A/N: This chapter contains allusions to sex, but is not graphic. The unedited version of this chapter can be found at archiveofourown dot org, under the pen name Seraphtrevs.

Julian was sitting on the sofa, but he stood as soon as Garak entered the room. The look of relief on Julian's face helped lift Garak's feeling of foreboding. For the moment, at least, Julian was still happy to see him.

"Are you all right?" Julian asked.

"I'm fine," Garak said, crossing the room quickly until he was at Julian's side. "And you?"

"Fine, except – " Julian gestured to the collar that still encircled his neck. "I can't seem to get this off. Could you – ?" he asked, turning around.

"Of course." Garak examined the back of the collar and soon figured out the mechanism to remove it. He noticed there were scratch marks all over the skin of his neck. He traced a finger along one of them. "I'm sorry I couldn't get back sooner."

Julian turned around again. "You're back much earlier than I expected, to be honest. What happened?"

"Sisko convinced the Intendant to let me and your Kira go."

"So she's alone now," Julian said eagerly. "That means we can go talk with her – we should go at once!"

"No," Garak said. "She's under heavy guard. It still isn't safe."

Julian sank down to the sofa. "I have to get out of here. I don't know if I can take another second of it."

After putting the collar down on the end table, Garak sat down beside him. "Tomorrow," Garak promised. "We'll work everything out tomorrow." He was lying to himself as much as he was to Julian by this point.

They sat beside each other for a few awkward moments. It looked like Garak's prayer for one undisturbed night was being granted, but now that he had it, he wasn't sure what to do. He wanted Julian so badly he ached, but he knew Julian didn't feel the same way. He knew the other Kira was right, too – that Julian would never want him if he ever learned of the terrible things he'd done. Everything that Julian had said to the Intendant was true about him as well: he inflicted misery on others because he himself was miserable. His life was empty; that was something he had known for a long time, but Julian's arrival in his life made him confront that fact for the first time. Should he tell Julian that? What would be the point?

It was Julian who finally broke the silence. "I have to say, that was the single worst party I've been to in my entire life." He gave Garak a small smile.

Garak didn't react for a few seconds, but then he started to laugh. Once he started, he couldn't stop. He leaned back against the sofa and put his hands over his face until the laughter subsided. There were tears in his eyes.

He felt a touch on his shoulder. "Are you all right?" Julian asked.

Garak removed his hands. Julian was leaning in very close to him, a concerned look on his face. Before he could think, he put a hand on the back of Julian's neck and pulled him into a kiss.

Julian pulled back immediately. "Elim – " he started.

"Please," Garak begged. "You're leaving, I know, but I just want one night to forget it all – to forget the misery and the degradation; forget the things – " iThe things I've done/i, he almost said, but caught himself. "The things that happen here. Just give me one night to remember, please..." He knew how pathetic he sounded, but he didn't care.

Julian gave him a long, searching look. After what seemed like an eternity, he gave Garak a small nod. "All right," he said quietly. "One night."

Garak surged forward and kissed him again, and this time, Julian kissed him back. Garak wrapped his arms around Julian to pull him closer; Julian pulled back again. "What's wrong?" Garak said, feeling his heart sink. Had he changed his mind?

"Your armor," Julian said. "It's poking me. How do you – ?" He ran his hands along his sides, looking for a way to remove it.

Garak showed him where it unclasped, and soon it was sent clattering to the floor. It was followed by his undershirt. Garak didn't move to kiss Julian again right away; he felt suddenly self-conscious, even though this wasn't the first time Julian had seen him half-naked. The circumstances now were much different.

Julian reached out tentatively and started to stroke one of ridges of Garak's neck. Garak shuddered in pleasure. His breath started to come in great heaving gasps; he shut his eyes and tried to slow it. Julian must have sensed that he was overwhelmed, because he stopped his caress.

After a moment, Garak felt Julian's hand on his face. He opened his eyes to find Julian inches from him. "All right?" he asked. Garak nodded. This time, Julian initiated the kiss. He kept it shallow and gentle, only deepening it when Garak put his arms around him again. As the kiss grew more intense, Julian started to stroke his neck again. Garak couldn't back away from the pleasure this time. He broke off the kiss and made a move to roll Julian over while pulling his trousers down.

Julian made a startled sound and moved back abruptly. He pulled his trousers back into place with his one hand and put the other on Garak's chest to hold him back. "Hold on – that's moving a bit quick, don't you think?"

Garak felt a rush of embarrassment; he was acting like an over-eager virgin. He'd always paid for his sexual encounters; he'd never been with someone who actually wanted to be with him. iAnd you still haven't/i, he reminded himself bitterly. Julian wasn't doing this because he wanted him – he'd taken pity on him, nothing more. His embarrassment shifted to anger – some directed at Julian for not loving him, but mostly directed at himself for being so pathetic.

Julian must have sensed Garak's shift in mood. He put his hand on Garak's face again and gave him a reassuring smile. "We're not in any hurry, are we?" he said. His voice was so warm that Garak felt all of his bitterness dissolve. Perhaps it wasn't real, but for now, it was close enough. Julian took his hand and stood, tugging him gently towards the bedroom. Garak floated helplessly behind him.

Being with Julian was unlike anything he'd ever experienced before. He knew that Julian didn't truly desire him – that in a way, this was as false as the encounters he'd had with prostitutes. Julian pitied him, nothing more. Yet at the same time, Julian was so tender to him, bringing him alive with the touch of his hands and lips and tongue. And when Garak turned to offer the same pleasures, he responded with enthusiasm. It wasn't real, but it was still better than anything Garak had felt in his entire life.

Afterward, they lay beside one another, their chests heaving. Garak buried his face in Julian's neck; he was gasping for air, but he never wanted to catch his breath. His arm snaked around Julian's waist. After some time, Julian pulled away. He moved off of the bed; or, rather, he tried to – Garak grabbed his arm, preventing him from leaving. "Where are you going?"

Julian gave him a bewildered look. "To get washed up," he said. "I'm a bit sticky; it's uncomfortable."

"Oh," Garak said. That made sense.

"Let go of my arm," Julian said a moment later when Garak still hadn't released him.

"Of course," Garak said, hastily letting him go. Julian stood up and rubbed his arm. He stared at Garak for a moment, his expression shifting from bewildered to disturbed; he turned from him abruptly and left for the washroom.

Garak silently berated himself as he listened to the water running. How had he managed to ruin things so quickly? He sat up; he was somewhat sticky himself, but wasn't about to disturb Julian. He settled for using Julian's discarded gold trousers to wipe up as best he could while he tried to think of some way to fix things.

Julian emerged from the washroom fifteen minutes later, a towel wrapped around his waist. He barely looked at Garak as he went to the dresser and pulled out a pair of Garak's sleeping trousers. He put them on quickly.

Finally, he turned to Garak. "I think I might owe you an apology," he said.

Garak blinked in surprise. "What? Why?"

"Because my good intentions have spectacularly misfired, as usual. I thought I was making things better for you, but now I'm fairly certain I've made them worse."

For a brief moment, Garak wanted to spit at him that he could keep his pity, but he had already sabotaged himself enough for one evening. And after all, was he not a pitiful creature? He managed to give Julian an amused little smile. "You aren't going to break my heart, if that's what you're worried about. I iam/i an adult, you know, not a moody adolescent."

"Oh, of course," Julian said quickly. "I didn't mean to imply that you – " He cut off and sighed. "I should probably stop talking altogether before I dig myself in deeper. I iam/i sorry, though. I don't mean to play with your emotions."

"I should be the one apologizing,"Garak said. "I didn't mean to startle you. Truth be told, I startled myself. I suppose I hadn't realized how starved for meaningful contact I'd become, which happened long before you arrived. That's something I'll have to remedy once you leave. Perhaps I'll become a tailor after all – that seems like a social profession."

His lie worked; Julian relaxed immediately once he mention his immanent departure. "So you iwill/i leave here, then."

"I think so," Garak said. "But neither of us is going anywhere tonight." He started to get out of bed. "I'll go sleep on the sofa; you can have the bed."

Julian sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "That's not necessary," he said. "Just move over a bit."

Garak accommodated him. They laid beside each other for several long moments, both on their backs, staring at the ceiling. Finally, Garak rolled on his side toward Julian. When Julian didn't move away, he moved forward until his head was resting on his shoulder.

"How long have you been with your Elim?" Garak asked quietly.

"Are you sure this is something you want to talk about?"

Garak nodded into his shoulder.

Julian let out a long breath while he thought. "A few weeks now, I think?"

"Only that long?" Garak asked, surprised.

"Yes, but we've known each other for about a year."

"And what changed between the two of you? What made you become lovers?"

"It's a long story. Do you remember how I told you he was a spy? During his years of service, he had a device implanted in his brain to help him resist torture by triggering the release of endorphins. After he was exiled, he started using that device to cope with his unhappiness. The device started to break down; by that point, he'd become addicted to the increased levels of endorphins. He went into painful withdrawal, which I helped him through."

"You saved him."

"I suppose I did."

"And then he declared his love for you."

"It wasn't iquite/i that dramatic," Julian said, smiling. "It changed things between us, though. I suppose he figured I'd seen the worst of him and hadn't run away, so he might as well take a chance and be honest with me about the way he felt. As honest as he'd capable of being, at any rate," he added.

"But now you've betrayed him by being with me."

"Not exactly," Julian said. "We agreed that we wouldn't be sexually exclusive."

"So you have a lot of lovers?"

Julian laughed a little. "Not really, no. I'm not interested in anyone else."

"So ihe/i has a lot of lovers."

"I doubt it."

"I don't understand, then."

"After we had sex for the first time, he made me promise that I wouldn't limit myself. He wanted to make sure if I met someone else, I felt free to pursue it, since he's sure I'm making the worst mistake of my life by getting into a relationship with him."

"Why would he say that?"

"I don't think he likes himself very much. When he was ill, he confessed that he'd done some terrible things. I don't how much of it was true."

"But you forgive him for it. Why?"

"I think he was confused for a long time. I think he was in an organization where terrible things were done as a matter of course. I'm not completely naïve – I'm sure that his hands aren't the cleanest. But – I iknow/i him. No matter what he says, I know that he would never hurt someone because he enjoyed it, or go out of his way to do harm to innocent people."

"What if you found out he did? Would you leave him?"

Julian didn't reply for a long time. "I don't know," he said finally.

"Do you love him?"

"I'm not sure yet," Julian said. "Maybe. It's all been so...iintense/i these past few weeks; I'm still sorting out what it all means. And he's no help – he's so damnably difficult to read sometimes. Although if I'm honest, that is part of the appeal – that I never quite know what to expect from him."

Julian turned his gaze from the ceiling to Garak, as if remembering he was there. Their eyes met for a moment before Julian turned away. "And it is beyond strange talking about this with you," he said, affecting a lighter tone.

"You deserve better," Garak said quietly.

"And how do you know that I don't have dark secrets of my own?"

"You?" Garak said with a laugh, but Julian didn't crack a smile. "You must be joking. Someone like you – "

"You don't know who I am," Julian said. "That's my point. We've only known one another for a couple of days."

"I know that there is no one like you in this universe," Garak said. "Because it's impossible that anyone like you could exist in a place like this."

"That's not true. There must be another Julian Bashir running around here somewhere."

"And I shudder to think of what kind of monster he is, considering the differences between your Kira and Sisko and mine."

"But you're not so different from my Elim. Maybe he isn't, either. And maybe I'm the terrible one and he's the wonderful one. You don't know."

"Now I iknow/i you're joking."

"I only mean that you shouldn't idealize me," Julian said, smiling. "You'll be fine when I'm gone, I promise."

They lapsed into silence again, and after a little while, Julian fell asleep. Sleep came much harder for Garak; thoughts kept racing through his head. The other Elim had lied to Julian – continued to lie to Julian – but Julian forgave him. That was promising. He spooned up behind Julian and buried his face against his neck, silently begging for his forgiveness. Because he couldn't let him go. Not ever.