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 January 1997.

THE HEALING

Thank God, Sisko had finally gone!

It wasn't that Julian Bashir didn't appreciate the captain's words; what he had been trying to do. It was simply that it didn't help. In fact nothing anyone had said had made any difference. No matter how he looked at it Julian just could not view what he had achieved as any kind of triumph.

The child born free of the Blight. The knowledge that would allow many more such children to be born. It was insignificant to Julian now; although at the time the emotional impact of what he had done had nearly overwhelmed him.

No, all Julian could see - whenever he closed his eyes for even a moment - were the grotesquely blemished and distorted dead faces of the people he had come to know, maybe even to call friends. They had trusted him with their very lives and he had failed them.

Ekoria, Epran....

Julian had learned a few salutory lessons - about himself, about the way the world went - these past few weeks. It had been a less than comfortable experience for him. He had not completely recovered from it yet. In his heart Julian doubted that he ever would - his inability to prevent so much suffering and death would very likely haunt him for the rest of his life. Perhaps he had needed to learn that no one person could do everything, be everywhere, no matter how skilled or dedicated that person might be. Yet, deep inside, he still rebelled against that knowledge.

With a tired sigh Julian turned his attention back to the computer again.

"Computer, run the new sequence." There was an interminably long pause as the changes he had programmed rippled through the cell structure displayed on the screen.

"No change in the rate of viral mutation." The emotionless tones of the computer sounded like the voice of doom to the exhausted doctor. Julian drew in a long, slow breath, hunching forward dispiritedly. Surely one of these damned combinations worked!

"Doctor, you're still working? Do you realise how late it is?" The voice which sounded behind Julian evinced a deep concern. The young doctor started. He had been so lost in his frustrated thoughts he hadn't heard anyone come into the darkened Infirmary. For a brief moment he thought Captain Sisko had returned, but then Julian's tired brain recognised the mellow voice.

"Garak," he said dully, "what are you doing here?" The Cardassian ignored the question as he stepped to the doctor's side, studying the shadowed features intently.

"Isn't it time for you to call it a night? You look exhausted," said Garak pointedly. He was well aware, as Sisko had been, that the doctor had spent every spare moment since his return to the station on his research into the Blight. The Cardassian had made it his business to learn as much about the young man's experiences in the Gamma Quadrant as he could.

"Yes, I am," admitted Julian, "but I have to keep working..."

"Why now? Wouldn't it be better to resume in the morning?" insisted Garak. "A good night's sleep might give you an entirely new perspective on the problem."

A good night's sleep! I wonder what one of those is, Julian thought cynically. All his nights seemed to have been disturbed, largely sleepless, of late. So what was the point in going to bed? Garak was still watching him expectantly, the doctor realised, apparently waiting for some kind of a response from him.

"Every moment I waste means they're still dying, Garak," he said aloud. "I - I can't just - forget about them. I have to keep trying."

There was an edge of pain and desperation in Julian's voice that the Cardassian had never heard there before. Garak was more than a little concerned at what it implied about the doctor's mental state. He was reminded sharply of just how young and, in many important ways, how inexperienced Julian really was. It was all too easy to forget, in professional terms at least. The doctor had performed so many medical miracles in his short career, but this was the first real setback he had experienced. Evidently he wasn't finding it easy to come to terms with that.

There was no doubt in Garak's mind, however, that what Julian most definitely needed now was to rest. How best to convince the young man of that though?

"Doctor, I understand your concern, but is working yourself to the point of exhaustion really going to help?" asked Garak reasonably. "If you become too tired might you not run the risk of missing that one, vital clue to a cure in your exhausted state? And what of the people on the station who might need your services? Don't they have the right to expect you to be rested and alert when you treat them?"

They were valid points. Julian hesitated, torn. The Cardassian was right. At the moment he could barely see straight, let alone make sense of a set of test results. His shoulders slumped in defeat.

"All right, I'll rest," conceded Julian, albeit unwillingly. "Are you happy now?"

"I know you are upset, angry even, doctor," replied Garak carefully, "most certainly with me, but also it seems with yourself. For my part, I apologise for the intrusion. In the circumstances I felt it was justified. What I cannot understand though is this anger you appear to be directing at yourself. From all the reports I have heard about your trip to the Gamma Quadrant, you have given these people suffering from the Blight a future - through their children. That is an incredible achievement, doctor. More than that, though, you have given them new hope. In many ways that is an even more valuable gift. Why do you refuse to allow yourself the credit for that?"

"I appreciate what you're trying to do, Garak," said Julian with a small, grateful smile. "It just doesn't seem to help though. I'm sorry. Captain Sisko said much the same thing and, God knows, I've tried telling it to myself enough times, but I just can't put it out of my mind. No matter how hard I try I can't forget the ones who suffered because of my arrogance, my mistake..."

"Enough, doctor!" insisted Garak sharply. "These recriminations won't help you find the cure you are seeking. If anything they will only blind you to it. Now come, will you let me take you to a late dinner? I can't promise to divert your thoughts entirely, but I shall do my best."

"Garak, why?" asked Julian, looking up at the Cardassian with tired eyes.

"Because you are my friend, doctor, and I am concerned for you," replied Garak simply. "Also, I firmly believe you need to think about something quite unrelated to this whole affair, for a while at least. You of all people should know the dangers of becoming too involved."

Julian nodded his head in acknowledgement of his friend's point. In all honesty he was becoming more than a little obsessed - and Garak's offer was a tempting one. Julian had to admit he had missed simply sitting with the tailor, talking and eating. He allowed himself a faint smile.

"All right, you win, Garak," agreed the doctor. "But would you mind if we went to my quarters rather than eating out? Now that I stop to think about it what I want more than anything else is to take a long, relaxing shower. I think it might clear my head a little too. Perhaps you could choose us something to eat while I do that - my replicator is at your disposal. Would that be all right?"

Would he mind? How could he? The casual offer warmed Garak, but he wondered if the doctor would have been so quick to make it had he known the effect it would have on the Cardassian. Sudden fire blossomed in his veins and his heart pounded within the confining cage of his ribs.

All Garak had come to offer was his company for dinner in the Replimat. Now he had been invited into the doctor's quarters and Julian apparently felt comfortable enough with his presence to allow him to be there while he showered in the small fresher. There would be just a single wall between him and...

Unbidden, images of Julian naked under the flowing water of his shower began to dance in Garak's mind. The flash of fantasy seemed all too real and the Cardassian had to fight for composure, struggling to keep his abrupt physical reaction to the thoughts under control. It took a considerable effort to school his face, his body language; to reveal no trace of what he was feeling, but Garak was nothing if not a master at keeping things hidden.

No! You fool, he berated himself silently, not now! This is not the time to be thinking of pursuing that dream. He has been through too much emotionally already. What he needs now is the comfort of some uncomplicated companionship - and of course some food and rest. How can you even consider imposing your own needs on him, now of all times?

Julian did not seem to notice Garak's suddenly abstracted expression, or the lack of an answer to his question. He merely went about the task of quickly and efficiently shutting down the Infirmary computers. Finally he stretched, all the bones along his spine cracking with the movement, and rose from his seat.

"I'm ready then, Garak. Shall we go?" Garak nodded and followed Julian as he headed for the door. The doctor paused briefly to exchange a few words with the technician on the night shift. Then, in silence, human and Cardassian departed, making their way along the strangely quiet Promenade. They took the turbolift which quickly whisked them away to the habitat ring. In only a few minutes they were entering Julian's quarters.

At once the doctor called for the computer to increase the temperature and dim the light level to something approaching the Cardassian norm. Garak inclined his head in silent appreciation. It was so like the human to think of another's comfort before his own.

Julian headed straight into his bedroom, emerging a moment later barefoot and clutching a dark bathrobe to his chest.

"I'm going to take that shower first, Garak," said Julian by way of explanation. "I think I'll be better company afterwards. I hope you don't mind me - getting comfortable." The doctor indicated the robe with a wry smile. Garak shook his head, though his mouth went dry at the thought of seeing Julian so casually attired.

"Anyway," continued the doctor, "just order up whatever takes your fancy for dinner. I think you know my tastes well enough by now. I won't be long." Julian paused for a second. "Thank you, Garak."

"For what, doctor?" asked the Cardassian neutrally.

"For being concerned - for being a good friend." Julian shrugged his shoulders slightly. "I have been becoming obsessed with finding a cure for the Blight. I know I have - and so does everyone else. But they've all been walking on eggshells around me - afraid of telling me to stop. Perhaps they thought it would hurt my feelings. I don't know. You weren't though and I - needed that. I needed someone to tell me it was all right to stop, to take some time for myself again. I - well, thank you."

As if embarrassed by his words Julian turned and disappeared into the small bathroom, closing the door behind him. Garak stared after him thoughtfully. The words had been unexpected, but the sincerely expressed gratitude again warmed the Cardassian. He continued to stare at the closed door until he heard the sound of the shower running. Then, with an effort, he shook himself out of his reverie and went to program the replicator.

Almost twenty minutes later Julian emerged from the fresher looking much more like his normal, cheerful self. His hazel eyes were alert and his skin was flushed from the heat of the shower. His hair was still damp, though he had evidently rubbed most of the wetness from it with a towel. It had left it curlier than usual, with errant tendrils clinging to his forehead. Julian was wearing the dark blue robe, belted tightly about his slender waist. It came down to his knees and his legs were bare.

When Garak caught sight of the young man, as he turned from setting a dish on the table, he felt as if his heart would stop. He had never seen the doctor look more vulnerable - or more desirable - in all the time he had known him. It took all the Cardassian's willpower not to stare in open-mouthed admiration as Julian crossed the room to his side.

"This looks good," murmured Julian approvingly, surveying the meal set out on the table.

"What? Oh, the food," realised Garak belatedly as the doctor gave him an odd look.

"Of course, what did you think I meant?" asked Julian with a teasing laugh that sent shivers all down the Cardassian's spine. "Mmm, you know I'm starving; let's eat."

The two men sat and ate in companionable silence. As always Julian finished long before his Cardassian friend - though on this occasion he perhaps had more justification than usual for bolting his food as he hadn't been eating properly for several days. Feeling comfortably replete the doctor sat back in his chair, sipping at his Tarkalean tea while Garak ate the last of his dessert. He didn't speak until the tailor had wiped his lips delicately on his napkin and set it aside. Then he leaned forward, his expression intent.

"I really am grateful to you for this, Garak," he began slowly. "I needed a bit of perspective on this whole thing. What you said earlier was right. I suppose I have been taking this very personally, but I feel a responsibilty towards all those people. Who else is there to help them? I'm not going to stop looking for a cure. I will find a way to help them, but I won't forget I have responsibilities here on the station too."

"I wouldn't expect you to stop, doctor," said Garak softly. "And with time you may very well succeed. You just can't expect to cure all the ills of this galaxy in a week or two."

"I know that - now," agreed Julian with a bitter smile. "It took something like this to really bring that home to me though. It needed a failure of this magnitude to show me how arrogant I'd been before."

"Your arrogance as you call it - I would sooner think of it as professional pride though - is hardly misplaced," disputed Garak. "The successes you have achieved in your, if you'll forgive my saying it, short career have been quite phenomenal."

"And as the old proverb wisely states, 'pride goeth before a  fall'," quoted Julian wryly. "Most appropriate in my case, don't you think?"

"You're still being too hard on yourself," insisted Garak.

"No, I'm not. Can't you see, Garak? When I make a mistake it's not me that suffers the consequences." The pain in Julian's eyes was undeniable. "Who knows how many weeks, maybe even months I stole from those people by my error."

"You couldn't possibly have known, doctor..." protested the Cardassian.

"I should have done!" interrupted Julian hotly. "The signs were there for me to see. I even noted the anomalous readings, but I just didn't follow them up - too busy looking for the effects of my damned quick-fix vaccine!"

"The vaccine which brought a child into that world free of the disease which had afflicted those who came before," pointed out Garak gently.

"A child with no mother or father to care for it," whispered Julian. "If it hadn't been for my wonderful advanced technology Ekoria might not have quickened so soon. She might have survived the birth. She wanted so much to be there for her child, to watch it grow.

"You know, Garak, when the baby was born - when I saw it didn't have any lesions; that it was free of the Blight... I cried, Garak. It was probably the most incredible moment of my life. Then, when I saw Ekoria was dead - all the joy went out of it for me. Suddenly it seemed like such a hollow victory.

"She was such an incredibly strong woman. How she endured the pain for so long, I... She withstood it all, just to give her baby a chance at life. Ekoria was so young, Garak. Her death - it was such a waste."

"I don't think she would look at it that way," said Garak thoughtfully. "Not from what you have told me of her. She strikes me as far too unselfish a person to think like that - I believe she would have thought the sacrifice worthwhile. It seems to me that she had much in common with a young doctor of my acquaintance."

"Where did you pick up the knack of knowing exactly the right thing to say at just the right time?" asked Julian with a tentative, half-embarrassed laugh. He raised his head, staring at the ceiling and blinking hard. He could feel the hot tears threatening to spill over and he fought to hold them back.

"I suppose it was a useful trick for a spy; when you were trying to get people to tell you their secrets," the doctor theorised, making an effort to cover his fragile emotional state with an attempt at humour. Nevertheless Garak heard the unmistakable catch in Julian's voice. In a moment he was on his feet and moving to the doctor's side.

"It is only natural that you should grieve for them," observed the Cardassian simply. "You lived among them, came to know some of them well, even became friends with them." Julian shook his head, denying Garak's words.

"No, I'm not grieving. I'm just - overtired. I think you should leave now, Garak," said Julian harshly.

"It seems to me that I should stay," insisted the Cardassian, laying one broad hand on Julian's shoulder. He felt the faint tremor running through the doctor's body. "You still have need of a friend."

Julian's head bowed in defeat and he finally gave in to the tears. Garak knelt at his side, putting his arms around the slender frame comfortingly. The doctor clung to him, welcoming the reassuring solidity of the Cardassian as he allowed himself to grieve for the lives he had been unable to save. At least a little of the pain and frustration flowed from Julian with the tears, and the beginning of acceptance of what had happened grew in their wake.

When the storm of weeping finally abated Julian raised his head from where it had come to rest on Garak's shoulder. He regarded the damp patch his tears had made ruefully.

"I'm sorry," he muttered apologetically as red-rimmed hazel eyes finally locked with Cardassian blue.

"Don't be," returned Garak with a faint smile. His hands rubbed Julian's back soothingly through the material of his robe. "The cloth will soon dry - and you needed the release, doctor."

Julian dropped his gaze again, suddenly a little shy of his friend as he became aware of just how firmly Garak was holding him. It felt so very good to be held like this though, comforting - and, the doctor slowly realised, something more. A warmth had begun to spread through him that was not entirely due to the Cardassian's higher body temperature. Julian shifted uneasily in his chair, but Garak appeared unaware that anything was amiss and showed no inclination to let go of him.

Julian's thoughts were in a whirl. This was Garak who was making his pulse race and his breathing quicken. Garak... it felt so very right. Carefully the doctor slipped his own arms around the Cardassian's waist, keeping the gesture as casual as he could. He tilted his head up to see how Garak would react. The blue eyes regarded him with the same calm warmth as before. If the Cardassian found it in any way strange that Julian should choose to put his arms round him he gave no sign of it.

"I am grateful for what you're doing for me, Garak," said Julian softly, needing to break the silence between them. "I haven't been able to let myself really cry like this in years. It does help though."

"Yes," agreed Garak thoughtfully, "you are not, I think, the kind of person who can keep his feelings bottled up inside for ever. They will demand to be released in the end. It is better that you allow that to happen now, rather than go on as you have been."

"When did you become so wise?" asked Julian with a faint, breathy laugh. Was Garak speaking only of the doctor's feelings of guilt and grief or was he hinting at other, long-buried emotions? Julian wasn't sure, but as Garak smiled back at him he felt a tremor run through his entire body. Almost without volition the young man's hold on the Cardassian tightened still further, drawing him closer.

Garak's eyes widened imperceptibly. If he didn't know better he would think... Julian's gaze meshed with his again and there was a new intensity in the doctor's expression. The Cardassian felt his heart begin to beat a little faster. Was he imagining what he thought he could read in those clear eyes, or was it really there? As if in answer to his unspoken question Julian spoke again.

"Garak, I have come to feel closer to you than to anyone else on this station. I want you to know that," he breathed.

"Doctor?" The single word was all the Cardassian seemed to be capable of uttering. All of the feelings he had struggled to control earlier that evening abruptly resurfaced. Julian appeared to be physically even closer to him now too, his warm, clean scent filling Garak's nostrils. The plain, human face was so near... In a daze the Cardassian felt the soft brush of lips against his own - the touch gone almost before he had time to register that it was there.

Garak drew back, startled. His hands released Julian as if they had been burned. The Cardassian realised belatedly that the human was watching him expectantly, his expression a mixture of hope and anxiety.

"Doctor!" he managed, shocked.

"Don't act so surprised, Garak," said Julian gently. "Surely you know I have - feelings for you."

"How? I..." Garak stared at the doctor, still bemused. This had come out of nowhere and it was beyond his comprehension. Was Julian really saying what he thought he had? The Cardassian shook his head as if to clear it. "No - no that's not important."

"No," agreed Julian, "what is important is for me to know whether you feel the same about me. I did see the way you reacted when I invited you here tonight, but... Well, that was just a physical reaction; it doesn't necessarily mean anything more." The doctor's eyes begged Garak for an honest answer.

"Doctor, I won't deny what I felt when you asked me to come here. I have long wished..." admitted the Cardassian awkwardly. "But tell me, we have been friends a long time now. Why say nothing before this?"

"I kept on telling myself to ignore my feelings," said Julian with a sigh. "I convinced myself that if I acted on them it would damage our friendship."

"Never, doctor," insisted Garak emphatically, "even if I had not wanted to be anything more than your friend I would never have thrown away what we shared so lightly. It has always been far too important to me to do that."

"I know," agreed Julian, "and I've finally got round to admitting it was just an excuse."

"An excuse for what?" asked Garak curiously. Julian glanced at him shamefacedly.

"What I was really concerned about was what everyone else would say if they found out," he admitted finally. "I thought it would be a bad career move - damage my reputation - if people knew I was having a relationship with a Cardassian." Julian winced at the sudden hurt which flared in Garak's cornflower eyes.

"Ah, now I understand, doctor," said Garak stiffly. He made as if to pull away from Julian, but the young man tightened his grip, not allowing him to retreat.

"No you don't, Garak!" sighed Julian miserably. "I was behaving like a bloody idiot. As if something like that matters! God, talk about arrogant! Well, I suppose the upshot is that lately I learned just where arrogance gets you - precisely nowhere! I didn't have the right to make those kinds of value judgement about something like this. I'm sorry, Garak."

"But you were ashamed at the thought of wanting a relationship with me?" asked Garak intently.
Getting closer... "Yes. No!" Julian shrugged helplessly. "I'm not ashamed of my feelings. I was just stupid enough to believe that what other people thought of me mattered more than what you thought of me. I know better now. I - I am sorry." Carefully Garak put his arms around the human once more, pulling him close. He rested his cheek against the soft, brown hair, which was now quite dry from the heat of the room. Finally he allowed himself to believe that this was real.
Click for full size illustration

"Hush, no - I do understand," said the Cardassian quietly. "And I thank you for your honesty."

"It's rather belated though..." began Julian.

"That doesn't matter," interrupted Garak firmly. He held the young man at arms' length, regarding him earnestly. "What is important is that we are honest with one another now, and from this moment on. So, in all honesty, I can say that I do want you - Julian. I would wish that more pleasant circumstances had been the catalyst for this, but I am still glad that we are here, together."

Before the doctor could frame a reply the Cardassian leaned in, covering the pliant human lips with his own. Julian gasped at the unexpected sensation, his mouth opening. Garak was not slow to take advantage of the opportunity this afforded him. He treated the young man to a gentle but thorough kiss, his tongue exploring the moist warmth of Julian's mouth. When they broke apart they were both breathing hard.

"Garak..." murmured Julian plaintively. His hazel eyes were wide and his skin flushed.

"I know, Julian," agreed Garak, his voice husky with desire. "Tell me what you want..."

"I want you to stay with me and share my bed tonight, Garak," replied Julian simply.

Garak inclined his head, resting his forehead against the doctor's for a brief moment. Then the Cardassian was climbing to his feet and pulling Julian up with him. With an arm still around the older man's waist the doctor led him into the small, neat bedroom. While Julian moved to reset the light and heating controls in this room for Cardassian comfort too, Garak crossed to the bed itself. He stared down at it curiously.

"Julian?" The doctor turned at the questioning note in the Cardassian's voice. When he saw what Garak was looking at he flushed in sudden embarrassment. He had forgotten... Quickly Julian joined Garak, bending down to remove the small, battered figure which was the object of his curiosity from its place on the bed. The doctor held it to him in a strangely protective gesture.

"He's called Kukalaka," said Julian defensively, his cheeks still red. "I - he's a teddy bear, a toy. I've had him since I was very young," he added by way of explanation. "I don't normally keep him on the bed. He - he's usually on the shelf over there."

"But he brings you comfort," surmised Garak, " a reminder of simpler, less complicated times in your life."

"Yes, I suppose so," agreed Julian. Carefully Garak reached out and took the bear from the doctor's hands, studying it and noting the much-mended fur covering.

"It seems he has been cared for through the years with all the skill you now show your patients," observed Garak with a gentle smile. To the Cardassian's surprise Julian's eyes closed at his words, a pained expression crossing the doctor's features.

"I told Ekoria about Kukalaka," whispered Julian. "I wanted her to know that I would never give up on her or her people..." His voice broke and Garak quickly pulled him into a reassuring embrace.

"Hush, Julian," he murmured, "Kukalaka has survived all these years thanks to you and your care and now so will Ekoria's people. Come, allow yourself to rest," continued Garak soothingly. He bent, pulling back the sheets and guiding the doctor to sit on the bed. Straightening he turned and set the teddy bear on the bedside table. Julian looked up at the Cardassian gratefully.

"I thought you'd make fun of me for having Kukalaka," he admitted as he slowly undid his robe. Julian toyed with the ends of the belt, suddenly shy again. Garak shook his head, watching the doctor and very much aware of how nervous the young man was. Gently he reached out and slid the robe from Julian's shoulders. The doctor was naked underneath and Garak's blue gaze devoured the sight of him eagerly. Still self-conscious, Julian swung his legs up onto the bed, allowing the Cardassian to free him from the bunched material of the robe completely.

Kukalaka was now the last thing on Garak's mind. The slender, golden-skinned body of the human captivated him. Without further hesitation the Cardassian stripped off his own clothing, revealing the patterns of ridges and scales that decorated his skin to Julian's avidly curious eyes. They indulged in their mutual visual exploration for a little longer before the doctor reached down and patted the bed at his side invitingly.

Garak did not need to be asked twice. In a moment he had joined Julian, quickly pulling the soft sheets over both of them. The doctor snuggled into the Cardassian's side, delighting in the novel feeling of the solid body pressed against his own. He sighed contentedly, relaxing into the embrace, as Garak wrapped his arms about Julian in a manner that was both protective and proprietorial.

"You're so warm, Garak," murmured Julian. The Cardassian's grey, ornamented skin radiated appreciably more heat than his own.

"Do I make a better bedfellow than Kukalaka then?" asked Garak teasingly. His broad hands gently caressed Julian's silky, smooth skin. The sensation of the light dusting of hair which covered it rubbing against his palms intrigued the Cardassian. So much to learn, to explore!

"Mmm, much," agreed Julian sleepily, "though he takes up less room." It was readily apparent to Garak that the doctor was rapidly losing his battle with sleep. "Feels nice..." added the young man indistinctly as his eyes drifted shut.

Garak smiled indulgently. The doctor undoubtedly needed the rest. He had waited more than four years just to hold Julian in his arms. He could wait a few more hours to finally learn what it would be like to make love with him. The Cardassian settled the slender form into a more comfortable position against his side. He glanced up at Kukalaka as he called the lights down. Was it his imagination or did the bear seem to be wearing an approving smile? Laughing softly at his folly Garak soon followed Julian into a deep, peaceful sleep.

THE END

The artwork is copyright BGM and originally appeared in "Doctor, Tailor, Officer, Spy 2"

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