud, sustained laughter. “That's wonderful! All the years I've plotted my revenge against him, and you were making him suffer a fate worse than any I was imagining. How poetically just. Well done, Doctor. Well done.”

“So now what?” Garak asked. He indicated the destroyed building with a gesture of his head. “Did Tain send you about this?”

The smile disappeared from Freel's face. “I wanted Tain to send me after you, like he sent me after the brat, but he wouldn't. I tried every argument I could think of, but he was adamant. You weren't to be touched.” He shrugged. “So I resigned, and made you my last mission. How wonderfully appropriate that it all ends here.”

“Why here?” Julian asked.

“You're standing on this very spot and he didn't tell you what happened here?” The doctor's transparent face was his only answer. “The brat - what was her name? Oh, yes. Tansy. Stupid name for a stupid child. That's how he got so bloody. He ran in and threw himself on top of that unimportant little piece of traitor filth.”

The words, unexpectedly, brought back such vivid images that Garak responded without thinking, agony in his voice. “She was two years old. She had done nothing.”

The smile on Freel's face said he knew he had unsettled Garak, but Garak was having trouble getting his mind to control his emotions. She had been such a beautiful child.

Freel turned triumphantly back to Julian. “He thought he saved her. Took the brat to some whore of his on Melonk 3. But I had my revenge, didn't I, Garak? I found her and I killed both of them. And you knew it. You knew that Tain sent me to clean up your loose ends. And then I killed you by convincing Tain to send you away. I knew what our world meant to you, and I knew that you would suffer every day. A long slow death. Just the same way you'd made me suffer for all those years.”

The surroundings darkened in Garak's eyes as he focused on Freel, but all he really saw was the small face looking up at him and asking where her mommy was. For five nights he'd held her and rocked her to sleep as the piece of junk he'd bought headed slowly, but inconspicuously, for the only refuge he could think of for the child – Lanya.

“And now I'm going to kill your love, just like you killed the love in me.”

Reason left Garak in that instant. With a roar, he leaped at Freel, not hearing Julian's scream and hardly feeling the pain in his abdomen. Julian caught him and Garak maneuvered to keep his body between the man and Freel. Freel started laughing, a strange hysterical sound. “You want to die first? Maybe I'll let you.” He pointed the phaser at Garak, turning the setting to maximum. He was still laughing when a phaser burst struck from the small space between Garak's elbow and the hand Garak held over his wound. Freel disappeared as if he had never existed. The silence was broken only by the warning cry of a bird flying high overhead. Garak sank to the ground, Julian dropping his phaser and kneeling beside him.

Pulling Garak's hand away to try to get a look at the exposed flesh, Julian said angrily, “Is this what you meant about my standing back and letting the professional handle it? That was very professional, Garak – running straight at a man holding a phaser. Remind me NOT to put that into my bag of spy tricks.” From his heel, Julian pulled out the small tricorder he had kept there against Garak's advice. What he saw didn't seem to please him. Slapping the com unit he'd tucked under his collar, Julian said, “Computer, two to beam up. Energize.”

The runabout they'd taken materialized around them, as the tingles that teleportation always gave Garak moved into his wound and began to change into an intense burning sensation. Julian had moved across the room to where he kept his medical kit and was back and pushing a hypo into Garak's neck before Garak could tell him where it hurt. The room faded away and, with it, the pain.

**************

As Garak returned to awareness all he could think was, “Not the Infirmary. Not again.” He let go of consciousness and sank back into the far more pleasant darkness.

When he next awoke, his abdomen felt cold, even though he was covered with a blanket. As he reached down to see why the chill, Julian came over and put his hand on the blanket to stop him. “Leave it alone. I've had to regenerate a few organs and the process will be going on for about the next hour. How are you feeling?”

“What organs?” At the look on Julian's face, Garak shook his head. “On second thought, tell me later after everything is back together.” He looked around at the technicians going quietly about their work. “I take it I'm going to live. Thank you, Doctor.”

“That's what we're here for.” Looking around, Julian went over to get a stool that he put next to the bed and sat down. “Are you well enough yet to tell me what that was all about? I take it there was more going on than you explained before we left.”

Garak stared up at an all too familiar ceiling. “Freel.”

“And Tansy. You told me about meeting her. You never told me you tried to save her.”

Garak smiled. “Don't think me a knight on a white charger, Doctor. I rushed into that as stupidly as I did - was it yesterday?”

“Three days ago,” Julian corrected.

Accepting that, Garak continued. “It was a birthday party for her and they'd left her outside while they made the final arrangements. I was nearby and she saw me and she gave me this wonderful, wide smile. And the next thing I knew she and I were bleeding all over each other and I was running away with her in my arms.”

“And you didn't give her to a neighbor because you assumed that the bomber would be back to finish the job.”

Relieved that Julian hadn't seemed to understand that Garak had, himself, been the bomber, Garak fought a losing battle with his conscience as to whether that information was necessary to add. Since Julian had given him a universal absolution, and what use absolution if the sins remained, he decided that that part of the truth was unnecessary. “If the Obsidian Order knew that she was alive, they would have found her and completed their lesson. Yes.”

“And Lanya?”

Garak smiled. “There Freel was quite correct, if rude. Lanya and I met occasionally and latinum did change hands, though I do believe I was given a significant discount. But I really liked her, and I knew that she wanted to get into another line of work. She had moved to a farming planet quite out of the way, and it occurred to me that she might like having a daughter. I discovered she had married a pioneer and he was amenable to their taking in Tansy. I gave them all the latinum I had with me and, when I got back to Cardassia, emptied out my accounts and sent her everything I had.” For a moment he could almost see the little girl looking up at him with those big eyes. “Tansy did have the most beautiful smile.”

“And then?”

“Ah, yes. Then.” The truth was that Tain had sent Freel as a backup to make sure Garak did the job that Tain knew Garak didn't want to do. “Tain accused me of protecting the child and what could I say? I had.”

Actually, that hadn't been quite the way it happened, Garak remembered. Tain had told him that he'd given Freel orders to kill the child and Garak had been so furious that he had told Tain that he wanted to protect her because Murther was not the father. That Murther had agreed to take in the child because Garak couldn't keep her – not in his line of work – and because Garak didn't want to leave his daughter with Lanya. So, Garak had informed his father that Tain had signed a death warrant for his own granddaughter. It hadn't been true, of course, but it had hurt Tain as much as Tansy's death had hurt Garak. That was the betrayal that had caused Garak's exile. Pain for pain. What a wonderful balancing out of justice.

“I'm sorry,” Julian said, taking Garak's hand.

Garak squeezed it. “As am I. But it's past and over and so, I hope, is the immediate threat.”

“If the attempt on your life came from this one, yes. Was Odo absolutely certain that Freel was the one behind your attack? Which I STILL can't believe happened and I didn't notice!”

“I'm certain the good Constable and I will discuss the threat. He doesn't want to see potential violence on this station any more than I want to see violence perpetrated on either of us. As for future attacks, you have my promise, my dear Doctor, that should my life ever be threatened again, I will inform you immediately.”

With a quick glance around to see what the others in the room were doing, Julian dropped his voice to a whisper. “For a moment back there I thought you were talking about us instead of you two. When you said the two of you might have worked if you'd moved in together. Then I realized that what makes our relationship work is that we keep everything even. We both play around or we both stay monogamous.

Still weak and not up to his usual dissembling, Garak just closed his eyes.

“Garak?” A whisper. “Garak!” A hiss. A hand gripped his arm and Garak looked up into Julian's face. “Do we have something to talk about?”

Garak felt the blood rising to his face. “It's possible I might have given you the wrong impression.”

“Impre...” Realizing that his voice had risen and heads had turned, Julian lowered his voice again, squeezing Garak's arm tighter. “Will you ever tell me the truth, Garak?”

“Oh, Doctor, will I ever tell myself the truth?”

**************

It had been child's play to escape the Infirmary once again. Shifts changed on a regular schedule, and shift-change meetings meant minimal supervision. Garak's clothes had been stored in the same place they'd been put before, which saved him the embarrassment of walking through the Promenade in the medical gown. Which he had been perfectly prepared to do. The trick was to always appear completely confident in your demeanor. People tended to accept you at your own self-evaluation.

He'd lain down as soon as he'd arrived in his quarters. The walk had been surprisingly tiring, and the ache in his abdomen had grown more intense with every step. Perhaps he shouldn't have left so soon, but it was impossible to lie there with everyone walking around as if he were some inanimate object. No acceptable company. No intellectual stimulation. And that old nurse/lover of Julian's staring daggers at him whenever she passed in the evening. Clearly, he had been there long enough.

Besides, his own personal medical professional would be showing up any minute to check up on him. He sat up to drink a bit more of the kanar he'd managed to pour on his way to bed. Just in case the medical prescriptions didn't include alcohol. He had missed his evening drink, he thought, putting the glass back down.

Closing his eyes, Garak tried to rest. Slowly, the images that had been disturbing him in the Infirmary began reappearing here, almost as if they had followed him. Tansy and Lanya first. Always first. Then memories of that year he had spent with Freel.

It had been exciting to be nineteen and a member of the Obsidian Order. A new career. A new lover. Life had seemed as if it couldn't get any better. Freel had been magnificent. Superb in body, and as well trained in technique as Garak, himself. They had reached heights Garak knew he would never reach again.

But that was alright. Having a place-memory meant that, for an instant, Garak could put himself back into a moment of time and remember the passion that they'd shared. A shiver went through Garak. That was before Freel had lost his mind. Love. Could that possibly have been real for the boy? If so, Garak wished that he could ask his forgiveness, too. He understood love now, and it most certainly did take over the soul.

Julian. Had he really been willing to trade his life for the doctor's? Garak touched the healing wound. Apparently so. And would again, he had to admit. But would he be successful the next time? Or the time after that? Julian was right. The threat hadn't been eliminated. One of his old operations could still come back on him. And where would Julian be then?

Suddenly he could hear his father's voice. “I should have killed your mother before you were born. You have always been a weakness I can't afford.” And, like a blinding light, he suddenly knew what it meant. His father loved him. How simple. Was it possible that part of his exile was to stop him from being a pawn that could be used against his father? Because if anyone knew that he was Tain's son, they might also believe that they could blackmail Tain with Garak's life.

A week ago Garak would have laughed at the notion. But the pain beneath his hand reminded him that there were some things that would triumph over any notion of honor. Could Freel have loved him like that? Too late to worry about it. But not too late to worry about Julian.

Lying here, he couldn't help but be aware of the space to the left of the bed. It had only been a flash – a glimpse of movement, but it would have been so easy for everything to have gone wrong. If the assassin had just come a short time before, he might have caught them in the act, so distracted that they would have been easy prey. “A weakness I can't afford.” The words repeated in his head. But they weren't quite right. The right words were more like “An asset I can't risk.”

The decision was made before Garak even realized there was one to make. Julian should not be here with him. Occasional lunches. The odd offing in one of their quarters. But he couldn't be recognized, as Freel had done, as a pawn to be played in any future move against Garak, himself.

There wasn't a lot of time before Julian would discover he was gone and come after him. Groaning softly, Garak got out of bed and began collecting the personal effects and clothes that Julian had left here over their time together. He had a carrying case for suits that he took home when he needed extra time to finish. That easily fit what he had collected together. Before he could change his mind, he took the case and put it by the door. Julian would understand. He'd almost been killed. Surely he'd understand.

**************

“Are you throwing me out?”

The voice startled Garak awake. It took a moment for him to comprehend what Julian meant. Then he remembered. Sitting up, he said casually, “As a matter of fact, yes.”

“Why?”

Tempted as he was to try an excuse, Garak found himself, instead, speaking the truth. “Because I think you're in more danger if it's known that you're my weakness.”

Julian didn't answer right away, but stood looking silently down at Garak, who waited for him to recognize the logic.

“I would remind you who shot Freel and who got shot.”

At that Garak had to smile. “An excellent point. I can see that you're going to remind me of that for a very long time.”

The atmosphere easing, Julian sat down on the bed. “We were going to finish our conversation about even and uneven relationships, if you remember.”

“I was hoping you wouldn't.”

“Not likely. So what were you doing with those women if you weren't screwing them?”

Julian's face showed that he was remembering something, and Garak was afraid it was his carefully staged romp with the non-existent partner. “There was no one with me.”

Julian stared at him, then collapsed on the bed and looked at the ceiling before turning onto his elbow and looking at Garak. “What about that procession of women? Romulans, Klingons, Andorians. Wasn't there even a Ferengi?”

It took Garak a moment before he could bring himself to say in a low voice, “Odo.”

Silent for a moment, Julian turned face down onto the mattress and began laughing hysterically while beating his fists into the pillow. Gulping air, he looked at Garak for a second, then started off on another fit. When he had finally laughed himself out, he rolled over and looked up at the same ceiling that was fascinating Garak.

“I assume he's fully functional.”

“Yes.”

“But you didn't...”

“No.”

“And the reason that you did all this...”

“Was to make you jealous.”

A hand reached out for Garak's and squeezed. “It worked.”

“I know.” Garak squeezed back.

They lay like that for awhile until Julian broke the silence. “So our relationship was just like yours and Freel's. You were faithful and I wasn't.” No answer was expected or given. “I suppose it wouldn't be unreasonable to try to redirect some of my interest in women to you.”

“I'd be willing to go to counseling with you, but I don't know who we'd talk to.”

Trying to maintain a straight face, Julian suggested, “Commander Sisko?”

“No!” After a moment's consideration, Garak offered instead, “Quark?”

“Disgusting as that sounds, it's actually not a bad idea.” Sitting up, Julian smiled. “Do you know, I think we're being honest with each other. Maybe this could be the start of a trend.” He got up.

“Now, I presume that you've upgraded your security.” Garak nodded. “Good. I don't like the idea of our having company while we're sleeping. I'm going back to my quarters and pick up some more things. For the time being, I'm moving in.” When Garak opened his mouth, Julian stopped whatever he was going to say. “There's no point in trying to be discrete when everyone assumes I've already moved in. You need a nursemaid and I seem to be the best person to fill that position. So you can finish that glass of kanar you're trying to hide while I'm gone, because the bottle is going to disappear until I decide you're well enough to go back to your normal, dissolute pursuits.”

Garak patted the bed. “That will also have to wait,” Julian said, but he was smiling now, too. “When I get back I'll give you a once over, then I have to get back to the Infirmary. And I'm looking forward to thinking of some way to pay back our good Constable for his part in your prank. I could always fill his bucket with some high proof synthehol. I wonder if changelings are allergic to alcohol.”

“Do I have to worry about retribution, as well?” Garak asked, with a matching smile.

“Oh, yes. Worry, by all means, my plain and simple tailor. You will never know when or what retribution will be coming. Just be assured that I will get mine back.”

As he walked to the door Julian threw back over his shoulder, “I keep forgetting to tell you. Tain did send you a message when I saw him. He said to tell you that he missed you.” He waved. “Be back soon.”

Getting up from the bed, Garak listened to the door opening and closing. Images ran through his head - standing in an archway watching a large man working at a desk – waiting at a window for his father to come home - holding his father's hand after a walk in the country. An image of a black closet came to him but he pushed it away. He let the country memory return and felt again the breese on his face and smelled the flowers. The hand that held his was very large and very warm. Love wasn't weakness. Tain was wrong.

Walking over to the communications center, Garak stood thinking for a long minute then keyed in Tain's private code. He followed it with a single sentence. “I miss you, too.”