He tastes the poison the moment he sips the tea, but the fact that he's absolutely certain that it was his lover that put it there makes him finish the cup and let it do its job. It's not easy, with the lump in his throat, but he manages.
"My dear, is there something the matter? Surely you're not discouraged by a little competition." He is casual, leaning back in the copilot's chair, holding his own cup of tea.
Julian smiles, the one he uses when he's comforting his patients just before they slip away. "No, Garak, I'm fine. I've never been bothered with competition. And anyways, why does it have to be a competition. Why not a cooperation? We've always worked well together." He looks down at the panel's readings, it gives him something to look at other than him.
"Yes, I suppose you're right. But our respective government won't see it that way, I'm afraid. Even if the Dominion War has long been over, there is still a great deal of hostility and distrust."
Julian looks up into those eyes, friendly but appraising, and said, "But not between us."
Garak places a hand over his. "No, not between us." It is said solemnly, no more the teasing mentor or the affectionately possessive lover.
Then it is over and he is drinking his tea, going over the notes on his PADD.
There is now a tingling in his limbs, an almost cold, prickle. It reminds Julian of when he is sitting cross legged for a long period of time and the circulation is cut off.
There is nothing to do but to carry on.
"Computer, what is our estimated time of arrival?"
The feminine voice replies, "0300 hours." Two more hours. Not nearly enough time. Damn him.
"How far do you think they have come along?" Julian asks. "According to this, the Fanhee only started working on transwarp technology about a few months before the Dominion pulled out and left them to their own devices. They might not even still be working on it."
"According our own intelligence reports, they have and are only a few months from testing the prototype. It's incredible they could accomplish this; they're a second tier power that only the Dominion would have been interested in. With this, they could become a major player."
"Well, not when we're done."
A look of curious amusement crosses over Garak's face. "I remember a time when you would have been bleating on about the Prime Directive and not resorting to underhanded tactics like sabotage."
Julian sighs and leans back in the pilot's chair. "Yes, well, a lot of things changed. The Romulans are breathing down our necks, the Klingons are back on the war path, and they've both vastly improved their cloaking capabilities. We need every advantage we can get." He closes his eyes, he can feel the prickling turn into a numbness that has spread to his chest.
"Hmm, but still. I can imagine the things that you have done all in the service of the Federation. Section 31 didn't exactly start you off on soft missions, did they?"
He can hear the inquiring tone, short of insistent but open. Julian has never really told him what those missions were and Garak has never asked. It is enough to know they had each other, to hold and trust, to love and care for.
It had been enough.
"No, they didn't. But the universe isn't a soft place. You have to make compromises and sacrifices to get what you want and sometimes that's not enough and you only get shot for the effort." He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice, the sense of betrayal of everything he had held dear. It didn't help that once, he had fantasized about doing this.
"To think that you once fantasized about this. The fantasy is often much more satisfying than the reality, you're in control of every little detail and if something goes wrong you can start over. In reality, you suffer more than a phaser stun."
It's heavy in the cockpit, and it's not just the poison. There is a taste of misery and old wounds being reopened. Garak is looking into his now empty tea cup, as if looking for advice, like a diviner of from ancient Earth history.
Julian cannot be allowed the luxury that his lover felt some regret for what's been done. He can't afford remember the times they had stayed inside the small shack they shared together during the winters and had made love at a leisurely pace. Nor when they would read each other novels and compare notes. The time Garak had presented him a bottle of absinthe; standing still while his clothes were adjusted; brushing that dark, silk hair. No. He can only hold on for a little while longer.
The numbness has spread to his entire body and he yawns.
"Do you mind if I take nap? I'm feeling a little sluggish. Chamomile always does that to me."
The man he loves smiles at him, understanding, a little of the mentor coming back. "Of course, my dear. Take as much time as you need. I'll be right here when you wake up."
That familiar, sardonic smile is the last things Julian sees before he closes his eyes.
It has been ten minutes since Julian has stopped breathing. Garak presses a finger to a vein in his neck. There is no heartbeat.
He is hallowed out and can barely breathe. Julian looked so peaceful, as if he really were taking a nap and would wake any moment asking him what's wrong.
Would he understand? He was the kindest, most compassionate person Garak had ever known, taking in rumors and facts of his life before the station in stride. Julian was a understanding, forgiving individual, but could he ever understand, much less forgive this?
Sacrifice. That's what this was. A sacrifice he had never hoped to make. His old duties had been over and he could live with hope of a peaceful future, with the man he loved. But then the democratic government had fallen short of their promises, people were starving in the streets, and illnesses that had not been feared for a millenia became plagues. Before long, laws became more strict, the government and military given more powers, and people were demanding all aliens to be sent away. It was happening all over again.
Then reports came in about transwarp technology, to go faster than warp 9. It was a dream, an answer to many of the problems his world faced. Cardassia could become a power again!
He had not anticipated Julian receiving similar reports, or that Section 31 would send him to the Fanhee outpost that were rumored to be housing the prototype. He could not allow for the Federation to have it. Sacrifices had to be made.
So he volunteered to make tea.
Garak leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Julian's cheek. "You were so beatiful, so brilliant."
Garak tried to say that aloud, but his throat has constricted.
Julian raised his head and smiled wanly. "Hmm, good morning lover."
Again, he tried to speak, but now he couldn't even move. A voice in the back of his head began to chant, "He was always your best student."
"Before we boarded, I reprogrammed the computer to put in Ximilano in whatever you were having if for any reason it detected any poisonous substances in any of the food you called up."
Julian's eyes are now his entire world, golden brown irises that spoke of distrust and hostility.
"We could have worked together. There was no need for this!" He must have seen the question in his eyes, because he then said, "I'm genetically engineered. I have a much better immune system and greater control over my autonomic system, not to mention better senses, like taste. It was horrifically simple."
Garak could have laughed, if only he could. His understanding, forgiving Julian was neither so understanding or forgiving. He had helped in that.
That familar, sad smile is the last things Garak sees before he closes his eys.