Garak was sitting at his desk finishing up an order for Elosian silks when his door chime sounded, causing him to look up in surprise. It was quite late, after 0100 hours. Who on the station would pay a visit to his personal quarters at that unseemly time of night? Who would even consider such a thing?

There were only two likely answers, so when he went to the door and keyed it open to find Julian Bashir standing there, visibly unsteady on his feet and smiling hopefully, he gladly crossed Odo off the list and pasted an answering smile on his face. "Doctor Bashir! What brings you here?"

"H'lo, Garak." A visible list to port. "I just -" The smile widened, becoming both more earnest and more persuasive, if such a thing were possible. "Wanted to see you. Hope it's not too late."

Garak pondered that statement for a heartbeat. It was too late, of course, but Bashir looked like he was beyond such common-sense considerations. For another second he considered calling for a security officer to escort the young man back to his own quarters - Garak sincerely doubted he could make it all the way there on his own without falling over at least once... but did he really want word to get around that Bashir had paid a drunken post-midnight visit to his personal quarters? Certainly not!

Garak sighed and stepped aside. "Come in, Doctor."

"Thank you," Bashir said with ponderous dignity, "I will!" And he did, somehow managing not to stumble over the threshold as he entered.

"You're drunk," Garak informed him. Best to get that out of the way right off the top.

"I am," Bashir agreed, stopping about a meter into the room and turning to face Garak with a definite lean in his posture. His smile was wide and sweet in that brilliant way that always managed to catch Garak by surprise, his large eyes even wider than usual, and darker from uncharacteristic dilation of the pupils.

Garak automatically covered his own reaction, which was to present a gaze equally intense and engaging, and offered the Human an expression of polite interest instead. "BecauseÉ?"

"Oh." A little frown. "Chief O'Brien had the most excellent whiskey - forty-seven years old! - and he..."

Garak counted three, waiting for him to pick up his train of thought again, then prompted: "He offered you some?"

There was that smile again. "Yes! He did! He..." Joy turned mournful. "He's a good friend. A really, really, really good friend..."

"Yes, I'm sure he is." Garak adopted a soothing croon and stepped up to Bashir's left side, taking light hold of his elbow and turning him around and guiding him toward the closest chair, which happened to be the armchair the Doctor had taken up residence in while watching over Garak almost a year ago during the incident with his malfunctioning implant. Bashir went willingly, smiling again, and let Garak put a hand on his shoulder and apply subtle pressure to make him sit: given the Human's dodgy sense of balance, Garak thought it was the safest place for him. "Now you stay right there. I'll be back in just a moment."

"Okay." Oh, Preloc's ghost, now he was chirpy. Garak could feel that sappy gaze on the back of his neck as he went to the replicator and ordered a cup of ver'talek, double strength - it had a marvellous effect on Cardassians under these circumstances and he had little doubt that it would help Bashir in a similar fashion. Mug in hand, he returned to the chair and held it out to the slightly swaying young man.

"Drink this."

Bashir was still grinning. He looked at the cup, then happily up at Garak. "Wha' is it?"

"An old Cardassian cure for intoxication."

A look of indignation: "I'm not that -"

"Drink it, Doctor." He kept his tone soft but infused it with a note of unmistakable command. Some skills never got rusty.

Bashir, however, was evidently in no mood to follow orders without question. He fumbled a hand up to tug on the hem of Garak's tunic. "Only if y'sit down with me," he insisted, with an expression that might have been cunning if it hadn't been so painfully obvious.

"If I sit down, will you drink up like a good boy?"

Looking solemn, Bashir crossed his heart, or at least the approximate area of his heart. "Officer's honor," he swore.

Suppressing an audible sigh, Garak settled himself on the arm of the chair and held out the cup. Bashir's smile was beautific. He took the ver'talek in both hands and started to down it in a series of full mouthfuls Ñ only to stop before the first was fully down the hatch. It almost came back up again, but he managed to swallow it before gasping: "Oh God, tha's awful!"

"But good for you." Bashir was looking up at Garak as if the Cardassian had kicked him. Garak was not deterred. "Now now, Doctor, you gave me your solemn promise." He gestured from the cup to Bashir's mouth.

"Tha's not fair," Bashir protested. "I did'n know -"

In his past life as a full agent of the Obsidian Order, Garak had on several occasions reduced grown men to babbling confessions with just the power of his gaze. The look he gave Bashir now didn't carry the full force of that ability but it was certainly on the spectrum. The Human looked at him pleadingly for another couple of seconds, saw that it wasn't going to work, and meekly drank up the rest of the draught, grimacing after each sip in a way that was almost comical enough to make up for the annoyance of his presence in the first place. When the cup was empty he shuddered dramatically and offered it back to Garak, who took it and leaned over to set it on the table behind the armchair. "There now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

"Yes," Bashir stated flatly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as if trying to rub the lingering taste from his lips.

"You'll thank me in a few minutes." Garak made as if to rise only to have Bashir catch hold of the bottom of his tunic again and offer another look more suitable for a puppy than for a grown Human male. This time he made no effort to mute his sigh as he sat back down. "Whatever possessed you to wind up in this state in the first place?"

Bashir, who had been looking inordinately pleased with himself, was abruptly crestfallen again. "Elizabeth Lense," he said darkly, and slumped back in the chair; his hand released Garak's tunic and fell into his lap.

Garak knew the name - he'd hacked into the Starfleet records concerning the incoming ship weeks ago - but he saw no benefit to letting Bashir know that. "And who is that?"

Bashir waved the tunic-clutching hand vaguely. "A girl I went to the Academy with. Class valedictorian. Beautiful, charming, devis-deves-devastatingly intelligent..." His face fell even further and he groaned. "Today she... walked right past me. Like I wasn't even there. She hates me, Garak." His head sank back and he closed his eyes miserably. "I bet a lot of people do. I can be... be..."

"Arrogant?" Garak supplied. "Overenthusiastic? Presumptuous? Overbearing?"

Bashir nodded, looking like he was about to cry. Garak risked a pat on his shoulder. "Cheer up, Doctor. You also have many fine and admirable qualities."

"I do?" Bashir opened his eyes again and gazed up at Garak with a pathetic degree of hope. "Like wha'?"

Garak debated for a moment, then decided that honesty in this case would make his future lies all the stronger. "You're a kind, compassionate, brilliant man who is loyal to his friends and generous to a fault. If the young lady in question can't see those aspects of your personality, then I'd call her a fool."

Now there was an actual gleam of moisture in those dark eyes. "Really? You really think that?"

"Yes, Doctor, I really do." He patted Bashir on the shoulder again. "Wait here a moment. I'll -"

When he started to rise Bashir stopped him a third time, this time by reaching up and laying a hand on the inside of Garak's near knee and turning and shifting to rest his dark tousled head on the top of Garak's thigh. Garak's breathing stopped dead in his throat. Nobody had ever dared to touch him that way: offering unasked-for intimacies to a member of the Order was a sure recipe for suicide. But here was this guileless young Human, snuggling up against him as trustingly as a child.

"Y're a good friend, Garak." He sounded so happy that Garak wanted to shake him, until Bashir pressed his cheek closer to his leg and whispered against the black wool of his pants in a tone just as suddenly grieving: "I saw you die..."

Garak felt a thoroughly unfamiliar tug in the vicinity of his heart. He'd read those reports too, including Bashir's detailed account of what he'd experienced in the Dominion simulation, and was amazed that the experience of seeing an image of himself fall in an imaginary version of the station was still affecting the Human so deeply. He laid a hand on top of Bashir's head and murmured in a comforting cadence: "But I'm right here, my dear Doctor, perfectly safe and sound."

"I know." A watery little sniffle. He was weeping now, Garak realized, and the tug became a full-fledged melting even as he hoped that no tears would end up on his pants. "But... I still dream about it. Sometimes."

His voice was blurring; the ver'talek was taking effect. Garak decided that stroking his hair would facilitate the process. Bashir murmured happily and moved even closer, and he permitted the intimacy in the service of soothing the boy to sleep faster.

After a couple more sniffles, each less intense than the one before, Bashir murmured: "G'rak?"


"Y'don't hate me... do you?"

Garak sighed and briefly rubbed the back of that smooth golden neck. "No, Doctor. I can safely say that I have never hated you."

Bashir mumbled something more, something incoherent, but his final smile of the night was positively radiant. Garak continued to run gentle fingers through his hair for a count of twenty seconds, to make sure he was fully asleep, then carefully extricated himself and went to the carved neonla wood chest against the far wall to retrieve two blankets, one to cover the Human warmly and one to fold under his head as a pillow. With any of that luck the Humans put such stock in, Bashir would sleep soundly through the night and remember none of this uncharacteristic exchange in the morning.