"A simplistic species--Bajorans for example--have a linear mind, linear memories," Tain had said during one of their fist serious conversations. "A Cardassian mind is layered, one memory on top of the other. If a Cardassian allows his mind to become disordered, he will go mad with memories. If he allows himself to regret, he will be destroyed."
Garak didn't understand at the time.
Bashir's throat was flawless, fascinating. Sometimes, when he fucked him, Garak cradled Bashir's throat in his palm to feel the larynx slide up and down underneath the skin as Bashir moaned each breath. When they weren't fucking, Garak liked to kiss it. When they weren't alone, Garak looked at it.
It wasn’t the only part of Bashir that Garak liked. He'd grown accustomed to the hair on his belly and between his legs, the external genitalia, the boyish face, the soft skin and dark eyes... they were not things that were typically attractive on Cardassia, but he'd eventually been able to find all of it quite nice to look at and touch. But the throat. The throat was special.
The throat reminded Garak of what it was to be Cardassian.
Bashir had, of course, discovered Garak's fascination with his throat, and he'd lean his head back during the early parts of intercourse, resting his head on Garak's shoulder. He smiled at Garak's reaction. The kind of smile that reminded Garak that this was only a friendly sport they played. Nothing more intimate than Bashir's racquetball games with the Chief.
Perhaps less so.
One of the rules of the game was to avoid mentioning it directly except when practicality demanded it. Like when they'd decided on how to position themselves during penatrative sex. What Bashir insisted was a common position for two Human males was uncomfortable for Garak, and the Human version of face-to-face sex was hard on Bashir's hips. Bashir had finally asked how two male Cardassians had sex, and they'd adjusted it to fit Bashir's anatomy.
Bashir was on his knees in front of Garak, his back parallel to Garak's chest. Garak was behind him, inside of him.
It had been awkward at first, but Garak had gotten used to it. He had even begun to particularly enjoy the feeling of Bashir's calves on either side of him. He liked to watch the front of Bashir's body from his shoulder as he thrust into him, as he stroked his cock. Bashir was really quite a beauty in an exotic way.
Another rule was, when they were finished, Bashir would rest against Garak for a brief moment before he left the bed -- usually headed first for Garak's shower, then for his own quarters. It was Bashir who first broke that rule when he fell asleep in Garak's bed. Perhaps Garak had broken a rule in turn by watching him sleep for a majority of the night, by watching him from the bed afterward, frantically dressing for work.
"You know," Garak said suddenly. "There isn't a Kardasi term that quite equates the Human term 'casual sex.'"
Bashir paused in the midst of pulling on his pants. "Ah, no. I didn't know that."
Garak smiled. "Don't worry, Doctor. I didn't mean to say that we don't have it. Simply not the way that Humans do."
"How... do they have it, then?"
Garak could feel the nervousness radiating off Bashir, like a caught animal considering whether or not he really needs that leg or if he should start gnawing. "I fear that the answer is a bit too complex for morning conversation. The fact simply occurred to me just now." He drew a breath and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "You're not going to be late for your shift. Perhaps a bit less early than usual, but I'm sure no one will complain."
"I've a lot of prep to do today. Physicals on the senior officers. I always have to make special preparations for Dax's exam."
"I'm sure you do," Garak muttered. Bashir was once again giving him that uneasy look, so Garak smiled at him reassuringly. "Next time, I will know to wake you up before morning. You simply seemed to need the rest."
"Well, I did, but that was partially your fault," Bashir said, smiling for the first time that morning.
Garak stood and went to Bashir, helping him fasten his uniform. "Perhaps I will be easier on you next time."
"Don't you dare," Bashir whispered, wrapping his hands loosely around Garak's wrists. He leaned forward, brushing his lips against Garak's before kissing him. Garak could never quite figure out how Bashir's kisses were so gentle and so fierce at the same time. "And I have to go to work before I'm tempted to let you wear me out again."
"I wouldn't dream of detaining you from your very important physical examinations."
Bashir chuckled. "I have a lot of them to do today, but I was thinking that, maybe after my shift, I'll have time to fit in one extra."
"If you do, I promise you will never look at a medical tricorder the same way again."
"Thanks," Bashir said, rolling his eyes. "Now I'm going to be thinking about that all day."
"I'm flattered," Garak said, too seriously.
Bashir grinned with a wariness in his eyes. "I'll see you," he said, and he kissed Garak once more before leaving the bedroom.
Garak looked down at his bed. The sheets were a crumpled mess and could use a good washing, but it was, for a moment, incredibly tempting to forget about his work day and go back to sleep.
"Dammit!" he heard Bashir curse from the living area. He popped his head back in. "Could you take care of my tuxedo? I forgot all about it. Just... wash it so I could pick it up later?"
Garak strained a smile. "Of course."
Once he was alone, Garak began to gather the dirty sheets, feeling vaguely as if he'd gone to bed a tailor and woken up a housekeeper.
Garak's first lesson in sex had come from Tain before he was really old enough to understand it. Tain taught him that it was both simple instinct and complex social interaction. He taught him to indulge in it on a regular basis to keep his mind clear of desire. But, most importantly, he taught him that emotion and sex were only connected during the act, and to allow the emotion to linger afterward was a dangerous thing.
Tain didn't say any of it, of course. They were walking together one day and they simply came to a building -- on the outside nondescript, but on the inside full of falsely ostentatious décor and the musky scent of conflicting perfumes. At first, Garak had been confused that the people there seemed to know Tain... They weren't the sort of people he usually associated with him, though he couldn't quite place what it was about them.
He introduced Garak to a woman who called herself Cirit. She and Tain exchanged some small talk, then began to walk together deeper into the building. Tain motioned for Garak to follow.
When they reached a small bedroom, Tain told Garak to come in and close the door. Cirit looked at Garak, then back to Tain with a pinched expression on her face.
"Ignore him," Tain said.
He undressed her without any finesse, hardly paying attention, as if he were doing something as routine as undressing himself. Her dress fell to her ankles. She crossed her arms over her stomach and glanced at Garak again.
Tain shoved her, and she fell backwards onto the bed. He crawled on top of her and leaned down to her ear.
"I said, ignore him."
Garak watched. He knew he was supposed to watch, so he did, even while his stomach twisted at the sight. There was something brutal about it. The whimpering sounds she made, the way her skin turned a bloodless white under his grip, his violent and thoughtless movements.
As they left, Tain said, "When you are hungry, you eat. This is the same."
"I'm sorry, ah, I'm busier than I thought I'd be." Bashir glanced over Garak's shoulder, as if afraid someone was listening in on their conversation. "I don't think I can make our, er, dinner."
Garak made sure that his expression stayed pleasant, despite the fact that he was standing outside of the Infirmary like an unwelcome guest. "Surely you have time for a quick lunch."
Bashir pressed his lips together, something peculiar in his eyes. "Maybe another--"
A lieutenant walked by, glancing at both of them on his way into the Infirmary.
"I've a patient. I'm sorry," he muttered.
That night, around dinner time, Garak noticed Bashir in Quark's bar holding hands with a dark-haired woman he didn't recognize.
Garak drank white kanar while he waited for her.
It was one of the earlier, one of the more mundane, missions that Tain had sent him on once he'd become a full agent of the Obsidian Order. Garak had been sure he would be bored, but...
He walked toward the partly open door on the balls of his feet. The elder Dukat was waiting for him at the dinner table, but the younger had disappeared back here with a guilty expression on his face. And now, he was behind that door, supposedly having retired to his bed for the night, and hushed voices were drifting down the hall that Garak couldn't quite understand.
A loud thump startled Garak and he froze. He could only see a sliver of them through the door, but he could tell that the woman was beautiful, and he could tell what Dukat's son had snuck off to do with her.
He shook his head, trying to dispel the image that had been playing and replaying through his mind while he'd gone back to share dinner with Justice Procal Dukat. It had been... distracting at the very least. He couldn't help feeling that the Justice had let some vital piece of information slip while Garak was lost in thinking about Procal's skinny, inbred son.
"When you are hungry, you eat," he muttered to himself.
Finally, she arrived. He let her in, than sat back on the couch heavily, returning to his kanar. She was thin like Dukat, but not as... pure, the old families called it. Her neck was not long enough, and her hips were too wide. She was beautiful though. Considering what he was paying, she had better be.
She drifted along the wall to the bottles of kanar. "Do you mind if I..."
"Whatever helps you get through it."
She gave him a strange look, but didn't say anything. She seemed to prefer filling her glass over conversation. He watched her drink half of it, more quickly than most soldiers twice her size could manage, then watched her move toward him at last.
Dukat had pushed the woman in his room against the wall, and his teeth were at her throat.
Garak closed his eyes as she slid her hand down his trousers to tease the outer ridge of his cloaca until the head of his cock pushed out to greet her fingertips.
She took a drink of her kanar, and she asked, "How do you want it?"
Dukat's hand was under her dress, and his cock was fully erect over the fastening hooks of his open pants.
Without thought, Garak grabbed her by the waist and jerked her up to her feet. Both of their glasses of kanar clattered on the floor. He slammed her little body up against the wall and held her there as he freed himself from his clothing.
She gasped as Dukat thrust himself inside of her, then she moaned. He put his hand over her mouth so no one would hear.
Little yelps escaped the girl's throat as he thrust into her hard. Once, twice, then easing into a steady rhythm.
Dukat reached for the door, and before he slid it shut, his eyes caught Garak's. And he smiled.
Garak grunted as the pleasure gripped him. He could feel the head of his cock swell as it released semen into her. Semen that would be washed out of her later, dead and meaningless. Like dirt.
When he asked if he'd hurt her, she just shook her head. He gave her one of his bottles of kanar before she left.
Tain would have disapproved.
"Is something wrong?"
Garak blinked at Ziyal, trying to reign in his thoughts. "Not... at all, my dear."
He noticed suddenly, as she worried her lip, that she did not look very much like her father. Her Bajoran blood had eroded all of that high-class grandeur that had taken centuries to breed.
He added, "Simply lost in a memory for a moment. My apologies."
"It's not just now," she said with her usual startling directness. "You've been... distant."
"I promise you, I'm--" his voice caught as he noticed Bashir stepping into the bar. Wearing a bizarre costume. Replicated, so it didn't fit properly -- too tight at the shoulders, too loose at the hips.
He was with O'Brien. Of course he was with O'Brien. They didn't seem to notice Garak at all. They were too wrapped up in a conversation.
Garak once again found himself torn from his thoughts by Ziyal.
"If you want to go play with your friends," she said, smiling coyly. "I wouldn't mind."
"While the good Doctor might be my friend, I have no interest in his childish holoprograms.," Garak said. A bit too bitterly.
As usual, she didn't seem to notice. "I don't know. I think they seem fun."
"You are a child."
Her smile dropped, and he could tell that he'd managed to hurt her in his foul mood. Sometimes, he wished he could tell her that it wasn't her age that came between them. It was everything but.
"I should return to my shop." Garak stood, not looking directly at her, not wanting to see the familiar disappointment there. Still, he raised his hand, and she pressed her palm against his.
The warmth of temptation flooded him. Temptation to give into such a perverse desire with such a sweet girl.
But he was no longer the sort of man who would do that.
Dukat bit Garak's neck ridge hard. Hard enough to leave a bruise the next morning. He was only a Gor, but Garak could tell even then that Dukat could make all of Cardassia fall to its knees with a look.
Those eyes had certainly had that effect on him, at least.
They were in one of the bathrooms -- a bathroom bigger than Garak's bedroom at home -- on the floor, both of them mostly naked already. When Dukat finally withdrew his teeth from Garak's neck, he smiled, as if satisfied that he'd made a lasting claim. He dug into a nearby drawer and found a... hypospray of some sort.
Garak raised an eyeridge. "What is that?"
"Charming." A vulgar word for female genitalia. "Will it make me a woman?"
Dukat chuckled with surprising ease considering his state of arousal. "It will keep your erection inside."
Garak frowned, not following.
"So that you won't hurt yourself." Dukat paused. "Haven't you had sex with a man before?"
"Really? You seem like the type who would."
"So do you at the moment," Garak snapped. He wasn't sure why he was taking it as an insult. The truth was he'd never really considered whether he preferred one kind to the other. Tain had taught him about women, not men. Not in this way.
Dukat only seemed amused -- annoyingly in control of himself. "If I'm inside of you while you're... out, you could be quite injured in the process of. Well. Sex. You'll still be able to feel everything, trust me. I've been told it feels better this way." He looked at Garak with startling directness. "Do you want me inside of you?"
"Yes," Garak answered quickly. Perhaps a bit too quickly.
With his eyes still on Garak's, Dukat pressed the hypospray just inside Garak's cloaca, against the underside of Garak's cock, and released the drug into him. It was a strange sensation, as his cock slid back into his body. He was breathless, dizzy, and the intensity of the pleasure was already making him shiver.
Dukat pressed his lips, more gently this time, against Garak's neck. "Relax," he whispered. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Anger flickered somewhere deep in Garak. He was not some young girl that Dukat had snuck in under his father's nose. He opened his mouth to say something along those lines, but the words didn't come. And as Dukat kissed one side of his neck, and stroked the other side with his fingers, he realized that he was tense even as the tension melted away.
Dukat slid one finger into Garak, into the opening a couple of centimeters under his cock. Garak willed himself not to tense again at the unnerving feeling of penetration. When his entire finger was inside, Dukat held it there for a minute, letting Garak get used to the sensation, before he slid it out again.
He raised his eyeridges at Garak, and Garak nodded. Dukat then cast his eyes down, carefully holding Garak's cloaca open just enough to push himself inside.
Garak closed his eyes, letting his conscious thought drift away so that he could focus on the physical. There was some pain, a burning where his body stretched and yielded to the pressure, but it was overcome by the feeling of Dukat's shaft sliding against the tip of his own cock as he entered him.
Garak's eyes opened almost against his will at the sound of his name.
Dukat cupped his cheek, brushing his thumb along the ridge on his cheek and curing up along his ear. "I want to see your eyes."
A shudder went through Garak's body. He didn't close his eyes again.
Garak was both annoyed and relieved when Bashir showed up at his door unannounced after two weeks of virtually ignoring him. But more than either of those things he was eager. Eager to get that ugly Starfleet uniform off of him, eager to touch him, eager to get him up against the wall and later into his bed.
As usual, he kissed Bashir as soon as the door had shut behind him. He tried to lead him back toward the wall so that he could press up against him, but Bashir didn't budge. Garak drew back enough to see that Bashir's expression was serious, almost angry, then he took a full step back.
"Did you tell Quark about us?" Bashir asked tersely.
That was not nearly the words he'd expected to come from Bashir's mouth. Of all things. He attempted to keep his tone conversational. "Why do you ask?"
"He said you were moody and drinking more kanar than usual," Bashir said as if making a terrible accusation. "He asked if we'd had a lover's quarrel."
"Don't worry, I'm sure the Chief found it amusing more than anything."
"Miles--" He stopped. "How did you know Miles was with me?"
"Isn't he always, Doctor?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm not sure," Garak said. His emotions were dangerously close to the surface, but he couldn't stop himself. "I'm not sure what any of this is supposed to mean. You tell me."
Bashir was flustered, a vein becoming quite apparent on his forehead. "I'd just like to keep my personal life out of my professional life, if that's all right with you."
"On duty at Quark's bar, were you?"
"I was with some of my colleagues, whom I work with on a daily basis. I don't want them to know about my sex life."
"Oh? When did this begin? Before or after the entire station heard about your five day escapade with the young Betazoid woman last week?"
"I..." Bashir's cheeks were a shade darker than usual. "That's different."
Garak raised his eyeridges, awaiting an explanation.
"They all know you."
"Ah, yes. And you kept your private life with that Dabo girl just as well-guarded a secret, haven't you?" Garak shook his head. "I am sorry, Doctor. I found this game intriguing at first, but it's beginning to grate on my nerves."
Bashir furrowed his brow. "Game?"
"Don't play the idiot. You're not as convincing at it as you used to be."
He was offended. As if he had the right to be offended.
"Do you want to know why there isn't a term for casual sex in Kardasi?" Garak paused, but he didn't wait for an answer. "Because it's not casual. It's never casual. Once our relationship became sexual, our friendship ended. The rules changed. But you keep expanding the rules, don't you? To cover up your shame without losing your cheap fuck whenever you're not in the mood to go to any trouble for sex."
Bashir's expression was closed. His entire posture was drawn in, as if he were trying to hide right in front of Garak. "I wasn't..." He trailed off.
"Please spare me. I prefer the idiot to the contrite."
"I'm..." He looked up suddenly, his eyes burning. "You say I'm expanding the rules? You're the one who was acting like this was just for fun when you apparently felt otherwise. You're the one who isn't being fair."
Garak held Bashir's gaze as he moved close to him, close enough to smell him. "You, Doctor," he said in a low, even voice, "are a coward. A ridiculous, self-obsessed little boy who wants everyone in the universe to devastate themselves by loving him, but refuses to give anything of himself in return. Or worse, he doesn't have anything to give."
"And what are you?" Bashir's eyes were glazed over, unfocused. His mouth was a straight line, but his voice was calm. "Someone desperate for affection, but so afraid of it that he'd seek out a black hole like me?"
They stood still, tense. Garak's senses were wide open, and he could swear that he could feel Bashir's heartbeat without touching him. Bashir was eying him, as if waiting for one of them to make the first move.
It was Garak who did. A sudden strike -- his hands were at Bashir's shoulders, and he pushed him back until first Bashir's back collided with the wall and his front collided with Garak. Bashir gripped Garak's neck ridges, hard enough to cause both pain and an instinctual arousal. Their bodies ground together, haphazard, more sexual than violent.
Finally, Garak twisted himself free of Bashir's grasp and he lurched forward, catching Bashir's lips in a kiss. It was hard, almost excruciating at first, but their mouths slowly relented, each letting the other's tongue slither inside. Bashir's fingers clutched the back of Garak's tunic, and he rubbed himself mindlessly against Garak's thigh.
The room spun and his fingers were numb as Garak unfastened Bashir's uniform just enough, then turned him around to face the wall. He pressed himself against Bashir's body, pausing only long enough to find the right spot with his finger before thrusting his cock inside. Bashir's muscles tightened around him -- he'd gone too fast, too hard -- and Garak moved his hand down to coax him to relax. He stroked Bashir's cock slowly, letting it harden again in his hand. Bashir moaned and rested his head back against Garak's shoulder, exposing his throat. This time, there was no playful grin, no game.
For a dizzying moment, Garak wanted to pull away, to end it right there...
"Elim," Bashir breathed. "Please. I want-- I want you."
Garak pressed his cheek against Bashir's, and as he moved inside of him, all of his doubts faded away.
At least, for the moment.
He'd seen the reports himself. He'd followed the trail through a half dozen departments. Separately, they didn't mean anything, but together they spoke volumes.
Procal Dukat was guilty, and he had set up his son to take the fall if he were caught. He had been very careful for the past fifteen years, but he'd made more than enough mistakes to prove his guilt when he was younger.
He must have come up with the new plan when his son was only a child. Garak was sure that the information had been found by others -- some of it wasn't very well hidden -- but thinking that it was the younger Dukat's doing, it was covered up to protect the Justice.
It wasn't exactly surprising; he'd seen it before from powerful men. He'd seen worse.
So why did he feel so ill about it this time? Why was the guilt eating away at him as that son held him, as that son ran the edge of his teeth along his neck ridge?
Garak pulled away, his heart pounding with arousal and... fear or anger or something else that he couldn't define.
Dukat -- a good and loyal son if a bit promiscuous -- looked a bit offended, but he covered it well. "Did I hit a tender spot?"
"Something like that." Garak slid off the side of the bed and lowered himself to the floor. He felt like an idiot, cradling his head in his hands like a child, but he wasn't sure how to stop.
Dukat was by his side after a moment. He didn't say anything, giving Garak a silent respect until he was ready.
As if he'd ever be ready.
"I have to tell you something," Garak said flatly.
Garak wet his lips. He wished that his heart would simply stop for a moment so that he could speak without his voice shaking. "I work for someone who was looking into your family for suspected improprieties."
Dukat blinked, only allowing a twitch of anger in his eyes.
"When I send in the reports that I found, your father will likely go to trial."
"That is... a cruel joke, Elim," he said, a touch of relief in his voice.
Of course he didn't believe it. Garak should have expected that if he weren't so distracted by his own emotion. But if he weren't emotional, he wouldn't be telling Dukat any of this in the first place. It might give Procal the time to get away -- to turn his death sentence into exile. At best, Tain would take Garak's job with prejudice, leaving Garak to starve on the streets if he found out. At worst, he'd be going to trial in Procal's place.
Regardless of what Tain would think or do... Garak had imagined what he would do in Dukat's current situation any number of times, in case the politics turned against Tain. He couldn't leave Dukat to face it without any preparation. He looked at Dukat, forcing his expression to stay cold, serious.
"I'm sorry. But your father has committed treason against the state. There's no way around it."
Dukat's expression went slack, then tightened hard. "Then it's not a joke. It's a lie."
"I don't have any reason to lie about this."
"You're telling me--" Dukat's voice was rising to near hysteria, and he had to stop himself to go on. "You're telling me that you work for the Obsidian Order? That's the implication, isn't it? And that they are looking into my father for treason which he committed? Do you know how ridiculous that is? Do you know how long our line goes back? We are loyal. We are born loyal to Cardassia. And someone named Garak would call someone named Dukat a traitor?"
"There is no Obsidian Order," Garak said, almost from reflex. He could hear the weariness in his own voice. It almost sounded like apathy.
Dukat stared at him. "That's all you have to say to me?"
"Someone named Garak will not call anyone in your family a traitor. Someone named Tain will."
Dukat froze, every muscle in his body tense. His eyes were wide. If Garak didn't know him better, he would think that Dukat was frightened.
"If you send in the reports," Dukat said, slowly.
Garak shook his head. "When."
Dukat grabbed his shoulders and forced him around to face him. "Tell me how to change it to 'if'. I'll do anything. I swear."
"It's... Not that simple," Garak whispered.
"No!" Dukat shook him. "No, it is. You have a choice. My father is a good man. There's something wrong with your reports. If you turn in an innocent man and he's killed, everything will be destroyed."
"An innocent man couldn't be put to death. You know that. It has never happened in the history of Cardassia."
"Exactly! Which is why it can't happen now."
"I am well-trained and thorough. I know what I found, Skrain."
"And I know my father. He wouldn't do what you're saying."
An anger was rising in Garak. An irrational, white-hot anger. "Do you? Really? Do you know how he's been covering his tracks for so long?"
"Because he's... Because he's innocent."
Garak began to speak, but he stopped himself. Dukat's pause. The touch of uncertainty that had suddenly gripped his voice and expression.
Some part of him knew what his father had done to him. All those years of hard work without the promotions he deserved, still a Gor when he should be marked for an early Legate's position already -- not only because of his family, but because of his talent.
Garak frowned, his anger gone. "I didn't want you to find this out during the trial. I thought it might be easier coming from me."
"Easier," Dukat repeated. His body was lifeless except where his hands still gripped Garak's shoulders. With a restrained grace, he drew away from Garak and stood.
"Today," he said deliberately. "Today and until one of us is dead, we are enemies, Elim Garak." He paused. "Get out."
Garak didn't speak. He simply withdrew himself first from the room, then the building.
He'd left himself open to be killed, out of some sort of stupidity that Dukat had instilled in him. He didn't know what he'd installed inside of Dukat that stopped him from taking the offer.
Bashir had fallen asleep sitting up on the couch after Garak had finished with him. His head was bent back, his throat exposed.
Garak sat on the opposite side of the couch, watching him sleep. The years old words he and Dukat had said played through his head over and over. Memories that had always been there, but that he hadn't accessed since the moment had passed. He had only let the anger remain for so long that he'd almost forgotten where the emotion had come from.
Perhaps Dukat had been right. Perhaps Garak could have simply forgotten the reports and allowed Justice Procal to live. Dukat would probably have never made Gul, much less Prefect of Bajor as long as his father's lies cast a shadow over him, but maybe his father actually did mean more to him than power. Things might have been so much different.
It didn't matter now. It didn't have anything to do with the sleeping young man across from him. Except that it had helped him make his decision.
Bashir stirred and Garak's heart sank. He wished that Bashir would stay asleep a little longer to delay the inevitable. But that was irrational.
"Good morning," Garak said.
Blearily, Bashir pushed himself up so that he was sitting straighter. He cringed from the pain Garak had inflicted the night before. "I fell asleep..."
"I have a... a burn conference to go to. What time is it?"
"I know. You have a few hours yet."
Bashir blinked down at himself. "Do you know where my clothes are?"
Garak's lips twitched. "In a pile to your right."
"Oh. Yes. Now I remember." He looked at Garak, his eyes questioning. "Whatever it is that you want to tell me, go ahead. I'm awake."
"I think my point about 'casual' sex got a bit lost last night. I'm afraid I was a bit angry. It's true that Cardassians don't consider sex casual as we... take part. But we are very good at holding two or more separate -- you would call them opposing -- beliefs at once. From what I've seen of species with a linear mind like Humans, the answer to 'is it love?' is yes or no. For us, every memory is forever. Every love is forever. For us, the answer to that question can be both yes and no at the same time. Or it can be quite, truthfully, 'for now.'"
Bashir frowned thoughtfully. "Because your memories aren't arranged in the background and foreground, because you can access any of them whenever you want, you have to be able to love more than one person at once. And to allow yourself to... compartmentalize those feelings."
"Yes." Garak furrowed his brow. He'd expected an argument, but Bashir seemed to truly understand his meaning. "That's precisely what I mean."
"So when I... shifted the rules as you say, you were having difficulty figuring out which compartment I belonged in at that moment."
"Sometimes, Doctor, I suspect that you have scales underneath that human skin."
Garak expected a smile, but Bashir surprised him again when his expression remained serious. "That might all be true, but I don't think that's what was really bothering you."
"Oh?" Garak said, keeping his expression genial, but unreadable.
"I don't know." Bashir reached over the arm of the couch to retrieve his uniform. "Perhaps I'm mistaken."
It wasn't like Bashir to back away from something like that. Garak felt unsteady, unable to determine how Bashir would react to his stimuli.
"Are you all right?" Garak asked, noticing Bashir again shifting his weight uncomfortably.
"Nothing a date with a dermal regenerator won't fix." He smiled wanly. "Not to say that I didn't enjoy it once we stopped, well, talking."
"Arguing," Garak corrected.
Bashir looked at him, his wide eyes glinting in the light. For a moment, Garak's resolve wavered.
But he remembered Dukat. The way things had ended with him. The way they were now.
"I think that we should take a break," he said, finally.
Bashir cast his eyes down as if upset, but he nodded. "No, you're right. What happened last night was, well, exciting. But not exactly healthy."
"I would like for us to remain friends. That amount of... passion is not generally--"
"I agree with you, Garak," Bashir said sharply. "You don't have to make your case." He sighed, then stood to dress himself.
Garak's stomach was clenched as he watched Bashir pull on his uniform. Had he done this too late? "Well. I, ah, hope you enjoy that conference."
"It should be a laugh a minute." Bashir smiled at him. A fake, forced smile. "I expect a lunch when I get back."
"Right." Bashir straightened his uniform. Like his holosuite costume, it didn't quite fit him correctly.
Bashir tilted his head.
"Your friendship means a lot to me. I would not want you to hate me."
This time, Bashir's smile was real, if a little smaller and sadder than before. He rested his hand on top of Garak's and squeezed. "I couldn't."
Garak nodded, remembering a time when Dukat would have said the same thing.
"We'll talk when I get back," Bashir said, standing straight again.
Bashir paused in the doorway for a moment on his way out as if he had something more to say, but in the end, he left with only a quiet, "goodbye."
Garak handed the PADD to Tain, then put his hands tightly behind his back. Tain scrolled through it, too fast to really read anything.
"I'll send it to the Justice Board. Good work," he said dismissively.
Garak didn't move. His feet felt locked in place.
Tain arched an eyeridge at him. "Anything else?"
"I-- No. No, there isn't. Thank you."
Mumbling his acknowledgment, Tain returned his attention to his work. He didn't look up again when Garak left.
Garak stood in the hall, his breath shallow as if he'd just been running. It had been worth it, he told himself. He had done his job, nothing more or less. It had been worth it.
But Dukat wouldn't forgive him, and some small part of Garak knew that he would never forgive himself either.