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***<<< Evening, Day 1 >>>***

They only kissed while in the shop.

It was all that Julian wanted at the time, perhaps all he could handle. The contact had been by no means chaste but it hadn't been frantic either. It had been slow. Exploratory. Not especially gentle but relaxed. Julian had tasted of salt, had scented of sorrow, relief and desire, and had continued to tremble for however long they had kissed. Sitting on the edge of the stuffed chair, Julian had pulled him between his knees as his hands had continued to caress his upper arms and shoulders, as if seeking reassurance that this was actually happening.

Garak had not intended to stay on his knees for however long it had been; it had been the sharp muscle spasms in his lower back, twinges made more painful by age and by sleeping in such an awkward position last evening, that had finally grown unbearable enough to cause him to rock back, out of the embrace, and hope that the doctor did not take offense.

A shy, grateful smile had broken across those features, reflecting in those eyes which had grown red and puffy from the crying. Then hands had reached toward Garak's face, thumbs touching his eyeridges and then tracing them softly.

The touch of a ghost.

An echo of the past, of the final time another Julian Bashir had caressed him with such familiarity.

But that had been the past.

"The official statement will be released this afternoon," Julian had told him quietly as his hands had settled back on Garak's neck ridges.  "I don't want to be anywhere near the Promenade when it does."

So the doctor had used Garak's private washroom, scrubbed his face, and made himself somewhat presentable to the public again.  They had decided to meet in the Cardassian's quarters in thirty minutes, time enough for Julian to stop by his own quarters and change and for Garak to close up for the day.

He had picked up the discarded book of poetry and smiled to himself as he left the shop. The day was his. He had won.

And when Garak had entered his quarters, Julian was already there, walking towards him and pulling the book out of his hands, tossing it carelessly on the floor.

Some time, some day, they would give the poetry the attention it deserved. The salute to the Legacy of Ambassador Bashir.

But somehow, some way, such legacies were not part of this day.

The doctor then kissed him thoroughly, almost mimicking how Garak had kissed him last night, complete with the nuzzles and the nips. Then, Julian said in heavily Terran-accented Kardasi, "Come to bed, my one."

So charming. So seductive. His accent curdled the Kardasi vowels yet made them sound lyrical.

Their clothes were heaped by the dining table. Garak barely had time to engage the more sophisticated computer privacy lock on his quarters when Julian was upon him, sinking teeth into neck ridges and running hands over scales.

And while in Garak's dreams and fantasies of the first time he possessed Julian, *his* Julian, everything had been well-paced and sensual, the reality was harsher. Harder. Tumbling over furniture.  Rolling on the floor. Clambering into bed. Tasting. Nipping. Grinding. Pounding into a lithe body he was convinced he was going to injure only to hear growls of encouragement and feel fingers digging into his flesh. Erupting with such force it felt like plasma fire in his system. Watching as Julian arched and cried out and peaked.

By the Gul! It had been intense, both gasping for air and staring dazzled-eyed at each other. And after a few gentle kisses, murmurs of reassurance, and caresses of comfort, they settled down in the bed and rested, not a word spoken between them.

Who would have known such a simple Terran conjunction could have led to so much?

Although he had been feeling particularly un-Cardassian the entire morning, the fact that his elaborate game, his self-discipline, and his cunning had factored into the  outcome of Julian retaining his commission meant that Elim Garak was still Cardassian somewhere beneath those clouded mores and skewed sense of duty.

He basked in triumph.

Lips suddenly caressed his neck ridge. Fingers toyed with the scales along his hips. The sheets were tugged down to his knees. Warm, human flesh pressed more insistently against him.

Like everything that was Julian Bashir, the doctor was intent on experiencing everything at once.

Garak knew it would be the death of him.

But what a way to die.


Hands slid to his chest scales, a part of his anatomy which seem to fascinate Julian. He glanced over to find Julian's eyes sparkling with lust and mischief. "Yes?"

Lips lifted into a wolfish grin. "Join me in the shower?"

Was it to be like this for the rest of their lives? That didn't matter right now. What mattered was that Julian wanted him, all of him, all at once.

There was no shame in enjoying the spoils of victory, was there?

"The water can be as warm as you like," Julian added as his fingers slid down the center chest ridge to the Cardassian's groin. "What do you say?"

Garak rolled, pinning him to the bed. "Why not just stay here?"

"Because I live for adventure," Julian grinned impishly. With that, he slithered from underneath Garak's body, a sensual movement that startled the Cardassian so much that he'd been unable to react quick enough, and the doctor trotted into bathroom.

Then Garak heard the water running. Slowly, he pried himself out of bed, ordered the computer to increase the ambient room temperature, and wandered into the 'fresher. Julian was already in the shower, turning beneath the cascade of water and causing it to splash against the transparent shower door. The Cardassian leaned against the
wash basin, taking in the sight.

"Not going to join me?" Julian teased when he realized the Cardassian was in the bathroom but only staring at him.

"In a moment," he replied.

"Oh." The human abruptly turned around, presenting his smooth skin and tempting backside. It confused Garak for a moment before he understood Julian had interpreted his momentary pause for a request for privacy.

Garak, however, was content to watch.

"I accessed your replicator earlier for some toiletries for myself," Julian called out as lather foamed down his back. "I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all," he replied, entranced by the suds as they formed wide patterns across Julian's skin. He had missed this the last time; the ambassador had literally dragged him in the shower, refusing to let go of him for even a short while. Garak hadn't been able to enjoy such a delicious sight. Now....

"Those bed sheets of yours," Julian continued, "what are they made of?"

"Givattian silk."

"They're quite nice. I've never been on anything like that before.  Sure, an occasional satin sheet, but to tell you the truth, those make me slide all over the bed. Can't get a bit of leverage." He began scrubbing his hair, more white foam frothing down his fingers and skin; he still hadn't turned around. "Have you had them for a while? I mean, the last time I was here, you had the standard cotton ones."

Garak blinked. The last time he was here. Such unpleasant memories, those were. Garak was sure he hadn't meant to remind him of those less than stellar moments. But the fact that Julian had paid attention to such a minor detail as to the choice of bed linens surprised him.

"They were a gift," the Cardassian answered succinctly.

"Oh," Julian said as soap suds splattered against the door. "Didn't mean to pry like that. Just curious."

Garak picked up on the slight affront in the doctor's voice; it was a tone Julian often used when he refused to give elaborate answers. There was also a bit of jealousy, as if the doctor were trying to figure out who would give a Cardassian exile such an intimate gift.  Oh, Garak supposed he could have a marvelous time teasing the doctor about it but found himself unwilling to spoil the moment. The sight of his wet, sudsy lover was definitely arousing.

"A merchant had sent them to me," Garak explained, "as an incentive for me to sell luxury home goods as a compliment to nightclothes."

"Hmpf." Julian doused himself underneath the water again, rinsing off. When he spoke again, his tone was neutral, wonderfully neutral, as if all were forgiven. "Well... I like them. Very much." Then his voice dropped to that seductive tone which made Garak's toes curl. "Think I can cajole a set out of you? Or do I have to come here to enjoy such

Garak didn't answer; instead, he slid open the transparent door and stepped in behind Julian, pressing his body to the doctor's.

"Oh, Elim," Julian cooed, as if he possessed all the confidence in the universe, and then shifted his hips, "a little feisty today, aren't you?"

By the Guls, what this human did to him....

"You've been tempting me for far too long," Garak spoke softly, lips against Julian's ear. "Far longer than any sane being should have to endure."

***<<<Late Evening, Day 1 >>>***

There was something to be said about the power of incredible sex. In the shower, Garak had held him tightly, more possessively than before.  Then again, that second round of sex had been more primal, conquering in a way, as if Garak were fully claiming him. Perhaps it had been the heat. Perhaps it had been the water. Perhaps it had been the way in which Garak had taken him, right there in the shower, and drove into him so hard that Julian thought he was going to be pounded through the wall at any moment.

Still, it had been delicious.

For a while, Julian had been able to ignore the part of his consciousness that repeatedly told him that getting involved with Garak was wrong.

He had ignored that part of his mind before, when he had chosen to have lunch with the exiled Cardassian those years ago.

He had ignored that part of his mind before, when he had charged off to Cardassian space to confront Tain in order to save Garak's life.

He had ignored that part of his mind before, when he had realized the depth of the affection Garak had for him.

He had ignored that part of his mind before, when he had forgiven Garak for almost killing him and all those Founders.

He ignored that part of his mind when Garak had offered the compromise of "and." It wasn't a solution. It wasn't an answer. But for this moment, this day, it was what he needed; Garak had sensed that.

So now Julian was standing in the middle of Garak's quarters, a damp towel wrapped around his waist, as he waited for the Cardassian to hunt up a "comfortable pair of trousers, something much more suitable than that dreadful uniform of yours."

It was the only thing Garak had said to him since they had finished the shower. It was particularly odd, especially since their entire relationship had been built on conversation; now there were huge periods of silence, as if neither were quite sure what to say.

And as the silence dragged on, Julian's mind kept insisting he think about the repercussions of this change in their relationship. How people would react.

The Bajorans.

The Starfleet officers.

The command staff.

Major Kira.

Captain Sisko.


The chief may have accepted the fact that Julian was genetically enhanced. For Miles, it was probably something as simple as rationalizing Julian had no choice but to lie about his background because his parents had not given him a choice. But Garak was another matter entirely. Julian had chosen to become involved knowing the full implications of just what a relationship could do to him, his reputation, and his interaction with his fellow officers.

And while Miles may have been able to accept the "orphaned" Rugal into his home and had put up with working side-by-side with those Cardassian scientists last year, he had never had a particular liking for Garak. Julian supposed there was respect for the Cardassian buried somewhere in Miles' hostility, but there never would be trust.  For Julian to expect Miles to accept Garak's new status as Julian's lover... he snorted to himself.

It still came down to Garak or Starfleet, no matter what Garak had said.

Julian had made his choice. Garak had made his. And Miles had to make his own.

The doctor let out a long sigh.

Why wouldn't his mind allow him a moment's peace?

He had just had one of the most incredibly intense sexual encounters of his life and already his mind was racing ahead, contemplating the next battle instead of enjoying the certain languorous feeling that always accompanied a particularly satisfying sexual peak. Or, in their case, peaks.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Julian focused on the display shelf he stood in front of, inspecting Garak's collection of odds and ends set on the three-tiered bookshelf. The last time he had been here, during the ordeal with the implant, he had eyed each memento and had then tried to imagine the wild tale that went with it.

They were eye-catching. There was some type of reddish quartz on the second shelf, a striking indigo flower preserved in glass on the first, a plume shaped like a Terran peacock's feather but was at least twelve shades of green displayed against a cream satin square of cloth on the third.... Intriguing yet surprisingly impersonal. They had to
be for show, conversation pieces if one wanted to give them a title.  Each probably had a story, complete with a shred of truth just to make it authentic, to divert attention away from the owner, to give the visitor something to talk about. There was nothing purely Cardassian in entire the collection: no emblems of the State, no badges from
Cardassian military regiments, no holopictures, nothing representing who Julian had come to view as "Garak." This room, this place wasn't Garak at all, just some pleasantly decorated generic living space.

As Julian turned, he caught the pensive look on Garak's face, as if the Cardassian was worried that he would select a piece, present it to him, and expect an explanation. He saw Garak's gaze drop to Julian's empty hands. He saw the slight surprise in those blue eyes and a bit of confusion as they lifted to meet Julian's. Was that relief or wariness he saw? It was hard to tell.

Their entire friendship had been built around conversations, teasing statements and outrageous lies, arguments about literary styles, and debates about the achievements of their respective cultures. Yet since Julian entered the tailoring shop after his parents had departed, none of their verbal exchanges were even close to the level before.

Even Julian's attempt at banter in the shower, to try to ease the awkwardness of the situation, had been gently rebuffed by short answers. The only time Garak had bothered with an explanation was when Julian apologized for prying about the bedsheets. There had been a bit of amusement in the Cardassian's tone, but also a bit of resignation,
as if he didn't want to play the game...

Playing the game... Julian tilted his head, staring at Garak curiously before realizing the Cardassian wasn't playing one. Not now. Not in his quarters. Not as Julian wandered around half-naked and inspecting the trinkets he had on display. Garak was being... himself. Julian offered a soft, reassuring smile, and then walked to the Cardassian who had already dressed while Julian had been wandering around. The doctor accepted the clothing, pulling on the crimson silk pajama bottoms which felt like Garak's bedsheets and tightening the drawstring so they wouldn't fall off.

He handed the shirt back to Garak with a small grin. "It's a bit warm in here. Unless I'm violating some Cardassian sensibility regarding nudity, I'd rather keep my shirt off."

"Of course, doctor."

Julian trotted back to the bathroom to hang the towel up. When he returned, Garak had settled on the couch with the book of poetry on his lap and a glass of wine cradled in his hand. Another glass was on the table in front of him. The Cardassian had not glanced up when Julian had reentered the room; his attention was focused entirely on the book.

As Julian walked closer to the couch, he passed by Garak's desk and casually looked down out of sheer curiosity. He stopped in his tracks -- on the left corner, just above a padd, gleamed a Cardassian Empire crest cast in polished silver. Julian almost had missed it. It wasn't hidden underneath the padd or obscured by another item. It sat
where anyone could see it but only if they were looking. It was so obvious it was practically invisible.

Had Garak set this out deliberately? The doctor strained to remember if he had seen this item before, but knew he hadn't. Why was he paying so much attention to this emblem? Because it was the only thing in Garak's quarters that could be identified as specifically Cardassian. Was it there to remind Garak of his homeland whenever he
sat at his desk to do some work? Perhaps. Maybe Ziyal had given it to him, but upon closer inspection, Julian noted the ornateness of the piece. It wasn't meant to be a functioning... whatever... just a decoration. Just a reminder....

In an instant, Julian knew precisely what this badge was and who it was from.

///"Would you go?"///

///"Their Cardassia is not *my* Cardassia."///

It had been Ambassador Bashir's or, at least, Ambassador Bashir had given it to Garak. A token of affection? A plea to cross over to the other universe? The means in which Garak could have contacted the ambassador when he had packed his bags and had been ready to go? No matter. Garak had chosen to stay here, hoping that he could have the Julian Bashir he desired, not the substitute.

He carefully picked it up.

To anyone else who walked into these quarters, this piece of silver shaped in the Empire crest was just a token of Garak's patriotism.  Nothing more. Nothing less. They were the only ones who knew just what it meant. Julian doubted Garak would disclose such information to Ziyal. Was this a subtle hint to Julian that he was being honest, to
reinforce his commitment to their agreement made in the brig those months ago and that moment in that Dominion prison?

No. Garak hadn't deliberately pulled this out of his collection and placed it where it would catch Julian's attention. If the Cardassian had decided to do that, the emblem would be on the table in front of him, within easy reach. No, Julian wasn't supposed to notice this at all....

The metal warmed from his touch; a smudge from where Julian had brushed his thumb across the etched surface marred the shine.

Ambassador Bashir. The man who had probably loved Garak with all the intensity Garak had ever imagined. The man who had set everything in motion, his final gift to the  alternate of his beloved.  Julian and Garak's relationship was supposed to be impossible simply because of the politics involved, but the ambassador... no... actually it had been Dukat who had given Julian the firm shove toward Garak by sending him that book.

Ambassador Bashir and Gul Garak. They belonged to a different universe. They had made it work, hadn't they? The book of poetry was proof of that. And Ambassador Bashir's final words to Julian now burned: "Know him as I have." The alternate-Dukat had thought it had to do with the poem in the book; why else would Dukat had beamed over such a personal item? But like his mentor-lover, the ambassador spoke on at least two levels. The most obvious message now was: "Don't be stupid."

The doctor had already integrated Garak into his plans as a physician in exile, why couldn't he do so now? If people were going to hate him because he was genetically enhanced and had lied about it all these years, why not hate him because he loved Garak at the same time?

And he did love Garak.

That was the thing.

And Garak didn't know.

A declaration now would be met with a scoff; the Cardassian would probably believe such a confession had to do with Julian's chaotic mental state, not because he really felt those emotions. His love for Garak had not been instant; it had been progressive. It wasn't until last night he realized just how much Garak meant to him.

Just why had he pursued this relationship? Pity? Selfishness?

Julian stopped himself. He wasn't going to think along those lines.  He'd made his own decision, hadn't he? He hadn't been coerced into anything. If he would have said no, Garak would have probably accepted that answer, wouldn't he? How could Julian forget what happened last night, when Garak had kissed him and had held him against the couch?  How stunned he had been after Garak's cool hands ran across his torso and then suddenly stopped, pulling away, drawing back.

It was as if Garak didn't trust him, that the Cardassian didn't believe Julian was capable of staying in the relationship for more than a few days. It was as if Garak had already decided that his liaison with Julian was a short-lived affair, that the Cardassian had to take advantage of every bit of affection he was given until Julian realized the mistake he had made. That when Julian woke up tomorrow morning, he would decide the relationship was a bad idea. That he couldn't handle the pressure put upon him by his peers, his friends, and the station's residents. That he would stammer out some explanation that they had to end the relationship now, before they were seriously involved, before either of them could be seriously hurt.

Could he really blame Garak for thinking that way? Julian's track record consisted of affairs stemming from infatuation, not anything substantial. His entire relationship with Leeta had been based on mutual compatibility in bed; she was charming and had a good heart, but she wasn't exactly an intellectually stimulating companion. Garak
had even referred to Leeta as Julian's "bed-partner," not girlfriend or lover. Perhaps it was the translation of the Kardasi word Garak had used but somehow Julian doubted it; the Cardassian was always very precise in the words he used.

Did Garak believe he was another one of Julian's "bed-partners"? Was that why the Cardassian was so quiet? Garak was angry with himself for giving in to a few hours of mindless passion?

He had a new mission: to somehow convince a wary Cardassian that his feelings were genuine. Julian turned toward the couch and picked up the glass of wine, ready to start talking about something, anything, to end this terrible silence.

Garak still held the book, but now it rested against his lap. The Cardassian stared at him and then tried to mask his features, to flash that bright, disarming smile that was so distracting. He wasn't quite fast enough; Julian still saw a bit of raw emotion clouding the Cardassian's features.

Surprise. Wariness. Edginess. His eyes were focused on the crest.

"This is not about him," Julian said quietly. "We had something before he even showed up. Maybe it took understanding *him* for me to realize a lot of things." He scratched the back of his head. "Do you at least understand why I... well... couldn't before?"

"You couldn't risk the exposure to Starfleet security," Garak replied softly.

Julian nodded and took a sip of wine, allowing the tart flavor to burn down his tongue and throat. "My father had insisted I take the Starfleet entrance exams as soon as I was eligible, which was when I was fifteen. Of course, I was accepted. My test scores were exceptional. I had two captains sponsoring me. I had the enthusiasm. I had the drive. I had all the characteristics of a budding Starfleet officer.

"When the Academy let out for the semester break, I went home.  One night, I was rummaging through my family's storage area and I found a sealed box. It didn't take me long to crack it and what I found...." He took another sip of the wine. "Well, they say there are skeletons in everyone's closet. I just had one in a closet I didn't know about." Julian took another step forward until he was standing directly beside Garak. "What could I do? My father said, 'How will anyone know unless you tell them?' And then he proceeded to explain to me exactly what would happen if anyone ever found out about it. That was the day I ceased being Jules Bashir. Julian... well... I'm sure you know all about creating a persona for yourself. It was the one that I created, that I became.

"I had mentors... oh... a whole *list* of them. I had to find substitutes for my parents, those who were worthy of the new 'Julian.' My parents left Earth the day classes resumed at the Academy. I don't quite remember what my father's new occupation was, but it took up all his time and concentration. It didn't matter. I had men and women who were thrilled to have an eager pupil to pass on their knowledge. If my parents could bargain for a better son, I certainly could bargain for better parents.

"When I met you... you had everything. Don't you see? The mystery, the allure. I felt as if I had finally found someone who would understand all that I had been through and wouldn't judge me because of it. And when I realized what had transpired between you and the ambassador...." Julian met Garak's gaze. The Cardassian had placed the book on the cushion. "This isn't a fling. This isn't a one-night stand. Sure, we'll have our arguments, but I want this to work.

"Tain told me about you. He would launch into stories about your skills as an interrogator, how many people you interrogated, what methods you favored. I don't know what he reasoning was. Perhaps it was to scare me. Perhaps it was his final act of revenge. I don't know. I didn't believe much of what he said just because who he was. But I want you to know that I'm not walking into this completely blind. I'll never know everything about you and I'm certain I don't want to even if you chose to tell me."

Slowly, Garak stood. There was a stunned quality to his hushed tone. "Tain spoke of me?"

Julian opened his mouth and then closed it, unsure of what to say. He hadn't lied to Garak about what Tain had said, but he had believed it to be tactic Tain used to keep himself amused. Martok and the others barely paid the elder Cardassian any attention when he began rambling about the betrayals by his former proteges, but Tain had found himself a captive audience with Julian, taking full advantage of Julian's compassion.

How much of what Tain had said was truth and how much was a lie? Julian wasn't sure. But the intensity of Garak's stare was completely unnerving.

"The first three weeks I was there, before that solitary confinement, he would make comments. He would ask general questions about your life on 'that miserable little station' and if you had recovered fully from the implant or not. I know I probably shouldn't have, but I did tell him about when you tried to... well... annihilate the Founder homeworld. He seemed impressed, but it was hard to tell." He paused, unable to break away from Garak's gaze. "He knew we had lunch together and that we discussed literature. It did seem to amuse him." Julian shrugged. "He was very intent on getting a message to you. To tell you the truth, given his condition, he shouldn't have been able to continue to work on that communications device, but he was remarkably stubborn about his health." He grinned and then laughed, "I guess you get that aspect honestly."


He knew if he allowed the conversation to focus on Tain, he'd never be able to make his point. Julian took a deep breath. "So, you see? I... I didn't just *suddenly* make this decision. This was just the final... oh, I don't know... the final thing. What you said about 'and' could work. I'd like to make it try. And if I'm booted out of Starfleet - well - I happen to think being forced to abdicate one's position of power because of love is rather romantic."

Garak raised his eyeridges in surprise. "Another Terran romanticism?"

"Our culture is chalked full of them. It is an earmark of a true romance."

The Cardassian snorted softly and his expression changed slightly. Julian had no idea if the Garak believed him after that impassioned speech, but was wary to continue until he at least had some acknowledgment from Garak. After a few seconds, the Cardassian asked, "And Chief O'Brien?"

"It's something I have to deal with. But I'm not about to sacrifice you or myself again to conform with the public's 'ideal' romantic situation. I've done that enough already." He raised his wine glass. "To 'and'?"

A bare smile lit across Garak's features. Slowly, he nodded and raised his own glass.

"To 'and.'"

***((( Finis )))***

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