He was returning to Deep Space Nine when the runabout took a direct hit. He attempted evasive manoeuvres to no avail. The Jem'Hadar ship had come out of nowhere, bearing down on him, overpowering the runabout's pitiful defences with hit after hit. He had no chance, really. His last thoughts were of his dearest Julian -- how he wished he had taken the opportunity to tell him --
-- and he found himself waking up in the Infirmary in his presence. Almost.
"He's coming around. 10 ccs of cordrazine."
There was definitely something wrong.
He felt the cool press of the hypospray into his neck and tried to open his eyes, making out a faint impression of warm hazel-brown eyes and a blue Starfleet uniform before the world spun around him.
"Don't try to get up yet," the curious voice continued as two hands pushed him back into the biobed. "We almost lost you a couple of times. You're on Starbase Nine. Just rest for now."
He closed his eyes and tried to follow the doctor's orders when he heard footsteps and a very familiar voice in the other room. "How is he, Doctor?"
Garak wondered for a second whether he had gone insane himself. Why would Dukat be asking after him? Why would Julian be so-
"He'll make it, Captain."
Captain?! That was it: his mind had gone and his body would undoubtedly soon follow. He rested and waited peacefully for death. Maybe he would see Tain again...
More footsteps. "He's suffered a concussion, a few broken bones and some plasma burns, but in a few days he'll be fine. We didn't find any identification, but look at this." He heard the squeak of a monitor being turned. "While I was regenerating the subdermal burns I noticed an anomaly in his genetic pattern. Here: the quantum signature of the RNA --"
"Doctor, I'm hardly a scientist." Dukat's voice wasn't annoyed though; if anything it was - affectionate?
If that surprised Garak, it was nothing compared to the next comment: "Captain, if the data are correct, he's from another universe."
His eyes snapped open in shock, only to squeeze together as the bright Infirmary lights pounded pain into his head. Gingerly opening them again slowly, carefully, he took in his surroundings. If the Doctor's data were accurate, he'd need to absorb as much information as possible as quickly as possible if he had any chance of returning to his own universe.
"That might tie in with the ship we found him in. Chief O'Brien says it's similar to our transcraft, but everything's off just a bit. Shield harmonics, transmission frequencies, even the decor. And the communications device he was wearing when we brought him in --"
He looked around. The Infirmary seemed to be similar to the one on his station, except perhaps a bit more understated in design. The two nurses, one Human, one Cardassian, were wearing fitted dark blue uniforms accented with gold piping. Quite attractive, the tailor in him said, before he turned his attention to the two officers talking in the doorway to the doctor's office.
"--his DNA profile doesn't match anybody in Starfleet or in the Cardassian civil service. Obviously if he's not from this universe he may not even exist in ours--"
Gul Dukat, or Captain Dukat as he apparently was in this universe, was resplendent in bronze. His Starfleet uniform bore six white pips (funny how you notice the little things at a time like this, Garak thought) and was trimmed in the same gold as the nurses' outfits. Next to him stood a tall physician in a blue uniform bearing three pips (a full lieutenant, then), with the same caramel skin, brown hair, and dark hazel eyes as his Doctor Bashir, but with one small difference. Or two, he supposed.
He then noticed the name plate beside the office door.
Lt. Julia S. Bashir, MD.
The doctor had released him temporarily from sickbay with strict orders to return by 2200 hours. He noted with curiosity that the station apparently ran on the Starfleet 24-hour clock and not on the Bajoran 26-hour one.
His vow to absorb every bit of information necessary to return to his own universe had been somewhat irrelevant: Starbase Nine had fully staffed scientific and engineering departments that were already working on repairing the runabout and returning him to his own universe. He really didn't have much to do but wait and recuperate.
The Promenade was quiet that evening. He passed a number of Cardassians, Humans, Andorians, Trills...and one shapeshifter, who stopped to speak with him.
"Mr. Garak, is it?"
"Yes. You must be Security Chief Odo."
The gruff man in red nodded. "I trust you're finding your stay on Starbase Nine comfortable."
"It's a bit disconcerting. Many things are similar and yet - even you seem changed, Constable. Forgive me, Commander." Five pips.
"No apologies necessary."
Garak looked down into Quark's bar. Some things never change, he thought, as he watched Morn downing a beer while ogling a Tellarian dabo girl. Odo, though: where did he pick up that unflattering Cardassian hairstyle?
He realized just then that he hadn't seen any Bajorans. He looked out the viewports but the star patterns looked familiar. They were clearly still in or near the Bajoran system. Further examination of the Promenade revealed that the Klingon restaurant was now a Trill spa, the Bajoran temple was a holosuite, and the Vulcan meditation room was something called a pyrogy house. His own tailor's shop was a hallway.
"Do you still process uridium here?" he asked Odo.
"Not for the last seventeen years. The mineral's no longer required, so Starfleet's remodeled the station into a starbase. We use the interior as storage, mainly. It's generally a quiet station, outside of the odd Klingon deciding to hold his Day of Honour here."
"Captain Dukat keeps a firm hand on things?"
"He's an excellent commanding officer," Odo replied.
"I noticed this afternoon that he appears to spend a lot of time in and around the Infirmary."
Odo snorted so faintly Garak barely heard him. "Well, a small starbase like this almost runs itself, and, well..."
"How are you feeling this morning?"
Garak tried not to look in the face of the eager young woman. "Completely recovered, Doctor, thanks to your expert ministrations. I've been down to my ship. Your engineering crews have the repairs in hand so well that I felt perfectly superfluous. They all but shooed me away."
She crossed her arms and smiled wistfully. "This must be a bit overwhelming for you. Do you live on Starbase Nine in your universe?"
"Yes. I own a tailor's shop."
"Ah. That explains why you were alone on a military vessel and under enemy fire when you came through that subspace field distortion, why you once had a subcranial implant, why you had-"
"A tailor's life is anything but plain and simple in my universe, Doctor," he said, raising a hand. "We're at war and even civilians are unfortunately at risk. And I was not always a civilian."
"What were you? Starfleet Intelligence? Oh, don't tell me - some secret agency?"
He couldn't help but laugh - apparently all Bashirs had the same curiosity. "My dear-" but the words stuck in his throat. This was not his dear doctor. "Madame. Have your scientists been able to track the source of the field distortion?"
She raised an eyebrow at the change of subject but overlooked it. "They're working on it. According to Lieutenant Kela, it was probably a combination of your ship's shield harmonics, the frequency of the energy weapons that were attacking your ship, and a natural energy discharge in this universe. What that discharge was they don't know yet. When they do, they hope they'll be able to send you back. At any rate, Mr. Odo has arranged for quarters for you in the Habitat Ring in Level 5, section 17, and I'm sure you're looking forward to digging through our databases to find out as much as you can about everyone you know."
"It's what I'd do. I'd also comb the scientific databases for information about the subspace field distortion, try to learn about any tactical advantages our universe's ships might have over yours, and so on and so on. Your terminal will of course be locked out of any secure databases."
"I'm not sure if Mr. Odo's had time to complete all the security details, so I'm wondering if you'd like to have lunch with me and a few friends in the Automat."
"That's very kind, Doctor. Is Captain Dukat going to be there?"
She blushed red. "Um, no. He generally eats lunch in his office."
So the road ran both ways, he thought. "Ah. Then shall we go? After you."
He picked at the - what had she called it - kimchee donair. He had really wanted hasperat, but the replicators didn't seem to know what that was.
"The problem with Romeo and Juliet is that it isn't a romance as much as it is a warning to parents," the doctor was saying. "Juliet is a thirteen-year-old uneducated girl, barely through puberty if even that given the state of health back then, who's on emotional tenterhooks about being forced to marry an older man she barely knows. Suddenly Romeo, who I remind you is twenty years old, swoops in and manipulates her into having sex with him. It might not strictly be pedophilia, but it's pretty damn close."
Strange, he thought, that his Dr. Bashir had never mentioned this. It was true that in some versions of the play Romeo was sixteen, but in others...
Strange, too, that both the Doctors Bashir would be so passionate about Shakespeare - and so garrulous - but in such different ways. "So you don't think that Shakespeare understood romance?" he said.
"I think he understood romance very well. The problem is that sometimes we don't understand him. Look at Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Why is she taking the upper hand?"
"Isn't that common with Humans?"
"Not at the time. Even now many Humans expect the man, or the more experienced person, to take the initiative," she said. Her eyes flickered for a fraction of a second towards Ops, a movement Garak did not miss. "At that time, though, a wealthy Italian woman such as Portia would have been married off at an early age. You have to wonder if the original stage directions didn't call for Portia to have smallpox scars or congenital syphilis. And why does she choose Bassanio? It's obvious that he and Antonio are lovers."
Garak almost choked on his tea. "My dear, you are clearly delusional. There is little evidence in the text for that."
"You want evidence? All right. Most of the discussions between Bassanio and Portia are about money; there's clearly no love between them. On the other hand, Antonio calls Bassanio his sweet on four separate occasions. The two of them spend three days together, alone, feasting - a nice euphemism - after the wedding before Bassanio deigns to arrive at Belmont for the honeymoon. When he does arrive he brings Antonio with him. How many men do you know bring their best friend along for their wedding night? Face it, Mr. Garak, Portia is a silly fool who's trying to insinuate herself between two men who are desperately in love with each other -- Ziyal! Over here!" She waved at a tall half-Cardassian woman in the doorway. "Amsha!"
"MOMMY!" A little black-haired girl barrelled through the Automat and jumped into the doctor's lap, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Grandpa Curzon's here!"
"He is?" the doctor asked, ignoring the smiles of those sitting at the surrounding tables. "Well, that's wonderful. Now sit nicely. We have a guest. Say hello to Mr. Garak."
The dark-skinned young girl turned to Garak and gave him a huge smile, one he had seen a hundred times before on a much larger face. Great Gul indeed. "Hello, Mr. Grok."
"Garak, honey. When did Curzon get in?" she asked Ziyal, who had crossed to the table. "Oh, I apologize, where are my manners? Elim Garak, may I introduce Ziyal Dukat. She looks after Amsha during the day. Also my daughter, Amsha Bashir. Ziyal, Mr. Elim Garak. He's, um, visiting Starbase Nine."
"My pleasure." Garak stood and bowed formally before retrieving a chair for her. This Ziyal was so similar to his Ziyal, if he could call her that, but there was something...
"Thank you. Welcome to Starbase Nine, Mr. Garak." She smiled at him, then turned back to Julia as she took her seat. "Ambassador Dax's ship docked about thirty minutes ago. He should be here any moment now. Amsha's been flying off the walls ever since she heard his voice."
And it hit him. She was half-Cardassian, but the other half was Trill, not Bajoran.
What had his people done? And why did Starfleet with their famous ethics not seem to care?
"Ladies!" a deep bass voice rumbled. "How's my favourite granddaughter?" a broad-shoulder elderly Trill said as he picked the giggling child up and swung her around. He turned to the doctor. "And how are you, dear?"
"Very well, Curzon; it's so nice to see you. Garak, may I introduce my guardian, Ambassador Curzon Dax. Curzon, this is Mr. Elim Garak. He's visiting the station."
Garak felt six inches tall under the Trill's black stare. "Mr. Garak."
The doctor, apparently ignorant of Dax's intimidating stare, stood up and kissed her daughter on the cheek. "I have to get back to work. Mr. Garak hasn't been to his quarters yet; I'll comm Odo and get someone to show him to the Habitat Ring."
Curzon cut in. "That won't be necessary, Julia dear. I'll see him there." He gave the child to Ziyal. "Where are his quarters?"
"Level 5, Section 17," Garak said hollowly, wondering why he suddenly felt like a trapped vole.
"Very well then, I'll show you the way. I'll see you later, Amsha sweetie." He gestured for Garak to follow him.
They entered the turbolift. Garak was about to make a pleasantry when Dax suddenly pressed the emergency stop button, grabbed Garak by the throat, and held him up against the wall. His voice was low, hard.
"Mr. Garak. My ward is a beautiful woman, but she has been hurt before and badly. You lay one finger on her and I will personally decorate the lower pylons of this station with your guts. Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly," he managed to croak out before Dax let him go. "Ambassador," he continued as he rubbed his throat, "I can assure you that I have no romantic interest whatsoever in," and he chose his words carefully, "in Julia Bashir, or in any woman for that matter, in this or any universe."
Dax looked at him strangely, then relaxed and gave Garak a sheepish look. "Forgive me. I tend to be a bit overprotective after, well--" He snorted a laugh. "You probably aren't used to angry fathers threatening you."
"Only my own," he said as Dax restarted the turbolift. "By hurt, you mean Amsha's father, don't you?"
"Lying piece of dirt he was. Oh he showed up here one day full of piss and mystery, charming as all hell, and - well, if there's anything she likes it's a mystery. She was so young and innocent. The bastard hung around just long enough to find out she didn't have any Federation secrets - oh, and long enough for her to fall in love with him. Then pfft! he disappeared, leaving nothing but a broken heart. Well, and Amsha." His eyes softened. "I suppose one good thing came out of it. That and the fact that maybe she grew up a bit." He sighed as they exited the turbolift. "But other than that...I tell you, Mr. Garak, more than the pylons will be redecorated the day Benjamin Sisko shows his face on this station again, and I won't be the only one doing the redecorating."
He would have found it fascinating had he been certain he would be able to return. To never see Julian's face again - he would not think of that. He would find a way home. It just felt uncharacteristically painful to interact with the people in this universe. He wanted to crawl into a ball and hide in his quarters.
He should enjoy it, he knew. In this universe he wasn't an exile or an enemy. People smiled at him on the Promenade, men flirted with him, children giggled at him. Nobody hated him. But Julian wasn't here, and everybody was so damned polite. It was just - disturbing. Almost chilling, he thought.
He recalled what he had learned in the past two hours. According to the databases he had accessed, Sisko was an unsavoury character, a mercenary and a spy. Jadzia was unjoined and still Jadzia Kela. The previous Dax host in his universe, Curzon, was still alive in this universe and an ambassador, but somewhat of a loose cannon (to say the least) with respect to his ward. O'Brien was the head of Station Services but he and Keiko had divorced after Molly's birth. Odo had joined Starfleet six years after being found in the Denorios Belt. As for himself, Enabran Tain and Mila Garak had apparently never met, so there was no Elim Garak in this universe. He snorted: there was barely one in his own.
Nothing had prepared him, though, for the differences in his two loves. Julian was a woman: Cardassia was a founding member of the Federation. He didn't know which was worse.
And Bajor. Before he had searched the databases, he had been concerned that Cardassia had somehow committed an act of genocide against the Bajoran people. He had never seen the Bajorans as equals, of course, but he had never considered them a species deserving of destruction. Perhaps some of the Doctor's Federation ethics were beginning to wear into him, since he would have been shocked had Cardassia wiped out the Bajora.
But in this universe the Bajora had never existed. The most advanced native life form on the planet was a non-sentient species of aquatic mammal. Cardassia had eventually colonized the planet, which had relieved the population pressures on Cardassia Prime, which had in turn apparently changed the course of history. There had been no empire, no Obsidian Order, no brutal authoritarian regime (at least not in the last 400 years), no torture chambers, no Detapa Council, no league with the devil. Cardassia was a founding member of the United Federation of Planets. A peaceful planet at ease with its past.
And then there was Julia. Born on Earth to Richard and Amsha Bashir. Amsha, the mother, had died when Julia was five years old; eight months later, Richard Bashir was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder and, secretly (although Garak had to bypass Odo's pitiful security systems to find this out), for crimes against humanity. He had died in prison eight years later. Garak shook his head and wondered if Julia knew. She had been adopted after the trial by Ambassador Curzon Dax, who appeared to have had something to do with the court proceedings. Roedean School...Cambridge University two years... Starfleet Academy Medical...he was surprised she had been admitted. Then posting to Starbase Nine...two years later, Amsha the daughter had been born.
On a whim, he looked up Dukat. Apparently he was a respected commanding officer in this universe, highly thought of by both his superiors and his subordinates. Twice married, once divorced, once widowed. He had five children, four living on Cardassia, and one, Ziyal, living on Starbase Nine with her father. He enjoyed watching Parrises Squares. Mild-mannered, gentle, kind to children; a thoroughly decent man. Quark irritated him. Then again, Quark was apparently as irritating in this universe as in his own.
Garak checked with Engineering again. His ship would be ready in sixteen hours. Science was still working on the subspace field distortion problem but hoped to have an answer within eight hours.
The door chimed.
He stood. "Come."
Ambassador Dax entered. "Good evening, Mr. Garak. Do you have a moment?"
"For you, Ambassador, of course. Please, take a seat. May I offer you something?" he asked, looking askance at the unfamiliar replicator.
"No, that's fine. Captain Dukat told me what happened. It must be rather strange for you to be uprooted and thrown into a completely different universe."
"It would have been, had it been a completely different universe," Garak said as the ambassador sat across from him. "The truth is that it isn't completely different. It's just different enough, which makes it even stranger."
"In what way? Oh, and by the way you should know that I've been monitoring your computer use. I must hand it to you; some of those algorithms you used to elude Mr. Odo's security protocols were quite elegant."
"Thank you. It's been years since I've been able to put them to good use. As to your other question: it might be simpler if I didn't recognize anyone, or if everyone were the opposite of their counterparts in my universe. But to meet someone who is similar but not quite the same is somewhat disturbing." He sighed. "I assume you're here because of what I found in my searches."
"Perceptive man. You're not going to say anything, are you?"
"Ambassador, if there's one thing I am good at, it's keeping a secret. I promise I won't say a thing." He paused. "She doesn't know, does she?"
Their eyes met. "I honestly don't know. I don't want to bring it up in case she doesn't. We got there in time, thank God: obviously they hadn't gone through with it yet. They didn't convict him because of her. There were others. Dozens. Apparently Richard was acting as a middleman and Amsha - Julia's mother - threatened to tell."
Garak frowned at that. Then why -- "Our Dr. Bashir knew. It all came out in the open a year or so ago. Jul - Dr. Bashir - almost lost everything."
"Richard went through with it?"
"Yes, but they were both in on it."
"Both of them? The bastards. No wonder you checked. Do you know that 90% of the kids that went through it ended up committing suicide?"
He blinked. "In our universe, most of the children who endured the procedure were diagnosed with disabling mental illnesses in adult life."
Curzon shook his head. "Different specifics, perhaps. It's amazing what people will do in the name of supposedly improving their children. I've encroached on too much of your time, Mr. Garak. Thank you for your understanding. Good night." They both stood and went to the door. As he left, he turned and said with a touch of sadness, "I think I understand now why you want to return to your home universe so badly."
Leaving Garak to wonder what the Ambassador had meant.
He strolled through the Promenade the next morning, contemplating what he could safely tell Captain Sisko about this universe without being thrown out of an airlock, when he spied Dukat leaning against the upper railing.
Last night after Ambassador Dax had left he had searched further in the station's databases. Unwilling to tap into the residents' personal logs (if only because he was aware Ambassador Dax would know, and would not be particularly pleased), he instead broke into Quark's betting pools. You could learn a great deal about station residents from what they bet on.
Of the seventeen pools currently running, eleven had to do with when or where the station's commanding officer was planning to bed, propose to, or marry the station's chief medical officer. The total held by Quark in these pools was just over seven thousand strips of latinum.
If Elim Garak knew anything, he knew that where there was smoke, there definitely was fire.
He walked over to Captain Dukat, not quite believing what he was about to do. Especially since the Captain was really no different from him.
"Good morning, Sir. I just wanted to thank you for your hospitality over the past three days."
"It's been our pleasure, Mr. Garak. I hear you're leaving us this afternoon if everything goes as planned. Chief O'Brien says your ship should be ready by 1200 hours." He watched the doctor as she travelled towards the Infirmary. "You must be relieved to be finally going home."
He screwed up his courage. "Captain, if I may, could I talk to you privately for a moment on a personal matter?"
"A personal matter? If you wish, of course. We can go to my office."
They took the turbolift to Ops and went into Dukat's office; the door closed behind them. "What can I help you with, Mr. Garak?" Dukat said.
"Speak your mind. It's obvious to everybody on this station, and possibly to inhabitants of adjacent sectors, that you're in love with her, but from what I've gathered you haven't said a word to her. I've been here 48 hours and already it's obvious to me that you, as the Humans say, worship the ground she walks on."
Dukat turned to stare out a viewport, clearly flustered. "It's not that easy. I have Ziyal, and my job, and..."
Garak walked up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Captain, I live in a war zone. Every few days, somebody I know dies. War can break out at any time. Do you really want to spend the best years of your life waiting and watching only to lose her in battle? If you're-"
"Odo to Captain Dukat."
"Captain, we have a disturbance at Quark's Bar. Ambassador Dax is apparently trying to kill Quark."
"What? I'll be down there right away."
As Garak followed Dukat out of Ops, he took Jadzia aside. "Ask Dr. Bashir to meet us in Quark's immediately. I'm afraid this concerns her."
Dukat and Garak arrived at the bar to find Quark ducking punches from an enraged Dax while Commander Odo was doing his best to get between them.
"You bloody bastard!" Dax shouted. "I'm going to rip you from eye to asshole and--"
"Ambassador!" Dukat interjected, trying to hold back the older man. "What are you doing? This is so - unambassadorial!"
Dax pointed at the cringing Ferengi. "This waste of fluids is taking bets on Julia's - personal life!"
"Her personal life -- you don't mean -- " and he let go of Dax. "Quark, you were -- Ambassador, step aside. Allow me the honour!" He grabbed Quark by the collar and slammed him against a wall. Dax stared at the captain, apparently impressed.
"Captain!" Odo shouted.
"Captain Dukat, perhaps you should reconsider --" Garak said as he tried to intervene.
Dukat paid no heed. "This time you've gone too far, Quark. I'm going to-"
"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN HERE!?!"
All five men froze as a furious young woman stomped into the bar.
"WHAT are you two doing?" Julia said to Curzon Dax and Dukat. "Let go of him."
"He was taking bets on your personal life!" Dax said as the Ferengi wiggled free.
"I had to protect you!" Dukat added.
She stared at him. "Why do you have to protect me?" she said in a small voice.
"Because-" He looked at Garak for a second, then turned back to Julia as if he were making the biggest decision of his life. "Because -- I love you."
Not a breath was taken; not a sound was made.
Julia eventually spoke. "I love you too, Senn. But that doesn't mean you have to protect me as if I were made of Betazoid crystal." She looked at Curzon. "That goes for you, too."
"Well, then-" Quark began.
"SHUT UP!" she interrupted, pinning the bartender with a scowl. "Were you taking bets on my sex life, you little weasel? Answer me!"
"I, um --"
"Fine, then. How much?"
"How much? Well, not that much...just a bit..."
"7,115 strips of gold-pressed latinum," Dax interjected.
Julia's glare was fierce enough to tear a bulkhead apart. "Seven THOUSAND...all right. This is what you're going to do. First, you're going to agree in writing not to press charges against anyone in connection to what happened today. Second, by 1900 hours today you will have refunded every bar, slip and strip of latinum that has been bet on my personal life. Is that clear?"
The Ferengi's eyes were wide with fear. "Crystal," he squeaked.
"Third," she continued, "by 0700 hours tomorrow I will have a notarized, verifiable receipt on my desk showing that you've made a donation in the amount of 7,115 strips of gold-pressed latinum to the Cardassian Orphans' Relief Fund."
Quark suddenly looked frantic. "Doctor, please-"
"And FOURTH, there will be a hand-written apology from you on my desk at 0700 tomorrow including a promise that you will never bet or take bets on my personal life ever again. Trust me, Quark, do as I say. You do not want to get on my bad side." She spun on her heels and walked out, Captain Dukat three steps behind her.
"What a woman," Quark eventually croaked.
"So when you get to the co-ordinates," O'Brien said, "we'll surround you with the tractor beam. Then you'll raise shields on the frequency we've programmed. We'll modulate the tractor beam, add the modified energy signature, and that should do it."
"An elegant solution, Chief. What happens if it doesn't work?"
"There's no risk. We'll bring you back in and we'll go back to the drawing board. But we're pretty confident it'll work."
"Thank you for all your help. I know it's been a great amount of work for your people and I do appreciate it."
O'Brien shrugged. "Truth be told, we don't have much to do around here most days. It's nice to have a bit of a challenge. Good luck, Mr. Garak."
"Thank you, Chief."
He was about to exit through the airlock when he heard her voice. "Mr. Garak. Do you have a minute? I just wanted to thank you. I understand you pushed Senn a bit this morning."
"More of a nudge than anything," he replied as he turned to face the doctor. "I don't even know why I did it. It's not like me to be nice to Dukat."
She smiled at him. "Is it like you to be nice to Julia?"
"In my universe I would do anything for Dr. Bashir." He chuckled. "I had better leave you before Dax threatens me again."
"Oh no, did he try to wipe the Promenade with you? He's so overprotective. He's been that way ever since he found me on Adigeon Prime."
"He doesn't know, but - I remember." She shuddered. "I remember never being good enough for my birth father. No matter how well I did in my exams, how high my grades were, I was never good enough."
"You were in school when you were five?" Garak asked hollowly.
"Yes, in gifted classes," she replied. "But there was one little thing I was missing, so Dad decided to take me to Adigeon Prime. I must have missed the treatment by only a few hours."
"Sex change. Can you imagine me, a man? Anyway, I should let you get back to your universe." She gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Good luck, Mr. Garak."
Captain Sisko met him at the airlock. "Welcome home, Mr. Garak. We were wondering what had happened to you."
"To be honest, Captain, I was wondering the same thing." He held out a padd. "I spent the time in an alternate universe. I hope you don't mind that I took the liberty of preparing a full report. Two full reports, in fact. Both fully document my actions and experiences, but the abridged report leaves out some of the more, shall we say, inexplicable details about the individuals whose counterparts serve aboard this station."
The Captain looked at him over the padd. "It couldn't be as bad as that, Garak?"
"It wasn't. Read them, Captain, and you'll see my point."
"I'll do that. Oh, and Dr. Bashir wanted to let you know that he's in surgery right now but he'll be out as soon as he can."
"Thank you, Captain."
Forty minutes later he was in his quarters when his door chimed. "Enter."
He didn't remember Sisko being such a lovely shade of red before. "Are you quite well, Captain?"
"I, um - thank you for the abridged report. I'll be filing it. You know, Dr. Bashir was quite upset when he thought you'd been killed."
"He was?" Garak asked, sounding much too excited. Tone it down, Elim. "I'd think that with the war, he wouldn't have had time to spare a thought for me."
"And I'm sure you abridged the report to spare my feelings."
"Of course, Captain. Even a civilian should be considerate of his commanding officer's reputation."
Sisko raised an eyebrow. "Good night, Mr. Garak."
As he left he bumped into Dr. Bashir, who was just arriving. "Oh, sorry, Captain." Sisko jumped aside and scooted out of the way. "I wonder what's wrong with him. Garak, it's good to see you. We thought - I'd thought -" and he swallowed convulsively.
Time to follow your own advice, he told himself. Speak your mind.
"Doctor, I know what you thought. For a few moments I thought it myself. Sit down, please." He gestured to the sofa; they sat together. "I don't know if Captain Sisko told you that I spent three days in an alternate universe. Just before I arrived in that universe, however, I was certain that I was about to die in a Jem'Hadar attack." He looked down at his hands. "You know I'm not very good at being honest or straightforward but I'm going to try so please bear with me. Julian, the last thing I thought about before I thought I was going to die was you."
The doctor looked up. "Me?"
He took Julian's hands in his. "Julian, I realized in that moment that I had never told you how much I cared about you. I know you probably don't feel the same way, and you probably see me as some ridiculous old-"
He hadn't really expected his lips would be so soft, or that he would ever have the chance to find out. He deepened the kiss, pressed Julian down into the cushions, wrapped his arms around him as if this were the last he would ever have of him.
They finally separated. "I didn't think you'd ever kiss me," Garak finally said.
"I didn't think you'd ever let me."
"I will. I mean - I would - you've turned the most articulate man in the Cardassian Empire into a tongue-tied fool, do you know that?" He drew Julian back into his arms. "I won't tell you about what happened in the alternate universe. I will say that I learned from a very wise man that it's foolish to waste time pretending that one is not in love."
He felt Julian smile against his shoulder. "Who was this sage?"
"My dearest Julian, his name was Elim Garak."