A Civil Death

"Jabara to Bashir. Medical Emergency -- we need you in the infirmary, Doctor."

It had been a long time since he'd been awakened in the middle of sleep for a medical emergency but Bashir's training was still sharp. Acknowledging the hail, he quickly pulled on his uniform and hurried to the infirmary, his mind already alert and ready for whatever situation needed him. Jabara has sounded urgent but not overly terse; he'd learned over the years to discern emotion behind her professionalism and the lack of real stress in her tone set his mind at some ease. Still, she called for him so something had to be wrong.

He reached the infirmary to find Jabara attending to a human male that Bashir didn't recognize. When his nurse saw him, she looked relieved.

"Status?" he asked, taking over for Jabara with the medical tricorder while she filled him in on the details.

"Fever, elevated heart rate, excessive perspiration. He was also complaining of severe stomach cramps and joint pain when they brought him in."

Bashir nodded, eyes on his tricorder readout. When he glanced down and noticed that the sick man was watching him with pained, fever-bright eyes, he smiled in what he always hoped was a soothing manner. "We'll have you feeling better in no time, Mr...?"

"Leslie," he supplied softly, pain evident in his voice. "Thank you, Doctor."

Bashir handed the tricorder off to Jabara, then softly requested several hyposprays which she hurried to prepare. "No need to thank me, Mr. Leslie," he said. "Glad to be of service."

"I don't know what happened," the patient said, wincing as another cramp seized him. "I felt fine until a few hours ago and then...we don't have a doctor onboard, so one of the others suggested we stop here and..."

Jabara returned with the tray of hyposprays which Bashir dispensed efficiently. They included the usual fever reducers, pain relievers, muscle relaxants and a mild sedative to help him rest. Within moments, the pain had eased and Mr. Leslie had drifted off to sleep, leaving Bashir and Jabara to study their data.

About an hour later Colonel Kira showed up with both questions and answers for the doctor. The answers were related to his patient, Mr. Leslie -- she explained that he had arrived on a Federation transport not half an hour before they called Bashir to the infirmary, asking for medical assistance. Although she didn't have many details, Kira had learned that he was part of a delegation either going to or returning from some kind of conference and they'd been forced to stop en route when Mr. Leslie had taken ill.

"Any idea what's wrong with him?" she finally asked.

"Judging from these and his symptoms," -- Bashir gestured at the test results on his terminal -- "I'd say he contracted a very nasty strain of Benecian flu, not uncommon during large summits and retreats. They usually don't hit so quickly, though, or so hard."

"I've had the rest of his party confined to their ship, just in case," Kira explained. "What do we do with them?"

"If any of them complain of the same symptoms, have them brought here immediately. Otherwise, keep them confined to their vessel and I'll check them out tomorrow after I've made sure that this course of medicines are working on Mr. Leslie. As I said, it's unusually nasty and I don't want any complications."

Luckily the usual course of medicines did work on Mr. Leslie, though they were taking longer to fight the illness than Bashir would've liked. Still, his patient was comfortable enough by 0430 that he had a chance to catch a few hours of sleep on a cot in his office, then shower and eat breakfast before he alerted Ops that he wanted to contact Mr. Leslie's ship.

Eventually, the serene face of a Vulcan appeared on his screen. "I assume this is in regard to Mr. Leslie's condition?"

"Yes, it is," Bashir said. He explained his diagnosis and that he had begun a treatment regimen. "However, since I understand that you do not have a medical officer on your ship, I think it best if I keep Mr. Leslie in the infirmary for at least the next twenty-six hours."

She nodded her understanding. "The head of your security asked us to remain abroad our vessel. Will we continued to be restricted?"

"Actually, that's the second reason I'm contacting you," he explained. "I'd like to come examine you, to make sure none of you have contracted the flu from Mr. Leslie. If you haven't, then Constable Ro will gladly release your party from quarantine."

He and T'Prin agreed on a time for his medical inspection for the ship's complement, which included eight more delegates and five crewmen. After gathering his supplies and coordinating with Ro, Bashir found himself aboard the Federation transport, met by T'Prin and a Starfleet officer, a Lieutenant Axel, who introduced himself as Mr. Leslie's aide.

As they led him to one of the larger meeting areas on the transport where he could test everyone, Lieutenant Axel asked after his superior and seemed very relieved that Mr. Leslie was on his way to a full recovery.

"It scared me how fast he seemed to take ill and how bad it was," he told Bashir as he watched the doctor unpack his medkit. "I was worried it was something more serious than a traveling flu."

"The flu isn't fun but it's rarely life-threatening," Bashir said. "Especially when medical assistance is available."

"It's a good thing we were so close to Deep Space Nine when it kicked in," Axel agreed before he went to fetch the first group for testing.

None of the five crewman showed any signs of having the flu, so Bashir sent them off with a preventative hypospray and his blessing to leave the transport. He saw visions of Dabo dancing in at least one of the pilot's eyes and he shook his head in humor, remembering when he'd been that dazzled by what waited for him on the station.

Next was the first group of delegates, which included Axel, T'Prin, another Vulcan, a Betazoid and another Starfleet officer. They were as healthy as the crew had been, as were the next three delegates he tested. He realized as he was giving them their round of preventative hyposprays that he wasn't any clearer on where the transport had been or where it was headed.

Axel was happy to explain. "We've just come from Mindar II from a conference on humanitarian and economic aid," he explained. "We've all been dispatched to coordinate the aid that the conference agreed to send to Cardassia."

The mention of Cardassia made Bashir pause. "I thought there had already been aid sent to Cardassia Prime?"

"Some of us had been working on Cardassia before," Axel admitted. "But it's been mostly stopgap measures up to this point. Mr. Leslie, T'Prin, Kaniyah and the others, they're being sent to implement stage one of a full-scale aid package that should really help put Cardassia on the path to recovery. "

It had been over a year since the treaty had ended the Dominion War and Cardassia was only now in a position that it could think of receiving help that would start it in the right direction. That fact left Bashir immeasurably saddened and he turned away from Axel, about to pack up his kit. It was then he noticed he still had one more hypospray, meaning one passenger had not yet been inoculated.

"Did I miss someone?" he asked Axel as he returned from escorting the last group off the transport.

"No, he's on his way," Axel told him. "He said he'd be more comfortable if he could be examined after everyone else -- you know, alone -- so I told him it wouldn't be a problem. I hope it's not...is it?"

"It's fine," Bashir said, deciding to pack up everything except for what he'd need for the last checkup. His back was to the door as he heard it swish open, even as he continued. "I like to make my patients as comfortable as possible whenever I can."

"One of your most admirable qualities, Doctor, I assure you."

Bashir froze at the sound of the familiar voice, almost disbelieving that he'd heard what he knew he had. Surely...

He turned slowly, the last inoculation hypospray clutched tightly in his hand, his entire body tense with surprise. Sure enough, there he was, looking the same as he had the last time Bashir had seen him, a familiar smile threatening his mouth at Bashir's obvious disbelief.

Axel seemed to notice the undercurrents in the room, but he carried on in spite of them. "Dr. Bashir, this is our Cardassian liaison, Elim..."

"Garak," Bashir finished. It was something between a whisper and a croak. "Elim Garak."

Garak finally gave in and smiled.

Although they hadn't exactly lost touch since Garak had returned to Cardassia, their correspondence had dropped off significantly in the last several months, to the point where it was virtually nonexistent. Bashir had just assumed that they'd both simply gotten busy, caught up in their own lives -- a consequence of the changes that had occurred in the wake of the war.

Bashir had always hated the fact that it had taken Garak's complete absence from his life for him to realize how much he'd missed him for the last few years.

But now Garak was there, again, on Deep Space Nine.

"You've met Mr. Garak before?" Axel asked, surprised, looking between the two of them.

"Yes, as a matter of fact." Bashir's eyes didn't leave Garak's.

"Yes, the doctor and I are old friends," Garak said. He finally glanced toward the young man. "Thank you very much for your help, Lieutenant, but I'm sure you have better things to do than watch two old friends reminiscence over old times?"

It was a not-so-subtle hint and finally Axel caught on, flushing crimson as he stammered an excuse before disappearing out of the room.

"It's good to see you again, Doctor." Garak had said it to Bashir many times before but there was something about his inflection that made it more meaningful.

Bashir nodded. "You, too, Garak. I never expected to see you back here."

"A fortunate coincidence," Garak said, pausing before he added. "As long none of my shipmates are in any real medical danger?"

"So far no one but Mr. Leslie is ill and he'll be as good as new in a few days." Bashir traded the hypospray for his tricorder. "Of course, I have one delegate left who insisted on being treated last. One might think he was hiding something." He gave him a significant look.

"As charming as ever I see." Garak's smile widened. "By all means, Doctor, scan away."

"I intend to." Bashir had already started running the tricorder over him.

"With a few...notable...exceptions, I am very rarely ill." Garak waited patiently for Bashir to finish his exam.

"Notable indeed," Bashir said under his breath as he finally reached for the hypospray. "You don't seem to have the flu either, so that makes you the ninth delegate I've given a clean bill of health."

"Then what's that for?" He pointed toward the hypospray.

"Completely preventative." Bashir paused. "Federation liaison, is it?"

Garak smiled at Bashir's obvious curiosity. "Among other things. I have a habit of ending up with positions that no one else wants to hold."


"I'm also the Minister of Cultural Affairs, and the Director of Urban Planning and Beautification," he told him.

Bashir looked at him for a moment. "Would you be offended if I said didn't believe you?"

"I'd be more offended if you did."

Bashir grinned at that. "No more stalling, Garak. Time for your hypospray."

"By all means..."There was a subtle -- challenge, perhaps -- that Bashir detected in Garak's eyes as the Cardassian tilted his head back slightly, baring his throat. "My neck is yours, Doctor."

Bashir moved closer to administer the inoculation; as he laid it against Garak's throat, his friend's blue eyes caught his and suddenly the enormity of the moment hit him again. "It really is wonderful to see you again, Garak."

"The feeling is most decidedly mutual, my dear Doctor."

The door swished opened again, this time to reveal T'Prin. "Lieutenant Axel informed me that you had finished your examination of the crew."

"Yes, yes, I have," Bashir said, quickly administering the hypospray. He noticed Garak winced, meaning that he'd pressed a little too firmly. "With the exception of Mr. Leslie, everyone else is in perfect health."

"Then the crew would appreciate it if you could make your findings known to the Security chief so that we might be allowed to leave the ship."

Embarrassed that he'd forgotten to do so already, Bashir activated his combadge. "Bashir to Ro."

"Ro here. Go ahead."

"I'm lifting the quarantine on the Federation transport that arrived early this morning. Other than the passenger already in the infirmary, they are all healthy."

"Good to know, Doctor. Ro out."

T'Prin nodded, apparently satisfied. Addressing Garak, she added, "Colonel Kira has offered us lodging until we may travel again. If you would like to accompany us, we are going to speak to her about those arrangements."

He shook his head. "Thank you, Ambassador, but I will speak to the Colonel later. I have...other matters to attend to first."

Once T'Prin left and the doctor had packed up his medkit, Garak looked expectantly at Bashir. "Well, Doctor, shall we?"

By the time they made it to airlock, the rest of the delegation had disembarked and the corridor was empty, except for the Constable who nodded to Bashir as they passed.

"Who is that thoroughly unpleasant-looking woman glaring my way?" Garak asked.

"Oh, that's Constable Ro," he explained. "The new Bajoran chief of Security. She's former Starfleet and former Marquis."

"That explains it, then," Garak said. "I'd almost forgotten that Odo had left us for the Great Link."

Bashir just nodded, remembering the days when it had seemed like everyone had left the station. With the O'Briens, Sisko, Odo, Worf and Garak gone in one fell swoop, he, Ezri and Kira had had to band together. A few months later, Ezri had followed suit, leaving him and Kira as the only original members of the crew left, on their own in a sea of new personnel. "There have been many changes," he finally said.

"I can see that," Garak said. "Even in you, which I suppose isn't that much of a surprise."

"You don't seem to have changed at all," Bashir said, studying him thoughtfully. "A little leaner, maybe. But otherwise..."

"There is a great deal more exercise in directing urban rebuilding projects than there was being a tailor," he explained. "So many more...roads."

"Not to mention managing cultural affairs," Bashir grinned. "And mediating between the new Cardassian government and the Federation."

"That, too," he said breezily with a wave of his hand.

"You've become a man of many hats, Garak," Bashir told him, amused.

"Not at all, Doctor," he disagreed. "They look horrible on me."

Bashir laughed aloud, shaking his head. "Some things don't ever change."

As they moved toward more trafficked parts of the station, they began to draw more looks from passersby. "I haven't been gone that long, have I?" Garak asked dryly.

"Cardassians were never a usual sight on the station," Bashir reminded him. "And without our resident tailor, we've haven't had the pleasure in a long time."

"I'm sure it's a pleasure the Bajorans have been quite willing to do without."

Bashir didn't argue.

Garak spoke next. "Tell me, Doctor, what have you been up to since we were last in contact? I remember that your letters mentioned that you had some interesting new research projects?"

It was a safe enough topic and it occupied Bashir for much of their stroll toward the Promenade. Garak, as he'd done when they'd been weekly lunch companions, seemed genuinely interested and Bashir had little trouble delving into the topic.

"Absolutely fascinating," Garak said when Bashir finally paused. "You've been very productive."

Bashir shrugged. "Now that I have the time, I've been able to return to several things I had to put off. It's been -- rewarding." They'd reached the Promenade. "I'd much rather hear about what you've been doing, though, rather than bore you with more about my laboratory work."

Garak sighed. "It's far from interesting, I'm afraid. Rebuilding an entire planet is tedious work and, as you know, there's nothing I deplore more than tedium."

A few years ago, Bashir would've taken Garak's non-answer as just another symptom of his 'Cardassian evasiveness' but now he recognized the shadows in his friend's eyes for what they were. He'd heard the devastating news carried by the wire services: the death toll on Cardassia Prime was estimated at around a billion and the property damage was incalculable. Analysts were measuring recovery projections in decades, even centuries.

"There isn't even any excitement working as Federation liaison?" Bashir asked, trying to lighten the mood. He knew it was the one position he could correctly attribute to his friend since it had been Lieutenant Axel who had first stated it. "It's a far cry from your...previous occupation."

"I don't know," Garak smiled, recognizing the tactic for what it was -- a way to get them on familiar conversational ground. "I always thought that tailoring demanded a certain diplomatic flair that I've been able to put to great use in my current position."

"Undoubtedly true," Bashir agreed. "But I was thinking about your occupation before that."

"Why else do you think I ended up in charge of urban planning? Who else better than a gardener?"

They were both smiling by the time they reached the entrance to the infirmary.

"I won't keep you any longer," Garak said, obviously ready to take his leave. "It has been a pleasure to see you again."

"You're stuck here for at least another 24 hours," Bashir reminded him. "Longer if I choose. Don't think you can come all this way and deprive me of your company for one more meal."

"I wouldn't dream of depriving you of anything, Doctor."

Bashir had to fight to keep his reaction to that from showing on his face. "Dinner tonight?"

"Of course." Garak paused. "Will Lieutenant Dax be joining us this evening?"

Bashir leaned in a little, lowering his voice. "Lieutenant Dax," he explained softly, "hasn't been on Deep Space Nine for many months now. So...no...she shan't be joining us."

Even Bashir couldn't miss the speculative expression of Garak's face for that one, unguarded moment. "Until this evening, then."

Nothing had sounded so promising to Bashir in a very long time.

Bashir tried not to let his anticipation for the evening ahead distract him from his duties throughout the day. After he and Garak parted on the Promenade, Bashir checked on Mr. Leslie to find him resting peacefully, a good sign. Within an hour he had the usual series of minor accidents and illnesses trickling into the infirmary, interrupted by helping the Constable clear two cargo ships carrying exotic plant material from quarantine.

When he returned from the docking port for the second time, Colonel Kira was waiting on him.

"What's this I hear about you and a Cardassian on the Promenade this morning?"

"Not 'a Cardassian,' Nerys," he said. "Garak."

"Garak?" Kira seemed confused. "When did he get here? I thought..."

"He's the Cardassian liaison officer," he explained. "He was on the transport with Mr. Leslie."

"That must've been a surprise." She gave him a knowing look.

Bashir chuckled. "You have no idea."

"Bet you were glad to see him though." He noticed there was mischief in her burgeoning grin.

"You could say that."

"I certainly do," Kira said, still grinning.

Bashir tried to keep his professional demeanor in place but it slipped and he was grinning along with her. "It's good to see old friends again."

Kira sobered a little, though she still smiled. "When you're right, Julian, you're right."

After Kira's visit, the rest of the day seemed to pass quickly and, before he knew it, Bashir was leaving the infirmary for the day with just enough time to change out of uniform before he was supposed to meet Garak. He'd felt silly taking the time to change but the fact that Garak had noticed -- "Not nearly as good as my work but better than anything Starfleet has ever issued, I admit" -- quieted the voice in his head that said he was being ridiculously nervous over an ordinary dinner.

Considering they hadn't even been on the same planet in over a year, there was nothing ordinary about dinner, especially since it had become a rare event even before Garak had relocated to Cardassia Prime. The meal time ritual still felt very familiar as they settled into it, though, and it didn't take long before they slipped into old, comfortable patterns, although Bashir could tell that they were still being careful -- careful with each other, with the moment, with the fact that it was something special, no matter how usual it felt.

After their meal, they took a very leisurely path back to Garak's guest quarters; Bashir, for his part, didn't want to let the evening end. As good as it had felt to see Garak again, spend time with him, something still felt unfinished and he didn't want it to be over until he figured out what it was. It was as if for all the words they'd exchanged, the most important had been left unsaid but Bashir was determined to give them voice, if only he could puzzle out what he needed to say.

"I don't know what I accomplished by attending with them," Garak said in answer to Bashir's questions about the conference from which he'd just returned. "But they asked me, so I obliged. I seriously doubt it will change anything."

"You're doing everything you can," Bashir said.

"Unfortunately, Doctor, it's not nearly enough," Garak admitted, a rather blunt truth for a man who preferred lies.

"You must have faith, Garak," Bashir said as they drew to a stop in front of Garak's quarters.

"Faith is for the young and the idealistic." Garak favored him with an aching, sad smile. "I haven't been either in a very long time." He gestured toward his door. "It seems we've reached our destination."

"So we have." Bashir had yet to figure out what felt so unfinished and he'd run out of time. "I guess this is goodnight, then."

"I'm afraid so," Garak agreed. "But this was been one of the most pleasant evenings I've passed in a very long time, which have you to thank for, Doctor." The words were polite, the kind Bashir had heard from Garak many times before, but there was a facet of emotion to his voice that intrigued the doctor, held him in his thrall.

It was as he searched for something to say that would adequately express the sudden tightening in his chest that Bashir caught sight of a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. He had only a second after noticing it to react but his enhanced reflexes spurred him into action; before the thought formed completely in his mind, Bashir grabbed Garak and pulled them both down to the corridor floor in a tangle of limbs just as phase fire sizzled through the air where they'd just been standing.

Garak and Bashir were both looking in the direction from which the blast had come but there was nothing to see but an empty corridor. Once satisfied that they were no longer in immediate danger, Garak pulled himself off of Bashir and rose to his feet.

"What was that?" he asked as he offered Bashir a helping hand.

The doctor accepted it and allowed his friend to help pull him up. "If I'm not mistaken..." Bashir began, locking his eyes with Garak's. "I believe that was someone who was trying to kill you."

It wasn't too long later that Bashir was crowded into the security office along with Garak, Ro, Kira and two Bajoran security officers, going over what had happened outside of Garak's quarters. Constable Ro had had her teams search as soon as she'd received the call from Bashir, but so far they'd found nothing out of the ordinary, a fact that frustrated Bashir after his latest brush with danger.

Garak was also frustrating Bashir.

"Someone tried to kill you, Garak," he said, trying to use his calm, professional voice and failing miserably. "What do you mean that you don't want this pursued?"

"If I believed that someone actually wanted me dead, I would want this pursued with all diligence," Garak told him. "However, I don't believe that what's happening here."

"Oh? So they were trying to kill me?" Bashir snorted.

"I don't know, Doctor, have you made many enemies in the last year or so?"

"Gentlemen!" The bickering had been going on for several minutes and obviously Kira was tired of listening to it. Bashir was tired of it, too, but for different reasons. "This isn't getting us anywhere."

"I agree," Ro said. She turned to Garak. "Is there some reason that you're sure someone isn't trying to kill you?"

"It wouldn't make sense," he said. "I have spent months on Cardassia Prime where the mere idea of security is laughable and then weeks at the conference where the chance must've presented itself at very turn. Trying here would be more suicidal than homicidal."

"So your proof is the hypothetical intelligence of an assassin you don't believe in?" Bashir was quickly realizing there was one thing he hadn't missed during Garak's absence and was constantly feeling two steps behind in any conversation they had.

"It's only logical, Doctor."

"Then what do you call what just happened?"

"An unfortunate coincidence?"

"Garak..." Kira sounded as weary and annoyed as Bashir felt. "While what you says makes sense, it doesn't change the fact that someone did try to kill you tonight. I'm not just going to ignore that."

Bashir was relieved; Garak looked resigned.

"My people are going to continue looking for the assailant," Ro added. "I'll let you know if we find anything."

"Do you have any theories, Constable?" Bashir asked.

The Bajoran looked hard at Garak for a moment. "He's right about opportunity -- this is the most secure place he's been in the last year and since this stop was an unplanned one for his transport, the assailant couldn't have been lying in wait for him."

"My guess would be that it was probably some Bajoran with a few unresolved issues, either with Cardassians in general or Mr. Garak in particular."

"I tend to agree," Kira stated. She looked at Garak and Bashir. "And since there's nothing more we can do tonight..."

Bashir nodded. "I'll walk you back to your quarters, Garak."

"There's really no need, Doctor..."

"No, I insist, I --"

"I am walking both of you back to your quarters," Kira declared, ending the argument.

"And I will have a security detail assigned to Mr. Garak," Ro added.

"That really isn't necessary, Constable."

"At least for the night, Garak," Kira told him. "Tomorrow, if it still bothers you, we'll reexamine the situation. Okay?"

"Very well, Colonel." Garak stood, taking a step toward the door. "If you don't mind, I think I'd like to go back to my quarters now. Maybe I can even go inside this time."

With an entire entourage accompanying Garak back to his quarters, Bashir didn't have much chance to more fully question his friend about his strange reaction to the attempt on his life. He knew even if Garak did have some reason behind his behavior, he would never explain it where Kira and Bajoran security could hear him.

After the security team searched Garak's guest quarters to make sure there were no more surprises awaiting him, they took their positions outside the door and Garak was allowed inside.

"Good night, again, Doctor."

"Same to you. Garak," Bashir said, keenly aware that Kira and the guards were watching them. "I'll meet you for breakfast?"

Garak smiled. "That would be delightful. See you then."

Bashir knew he was smiling in response and he pointedly ignored expression that might have crossed Kira's face at witnessing it, instead heading down the corridor as soon as Garak's door slid shut.

Kira was on his heels -- not that he'd had any doubt. "Any idea why Garak is acting..."

"...like his usual, infuriating self?" Bashir finished. "Unfortunately, I have no idea."

"How much longer will Mr. Leslie's health keep them here?" she asked.

"Another day, two at most," Bashir said. "It's slow but he's recovering."

"Well, in a day or two, Garak won't be my problem anymore," Kira admitted. "But I promise we'll try to keep him alive until then -- even if we have to do it in spite of him."

Bashir flashed her a grateful smile before he stepped into his own quarters.

Despite the late night, Bashir still rose early the next morning, earlier than he normally would, even if he were covering alpha shift in the infirmary. He needed the sleep but he knew it was useless to try when his determination to check on Garak was so strong. He stopped first at his quarters, which he found empty, then at the Security office to find out that Garak had summarily dismissed his guards that morning and refused to have them back again. Ro sourly reported that Kira had warned her that discreet surveillance on Garak was impossible; Bashir shared her defeated determination as well as the Colonel's opinion.

Bashir finally found his old friend on the Promenade, standing outside of his old shop. After Garak's departure from the station, one of the Bajoran merchants had upgraded to the larger space, having expanded her business and merchandise offerings. The tailor's old haunt was now the home of a purveyor of Bajoran floral products, including perfumes, edible fruits and flowers as well a few ancient crafts that Bashir had never taken the time to understand.

As he approached, Bashir noticed the unexpected solemnity on Garak's face as he looked at his old shop, now refitted for its new purposes and he recalled a similar expression his friend had once wore when he spoke of home -- Cardassia -- when he'd been exiled to Deep Space Nine.

"You miss it, don't you?" Bashir had barely thought the question before he asked it.

Garak turned sharply at the sound of his voice but the surprise faded as he watched Bashir close the remaining distance between them. "Honestly? Sometimes." He studied the shop front once more. "For so long, all I want was Cardassia. Now..."

Bashir laid a comforting hand on Garak's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

Garak gave him a sad smile. "No reason for you to be sorry, Doctor. It's not your fault that I sometimes wish for...simpler...times again."

Bashir gave his shoulder one last pat then pulled away. "Are you ready for that breakfast now?"

"Actually, I have an errand I'd like to finish first, if you wouldn't mind postponing our meal for another hour?" At Bashir's suspicious look, he added, "I only wish to speak to T'Prin on some matters related to the Federation aid package."

He sighed. "Well, I can't stop you. Just try and stay where you can't be ambushed, all right?"

Garak had that fond look on his that said he was both amused and touched by Bashir's concern. "I promise to avoid blind corridors and abandoned parts of the lowers levels."

Bashir grunted his lack of amusement. "Meet me in the infirmary when you're finished," he said as he headed off in its direction. "And if I haven't heard from you in exactly one hour, I will have Ro search this bloody station from top to bottom!"

He heard Garak's laughter as he strode away, still irritated that Garak wouldn't take the threat against him seriously. Did the former 'simple' tailor know more about the situation, something that wasn't apparent to everyone else? Bashir would almost bet on it but that didn't quite explain it...

"Dr. Bashir!" He'd almost made it to the infirmary when he heard Lieutenant Axel. He stopped and the young officer caught up with him.

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Is it true? Someone tried to kill Mr. Garak last night?"

Bashir sighed. "It looks that way."

Axel's eyes widened. "He wasn't injured, was he?"

"No, he's fine," Bashir told him.

"That's good to hear," he said, looking relieved. "It would've been terrible if..."

"Yes, it would've been." Bashir gestured toward the infirmary. "If you don't mind, Lieutenant, I really need to get to work."

"Oh! Yes, of course. Sorry." Axel stepped back. "Would it be fine if I stopped by later to check on Mr. Leslie?"

"There shouldn't be a problem. Just ask one of the nurses when you come in."

Axel nodded. "Thanks Doctor Bashir."

After the lieutenant had went on his way, Bashir examined the aforementioned patient himself. As he'd told Kira, Mr. Leslie was improving even if his recovery were slower than normal -- so slow, in fact, that he'd check the man's medical files for something that might indicate a reason for it. He had yet to find his answer, though.

"Have you ever had this flu before?" Bashir asked him as he checked his skin for rashes or blisters that sometimes developed in patients who had Benecian flu. So far, he'd only found one reddish mark, more bruise than rash or blister, on Mr. Leslie's upper arm.

"No, never," Mr. Leslie told him. "Are there complications or something, Doctor?"

"None that I can find," Bashir answered as he helped him lie down. "You're doing well and your party should be able to leave soon -- perhaps as early as tomorrow."

Mr. Leslie smiled at that. "Good news."

The doctor nodded. "Lieutenant Axel said he'd be stopping in on you later, so I'd like you to rest now before you start going against medical advice and working which I know you will do as soon as you can get your aide to bring you your PADDs."

Mr. Leslie laughed. "Obvious, aren't I?"

"I've known one or two like you in my life," he said dryly.

Leaving the patient to rest and mindful that Garak only had a few more minutes left in his hour, Bashir settled at his terminal to check for messages. Among the least critical correspondence from colleagues and a personal letter from Miles that he planned to save for later, there was a message from Kira marked critical.

As he scanned it, he smiled -- his commanding officer was ordering him on a "covert operation" to stay with Garak as much as he could since "the stubborn idiot refuses to accept our protection." Even though it made sense, he also knew that Kira wanted him to have the chance to spend as much time as he could with his friend and he was grateful for her consideration. He made a mental note to do something extravagantly nice for the Colonel as soon as he could.

Bashir was reaching for his combadge to contact Constable Ro when Garak finally strolled into the infirmary. The doctor hurried from out of office as Garak looked around, eyes lingering as he took in the details of the room, the minute changes that had happened over time.

"It really hasn't changed much, has it?" he said aloud.

"No," Bashir said.

Garak nodded. "Still perfectly dreadful."

Bashir rolled his eyes.

Garak smiled at his friend's exasperation. "Now that I returned safely from my meeting with T'Prin, I find myself famished. I'd like to take you up on that offer of breakfast if you have the time."

Bashir couldn't help but smile when he thought back to Kira's communiqué. "I'm all yours."

Despite his best intentions, Bashir couldn't entertain Garak all day long without having to return to the infirmary. A year of steady and uninterrupted supervision over his department had left Bashir integral to much of its operation and there were some matters that needed his immediate attention, authorization or presence. Luckily Garak was willing to tag along with him so he was able to attend to one duty without sacrificing another.

When he had a spare moment waiting for an appointment for a physical, Bashir returned to studying what he had so far on Leslie's flu. It was frustrating him because he could feel there was something he knew he was missing about it, something he just couldn't put his finger on. Bashir ordered a whole battery of tests, hoping that one of them would reveal the answers that eluded him.

"Er, Doctor Bashir?"

He looked up from his PADD at the sound of Lieutenant Axel's voice. The lieutenant had appeared a little earlier in the afternoon to visit Mr. Leslie. "Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Were you aware that Mr. Garak is working at your computer?"

Bashir spared a glance at Garak, head bent over his terminal. "And doing illegal and highly inappropriate things to it, no doubt."

His assertion proved correct: Garak had, among other things, found a copy of Bashir's library log which included a list of the works he had read over the past year.

"You could've simply asked me," Bashir pointed out, watching as Garak scrolled through the list.

"Where would the challenge be in that?"

He had long since learned that issues such as Bashir's privacy held little weight with Garak, so Bashir chose to say nothing in response, a fact that Garak didn't seem to notice as he continued down the list, pausing on titles only long enough to tease Bashir over his choices of reading material.

"I don't know why you're shocked," Bashir laughed at Garak's indignation about a certain Bajoran title that had made it onto his list, a suggestion from Kira. "I wrote you about that in my last letter and it didn't seem to bother you then."

Garak glanced up at him before turning back to the computer screen. "About that, Doctor. I would like to apologize for the prolonged silence on my end of our correspondence."

"You were busy," Bashir said. "I was busy. It's easy for these things to slip our minds."

"Still, it was rude of me to go so long without answering your messages," Garak said.

Bashir shrugged. "I wasn't all that diligent myself. But it's in the past now and I hope the same thing won't happen once you return to Cardassia this time."

Garak looked up at him again, eyes lingering. "No, I don't think it will," he said at last. "The unexpected delay here on the station has...reminded...me of a great deal of things that distance had allowed me to forget."

Bashir didn't dare speculate but he could feel the heat building between them as their eyes remained locked. It was only Jabara announcing the arrival of another patient that broke the moment and Bashir mumbled a hasty apology before he went out to greet her.

As Bashir examined his last patient of the day -- an elderly Bajoran woman whose son and daughter-in-law ran one of the shops -- he realized that he had felt more at home since Garak's return to the station than he had in months. It wasn't that he'd felt uncomfortable before; it was just that it had felt so different after the war, after everyone had been pulled in different directions. But, with Garak, that tiny piece of him that had been lonely all those months was soothed.

He ignored the little voice in the back of his head that asked if that loneliness would've been soothed by Miles' or Ezri's return or if it were Garak specifically who made the difference.

He didn't want to acknowledge the answer.

On the way to Quark's for dinner, it was Bashir who apologized, this time for spending much of the day at work where Garak had to entertain himself.

"I really had meant to get away earlier than this," he told him.

"It wasn't that much of a hardship, Doctor," Garak assured him. "I can say honestly that there is no one else I'd rather spend my time with here on the station."

"But you probably didn't want to spend it in the infirmary."

Garak smiled. "Ah, but if I hadn't, how else were you going to succeed in the little task that the Colonel gave you, hmmm?"

Bashir shot him a dark look. "So that's what's you were really doing, going through my messages!"

"Remind me to tell the Colonel how flattered I am to know she worries about me."


"And you must give the O'Briens my congratulations on young Molly's extraordinarily superior performance at her lessons."

Bashir stopped walking, shaking his head. He'd had it right with "illegal and highly inappropriate."

Garak turned around when he realized his companion had stopped. "Are you coming, Doctor?"

Like he had since the day he'd met him, Bashir followed where Garak led.

As expected, Quark's was loud and crowded -- there was an above average number of ships docked at the station and the bar was like a siren to its visitors. Bashir rarely wandered into the establishment on days like those but marking Garak's visit was worth the trouble.

Quark actually seemed surprised to see Garak. "I'd heard that there was a Cardassian on the station but no one told me it was my old friend, Garak! How are you?"

"Well enough, I suppose," Garak said with that customer-placating smile Bashir knew well.

"What will you two be drinking this evening?" he asked. He leaned in to whisper conspiratorially. "I have some of the best kanar available anywhere, just for you."

"I'd prefer something else, actually," Garak told him and Quark's face fell in such a comedic fashion that Bashir had to bite back a laugh. "Perhaps a Samarian sunset?"

"You sure?" Quark asked, rather forlorn.

Garak nodded and Quark's face fell even more.

"You've ruined his good mood," Bashir told Garak. "He's been trying to unload his kanar stock for the last year. I think he thought he had the chance tonight."

"It is very good kanar," Quark added but Garak politely refused again.

"I'll have the kanar," Bashir said sympathetically when Quark finally asked for his order. "No need to have your hopes crushed tonight."

"You're a good man, Doctor!" Quark announced.

"Unusual drink choice for you," Bashir remarked once Quark had wandered off.

"It's a question of availability," Garak explained. "On Cardassia, all we have is our native products; we can get nothing else. It makes one appreciate variety. It also makes one pine for things he'd once had, when he can no longer have them." He paused, gave Bashir a look full of heat. "Don't you agree, Doctor?"

"Yes, yes, of course." Bashir felt an answering heat rising in his face. "I've had some experience with that myself lately."

Garak seemed very intrigued by Bashir's statement but Quark arrived back at their table with the drinks, effectively ending all conversation until the Ferengi had passed. Bashir took a swallow of his kanar, savoring the distraction of its slow, syrupy slide down his throat. Garak studied his glass for a moment before tapping the rim to turn it its characteristic orange color.

But he wasn't to be distracted. "You were saying, Doctor?"


Garak's eyes were steady, steadier than Bashir's nervous hands on his kanar glass. "About things you miss once you no longer have them."

He knew he could deflect Garak's questions but suddenly he realized that this might have been what he was struggling to say. "Can you miss something you never had?" Bashir held that steady gaze. "Because that's the real question."

"I agree." Garak's voice was pitched low to be heard through the noise around them. "I believe it's possible. If someone has thought about it enough, dreamed of it...had a taste? Yes, they can miss it -- mourn it, even. Then..."


His smile was slow and deliberate as he inched closer to his companion. "You tell me, Doctor."

Words bubbled up in Bashir's brain, all sorts of things he wanted to say but he couldn't sort through them properly. At first he thought it was because of the moment, or even the kanar, but Bashir was too experienced a doctor to be fooled for long. Suddenly his head ached and his chest burned; he opened his mouth to tell Garak that something was wrong but all that came out was a pained wheeze as he gasped for breath. The burning was spreading into his abdomen and he doubled over.

"Doctor? Doctor? Julian!"

He could hear Garak's panicked voice from some place far away as he struggled through the pain, trying to think of what could've caused his sudden symptoms. Fever, pain, constricted breathing, numbness spreading from his fingers...his enhanced mind began to relive the past few moments until he was remembering his drink of kanar and that somewhere underneath the cloyingly sweet and sharp notes of the alcohol...yes, it was there, subtle, but...

"Garak!" he managed to gasp.

"I'm here, Doctor." Garak, Bashir realized, had somehow ended up crouched behind him, holding him now that his muscles had started to spasm. He was grateful.

"Tell Jabara...Elasian night root...she'll..."

Bashir was near unconsciousness but he could feel the large, strong hand -- Garak's -- on his chest, over his combadge.

"Doctor Bashir is ill, we need an emergency..."

Bashir silently approved Garak's quick thinking just before he finally lost the battle with the darkness.

When next he opened his eyes, Bashir immediately knew that he was in the infirmary. He also quickly realized that he was surrounded by people.

"Are you sure you aren't forgetting anything, Garak?" Kira's voice was tense and hard-edged, reminding Bashir of the Major Kira he'd first met when he'd arrived on Deep Space Nine.

"Of course I'm certain, Colonel." Garak's voice was unusually brittle, a sign of stress it had taken Bashir years to recognize.

"I'm going to talk to Quark." Constable Ro, sounding as irritable as Bashir could remember. "And I'm leaving security at the door."

"What? No objections now?" Kira was obviously addressing Garak.

Bashir frowned, fighting against the dizziness that made want to lose consciousness again.

"Colonel, if I had had any idea that something like this would happen, I would've taken more precaution. As it is, however, your security agents would not have been able to prevent this."

Bashir was still struggling against the artificial weariness that kept his eyes close when another voice joined the arguing ones -- soothing, calm, professional. Nurse Jabara.

"Doctor Bashir?" He felt her hand on his arm. "Doctor, can you hear me?"

"Is he awake?" Kira, again.

"I saw his eyes fluttering, he may be coming around..." Another touch, this time on his shoulder. "Doctor?"

It took a few more minutes before Bashir completely shook off the disorientation, finally able to open his eyes to see Kira and Garak frowning down at him. Jabara helped him struggle into a sitting position and he felt helpless when he realized how weak he was.

"Do you remember what happened?" Kira asked.

Bashir nodded slowly as his last waking thoughts came back to him. "Garak and I were...talking in Quark's. Then suddenly, I felt..." He looked down and touched his chest. "Poison."

Kira nodded unhappily.

Bashir jerked his eyes toward Garak. "Are you all right?"

Garak sighed, fond exasperation evident in his voice as he spoke. "I am fine, Doctor. You are the one who almost died."

He wanted to dispute that claim but he knew that Elasian night root was a quick, effective poison, long favored by assassins for those exact qualities. The only reason he was alive was that he had guessed correctly on his own diagnosis and that Jabara had known which antidote to administer. He silently thanked his parents for the enhancements he'd cursed most of his life. Without them, he doubted he'd have been able to so clearly recall the subtle taste in his kanar or diagnose himself in the middle of the poison's attack.

"What I want to know is why they targeted Julian this time," Kira said to the room.

"I don't think I was," Bashir said, throat dry and hoarse. He coughed and Jabara appeared with a glass of water. He smiled in gratitude and down several swallows before he continued. "At least, I don't think I was targeted purposefully. It was the kanar."

Garak seemed to catch on. "Yes, it was the kanar."

"What about the kanar?" Kira asked.

"It was the kanar that was poisoned," Bashir explained. "Anyone would logically assume that the kanar was for Garak and the Samarian sunset was for me. They probably hadn't been close enough to hear us make the actual order."

"It makes sense," Kira admitted.

Bashir nodded, then winced at what the motion did to his head.

He didn't realize until he felt the hand on his arm that Garak had moved close. "You should probably be resting, Doctor."

"He should," Jabara agreed. "The poison worked quickly on Doctor Bashir but so did the antidote. I should be able to release him to his quarters later this evening."

"So soon?"

"It's part of my genetic changes," Bashir explained, drawing eyes away from his nurse. "It lets me metabolize the antidote more quickly."

"He's not just saying that so he can get out of here, is he?" Bashir glared as Kira addressed her blunt inquiry to Jabara.

The nurse smiled but shook her head. "He's telling the truth. I won't let him leave until he can, Colonel."

Kira nodded her thanks to Jabara before she came up on Bashir's other side to pat him on the shoulder. "Rest, you hear me?"

Bashir nodded delicately. "I will, Nerys, thank you."

She squeezed his shoulder a final time as she looked across him toward Garak. "You better take your guards with you wherever you go."

Garak was still tense, Bashir noticed, perhaps even agitated beneath his veneer of dignity. "If it will make you happy, I will do so. However, I don't have plans to go anywhere at the moment."

Kira nodded tightly and, with one last word to Jabara, she exited the infirmary, leaving Bashir alone with his nurse and his friend.

Jabara settled him back into a lying position. "You do need to rest," she told him.

"I will, I promise."

She smiled and nodded, then disappeared to some other part of the infirmary, giving Garak and Bashir privacy.

"You need to be careful," Bashir said in a fierce whisper. "Someone is still after you."

"So it seems." Garak was frowning, genuinely perplexed. "Doctor, you must believe me -- if I had thought that the threat was so insistent, I would've never..."

"I know. But what made you so certain that there wasn't someone after you?"

"Cardassia may be in ruins but we still excel at certain things," Garak told him mildly. "I was of the opinion that since my intelligence contacts had heard of no such threat..."

"Cardassian arrogance," Bashir smiled.

"Apparently so." Garak took the seat that Jabara had maneuvered near the biobed. "You heard your nurse, Doctor. Rest."

Bashir wanted to stay awake and ask Garak a few more questions, maybe even try to see if he could get the conversation back to the very important place it had almost been before he'd been poisoned but his strength failed him and he was pulled back under into sleep. His sleep was deep, dreamless and when he woke, he had no idea how long he'd been with the Sandman, but he felt so much better that he could almost pass the poisoning off as a bad dream.

Garak informed him that he'd been asleep for several hours and that the time approached 0100, which made Bashir frown at his friend.

"You should've went back to your quarters to get some rest."

Garak merely snorted and whatever he might've said was lost as Jabara bustled over to check on the doctor. As soon as she pronounced him well enough to rest in his own quarters for the evening, he didn't hesitate.

"Do you really think it's a good idea to be alone?" Garak asked him. "Perhaps you should remain here."

"I'm fine, Garak," he said. "You're the one someone is trying to kill!"

"But you're the one who was almost killed," Garak replied, his voice uncharacteristically serious.

The tone made Bashir pause and he turned back to his friend. For the first time since he'd woken the second time, he noticed that the earlier agitation was still present in Garak, even less subdued than it had been before.

"What's wrong, Garak?"

"Nothing," he said, voice tight. "I just think you should show yourself at least as much consideration as you show for me."

"Very well," Bashir said, trying not to get irritated with Garak's irritation. "But I'm not staying here just to please you."

"Fine." Garak paused.

It suddenly hit Bashir, the solution to their impasse. "I'll stay with you."

A glint of humor almost surfaced in Garak's face. "There are easier ways to gain access to my chambers, Doctor."

"Take it or leave it, Garak." Bashir was proud of his ultimatum. If he planted himself in Garak's quarters, he could make certain that his friend didn't dismiss the guards or something equally stupid and dangerous.

The humor was gone but something else was swimming in his Cardassian friend's blue eyes, a message that Bashir couldn't quite decipher. "Very well, Doctor. I find it a reasonable enough compromise."

Bashir almost felt as if he'd won that battle of wills but his experience with Garak made him paranoid to ever claim anything as victory. It was just as likely that he'd been tricked into doing exactly what Garak wanted him to do without even knowing it.

With one last reminder to report in six hours for his booster antidote, Jabara released Bashir into Garak's custody who, in turn, was in the protective custody of his Bajoran security team.

After the team had inspected Garak's quarters and declared it safe, Bashir quietly explained that he would be remaining with his friend for the evening and then stepped into the guest suite, leaving the guards just outside the door as it slid close.

As soon as he entered, Bashir noticed that Garak's agitation had only grew and he was now pacing the living area.

"Garak, what's wrong?" Bashir asked.

His question was ignored but Garak stopped and pinned him with an intense look. "Are you certain you're recovered?"

"Yes, Garak, of course I am," Bashir told him. "I'm a doctor, for heaven's sake."

"And the guards? They will remain on that side of door?"

"Unless we yell for them, yes." Bashir was starting to wonder if this whole situation had root in some strange privacy issue known only by Cardassians. "Garak, what is bothering you?"

Garak took a step closer to him. Bashir folded his arms across his chest and waited.

He looked as if he wanted to speak again and the doctor waited for some kind of explanation; instead, what Bashir got was an invasion of his personal space so swift that he only had an instant to register it before he was up against the nearest wall, being kissed with such force that it literally took his breath away.

Bashir's hands came up, first to caress ears, then neckridges, eliciting a gasp from Garak who pressed closer. Not that Bashir objected -- he was holding on, making it clear in no uncertain terms that he had Garak right where he wanted him. The kisses gentled some but there was still a desperation -- a passion -- behind them that might have frightened Bashir had it not matched his own.

This was what he'd wanted to say -- that as much as he missed Miles or Ezri, that it was Garak who he'd missed the most, who he had ached for in the moments he'd let himself feel it; that he could miss something he had never had because he'd missed this every day for years, every time it had flickered across his mind and he'd dismissed the signs of what he'd wanted; that he had dreamed of this and had been afraid of it and had wanted it all at the same time, ever since they'd first met but it had taken everything that had happened from then until now for him to realize it so clearly.

Garak's mouth had slid from his, down a path to his jaw and throat and Bashir became aware that Garak was murmuring against his skin. "What?"

He paused in his ministrations and lifted his head so that he was looking into Bashir's eyes. "I said how dare you give me hope after all these years and then let yourself be poisoned before we had a chance to do this? If you'd have died, I would've never forgiven you."

Bashir grinned at what he saw in Garak's face, heard in his voice -- the fear for him, the longing. He grabbed for him, bringing their mouths together in another heated kiss. "What about you?" he demanded, breathless, once they'd pulled apart. "You disappeared to Cardassia and wouldn't even answer my letters!"

"It won't happen again, I assure you." Garak was not prepared to let conversation distract him from his exploration of Bashir, and he kissed him again to shut him up. Bashir let him, busy tugging at fabric and fasteners, trying to reach more of him, running his sensitive fingers over every centimeter of skin and scale he could reach.

"Julian..." His name was whispered across his skin and he shivered. "You are supposed to be resting."

"Mmm hmm..."

"Then maybe we should continue this in the bedroom?"

"Not on my account."

"Then on mine." Garak's voice was smooth, rich with humor and pleasure. "I think I've reached an advanced enough age where a bed is desired, if not required."

"Oh, I think you've got some good years left in you."

Bashir let himself be lead into the bedroom to discover just how right he was.

Some internal clock pulled Bashir awake several hours later, just shy of his appointment for the antidote booster. Given the early hour and their late night, he didn't bother to wake Garak as he slid from bed and pulled on his uniform. He spared one more glance back at the messy bed and sleeping Cardassian before he quietly slipped out of his quarters.

Bashir let the guards know where he would be if they needed to reach them, then headed to the infirmary, trying not to let himself wonder how much the Bajoran officers might know about how he'd spent his night. It wasn't so much that he didn't want others to know as much as it was that he didn't want everyone on the station to know before he'd even had breakfast.

Jabara was no longer on shift but she'd left instructions with the nurse on duty who greeted him with a hypospray almost as soon as he reached his office. She also greeted him with the results of the tests he had had run on Mr. Leslie's strain of Benecian flu.

"And how is Mr. Leslie this morning?" he asked, scrolling through the screens of the PADD she'd given him before he synced it with his computer for download.

"Still improving," she said. "His appetite is returning as well."

"A good sign," Bashir said. "Thank you, Nurse."

As his nurse went about her duties, Bashir settled at his computer to study the labs he'd had done on Mr. Leslie. There was something vaguely familiar about some of the sequences, something that was just a little...off.

He was still trying to figure it out a little while later when the clearing of a throat interrupted his thoughts. Any irritation -- mild as it might have been -- faded when he saw who had joined him.

"Good morning, Doctor," Garak smiled.

Bashir smiled, too. "Good morning. How are you?"

"Much better now that I've found you here." An extravagant, unnecessarily thing to say but it made Bashir's face warm a little.

"Where are your guards?" he asked.

Garak waved a lazy hand back behind him. "Just a few meters away, as ordered."

"Good." Bashir tried to give him a stern look. "That's where they should be."

Garak, of course, just laughed. "I appreciate your concern, my dear."

Bashir stood up so that he was next to Garak, not confrontational, just comfortably close, taking solace from the proximity. Garak didn't seem to mind in the least. "Well, you should appreciate it enough to listen to me."

"I'm here, aren't I?" Garak asked while Bashir gave in to the temptation to run a finger along the line of scale running from his ear to his jaw. "My guards are here, aren't they?"

"Yes, they are and I'm glad." Bashir watched his finger on Garak's skin but pulled his hand away when he noticed a round, purplish mark just under his chin. "Where did you get that?" His fingers skimmed over the bruised spot.

"Where do you think?"

"I didn't do that," Bashir protested. Any marks he'd have left last night hadn't had the chance to turn that particular shade yet.

"Not last night," Garak agreed. "But you were less than gentle with a hypospray a few days ago."

Something clicked into place for Bashir. "That's it!"

Without explaining himself, he settled back at his terminal and pulled up the files he'd been studying. Now that he knew what he was looking for, he was able to skim through the test results to find the ones that supported his hypothesis.

"What's it?" Garak asked, leaning over his shoulder.

"Mr. Leslie's strain of flu," Bashir explained, sifting through the screens to highlight his words. "I thought there was something strange about its behavior, so I had some extra tests run. Look! There, you see? This strain of the flu isn't natural. It's been engineered."

"Are you certain?" Garak asked, studying the screen.

"I am very familiar with what this kind of engineering looks like," Bashir said dryly. "This is why it's been resistant to treatment. It's been made to have a shorter incubation time and a longer recovery time."

"And that has what to do with my mark?"

Bashir turned in his chair so that he could see Garak. "I was checking Mr. Leslie for blisters which can be caused by this flu in rare cases," he said. "But all I found was a mark very much like the one you have. Most experienced medical professionals don't leave them behind when they use hyposprays but those without training do it regularly." Bashir knew that his own excuse for the mark on Garak's neck had been his shock -- he couldn't remember the last time he'd left a bruise on someone. "Someone deliberately infected him so that your transport would have a reason to stop here."

"Why? Any assassin would find it much easier to kill me and escape undetected if he had waited until I was on Cardassia Prime."

"I don't know," Bashir admitted. "Maybe the assassin was on the station but has an accomplice who was on the transport?"

Garak shook his head. "This seems to be a terribly convoluted plot. I hardly think I'm worth all the effort."

"I think you're worth it," Bashir said as he stood up again. "And I'd think you'd appreciate its intricate nature. Very Cardassian, isn't it?"

Garak chose only to give him one of those looks that meant he thought the doctor had taken his humor a little too far.

Bashir just grinned at him as he touched his combadge. "Bashir to Ro."

"Here, Doctor. Go ahead."

"I have a lead on the persons after Garak," he explained. "I need to speak to you right away."

"I'm down on the docking ring but I can meet you in my office in a few minutes."

"I'll see you there. Bashir out." He pointed a warning finger at Garak. "You stay here."

"Doctor, really ---"

"No, I mean it." Bashir shuffled around him. "We have proof this was a premeditated attack. You could be in more danger than we'd realized." He took the Cardassian by surprise, leaning in for a quick kiss. "I should be back shortly."

Garak was frowning at him as he headed out of the infirmary but he was hardly going to let his disapproval stop him. The ramifications of Mr. Leslie's deliberate infection with the Benecian flu changed the field entirely and gave them a concrete number of suspects, either for the assassin himself or for an accomplice. Someone had had to administer it and the reason had had to be to make the transport stop at Deep Space Nine.

But Bashir, like Garak, was perplexed by the too-intricate steps someone was taking to murder the Cardassian liasion. Not that he wasn't grateful that they had failed so far, but there had been ample chances outside of a forced stop on the station. The accomplice would've had a chance at the conference and on Cardassia, where it would've been much easier to escape from justice once the deed was accomplished.

Bashir was so caught up in his rapid-fire thoughts that he barely noticed the presence of someone following him until he passed by one of the few unrented shops on the Promenade and was yanked inside. He immediately tried to put up a struggle but there was only so much advantage offered by enhanced reflexes and coordination when under a surprise attack. He felt something thin and cutting -- cord, perhaps, or wire -- looped around his neck and pulled tight -- tighter, until he was choking for breath as he tried to work his fingers in between the noose and his skin.

As his struggles proved useless and lack of oxygen burned in his tortured lungs, Bashir realized with horror that he was fighting a losing battle.

For the second time in as many days, Bashir woke up as a patient in his own infirmary. Unlike the last time, though, there was no arguing -- just a fiery pain in his throat when he tried to swallow, which lead to a ragged coughing fit.

"Julian!" The voice he knew well and he recognized the cool hand on his forehead.


"Don't talk, it's not good for your throat." Bashir finally opened his eyes to find Kira hovering over him. When his eyes met hers, she patted his shoulder before she turned to call for Jabara, who came accompanied by a Starfleet medical officer that Bashir only vaguely recognized.

"We got him off his ship," Kira said in answer to the question in Bashir's eyes. She backed away as Jabara and the Starfleet doctor moved in to examine him. He looked around and noticed that Garak was nowhere to be found; he wanted to ask about him and about what had happened but the doctor was using a regenerator on his throat and he had to remain quiet and still.

When the doctor -- a Dr. Langston from another Federation transport heading to Cardassia, in fact -- had finished with the regenerator, he gave Bashir the clearance to speak but only softly and as little as possible. As soon as he left, Bashir's eyes zeroed in on Kira's terse face.

"What happened?" he rasped.

"That should be my question," she said wryly. When she saw his serious expression, she sighed. "You were attacked on the Promenade." He gave her a look that expressed the sarcastic remark he wanted to make. She continued. "It seems we've been wrong all this time."

"What do you mean?"

"What she means, Doctor, is that I was never a target for an assassination attempt." Garak had appeared from somewhere else in the infirmary. One of his hands was bruised and swollen.

"But...?" He looked from Kira to Garak. "I don't understand."

"It wasn't Garak they were after," Kira said again.

"You were the target," Garak explained. His unbruised hand brushed gentle fingers over Bashir's hand that lay curled at his side on the biobed. "Not me, despite your endearing paranoia to the contrary."

Bashir knew he was staring at Garak as if he were insane but it just didn't make any sense. He couldn't fathom why anyone would try to kill him. "Who?" he finally asked. "Why?"

"The who is Lieutenant Axel," Kira told him and Bashir knew that shock was writ plain on his face. "The why...we're not sure. He's not talking."

"Yet." Garak's proclamation sounded ominous, even to Bashir.

Kira glared at him. "I think you've done enough, Garak."

"Oh, you're quite wrong about that, Colonel."

She ignored him, focusing on Bashir. "Ro has him in the brig but I've sent messages to Starfleet for guidance. This is the first time since I've been in charge that I've had a Starfleet officer guilty of so many crimes, including the attempted murder of another member of Starfleet!"

Bashir was still dazed by the information that it had been him and not Garak who had been in danger for the past several days. He would have never guessed that anyone would ever want him dead, especially not enough to drug a Starfleet diplomat and then proceed to shoot at him, poison him and, finally, strangle him.

He was only dimly aware that Kira had excused herself when Garak took his hand in his, reminding Bashir of a moment long ago when he had feared nothing more than failing the Cardassian that now stood at his side.

"How did they find me?" His throat still pinched but he forced himself to ask the question.

"I found you," Garak gently corrected him. "I decided that perhaps it would be better if we all remained together."

It was a poor excuse, especially for a master of evasion like Garak. "You thought I might be the target."

"It crossed my mind," he admitted. "As soon as it came to me, I came after you." His hand on his tightened. "Unfortunately, my timing was not as fortuitous as I'd hoped."

"I'm not dead," Bashir said. "That's good enough for me."

Bashir drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the day, punctuated by another visit by Dr. Langston and several from his nursing staff. Garak was a permanent fixture in the infirmary, either at his bedside or at his computer terminal. Bashir could only imagine what his friend was doing there but he couldn't conjure up the energy to care.

Eventually Kira showed up again and this time Bashir felt recovered enough to ask for a meeting with Lieutenant Axel. He had followed the doctor's orders and talked as little as possible; Langston had thought he was being a dutiful patient but he'd been saving his voice and strength for this particular conversation.

"Are you sure that would be a good idea?" she asked.

"I want to ask him why," Bashir told her, his voice still hoarse and scratchy. "Maybe he'll admit something to me that he wouldn't to you."

He could tell Kira didn't think it was a good idea but she was wavering in the face of his insistence. She sighed and looked at him the way Sisko used to when he wanted to borrow runabouts because Garak asked for them. "Fine," she said. "But I'm going with you."

"As I am," Garak said.

Kira looked even less happy about that but nodded.

When the three of them entered the Security office, Ro seemed as unhappy about the prospect as Kira had but she acquiesced grudgingly. She led them to one of the holding cells where Bashir could see Axel sitting on one of the benches, head bent. When he heard their approach, he looked up and his eyes widened when they landed on Bashir.

Bashir was startled as well -- when he saw the bruises that covered the lieutenant's face. They were a spectacular splash of varying colors, from green to black to blue.

"What happened to him?"

"Someone was a little heavy-handed while trying to subdue him." Kira made a point of looking at Garak. Bashir followed suit, an eyebrow raised in question.

"I was as gentle as the situation warranted," he said mildly. "He was trying to murder the doctor."

"You had Security with you, Garak!"

"And I don't remember them complaining."

Bashir gave Garak a warning look while Axel glared up at the entire entourage, lingering balefully on Bashir as he stepped forward.

"Lieutenant Axel."

Axel didn't say anything, he just continued to glare.

"I don't believe we ever met before a few days ago," Bashir continued. "So imagine my surprise when my friends tell me that you've been trying to kill me."

There was still no answer.

"I'd like to know why." Bashir gestured toward the spectacular bruising that ringed his own throat. "I think you owe me at least that much."

"I don't owe you anything." It was the first words he'd spoken and Bashir marveled at the difference in tone from what he'd sounded like at their first meeting. Now it was suffused with anger, resentment.

"You don't think an explanation is in order?" Bashir asked. "After you tried to shoot me, poison me and then choke me to death?"


"This is useless, Julian," Kira said. "He's not going to say anything to you. Let's go."

"Perhaps I could try some of my people's techniques?" Garak asked. Since Kira had already told him no, Bashir assumed it was for Axel's benefit, a sly intimidation tactic that fit the former tailor perfectly. There was a steeliness in his words, though, that made Bashir believe that he would carry out the threat if he thought he could -- a fact that both touched and troubled him. "I have been known to be highly effective at information extraction."

Axel must have noted the menacing undercurrent because he visibly flinched before Kira repeated her objection to the idea. The lieutenant relaxed but he still kept flicking uneasy glances at Garak's placid face.

"I think you had better speak up now -- voluntarily," Bashir told him. "It will be better for you in the long run. Trying to kill a fellow Starfleet officer is a grave offense."

"You shouldn't even be in Starfleet," he spat.

"Ah." Bashir nodded knowingly. "I think I see where this is going."

"You do?"

"I believe that Lieutenant Axel objects to my genetic enhancements." Though he answered Kira, his eyes remain locked on Axel's.

"He'd kill you for that?" Kira seemed baffled. "That's ridiculous."

"He's not alone," Bashir said. "Most Terrans object to genetic re-sequencing as extensive as mine."

"People like him almost destroyed our planet," Axel growled at Kira. "They took it over, oppressed the population, warred among themselves until they almost killed us all. What did your people do when it happened on Bajor, Colonel?"

Bashir and Garak exchanged looks. "Is it just me, Doctor, or were you just compared to the Cardassian occupation of Bajor?"

"The Eugenic Wars were terrible," he told Axel, only acknowledging Garak with another sharp glance. "But I'm a doctor, not Khan Noonien Singh. I'm not bent on world domination, Earth or any other's."

"Do you think Khan was the first attempt or the finished masterpiece?" Axel was on his feet, moving closer to the forcefield that held him in. "Letting you stay in Starfleet is the step down a dangerous path, one that could lead us right back to where we were before." He shook his head. "You couldn't be allowed to delude people into thinking that what you are is acceptable."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," Bashir said, deceptively mild. "All I've ever wanted is to help people and I'm grateful that Starfleet gave me this chance."

"Help people? Oh, please, Doctor." Axel rolled his eyes. "In your own way, you've chosen to play god just like Singh did, only you do it more subtly, manipulatively. All you've done is prove we have more to fear now from augment ambition than we did then."

Somehow it always came back to his great lie, his great secret, Bashir realized. It had simultaneously saved his life and put him in terrible danger in the past few days, by the simple fact that it was. And, as always, it had been entirely out of the realm of his control.

"There's something I want you to remember, Axel." Bashir let his anger, his helplessness, bleed into his voice. "There is one thing that Khan and I do have in common -- we didn't ask for it. Someone else made those decisions about our DNA -- and it wasn't a so-called augment who was 'playing god' when they did."

With his question answered and nothing left to say, Bashir left the brig, Kira and Garak on his heels.

Kira's answer finally, in the form of an admiral from Starfleet Intelligence who assured both her and Bashir that Lieutenant Axel would be transported back to Earth to stand trial for his crimes as soon as possible. She also explained that they had already begun a deeper investigation into his past and into the groups with which he was known to be affiliated.

"We've found one group that we believe is likely the to be behind the attempts on your life, Doctor," the admiral explained on the viewscreen. "They call themselves the Harperians and are, by far, one of the most radical organizations with anti-genetic engineering agendas."

Bashir had never much heard of these kind of groups committing terrorism. "How long have they been operating?"

"The Harperians have roots in some of the early lobbyist groups that strongly advocated the ban on genetic engineering right after the Eugenics Wars," the admiral told him. "But about a hundred years ago, S.Z. Harper, a Human civilian engineer here on Earth, began to claim that he was actually from the future and that he'd seen that a race of genetically engineered humans rise to power, only to bring chaos and destruction to the galaxy. A small few followed his radical line and formed the Harperians."

"Are they very active? I've never heard of them."

"They haven't been in many years," the admiral admitted. "And before now, their activity had mostly consisted of rallies and boycotts. Since Starfleet has refused admittance to people who have been genetically enhanced for years, it's not an issue we've had to worry about."

"Until now," Bashir said. "Until me."

The admiral nodded.

He sighed. "Well, should I start looking over my shoulder, Admiral, or do you believe this was an isolated incident?"

"At the moment we believe it's an isolated event," she said. "But we're still investigating. If everything changes, we'll apprise you of the situation."

"Thank you, Admiral."

When the transmission ended, Kira turned to Bashir. "Did you find that as unsatisfying as I did?"

"Probably more," he told her.

"I still don't understand why they were mad enough to kill you," she admitted.

"In some ways, Axel was right," Bashir said. "Allowing me to stay in Starfleet has set a terrible precedent, either for other genetically enhanced individuals to petition -- even lie -- their way in to Starfleet or for people to start to forget why genetic re-sequencing has been outlawed in the first place."

"That's no reason to kill you!"

"I agree wholeheartedly," he said. "But it's not entirely as black and white as I'd like."

As soon as he left the Colonel's office, Bashir headed to Garak's guest quarters which were now without the guards. The door opened for him on the first ring and he found Garak there, with a PADD in his hand.

"What are you reading?" Bashir asked.

Garak looked up. "A book I found in the database about Earth's Eugenic Wars," he said.

"Should I even ask why?" Bashir said dryly.

"The topic seemed appropriate, given recent events." Garak waited until Bashir sank down next to him before he continued. "How was the meeting?"

"As well as could be expected, I suppose." Bashir settled back against the sofa cushions, eyes on Garak. "Any chance that Cardassia is more receptive to genetically engineered humans?"

Garak smiled, even though he was still looking down at his PADD. "Cardassia would welcome you with open arms."

"Really now?" he asked, eyebrow raised.

Garak set aside his PADD and turned to better face Bashir, their knees almost touching. "Well, my arms would be open. And I'm sure one Federation doctor is as welcome as any other in the eyes of the general populace."

"But not to you, I hope?"

"My dear doctor, of course not." Garak reached for the closest part of Bashir, his hand falling just above his bent knee. "You are singularly unique as far as I'm concerned."

Bashir considered their conversation. "Was that an invitation, Elim?"

His smile turned sly. "Well, we are in need of Federation doctors..."

Bashir returned the smile, leaning closer, as if sharing a secret. "And I happen to be a Federation doctor..."

Garak mimicked his position, inching closer until they were almost nose-to-nose. "As you say, Julian."

Bashir's smile bordered on a laugh he didn't quite voice. His nose bumped Garak's. "Would it kill you to simply ask me?"

"It very well could," Garak answered. His lips ghosted over Bashir's, a tease, an invitation, the one he couldn't express plainly in words. "Why chance it?"

At that, Bashir did laugh, just a rush of air against Garak's cheek before Garak kissed him, escalating from careful curiosity to frenzied passion with startling swiftness. Bashir still couldn't quite believe that it was really happening and he reveled in his own exploration of Garak's body, in Garak's exploration of his.

When they finally pulled apart -- severely limited by the confines of the narrow sofa approved in the station's guest quarters -- Bashir was smiling, even in defeat, the first to make a real declaration. "I'll have my transfer to Kira within the hour."

"Good," Garak nodded, still trailing a lazy hand over Bashir where he could reach him. "That will save me enormous effort in having to invent a reason to lure you to Cardassia."

"Garak!" Bashir shook his head, fighting laughter once again. When had he started to find this kind of frustrating, puzzling conversational warfare so attractive? Years, he was sure. "You'd do it, too, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would," he said. "Even if I had to arrange an convincing abduction scenario and have you carried back to Cardassia Prime."

"Can't live without me, can you?" Bashir knew he had to have the stupidest grin imaginable on his face but he didn't care. Coming from Garak, an abduction was probably the most romantic thing he'd ever hear.

"Good conversationalists, Doctor, are not as easy to find in Cardassia as they once were."

Bashir opened his mouth to protest but Garak kissed him silent again.

"You are, without a doubt, the most frustrating, irritating, evasive person I have ever known," Bashir pointed out a little later, as they moved their discussion to the bedroom, a trail of tunic, trousers and shirts behind them.

"You wouldn't have me any other way, my dear."

It was Bashir who kissed Garak this time. "You're absolutely right."