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The Masks We Wear

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Julian Bashir felt his heart rate pick up as the doors to Captain Sisko’s office whooshed open. It was a silly reaction, really. He had been serving on Deep Space 9 for four years, he should be well accustomed to Sisko calling him in for private meetings. But there were still moments when a slight worry would creep up, times when the meeting seemed requested out of nowhere, not prompted by anything currently happening on the station. Then his mind would jump to all sorts of conclusions, playing out his most feared scenarios.

Julian looked up to meet the captain’s unsmiling face. Turning off the viewscreen, Sisko had evidently just ended a call. Stress lines creased his forehead and between his eyebrows. He looked far from pleased.

A million possibilities began bombarding Julian’s mind. Maybe his father, wherever that blighter was, had let something slip. Or perhaps Starfleet had somehow obtained record of that medical facility on Adigeon Prime and learned the truth.

“Please, Doctor, have a seat,” Sisko instructed, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk.

Julian took the proffered seat and waited for the captain to begin.

“I have just had a conversation with Admiral Ross,” Sisko began simply, folding his hands. “It appears Starfleet Command has a special assignment for you.” His lips curled up slightly, but his expression could not be considered a smile.

Relieved that Sisko hadn’t called him in to discharge him for illegal genetic enhancements, Julian perked up. “A special assignment, sir?” he asked, shifting in his chair.

“Yes, a highly classified assignment,” Sisko explained, his face growing stern. “I do not need to remind you that what you hear next will not leave this room.”

“I understand,” Julian acknowledged with a nod. Silence ensued as Sisko seemed to gather his thoughts, leaving Julian in suspense. The doctor’s gaze fell to the baseball on Sisko’s desk as he waited.

At length, Sisko spoke. “Starfleet has reason to suspect Dominion involvement on Cardassia.”

After the blood screenings the Detapa Council had undergone, Julian was more than a little bemused by this new information. “So the Klingons were right?” he asked, his brows knitting in confusion. “But we took blood screenings of all the council members.”

The captain shook his head. “Starfleet has no evidence that the Dominion was involved in the coup on Cardassia, only that Gul Dukat may be actively communicating with the Dominion, perhaps to negotiate Cardassia’s admittance.”

That was less surprising. With Gul Dukat, nefarious schemes were to be expected. “Ah, I see,” Julian nodded thoughtfully. “Well that is bad. If Cardassia joined the Dominion…”

“The Dominion would gain a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant,” Sisko finished grimly.

After mulling over the new information for a few moments, Julian’s confusion returned. “But what does this have to do with me?” he asked, tilting his head.

Captain Sisko picked up his baseball and began fingering it as he proceeded to explain. “Starfleet wishes to send an undercover agent on an intelligence-gathering mission to Cardassia Prime to investigate these rumors. They need evidence of Dominion involvement in order to justify war preparations. And they want to send you.”

Julian’s eyes expanded to the size of Sisko’s beloved baseball. “Me?” he asked, his mouth hanging slightly open. “But I’m a doctor, not an intelligence operative. Wouldn’t this be better handled by someone in Starfleet Intelligence?”

Sisko shook his head. “I told Admiral Ross as much,” he replied. “But he believes you would be best suited for this mission. It appears the war has caused a plague to spread throughout the Cardassian colonies and all the way to Cardassia Prime. The virus has mutated beyond its former treatment, and due to the war, Cardassia is currently lacking in doctors and resources. Starfleet is well aware of your ability to find cures for the incurable.” He paused to allow Julian to speak, but the doctor was still too nonplussed for words. “They also believe your familiarity with Cardassian culture and your affinity for spy novels makes you the ideal candidate,” he added, his neutral tone giving way to skepticism.

Julian wrinkled his forehead as he tried to process Sisko’s words. He could tell by the captain’s tone that he found this assignment as odd as he did, and he knew the captain hated it when Starfleet kept him in the dark. “I see,” was all he could say.

“You should also know that you would be required to go as a civilian doctor under a false identity so that if the mission is compromised, Starfleet won’t be implicated,” Sisko further explained.

“Right…”

Julian’s voice trailed away, his mind overwhelmed with thoughts. Out of all the experiences he had expected a Starfleet career to give him, intelligence officer was not one. That being said, he couldn’t deny its appeal. A chance to live out his spy fantasies while helping the Federation foil the Dominion’s plans and curing the population of a deadly plague – how could he refuse? It was like the plot of one of his holoprograms… But why did Starfleet specifically request him? He was hardly trained in undercover operations.

Sisko placed his baseball back on its pedestal and fixed his eyes pointedly on Julian. “Let me be clear, Doctor. This is in no way an order. I am giving you the choice to refuse,” he stated firmly. “I know this lies well beyond the scope of your duties. If you do not wish to go, I will simply tell Admiral Ross to find someone else. And if you need some time to think it over…”

“That’s all right, Captain,” Julian interrupted, meeting Sisko’s gaze. “I want to go. I want to do this.”

Julian’s sudden resolve caused visible surprise on the captain’s face. “Are you sure?” he asked, studying the doctor carefully.

“Absolutely,” Julian nodded, a smile spreading across his face. He tried to dial back his overt eagerness as he explained, “An opportunity like this doesn’t come every day in the medical field, and I am ready to serve Starfleet in whatever capacity is required.” His doubts surpassed by excitement, he continued, “And with the plague crisis, I can’t help but feel obligated to aid them.”

“I had a feeling you would say as much,” Sisko said. His mouth spread into a slight smile, but his eyes were still full of worry. Shifting in his seat, he released a breath of resignation. “Just…promise me you’ll be careful, Doctor. I want you coming back from this alive.” He fixed his gaze firmly on Julian. “And that is an order.”

Julian nodded, his eyes shining with determination. “Yes, sir,” he assured the captain. There was a moment of silence in the room before something occurred to him. “But, if I can make one request…I think I’ll need some help on this mission.”

 


 

“Why, Captain, this is indeed a surprise. After I took your measurements the other week, I was certain you wouldn’t need another fitting for at least a year.”

Garak stood by the door as it whooshed closed behind him, his eyes scanning the office and lingering indifferently on Julian. The Cardassian tailor looked out of place in such an official location usually restricted to high ranking station personnel.

Sisko seemed in no mood for pleasantries, cutting right to the chase. “Have a seat, Mr. Garak. This doesn’t concern my measurements.”

Julian sat quietly as Sisko explained the situation to Garak, carefully observing their faces. Each wore their own mask of impassivity, Sisko’s etched in stern authority, Garak’s in pleasant nonchalance. He noted that Sisko gave the Cardassian an abbreviated report of the situation, leaving out Starfleet’s alleged reasons for requesting Dr. Bashir. It was impossible to tell what Garak thought of the whole scheme, frustrating Julian as he waited in anticipation. He knew the success of this mission hinged on Garak’s response.

After Sisko had concluded with, “And despite my misgivings, Dr. Bashir insists you would provide valuable help to him,” Garak spoke.

“I too have heard many disconcerting reports about the state of Cardassia, but I can only do so much investigating lightyears away on this station. I would be happy to accompany the good doctor on this assignment.” He smiled amiably as if he had just closed a business deal.

The ease with which Garak accepted everything, including the notion that Starfleet would enlist a doctor as an operative, seemed suspect. There was obviously more going on inside that Cardassian head, but Julian knew Garak better than to expect such transparency in front of himself and Sisko.

Sisko stared at Garak as if he were trying to see through the Cardassian’s innocuous demeanor to reveal his true motives. “I suspected so. But before I authorize this, I need to ask you a few questions.” Sisko rose from his chair and began walking around his desk, stopping beside it to look at Garak. “How can I be certain you won’t betray Dr. Bashir to get back into the good graces of the Cardassian government?”

Garak’s mask was all shocked affectation as he replied, “Why Captain, I could hardly betray Dr. Bashir after all the pleasant lunches we’ve shared.” He glanced over at Julian with a fond smile.

Avoiding his friend’s overly kind eyes, Julian returned his gaze to Sisko. The captain looked unimpressed with Garak’s answer, using his height advantage to glare down at the tailor.

Garak’s smile faded, leaving his mouth in a solemn tight line. “I can assure you that the new regime on Cardassia is no friend to me,” he began, meeting Sisko’s glare with ease. “They have dismantled the Obsidian Order and stripped power from Central Command. And I need not remind you that I am still in exile. Somehow the Detapa Council doesn’t see it in their best interest to pardon a former Obsidian Order agent. I am no more welcome on there now than I was when Central Command was in power.”

Sisko’s frown remained as solid as stone. “A fact which I’m certain you’re eager to change.”

“But that would hardly serve my purposes, Captain,” Garak argued, gesturing with his hand. “If Dukat is trying to secure Cardassia’s entry into the Dominion, I am just as eager as the Federation to stop it, if only to once more be a thorn in Dukat’s side.” His eyes glinted with just a fraction of the contempt he must have felt toward his longtime enemy.

Sisko folded his arms and leaned against his desk, visibly deliberating. Julian knew it was difficult for the captain to rely on such an unknown variable, let alone stake his career on it. But Garak had a track record of aiding them whenever it served his interests, like when he helped defend DS9 against the Klingon invaders. They just needed to be certain that ascertaining Dominion involvement on Cardassia aligned with Garak’s interests.

When Garak broke the silence, his tone was a shade darker. His voice no longer bore any melodious mischief. “I have seen what the Dominion is capable of, Captain. If they gained control of Cardassia, the results would be catastrophic, not just to the quadrant, but to my homeworld. My people.”

Julian’s attention was fully on Garak now, attempting to find anything in the Cardassian’s face to contradict his sincere tone. He would like to believe that his experience with Garak’s lies gave him the ability to perceive when Garak was telling the truth. This seemed to be such a case.

Sisko heaved a sigh before turning toward Julian. “Do you trust him, Doctor?”

That was a question Julian had been asking himself ever since that day in replimat when Garak strode over and introduced himself, his smile mischievous, his cold hand heavy on Julian’s shoulder. Despite that voice in his mind that whispered never to turn his back on Garak – a voice that sounded suspiciously Cardassian – he felt his trust in the tailor continue to grow. The closer their friendship became, the more Julian wanted to find goodness inside that mysterious and tortured man. Perhaps that was just the naivety that Garak often chided him for, or perhaps it was real. Perhaps Garak wasn’t the monster he wanted everyone to think he was.

“I do, sir.”

He exhaled after the words left his mouth. His cheeks burned slightly when he felt Garak’s gaze on him.

“Garak knows Cardassia better than anyone,” Julian continued, his eyes fixed on Sisko. “I would be much more effective with his knowledge and guidance. Not to mention I don’t think I can become fluent in Kardasi in such a short time.”

As Sisko continued to ponder, Garak spoke up again. “And frankly, Captain, I think the doctor will need me,” he said. “I don’t know what Starfleet has planned for him to do, but the Detapa Council has seen his face when they were briefly on the station. The Obsidian Order may be gone, but only a fool would believe they are functioning without an intelligence agency. If he is to elude detection, he will require my assistance.”

Julian nodded in agreement, swallowing. In his excitement he had forgotten about that little detail. Though he was certain Starfleet knew what they were doing, this only furthered his belief that he needed Garak’s help.

Sisko considered their words for a moment longer, pinching the bridge of his nose. Eventually he moved back behind his desk and sat down. “Very well,” he decided. “I will contact Admiral Ross and tell him that you are only willing to go if Garak can accompany you.”

Julian couldn’t prevent a smile from curling his lips. “Thank you.”

The captain nodded at Julian before fixing a strict glare on Garak. “Let me repeat that this is purely an intelligence-gathering mission,” he said, his voice deep and commanding. “Starfleet Command has made it clear that they want no assassinations.”

A grin played at the corners of Garak’s mouth, but he suppressed it. Still, there was a twinkle in his eye as he replied, “Of course, Captain. I would expect as much from the Federation.”

When Sisko turned his gaze on Julian, it was just as solemn, but a little less harsh. “I need not remind you, Doctor, that a lot is riding on your trust in him. Keep him in line.”

Keeping the Cardassian in line was a lot to ask, but Julian would have to manage it. “I will,” he promised. He could feel his former excitement return at the prospect of a real undercover operation with Garak, the master of subterfuge, but he knew better than to let it show at the moment. Sisko needed to feel confident in him, not embarrassed by his childish enthusiasm. But god, this was going to be the adventure of a lifeti–

Garak’s voice drew him out of his thoughts.

“If I may point out, Captain, there is still one problem. Dr. Bashir might only have to stay out of the council’s sight, but I would have more eyes to worry about. I am, after all, an exiled man. If I am to return to Cardassia, I must not be recognizable.”

 


 

Julian shifted in his uncomfortable chair as the words on his padd began to blur together. Though his genetic enhancements had made him a fast learner, Kardasi was proving a very intricate language. It was difficult to concentrate on the difference among verb tenses where he kept glancing anxiously at the chronometer on the wall, his mind constantly wandering to Garak.

They were on a Vulcan science station about fifty lightyears from DS9 that housed one of the Federation’s best cosmetic surgeons. At 1600 he was scheduled to meet with Admiral Ross before he and Garak boarded the civilian transport that would take them to Cardassia Prime. But first they would be given new identities, and in Garak’s case, a new body.

Julian was relieved to leave this surgery to a Vulcan specialist. Despite his diligent study of textbooks and his best efforts to get Garak on a biobed, he was lacking in knowledge of the intricacies of Cardassian physiology. He could have made his best attempt and it might have turned out surprisingly well, but he would rather not take the risk. If anything was out of place when this assignment was over, he’d never hear the end of it from Garak.

He set down his padd, abandoning all pretense of studying, and let his thoughts flow freely. He had to admit he was slightly surprised that they had gotten this far. He and Garak had been able to convince Sisko, but Sisko was known to use unconventional methods when warranted. As the captain informed him, Admiral Ross had reluctantly agreed to Garak’s involvement after Sisko made it clear that he gave his approval. He really hadn’t expected the higher-ups in Starfleet Command to agree so easily. But there was a lot riding on the information they were sent to obtain, and Julian knew no one better at obtaining classified information than Garak.

Of course, no one else on DS9 was allowed to know about this assignment. As far as they knew, Sisko had sent Julian on leave because he had been overworking himself. And if Garak happened to be taking a vacation at the same time, well that was just a coincidence. A coincidence that Jadzia had loved to tease him about. “No, Jadzia, I’m not going to Risa. And no, Garak’s not coming with me,” Julian remembered insisting.

The whoosh of the door interrupted his thoughts. A Vulcan entered the room – Dr. Selvik, Julian recalled.

Julian rose from his chair. “How’s he doing?” he asked, trying not to appear anxious.

“The operation was successful,” Dr. Selvik responded with typical Vulcan indifference. “He will experience residual pain, but the triptacederineI I gave him will counteract it. Give him another 5 cc’s in twelve hours.”

“I will,” Julian affirmed, making a mental note of the dosage.

The Vulcan nodded sharply and continued. “Bear in mind that he will only be able to hold his new appearance if he takes hormone suppressors daily,” he informed. “If he stops the treatment, his body will gradually return to its natural state – in a very painful manner.”

That didn’t sound pleasant. “I understand,” Julian nodded. “May I see him?”

Dr. Selvik stepped aside and allowed Julian access to the operating room. In the middle of the room was a biobed that he was sure Garak was on, but it was facing away from him. Making his way around the room, he asked, “Garak? Are you awake?”

A heavily-sedated voice answered him. “Just barely, doctor. How do I look?”

A soft gasp escaped Julian’s lips as he came to stand beside Garak’s bed, taken aback by the familiar eyes peering out of an unfamiliar face.