DISCLAIMER: Star Trek, Star Trek:Deep Space Nine and its characters are copyright Paramount and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan 1996.
by Karen Colohan (copyright 1996)
The airlock door rolled aside like a gigantic cog. Julian Bashir stepped through it hesitantly and onto the station. Behind him the door closed again with a heavy, reassuringly familiar sound. It was like stepping back in time - almost twenty years to be precise. It was an odd feeling to be here, now - after all those long years... here of all places in the galaxy - Deep Space Nine. Strange, but in some indefinable way it still felt like home. Even after all this time, all the other places he had briefly called home... and in spite of all the things that had happened here in that remote past he had spent so long trying to forget. Julian tried to shake those memories away. They were after all why he had left in the first place. He had been so sure they were buried far enough in the past to allow him to return, but the look, the feel of this place... Now he wasn't so certain.
As Julian walked slowly along the Promenade he looked around him avidly. Yes, this looked like the station he wanted to remember - the one that held all the good memories. All the kiosks and shops were open, brightly lit and full of people just as they should be. The scars left on the stark Cardassian architecture by the war with the Dominion had long since been repaired and painted over. He could almost imagine that Captain Sisko and Dax would come walking around the corner together in just a moment. If only it were so easy to mend the damage to my heart...
Unbidden the memories swept over Julian, dizzying in their intensity. It suddenly seemed as if just a few days had passed instead of years. With terrible clarity he could see anew the empty eyes and dead expression of Major Kira as she had informed the senior officers remaining on the station that Sisko, Dax and Worf together with numerous others were dead - victims of the final battle between Starfleet and the Dominion. As if by rote she had explained how the Defiant had been destroyed by Jem'Hadar ships; how in the end the victory had been the Federation's, though at a terrible cost. The sacrifice had reaped its reward. The Dominion had been pushed back through the wormhole and had made no further incursions into the Alpha Quadrant. For the younger Julian Bashir though the price had seemed too high. Deep Space Nine simply wasn't the same place without so many of his colleagues - without Dax. Her loss had hit him harder than he could ever have imagined. Even now Julian didn't like to reflect on how precious a friend he had lost on Jadzia's death. Eventually, haunted by memories and might-have-beens he had requested a transfer and left the past behind. Looking back now Julian wasn't so sure it had been the right thing to do. Had he ever allowed himself to heal...?
The doctor refused to give in to the dark thoughts. He turned his steps in the direction of the Infirmary, keen to see the old place again. Soon it would be his domain once more! Things wouldn't be precisely the same though. This time his rank would be that of a commander and he would have not just a full complement of doctors and technicians, but an extensive research staff as well under his command. That would certainly be a luxury compared to the old days! Julian allowed himself a faint smile as he thought about the reactions of his current colleagues when they had learned of his decision to apply for the newly vacant post on DS9. Comments along the lines of "Aren't you a glutton for punishment?" and "Wasn't once enough?" had been rife. How could they understand though? Especially not when Julian wasn't entirely sure that he understood his own motivation! But no, they hadn't served here in the beginning, after the Cardassian withdrawal. They hadn't seen how things had grown; how a wreck had become a bustling, thriving station...
He passed the bar, as full of noise and excitement as ever - and with Quark's name still firmly over the door. It would be good to see the devious Ferengi again. Julian also had no doubt that if he were to step inside he would run into Constable Odo too. The Changeling had never shown any inclination to relinquish his post as the station's Chief of Security - and who knew how long his race lived. It was oddly reassuring to know that some things never changed...
"Doctor! Doctor Bashir, wait!" A voice - familiar somehow - rang out behind Julian, breaking into his reverie. He halted, curious, and spun round to see who it was that had recognised him. A form still well-remembered had stopped just a few feet away and an equally familiar smile was bestowed upon Julian as he turned. "Doctor Bashir, it is you. I thought so, but I was certain my eyes must be deceiving me." An expansive gesture accompanied the words.
"Garak?" The name was shocked from Julian's lips. It had never occurred to him that the tailor might still be here on the station. His hazel eyes widened and he reached out a hand in disbelief. "Dear God, Garak..."
"Have I changed so much, doctor?" asked the Cardassian with evident amusement in his voice.
"No, of course not," Julian hastened to assure him gallantly. "Well, not that much," he added more honestly, staring at his old friend, cataloguing the outward changes. In truth the Cardassian was somewhat stockier than he had once been and the ridges and whorls of cartilage defining his face were a little less refined than of old. There was no mistaking the lively intelligence which still danced in the clear, blue eyes though or the faintly mocking smile which graced Garak's lips! Well, thought Julian - aware that he was also being subjected to intense scrutiny - he had changed too. Undeniable threads of grey streaked the short, dark curls of his hair; his face bore the lines of middle age and his own body was neither quite as slim nor as supple as it had once been.
"It is good to see you again, doctor," said Garak with more sincerity than he customarily evinced. He stepped closer, putting a friendly hand on Julian's shoulder as if to convince himself that his eyes weren't playing tricks on him. "I can't quite believe it really is you...after all these years. Of course, I had heard certain rumours about the station's new Chief Medical Officer," he admitted cheerfully, "but to tell you the truth I didn't give them much credence. I didn't think you were one to dwell in the past, doctor. What made you come back?"
"Actually, I've been wondering that myself since I got here," said Julian wryly. Garak's eyeridges raised in question. "Oh, don't mind me, Garak. Wait a minute -" Julian's brow furrowed as a thought occurred to him. "I don't recall saying anything about being the new CMO..."
"Doctor, you're not going to tell me you came all this way simply because you experienced a burning desire to revisit your old haunts, are you?" asked Garak sceptically.
"I'm out of practice at this, aren't I?" said Julian with a rueful laugh.
"Why, doctor, I have no idea what you mean," declared Garak innocently. Julian shook his head, smiling fondly at the Cardassian.
"Very well, have it your own way, Garak," he conceded. "But to answer your original question I - well, I just felt it was the right time to come back. Maybe I'll live to regret that choice. Who can say? Right now though the only decision I want to think about is where to get something to eat. So, what do you say to lunch at the Replimat?"
"For old times' sake?" enquired Garak softly.
"If you like," agreed Julian equably. Garak fixed the doctor with a piercing look for just a moment before his smile reasserted itself.
"Doctor," he said with a polite inclination of his head, "I believe I should like that very much."
In companionable silence the two men made their way along the Promenade to the Replimat, each lost in his own thoughts and memories.
Half an hour later Julian was staring at his empty plate, laughing as Garak regaled him with some inconsequential piece of station gossip. The Cardassian's plate was still half full - something else that hadn't changed! It had been an enjoyable meal as they traded stories of old friends and colleagues. Garak had told Julian how Kira had married First Minister Shakaar and was now a highly respected politician on Bajor herself. Julian had raised his eyebrows in disbelief at that piece of news! Then the doctor had related that the O'Briens had patched up their rocky marriage after transferring away from DS9 and now both served aboard the recently commissioned Enterprise F. Strangely though neither Julian or Garak had so far shown any inclination to talk about himself. Finally the Cardassian also finished his meal and laid aside his cutlery. He watched the doctor narrowly, as aware as Julian that they had kept strictly away from more personal topics of conversation.
"So, doctor, tell me about yourself. Those commander's pips look good on your collar. What did you do to earn them after you left the station?" asked Garak carefully.
"Oh there's really nothing much to tell," said Julian evasively. "I just worked my way through the ranks like anyone else. I've served on a number of ships, taken a couple of research posts..." He shrugged his shoulders slightly, seeming to dismiss his entire career with that offhand gesture.
"None of them captured your heart, your imagination the way that Deep Space Nine did when you first arrived here then?" pressed Garak. Julian shook his head. He stared into nothingness for a long moment then focussed his clear, hazel gaze once more on the reassuringly familiar Cardassian face before him.
"After - after the Defiant... When she was destroyed... I thought I couldn't bear to stay here on the station. There were just too many memories, ghosts - and I suppose I felt guilty," admitted Julian. Garak's cornflower eyes widened in disbelief. "Oh, think what you will, Garak, but so many good officers died during the war with the Dominion and there I was - still alive. It may not have been very rational, but still..." Julian managed a faint smile. "My father would have said I was running away from the unacceptable - just like I always did. For once in his life, in this case, he would probably have been right too. DS9 was always where I belonged. I simply didn't realise it until I left."
"And so, when the chance presented itself, you came back," theorised Garak. Julian nodded in agreement.
"What about you, Garak?" he asked. "Did you never think of leaving? The political situation on Cardassia is so different now..."
"Too different," interjected Garak, "it would not have been the Cardassia I knew that I would have been returning to. No, over the years Deep Space Nine has become - my home." An expression of surprise passed briefly over Garak's face, as if he had never admitted that fact even to himself before. To divert the doctor's attention from his momentary confusion the Cardassian enquired about the wellbeing of Julian's family.
"I haven't seen my father in years," said Julian shortly, "and my mother died a long time ago."
"And is there no one else?" asked Garak, genuinely surprised. He well remembered the doctor's love of children, so wouldn't he have chosen to have some of his own? "Surely you married..."
"Actually, no - all that womanising in my youth, but I never found the one I wanted to marry!" replied Julian lightly. Garak regarded him narrowly, trying to divine what lay behind the flippant words.
"Why not, doctor? How lonely that must have made your life." Garak sounded unusually sincere - speaking with the voice of experience perhaps? Julian stared at his slender hands entwined before him on the table, avoiding the Cardassian's eyes.
"Oh well, you know," he temporised, "the right person just never seemed to come along..." It was another evasion and they both knew it, but Garak wisely let the subject drop. Nevertheless his expression was positively sceptical when the doctor finally looked up at him again. "Tell me, Garak, do you still have your tailor's shop?" Julian asked quickly to fill the sudden silence.
"Why yes, doctor, so if you find yourself in need of a new suit..." It was old, familiar ground - safe and reassuring.
"Now that I'm here on DS9 I wouldn't think of going anywhere else for my clothing," promised Julian with exaggerated sincerity. He glanced down at his wrist and noticed the time. "Oh, Garak, if you'll excuse me I have a meeting with the station commander in just a few minutes. I'm sorry, but I have to go."
"Ah, leaving so soon - as ever, doctor," teased Garak. Julian smiled at the old joke as he got to his feet.
"I may have had to cut short our lunch, Garak, but I'm back here on the station - and I'm staying this time," said Julian firmly. The tailor's cornflower eyes glittered with a familiar light as he looked up at the doctor.
"In that case, shall we say lunch tomorrow?" enquired Garak smoothly. Julian's smile broadened. His doubts about returning to Deep Space Nine were rapidly evaporating.
"Of course - until tomorrow then..." The doctor turned, heading for the turbolift which would whisk him away to Ops. His movements were slower than they had once been, but no less graceful. Garak's eyes followed the retreating form until Julian was out of sight.
"Until tomorrow, doctor," he agreed softly.
In fact it was much later the same afternoon that Julian popped his head around the door of Garak's shop. There were no customers in evidence as the doctor stepped inside and the Cardassian was fussing over a display of dresses. Garak glanced around as he heard movement behind him, his professional expression firmly in place. The faintly ingratiating smile rapidly turned into one of genuine welcome though at the sight of his unexpected visitor.
"What a pleasant surprise, doctor, couldn't you wait until tomorrow to see me again?" teased Garak.
"Actually no," replied Julian perfectly seriously. "I have just spent the best part of two hours listening to Captain Griffiths talk incessantly about nothing in particular. Frankly I was rather hoping for some more intelligent conversation by way of an antidote." Garak grinned wickedly.
"Yes, I had heard that Captain Griffiths had something of a reputation for garrulousness," he agreed.
"Well, you might have warned me beforehand," grumbled Julian, rolling his eyes heavenward.
"I'm sorry, doctor," said Garak with manifest insincerity, his eyes sparkling with amusement at the doctor's reaction. In truth Garak understood it was not at all an uncommon one amongst people meeting the station's commander for the first time. "Now, what did you have in mind?"
"I don't know. Did you have anything planned for this evening, Garak?" asked Julian. The Cardassian shook his head.
"Just a quiet dinner at home - so I'm at your disposal..."
"That sounds good to me," interrupted Julian before Garak could continue. "Would you - object to an uninvited guest?" The tailor noticed the faint hesitation, almost as if the doctor had expected to be refused. Garak wondered why, but simply filed the observation away for future consideration.
"Of course not, doctor, if you're sure that's what you want. We could always go to Quark's or the Replimat if you would prefer..."
"No, not this evening, Garak, if you don't mind. I don't really feel like going anywhere crowded - I guess it's just taking me some time to get used to being back here again." Garak nodded quickly in acquiescence then set about closing up the shop for the night. As he bustled around he watched the doctor covertly, trying to read his mood. Something about him seemed to have changed since lunchtime and the tailor couldn't figure out what it was yet. Certainly in the past most of their meals together had been taken in public - only rarely had they entertained one another in their quarters. The Cardassian didn't entirely believe the reason Julian had just given him either. What had really motivated the doctor to invite himself for dinner tonight? It wasn't that Garak minded; it was just unusual... Or at least it would have been twenty years ago - and how, Garak reminded himself wryly, could he really know the ways in which the doctor had changed in that time?
Finally the shop was secured to the tailor's satisfaction and the two men made their way without speaking to Garak's quarters. It was a larger set of rooms than those Julian recalled and he asked the Cardassian about it, using the subject to break the somewhat strained silence between them. Garak related the manoeuvrings which had led to his more favourable room assignment while he prepared dinner. His instincts prompted him to choose the doctor's favourite dishes and he was well rewarded by Julian's smile of pleasure as he noted just how much his friend had remembered about him.
They ate in near silence, but there was no awkwardness in it now. They were simply enjoying one another's company without the need for conversation. It was only after they had settled companionably on the couch to share a bottle of kanaar that Garak set about finding out what was really on Julian's mind.
"Why did you want to come here tonight, doctor?" he asked without preamble.
"I haven't seen you in twenty years, Garak!" protested Julian. "I thought we had some catching up to do." Garak looked sceptical.
"We could have done that over lunch in the Replimat tomorrow," he said evenly.
"And doubtless been interrupted every few minutes by people asking me why I've come back to DS9," pointed out Julian reasonably. Garak shook his head slightly.
"No, what was the real reason, doctor?" pressed Garak curiously. Julian sighed deeply.
"So this is where you get your own back for all the times I nagged you about not telling me the truth I suppose," he muttered exasperatedly. Garak inclined his head slightly in tacit agreement. "You asked before why I never married..." Garak looked startled. This was the last topic of conversation that he had expected. He nodded again, encouraging Julian to continue. "It was true that the right person never came along, but - well, I suppose there was more to it than that. You know, when Palis and I went our separate ways after I graduated - God, it seems like a hundred years ago - I didn't think I'd ever find anyone else that incredible again, but I did..." Julian's voice trailed off and the silence began to stretch uncomfortably.
"Dax?" suggested Garak perceptively. Julian smiled sadly.
"Yes," he admitted. "Oh, I realised once I got over my first infatuation with her that we would never have anything other than a wonderful friendship, but then when the Defiant was destroyed and she was gone I managed to convince myself... I don't know, but somehow after that I was always comparing every woman I met with Jadzia and none of them could ever match up to her. They were beautiful, intelligent - but they weren't Dax..." Garak nodded. That was a sentiment he could understand. In his own way he'd experienced the same feelings.
"I'm sorry, doctor," he said softly. "It was wrong of me to intrude." Julian waved away the Cardassian's concern, pausing for a long moment before he continued.
"Actually, there was one other person in my life I could have felt the same way about," admitted the doctor, his eyes downcast. He glanced up again, looking at the Cardassian through his long, dark lashes. "Someone who had something of the same air of experience and intelligence about them; someone I cared for a great deal. But that person was just as much out of reach for me as Dax was..."
"Tell me, doctor, who was she? And why do you say she was out of reach? Was she in love with someone else? Oh! Surely you can't mean Major Kira. I know you were fond of her, but..." Garak sounded faintly shocked at that possibility. Julian smiled slightly at the Cardassian's reaction and shook his head.
"No, not Kira, she and I were only ever friends," Julian assured the tailor. "But you seem to be missing something, Garak. I don't recall saying that I was talking about a woman..." Total silence greeted the doctor's statement. Garak froze in place as a sudden premonition touched him. He searched Julian's hazel eyes, wondering at what he read in their depths and trying to understand how he could have missed seeing it there before.
"Yes, Garak - I do mean you," said Julian softly.
"Me?" murmured Garak wonderingly, for once shocked all but speechless.
"Who else did I know so well, spend so much time with? I remember Miles once saying that we used to argue like an old married couple!" Julian smiled to himself at the memory. "Actually, Garak, I was always so sure you must have known - that you felt something too."
"But... Doctor, I don't understand." Garak's confusion was evident and his expression was more open than Julian had ever seen it. "Of course I felt... but you - I didn't think that you did. You never gave me the slightest sign. Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"Why didn't you?" countered Julian.
"That's simple enough, doctor," said Garak slowly, still trying to take in what Julian had said. "I was afraid of losing our friendship if you were offended by my speaking of my feelings for you. I had too few friends to take the risk."
"I understand. I feared that too - if I'd read you wrong," admitted Julian. "Though to be honest the idea of having a relationship with another man probably scared me more. Can you believe I was that foolish?"
"There was nothing foolish in that." Garak shrugged his shoulders, dismissing the notion. "If you had never had feelings for another man before I can understand your hesitation."
"In the end I managed to tell myself it meant nothing - that I was just drawn to that air of mystery you always went out of your way to project. You know, the Cardassian spy trying to ensnare the naive young doctor!" Julian looked faintly embarrassed by his confession. "Then of course Jadzia died and I convinced myself that I was in love with her and refused to see the real truth," he added sadly.
"Why tell me all this now?" asked Garak, his clear, blue eyes fixed intently on Julian's face.
"Because I think you still have feelings for me, Garak - and because I know now that my own feelings haven't changed either. I realised that the moment we started talking again. When we had lunch together today - it was as if I'd never been away. Twenty years ago I was too much of a fool to act on what I felt. I have no intention of making the same mistake again. I've been on my own all these years and I know I don't want to spend the next twenty alone too. Do you?" Julian's face had become animated as he spoke, his hazel eyes shining. Garak regarded him fondly, for a moment clearly seeing the young man he remembered so well in the older face before him.
"Ah, doctor, I'm an old man. I'm hardly a prize for you - if I ever was," declared the Cardassian self-deprecatingly.
"I'm not exactly a young man myself, Garak!" protested Julian. "Not that that's what matters. I don't think either of us is thinking primarily about the physical aspects of a relationship. Though that doesn't mean I wouldn't welcome a warm body to hold onto in the night..." the doctor concluded wistfully, recalling just how many nights in his life he had spent alone.
"Doctor..." began Garak, but before he could say more Julian had plucked the half drunk glass of kanaar from his unresisting fingers and was setting it aside with his own. A few seconds later the doctor was leaning across to press a tender kiss on Garak's lips. After a startled moment the Cardassian gathered his wits sufficiently to respond to the gentle pressure, returning it warmly. There was no wild passion in the kiss, but a deep affection. Finally Julian pulled away, catching his breath as he looked at Garak contentedly.
"Why on earth did I wait over twenty years to do that?" he asked with a sigh.
"I have no idea, my dear doctor," replied Garak. "I do hope you don't plan on waiting another twenty years before you do it again though," he added wryly.
"Actually," said Julian confidentially, "I had every intention of making up for lost time right now..."
Both men laughed, hazel human eyes meeting Cardassian blue. Without another word they moved closer to share a second kiss, every bit as sweet as the first, their arms reaching to pull one another into an affectionate embrace. It was, reflected Julian Bashir, good to finally be where he truly belonged.
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