"It doesn't make sense."
The doctor straightens up the way he does when he's preparing for a disagreement. He's not naturally disagreeable, my doctor. It's one of his more endearing flaws.
"I thought it was fairly straight-forward," he says. He's watching me closely, trying to be sure I'm not simply saying this to draw something ridiculous out of his mouth.
Which I'm not. Not today, anyway. "The plot -- if it could be called such-- is simplistic, yes. But the characters do completely ridiculous things for absolutely no reason."
"Garak." He's incredulous now. "They fell in love."
I could argue this point. Not only because I can't imagine even a couple of Humans doing the things that these characters did for romantic reasons, but also because they couldn't have known each other nearly long enough to be in love.
But I get the feeling that these arguments will only support his theory that I am a horrible cynic and that it's his job to introduce me to the beauty of life as portrayed in Human literature, art, and music.
To avoid that (again), I take a different path.
"What a peculiar expression."
He blinks at me, apparently not aware what I'm referring to.
"Fell in love. I wouldn't expect you to use such a negative term for that particular emotion."
"It's not negative."
"Fell? As in 'fell off a cliff'?"
He furrows his brow. "Well. Not..." He laughs. "You would think that."
"Don't blame me, Doctor," I say, feigning offense. "Kardasi uses no such term."
"But you assume that it's a bad fall."
No it's my turn to be incredulous. "There's a good way to fall?"
"Of course. Like a plunge or a... dive." His eyelids are heavy with some sort of memory. I'm sure that he has plenty to choose from. "You're not completely in control, exactly. But it's the exhilaration and fear and..."
He looks up at me with a startling intensity and a little smile from whatever he'd been remembering. "I don't believe that you've never felt anything like that. With the life you've led, I'm sure you've broken a few hearts."
I can't help but laugh. The doctor has such a stunningly active imagination. It would be rather thrilling to know what sexual history he's invented for me.
"Perhaps Cardassians don't feel that particular emotion as a Human would. After all, the end result of a fall is always the same, especially from a great height."
"Ah yes," he says with exaggerated gravity. "The jagged rocks of reality. Better to stay on the ground forever than risk being injured by the fall."
"Than risk being skewered by 'jagged rocks', yes. Sex is a survival instinct. To allow yourself to be destroyed by it would defeat the point, don't you think?"
"Well, it may've killed them." He gestures to the book. "But to extend the metaphor a bit further, it's possible to land on softer ground together. And together, you're stronger. That doesn't defeat the point."
"It seems a bit less haphazard to choose a mate based on more practical matters."
He shakes his head. "I've seen the sort of bonds forged by practicality. That's not very conducive to love."
"Survival is more important than love," I say simply.
"You don't believe that."
His words, the certainty with which he says them, evoke a surprised laugh from my mouth. "Really, Doctor, I wonder where you get your ideas about me, but I think they're a bit -- What's your expression? Rose tinted?"
He looks down at his mostly empty plate from a long since finished dinner. We don't usually share dinner, but tonight, he invited me as an apology for having missed a few lunches. In his quarters, to avoid the crowd. I feel a bit guilty that I seem to have offended him when he has gone to so much trouble to prove that we are still close friends.
Whether or not that's still true.
But when he looks up at me again, he's smiling. Not exactly a happy smile, but a familiar one -- the narrow-eyed smile of certainty he wore much more commonly a few years ago.
"You're lying," he says. "Or... you're trying to keep me from the truth by pushing me back from it, but I've known you too long, Garak."
I raise my eyridges, genuinely curious as to where he's going with this line of thought. If it's making me a bit uncomfortable, I certainly won't let him see it.
"You've risked your survival several times for love. For Cardassia. For your father."
I feel a surge of irritation, and I let it flavor my words. "That is not quite the same thing."
"No, it's not. But I think that if you can love like that, you could love someone romantically the same way. I don't think you could love any other way, really."
"What about you, Doctor?" I say before I can stop myself. "The apparent expert on love, as long as she'll be leaving the station again in a few days."
His eyes widen as if I struck him. But, slowly, his eyelids lower down to their usual half-mast. Perhaps a bit lower from anger, and he tilts his chin up slightly. "I don't confuse those... encounters with love. I don't always feel an emotional connection with sex. That doesn't mean I never have."
"Of course," I say even as I realize that this is one of the most personal conversations we've ever had. Which also makes it one of the more dangerous. "I only mean to say that I may have a better idea of the workings of my mind than you. I would not presume to know your motivations, and I ask the same."
He chews at his lip, the anger suddenly gone from his face. It didn't suit him anyway. "I'm not... I don't mean to presume. I just meant that..."
"Doctor, it's late. I should return to my own quarters," I say, pushing away from the table.
"Wait," he reaches forward, as if by impulse, and catches my wrist before I can stand. "You're doing it again. You're insulting me, then giving me a way out of the confrontation."
"I don't want out," he says. "What I meant to say is that I do think you're a romantic. You don't want to be, but you are. And I understand not wanting to be, because even if it isn't nearly as dangerous for me as it is for you -- when there's a gigantic risk that whatever or whomever you love might not give a damn about you -- it's scary."
I give myself only enough time to take a breath to steady myself. "Doctor, that's quite poetic, but I'm afraid you misunderstand me."
"I know it's scary, because I've been terrified since Ziyal got here. The way I was when Worf got here, and I knew any hope I had with Jadzia was over."
There is a moment in which I'm sure I've heard him wrong. I don't want to answer. I don't want to give myself away. Hearing, perhaps, what I want to hear? Or what I used to want to hear?
"I understand if I'm too late," he says. "I have a habit of being late."
I had forgotten his hand was still around my wrist until he moves it -- slides it down the back of my hand -- then pushes up my fingertips until he can press his palm flush against my own.
I want it to seem ridiculous. A Human giving such a Cardassian show of affection.
But it doesn't.
"Even if it's not too late, I can't promise much," he whispers. "I can't promise you the kind of companionship you'd have with a fellow Cardassian or that I could make sacrifices in my work or--"
"It's not," I say, and I turn my fingers so that I can lace them with his, exchanging his Cardassian gesture for a more Human one. "It's not too late."
He grins at me, a bit more nervous than I'm used to seeing him, and he pulls my hand across the table to press his lips against my fingers. It's a simple thing, but it sends a rush all the way through me, making me dizzy. My heart is beating too hard from arousal and a quiet fear that this moment will fall apart too soon.
Not letting go of my hand, he stands and rounds the table. He turns my chair so that he has enough room to settle down on top of me. And as his lips brush against the ridge of my neck, I have to admit...
It feels a bit like falling.