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Taking Risks

"You're saying you were prepared to suffer in silence just because of mistrust? And that if I hadn't spoken first, you'd never have said anything at all?" Bashir demanded.

Garak shrugged. "That is exactly what I am saying."

Bashir frowned, in a manner Garak found irritatingly endearing. "I thought you'd done much more dangerous things than this, Garak. How is this such a large risk in comparison?"

Garak stared off into the distance, his gaze seeming to pass beyond the wall of his quarters. He did not answer for quite some time.

Risks, oh yes, he'd been involved in plenty of those. Amongst them was that moment where he had chosen to make Tain proud and undergo the surgery. Within a week and a half, he was Rendel Tari and working his way into a cell of the Bajoran Resistance.

Within another week, he'd endeared himself with the others via his knowledge of tactics, and his talent in purloining vital objects right out from under the noses of Cardassian guards. They liked him, almost all of them, with the exception of surly old Warrum Van, who disliked everybody except his daughter, but knew the hills better than anyone.

He'd had some alarming moments at first, wondering if Van had spotted some mistake in his pretence.

"You don't have to startle like a porli fowl every time Van scowls, you know," Isola, the cell's leader, said gently. "He may be my father, but I'm not going to throw you out just because he doesn't like you."

"How did you know?" Garak kept his voice uncertain, timid, as though unsure of his status.

"The new ones all worry, Rendel. They're usually younger than you, so..." Intelligent hazel eyes appraised him. "Kept your head down until now, didn't you? I bet you tried to avoid getting into any trouble, until you couldn't ignore the situation any longer." Isola rested a hand on his arm. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. You're here now, that's what matters."

He ducked his head, looking grateful. It was true, in a twisted kind of way, that he'd joined because of a situation that couldn't be ignored. The Warrum Resistance Cell had managed to assassinate a Gul a month ago. Soldiers died, it was a simple fact, but this one had been engaged in passing copies of his reports and many others directly to the Obsidian Order, giving them all the news that Central Command would prefer to keep to itself.

Thus, the cell had to be stopped, and mere informants could only go so far. They were just Bajorans, after all, and even the most co-operative ones would periodically suffer attacks of conscience. No, a task like this required a Cardassian mind and Cardassian dedication, with Obsidian Order training.

Garak had been briefed by Tain himself. He'd even been offered a choice. If one could call it a choice when Garak knew his duty so well.

"You're going to be surrounded by armed and dangerous Bajorans. You will be keeping up a role every single moment that you're there. We cannot extract you without some delay, so if you wait too long to request aid you may be dead long before help arrives, and you will be wearing the appearance of a Bajoran." Enabran Tain passed the data rod to Garak, who had remained attentive yet expressionless throughout the entire briefing.

"How soon can I see the surgeon?" Garak asked finally, and was rewarded with a slight smile of pride.

He'd spent his first month in the cell compiling data in his head, and making sure he was entrenched enough not to be suspected. Garak had set himself to memorising the names, quirks, abilities, weaknesses and families of every other member of the resistance cell.

The number had abruptly grown at the end of that month, when the survivors of another cell joined the group.

Garak wondered when he'd become so sentimental. The newcomers had narrowly escaped the destruction of their old cell by a Cardassian strike team. This wouldn't have mattered at all to Garak, if it weren't for the fact that this event brought him into contact with Wanam Haro.

Most Bajorans meant very little to Garak. He'd been trained to avoid falling into the typical spy's temptation to become attached to the group one infiltrated. Many of those around him were pleasant people, but he could do his duty no matter how much he enjoyed their company.

Haro, though... Haro was tall, agile, confident, with a wicked sense of humour and a ready smile. Quick-witted and handsome, he'd have been a prize on any planet. Here, in the midst of all this danger, he was becoming a very dangerous distraction indeed.

Watching as Haro juggled spoons after a meal, Garak found himself fighting the urge to wish that the man was another Cardassian. When Garak's task was done, Haro would die along with all the others, or perhaps be captured and set to work in some gruelling hellhole that would take away his smiles forever.

He had only to beckon, and Haro would follow him away from the others again, with that heart-wrenchingly trusting smile. All he had to do was lie, yet again, with his eyes and words and hands, and Haro would spend the night with his 'dear Tari', oblivious to the conflict raging in his lover's core.

He'd do it, too. He did do it. Lying was a skill he'd long since perfected, and in their moments of intimacy he could, just briefly, stop thinking. They crept away to a more private part of the caves, disregarding the amused smiles of the others who pretended not to know where they were going.

Together in the dark, they had no need to speak a word. Time after time they'd exhaust themselves, and Garak would let himself forget all but the touch of skin on skin. Neither duty nor guilt mattered in those moments, and with Haro in his arms, Garak could make himself forget that the moment they left their little cavern, he would have to return to looking into the eyes of men and women who he would be killing in carrying out his duty. He could even make himself forget that he'd have to betray Haro, just like every other dedicated, brave and foolish soul there.

It was hard not to admire them sometimes, after all. They believed so fiercely in what they were doing, fought so valiantly for their loved ones, that it was almost tragic to know that for Cardassia to be right, these desperate fighters had to be wrong. They were wrong, and thinking otherwise would be foolish, but... Garak could, at least, without feeling as though it might be treasonous, say to himself that they were wrong with only the best of intentions.

There had finally come a time for Garak to make his move, but somehow he managed to find excuses not to. It had merely been a matter of 'accidentally' getting placed in charge of looking after the wounded, so that he'd have no chance to creep away and call down a strike.

Shortly afterwards, Haro had come to him in private, with a secret that could shatter them both.

"Tari, I need to get out of here. I can find my own way off-planet, but I have to go." Haro looked stressed beyond belief. "I don't want anyone here to get hurt because of me. Especially you."

"What's wrong?"

Haro looked around, checking that no-one else was anywhere nearby. "My name is Haran Kazar. I'm not Bajoran. I was sent here on an infiltration mission by the Obsidian Order."

Garak felt as though the bottom had dropped out of his stomach. "You're Cardassian?" Oh, he'd wished it so often, but never like this. A revelation like this just made everything worse. Haro, no, Haran, was either directly betraying the Order, or trying to trap Garak into doing so.

Haran nodded miserably. "I couldn't go through with it after meeting you. Are you going to kill me, Tari?"

Garak considered it. Doing so would make everything so much simpler. By 'unmasking a Cardassian spy', he'd gain even more trust from the cell. By eliminating a traitor, he'd rise in the Order. But Haran was only doing what Garak himself had considered doing. He sighed and wrapped his arms around Haran. "No, I'm not." Time to take a risk. "There are two of us in this cave. There are no Bajorans here."

Haran stared in total shock. "So who are you really- No," he interrupted himself. "It's better that I don't know. That way no-one can get your name out of me if I'm caught."

They didn't say any goodbyes. A kiss was enough, and then Haran was gone.

He'd done his job after that, regardless of how it made him feel. Garak's one concession to the sentiments gnawing at him was to see that the very young, the wounded, and non-combatants had all been moved to a second base, ostensibly in case Cardassian forces traced a raid back to the main caves. Isola had nodded and thanked him. She'd agreed that if trouble came, there were those who'd be better off out of the way, not getting into danger in a pitched battle.

At least he'd seen to it that they killed her cleanly. As cell leader, there could be no chance of leniency, but a quick death would be infinitely preferable to further suffering. The others had been easy enough to redirect to a camp; without their leader, they were considered to be little further of a danger.

He had just been extracted, still Bajoran in appearance, when he was called to a private rendezvous. Despite instinctive concern, he'd accepted the request.

Tain met him there, with that nobly tragic and wounded expression he seemed to cultivate for occasions in which any of his charges had failed him in some way. Garak's heart sank to see it. He was in trouble.

"I'm disappointed, Elim. I supplied you with that identity. Did you think I couldn't trace it back, even if you kept your own name to yourself?" Tain gestured, and a trio of guards stepped from the shadows, two of them keeping their phasers trained on Garak.

The third was half-carrying, half-dragging another Cardassian, bloody and bruised. As the guard yanked his prisoner's head back by the hair, Garak stared in open dismay. Even this badly beaten, even restored to Cardassian appearance, it was unmistakably Haran.

"You betrayed me, Elim. You betrayed the Order. You betrayed Cardassia, for him, before you even knew he was one of us, and then afterwards as well." There was steel in Tain's smile. "No doubt you're so pleased to see him again. I trust that you at least have the decency to find his current form more acceptable? You know, at first he tried to convince us that he'd done his job, and then had been struggling to find a way back. One would almost have thought he'd never heard of you, at first."

Garak remained silent, totally motionless, regarding Tain with an expressionless stare.

"Of course, then he told us the truth, in exchange for having his real life back. That life's span, unfortunately, is over." Enabran Tain made a single small gesture.

Before Garak could protest, before he could even react, Haran's neck was neatly snapped by his guard. The lifeless body fell to the ground, left lying like discarded trash as the guards seized Garak. The group was beamed out, leaving Haran's body alone and forgotten.

Garak had been taken to Terok Nor, where a very familiar surgeon had been waiting in the infirmary with his tools. Tain had, of course, not seen fit to simply hand him over.

"The truth is, Elim, we're on the verge of leaving Bajor. The situation is becoming untenable. However, you won't be going with us." Tain turned to the surgeon. "Make sure you are very thorough. I want no doubt in their minds when they look at him."

"When who look at me?" Garak felt dazed, all of his supports cut away, leaving him adrift in a tide of uncertainty.

"Why, the Bajorans, Elim," Tain explained, as though to a slow child. He gave Garak an affable smile. "If you won't hide your real face for Cardassia, you might as well show it for Bajor. I hope their gratitude at your honesty is sufficient repayment. Since you are so fond of Bajorans, your exile, which is effective immediately and which I have not seen fit to give a concluding date, shall grant you the singular privilege of spending plenty of time around them."

The sedative blanked Garak's mind before he could respond or plead his case. When he woke, he had his own face and form back, and Tain was preparing to leave.

"Until there is a withdrawal, do be careful around the Prefect, Elim. You may remember him. Procal Dukat's son. I'm sure he remembers you. I wouldn't want you to die so soon, after all. You'll need a job, too. Maybe he can give you one. Scrubbing floors, perhaps, or mending uniforms. The very best of luck and a long life to you in your new career, Garak." With that final barb, Tain left.

"They just left you there, for that?"

"Yes, doctor. For that. I allowed my sentiment to get in the way of my duty, and this happened to constitute treason. I took a risk I should not have taken, and paid the price." Garak sighed wearily.

Bashir looked horrified, but also enlightened. "Then that's why you weren't going to say anything, isn't it? You didn't want to take that kind of risk again."

"I rarely make the same mistake twice, doctor."

Julian glanced down for a moment, then said very tentatively, "Things are different now, Garak. You may not always be telling the truth, but you're not pretending to be a completely different person. You've already been through whatever consequences can be given to you."

"Possibly. Your point?" Realising how abrupt this sounded, Garak placed a hand on Julian's hand in apology.

"What if it isn't a mistake this time?"

Garak stared into Bashir's face, rapid calculations spinning through his mind. He dismissed them, and his other hand joined the first in clasping Bashir's. "I... think I can take that risk."

The smile that answered him was like sunlight.