A/N: Continuing Empok Nor. Please review!


Chapter 12: Self Destruct

...

For the first time in his life, Garak felt completely free to trust his own actions. There was no second-guessing, for everything laid itself out before him like a map of actions and reactions. Even when he found himself crawling along the floor picking up stray pieces from an abandoned Kotra board, he knew where that action fit into what would happen next.

"Garak to Chief O'Brien," he called cheerfully through the comm. badge on his sleeve as he put the last piece in place. "You'll never guess what I just found. A Kotra board! The station commander left one in his office—the pieces were scattered all over—but I found the last one hiding under his desk."

Silence was his only response. But he knew they were listening.

"I can't help thinking what a perfect metaphor this game is for our present situation, hmm? Two players, two minds, two strategies… each trying to outmaneuver the other, testing the enemy's defenses… advancing, retreating…. The only difference is that in the game we're playing… the stakes are life and death. Which makes it so much more interesting!" A laugh came from him unexpectedly, as he realized that this was truly what it was about. All these years, he'd been fruitlessly trying to avoid the truth, and had suffered for it—the truth of his own nature, of Cardassia's nature. He had truly been Tain's son all along, and now he would also defy the stifling influence he'd had over his life since birth. This game with O'Brien would be the starting point, the testing ground for his new life.

"I haven't had this much fun in years!" he cried breathlessly through the intercom as he paced around the Kotra board and back into hiding, as natural as slipping into water. "My heart's pounding, the blood's racing through my veins! I feel so alive. And I wager… so do you."

He knew they had arrived before the door opened. O'Brien and the Ferengi blundered into the room and quickly split up—so foolish, Garak thought. This would be so easy. He reached up once O'Brien had crossed beyond the threshold and hit the controls to close the door between the two areas before pouncing at Nog. The little Ferengi was surprisingly strong, but it only took a few seconds to wrestle the rifle from his small hands and point it at his oversized head.

"It looks like I've captured your last piece, Chief," Garak called triumphantly through the door. Nog knew better than the run. "If you want it back, you're going to have to take it from me."

He backed up smoothly, pulling the stumbling Ferengi after him. They headed toward the habitat ring, where Stolzoff and Pechetti had died.

"Why are you doing this?!" Nog hissed.

"Ah-ah-ah," Garak said, pressing the barrel of the rifle against Nog's ear and lowering his voice to a soft undertone. "I suggest you keep quiet."

Nog complied, even as Garak ushered him into a hidden nook off one of the corridors.

"It's your move, Chief," Garak continued in a louder tone after he had fetched some heavy duty mesh to tie Nog up with. "What are you going to do? Attack? Retreat? Surrender?"

"Listen to me Garak, it's the drug!" O'Brien said. "It's affecting you. You've got to fight it."

"Fight it?" Garak gave a short laugh as he finished securing Nog's arms against his body. "But I'm enjoying myself—this is the most exciting game I've played in years."

"It's not a game!"

"Ah, but it is! And the best thing about it is that it brings out the player's true nature."

"Where are you, Garak?"

"I saw the look in your eyes when I took the Ferengi away from you. You wanted to kill me, you wanted to strangle me with your bare hands."

O'Brien's voice was soft and slightly pleading. "I just want my crewman back, that's all."

"You're a killer!" Garak shot back. "Admit it! We both are!" He scanned the opening of his hiding place, waiting for O'Brien to show his face any second. "Behind your Federation mask of decency and benevolence, you're a predator… just like me."

"No." O'Brien's voice came softly, haltingly, over the comm. link. "I'm nothing like you."

"Ohhh, but you are!" Garak nearly crooned. "You proved that on Setlik Three—how many Cardassians did you kill, ten, twenty, a hundred?"

"I don't remember!" He was getting to the Chief. O'Brien's voice was getting rough.

"Oh but you remember how you felt. The Cardassians were killing your men, you had to stop them, you had to make them pay! Blood for blood!" Garak's voice grew more venomous with each word, snarling into the empty air where O'Brien still did not show his face. He lifted his sleeve closer to his mouth so he could hiss into it. "You enjoyed killing them, didn't you? You enjoyed watching the life drain out of their eyes."

"Alright Garak, you want to finish this game! Fine! Let's finish it! You and me, face to face."

"Nothing," Garak breathed, "would give me greater pleasure. We'll meet on the promenade."

"No weapons!" O'Brien growled."

"No… weapons…." Garak echoed, panting slightly in excitement, the sweat still beading hotly on his face. He turned slowly toward Nog, longing in his voice. "You have no idea how hard it is not to pull this trigger." The barrel of the rifle drifted back toward Nog's head. "But I need you alive."

Nog's face was a mixture of hatred and terror, teeth bared and eyes wide as Garak made him walk with him and secured him to the wall before setting about work. Even when Nog saw the way Garak hung the dead bodies of the other crew members from the mezzanine, he didn't say a word. His little eyes grew wide but he just clenched his pointed teeth and glared at Garak.

O'Brien arrived quickly. Garak saw the light from his rifle sweeping across the open spaces of the promenade, pausing briefly on the faces of each of his comrades.

"They've come to cheer you on chief," Garak announced wryly. "Your loyal team. Apparently, they've forgiven you for getting them all killed."

The light went out. Garak knew O'Brien was making his final approach.

"My supporters may be fewer in number," Garak went on, "but they're no less loyal." The faces of Tain and others he had worked with in the Obsidian Order flashed across his mind. A shadow of confusion crossed his face unnoticed. O'Brien flashed his light in Garak's face, rifle brought to bear. "I thought we agreed," Garak said sternly. "No weapons."

"What's that in your hand?"

Garak looked down at his rifle, then at Nog's chest where it was pointing. "Well how did this get here?" He said it in jest, but for a moment it was almost a genuine question. "But we won't be needing these, will we?" Nog made a show of struggling against his bonds, probably wanting to impress the Chief with his indomitable spirit. "Put yours down," Garak said to O'Brien.

"You first."

"Put it down," Garak said with deadly softness, "or say goodbye to the Ferengi."

"Don't do it, Chief!" Nog said in strangled voice.

"Oh, he has nothing to worry about," Garak said teasingly. "I'm not going to shoot an unarmed man, what fun would that be?"

O'Brien slowly lowered his rifle to the ground.

"You wouldn't happen to have another one… would you?" Garak asked.

The Chief reached around to the back of his belt and put down his smaller hand phaser and tricorder.

"Naughty," Garak said, quietly chiding. "Naughty."

"Your turn," O'Brien said softly.

"I admit," Garak said tensely, feeling the predatory urge rising. "I'm tempted to finish this right now… but that would be depriving myself of too much enjoyment." He set the rifle down on a storage barrel and stepped toward the Chief, hands raised with fingers curled inward, like paws, ready to strike with the heel of his palm.

He struck first. The Chief ducked, then blocked his next blow. Garak let him get a hit in before striking him hard, once in the face, then kneeing him in the stomach and using both hands for a hard stroke to the back of the neck. O'Brien hit the floor and rolled, unable to spring to his feet right away.

"I'm disappointed, Chief!" Garak huffed. "I expected to see the bloodlust in your eyes, but all I see is fear!"

O'Brien lunged to his feet and lurched toward Garak, but Garak scored a quick hit to the Chief's throat, sending him backwards, then knocked him flat with another two-handed blow to the face and kicked him in the ribs. Blood trickled from the corner of O'Brien's mouth as he clutched his side and braced his back against a barrel, groaning.

"Maybe it's true," said Garak with disdain, feeling cheated. "Maybe you're not a soldier anymore."

"You're right," O'Brien panted, looking up at him with a hint of a grin. "I'm an engineer."

He tapped his comm. badge and crawled behind a barrel. It was only a second before the Chief's phaser detonated, and in that second, all that crossed Garak's mind was confusion. The next thing he knew was a bright flash of light and sound, and pain that knocked him sprawling onto his back, delirious.

The throbbing in his head multiplied tenfold, and spasms like being stabbed by needles rippled through his lungs with every breath. He was vaguely aware of voices—Nog and O'Brien. "Did you kill him?" The phrase passed through his mind without much consequence. He felt angry and blind, the instinct to fight welling up without an outlet. He couldn't get his arms or legs to move and the ceiling was an indistinct, spinning blur of grey, black, and white.

...

Garak was out of it for a long while. He had periods of consciousness, but the pain had disoriented him. His words rarely made sense. The rest of the time, he was still, sometimes moaning or muttering in his sleep. O'Brien tried to monitor his condition with the medical tricorder they'd brought and even spent some time trashing the infirmary looking for equipment, but it was all Cardassian, and he didn't know a thing about how to work it.

Eventually, he had persuaded Nog—who was still traumatized—to help him construct a simple stretcher and carefully lift Garak onto it. When he tried to hoist Garak up by the arms, Garak moaned and whimpered so loudly that O'Brien nearly dropped him. But they managed to get him onto the stretcher, then the stretcher onto a bed where they could secure Garak in case he became conscious enough for a violent outburst.

"How fast do you think the rescue team will get here?" Nog asked as they shared emergency rations.

"They're coming as fast as they can," O'Brien reassured him.

Garak slept fitfully but well enough that O'Brien was beginning to think they might get off the station without incident. Then, just as O'Brien received the long-awaited transmission of their arrival, he heard Garak's breath wheezing on the bed behind him.

"No" Garak began, but a sudden coughing fit interrupted him.

"Don't say anything," O'Brien commanded. "I think your ribs are broken. The rescue team has just arrived, they'll be joining us in a minute. They'll fix you up."

Garak didn't seem to hear him. "Lower the th-threshold!" he gasped, retching. "That's en-nough for today—I've failed—I'll try again tomorrow, Enabran…! Please!"

"Hey, hang in there." O'Brien raised his voice.

"Turn it off! TURN IT OFF!" Garak begged, not opening his eyes, his head jerking from side to side. "Turn it off…! I could have done it! I could have—please! Turn it off… turn it off! You expect—so much—I can't… I can't be…." His chest was convulsing. "I never—ch—Please—"

"GARAK! It's me, Chief O'Brien! The one you wanted to kill, remember?"

Garak's arms strained against the restraints, clawing through the air toward his head. "Tear it out—!"

"Alright, just—just calm down, Garak!"

"Be careful, sir!" Nog said nervously from the door.

"It's fine," O'Brien shot back, leaning closer to Garak's face. "Garak! Wake up! You're on Empok Nor! What do you want me to turn off?"

Garak's eyes flicked open and he stared, panting. Slowly, his eyes focused on the Chief. "Get away from me!" he snarled. "What are you doing?!"

"I'm trying to help you. Just take it easy!"

"Take it easy—says the man who has me strapped down for torture," Garak's voice was labored. His hands trembled and strained as he reached for O'Brien menacingly. "But you're never going to get off this station if you don't let me out. I'm the only one who can get past the traps, remember? You're all going to die if you don't let me out. LET ME OUT."

"You already disarmed all the booby traps," O'Brien said, exchanging a nervous glance with Nog.

Garak's laugh was choppy, almost like sobs, but his face was distorted with hateful triumph. "Are you s-sure about that…? I might have just … put a few back where I found them … once you were on board."

"You're bluffing," O'Brien growled.

"There's a bomb set to go off!" Garak hissed with such an intense look that O'Brien stepped back slightly. "If you let me off this bed now, I can still disable it for you!"

"Why would you tell me if there were? You want to kill everyone!"

"Sir!" Nog interrupted. "We should warn the rescue team!"

"He's bluffing."

"LET ME OUT," Garak yelled, straining against the straps again and falling back with a gurgle of pain and rage. "You… don't want to take the risk…! Die now with your friends or die later without them, it doesn't make a difference to me!"

O'Brien hesitated a moment, then tapped on his badge. "O'Brien to Bashir."

"Bashir here."

"Garak says there's a bomb or a booby-trap of some sort waiting for anyone boarding or leaving the station."

"Well… we're already on our way to the infirmary, but we'll scan the area as we go. I'll see you in a few minutes."

Garak showed no response to Bashir's voice. "You still have a few minutes to let me go! I would take that chance if I were you!"

"Shoulda known," O'Brien muttered. "You're a liar, always have been." He paced next to the bed.

"Sir, maybe we should—"

"KILL ME then, you COWARD," Garak shrieked. "Your empty threats—meaningless! Let's have a fair fight! If you don't let me out now I will hunt down your family, I will murder them—"

Before O'Brien knew what he was doing, he had his hand around Garak's jaw. "Don't you ever threaten my family," he said in a low voice.

"Chief!"

O'Brien turned to see Bashir and the rest of the rescue team standing in the doorway.

"Chief," Bashir said in a quieter voice. "Let go of my patient."

O'Brien instantly released Garak's jaw and took a deep breath. "Good. You all got here safe. No booby traps?"

"You'll all die!" Garak raved. "You've brought in the firing squad, how nice! Like a herd of rabid targs!"

"You see what I've been dealing with?" O'Brien said too loudly. "He threatened to murder my family."

"I know," the doctor said, staring at Garak with a grim look. "I heard him as I walked in."

Bashir had prepared himself for this. Or so he'd thought. But hearing the words spoken in Garak's voice and seeing the hatred in his face… he hadn't expected it to feel so disturbing. Or so convincing. The last he'd seen Garak, they'd been chatting amicably, if a bit coolly, about ancient Roman architecture and clothing while sipping tea at the replemat.

He swallowed and turned to Odo and the rest of the rescue team—a security officer and a nurse. "Let's get him on the ship straight away."

Bashir motioned to the nurse and the security officer to follow him toward Garak's bed. He could feel their hesitation as they approached. Garak's eyes were wild but Bashir focused in on the blood-soaked bandage O'Brien had applied to his head. He was just a disturbed patient. That was all.

Everyone jumped when Garak screamed.

"DON'T TOUCH me you SICKENING disease-ridden ALIENS! Bajorans!" He laughed the same choppy laugh. "Humans are almost as bad. Poetic justice! Go on, kill me, Bajorans! Take my neck bones and dangle them around yours! I hope they strangle you in your sleep! You had better get rid of the Changeling, though, or his love for the order of law—" Garak sneered the phrase "—will prevent you from getting any satisfaction out of my death!"

Odo narrowed his eyes at Garak. Bashir could only stare.

"That's right. I'm talking about you, Odo," Garak said in a quiet, rattling voice. "The Changeling. The Founder. You hide behind false loyalty to the Federation, but deep down, your disposition is identical to the rest of your people—order the universe to fit your own desires and hatreds and petty biases! It only shows just how worthless the minds of Bajorans and Humans are that they still trust you after all this time!"

"Garak!" Bashir snapped.

Odo looked away for a moment, pretending to be more interested in a broken panel on the wall before he spoke. "It's alright, Doctor. He's not himself. We can't treat anything he says as the truth," he huffed.

"I know you want to kill me!" Garak called. "Why, your species is the most bloodthirsty of all! Cardassians are like insects to them! Or is it that you can't stand to see one standing up to you?! SO TAKE ME, CHANGELING. Take me back to the Dominion and offer me to them on a silver platter! Another Cardassian slave for you and your Great Link! Take me alive so they can interrogate me! Or use me as some kind of figurehead for their grand schemes!"

Odo stood still throughout the entire rant.

"What's the matter, Odo?" Garak asked breathlessly with mock sympathy. "Shocked that I know where your loyalties lie? You're a Founder. You can't escape that!"

"There's no point trying to reason with you," Odo said gruffly, and folded his arms.

"What an appropriate attitude for a Founder to take toward a Cardassian!" Garak sneered. Odo jerked and opened his mouth, then closed it again, clenching his jaw.

"Alright," Bashir said stiffly. "I've heard enough." He took out his hypospray.

"Wait!" Garak nearly shrieked. Bashir froze. "Doctor, I'm fine." Garak's voice could hardly be called calm, but it was forcibly level. "I just need you… to let me off this bed…."

Bashir hesitated, and then took out his medical tricorder, wanting to get a clear reading of the damage. "Why?"

"Don't try to talk to him!" O'Brien interrupted. "He's a lunatic!"

"You don't know, Doctor." Garak's voice was pleading. He gulped several times. "You don't know what it's been like. Trapped here. Trapped." His voice cracked and his eyes flicked between each of Bashir's. "Please… let me out. I promise I'll come with you to the runabout."

"Don't trust him!" O'Brien yelled.

"He's right, Doctor Bashir!" Nog put in. "Don't let him up, he's dangerous!"

"I'm no threat!" Garak laughed unstably. "Look at me! I'm beaten!" A spasm of rage went across his face but his lips quivered back into a half crazed smile and his voice went from laughing to moaning in the same sentence. "I can barely speak, my head… feels like… it's about to burst, so please LET ME OUT of this BED!"

Bashir looked at Garak, then at his tricorder, then back at Garak's face again, trying not to show the way his stomach was knotting up at what he saw in both places. "I promise we'll let you out as soon as the effects of the drug are reversed. But for now—"

"NO!" Garak screamed. "LET ME GO! DOCTOR!" His voice suddenly changed again, from pleading to threatening. "If you don't know, you pretend not to know, you're on their side, you betrayed me to them—you knew this would happen and you wanted to prove to everyone that I was insane, you believe I'm insane—you've always thought humans are superior! Well surprise, Doctor! I'm going to kill us all right now! If you don't let me go, I'll activate the station's self-destruct mechanism! I looked at the schematics when I came in! I had to disable the central security net! I KNOW the command codes for this station, and I can access them in a heartbeat!"

Odo stepped close to Bashir and whispered: "He might not be bluffing about that."

"STEP AWAY FROM ME!" Garak demanded, voice becoming hoarse from all the yelling. "I DETEST YOU! THE FOUNDERS, THE BAJORANS, THE NAÏVE DOCTORS! Get away from me! You have two seconds!"

"I'm sorry, Garak," Doctor Bashir muttered, feeling sick, "But I'm going to sedate you now."

"One!"

Bashir shot a hand forward to administer the hypospray, but Garak jerked his head toward it and lunged at Bashir, startling him with a furious yell like a battle cry. Bashir had to grab him by the jaw as O'Brien had done, but Garak was still surprisingly strong—Bashir only just managed to discharge the hypospray before Garak snapped at his hand, nearly biting his fingers off.

"COMPUTER!" Garak bellowed. "INITIATE STATION SELF DESTRUCT, ACCESS CODE CHARABAN ONE FIVE—"

Out of nowhere, Odo clamped a hand over Garak's mouth—muffling the screams of inhuman rage which had burst out half a second before—while Bashir quickly scanned him again with a tricorder and administered another dose of sedative. Garak thrashed, blood smearing down the side of his face from under his bandage, but after a moment, he weakened and then… finally… stopped.

Bashir stepped back with a deep grimace. "I forgot," he mumbled to himself. "Cardassian physiology usually requires higher dosages."

Garak lay still. Bashir took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, covering his eyes with a hand before he went back into command mode. Together, he and the nurse lifted the stretcher Garak was on and began the long task of carrying him to the runabout.

As he passed Odo, the constable's head was bowed and his shoulders were even more rigid than usual. He was looking at his hand—the one he'd grabbed Garak with. O'Brien and Nog followed the rescue team out with guns in hand, ready to pre-emptively silence any more self-destruct attempts.

...

Once Bashir saw Garak onto the Rio Grande and made sure his condition was stable, he went with O'Brien and Bashir to retrieve the four bodies where they'd been left under the sheet. Bashir got a good look at their wounds while O'Brien told the gist of the story—Cardassian soldiers in stasis, hopped upon psychotropic drugs, killing one crewman after another… and Garak taking Nog hostage while raving about Kotra. Bashir listened and observed. Then they put the corpses into body bags and hauled them in silence to the ship's cargo hold.

"You said the third Cardassian soldier had decayed in the broken stasis tube?" Bashir asked, once they had finished and were standing alone in the docking area.

"Yeah. Why?" said O'Brien.

Bashir didn't answer right away. He thought about the funeral preparations of Ghemor's body and how strict Cardassian customs were regarding death. But the bodies were already desecrated by being viewed by non-Cardassians. If things had gone a little differently, he could be arranging for Garak's burial at this very moment.

"I'm wondering what to do with their bodies. The Cardassian soldiers."

"Oh yeah," O'Brien said without much concern. "I s'pose we could jettison them. Or take them somewhere to be buried."

"Let's take them with us for now," Bashir said, feeling a tinge of discomfort at what he was thinking. An autopsy would provide a lot of information about Cardassian physiology as well as the effects of the compound. It could save lives, he reasoned, but it didn't make him feel much better.

"I think that would be best," Odo agreed. "I doubt the Cardassian government cares to have them back if they were supposed to be a secret in the first place. They could give us clues about what else the High Command is capable of. Any information on their weaknesses could be useful."

Bashir nodded, suddenly catching a glimpse of what it must be like for Garak to work against his own species. And things were sure to only get worse from here on out.

"So… two broken necks," Bashir summarized grimly. "A crushed throat… and a stab wound. I'm surprised neither of the soldiers decided to steal a phaser—it would have been easier. What did they stab Amaro with? It looked like there were two points of entry."

O'Brien took a deep breath. "It was a flux coupler from the toolkit. And… it… wasn't one of the soldiers who did it, Julian."

Bashir frowned. "What do you mean?"

"It was Garak."

"Garak?" Bashir felt a chill in the pit of his stomach.

"I didn't want to say until the others could see he was under control," O'Brien muttered. Odo was listening intently as well. "It would have probably made things worse if they'd rushed in, guns blazing. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but it's this place… things got pretty tense here for a while. Amaro threatened to shoot Garak just because he wouldn't obey my orders. I knew you wouldn't want to take the chance of something like that… if you could save him."

Bashir stared at O'Brien's reluctant expression and felt at a loss for words for a few moments. "Thank you," he finally said. "I'm glad you waited." Garak, stabbing Amaro. He knew it was the drug's fault, but even so.

O'Brien just nodded briefly. "I really thought he was going to kill Nog. You should've seen him. You should've heard him."

"Speaking of which," Bashir interrupted, not wanting to dwell on this anymore, "I'd like to see you and Nog in the infirmary as soon as you're ready."

"Go on, Chief," Odo said. "I'll handle the Cardassian bodies. I'd also like to examine the flux coupler Amaro was stabbed with."

"Sure," O'Brien said in a distracted voice. "It's lying down in auxiliary control. I'll show you." He turned back to Bashir. "You go on and see about Garak and Nog. I'll be there soon."

...

"There you go," Bashir said, stepping back. "Good as new." He slapped O'Brien on the back.

"Thanks, Julian." O'Brien grinned a tiny bit before glancing over at the bed where Garak was still unconscious. They were sitting in the Rio Grande's sleeping quarters. "You sure you want to be left alone with him?"

Bashir nodded once with a tired sigh. "He's stable, but I may as well set to work mending what else can be mended while he's unconscious. And… I also need to study the psychotropic compound that's affecting his behavior so I can synthesize a medicine to neutralize it as soon as possible."

"Well, call security as soon as he wakes up. Obviously, he's dangerous even when he can't touch anyone."

Bashir said nothing to that, and was grateful when O'Brien didn't push the issue. Instead, the Chief got up and clapped a hand to his shoulder briefly. "See you soon."

"Yeah."

Then he was gone and the room went silent but for the hum of machinery. Bashir set to work and became lost in his own thoughts, losing track of time until the door opened and Odo came in.

"Can I help you?" Bashir asked, setting down his medical instruments. "Don't worry, Constable. He's not waking up any time soon."

"It's… not that, Doctor." Odo avoided looking at him. "I… wanted to see how things are."

"Well, I haven't had much of a chance to analyze the compound yet," Bashir said, heading over to Garak's bedside. Odo followed a few steps behind him. "So far, I've only been able to start taking care of his wounds." He shook his head. "He's an absolute mess. Concussion, three badly broken ribs, and lacerations from the shrapnel—the Chief incapacitated him with a makeshift bomb." Bashir sighed heavily, brow furrowed. "And that's just the physical part."

"But you're sure it's just because of the drug," Odo said carefully.

"Of course I'm sure," Bashir said, sitting down at a tiny work table and looking up at Odo over laced fingers. "Garak always has some honorable motive for anything he does, even if it looks ambiguous to someone outside his culture. That's why this is so disturbing. I keep trying to find a motive, out of habit… but I can't."

"Mm." Odo nodded briefly, staring at Garak's face and still looking troubled. The cuts on Garak's head had been healed, so the bandage was gone and his face was now clean, but he was covered by a sheet from the shoulders down. His clothing had been ruined by the bomb and the blood, and Bashir had had to remove his shirt anyway to extract the bits of metal from his skin.

"He didn't mean the things he said," Bashir added suddenly. "And I'm sure when he's back to normal, he'll regret what happened more than anyone… even if he doesn't say it."

"Garak has plenty of reasons to hate the Founders," Odo muttered to himself as Bashir tapped through screens on the computer. "I'm not so sure his comments were completely random or insincere."

"Well… I am convinced that they were not true," Bashir said firmly. "No matter how they made us feel. They were false. Garak might be in the habit of lying, but that's who he is. This compound and its effects are not."

Odo remained silent. Bashir continued to analyze results for a few minutes, then turned away from the screen.

"Is there something still bothering you? You know that Garak understands you disagree with what your people are doing."

"Yes," Odo said, in his softest voice. "But… I think he might still be afraid of me."

"Well, when he wakes up and is back to normal, you can ask him about all of that yourself. I'll let you know when he's ready."

Odo nodded, suddenly straightening a bit even though his posture was always near-perfect. "Thank you, Doctor. I think I'd like that."

The constable left the room with only one backward glance at the door. Bashir watched him go and then turned back to his work, simultaneously impatient for and dreading the moment he could bring the real Garak back into consciousness.

...

Consciousness came slowly. With it came vague memories of the assault, the sedation, and the poisonous, frantic anger. His nerves ignited with alertness. He heard a familiar voice and opened his eyes; it was Doctor Bashir. Suddenly, Garak remembered exactly where he had last been. The fury stormed through him and he spat words in a harsh snarl.

"Ahahaha, it's you. You… think you can talk me out of this, don't you, I know how your mind works, Doctor. You can try to change me, you can flatter me all you like but the fact remains tha—tha—haaa!" Garak's breath seized up as needles of pain pierced his lungs, and he found himself gasping. A strangled cry of anger and defiance surged through him but the resulting ache just left him more breathless than before.

"Easy, Garak," Bashir said, stern, his mouth a grim line as he discharged a hypospray into Garak's neck. Garak jerked his head away, despite how any sudden movement made him nauseous.

"Don't—touch me!" he snarled, his voice quivering with hatred. "You and your Federation—you have your own agenda! I may have fallen for it before, but no more, Doctor!"

Bashir didn't say anything; he was focusing intently on his tricorder. Garak had a few seconds of silence in which to review the delirious memories of Empok Nor resurfacing in his mind. Abruptly, they vanished as if they never existed. This was his current situation, facing the enemy, and it required his full attention.

"Well." Garak took a slow breath and noticed the pain wasn't as crippling as before, even if he was still restrained to the bed. "The truth comes out, at last. I should have seen it from the moment I met you… you're the worst of them all."

Bashir's eyebrows twitched a bit but he still didn't look at Garak.

"You're clever, Doctor," Garak seethed softly. "You've pretended to be something you're not for most of your life. There's something to be said for that. You've always been aware, haven't you… of how people see you, and how you can use that to your advantage. But even your face doesn't look as young and innocent as it used to. It's beginning to suit you. So what's your hidden motive now? You've used me before, to get information, all the while making me think—" Garak began to laugh bitterly. "Making me think that I was the one using you!"

Bashir finally looked up, his expression only slightly annoyed. "You shouldn't talk too much. You're exerting yourself."

"I feel fine, thanks to you!" Garak said in a mocking voice which quickly turned to quivering rage. "You are a parasite. On the surface, you play the part of the innocent idealist so well that even I was fooled, but beneath all that, even you, even you… are rotten."

Bashir kept his face and voice completely impassive. "I would ask what you're talking about, but it's obvious that the medicine I gave you to reverse the psychotropic compound's effects is still making its way into your system."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Doctor. If you want to console yourself with the idea that my criticism of you is the raving of a lunatic, then go ahead. It wouldn't be the first time you've tried to retreat into delusions or blamed the mental state of someone else for your trouble. But if you want to know the truth—and I mean the real truth—about what I think of you, then you had better pay attention. My mind is perfectly clear."

"Is that so?" Bashir said, rolling his eyes.

"Yes," Garak spat out. "And I would like nothing more than to see you pleading for your life right now. Or better yet, fighting for it. I want to see the real you, the one that wishes I were dead! You want to torture me, don't you? You enjoy seeing how far you can go in this act of friendship before the conflict drives me insane! You know my weak points, and like any good player, you exploit them without hesitation! You think you hold some power over me, but a few years of eating lunches with you is nothing compared to a lifetime of Tain's influence!"

"I never thought it was. I wish I did know your weak points, Garak," Bashir said grimly. "If I did, it would mean you trusted me, which is something that I'm seriously beginning to doubt will ever happen. Tell me what happened with Amaro."

Garak grinned broadly. "Changing the subject, Doctor? Clever, clever. I stabbed him… and left him to suffocate on his own blood."

It was only from watching Bashir's face so many times that Garak could tell he was sickened. The way the expression changed was that subtle. "Why?" Bashir demanded.

"Because he was a fool," Garak whispered, a sudden chill racing through his body. A frantic edge crept into his voice. "Because he was going to kill me! That's how it's played, Doctor—attack! You have to anticipate your enemy's moves and head them off! Oh, I can't believe I've never played a game of Kotra with you, but then, we've always been playing one, haven't we?"

"Why was Amaro going to kill you?" Bashir looked genuinely confounded by this.

"And so he evades!" Garak laughed and glared at Bashir. "You know the answer, Doctor. You more than anyone have been my jailer in this prison of a life I have! You thought you could fool me into believing that I was wanted here—you insult me by thinking I was desperate enough to let your attention lure me into complacency, even into serving the very people who look down on me, day after day! As you look down on me!"

"I've never looked down on you," Bashir said firmly. "And I promise I've never tried to trick you into doing anything for the Federation."

"Don't try to soften me with your meaningless promises, Doctor!" Garak's jaw was clenched. Suddenly his mind revisited the explosion that had beaten him. The weight of Amaro's knees giving out as Garak stabbed him. The lust for violence he'd felt as he'd pointed the rifle at Nog's head, and then his own desperation as he had screamed at the rescue party. His breath came shorter and shorter. "There is nothing to you that isn't a sickening caricature. You want to mold me in the image of your own revolting simplicity, but you're too late! I've embraced what it is to be Cardassian! I've embraced what it is to be the Son of Tain!" His voice shook with disgust. "The minute I get out of this bed, you are going to be the first person I kill… and I will take pleasure in paying you back for all the years you've made me waste on this station."

The words came out of his mouth, and he told himself the trembling in his hands was for the anticipated kill, but he felt only fear. Pure, poisonous fear.

"Well," Bashir said, after a heavy silence. "I suppose if it's taking this long for you to come to your senses, I had better settle in for a long night." He reached over to check the medical device attached to Garak's forehead ridges.

"GET AWAY FROM ME!" Garak suddenly roared, throwing himself against the bed's restraints and nearly fainting from the pain. "I never want to see your face again, you NAUSEATING fool! You have no idea—the things I've done—the person I am. You want to save me, Doctor, but all that really means is you want to ignore the truth—you want an ally WHO NEVER EXISTED! Over and over again, I've tried to tell you, but you just keep coming back to this: you want to ERASE ME! You want to ERASE what it MEANS to be ELIM GARAK! YOU WANT TO ERASE CARDASSIA FROM ME!"

His voice cracked and he struggled against Bashir's hands as they forced him to keep still. The room was spinning after his outburst, and his head throbbed.

"Alright, Garak!" Bashir had finally raised his voice. "That's enough. You're going to hurt yourself. How many times do I have to tell you? I don't care about your past! I already understand who you were, but that's not who you are now."

"Wrong, Doctor!" Garak gasped hoarsely, his eyes unable to settle on anything. "You have no idea how wrong you really are about that…I have no regrets! I HAVE NO—REGRETS—about what I've done!" He yelled it in the Doctor's face, yelled it against the fear, the horrible guilt and uncertainty flashing toward him like a bomb.

"I find that hard to believe," said Bashir.

"That's because you have no concept of the person you're really speaking to." Garak's chest wouldn't stop heaving, and with horror, he realized what was about to happen. "You have no concept of anything beyond… you… you have no concept of…."

Garak couldn't stop shaking, feeling trapped between two lives he couldn't bear to lead. He was sweating again, cool and clammy. A face he hadn't allowed himself to think about in ages flickered like a reflection on the surface of his mind. He stared at Bashir to block it out, but this only made him more afraid. His downfall was about to be repeated, and for a moment he was convinced that his deepest self was even more destructive than who he'd been on Empok Nor.

Bashir kept staring at him calmly. "Of what, Garak?" he said, his voice so soft that Garak could barely hear it through the pulsing in his ears. His breathing was slowing. The words he'd been about to say dissolved in his mouth, and his face relaxed from its tormented expression into exhausted blankness.

"Of what?" Bashir prompted again. "What were you going to say?"

Garak's eyes drifted away until he was staring forward at the ceiling. Finally, he managed to control his breathing enough to speak.

"Doctor…." His voice shook more than he expected. No longer knowing why he bothered, he kept it harsh. "I think it would be best if you left me alone."

"Once you're stabilized, I'd be glad to give you some space. But I'm worried that… the realization of what has happened might be a bit overwhelming."

"I'm sure you have other patients to attend to," Garak muttered. "Chief O'Brien—"

"Is just fine," Bashir interrupted firmly. "You're the only one I'm concerned about at the moment. You've got a few broken ribs and some concussive damage, apart from what the psychotropic compound was doing." Garak gave a short exhale, blinking rapidly and glancing around the infirmary. "Don't worry," Bashir murmured. "No one else is here."

Garak couldn't look at him. He didn't want to think, but in the silence, all he could do was try to make sense of his memories from the last—how many days had it been?

Are you ready to tell me why Amaro was going to kill you?" Bashir asked. "I want to know the truth."

"He…" Garak began, but realized his reasons were weak. "Well, I can't be certain that he was."

"Was it paranoia then?"

"It was bloodlust." His voice was flat. "I wanted to see him dead, Doctor. So I killed him."

"And that's why you took Nog hostage too?"

"Yes."

"I see." Bashir smiled slightly. "That's all I needed to know. Now there's no doubt in my mind that you are not guilty of the crimes committed on Empok Nor."

"Excuse me?" Garak's monotone cracked and gave way to loud incredulity. "Doctor, how can you be so naïve?" He flinched as his newly mending ribs protested. "I killed my own crew member. I wanted to kill your friend! How exactly does that translate to not guilty?"

"I understand exactly what happened," said Bashir. He looked relieved, of all things! "But you're the only person I need to help right now."

"It was my fault we went to that station in the first place," Garak hissed. "I was the one who damaged the plasma manifold. And… on Empok Nor… I knew that I'd been affected by the compound, but I-I kept the information to myself."

The well-worn lines between Bashir's eyebrows deepened. "Why?"

Garak fell silent, eyes roving desperately across the room. Bashir sighed and began to unlatch the straps that had been keeping Garak motionless on the bed. Garak was about to balk at this, then noticed the sleepiness settling lightly over his mind. "You gave me a sedative. Well, at least there's that—you're not completely hopeless."

"I thought the moment of truth was getting a bit too overwhelming," Bashir admitted. "But I kept the dosage very low. You'll keep conscious. Unless, of course, you want to rest, but you've been under for over twenty four hours."

"The moment… of truth," Garak murmured bitterly to himself. He breathed out very slowly, and even then, it shook. He closed his eyes, not wanting to face Bashir. "I'm not sure such a thing exists."

"Oh, I know," Bashir murmured. "But even if the truth doesn't exist, it's obviously still important. The medical truth about your actions, Garak, is that they were being directed by a highly sophisticated drug."

Garak's eyes flashed open. "No, Doctor. That's the worst part of it. The actions I took weren't random or senseless—on the contrary, everything I did made perfect sense."

"You mean it made sense at the time. It's only natural that your mind would try to find a reasonable string of motives for your behavior—it was playing off your most aggressive instincts. It's a bit like when dreams have a storyline that make sense—"

"Doctor, listen to me!" Garak cried, grasping Bashir's shoulder. "You don't know a thing about what goes on in my mind, day in, and day out…. I wanted to go to Empok Nor to get away from this station, to find… information or weapons that I could use for my own purposes—so I damaged that plasma manifold, and I didn't care if anyone on my crew got hurt." He slowed his voice purposely toward the end, hoping Bashir would get the point. "This life, on this station, Doctor, has only gotten more pitiful as the years have gone by." Garak could barely speak for the disgust and pain in his voice. "I—couldn't—live with it—anymore."

Bashir slowly reached up to where Garak's fingers were digging into his shoulder. Carefully, he pried Garak's hand away, took it in both hands, and guided it down to rest on Garak's chest. "I suppose this is the part again where you're about to say how much you hate me."

"I beg your pardon?" Garak blurted, a sudden pain flaring in his chest that was completely unrelated to broken ribs. Bashir almost looked amused.

"Go on then, say it," Bashir goaded. "That's how this goes, isn't it? 'I hate this station, and I hate you.' You see? But you don't have to repeat yourself. You already did when I went to pick you up, if you remember. There's nothing you can say that will make me afraid of you. And that's what you want, isn't it Garak? So say it. Now that the drug is wearing off, it might actually count for something."

"What are you babbling about, Doctor," Garak groaned, flooded by the memories of what he'd said, and a longing to escape from himself.

"Once we get past the part where you're smashing things and trying to strangle me, maybe we can get to the part where I say…."

Garak's throat constricted. Of course. Bashir was referring to the incident with the wire.

"Don't forgive me, Doctor," he whispered. "I couldn't bear that."

He noticed that Bashir had kept his right hand resting on Garak's left. It was warm. And just like that, Garak knew it was already too late. The foolish doctor had already forgiven him.

Bashir stood silently as Garak began to shake and turn his face away. Garak could blame it on the sedative—it had made him lose control of himself in a different way. Was this who he really was, this ache that was beyond physical? He felt as if something had been crushed inside him, and it wasn't his ribs… it was deeper than that.

Bashir didn't say anything for a long moment, but his hand remained gripped loosely around Garak's.

Then, he quietly said, "Would you like to be alone now?"

"No." He said it before he had time to think. "I—" Garak paused, wanting to get a firmer grip on his reactions. He tried to speak more steadily through his swollen throat. "I'll be alright, Doctor. The Federation is sure to be less blind to my failings than you."

"Well, I was going to wait to tell you about the inquest, but I suppose now is as good a time as any. It will be about Amaro, of course. But once I've explained that you weren't in control of your actions—"

"How can you stand there," Garak whispered, finally looking at Bashir again, "with all your knowledge, all your intellectual expertise, and speak to me…."

"It's a very simple physiological process," Bashir smirked. "The air in my lungs is released in controlled quantities through two membranes stretched across the larynx, which causes them to vibrate—"

"You know very well that I'm not speaking of physical capability, Doctor."

Bashir's smirk softened into a smile. "Alright, then. I'm your doctor, and I have training in dealing with difficult patients."

"What do you want from me?" Garak cried suddenly, unable to look away from Bashir's face, and hating himself for it. "Please, tell me, Doctor. Because I don't think you understand exactly what you're asking when you want me to tell you how I feel. Tain… would have been proud of what I did, he would have said 'You've finally learned your lesson, Elim,' and he would be right. I am losing everything, Doctor… I…." his breath heaved in his chest painfully and hissed between his teeth and he turned it into a weak laugh. "I'm… … whatever control I had over my own life…!"

"I understand," said Bashir in his soothing murmur.

"No," Garak said. "You don't. How can you? All of this must still seem like the disjointed babbling of the deranged."

"I understand," Bashir repeated. Garak wished he would shout harshly; it would have been easier to ignore him, then. "The drug was designed to bring out your worst fears and desires, and in addition to that, as I said, I imagine the rational part of your mind created explanations of your behavior based on things you were already struggling with. That doesn't mean you were in control of what you did. But it also doesn't mean your feelings of loss aren't real. You've lost a lot recently. Probably more than you've talked to me about."

"Please, Doctor…."

"Sometimes, the best way to manage loss is to accept it," Bashir went on. "I understand if you want to work through that process in private. But if you're still searching for Tain's approval, and that's what made you go to Empok Nor, then I think it's pretty obvious that it would be wiser in the long run to recognize that your feelings about the loss of Tain… and Cardassia… are not going to go away just because you want to ignore them. You're going to have to work with them."

Garak could think of no retort, and didn't trust himself to speak coherently anyway. He was staring into Bashir's calm, earnest features and thinking about sentiment—the whole blasted subplot of sentiment running through his life, driving away everything he'd ever loved, destroying everything he'd ever worked for.

"If I give in," he said a minute later in a crackling, shaking whisper, "If I don't ignore them, Doctor… they will catch up to me… and I won't have my implant this time… to withstand the torture that would be."

"No, I suppose you won't," Bashir said simply, and raised his eyebrows slightly. "But you will have me."

Garak's throat closed and he screwed his eyes shut, cursing the doctor at the longing and the fear burning in his veins. If only the doctor knew how misguided his advice was, and just what he was doing to him with such a tender offer. This was going to be a long stay in sick bay, indeed.