Title: Niara

Pairing: Garak/Bashir

Rating/Warnings: PG-13; character death; slash, sort of

Word Count: 471

Summary: The scent of white petals on an autumn wind.

Notes: AU, in the Dominion prison camp.

"You're dying, Garak."

"Oh, I'm well aware of that." His eyes were too bright in the dimness of the prison camp's bunkroom. "Tell me... how long do I have?"

"Not long." Bashir touched light fingertips briefly to his friend's inner wrist, feeling the hectic pulse fluttering there. The grey skin was feverish and had an unhealthy blue tint beneath it. He couldn't lie, not matter how unpalatable the truth. "Less than an hour. I'm sorry. If I had the proper equipment Ñ"

"Think nothing of it." He spoke lightly, as if death was no more significant than the loss of a bolt of cloth from his shop. "Now, how shall we pass the time? With a story, perhaps?"

Bashir couldn't help but smile, although it felt thin and strained. "More pretty lies?"

"That's the beauty of it, Doctor. No matter what I say at this point, you will not believe me."

"The Boy Who Cried Wolf," Bashir mused.

Garak laughed softly, deep in his throat. "Exactly. And perhaps that's why now, at the end, I can say that the thing I've regretted most, after a lifetime of misdeeds, is never taking you fully under my wing."

"Is that so?" His smile grew more sincere at the thought of all those lunches, the hours of conversation, the many debates and the moments of understanding they'd reached across the cultural divide.

Garak relaxed fully into the pillow, turning his gaze to the narrow window high on one wall that let in a pale wash of fading light. "If it were in my power," he remarked, "I would have taken you to the northern continent, to ride on the Plains of Zhanar. Yes," he mused, "I suspect you would have enjoyed that. I especially regret never showing you the niara blossoms in the dusk of a Cardassian autumn..." He closed his eyes and smiled faintly. "Sentimentality... is the greatest weakness of all, my dear Doctor. And at least I can say... that I never..."

He fell silent, and didn't speak again.

Bashir took his hand and held it, offering what silent comfort he could. He wouldn't let his tears fall until after Garak was dead Ñ even though he recognized the literary references he'd made, the poetic metaphors recalling one of the few great romances in Cardassian literature. If he ever got out of here he would find a way to take Garak's body with him: that vow, like a mantra, brought him some measure of comfort as the shadows of loss and grief gathered ever deeper around his heart. One day he would take it back to Cardassia, that distant home his friend had never ceased to love; and he would plant a tree over the grave, tall and white and shining, so that niara blossoms would perfume the twilight air for generations to come.