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It's been a long five years. Long, tired years, years of suffering, of humiliation, of silent fury as Cardassia is forced to resort to begging to get the resources she needs to survive.

But she has survived. That's the important thing, Garak reminds himself. Cardassia lives on.

He's in the middle of drafting a missive along those lines, to remind others like himself why they must yet bow down to Federation aid workers, when there's a knock at his door.

He's not often interrupted - not when so many rumors (completely unfounded, of course) still circulate about his previous position with respect to the Cardassian government - so he allows the intruder in, out of curiosity if nothing else.

Julian Bashir, former Federation doctor, stands in his doorway.

He's wearing three different items of clothing, each a distinct set of colors and patterns. Garak knows his eyes are built for a different type of light source than the good doctor's, but he can't imagine that color combination appealing to anyone, at any wavelength of light, and he tells the doctor as much.

Bashir laughs. "God, but I've missed you, Garak," he says, and this provokes no reaction from Garak whatsoever.

"And I you, my dear." Bashir smiles, and this also does nothing to Garak. "Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, may I ask: what are you doing here?"

Bashir sighs, looking helpless. "Bajor has officially joined the Federation."

Ah. Yes, he did recall reading something to that effect recently. "Which means you can now no longer practice medicine there," Garak says. Bashir nods. "Some would say it's only a matter of time before you find yourself in the same situation here."

"Would they?" Bashir looks at Garak carefully. "And would you be one of those people?"

Garak shrugs. "I know nothing of medicine, legally speaking. Whatever requirements alien physicians might need to fulfill prior to seeing patients on Cardassia are a mystery to me. However," he adds, turning a sly eye on Bashir, "I can say that, with respect to the Federation, Cardassia has no interest in... strengthening ties of friendship any more than they already are."

Bashir finally lets himself relax. "Good. I have other options - Rom invited me to Ferenginar, and at least one Romulan remembers me fondly from the war - but I'd... prefer to be here."

Garak does not read anything into that. "And why shouldn't you? Cardassia is in dire straits - in desperate need of your assistance, one might say. Far more than either Ferenginar or Romulus."

Bashir laughs. "That may be true, but it's hardly the reason I'd prefer to work on Cardassia."

"Oh?"

"Yes. I thought about it, and decided that what I most wanted, in my exile, was to have a... friend... with me." He smiles, a bit uncertainly. "Surely you understand."

Well. Garak smiles, going back over his memories of their friendship, starting to read many things into it. "Of course. There's nothing quite so comforting as a friend, when living away from home."