**Editor's note: This story is part of a much larger arc (Converse Symmetry) that can be found on Cardassia Sutra; this is my favorite section of the story...enjoy!

The Tangents of Or
by Terrie H. Drummonds
Copyright 1998

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE and characters are the property of Paramount Pictures, Inc. Salute! But this story is mine.  It does not intend to infringe on Paramount's copyright in any way. Do not change or alter in any way.

COMMENTS: This is the fourth installment of what has turned into the "Converse Symmetry" series. It will help if you have read "Converse Symmetry," "Asymmetrical," and "One Man's Dying" but it is not absolutely necessary. A quick summary of events: Ambassador Julian Bashir crosses over to the DS9 universe and meets the alternate of his dead lover, Elim Garak. Ambassador Bashir and Garak share an intimate evening before the alternates are forced to return to their proper universe. Before the ambassador
leaves, he tells Doctor Julian Bashir to "know him (Garak) as I have." The doctor finds a book of poetry in his quarters (a gift from the ambassador) and knows about Garak's liaison with the ambassador. But what is supposed to be the evening where Julian confronts Garak about what happened and Garak's opportunity to reveal some of his true
feelings about the doctor turns into a disaster. During the year that follows, the two slowly attempt to resolve the issues of friendship and intimacy, dealing with Garak's attempt to annihilate the Founder homeworld, Julian's kidnaping by the Dominion, and the death of Enabran Tain along the way.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: To the Usual Suspects when it comes to my G/B stories <g>. Any mistakes you find are all mine. Thanks to Joanne for saying it need to be "more" during the draft; to Kit and Karen for giving me the push for a better ending; to Mary for always knowing just what to say; to Liz, Andrea and Sophie for inspiration
and support. Thanks also to Olivia - I needed the boost:>

To all those who have read "Converse Symmetry," "Asymmetrical," and "One Man's Dying" -- thanks for the motivation to keep this going!

***<<< Evening, Day 0 >>>***

The kiss was sloppy and imprecise.

Hands yanked the bottom of the tunic up past the hips and then slid underneath the waistband of the trousers. Fingers dug into buttocks, pulling forward until crotch ground against crotch.

It was how drunken guls treated prostitutes at the Hotel Jaxixk.

Elim Garak would have none of it.

He pushed, using his superior strength to break the contact between them. His arduous suitor was not a trained military officer able to use his leaner build to his advantage; Julian was a doctor, physically fit but no match for a Cardassian.

Garak stepped backward, reasserting his personal space, and reached up to wipe the saliva from the corners of his mouth with his thumb. There were a variety of comments perfectly suited for what had just happened, such as: "If this is how Terrans normally showed affection, no wonder most species in the Alpha Quadrant are wary of you. One would have to wash his face after every kiss." Yet as Garak was about to teasingly quip about such matters, the doctor suddenly turned away, head bent and shoulders slumped in shame.

Humans. How they ever survived their youth was a mystery. They were too unpredictable, too indecisive, too impetuous. They believed they could charm their way out of any situation simply because they were born human.

Julian was no different. He was frustrating. Smug. Arrogant. And now, Julian had decided to initiate a more intimate relationship between them by barging into Garak's quarters at 2325 hours, grabbing the Cardassian, and kissing in a way the humans romantically described as "senseless."

It wasn't senseless. It was sloppy. Not disgusting, but it could be considered offensive. But over the years, Garak had allowed himself a certain amount of tolerance where Julian was concerned. If the Cardassian had asserted himself more forcefully, taking away Julian's control of the situation by twisting him down to the floor or across the nearby chair, the doctor would have panicked. No, Julian was not here for a simply tryst; he wouldn't have been so easily discouraged.

While Garak had his own theories of why Julian had kissed him so intimately, he had learned over the past years that he rarely guessed correctly what the doctor's true motivations were. The times he had made assumptions, his soul had been seared. It was better to pry the reasons out of Julian rather than make a haphazard guess. Garak simply dropped his hands to his sides and gently queried, "May I ask...."

Before he could finish, Julian muttered, "Even you."

Garak snorted, "Even me? Would you care to explain?"

Anger and the pain of rejection glittered in the doctor's eyes. "The one person on this godforsaken station I thought would understand, who is *supposed* to understand, *doesn't.*"

"And what am I supposed to understand?" he prompted. Julian huffed and turned away. It was almost impossible to judge the doctor's mood right now, but the means to extract information from him had not changed. Goad him just enough, call his personal honor, behavior and/or pride into question, and the doctor would inevitably
hiss or shout an answer. Garak tilted his head and rolled his shoulders back, choosing his words carefully. "What? Have you visited every person on this station and shown your affection just as you have done to me? Has no one taken you up on your - ah - offer?"

"No!" Julian whirled around, his tone sharp and outraged. "Stop being so facetious, Garak! This is serious! I can't believe that you...." He then faltered, dropping his gaze to the ground. It was as if he realized something; his voice became ragged, defeated. "You know what happened, don't you? With my parents? You know about *me,* don't you?"

Garak let out a slow breath and then gestured toward the couch against the portal. "Sit down. I'll fetch us something to drink, and then we will talk." The doctor didn't move; Garak suppressed the urge to roll his eyes."This is not the type of conversation one has by the door."

Reluctantly, the doctor shuffled to the couch and perched rigidly on the corner edge. Garak ordered two glasses of tiennaaz from the replicator before taking his place on the opposite end of the couch. He placed the glasses of the golden-hued wine between them, noting the slight tremor of Julian's hands.

"Now," Garak began as he settled back against the cushions so that he could face Julian while keeping one foot on the floor, "you were saying?"

But the moment had fled.

Julian was staring intently at the wine glasses, obviously unwilling to discuss the subject. Garak waited patiently, mentally reciting the first three stanzas of Ariakak's "Daggers of the Hebetian Nights." He knew what Julian referred to, but the ingrained habits of an interrogator prevented him to from acknowledging the information until Julian admitted to it. "You asked if I knew what happened, if I knew about *you.* There are a number of things which happen on the station every day, many which undoubtedly escape your notice. For instance, did you know that, just this morning, Quark had received a new shipment of Achmarian...."

"Stop it, Garak," Julian hoarsely whispered. "You know what I meant." He paused, still refusing to look at the Cardassian.

The long-term medical hologram. Julian's parents. The revelation of Julian's enhancement. As soon as the words had slipped from Richard Bashir's mouth, the news spread through the station like a plasma fire leaping through conduits. It hadn't been Chief O'Brien or Zimmerman who had disclosed the information; it had been one of Bashir's own
medics on duty at the time when Julian's parents had made the confession to the hologram. And now, on the eve of what was rumored to be Julian's forced resignation from Starfleet, the doctor had visited Garak.


Well, exiles did have a habit of sticking together.

Yet for all the doctor's brilliance, he tended to be a bit short-sighted and melodramatic when it came to personal crises. During Garak's five-year association with Julian, there seemed to be one predicament after another involving moral and ethical decisions in the doctor's role as the Starfleet chief medical officer of the station.  However, whenever something of a more personal nature surfaced, such as the doctor's thirtieth birthday, the visit by Julian's medical school rival, and of course, the entire business with Ambassador Bashir, the doctor seemed to indulge in fits of emotionalism which were a sharp contrast the decisiveness he displayed as CMO.

That role was Julian's armor, a concept which Garak understood completely. The doctor had invested so much of himself into his profession that, without it, he probably did not know how to exist. No doubt, Julian only saw two choices: either he resigned from Starfleet before the court-martial or he allowed Starfleet to dishonorably discharge him. Either way, he would be subsequently barred from legally practicing medicine in the Federation.

Unlike Garak, who during his youth had endured the constant rearrangement of his life in order to hide another secret, it was perhaps the first, truly devastating thing to ever happen to the young doctor. Oh, there was that business with the Jem'Hadar soldiers, Bariel, and the Blight, but those revolved around his capabilities as a physician, not his true self. This... This would destroy Julian. Completely. Utterly.

Still, Garak needed to hear precisely why Julian had shown up, so he fell back on his tried and true method of earning an exasperated outburst from the doctor.

"If you are referring to that other doctor," Garak said with a wave of his hand, "I do know he is pursuing your former bed-partner with the eagerness of a male vole chasing a female in heat. It really is quite distasteful in a way. Really! A person of his age acting like a love-struck adolescent."

He watched as the corners of Julian's mouth began to twitch. The doctor glanced over, as if debating the wisdom of poking fun at Garak, and the Cardassian gave him a small smile. Finally, Julian said, "Not like you."

"I'd like to think I was a bit more discreet."

"Flamboyantly discreet," Julian corrected softly before staring at the wine glasses again. "But that's all changed now, hasn't it? Now that you know what was done to me." He didn't clarify his sentence. It seemed he couldn't bring himself to say the words. Perhaps being genetically altered carried the same stigma as being illegitimate did
in proper Cardassian society.

"Doctor, believe me when I say this: it does not matter to me."

That sparked a reaction out of the sullen doctor. "Dammit, Garak, I *lied*!"

"Everyone lies, doctor," he admonished coolly. "Hopefully, I have instilled that belief into you by now."

"But not like this."

"It is in the *past*, doctor," Garak stated flatly. "It is a part of *you.* You can no more change the past than I can, unless you and Chief O'Brien have been secretly working on a time traveling device."

Julian didn't even smile at the attempt of humor. "You make is sound as if it doesn't matter!"

"Because," the Cardassian told him emphatically, "it doesn't."

He rocketed to his feet. "Garak, I am a freak of nature! I am *unnatural*! I was altered...."

"We are *all* molded by our parents," Garak patiently explained.  "If not by them, then by our elders. They push us to conform to their ideals, to become what they wish to be. They took every opportunity to herd us along that path made of their personal mores. If we strayed, we were punished." He paused, watching as Julian's shoulders slumped and the indignance drained out of the doctor. "Altered, molded, enhanced... they are all synonyms for the one trait a majority of races in this quadrant share: the need to
create a legacy in the best image of one's self. Your parents have simply taken one step further in ensuring that you are the supreme sum of their combined parts. You cannot blame yourself for something you had no control over."

"Is that what you are? The 'supreme sum' of Enabran Tain?" he challenged bitterly.

"In a manner of speaking. However, I never quite knew what my father wanted of me." He nonchalantly shrugged to play off the hurtful honesty of his statement. "So I dabbled here and there until I found something which hopefully made Tain not regret killing me the moment he discovered I had been conceived."

Whatever hostility remaining in Julian dissolved; the doctor flopped back on the couch with a loud sigh before he focusing on the ceiling.  "Then... then what I am...."

Again, Julian trailed off, unable to say the words aloud.

It was late; they could carry on this stop-start conversation for hours. Garak said the words for him: "The fact that you are genetically enhanced does not change my opinion of you."

The doctor visibly flinched.

Garak went on. "There are things about ourselves we cannot change, specifically the past. We are different, fundamentally so in many respects, but we have an understanding of our diversities. I accept you as you are, here in the present, Julian Subetoi Bashir."

"You're the only one."

"Oh, I doubt that," Garak gently chided. "I'm sure Chief O'Brien has a few choice comments on that particular subject. Now," he clapped his hands and then leaned forward, scooping up one of the wine glasses, "pick up your drink and tell me how you intend to handle this situation."

The doctor didn't move. Instead, he said, "Tomorrow morning, I'm resigning from Starfleet."

The uncharacteristic submissive tone made Garak bristle; there was no reason Julian should act that way. But then, he considered what had transpired this evening and put it into the context of what he had observed of the young doctor in the past five years.

During his career on DS9, the doctor had brashly challenged not only Gul Dukat but Enabran Tain, himself. Bashir had not backed down from Kai Winn when Vedek Bariel's and Captain Sisko's lives were at stake. Bashir even risked his friendship with Chief O'Brien over those Jem'Hadar soldiers because of his oath as a physician. There were dozens of instances of Bashir going against the grain to do what he believed was "right." Julian Bashir was fully capable of fighting for anything he truly wanted, truly needed, truly believed in.

This, however, was different. This was about Julian Bashir, who he was and what he was. And the fact that Julian wasn't fighting meant he didn't believe in himself.

Garak sipped the wine. The insecurities that Julian had displayed during the first year and a half on the station had not been replaced by self-confidence as the doctor had led everyone to believe. He simply masked them better, giving the appearance of self-assurance.

Another aspect of the dynamic between the doctor and the exile clicked in, why they were inexplicably drawn together. Garak almost closed his eyes. He was Julian's mentor, but in a way he hadn't expected. Had all those conversations been about how to cope with being an exile? Had all those lunches been merely a scientific study to see how an exile could operate in a hostile environment?

It was why Julian was here tonight. Everything had been in preparation for his possible dismissal from Starfleet. He had ensured himself companionship when everyone else was supposed to shun him. For all his naivete and short-sightedness, the one thing Julian had always kept a close eye on was his future if his enhancement were to be revealed.

So very Cardassian.

"As to what I do after that..." Julian paused and then shrugged. "I haven't gotten that far. Perhaps Captain Sisko will let me remain on the station for a few days until I figure it out."

A choice. A decision. A crossroads. Whatever he termed it, Garak knew the outcome all the same. If Julian wasn't willing to fight for himself, Captain Sisko, Commander Dax and Chief O'Brien certainly would take up the cause despite the doctor's protests. Sisko would allow Julian to stay on the station because it gave time for Julian's friends to talk to him, to convince him to rally against Starfleet to retain his commission. And Starfleet, being in the precarious position of preparing for a possible war against the Dominion and needing all the seasoned officers possible, would come up with some placating compromise which would satisfy all parties.

Did Julian truly think his fellow officers would simply abandon him over such a trivial matter?

Surely not.

"And," Julian suddenly added, albeit shyly, "being with you, Garak." He ventured a look in the Cardassian's direction. "That is... that is if you still want me to be."

He could only nod; it was one of the rare times words actually failed him.

If only that were a good thing.

In that odd twist of Fate which seemed to characterize all things Federation, Garak had won Julian Bashir. The strings binding the doctor to the Federation were about to be severed by Julian himself.

It was supposed to be a moment of joy: Julian would finally be his.

It wasn't.

There were too many factors unaccounted for. While Garak could certainly manipulate some of those events so that things would turn in his favor, he had the distinct impression that Julian would not accept nor appreciate such an action. It would be deceitful, dishonest and dastardly, an apt description for a villain.

"I wasn't sure if you could leave the station permanently or not," the doctor continued.

Gul! What this Terran did to him!

It was difficult decision, but one that had to be made nonetheless.  Garak could suggest almost anywhere, embellishing the description with romantic notions and political intrigue to capture Julian's adventurous imagination, and allow Julian to convince himself that, yes, that was the perfect place to live in exile.

And while Julian may have kissed and groped him when the doctor first walked in the door, Garak was not quite convinced Julian was completely... well, 'sincere' wasn't quite the word he was looking for... perhaps 'honest' or 'true' were better choices... in his intentions of a more intimate relationship. Therefore, Garak offered the one place he was sure the doctor hadn't thought of and one that would answer his own questions in a roundabout way. "Bajor."

"Huh?" Julian blinked in surprise and then repeated, "Bajor?"

"Of course!" he admonished as if it where the most obvious solution. "With the influx of non-Bajorans to the planet, I am sure the Bajoran medical authorities would welcome a Starfleet-trained physician. You do speak some of the language, don't you?"

"Well... yes... But..." Julian began to protest.

Garak cut him off. "They are not part of the Federation, therefore are not bound by foolish, out-dated Federation rules."

"But when they *do* become members...."

"Ah, my dear doctor, by that time, you will have endeared yourself to the establishment. You are a multi-species specialist, after all. You will be their foremost expert and will have to train the others. They could not bear to lose you."

Julian shook his head, as if denying the entire notion. Then he stared up at the ceiling, perhaps willing *it* to provide an answer.  An unexpected half-laugh reached Garak's ears and, if he hadn't been listening particularly hard for the doctor's reaction, he would have missed the muttered comment. "Except that I have a Cardassian lover with a mysterious past."

Years of training prevented any emotion from showing on Garak's. It also prevented him from choking on the tiennaaz.  Julian had said it so casually, as if it were a matter of fact and not a simple whim.

Garak had his answer, one admitted in the rhetorical muttering humans seemed to rely upon when making a life-changing decision.  His grip on the glass tightened. His trousers became distinctly uncomfortable. All he could do was stare.

As if realizing he had made the comment aloud and was now subjected to Garak's intense scrutiny, Julian suddenly sat up and gaped at Garak. "I... I..."

The Cardassian held up his hand to prevent the cascade of apologies from Julian. No. No. He didn't want to ruin this particular moment, the moment his mind now cherished as the best confession he had ever obtained. He had to redirect the conversation. It was the only thing he could do. "First things first. Will you consider Bajor? The reason I am suggesting it is because you are familiar with the people and their customs. Besides, you will be able to visit the station."

"You think... you think it is for the best?"

"For right now, yes. And when Starfleet realizes what a phenomenal mistake they have made by allowing you to resign, they know where to find you."

Julian's expression changed from embarrassment to awe. "You make it sound so simple, Garak."

"Experience, my dear doctor. Nothing else."

There. It was set into motion. Garak had to simply sit back and wait for things to take their course.

Julian was back to eyeing the wine glass, as if wary of it and what it represented. He remained quiet for a few minutes; Garak allowed the time to pass. There was no reason to push, to force any type of decision or comment.

"About what happened earlier..." Julian trailed off as if suddenly unsure of the topic of conversation but felt it needed to be addressed. "When I... um... well... um... kissed you...." He turned to Garak, his eyes seeking forgiveness.

"I was not offended," the Cardassian told him plainly. "Surprised, perhaps, but not offended. While I do believe myself to be a bit traditional, I am adaptable."

"You must think I'm so... uncouth."

"No." Then Garak grinned, "Eager. Young. Challenging. Refreshingly brazen. Everything which caught my attention those years ago."

"I thought it was because I was an easy mark," Julian mumbled.

"Perhaps." When the doctor flashed an indignant glare at the admission, Garak met it with a bland stare of his own.

So young. So uncertain. Was Julian really ready for this type of relationship? Garak was unsure of it himself, especially since it seemed the doctor could not bring himself to saying aloud certain phrases or looking at Garak for an extended period of time.

Was there regret so soon? Perhaps. Someone less disciplined would have immediately taken advantage of Julian's initial invitation. A year ago, Garak might have because he could. Now, on the cusp of consummation, he was well aware of the fickleness of human nature and that humans were amazingly awkward when it came to matters of
sexuality and sensuality.

He had to put some distance between them to give Julian time to consider all that he had proposed. Garak took a long sip of the wine. "But now is not the time for such a discussion."

Confused, Julian looked up. "Why not?"

"Because, we have your future to plan, don't we, doctor?" Garak tsked and set his glass down. He paused for a moment and then brightened. "I have a few suits in my shop which would be perfect for you."

"Now... after all that... you want me to model suits?" Julian asked incredulously.

"Of course!" The Cardassian fixed him with a particularly penetrating gaze as he stood. "We have all the time in the universe for *that*, don't we?" Almost reluctantly, Julian nodded. "Anyway, you will need proper civilian attire. I make sure my stock of ready-to-wear suits includes the latest in Bajoran fashion, no matter how dowdy it may be. You can render your resignation to Sisko tomorrow morning and then depart for Bajor immediately." He tugged at the hem of his tunic to smooth the creases. "While I'm retrieving those suits, why don't you contact the Bajoran medical facility in the capital and arrange a meeting with the director? You've met with him before, haven't you, during that medical conference last year? You are more than welcome to use my terminal."

Julian swallowed and then scratched the back of his head. His voice lacked its usual sparkle, sounding slightly confused and almost disappointed."Then, you're not going to try and talk me out of it."

Garak almost winced, but he had been expecting the second-guessing. It was as much a human tendency as claiming a lack of common sense was a justifiable defense. "Talk you out of what? Resigning? You know Federation law in this matter much better than I do."

"Well...." The doctor glanced around the quarters again, looking everywhere but at Garak. "Miles said I should fight it, that I shouldn't run off, that there was a way to get through this."

"The chief is welcome to his opinion of the situation." He dusted non-existent specs of lint from his sleeves. "My dear doctor, how long have you been preparing yourself for this?"

"Since I found out what my parents did to me," Julian replied absently. "I was fifteen."

"So you know the situation far better than the chief does, correct? You have been preparing yourself for this possibility since then, correct?" Garak waited until the doctor nodded again. "Then you are capable of making difficult decisions given the facts at hand. I trust your judgement on this matter. Is such a compliment so unbearable for
you to hear?"

"Not unbearable. Unexpected."

"Surely not unexpected," Garak teased. "Otherwise, you would not have kissed me in such a manner when you walked into my quarters."

Julian held up his hands in mock defeat. "What about, 'surprised it would turn out the way I planned?'"

"Much better."

As Garak turned to walk away, the doctor whispered, "Thank you. For everything."

Pivoting, the Cardassian slowly reached toward Julian with his right hand, tracing the doctor's jaw affectionately with a forefinger. "You have something I never had," Garak told him. When Julian looked at him with the question in his eyes, he answered, "Companionship."

The doctor captured Garak's hand in his own and stood up. "Do you have to go?" His voice caught on the plea as he brushed a thumb across Garak's knuckles. The Cardassian stilled, watching with fascination how Julian touched him. Unable to formulate a verbal answer, he simply stood there. Julian dragged his eyes to meet Garak's. "I could use a bit of that companionship right about now."

A shiver chased down Garak's spine as his body immediately reacted to the words. He remained unmoving, caught in an unexpected intellectual dilemma. Julian almost let go of his hand, but the Cardassian tightened his grip, squeezing with just enough force to retain the doctor's attention. And then, just has he had done over a year ago, he settled his left hand on Julian's shoulder, sliding it up until he touched the doctor's nape. Julian closed his eyes and leaned forward, clearly anticipating the kiss.

When their lips met, Julian became aggressive, demanding, echoing the movements from that first, distasteful kiss. Garak pulled back slightly, placing his thumb against Julian's lips. "Shhh," he hushed as his fingers fluttered against Julian's throat. "You must learn to savor. Let me teach you."

Julian nodded mutely.

This time, Garak placed his lips on Julian's chin and then slowly trailed kisses along the jaw. The doctor made an odd sound and squeezed Garak's hand tighter. Garak continued nipping his way across Julian's throat to the other ear.

All at once, the Cardassian felt transported to that time, over a year ago, when he held another Julian Bashir. The two Julians kissed differently; the ambassador had more restraint and had understood the subtleties of Cardassian sensuality. The ambassador knew how to use his voice, his body language, his entire being as a means of foreplay.
But here and now... this Julian needed to be unconditionally accepted.  Unconditionally loved. To be made whole again. To believe in himself again.

"Please..." Julian began.

Another choice. Another decision. How far would he allow this to go?

It was all about self-control and in ensuring Garak maintain control of himself, he had to exert a certain amount of dominance over Julian.  His lips were against Julian's skin, his left hand still at the base of the doctor's neck while his other hand was still captured in Julian's grip. Garak could feel the doctor's rapid-fire pulse against his tongue and the vibrations of vocal chords as the doctor continued with the odd sounds. Then, Julian's right hand settled on his shoulder, toying with his neck ridge. The Cardassian moved his hand from Julian's neck to encircle the human's wrist and pulled until their arms were at their sides.

"Please..." Julian pleaded again, "let me touch you...."

"Patience," Garak whispered, nuzzling against Julian's cheek. "Tell me, do all humans scent as you do?"

"Scent?" he echoed. "You mean as in give off pheromones? Well...yes...we all do. Especially when aroused. I thought you knew that."

Garak ignored the last part of the comment, satisfied he had distracted Julian. His tongue traveled up the human's slender neck.  "It is... intoxicating."

At that moment, Garak captured Julian's lips with unexpected intensity. Julian's knees buckled as he groaned, low and guttural, and leaned into the kiss. Garak steadied him simply by flexing his arms, capitalizing on the human instinct to brace against the stronger force. This time, Julian responded more appropriately, allowing Garak to command the intimacy of the contact.

Garak slowly moved them backward until he felt Julian almost topple onto the couch, and then gave a slight push. The doctor tumbled back and Garak immediately straddled him, pressing his human prey firmly against the back of the couch without breaking the contact with his lips. He still held Julian's hands, preventing any touch he did not sanction, and the doctor continued with his odd sounds.

Charming. Enchanting. Encouraging.

It was control, so different from his last encounter with the other Julian Bashir. Different circumstances. Different outcomes. Different repercussions.

This wasn't an all-or-nothing situation.

It wasn't until he felt Julian's shoulders relax did he let go with his right hand, using it to pull open Julian's uniform. The doctor lifted his arm to assist but Garak placed a firm hand against his shoulder and pushed him back into the couch cushion. Julian yielded. The Cardassian gently tugged the coverall open and then slid his fingers along Julian's well-muscled stomach, along the middle, until he found the zipper of the undertunic and pulled it down far enough to expose a nipple. He brushed a thumb against the hard nub and Julian immediately arched his back, gasping so hard Garak had to break the kiss.

"By Allah, Garak... Elim... *please*!" Julian panted, eyes closed.

That unadulterated, whimpering plea wasn't the reaction Garak was expecting; a veteran of the art knew the sound of complete and utter surrender.

He felt as if he had been doused with ice water.

He couldn't do this.

The legacy of Ambassador Bashir.

They were supposed to be equals, he and Julian. A year ago, all he wanted to hear was Julian begging for him, pleading for him... but now the sounds curdled his passion into a sour mass in the pit of his soul. With all he had done in the past, he knew he had lost a taste for such things during these years in exile. It wasn't an ego-shattering discovery; Garak had realized it on board that Romulan ship when he had been interrogating Odo.  Ambassador Bashir had only reinforced it.


The sound of his name....

The raspy sound of that voice. "Please Elim, I need you. Please. You're all I have."

Garak refused to believe that lie. He pressed his forehead against Julian's, scooping the human's shoulders forward in a tight embrace.

"Please." The doctor wrapped himself around the Cardassian's torso. "You're all I have."

Too much. Too fast. Too soon.

With a gentle push, he broke contact for the second time that evening. Julian immediately turned his head, staring down at the floor and away from Garak, as if he believed he were being rejected again. Carefully, Garak moved off of Julian to sit next to him, settling himself in the corner of the couch. He tugged slightly on Julian's arm, a silent invitation to return to his embrace. The doctor didn't budge; Garak tried again. Julian gave a disbelieving snort and then shook his head before cautiously leaning toward Garak.  The Cardassian trailed his hand softly against Julian's shoulder, a wordless appeal for the doctor not to fight him. Finally, Julian scooted closer, twisting so his back would be against Garak's front, and leaned against him.

It was an unusual but not an uncomfortable position. Julian stretched his legs out on the couch and rested his head against Garak's shoulder. The Cardassian simply held him. No words, no caresses. Just sitting there on the couch and allowing Julian to sort through all that had happened and perhaps even figure out what would happen next.

He felt Julian begin to trace the fabric patterns on his sleeve; agile fingers then captured his hand and began gliding across his knuckles and the back of his hand. It was a gentle touch, one more of exploration than anything else and it shouldn't have been as rousing as it was.

The words were whispered, almost rhetorical. "It's going to work out, isn't it?"

Garak's response was automatic. "Of course, my dear."

Fingers now stroked his thumb. Up and down. Up and down. Circling the tip. Up and down. Up and down. Great Gul!  Was Julian doing this intentionally?

He had to stop it now. Gently, he asked, "You haven't slept in the past two days, have you?"

"No," Julian admitted. "The moment Zimmerman and the captain told me about the holoprogram, I haven't been able to. Then, Zimmerman said 'interviews'...." He trailed off, wrapping his hand around the Cardassian's.

"Then rest. You'll need your strength." Garak gently pushed forward, prompting Julian to move. "I still have to get those suits from my shop. Why not nap in my bed until I return?"

Julian glanced at him dubiously.

He didn't smile, but allowed his eyes to convey his amusement. "I will only be gone for a few minutes. Twenty at the most."

"And then?"

"As I said, you need your rest."

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