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 August 1996.

Note: This is another of those stories written before "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" and so no longer in touch with the dread canon...

THE FEARS WE CLING TO

"No!"

Julian Bashir woke abruptly. The sound of his voice crying out in fear and denial rang loud in his own ears. He tossed fitfully under disordered sheets. A nightmare? Julian wasn't sure. He felt terrible - hot... fevered? What was happening to him?

As the sudden, irrational feelings of panic threatened to overwhelm the young doctor a pair of strong arms came around him. They comforted Julian, supporting him. At the same time a low voice sounded close by his ear, soothing him and gentling away the night terrors. Slowly the doctor began to relax until...

Arms? A voice? Why wasn't he alone in his quarters? Solitary - as he always was when he went to his bed each night.

Julian fought free of the supportive embrace. His eyes were wide and frightened as he pulled back to see who it was that had intruded on his solitude. The arms released their hold with a certain reluctance, but accepting the doctor's withdrawal. Looking up hazel human eyes found and locked with those of Cardassian blue.

"Garak?" There was mixed fear and confusion in Julian's voice as he stared uncomprehendingly at the solid figure of the tailor perched on the side of his rumpled bed.

"Doctor," said Garak solicitously, "please be calm. This is the first time you have woken in four days. You should go slowly."

"What? Garak, I... Four days - I don't understand." Julian ran a shaky hand through his hair, trying to clear his head. His brain felt like a mass of soggy cotton wool and he couldn't seem to think straight. His unease was clear to see and Garak squeezed his arm reassuringly.

"Do you remember nothing then, doctor?" he asked intently. Julian shook his head, his dark brows drawn together in a frown.

"I - I can't even remember how I got here." The doctor closed his eyes, trying to call up his most recent memories, but they eluded him. "And - why are you here, Garak?"

"I think that I should call Nurse Jabara," decided Garak. "You have been ill, doctor, and I'm sure she can explain everything far better than I."

"No, in a minute, Garak." Julian fastened onto the one piece of definite information he could extract from the tailor's words. "You're telling me that I've been sick? Then - have I been unconscious since... since when? How...?"

"One question at a time, doctor," chided Garak gently. "Yes, you have been ill. Do you truly not recall the mission to the Gamma Quadrant you undertook with Major Kira?"

"The Gamma Quadrant...?" Julian frowned again. "I - I vaguely remember something. We - yes, that's it, we were due to go on a survey mission, but... I thought we weren't scheduled to leave until the end of the week."

"Doctor, you and the major left the station more than three weeks ago," Garak informed him softly, his expression concerned. Julian's eyes widened in instinctive denial.

"No, that's not possible. We can't have... I don't remember any of it. Garak, please... whatever you know, tell me." The doctor's voice was little more than a shocked whisper. The Cardassian regarded him sympathetically.

"Very well, if that is what you wish I will tell you as much as I know," agreed Garak. "But then you really must allow me to call the Infirmary."

"Yes, of course," sighed Julian tiredly.

"Apparently while you were conducting the survey of one particular world you identified certain botanical specimens you believed would have medical value. You transported to the planet's surface to collect samples and it would appear that whilst there you contracted a virus of some sort," began Garak matter-of-factly. "According to the major you became delirious soon after returning to the runabout and shortly after that you started hallucinating. Fortunately Major Kira was able to sedate you before you did any harm to yourself - or to her. She wisely chose to return to the station at once.

"Captain Sisko was able to secure the services of a doctor from a nearby Federation starship. She was successful in isolating the pathogen and developing a cure. You responded to the drug well though you remained unconscious and as soon as you were out of any physical danger she recommended that you continue your recovery in the familiar surroundings of your quarters - with appropriate monitoring of course."

"And exactly where do you fit into all of this, Garak?" asked Julian with a puzzled smile.

"Oh, well, as part of the monitoring process someone was required to be with you at all times. Of course, whilst you were sick the remaining medical personnel could not be spared - I'm reliably informed the replacement doctor is nowhere near as efficient as you." Garak allowed a warm smile to curve his lips. "So the inestimable Commander Dax promptly organised a rota of your friends to undertake the task. Tonight simply happened to be my turn." Garak neglected to mention that he had in fact taken far more turns at sitting with the doctor than was strictly necessary. He had welcomed the opportunity to simply spend time around the young human without the eyes of the other station personnel upon him.

"Trust Jadzia!" Julian gave a faint laugh. "She's a good friend."

"Now, doctor, I have told you all that I can. So if you will allow me, I really must inform the Infirmary that you are awake," Garak insisted gently.

"What? Oh, of course." Julian waved his hand vaguely in permission. He stared blankly after the retreating form of the tailor as he tried in vain to piece together the days which had apparently been lost from his memory.


By the time another half an hour had passed Julian had been subjected to a thorough examination by the station's temporary doctor - which Julian had to admit was every bit as comprehensive as anything he would have done himself - and pronounced well on the road to a full recovery. It seemed he had indeed been in good hands during his indisposition. He had then endured a somewhat awkward visit from both Captain Sisko and Major Kira, neither of whom seemed to know quite what to say to him in the face of his continued inability to recall what had happened to him in the past few weeks.

In the end Julian had been grateful when they both excused themselves and left. He had, in all honesty, found even the simple task of sitting upright and conversing tiring after his long confinement in bed. As the door closed behind them Julian looked up to find Garak watching him anxiously.

"I'm fine, Garak," he assured the tailor with a slight smile, answering the unspoken question evident in his friend's expression. "You really don't need to worry any more. Nor for that matter do you need to hover like that. I'm sure you have other things you need to be doing. Your shop..."

"There is nothing of any importance, doctor," replied Garak at once. "Besides, I do not think it would be wise to leave you alone quite yet. You most certainly are not fully recovered from the effects of your illness."

"Well, I am feeling just a little tired," admitted Julian.

"Then sleep now," Garak urged him, "and if you have need of anything just call me. I have no intention of going anywhere else at the moment."

"Thank you, Garak." Julian slid gratefully back under the covers as a yawn rapidly overtook him. "It really is very kind of you..."

The doctor was asleep almost before his head touched the pillow. Garak stood for a long moment simply looking at the sleeping form of his friend, hypnotised by the steady rise and fall of the human's chest with his slow, rhythmic breathing. Julian looked so young and so vulnerable in sleep. Unruly curls of soft, dark hair fell onto his forehead and his impossibly long, silky lashes brushed the sweet curve of his cheek.

The tailor sighed wistfully, dimming the lights and walking back into the living room. He hoped Julian would rest more easily now. During his period of unconsciousness the doctor had tossed and turned fitfully for much of the time. He had cried out more than once, even before the episode which had brought Garak hurrying to his side just prior to the human's return to wakefulness. The tailor knew the delirium had been the result of the virus Julian had contracted - apparently the other side of the coin being his inability to remember what had happened to him just before and during his illness - but Garak wondered at the precise nature of the memories the doctor's mind had chosen to focus on.

Garak cast his mind back to the words he had been able to make out as he sat at Julian's bedside. Some at least of what he heard had made sense to the Cardassian. It had been as if the doctor were reliving certain unpleasant or stressful events from the past year or so of his life as he lay there in his unconscious state. But there had been times when the names Julian cried out were quite unfamiliar to Garak and he guessed that the doctor walked amongst older memories too.

The tailor had been deeply troubled by the implications of some of Julian's terrified cries as he struggled in the midst of his nightmares. It had belatedly occurred to Garak that he might not be the only one keeping secrets about his past.


Garak had eventually fallen into a fitful doze stretched out on Julian's couch. He came awake suddenly, sitting bolt upright in the dark all his senses on alert. The reason for his rude awakening quickly became apparent as he again heard the doctor's voice, raised in terror, issuing from the bedroom. In a heartbeat the tailor was on his feet and hurrying to Julian's bedside.

The young man was still evidently asleep and equally obviously once more in the throes of a nightmare. His slender hands, the fingers curved into the semblance of claws, flailed wildly in front of him as if he were trying to fend someone off. His voice rose in a panicked wail, again uttering a single word of denial.

"Noooo!"

Quickly Garak seated himself on the bed at Julian's side and drew the frantic young man into his arms. The doctor tried to fight free, but the tailor used his superior strength to overcome Julian's resistance and to hold the terrified human close, cradling him against his broad chest.

"Leave me alone! Don't hurt me! Please..." Julian's words were quite clear, but instinctively Garak knew that they were not aimed at him. He rocked the doctor gently as if he were a small, frightened child, trying to soothe him into wakefulness.

"Hush, doctor, I won't harm you," he whispered softly. "I am here. Be calm." The quiet words flowed from the tailor's lips, gradually penetrating the web of nightmare images surrounding the young man.

Julian's eyelids flew open and he stared about him wildly. His chest heaved with his laboured breathing and Garak could feel the violent thudding of his heart. Slowly reason returned to the wide, hazel eyes and the doctor gradually began to calm. Once again the first thing Julian was aware of as he came fully awake was the comforting feeling of strong arms holding him. As memory returned he also recalled who they belonged to.

"Garak!"

"Shhh, doctor, it was only a bad dream. You have nothing to fear." Garak's voice was low and reassuring. This time the tailor resisted Julian's efforts to disentangle himself from his embrace. He held the young man against his chest gently but firmly.

Julian felt his face flush with embarrassment at waking a second time to find himself in Garak's arms. God, what must the tailor think of his foolishness? To have his friend see him screaming and crying in the throes of a nightmare... Yet strangely Garak seemed utterly unconcerned. That realisation warmed Julian and he allowed himself to relax fractionally. It did feel good to be held close like this - to know that someone cared enough to stay with him as he battled his demons.

Belatedly it occurred to Julian that he had done the self same thing for the Cardassian nearly two years earlier. Was Garak with him simply because he felt a sense of obligation? Did he perceive himself as being in the doctor's debt because of what he had done then? The thought that it might be so made Julian tense again. He had to know.

"Garak..."

"Yes, doctor?" Garak's lips were against the doctor's temple and as he spoke the Cardassian's breath ruffled the short, sweat- dampened curls of hair.

"You - you don't mind being here do you?" asked Julian slowly. "I know you said Dax organised it and everything, but... Well, you don't feel you have to stay, do you?" Garak drew back, searching the doctor's face in puzzlement.

"Of course not, why would you think that?" He seemed genuinely surprised by the question.

"Well - I... When you were ill, suffering withdrawal symptoms from your implant, I sat with you." Julian paused, avoiding the tailor's eyes. "I - just wondered if you felt you owed me something for that and..." He shrugged his shoulders helplessly, the gesture expressing the rest of his thoughts quite eloquently. Garak looked at him, appalled.

"My dear doctor, how could you...?" That Garak was sincerely affronted by the suggestion was quite obvious. "I am here because you are my friend," he concluded stiffly, "not because of some misplaced sense of duty."

"I'm sorry, Garak," apologised Julian miserably. "I didn't mean to offend you. It's - well, I'm just not used to people really caring about me... Oh God!" A faint, bitter laugh escaped the young man. "I always seem to manage to screw up badly when it comes to friendships. I can never quite bring myself to believe... I really am sorry and - I'm glad you're here."

Garak did not speak, but merely tightened his hold on the distraught human just a little. The doctor's words had given him pause and he still wasn't entirely sure what to make of them. Added to the young man's nightmares they painted a picture which disturbed Garak - a whole, unexplored side to Julian Bashir.

Oblivious to the tailor's musings Julian allowed himself to relax once more, enjoying the physical contact. It seemed such a long time since he had simply been held - no demands, no agendas, just the feeling of strong arms surrounding him... A strange sense of contentment settled over the doctor and he suddenly realised that a deeply buried part of him had been craving this closeness with the tailor for a long time.

The realisation brought a new fear - what if Garak were to discover what he was feeling? The tailor mustn't know. If he found out he would be offended and he might go, leaving Julian alone with only his nightmares for company - nightmares which still nibbled at the edges of his consciousness threateningly.

The doctor carefully drew back a little, making sure that the movement did not seem too abrupt. This time Garak let him go, but he still fussed over the young man. The Cardassian's capable hands straightened the disordered sheets and plumped up the pillows so that Julian could rest more comfortably against them. With an affectionate smile Garak brushed the doctor's tousled hair back off his forehead.

"Are you more comfortable now, doctor?" he asked guardedly.

"Yes, thank you, Garak," agreed Julian gratefully. "I am sorry for making such a nuisance of myself."

"Stop apologising, doctor! It really is no trouble," Garak assured him. "Now, I think you are probably ready for something to eat. I know that I am." The tailor glanced at Julian in question and the doctor nodded his agreement. Food did sound like a good idea. He hadn't realised until now that he was hungry, but all things considered it was hardly surprising that he was.

Garak disappeared into the other room and Julian heard the sound of the replicator being activated. A moment later the tailor returned carrying a tray bearing two large, steaming bowls of soup. Julian couldn't keep from smiling as the Cardassian placed the food in front of him, once again checking to ensure his charge was comfortable.

"You'd make a good nurse, you know," Julian commented. Garak laughed aloud at the absurd notion.

"Oh no, doctor, I fear my bedside manner would not be to the taste of most people on this station," he demurred.

"Well I certainly appreciate it," insisted Julian. "Mmm, this soup is really very good." The doctor stopped talking and applied himself to his food with considerable enthusiasm. Garak gave a pleased smile and, seating himself in a chair beside the the bed, he followed the young man's example.

Once the meal was finished and the plates cleared away Julian relaxed back against the pillows feeling replete. He seemed unaware that Garak was watching him covertly. In fact the tailor was seeking the right words to frame a question he badly needed to ask of his young friend.

"Doctor?" he ventured cautiously.

"Mmm..." Julian responded lazily, his eyelids drooping, half closed.

"When you were ill..." The tone of Garak's voice put Julian instantly on alert. His eyes, tinged green with tiredness, flicked open abruptly and he stared at the tailor intently.

"Yes, what about it?" asked Julian cagily.

"While you were unconscious you - spoke often," said Garak slowly. "And when you woke earlier you cried out, begging someone not to hurt you."

Julian had gone very still at the tailor's first words and now his face drained of all colour. Garak could not recall ever seeing the doctor so tense, so - afraid.

"What - what of it?" asked Julian stiffly. "It was only a dream - a nightmare, nothing more. You told me that yourself, Garak."

"I was wrong, doctor." Garak shook his head, his lips pursed thoughtfully. "I think it was more than that - a memory..."

"No!" Julian's face had become totally blank, an expressionless mask. It was as if the doctor had withdrawn entirely into himself. "That's ridiculous," he continued coldly. "Why would you think that?"

"I heard you speak of things - events I recognised," admitted Garak. "The first time I sat at your side you cried out against the Lethean. That, as you and I both know quite well, is a true memory, doctor. At another time you spoke of the Blight. It is not so long ago since you told me about your efforts to cure that afflicted race and as I sat by your bedside you were crying in pain because you believed you had failed. You mourned the people still dying despite all your efforts...

"These things I know of because they are from your recent past, but there was more too and from the intensity of your reactions I do not believe you were simply dreaming." Garak paused, looking at the young man who sat ramrod straight in the bed. All at once there was real fear in Julian's expression.

"What - did I say?" asked Julian tensely.

"You spoke often of - Invernia. Over and over again you insisted that something was not your fault. You were quite distraught. It seemed as if you feared punishment for something that you had done - or rather not done." As Garak watched the doctor closely he saw recognition on Julian's face. "I see this is something you are familiar with, doctor." There was immeasurable sadness in the human's expression as he nodded slowly.

"Yes, but - it was so long ago, Garak. Why should I be remembering it now?" When the doctor's eyes met the tailor's they brimmed with tears. "I was so young. I knew nothing. My father - he left me alone with her, a sick girl. We found her and father said he would go for help, but that I should stay with her. She was a native of Invernia, about my own age. I - didn't know her language. She tried to communicate with me, but - I couldn't understand. If only I had been able to... You see, she knew...

"In the end I just sat there and watched her die, Garak. And do you know what - it was all completely unnecessary, a needless waste of a life. The cure for her illness was close at hand. I could have saved her, but I just didn't know - and all that time she kept on trying to tell me..."

"And for this your father punished you?" asked Garak softly. "If so it is no wonder that above all else you fear failure." Julian froze for a moment, on the verge of denying it, but suddenly it no longer seemed so important to keep this particular secret from the tailor.

"Yes," he breathed finally, "but how did you know? Did I cry that out in my sleep too?"

"No, doctor, but I have lived long enough to be able to read between the lines." Garak sighed. "I would guess this was not the only time he punished you unjustly."

"You're right of course," agreed Julian, hanging his head in shame. "If I'm to be honest about it, approval from my father was the exception rather than the rule. I'm afraid I was always a terrible disappointment to him. Actually, I still am..."

"Doctor?"

"Oh, if it's not one thing it's another. Father never approved of my choice of medicine as a career - only women become doctors!"

The last words were spoken in a voice quite unlike Julian's normal one and Garak got the distinct impression it was a direct quote. The doctor had looked up and was watching his friend's reaction closely. He laughed harshly at the Cardassian's raised eye ridges.

"Quite," Julian observed dryly, "and that of course brings us neatly to the other way in which I have failed to live up to my father's expectations. Here I am, nearly thirty one years old and I have still to provide an heir to the Bashir line. Ergo there must be something "wrong" with me.

"Oh dear God, Garak, why did this have to happen?" Julian squeezed his eyes tightly shut. "I had managed to put it all out of my mind for so long. Out here, doing what I always wanted to do - for the first time in my life I have really achieved things. It's been so easy to lock it all away..."

"It would appear that this illness of yours caused certain - walls you had built inside your mind to break down, doctor," said Garak thoughtfully. "And perhaps, despite what you feel now, that is not such a bad thing."

"You think these nightmares I'm having are good for me?" scoffed Julian. "Waking in the night screaming has some benefit too I suppose."

"In a way - yes," said Garak with a brisk nod of his head. "You have finally been forced to face all those things in your life that you have previously chosen to run away from, to deny."

"Oh, you're a fine one to talk, my Cardassian friend!" muttered Julian derisively.

"I did not say that what is right for you would also be right for me," Garak reminded him primly. "Still, it would seem to me that if these things had not been forced out into the open by your illness you would have continued to refuse to deal with them. I know from bitter personal experience that such things have a way of breaching one's defences at the worst possible times.

"At least this is all happening now, whilst you are off duty. For the moment you can afford to think only of yourself. And, doctor, not only for your own sake, but for that of your future patients you should do so. In a life and death situation you would not want to find yourself suddenly confronting your unresolved feelings about what happened on Invernia, for example."

"Ah, Garak, as a doctor I know you're right." Julian shrugged his shoulders. "But it isn't easy remembering all these things. As for my relationship with my father - I suppose in some ways I have come to terms with it. I manage to tell myself that he only wants the best for me. Then again, in others...

"Sometimes I hate him so much for what he did to me. The way he made me feel about myself - for years my self esteem was zero. But then I get so guilty about hating him. I don't want to feel that kind of hatred for him. He is my father after all. So I push it all to the back of my mind again - forget about it because he's such a long way away and..."

"And because that is the easy way out," finished Garak.

"Yes," agreed Julian. "I'm quite aware that in the end it solves nothing, but it's the only way I know I can deal with it."

"You could try talking to someone about it," suggested Garak gently.

"Physician heal thyself? Who exactly did you have in mind, Garak? I can just see everyone lining up to listen to my problems," snorted Julian bitterly. "Besides, I'm the doctor. I'm supposed to have all the answers, aren't I? It wouldn't do to have people see that I'm just as screwed up inside as they are - probably more so..."

Garak's heart went out to the doctor. Did he really feel so alone, so - unloved? The tailor had thought the young man had come to realise that he had friends, good friends, here on the station. And didn't Julian know that there was one person in particular who wished desperately that he might be something more than simply a friend...?

Admitting that fact, even to himself, frankly terrified Garak. But having seen the doctor suddenly become so utterly vulnerable in the grip of illness had brought a few things home to the Cardassian. Now that he had held Julian close and comforted him as he suffered from the virus-induced nightmares the tailor could no longer deny the true motivation behind his need to cherish and protect the human doctor.

It was a shattering revelation to the normally self-sufficient Cardassian and he forced himself to consider the practicalities of the situation. Right now the last thing Julian needed was an unwanted advance. So, with a heavy heart, Garak ruthlessly suppressed his newly acknowledged feelings and the face he turned to the young man was only that of a concerned friend.

"If you wish it then I will listen, doctor," offered Garak tentatively. "Would it really be so hard to talk to me? It could be just like one of our discussions over lunch." It would be no such thing and Julian knew it as well as the tailor did, but the offer was sincerely made and it touched the doctor.

"Thank you, Garak," he said softly. "I - I might just take you up on that sometime, but not today. I - need some time to think about it by myself first. There are a few things I have to get straight in my own mind."

"I understand." Garak bowed his head slightly, grateful the doctor had not rejected the idea out of hand.

"I know what I do want now though," added Julian. He was aware of an undercurrent of tension between himself and Garak and he felt a sudden need to lighten the mood.

"Oh, and what is that, doctor?" enquired Garak. He sensed from the young man's tone that he was trying to put the conversation onto a more impersonal footing and he accepted the doctor's need to do so.

"I really need to take a shower," declared Julian, wrinkling his nose in distaste. His current state was a serious affront to the doctor's usual impeccable standards of cleanliness. "I feel horrible - sweaty, sticky and quite disgusting!"

"Are you sure you're up to that much exertion just yet?" asked Garak tactfully.

"Oh yes, I feel much better now that I've eaten and a quick shower is hardly going to tax my strength," asserted the doctor confidently.

Julian threw back the covers and swung his legs around so that he perched on the edge of the bed. Glancing down the doctor noted that his pyjamas looked as rumpled and in need of washing as he felt. Despite his assurances to Garak, Julian found that as he moved his head immediately began to swim alarmingly. In truth he was nowhere near as confident of his abilities as he had tried to convince the tailor he was. From his seat by the bed the Cardassian eyed Julian anxiously, noting the somewhat unfocused look in his eyes.

With an effort the doctor pushed himself up and onto his feet, pausing a moment to get his balance. Then he took a tentative step in the direction of the bathroom. He felt as weak as a kitten and as he took a second step Julian's knees gave way under him. He fully expected to hit the floor, but the impact never came. Garak had moved as soon as he saw the young man start to sway and he caught Julian easily as he began to fall.

"Now will you listen to me?" enquired the tailor acerbically. He carefully supported Julian's weight, holding him upright with a strong arm wrapped around the human's slim waist. "I had heard that doctors are supposed to make the worst patients - and that certainly seems to be true in your case.

"You have been very ill, my dear doctor. You cannot simply expect to get up and walk about so soon as if nothing had happened!"

Julian regarded Garak with an expression of amused tolerance. The point was well made. He had given the self same speech himself to plenty of patients, the tailor included, in the past.

"All right, Garak, point taken," Julian conceded, "but I simply must get clean." The next words were out of the doctor's mouth before he could think better of them and he regretted it the moment they were spoken. "Would you help me?" he asked.

Julian felt Garak tense against him at once and saw the sudden indecision in his friend's eyes. Oh you bloody idiot, why did you have to ask that of him? What the hell must he be thinking? Oh God, will he think you want him to...? Julian hurriedly cut off the thought. It would be too easy to follow it to its logical conclusion and that would bring him back to things within himself he was still afraid to examine too closely.

"Doctor, are you quite sure...?" Garak began uncertainly. Do you realise what you are asking of me, my friend? To see you like that, to touch you and yet to reveal nothing of what I am thinking, feeling... Ah, but you know that if that is what he wants of you, you will do it for him. How could you refuse him, tailor?

"Garak, I'm sorry." Julian blurted out the embarrassed apology. "It was a stupid idea. I should never have asked. The shower can wait. I know you wouldn't want to..."

"It's quite all right, doctor," Garak assured him hurriedly. "I am not at all offended by your request, merely a little surprised. Forgive my hesitation; of course I will help you. I only thought..."

The tailor's bright blue eyes sought out Julian's, trying to understand why the young man had asked this of him, hoping irrationally that it might be more than a simple desire to wash himself clean. As their gazes locked all of what Garak felt was suddenly there in his eyes for the doctor to see. Julian's own eyes widened in startled disbelief. He had been afraid of Garak learning his feelings and all the time...

"Garak," he breathed, "I don't understand. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I think, perhaps, for the same reason you did not tell me," replied Garak simply. "I was afraid of losing my best - my only true friend on this station if I were wrong. But I am not, am I?"

"No, you're not," agreed Julian, his hazel eyes reflecting the same sense of wonder at the discovery as the tailor's did.

"I - did not know how humans viewed such things," Garak continued, aware of the need to explain to the doctor why he had kept silent for so long. "On Cardassia expressing a preference for another of your own sex is considered - distasteful. Those who do so openly are held in contempt. I was concerned that if it were the same for your people... I have never believed you to be a prejudiced man, doctor, but your friendship was too precious for me to risk."

"I understand, Garak," whispered Julian. "The time when we humans were equally shortsighted is not so far in the past. Personally, well, I won't lie to you and say it's something I've ever experienced for myself; I haven't. But with the right person..." The doctor's voice trailed off into silence, but the hint of a promise in his words was unmistakable. The warm smile he directed at the tailor only served to reinforce the unspoken message.

Without another word Garak tightened his grip on Julian's waist and led him gently into the bathroom. The Cardassian knew that the young doctor was still too weak from his illness to allow a proper exploration of the newly awakened possibilities of their relationship, but simply to know that his dreams were no longer unattainable was enough for now.

Julian leaned against his friend gratefully and drew strength from Garak's reassuring solidity as he stumbled unsteadily into the bathroom. The tailor supported the human easily as he reached into the shower cubicle, selecting water rather than sonics. He had heard the doctor comment on more than one occasion how he never really felt clean if he used the sonics. Then Garak turned and with careful hands drew the rumpled pyjamas from Julian's body.

Garak allowed himself a timeless moment to look at the doctor's slender, naked torso and long, elegant limbs, appreciating their lithe, golden beauty. Deep in his heart an insistent voice screamed at the tailor to reach out and claim all that delicate, alien charm here and now lest Julian change his mind when his strength returned. Angry with himself Garak fought down the instinctive Cardassian impulses.

When he again touched the human the tailor kept the brush of his hands gentle - soothing rather than sensual. That was not what Julian needed from him now. As he turned his attention to undressing himself so that he might lead the young man into the shower, Garak was painfully conscious of his own incipient arousal. He knew Julian was equally aware of it, but tactfully the doctor made no mention of it, allowing the Cardassian his dignity.

Finally Julian let himself be guided into the small shower cubicle and carefully positioned under the swiftly flowing water. Garak supported him with a steadying hand. The warm cascade felt wonderfully invigorating to the doctor. He hated the sweaty, grimy feeling the fever had left on his skin. Julian was fastidious by nature and it was a relief to him to be able to get clean again.

"Oh God, Garak, I don't know if you realise just how good that feels," sighed Julian blissfully, tilting his head back. He let the water trail over his face for a few seconds before scrubbing at his cheeks with his hands. He experienced a momentary shock as his palms rasped against several days growth of beard, bringing home once again to Julian just how big the gap in his memory still was. He wondered if he would ever be able to recall exactly what had happened to him in the Gamma Quadrant.

"And would soap feel better still?" asked Garak neutrally, watching the doctor explore the rough stubble shadowing his usually smooth face. The Cardassian had never seen the human anything other than clean shaven before and the slight beard lent an unexpected maturity to his features that Garak found appealing. Idly the tailor speculated as to what that stubble might feel like under his fingertips.

Julian turned his gaze to the Cardassian and Garak's blue eyes searched the doctor's anxiously, seeking any trace of fear or mistrust. There was none that he could discern.

"In all seriousness I think that if you would wash my back for me I shall be in seventh heaven," said Julian lightly. "But first, I really must sit down. If you let go of me I think I shall fall into an inelegant heap at your feet," he added apologetically.

"Doctor, forgive me, I didn't think." The tailor hurriedly guided Julian backward and lowered him to the bench moulded into one side of the shower cubicle. Awkwardly Garak sank to his knees before him. The Cardassian studied the young man's face, searching for any signs of distress. Julian leaned forward, a half-smile curving his lips.

"Garak, I'm not afraid to have you touch me. I promise you," he said softly.

Taking the doctor's words as permission Garak reached for the soap. He filled his palms with the lightly scented stuff - it had a faintly herbal smell that the tailor approved of - and rubbed them together until they overflowed with white foam. Keeping his eyes on Julian's face, alert for any trace of uncertainty on the young man's part, Garak began to gently but thoroughly wash the doctor's smooth, golden skin.

The touch of Garak's broad, capable hands as he tenderly spread the soapy lather over Julian's back and chest was soothing and at the same time pleasantly stimulating. The doctor relaxed into the caresses with a contented sigh. His body, however, in the wake of his illness appeared to be quite beyond anything but the mildest level of arousal - a general feeling of wellbeing and pleasure, nothing more. Julian's sex was not entirely unmoved; it had quickly become partially erect with the first brush of Garak's fingers against his damp skin, but it gave no indication of becoming any harder.

"I'm sorry, Garak," whispered Julian apologetically. "I wish I was capable of more than this. What you're doing feels so good, but..."

"This is far more than I ever dreamed of, my dear doctor," interrupted Garak earnestly. "Believe me when I say that I am quite content simply to be able to touch and hold you. Do you have any idea how long I've been denying even to myself how much I wanted this?"

The Cardassian punctuated his words with soft caresses. His fingers strayed to Julian's chest, toying with the chocolate brown nipples and stroking down the line of the ribs. Then, before he could think better of his actions, the tailor's hand dropped lower to explore the smooth length of the half erect sex and the dark, silky curls which surrounded it. Droplets of water caught in the tightly curled hairs, glinting like jewels.

As delicate as Altairian crystals - a beautiful adornment for a beautiful thing... Garak smiled at his poetic flight of fancy. The heat and steam from the shower must be addling his brain he thought with faint amusement! Nevertheless the smile broadened at the small sigh of pleasure which escaped the doctor's throat as the clever Cardassian fingers rubbed gently at the sensitive flesh.

"Until today I had no idea," admitted Julian, answering the tailor's not quite rhetorical question. "But I'm starting to realise now. I think I'm also finally accepting a few things about me - about what I want. When you touch me it feels - wonderful... You were right you know; with what you said earlier. I did need to face up to a few facts - and perhaps this was the most important one. All those lies I told myself as I flitted from one woman to the next. That it didn't mean anything because I just hadn't found the right one. I never wanted to be honest with myself and admit that maybe I was simply looking for happiness in the wrong places.

"It would be so easy to blame it all on my father and his attitudes too, but the truth is I was as much a prisoner of my own prejudices as of his. Mmm, not any more though..." the doctor concluded, directing a warm smile at his companion as the tailor's fingers continued their gentle exploration.

"Well then, if that is true... The rest - if you really are certain that you wish it - will come when you are stronger," said Garak reassuringly. "I can wait."

"Oh, have no doubts - I do want it, Garak," said Julian softly. "I just wish... Damn it, I'm only too aware that this is unfair on you!"

The doctor's gaze dropped to the Cardassian's groin. Despite his confident words Julian swallowed convulsively as he allowed himself to take a good look at Garak's erection for the first time. Thanks to the closeness, the physical contact with the human body, the tailor was now fully hard. The thick, grey, intricately patterned sex yearned towards the doctor, the smoky tip weeping with need.

Gods, Garak... You want me that much? What do I do if you can't control yourself? Am I expecting too much of you even to think that you should try to? I don't mean to be a tease - to promise something I'm not yet capable of delivering...

"Don't worry, doctor, I can take care of that myself for now. Though -" Garak paused.

The Cardassian was aware of Julian's sudden nervousness as the full implications of the changes in their friendship were brought home to him. The young man had already admitted he had no practical experience with same-sex relationships so it was understandable. Still it saddened Garak that the physical manifestation of his desire for the doctor seemed almost to frighten Julian. Did his erection really seem so large, so terrifying? Or did the doctor fear that he would be hurt?

All at once a way of easing the tension between them occurred to the tailor. If Julian needed reassurance he should have it. If he needed to feel that he was in control of what happened here then so he should be. Garak determined to let this encounter fall into the pattern of so many of their past meetings - marked by the teasing banter which always flowed so easily between them. He glanced across at Julian, meeting the stare of the worried hazel eyes.

"Yes?" There was a readily apparent note of anxiety in the doctor's voice as he encouraged the other to continue. Julian faced Garak through the curtain of water still enveloping them. He noticed an abrupt change in the tailor's expression. A familiar, unmistakably sly gleam crept into the bright blue eyes as they regarded the young man steadily.

"I wondered if, perhaps, I might induce you to - lend a hand...?" enquired Garak. He raised one brow ridge quizzically. Julian heard the faint teasing note in the Cardassian's voice and laughed softly.

Bless you, Garak, he thought gratefully. You know I'm nervous - even though I know I shouldn't be; that I should trust you - and you find a way to make it easier for me. When he spoke aloud Julian adopted a low, sexy tone, playing the game by the tailor's newly implied rules.

"Oh yes, Garak, I'm quite sure I can do that for you..."

The Cardassian smiled, his relief evident. Julian had understood what he was trying to do and accepted it. Carefully Garak resumed rubbing the scented soap over the human's slender frame, rebuilding the mood. Almost unconsciously Julian leaned closer to the tailor. He reached out, settling his hands on the smooth, leathery skin of Garak's hips. There was so little distance between them now that Garak could feel the young man's soft breath, warm against the ridges of his ear.

Broad, soapy fingers stole upwards, cupping Julian's face tenderly. The tailor brushed delicate caresses over the stubbled cheeks. The roughness felt strange under Garak's sensitive fingertips, sending unexpected shivers of pleasure through him. He wondered if he could induce the doctor to retain the beard once he returned to duty. After all several of his fellow Starfleet officers were similarly adorned.

Lost as he was in pleasant contemplation Garak failed to notice just how close Julian's mouth now was to his own. The doctor however had not. He stretched his neck the last fraction of an inch required to place his lips directly against Garak's. The Cardassian's eyes widened as the warm touch against his mouth brought him abruptly back to himself. The offer was unmistakable and Garak had no intention of refusing it. Gently he returned the pressure of Julian's lips, kissing the young man chastely until he felt the mouth under his open hesitantly. The tailor let his tongue explore, sliding against Julian's and tasting its sweetness.

With a wordless moan the doctor pulled Garak closer, one hand curving around the back of the Cardassian's head. The long, golden fingers sank into the damp, glossy mane of Garak's hair, drawing restless patterns on the tailor's scalp as Julian urged him to a more intense exploration of the hot, alien mouth. When the need to draw breath became imperative they pulled apart unwillingly, mingled wonder and delight on both their faces.

Julian let his other hand drop to Garak's erection. Carefully he curled his fingers around it, learning the feel of it against his palm. The raised patterns felt so different to his own smooth length, but contrary to his earlier fears the doctor realised the Cardassian's sex was only a little larger than his own. Julian wondered if the touches which he used to bring pleasure to himself would also please Garak. He increased the pressure of his fingers slightly and the tailor sighed contentedly. Gently rubbing at the plump, grey head with his thumb elicited a further gasp from the Cardassian.

The light caresses were torture to Garak. Were humans really so much more fragile than his own race? If so he would have to proceed carefully with Julian when the time came. But for now the tailor realised he would have to teach the young man what he needed - show him that he need have no fears about hurting his Cardassian companion. Garak's hand moved to cover the doctor's. Julian glanced at him anxiously.

"Aren't I doing it right for you?" he asked uncertainly.

"Oh, you're doing just fine," Garak assured him, his cornflower eyes heavy-lidded with pleasure. "Only we Cardassians are made of sterner stuff than it seems you humans are. We are used to a less gentle touch. Here, let me show you..."

The warm smile he bestowed upon the doctor took away any possible sting from his words. With gentle insistence Garak encouraged Julian to begin rubbing the hard length of his erection once more. The tailor's fingers wrapped tightly around the young man's, increasing the pressure. At last! Finally Garak could feel the delicious friction against the sensitive pattern of scales which wreathed his shaft. The combined touch of Julian's hand and his own felt quite exquisite. The doctor allowed Garak to lead him, learning what most pleased the Cardassian. It would never have occurred to him to be so - rough. That much pressure on his own member would be painful, not pleasurable and he hoped the tailor realised that.

It did not take long to bring Garak to his peak. The warmth and the unexpected delight of Julian's closeness conspired to excite the tailor. He tumbled over the brink into bliss, closing his eyes and crying his pleasure out loud. He thrust hard into the doctor's encircling fingers as he came. The blood-hot, creamy fluid spilled over his own and Julian's joined hands and was quickly swept away in the flow of water. Wrapping his arms firmly around the young man Garak kissed him avidly, unable to find the words to express his whirling thoughts. The doctor seemed to understand what the gesture meant, accepting the somewhat cavalier treatment and returning the pressure of the Cardassian lips warmly.

Close as they were Garak suddenly became aware of an unexpected pressure against his thigh. Ending their kiss the tailor let go of Julian and sank back on his heels, letting his eyes sweep the doctor's slender body slowly. The blue gaze settled with interest on the human groin. Julian glanced down as well. To his surprise he was fully hard. He had thought himself still too tired, too unwell to permit this level of arousal, but it seemed his body had other ideas. The doctor smiled wryly. It was too bad that he felt on the verge of sleep and barely had the strength to remain sitting upright. It hardly seemed an auspicious start to his relationship with the Cardassian, but Julian knew he wouldn't be able to rest until he gave his body what it craved.

"Well, Garak, it seems that I may just have to ask you to return the favour," he said with a light, breathy laugh.

"It will be a pleasure to do so," whispered Garak.

Scrambling to his feet the tailor took a seat beside Julian on the bench. It was a tight squeeze for two and the doctor slid along a little to accommodate the Cardassian. Garak leaned across and let his lips brush the neat, rounded human ear. He held Julian to him with one arm around his narrow waist. The doctor let his head fall back against the solid strength of Garak's shoulder, his eyelids drooping shut. The Cardassian's hand when it touched him was warm and gentle. The light strokes along the length of Julian's erection were deft and pleasurable and quickly the doctor found himself moaning with delight.

Garak regarded the vulnerable face of his lover fondly. It appeared that he had found the right touches to please the young man. He looked down, admiring the slim length of the startlingly smooth erection again. It slid easily between his grasping fingers and seemed so fragile. The colour was also a wonder - suffused with a rosy-gold hue along the shaft and a deeper ruby red at the tip. Concentrating once more on Julian's face the tailor could see the shadows of exhaustion around his closed eyes. Carefully Garak increased the speed of his caresses and in moments had coaxed a soft, sighing climax from the young man in his arms. Julian's eyes opened drowsily and he smiled up at the tailor affectionately.

For a long moment more human and Cardassian sat under the warm cascade of water, wrapped in one another's embrace and savouring the perfect closeness. Garak was the first to move, mindful of Julian's still fragile state and obvious tiredness. Climbing to his feet and pulling the other gently up with him the tailor stopped the flow of water and helped the doctor from the shower. Garak found a towel and with tender solicitude wrapped Julian in its soft folds. Quickly the Cardassian retrieved a second towel and dried himself before returning his attention to the young man at his side. Carefully he towelled Julian dry, turning the process into a leisurely homage to the human's body.

"Thank you, Garak - for everything," said Julian softly when the tailor had finally completed his task.

"No thanks are needed, doctor," Garak assured him as he guided Julian back to the bedroom. "Rather it is I who should be thanking you."

With a few spare movements the tailor stripped the damp, creased sheets from the ravaged bed and dumped them unceremoniously in the cleanser. Julian watched him silently as he quickly ordered up fresh linens and swiftly remade the bed. Garak pulled back the crisp sheets and soon had the doctor tucked securely under them.

"Where are you going to sleep?" asked Julian, a faintly lost look in his hazel eyes. Garak smiled back at him reassuringly.

"Why, right here at your side - if you wish it," replied the tailor. The wide, sunny smile which lit Julian's face was answer enough and Garak climbed into the bed beside him, claiming his own share of the covers. He settled himself comfortably, drawing the doctor close against his side and enfolding him in a tight embrace. Julian snuggled closer.

"That feels so good," he murmured sleepily. "I think I will sleep well tonight." Garak pressed a gentle kiss on the soft, damp curls at the doctor's temple.

"Sleep peacefully, my beloved Julian," he whispered. "I promise I will hold you all night and keep the nightmares away."

THE END

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