A/N: This chapter gets intense in a way that could possibly be triggering.
Four days went by, and they still hadn't found Julian or Major Kira. They discovered Quark's secret room easily, but it was empty by the time they got there. Garak took the lead on the search at first, but by the third day he reluctantly turned the task over to Odo. He really ought to have been in charge from the beginning, but the desperation Garak felt needed an outlet. He barely ate or rested, spending all of his time scouring maps of the station for maintenance and ventilation shafts and other possible hiding places, but the station was enormous and difficult to navigate. There was an infestation of Cardassian voles that made tracing life signs tricky, and he did not have unlimited resources. The Klingons basically refused to help with the search; Telok sent his most incompetent men who had clearly been given instructions to be as uncooperative as possible while still technically taking orders.
The Intendant had taken a maddeningly laissez-faire attitude towards the whole business. She forbade any ship from leaving the station, but other than that, made no overt attempts to recover them. "They're not going anywhere," she pointed out when Garak challenged her on the matter. "Let them run around the walls for awhile. They'll get tired of it eventually."
There was also no attempt to recover the missing slaves. Allowing Terrans to escape made the Intendant look bad with her government and she knew it, so instead, she wrote them off as deaths. That also made her look bad, but it was better to look too brutal rather than incompetent. No one particularly cared, anyway, as long as the ore shipments were made on time. And the shipments were always on time. Whatever her faults might be, the Intendant always managed to deliver what was asked of her, which is why she was given such free reign of her sad little kingdom.
This did not mean, however, that the escapes had no consequences. The Intendant made sure that the remaining Terrans paid dearly for their comrades' escapes. She cut their rations and instituted random tortures. That normally would have pleased him, but Garak suddenly had no appetite for torture. After his interrogation of Quark, he felt strangely deflated. The sense of power and control he used to feel had evaporated. It made no sense – he had won, hadn't he? He'd gotten the information he'd wanted, even if it hadn't led to Julian's capture. But the victory had felt empty. Besides, he found he could no longer look at Terrans without seeing Julian reflected in their faces. He pawned the whole project off to a miserable Dukat, and retreated to his quarters.
Taking time away from his work proved equally unbearable. He spent an entire day in his quarters obsessing over the things Julian had left behind. There wasn't very much: the uniform he'd arrived in; the hated collar and golden trousers; the untouched box of chocolates; and lastly, the teacup that he'd left on the table before his escape. Still, it was evidence that he had been there, and Garak clung to it. That night, he buried his face in the still unwashed pillow Julian's head had once laid upon, and held the uniform in his arms like a child with a blanket.
He made two cups of Tarkalean tea in the morning, and broke his fast with one of the chocolates that Julian hadn't eaten. He didn't like the taste, but since he imagined Julian would, he ate another one. As he watched the steam gradually dissipate from Julian's cup, he considered the possibility that he was losing his mind. If he hadn't already, it seemed likely that he would in the near future if he didn't do something differently. He couldn't work, but he couldn't hole up in his quarters alone, either.
Which is how, on the fifth day, he found himself in the Intendant's quarters, watching her bathe. Or not bathe, exactly – she sat in her enormous tub, bubbles thankfully blocking the view of her body, and stewed, for lack of a better word.
"You know what our problem is, Elim?" she said as a Vulcan slave massaged her temples. He was Elim now, apparently. "We're too nice."
Garak grunted; he had his own Vulcan masseur working on a knot in his shoulder. He was sitting across from a giant mirror – he would have sat elsewhere, but there were mirrors everywhere. As a result, there was nowhere he could direct his gaze – not at the Intendant, certainly, and he didn't care to look at himself either.
"When this runaway problem started, I could have really come down hard on the Terrans," she continued. "But I said to myself, 'Nerys – these are your little worker bees, and you are their Queen, and Queens have to look after their servants.' And so I kept the interrogations only to those I suspected of having involvement in the escapes. I tried positive incentives, offering rewards to Terrans who came forward with information. I didn't enact any punishments on the population as a whole. And what thanks do I get? They just get bolder! Twenty gone! Don't they realize how this makes me look? Well, they're certainly regretting it now, aren't they? Serves them right."
The Intendant waved her masseur away and stood up from the tub. Garak averted his eyes as two other Vulcan servants dried her and presented her with a robe. She sat down beside him, either not noticing his discomfort or not caring.
"So, let's talk. Is there a particular reason you came to see me this morning?" When he didn't respond, she continued. "I hear that you've decided to take some time off." She held up her hand before he could say anything. "I'm not asking for excuses – I, myself, am a fan of delegation. It just seems a bit uncharacteristic of you."
"It is, isn't it?" he said, more to himself than her.
"You know what I think? I think you've been doing some soul-searching, and I think you came to me this morning because you've realized something. And I've realized it, too." She put a hand on his leg. "I've been searching all these years for someone who truly understands me – who knows the pressures of power, and the loneliness it creates. And all along, it was you. Maybe that's why we could never get along – we're just too much alike! We both have tender hearts under our tough facades."
Garak didn't know what to say to that. Fortunately, the Intendant didn't seem to mind. "I think our silly feud has been going on long enough, don't you? Think of how much we could accomplish if we just stopped trying to kill each other all the time. The two of us, united, working together – it could be a great thing, Elim. Just think about it." She gave his leg a pat. "And stop worrying so much about our pets. This is all for the best, if you think about it. They obviously needed to get this out of their systems, and when they do come back to us – and believe me, they will – they will realize how futile any effort to escape is. They will have broken their own spirits, and that's a lesson that will stay with them."
Garak let his eyes drift upward until he was looking at the reflection of the two of them, sitting side by side. The Intendant followed his gaze and smiled at the mirror before looking back at him. "I know what will cheer you up! Let's pick out some outfits for them."
Fortunately, the door chimed, saving Garak from having to form a response. "That should be Benjamin," the Intendant said, standing up. "Enter!"
Sisko stepped in the door. The Intendant walked over to him and draped her arms around his neck. "You wanted to see me?" she purred.
He didn't return her embrace. "How long do you plan to keep us here?"
Then Intendant removed her arms. "Why, Benjamin," she said. "I'm starting to think you're eager to leave me."
Sisko simply stared at her, expressionless. She scowled. "Until Julian and my Nierys have been found, no one leaves," she said.
"Surely you don't suspect me of harboring escapees," Sisko said. There was a nastiness to his tone that surprised Garak – not the fact that he would be contemptuous of her, but the fact that he would so blatantly display it.
"You? My loyal and true friend?" she responded with saccharine viciousness of her own. "Perish the thought! But I'm sure you understand how recent events have made me just a teensy bit more suspicious than usual." She walked over to her private bar and poured herself a drink. "Do you want anything?" she said to Garak. Given that it was 1030, he declined.
"And how long do you expect that to be?" Sisko said.
The Intendant shrugged. "Soon. Eventually, anyway. What's your hurry?"
"My men are getting restless."
"So? Just let them blow of some steam at Quark's." She paused. "Oh. Right. Not exactly a possibility anymore, is it?"
"I'm getting restless."
She gave him a long, hard look, then grabbed her combadge from her dresser and tapped it twice. "Good morning, everyone. This is your Intendant speaking. I don't mean to interrupt you when you're all hard at work, but I need to get the attention of two errant wretches who have made themselves very difficult to get ahold of. I'm sure you've all heard the rumors about the two visitors from the other dimension – yes, they did attempt to leave us, but we have reason to believe they are still here, in hiding. And I'd like to have a word with them right now, if you all will permit me: Julian, Nierys – please give up your foolish attempts at escape. It's been five days now – how much longer do you think you can keep it up? I promise that we're not too angry, so come home, please, and all will be forgiven. And if you don't – well, for every hour you remain missing, I'll have someone executed. We'll be waiting for you in my office. The clock starts now. Hope to see you soon, dears!" She tapped her badge again, cutting off the signal. "There," she said to Benjamin. "Are you happy now?"
He bared his teeth. "Ecstatic." He turned and stormed out, but right before he left, he shared a look with Garak. Once again, Garak had the feeling that he was trying to communicate something, but then he was gone. Perhaps he had imagined it.
The Intendant let out an annoyed sigh. "There's no pleasing some people. Oh well, he'll get over it." She walked over to her closet. "So, about those outfits – I'm thinking something sheer."
"I should go," Garak said.
"Why?" she said with a pout.
"Because I need to prepare for those executions you just ordered," Garak snapped.
The Intendant rolled her eyes. "No one is getting executed. Our pets are much too noble to let that happen. I think it would have been better if it was their own decision, but some people lack patience." She waved at him dismissively. "But go if you want to go. I'll see you in my office in about an hour – I'll have Odo keep an eye out for them in case they come to their senses sooner than expected, but I have a feeling they're going to wait to the last minute."
Garak stepped out into the hallway and started to head to Ops, but on an impulse, he turned and headed off in the direction of the docks. He met Sisko just as he was about to get on a turbo lift. Without a word, they boarded the lift together. Once they were on their way, Garak asked, with hesitation, "May I ask you a question?"
Sisko inclined his head. "I was unaware you were in the habit of asking permission to ask questions, but by all means."
"How did you and the Intendant come to your...arrangement?"
"I had recently been sold to this station – I was a problem slave, you see. My master couldn't wait to see me off. The Intendant was making her rounds and commented on my shoddy workmanship. I told her that my true talents lay elsewhere, and if she wanted to see me demonstrate them, she should invite me back to her quarters."
Garak was astonished. "Weren't you frightened she would have you beaten? Or worse?"
Sisko shrugged. "I've been beaten on a regular basis since I was a child – that particular threat has not been motivating for a long time. And as to worse – things couldn't get any worse. Threats of death are also not particularly effective, for a slave."
"But she didn't have you beaten."
"No. She took me up on it, and it turns out she agreed with my assessment."
"So how did you manage to get her to give you a ship?"
"She likes me. She trusts me. And I think having me around all the time bored her. It excites her when I've been gone for awhile – makes things fresh. You know how our Intendant hates being bored."
They rode in silence for a few minutes. "And how do you feel about her?" he finally asked.
Sisko turned and looked Garak directly in the eye. "I hate her," he said. "With every fiber of my being."
The turbo lift stopped. Sisko walked out the door without a backward glance.
Garak made his way to the Intendant's office after that. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do. He wasn't sure how to feel. He was eager to get Julian back, of course, but he knew things wouldn't be the same. Julian would hate him, most likely – at least for now. But perhaps this was all for the best, in a way. He no longer had to worry about hiding the truth from him, and now that Major Kira was out of favor with the Intendant, he wouldn't have to be concerned with her interfering. And hadn't Julian forgiven the other Elim for his transgressions? If he could show Julian that he was a changed man, he would come around. He had to.
The Intendant arrived forty-five minutes later, dressed in her full regalia. She positioned herself at the chair behind her desk like a queen on her throne, belying none of the anxiety that Garak felt. As she had predicted, it was to the hour almost exactly before Julian and Major Kira arrived, handcuffed and escorted by Odo. They both looked much worse for wear, filthy and covered in scrapes and bruises. Julian had a black eye and a nasty cut on his hand.
"There you are, you naughty little minxes," the Intendant said. "I hope you've learned your lesson." The Intendant didn't even rise from her chair, as if their disappearance had only been a minor nuisance. Garak was confused by her casual approach at first, but now he saw that treating them like misbehaving children took a lot of the power from their escape attempt. She really was unparalleled in her ability to manipulate.
"I suppose some sort of punishment is in order," she continued. "You shall be locked up until I think of what to do with you, my Nierys. And as for you, Julian – well, I leave your fate to the Gul's discretion. I really don't envy you." The Intendant picked up a padd and started to read. "You are all dismissed."
Odo led Major Kira away. Garak approached Julian, who refused to look at him. He flinched when Garak put a hand on his arm, even though Garak was being gentle. He reminded himself to be patient.
Julian didn't put up any fight as they walked back to Garak's quarters, but once they arrived, he stopped short when they reached his door. Garak put a hand on the small of his back to encourage him forward. He stopped again at the bedroom door; this time, Garak had to give him a shove.
"Sit on the bed," Garak said.
Julian reluctantly did as he was instructed while Garak pulled out the restraining device from the dresser. He set the proximity at the minimum distance and knelt in front of Julian to attach it to his ankle. He then went to the washroom to retrieve his medical kit. He sat down beside him, examining his injuries for a moment. He decided to start with the one on his hand, but Julian jerked back when he tried to touch him.
"I'm not going to hurt you," said Garak.
"And you've proven yourself to be so trustworthy." The loathing in his voice broke Garak's heart.
Instead of responding, he grabbed Julian's hand and held it firmly. He ran the medical device over the cut and soon it disappeared. If only the more abstract hurts could be as easily healed. He put a hand on Julian's chin to hold him still so he could fix his black eye, but Julian jerked back again. "Hold still," Garak said. "I only want to heal your wounds."
"Why? Because seeing a Terran in pain grieves you, since you're such a sensitive soul?" Julian laughed humorouslessly. "You must have had a good laugh when I bought that lie."
"I would never laugh at you."
"Why not? I had a good laugh at myself when Kira told me what you were really like. I've heard all about what you've done to these people."
There was no sense in denying it. "But I've treated you well, haven't I?"
Julian stared at him. "Are you joking? Manipulating me to get me to sleep with you is 'treating me well?' Referring to me as 'a consolation prize?'"
"I didn't mean – that was poorly worded."
"Poorly worded? Then what would have been a better way to put it – the grand prize? A spoil of war?" When Garak didn't answer, Julian continued. "Would you have stopped if I had said no last night? No, never mind," Julian said before he could respond. "I don't believe anything that comes out of your mouth. And to think I felt sorry for you."
"I don't want your pity," Garak said, anger creeping into his own voice.
"Then what is it you want? What do you think is going to happen now? That you'll keep me locked up here and I'll somehow change my mind and throw myself into your arms? Because that will never happen. I could never feel anything other than contempt for someone like you!"
"And what about your Elim?" Garak demanded. He stood up so that he was towering over Julian. "He lies to you – you told me yourself. Why am I different?"
Julian stood as well, meeting him eye to eye. "My Elim told me lies to scare me away, not to make himself look better. He still tries to warn me off of him, because he cares about my well-being more than he cares about his own."
"And what of the terrible things he's done? You don't even know what they are, and yet you forgive him."
"My Elim may have done terrible things, but it was because he believed it was for the greater good. However much I might not understand his devotion, and however much I might disagree with his methods, everything he did he believed was in the best interests of his planet and of his fellow citizens. What do you believe in? Do you care about anything other than your own selfish pleasure?"
"I care about you," Garak said, but it sounded hollow even to his own ears.
"Then let me go! I can't live like this – it will kill me!" Garak turned away, unable to meet his gaze. "Elim – please. Please!"
Garak wanted to cover his ears to block the sound of Julian's pleas. Instead, he just shook his head. "I can't."
There was a beat of silence. Garak turned to look at Julian once more. His eyes were widened but unfocused, his jaw slack, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing, like the terror of it was too much. Garak wanted to reach out to him, to try to make him understand, but what could he say?
He put a hand on Julian's shoulder; Julian shook it off, his expression shifting from despair to cold fury. "There's another difference between you and my Elim," Julian said. "He'd never have to chain me to a bed in order to fuck me."
Garak hit him – an open palmed slap to his face, right over his already blackened eye. Julian fell back to the bed with a shout of pain. Julian put a hand to his cheek. His gaze felt like a burn on Garak's own face. "Now tell me again how much you care about me," Julian said.
And just like that, Garak knew that he'd lost him forever. What's more, he'd lost his other self, too – the man who existed when he was with Julian, a man whom he thought he might become. A fury of his own started to rise in Garak's chest. Julian saw him as a monster; he might as well play the part. He turned and left the room, ignoring Julian's calls asking where he was going. Garak went to the main refining area and found Odo.
"Where's O'Brien?" he said. "The blond Terran – the one who fixes things?"
The look on his face must have been fierce, because Odo didn't bother to ask why he wanted him. He pointed the Terran out; Garak strode over and grabbed him by the arm.
"I need you to come with me," he said. The Terran looked surprised, but obeyed without question.
They soon reached Garak's quarters. Garak pushed the Terran back towards the bedroom. Julian's eyes widened when he saw him. He jumped to his feet. "What are you doing?"
"This is the one, isn't it? The one who you are friends with on the other side?"
"Elim," Julian said in a steady voice, as if he were addressing a maniac. "This is between you and me – he has nothing to do with it. Send him back, and we can talk, all right? Just you and me."
"You said you don't believe anything I say," Garak said. "So I thought that perhaps you would believe him." He pushed O'Brien on the shoulders until he knelt. "I'm going to ask you a few questions, and I want you to answer honestly. Do you understand?"
O'Brien still seemed confused, but he nodded.
"Good." Garak took a moment to breathe. He clasped his hands behind his back, as he often did during an interrogation. He felt in control again. "What is the worst thing that you've heard I've done?
"I – I don't know, sir."
Garak took the knife from his belt and pressed it to the side of O'Brien's face. "Answer or I'll cut off your ear."
"Don't!" Julian shouted. "Stop this right now!"
"Shut up," Garak said. He put a little pressure on the knife, causing a drop of blood to roll down O'Brien's neck. "Well? I'm waiting."
"There was a man once – you said you didn't like the way he was looking at you, so you had his eye cut out."
Garak nodded. "Yes, I remember that. He would have been a trouble-maker; I'm good at sensing that. Best to get him in line early. What else?"
"There were two Terrans who were friendly with each other – you accused them of conspiring to do something, I was never sure what. You had them executed." O'Brien paused. "They weren't, you know. They were just friends."
"I'm sure they were guilty," Garak said. "Or they would have been guilty. What else?"
"There was a woman – she was pregnant. You worked her so hard she miscarried, and then you told her it was for the best because you would have killed the baby anyway."
"No," Garak said. "Not quite correct – I told her the baby would have been taken from her. Which it would have – can you imagine, a baby here?"
Julian had sunk back to the bed, where he sat with a hand over his mouth. He was shaking.
"Why do you think I do these things?" Garak continued.
"I don't know, sir."
"Is it, perhaps, because I'm trying to keep order?"
"I suppose so, sir."
"You sound skeptical. What do you really think? Come now, be honest. That's why I asked you here."
Amazingly, O'Brien lifted his gaze until he was looking directly at Garak. "I think it's because you enjoy it. Sir."
"What is the point of this?" Julian said. "Is it to frighten me? To show me how much you're going to enjoy hurting me?"
"Oh no," Garak said. He put his knife back in its sheath and sat down beside Julian. He put a hand on his chin and lifted his face upward. "No, you misunderstand me. I will never lay a violent hand on you again. But as you can see, you were right about me. I am a terrible person, and I do horrific things. But you, Julian – my brave, noble Julian – you care about the plight of others, don't you? And you would do anything you could to mitigate their suffering? Because every time you try to escape, or otherwise displease me in any way, they are the ones who will suffer. Do you understand me?"
Julian nodded as best he could with Garak's hand still on his chin, but Garak didn't release him. "I want to hear you say it. Say yes."
"Yes," Julian said. "I understand."
Garak released him and stood up. "You can go now," he said to O'Brien. O'Brien got to his feet, but before he left, Garak added, "Thank you. You've been very useful. Perhaps – perhaps we can look into getting you some better living quarters. And more rations. Would you like that?"
"Yes, sir," O'Brien said flatly.
Garak looked out of the side of his eye to see what Julian thought of that, but Julian was staring dully at the floor in front of him, seeming oblivious to what was happening.
Once O'Brien left, Garak paced around the room for several long moments, still filled with terrible energy, unsure of what to do next. He finally picked up the med kit and sat beside Julian again. This time, Julian didn't resist.
The wound on his face was soon healed, like it had never happened. "There," he said. "That's better, isn't it?" He wasn't surprised when Julian didn't respond. "I didn't want to be so...forceful, but you're being stubborn. You're lucky I got to you when you first got here – you'd probably be dead by now if you weren't under my protection. I know things are different where you're from, but the Intendant is right – you need to get used to your new situation. And things won't be as bad as you think. I can make things better – for you, for everyone – just as long as you stop fighting me." He wiped a smudge of dirt from Julian's cheek. "And when the Intendant's gone – and mark my words, I will get rid of her – things will be even better. I can get you anything you want, anything at all. You will be happy here, you'll see."
Julian finally turned to look at him. "So do you want me on my back or on my knees tonight?"
Garak fought the urge to hit him again. Instead, he knelt to readjust the distance on the restraint. "Get cleaned up."
Julian disappeared into the washroom. Garak stared at the floor as he listened to the water run. He thought suddenly of Katy, Dukat's whore, and of her vacant stare. He thought of all of Quark's girls, their fake smiles and dead eyes. He thought of Sisko, caressing the Intendant and whispering sweetly in her ear while wishing her dead.
This wasn't what he wanted. He felt like he couldn't breathe. Before Julian could emerge from the washroom, he left the bedroom, left his quarters, left all of it behind.