Diclaimer: All owned by Paramount.
Thanks to: Basingstoke and Te, for inventing the "Five Things" concept; Kathy, for beta-reading.
Author's note: Dedicated to Altariel1, who asked for it a long time ago.
I. Our Man Bashir„Computer, exit!"Garak called. The cave around them wavered; then the illusion broke down, and they were left in the cold net of yellow and black.
But the door of the holosuite was open.
Bashir couldn't believe what had happened. Staring at Garak, he hastily ordered the computer to restore the program, or at least the images of the five key players he named. The computer, sounding endlessly kind and patient, told him that was impossible. The overload had been too much; they had been wiped out.
Over the com link, he could hear Eddington's voice asking what the hell was happening, why the station had suddenly got its power back, why Bashir wasn't answering.
"I'm sorry, Doctor," Garak said, and the worst thing was that he sounded sincere. But then, when didn't he?
"You killed them," Bashir whispered. "Dax...Miles... Sisko... Kira... Worf... they are all dead."
"But we aren't," Garak said mildly. "And you'll have to forgive me if I prefer it that way."
They looked at each other, and Bashir knew that forgiveness of any kind was dead between them.
Over the next few days, Bashir wanted nothing more than to remain in his room. Even treating an entire army of wounded non-stop in the infirmary would have been preferable to what he actually had to do. There was a counsellor on the station, and Eddington volunteered to tell Keiko O'Brien and Jake, but Bashir knew very well he would have betrayed both his friends and his oath if he accepted either way out. So he sat with Keiko as she cried and held her hand when Molly curled against her, helplessly crying as well. He tried awkward shoulder pats with Jake, who didn't cry but walked around numb and stunned, refusing to take any of the tranquillizers Keiko had accepted. Perhaps Jadzia would have found a way to get through to Jake; but Jadzia was lost as well. The calls to the Trill homeworld were actually a relief, because they permitted Bashir to yell at the Symbiosis commission with their obvious anger not over the loss of Jadzia, but of Dax.
Kasidy Yates wasn't on the station and wouldn't return for another two weeks; they weren't sure whether or not to tell her through the barren means of subspace communication, and Jake was in no condition to decide. Kira didn't have any family left. Those of her old resistance group who were still alive held a memorial service in the station's temple. It wasn't very well attended, not after Kai Winn had used the opportunity to insinuate Kira's death, together with the Emissary, might have been a sign from the Prophets that both had erred by going against their chosen Kai on numerous occasions.
None of them knew Worf's human foster parents or his son, so Eddington decided to call Worf's former commanding officer, who would surely be a more suitable person to break the news. This somehow resulted in the Enterprise people coming to the station for an investigation, and just when Bashir thought everything couldn't get worse, it did.
"There are discrepancies in the two testimonies," the android, Data, declared. "Mr. Garak said he called for the door because the holosuite's failsafes were off, the program's villain had trapped you and you were in danger of dying in molten lava. However, your phrasing, Doctor, is 'we were escaping through the tunnels from the lava, and Garak, believing we would die, called for an exit.' Which does indicate you were not in immediate danger of death any longer."
Bashir saw the point at once. So did Eddington and Odo, who had spent the days after Kira's death speaking less than ten words unrelated to his job. Now life returned into his frozen, unformed face, while Eddington frowned.
"Doctor," Odo growled, "did Garak murder them?"
Because that was what it came down to, Bashir thought. If Garak had called for the door while in danger of imminent death, all those deaths were horrible accidents. If, on the other hand, Garak had made a calculated decision to risk everyone dying while there were other alternatives, it was manslaughter at the very least.
Everyone looked at him, expectantly. He felt sick. The anger and horror about what Garak had done was still boiling in him, and the guilt of having let it happen was eating him alive. On the other hand, he could make an educated guess what would happen if he said Garak had killed everyone. His asylum on the station would be revoked; they would extradite him to Cardassia, and with Dukat as the chief military advisor of the Detapa Council and no Enabran Tain to intervene on Garak's behalf, a swift trial, ending with the inevitable Cardassian death sentence, was more than likely.
His tunic was still crumpled from another sleepless night in the quarters of the O'Brien's, and he had stains from Keiko's tears on it. On his way to the security office, he had passed Quark's, where the dart board still hung, and had seen Nog, who probably wouldn't go to Starfleet without Captain Sisko to sponsor him, earnestly, quietly talking to an unresponsive Jake. And seeing Odo burn with rage, he finally understood what had eluded him for so long, just as it had escaped everyone else. Odo had loved Kira. Seeing her memory twisted by Winn had been even worse for him than it had been for the rest of them, and if he could make someone pay for it, he would. And why not? It would only be just. Didn't everyone deserve to see justice done?
He knew what Garak, in his place, would tell them. There was no doubt about what Garak would do, not any longer, if there ever had been.
Still, Bashir didn't know what he would reply until he finally opened his mouth and said it.
Garak caught up with him on the way to the replimat.
"I just had the most fascinating conversation with Constable Odo," he said, "and I would like..."
"Stop it," Bashir said. "I don't care whether you want to be clever, or whether you actually want to thank me. Just – don't. I didn't do it for you."
Unless he was very much mistaken, there was some compassion in Garak's blue eyes as the Cardassian said:
"I know. You did it because you can't stand the idea of lives being lost. Even mine. You are a doctor, after all."
He touched Bashir's hand with his own, which was, as always, inhumanly warm. It was a fleeting contact, not quite a handshake, and for a second, Bashir let it happen before he stepped back.
"I'm a liar," he said tonelessly. "But that's nothing new, either. You think you're such an expert in lies, Garak, but you have no idea. But I know what it's like to live a lie, and that's what you are going to do from now on. Don't be surprised if Jake visits your shop this afternoon. I told him you want to talk with him about what a wonderful man his father was, and how he saved your life repeatedly. And Keiko decided Molly needs new clothes, too."
"After all," said the voice of Enabran Tain in his memory, "a life in exile for Garak is no life at all."
He had stood there, listening to Tain's sardonic tones and the explanation of why Tain would help as Bashir had asked him to, and had not understood when Tain told him he wished Garak to live, a long life, surrounded by people who hated him. How anyone could twist an act of mercy for someone he had obvious feelings for into a refined kind of punishment.
"What a lovely sentiment," Garak said, echoing Bashir's words from years ago, but with a strange kind of excitement instead of the youthful indignation Bashir had felt at the time. Still, he gave Tain's old answer. What else was there to say, after all?
"And it comes straight from the heart."