V. By Inferno's Light

Garak had failed, and this angered him almost as much as the fact his death, and the death of Julian Bashir, was now imminent. What was worse, he had failed at the very last moment, after enduring hour after hour in that miserable little hellhole. It should have worked; he, Bashir and the others should have been on board the runabout and on their way back to the station now.

Instead, Worf had been shot together with the Jem'Hadar First, the Breen and the Romulan were dead as well, and the only reason why Martok was still alive and would remain so was because the Dominion didn't have many high- ranking Klingon prisoners. Actually, they didn't have many Klingon prisoners, full stop, given the Klingon tendency to prefer a dramatic death to capture. Personally, Garak would have been all for continued internment now their only means of escape had been discovered, but it seemed he no longer had the option.

"The new ruler of Cardassia changed his mind," the Vorta informed him. "He decided to be merciful. Instead of spending a lifetime in the custody of the Dominion, you are to die a quick death." Sounding insufferably smug, he added. "And since you were so eager to leave us, I decided it should be on the surface of this asteroid. Both of you," he ended, nodding towards Bashir, who was pushed to walk along side Garak.

Bashir looked horrible, full of bruises, even thinner than usual and as dirty as Garak recalled the workers at orb processing to have been. Not too surprising, considering the doctor had spent weeks in isolation, presumably without a shower. Somehow, this infuriated Garak even further. Bashir didn't belong here, in the eternal grey shades of a prison camp. He belonged on that station with its overly bright light and eternally cold temperatures, soft, brown skin glistening with health and the uniform just the slightest bit crumpled.

"I'm sorry, Doctor," Garak said, meaning the entire mess, as they stumbled through the corridors that would lead them to the surface and their deaths.

"It's not your fault," Bashir replied in his earnest bedside manner, which surely was not appropriate right now. Or all too appropriate, given that the good Doctor must have practice consoling the dying. "You tried."

"And in doing so condemned us all, as the late Enabran Tain put it so adroitly," Garak said drily. After a while, he added. "I let him down, too. He did believe me when I said I would remain alive and make the Dominion pay, you know."

He felt Bashir's hand on his shoulder.

"Garak," Bashir said, "Garak, he's dead. Stop letting him have such power over you."

"Ah, but I'm afraid that is the problem with lifelong habits, Doctor. They take a lifetime to shed, and mine is about to be cut drastically short. Pity. Tain was right about one thing – a man really shouldn't allow his enemies to outlive him."

Bashir stopped walking, and for some reason, the Jem'Hadar guards did not immediately reprimand him. He put the other hand on Garak's right shoulder, and said, pronouncing each word with the intensity that was his as surely as youth and curiosity and an incurable optimism was: "When I saw you in that cell, after all those months here, I felt like a drowning man who had finally found a rope. You did a brave and incredible thing, coming here, and there is no one I – "

At that point, the Jem'Hadars' patience obviously ran out. The guard standing next to Bashir pushed him forward. Once the contact was broken, several opportune replies occurred to Garak, as well as the conclusion he shouldn't have let Bashir listen to that last conversation between him and Enabran Tain. After all, the barren truth was just an excuse for a lack of imagination, and Bashir should never have been exposed to it. Whatever he had wanted from Bashir, it had never been pity. Perhaps it wasn't too late yet for some face-saving witticism.

In the end, though, what he said was: "I think they'll find out about your replacement on the station before he can do any harm, Doctor. You don't have to worry about him."

"And why is that, Garak?" Bashir said, sounding more as if the exhaustion of the last days had finally caught up with him.

"Because he doesn't have your strange tendency to believe the best of people despite all evidence to the contrary, and hence not a tenth of your charm, of course. No Changeling could ever reproduce either."

"Wait," the guard at Garak's side told them. They had arrived in front of yet another door, but this time the duranium steel was covered with a series of markings. The Jem'Hadar took a step back after touching some control panels. The door hissed open, and showed a short, barren tunnel, ending in another steel plate marked in red.

"Go through the door," his guard told Garak. For a moment, Garak considered trying a surprise attack. But he wasn't Worf, and knew very well that he wouldn't last three minutes against one Jem'Hadar, let alone two. Bashir in his present condition wouldn't do much better. Besides, even if they managed to overwhelm both guards by some miracle, there truly was nowhere to go. Even their shuttle had been discovered, brought in and disassembled by now. It would only end in some humiliating beatings and them shoved through the door all the same, and really, there were more agreeable ways to spend one's last moments.

Bashir looked at him, apparently considering the same thing and coming to the same conclusion.

"I know you don't care for Shakespeare, but you'll have to forgive one last attempt to convince you of his merits," he said, and, holding out his hand, quoted: "If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now: if it be not now, yet it will come; the readiness is all."

"Like his entire work, this is somewhat obvious," Garak replied, took Bashir's hand, and followed him through the door, which immediately closed behind them. The human skin under his fingertips felt as alien and compelling as ever. Strange; Bashir had examined him often enough for it to feel thoroughly familiar.

The young man squeezed his hand just a little harder than was necessary, which wasn't surprising. No matter how brave, nobody faced impending death by vacuum without a healthy dose of fear. As the outer doors began to open, Garak decided he might as well do something about it.

Pulling Bashir closer and turning him so he faced the inner doors, he did what he had dreamt of for longer than he cared to admit. As first kisses went, it was somewhat clumsy and awkward, but he felt the hesitant, desperate warmth of Bashir's mouth, and then he didn't feel anything any more.