Disclaimer: DS9 is not mine, I'm just playing with it.


Invitation

Garak stared moodily into his drink, and tried not to think about Ziyal. A week, only a week since they'd returned to Deep Space Nine. Only a week since he'd walked into the infirmary and seen her lying there, dead.

Oh, others were celebrating, and rightly so. Against the odds, they had reached and retaken the station. Yet somehow, it still didn't seem like much of a victory to Garak. He had never quite been able to love Ziyal in the way she had clearly hoped he would, but he had cared a great deal for her, and she had accepted that. Somehow, even when she'd wanted more, she had been happy for what regard he could give her, without demanding anything he couldn't give.

The irony to it all was the way others treated him now. They were being... kinder. Even Major Kira, with her own sorrow over Ziyal's death, seemed to have put aside her dislike of Garak enough to offer him sympathy. Even Worf, of all people, absorbed in preparations for marriage, had found the time to speak to Garak. He knew the Klingon had respected him more since their time as prisoners of the Dominion, but this had been quite unexpected.

One person who hadn't changed, however, was Doctor Bashir. That wasn't to say he'd been unkind, of course, far from it, and Garak had gotten the sense now and then that Bashir had wanted to say something, but didn't quite know how. The doctor had remained as understanding and friendly as ever, but seemed to know that Garak wouldn't want to discuss the matter. He'd conveyed the fact that if the Cardassian ever wanted to talk about it, he'd listen, but hadn't pushed. For that, Garak was grateful.

More than grateful, in fact, and this carried its own complications. Amid his relief and contemplation there was concern over what Julian might think, and hints of guilt that he could be thinking like this so soon after Ziyal's death. She deserved to be mourned properly.

That was the thought that continued to run through his head, while around him the station buzzed with activity. It continued to bother him, even when he too became busy during the next few days, as Dax and Worf arranged to marry early, and various individuals decided that they absolutely had to have new clothing for the occasion.

He began to contemplate discussing the whole thing with Doctor Bashir, unburdening himself under the gaze of those wide trusting eyes, and hearing whatever reassurances Julian might give him. The doctor would do his very best to be understanding, after all, and those human ideals Garak periodically mocked would at least see to it that whatever he said might not be used against him. And yet... it was all too personal, too private. Secrecy wasn't a habit that faded easily.

Any chance of deciding otherwise seemed to be taken from him. Bashir had apparently joined Sisko and others in one of those obscure rituals that Klingons seemed to adore so much. The doctor was looking decidedly exhausted of late, hungry and hollow-eyed. Garak had heard Quark speculating about the event, but dismissed the notion of rampant debauchery being conducted within the holosuite, in this case. Klingons, after all, had that bizarre touch of masochism to their traditions, and it was far more likely that everyone involved was firmly engaged in 'noble suffering'.

There was no way to convince the Ferengi, naturally. Garak didn't even bother with an attempt. Let Quark think what he liked. He wasn't nearly as perceptive as Garak, and his mind was clouded with the usual Ferengi obsessions. It didn't matter. Still, there was something oddly unpleasant about watching Julian stagger about so tiredly. The doctor looked... vulnerable. Raised in the heart of the Federation, Bashir did not seem designed for suffering. Normally, he seemed almost delicate, with the flush of health hinting at a man who'd never needed to know hardship.

Under more trying conditions, however, vulnerability emerged, combined with a startling toughness that made for a remarkable contrast. He was stronger than he looked. Their time as Dominion captives had proven that beyond any shadow of doubt. Garak found himself fascinated by the inherent contradictions... and disturbed by his own protective inclinations. He had believed that he'd managed to rid himself of such dangerous tendencies long ago, but time on this station seemed to have reawakened them.

This was futile, he told himself angrily. He couldn't tell the doctor anything for lack of access to him at the moment, and there was no need to compound that problem by persistently contemplating the human from a distance in the rare moments that he was visible.

"I didn't know that self-torture was an Obsidian Order technique."

Garak looked up, startled, jerked out of his reverie by Kira's voice. "I beg your pardon, Major?"

Without bothering to seek permission, she seated herself at his table. "You think I can't see what's going on? I'd have to be blind not to."

"If I had known you would be observing me so closely, perhaps I would have been more discreet," Garak noted dryly. "That is, in whatever it is that you believe is going on, which is apparently so much more fascinating than your own affairs."

Kira appeared to be restraining her reaction to this hint. She ducked her head for a moment, and then shrugged as casually as possible. "Jadzia's busily preparing for the wedding, my 'own affairs' might need all the time they can get to be left in peace, and yours weren't hard to notice."

"Really? Do tell." Garak kept his tone barely interested.

"I saw your face when you found out about Ziyal, and I saw your face just now when Doctor Bashir left the holosuite. You're making yourself miserable."

"An interesting conclusion, but what are you intending to do about it?"

Kira simply looked at him, with a frighteningly honest expression. "I'm going to tell you what Ziyal did while this place was held by the Dominion, and then you're going to admire her bravery, and then you'll celebrate knowing her for as long as you did, and then you're going to go out and try to be happy, because that's what she would have wanted."

Garak remained silent for a long moment, processing this. Finally, he found his voice. "If you don't mind my asking, Major, why are you doing this?"

"For her, Garak. Ziyal was my friend." Kira gave a twitch of her lips that might almost have been a rather sad smile. "I might not have approved of the two of you together, but this is what she'd have wanted me to do."

After his talk with Major Kira, Garak proceeded to seclude himself in his quarters. He had a lot of thinking to do.

Amid his contemplation, Garak noted distantly the fuss and chaos as Worf and Jadzia's wedding teetered on the brink of being permanently cancelled. It was almost amusing from a distance, to watch conditions swing rapidly between all extremes. Fortunately for those involved, the wedding was finally performed. Garak did not attend.

He did, however, drop by afterwards, and found Doctor Bashir decidedly the worse for the celebratory drinks.

"Come on, time to take a walk," he coaxed, helping the doctor to his feet. Somehow, he managed to escort his coordination-impaired friend back to his quarters, despite a large amount of staggering.

"Thanks, Garak... this is kind. Really, really kind," Bashir slurred.

"Think nothing of it."

Doctor Bashir's expression became petulant. "What if I want to think something of it? You're special, Garak..."

Garak froze as Julian wrapped his arms around him. This certainly removed some of the doubt from his own concerns about confessing, but... it wouldn't be right, not like this. Bashir might not even mean it once he sobered up. "My dear doctor, you are quite intoxicated," Garak managed, barely keeping his voice smooth and unaffected.

"You don't like me?" Those eyes, those cursed enormous pleading eyes, widened. "You looked at me a lot, but you don't like me?"

Garak sighed and decided to take a chance. He could always tell Bashir that any such comments must have been imagined due to the alcohol, if this turned out badly, he reasoned. "Of course I do. I have for some time. It didn't ever seem the right time to tell you, and now you are in no fit state to make an informed decision."

Bashir straightened, and said in a thoroughly satisfied, remarkably sober voice, "I knew it. I had to make sure, though, and I figured that I could always pretend I couldn't remember a word I'd said if I turned out to be wrong." There was a pause. "Garak? Your mouth is hanging open."

Garak shook his head rapidly in an effort to recall his senses. "You tricked me into helping you back here, pretended to be drunk, just so that you could be sure my feelings matched yours?"

"Well, I was actually just hoping for enough privacy for a supposedly-drunken confession. The 'looking after me and getting me safely to my quarters' thing is new. I like it." Julian paused again, then said with a hint of impatience, "I'm a doctor, Garak, as you remind me every time you use my title instead of my name. Do you really think I'd be unaware of how to duplicate the signs of heavy inebriation?"

Garak continued to stare. Finally, he said slowly, "Doctor... Julian... I am impressed. You drank nothing at all, then?"

"Well, a bit. I drank enough that you could smell it... and enough to stop me from being too nervous to try to do this." Bashir gave Garak a rather rueful grin. "I needed the extra courage."

Garak reached out as though testing this new revelation, trailing his fingers along the side of Julian's face, eyes sharp for any sign of objections. He saw none in the smile that followed, or in the way Julian's eyes slid half-closed, almost feline, as Garak shifted to running his fingers lightly through Julian's hair, delighting in the implicit permission to make the gestures that he'd spent solitary time envisioning.

Slowly, tentatively, they kissed. Garak could feel Bashir's heartbeat against his chest, far faster than could possibly be normal. Unsurprising, given that his own pulse was also racing. There was warmth, the softness of smooth skin, the undefinable scent that while pleasant, was unmistakably not Cardassian... Garak relinquished his focus, letting go of the instinctive analysis of every sensation, becoming lost in that moment - too far gone, even, to chide himself for thinking in the clich├ęs that he'd mocked in human literature.

Surprised, he couldn't help but laugh when Bashir's stomach rumbled. "Perhaps you should eat. I would prefer not to awaken and discover you have eaten my limbs in your sleep."

Laughing, Bashir went to his replicator, bringing back a thin broth and some bread. "It was that Klingon ritual," he explained, eating slowly. "There was a lot of fasting, and not much sleep, either."

Garak smiled to himself, and waited for Bashir to finish eating. "Well then, perhaps you should rest. We have a lot of very interesting things to discuss, but you'll need to be fully awake for them."

Julian nodded, but held out his hand, ducking his head and flushing slightly. "Will you stay? While I sleep?"

Garak blinked, but took Bashir's hand. "Of course. I intend to be just as well-rested as you for our discussions." He could feel the sense of relief between them. No need to do anything tonight. Just a chance to enjoy the closeness they hadn't dared to admit they wanted.

They slept curled together, awkwardness gradually dissolving into comfort. Before closing his eyes, Garak sleepily surveyed the man in his arms. How depressing. I was told to go out and be happy. It seems, for once, I've gone and done what I was told. He did not regret it.