Disclaimer - DS9 and its characters are copyright Viacom and Paramount Pictures and no infringement of said copyright is intended. This story is purely for the enjoyment of fellow fans. The story itself is copyright Karen Colohan 1995.

Author's note - This story was most definitely written before TPTB showed us their version of the family Bashir, so it does not accord with the dread canon.

THE SECRETS THAT WE KEEP

"You again! When am I going to get this through to you? Doctor Bashir left clear instructions that he does not want to talk to you." Kira studied the image on the screen with extreme annoyance. She'd had this conversation too many times over the last couple of days to be inclined to politeness.

"Major Kira, I'm sure you feel you're acting in my son's best interests, but I'm sure he wouldn't have given any such instruction." David Bashir's air of injured innocence was really beginning to grate on the Bajoran.

"Look, don't you think you did enough damage while you were here? Why can't you just leave him alone?" Kira finally exploded.

"Did it ever occur to you, Major, that I might be attempting to repair some of that damage?" came the eminently reasonable reply.

"That'll be the day," muttered Kira under her breath.

"I beg your pardon, Major?"

"Oh, nothing, Mr Bashir..."

"Major Kira, will you at least pass a message on to Julian for me?" David Bashir tried a different approach. He wasn't going to let this damned Bajoran woman get the better of him again.

"Very well," conceded Kira. Anything to get you out of my hair!

"I will be returning to DS9 briefly tomorrow, before taking the transport back to Earth. I would like to see Julian before I leave. Will you tell him that please?"

"Of course, and I'm sure he'll be thrilled to hear that, Mr Bashir," said Kira acidly.

"Major..." David Bashir's tone was icy.

"Alright, alright, I'll see he gets your message. But let me give you a piece of advice, Mr Bashir." Kira's eyes narrowed as she regarded the screen. "Julian has a lot of friends on this station, and they didn't take kindly to the way you treated him when you were here before. You may find you don't get the warmest reception when you get here."

"Your threats are unnecessary, Major Kira," came the smooth reply. "I'm trying to build bridges with my son. That's all."

"I'm glad to hear it, Mr Bashir."

Kira cut the connection and put a call in to the infirmary.

"Bashir here. What can I do for you, Major?" Julian's voice sounded remarkably cheerful. Kira didn't relish being the one to spoil his good mood.

"I just got a call from your father," replied Kira.

"What?" Julian's irritation was immediately apparent. "I thought I told you I didn't want to speak to him."

"That's what I told him," pointed out the Bajoran.

"Well, what did he want?" said Julian at last.

"To let you know he's stopping at the station on his way back to Earth and he wants to see you."

"To see me, when?"

"Tomorrow. He says he wants to build bridges." It was probably just as well Kira couldn't see the unpleasant smile which twisted Julian's lips at that moment.

"Sounds like what I said to him hit home," said Julian with an air of satisfaction. "He can't bear the thought of not having the upper hand. Well this time he's going to be unlucky. I won't see him."

"That sounds like a wise decision to me, doctor," said Kira approvingly.

"Thank you for telling me, Major."

Julian stared at his terminal thoughtfully. So, his father suddenly wanted to make things up. Oh no, you can't wipe away twenty nine years of hell that easily. Besides, I don't trust your motives. You just can't stand the thought that you're not in control any more; that you've been made to look small - and by me of all people. Well, you're out of luck. I'm not going to play your little games; and I'm not going to see you either.

******

Julian relaxed gratefully into a chair in his quarters. It really had been one hell of a week! He was slowly coming to terms with the implications of what had happened during his father's visit, but it wasn't easy.

He was glad he had finally stood up to him. For the first time in his life he felt as if he had some control over his relationship with his father. The boot was certainly on the other foot now, with him practically begging his son to see him. Still, it didn't make it any less painful to try and deal with all the old memories that had been dragged back to the surface. Odd fragments of those memories kept intruding into his thoughts at the most inconvenient moments, leaving him pale and shaken. His dreams were still haunted by them too.

Julian readily admitted to himself that he didn't know what he would have done without Dax and Garak. Each, in their own particular way, had been there when he most needed them; not just while his father was on the station, but since he'd left too. They had both been prepared to listen and to offer the comfort of their presence when he desparately needed someone to hold on to, to talk to; someone to tell about the nightmare of his childhood.

He had finally admitted the full truth to Dax only after his father had gone, even though Garak had already known the whole story. It had shocked her, but she had been even more supportive afterwards, and in some way it had added a new depth to their friendship. Julian wasn't sure why, but he had been obscurely worried that she wouldn't want any more to do with him if he told her. When he voiced that fear to her she'd said nothing, but had simply hugged him tightly until he knew he'd worried for no reason.

In the last few days Julian had taken Garak up on his offer of a sympathetic ear more than once. They'd spent a long time talking, and redefining the boundaries of their friendship. It had come as something of a surprise to the doctor to discover Garak's protectiveness towards him and he was still trying to understand the Cardassian's motives.

Garak, in his typical fashion, had tried to play the whole incident down, but Julian was becoming increasingly convinced that there was something on the tailor's mind. Garak had tried to dismiss it as his natural concern for his friend, but more than once the doctor had been sure he was on the verge of saying something more, only to stop at the last moment.

The door chimed and Julian called out that it was open. As if summoned by the doctor's thoughts, Garak stepped into the room.

"Hello, Garak, what can I do for you?" said Julian with a smile.

"I just heard, doctor," said Garak anxiously.

"Heard about what?" asked Julian.

"I just saw Major Kira and she told me that your father is coming back to the station tomorrow," replied the tailor.

"Oh, that." Julian looked up at Garak thoughtfully. "You don't think I'll actually agree to see him do you?"

"I'll admit I wasn't sure, doctor." Garak dropped into a chair opposite Julian. "What do you suppose he wants?"

"He wants me to salve his conscience for him," replied Julian with a grimace. "But if he thinks I'm going to open my arms and say 'it's alright I know you always had my best interests at heart', well he's going to be disappointed."

"Do you think he might seriously be trying to make amends?" asked Garak curiously.

"No. He's still a manipulator. He lost face because of what I said to him and now he wants to try and regain the upper hand." The doctor sighed. "To him this is just another peace treaty to be negotiated. He's not going to change overnight, Garak. I just wish he'd leave me alone."

"Would you like me to talk to him for you, doctor?" asked Garak unexpectedly. Julian looked across at his friend in surprise and caught just a glimpse of a strange expression on his face. It was gone as soon as the tailor realised he was being watched.

"Why would you want to do that?" Julian was genuinely curious.

"Perhaps your father needs to hear a few home truths still," said the Cardassian slowly. "And maybe he would take them more seriously coming from me."

"You know his views on other people speaking up on my behalf," said Julian.

"Well, if you change your mind, doctor..." Garak's voice trailed off. Julian looked at the tailor closely. He seemed unusually nervous and on edge.

"Garak, what's wrong?" he asked at last, his concern evident in his voice.

"Wrong, doctor, whyever would you think there was something wrong?" The tailor's light tone was quite at odds with his demeanour. "I'm fine, and I really should be going. I'm sorry for disturbing your evening." He made a move as if to rise, but Julian shot out a hand, forestalling him.

"I think there is something wrong, Garak, because of the way you're acting! Now sit down and talk to me." Julian's expression was determined. He was going to get to the bottom of whatever it was that had been upsetting the tailor these past few days.

"Doctor, I really think you're letting your imagination run away with you." Garak gave a nervous laugh and Julian frowned at him.

"I thought we'd got past all this nonsense, Garak," he said with a hint of irritation.

"What nonsense?" asked the tailor.

"This evasiveness of yours, Garak, that's what I mean. Something's been bothering you all week, but you won't tell me what it is. I thought this friendship of ours was really getting somewhere, but it seems that, where the important things are concerned, I was wrong. Why won't you trust me?" Julian stopped abruptly and looked his friend squarely in the eyes. The Cardassian could only hold his gaze for a moment before looking away.

"I should have learned by now never to underestimate you, doctor," observed Garak with a faint smile. "I didn't think you would notice."

"Well, I did notice," retorted Julian, "and I've been trying to figure out what was wrong. Is it something I've done?"

"Oh no, doctor, not at all," the tailor assured him.

"Then what is it, Garak?" Julian's concern surfaced again. "If there's something on your mind..."

"Doctor, it would be most unfair of me to trouble you with my trivial problems. You have worries enough of your own to concern you." Garak smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.

"Well, perhaps worrying about someone else's problems would take my mind off my own," said Julian firmly.

"In this case, I think not," said the tailor slowly.

Julian frowned at the Cardassian's strange tone, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. In this case... The doctor suddenly registered Garak's choice of words. His head snapped up and his eyes caught and held the other's, searching for confirmation of a sudden intuition.

"You too..." he whispered, as the pieces suddenly fell into place. Julian found himself remembering how Garak had seemed to know, without being told, what he had suffered at his father's hands. As he thought again about his friend's sudden protectiveness and the feeling he'd had that there was something the tailor was trying to tell him, it all made perfect sense.

"Me too," agreed Garak simply. He watched the doctor carefully, seeing the conflicting emotions on his face. It was a long time before Julian spoke.

"You should have told me, Garak," he said at last.

"You had enough to worry about already, doctor, and it was all a very long time ago." Garak smiled sadly. "Your experiences reminded me of my own for the first time in many years. It's not a subject I care to dwell on."

"Well that explains how you realised what I was hiding," said Julian. "I suppose the whole thing must have seemed so familiar to you." The Cardassian nodded. "Will you tell me about it, Garak? It helped me to talk about it; you know that."

"You're very kind, doctor, but I think the past really is better left undisturbed," said Garak slowly.

"But it already has been disturbed, hasn't it?" insisted Julian. "That's why you've been on edge all week. More than once I was sure you were going to tell me something and then stopped yourself at the last minute. You told me I had nothing to be ashamed of. That was good advice, and it's just as true for you, Garak."

"I suppose you're right, but I'm remembering things I locked away years ago." Garak glanced across at the doctor. "And those memories are painful."

Julian smiled encouragingly at his friend. He wanted to repay some of the kindness the Cardassian had shown him. It had never occured to him that they might have something like this in common. He reached out and caught hold of Garak's hands in his own, squeezing them reassuringly.

"Believe me, I know how you feel. So, I'm here, Garak, and I'm listening." The doctor's warm brown eyes regarded the tailor with compassion. The knowledge that Garak had suffered in the same way that he had did nothing to lessen his pain, but to know that he really understood, in a way none of the others could, was in some way comforting.

"There really isn't much to tell, doctor." Garak concentrated on the reassuring sensation of the doctor's hands clasping his own. He wasn't accustomed to revealing information of any kind about himself, least of all something this personal. The thought of doing so made him acutely uncomfortable, but he knew he owed his friend an honest answer, not one of his glib half truths. Taking a deep breath he resumed speaking.

"I come from a large family, not exceptionally wealthy or powerful, but with some small influence. You must understand, doctor, that the family is very important to Cardassians; it defines what we are. I was the youngest child, born some years after my siblings. From an early age I realised that my father had little love for me, but I didn't know why. At first he was simply cold towards me, but when I was eleven or twelve he became violent and abusive.

"It took me a number of years to discover why he was mistreating me. Then I finally found out that he was not my father at all. My mother had a liaison over the course of several years with a member of the Obsidian Order. I was the result of that relationship. The man I knew as my father had long suspected that I was not his son, but he only then found the proof of it. He would have preferred to cast me out, but having raised me as his own for so long if he had done so he would have been disgraced. Instead he contented himself with taking out his anger on me.

"At home he treated me as little more than a slave. He turned the rest of the family against me until there was no one I could turn to. The beatings were simply another form of punishment for something over which I had no control. I left as soon as I was able to find somewhere to go."

"As your real father's protege in the Obsidian Order perhaps?" said Julian quietly. He saw Garak's startled expression, quickly suppressed.

"Doctor, you do let that imagination of yours run away with you at times," said the tailor with a faint smile.

"Do I?" said the doctor neutrally. "Well, I'm sure you know best." He looked long and hard at the older man, but the Cardassian's face was now quite impassive. Julian sighed. "I'm sorry, Garak. I shouldn't pry." Hearing his subdued tone Garak relented.

"No, don't apologise, doctor. For now though I've told you as much as I'm comfortable talking about. Can you accept that? I have been without someone I can truly trust for a long time. It's hard to break old habits. Can you find it in you to be patient with me?"

"Yes. I understand, Garak," Julian nodded slowly, "and thank you for trusting me - at least a little."

******

The following morning Julian sat in his office, engrossed in a batch of test results. He glanced up briefly to find someone watching him. That someone was his father. Julian's lips pursed in annoyance. He really wasn't in the right frame of mind for a confrontation.

"Hello, Julian," said David Bashir, "did you get my message?"

"Yes," said Julian shortly. "Kira told me you were coming back." "Don't you think we should talk?" asked the older man tentatively.

"Frankly, no!" The doctor struggled with a conflicting mass of emotions; anger won out. "When I wanted to talk you weren't interested, but now that it suits you, you just expect me to drop everything. Well, I'm sorry, but I'm too busy."

"I want to apologise, Julian." David Bashir raised his voice, cutting off his son's words. Julian sat back and looked at him in disbelief.

"You want to apologise," he echoed. "You think you can walk in here, say 'I'm sorry' and everything will be alright. You're unbelievable!"

"I'm trying to put things right between us, Julian," his father tried again.

"No, you're not. You're just trying to save face." Julian shook his head. "The people on this station saw you for what you really are, and now you think that if you come back as the penitent father your wonderful image will be restored. Well, it won't work. I'm not going to let you manipulate my feelings again."

"Is that really what you think this is all about?" David Bashir looked askance at his son.

"Yes I do. I know you too well." Julian turned his attention back to his terminal. His father, however, made no move to leave.

"What do I have to do to convince you, Julian?"

"I'm not sure there is anything you can do. You hurt me too badly, for too long. The physical scars may have healed, but the mental ones are still too painful. I finally took the first steps to healing them as well, but it's going to take a long time." Julian looked up and met his father's eyes. "To be honest, I find it hard to stand even being in the same room as you. Just seeing you here brings back all those awful memories again. I really want you to leave, father."

"I only wanted you to be the best..." began David Bashir.

"No, you can't justify what you did like that," interrupted Julian.

"I did love you, Julian." The doctor's eyes widened disbelievingly at what he was hearing. He shook his head slowly as he continued to stare at his father.

"You had a damned funny way of showing it!" he snapped at last. "I didn't think it was usually considered necessary to beat a person to prove you love them. I didn't think you had to constantly undermine their self-confidence..."

"Doctor, I heard shouting. Is there a problem?" Both father and son turned to see Garak standing in the office doorway.

"Garak!" The relief in Julian's voice was clearly evident. David Bashir seemed less pleased to see the Cardassian.

"Mr Garak, this is a private conversation between myself and my son," he said with irritation.

"I'm sorry, but it didn't seem very private. I could hear the good doctor quite clearly out on the promenade. Doctor, if you'd like me to leave..." Garak looked questioningly at Julian.

"No, please stay, Garak," said Julian. "My father was the one about to leave."

"Julian, we still have a lot to talk about," persisted David Bashir.

"I don't think so, father." Julian turned to Garak. "Do you know what my father came back to tell me, Garak? He came to say he was sorry and that he really loved me all along." The bitterness in the doctor's voice was painful to hear. Garak turned to Julian's father with barely concealed anger.

"Don't you think you've hurt him enough already?"

"This really isn't any of your business, Mr Garak," said David Bashir coldly. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"On the contrary, Mr Bashir, I know precisely what I'm talking about. Your cynical attempts to manipulate the doctor's emotions are quite transparent and do you no credit at all. Why don't you do as he asks and leave?" Garak regarded the other man steadily.

The facade finally cracked. David Bashir's habitual sneer returned to his face as he looked at first Garak and then Julian.

"Your choice of friends hasn't improved I see, Julian," he spat out. He turned his full attention to the Cardassian. "I don't know who you think you are to tell me what I should do where my son is concerned, Mr Garak. How I choose to treat him is nothing to do with you; you don't know anything about it. I raised Julian as I saw fit..."

"Oh yes, Mr Bashir, I know all about the way you chose to raise your son," interrupted Garak coldly. "You had a taste for discipline, I believe. As I understand it you liked to beat him for the slightest transgression, real or imagined. You ruled your family by fear. Well, I know exactly what that's like, believe me."

Garak moved closer to David Bashir, his blue eyes glittering dangerously with his barely suppressed rage. With an effort he kept a tight rein on his temper and resumed speaking.

"You enjoyed the power inflicting physical pain on someone who was in no position to resist gave you, that rush of adrenaline and the feeling of absolute control. You miss that sensation, don't you? When you reduced Doctor Bashir to tears the other day you remembered what it was like. That's why you want to have control over him again now, isn't it?"

Garak could see the faint flush colouring David Bashir's cheeks, hear his ragged breathing. The man was actually excited by the memory of beating Julian, controlling him. The Cardassian could barely contain his disgust, but he wasn't through with him yet.

"Yes, you'd like to feel that way again, wouldn't you? I can see it in your face - just look at you! You need that power flowing through you; you're addicted to it!"

David Bashir met Garak's eyes. The Cardassian returned his gaze unflinchingly, despite the sick feeling the look of excitement in those grey eyes gave him.

"You'd like to hit me right now, wouldn't you?" taunted Garak. He knew the other man wouldn't be able to control his impulses much longer. The tailor heard a faint whimper of protest from Julian, but refused to allow himself to look in his direction. God alone knew what this was doing to the doctor, but he couldn't let himself be deflected from his purpose. Garak had to be sure there was no chance David Bashir could ever regain his control over his son. In the process Julian was undoubtedly being hurt terribly, but he had to see the truth. The tailor could only hope his friend would be willing to forgive him for putting him through this.

David Bashir's eyes gleamed with an unpleasant light. He wanted nothing more than to hit this arrogant Cardassian. The thought of trying to subdue Garak was almost unbearably exciting to him - a worthy opponent at last. Julian had always been too easy to break, to control; the feeling of satisfaction had never lasted long enough. But Garak was a far more inviting challenge. David could barely control his breathing now. His eyes narrowed as he regarded the Cardassian, standing there bristling with righteous indignation. A sly smile touched his lips as he considered where Garak's weaknesses might lie. He had a pretty shrewd idea of one raw nerve he might touch upon.

"You're very concerned about my son's welfare, Mr Garak. I wonder why. What is he to you? Are you close to him? Or is it that you want to be, and think that appointing yourself as his protector will win you his favour." The snide tone of voice infuriated Garak, but he refused to be drawn.

David Bashir half turned towards his son, who stood watching in total horror. He had never seen his father behave like this before. Julian knew he had always seemed to derive a certain amount of enjoyment from beating him, but this... The look on his father's face sickened him and now he was trying to undermine his relationship with Garak too. Julian tried to find the words to beg the two men to stop this, but his voice refused to co-operate. He huddled back miserably against the wall and prayed that this was all just another one of his nightmares.

Garak's blue eyes burned with anger as he followed the other man's gaze in Julian's direction. He wished there were some way he could get the doctor out of the infirmary and away from what was happening. He'd seen and heard more than enough now, but at the moment he looked as if he were barely capable of standing, let alone walking.

"Mr Bashir, despite your insinuations I am simply your son's friend. I wish to see him free of your influence for once and for all. You have blighted his life for your own pleasure for long enough. You really are..." Before Garak had the chance to continue David Bashir's expression changed. He swung back towards the tailor, his fist rising lightning swift to connect with Garak's jaw. The blow never landed. In an instant Julian launched himself at his father, deflecting the punch.

"No!" he cried, appalled. "Stop this!" Julian regarded his father with disgust, noting all the unmistakable signs of arousal in the older man. He felt a strong urge to be physically sick. This whole scenario was just one big turn on for his father! Had he really got that same kind of sexual thrill out of beating him in the past? Somehow he rather suspected he had. Julian's hands came up to cover his face as he fought to keep his composure.

"Doctor?" Garak's concerned voice made him look up. The Cardassian's expression was contrite. Damn it, he wasn't the one who should be feeling sorry thought Julian with a stab of guilt.

"I'm - alright, Garak. I can handle this," said Julian somewhat shakily. With an effort he forced himself to look at his father once more. "I never realised just how much you enjoyed what you did to me, father. Gods, I was so naive! I should have seen it. You disgust me..." Julian's voice broke and tears streamed down his face unheeded. It took all Garak's willpower to refrain from reaching out to comfort him, but that would only draw more comments from his father. The doctor continued with difficulty. "I just pray this is one thing I haven't inherited from you. If I thought for one minute I was capable of anything like that.... Get out! Now! Leave me alone and don't ever come near me again!"

Julian's voice rose in pitch, becoming edged with a note of hysteria. Garak could see he was on the verge of total collapse. He had to get him away from his father, gain him some privacy, before that happened.

"You heard what he said, Mr Bashir. I suggest you do as he asks. If not I'm afraid I really will have to call security and have you removed," said Garak as calmly as he could manage. David Bashir eyed the Cardassian with naked hatred.

"I won't forget this, Mr Garak. I know who you are, though I doubt you've enlightened my gullible son. If you had I'm sure he wouldn't be so eager to have you as his confidant. Well, enjoy his affections while you can. I'm sure he'll find out soon enough. And in future, before you lecture other people about their motivations I suggest you examine your own. I can see the way you look at him. I'm sure you'll find some pretext to lure him into your bed soon enough." David Bashir's lip curled in a sneer. "Goodbye, Julian, I've no doubt you'll continue to derive hours of enjoyment from Mr Garak's delightful company, but you really ought to remember one thing. You shouldn't take everyone you meet at face value. They may not always be what they seem."

Julian turned away, unable to stand looking at his father, or listening to his words, any more. Why did he have to try and ruin everything of value in his life? His friendship with Garak was important and he didn't want it spoiled. When he finally steeled himself to look round again his father was gone. Garak stood watching the doctor nervously. His eyes were haunted and Julian could see how much he hated the train of events he'd set in motion.

"It's alright, Garak," said Julian softly. "I know I had to see that for myself. There was a moment when I almost thought he was sincere... I'm not going to hold it against you, or anything like that." The doctor suddenly realised his face was still wet and reached up to wipe the tears away. As he did he noticed how much his hand was shaking. The reaction spread and a tremor ran through his entire slender frame. "Doctor, I really do think you should sit down," murmured Garak gently.

"Yes - yes I think you're right," agreed Julian as his legs turned to water under him. "Garak, please will you close the door. I don't want to see anyone else right now." Carefully Julian made his way to his chair and sank into it gratefully as the Cardassian moved to comply with his request. When Garak turned back to him, the doctor was sitting, head in hands, behind his desk. The tailor took a seat in the only other chair in the small office, watching his friend with evident concern.

"Is there anything I can do, doctor?" asked Garak slowly. Julian looked up, a pained expression on his face.

"Can you make my father into something other than what he is?" he asked at length. "No, don't even think about answering that, Garak. I'm sorry." Julian sighed deeply. "Why didn't I ever realise? How could I have been that naive?"

"You were only a child, doctor," replied Garak carefully. "How could you have known? At least he never tried to harm you in any other way. Or did he?" Julian shook his head quickly.

"No, he never touched me like that, Garak. You don't have to worry on that score." The doctor managed a weak smile for his friend. "I'm sorry about those insinuations he made. I, ah, well I know he hit a little too close to home there." As Julian ducked his head in embarrassment, Garak's eyes widened in surprise at his words.

"Doctor...?"

"I may be naive, but I'm not entirely blind, Garak," said Julian gently. "Don't worry. I'm not angry or offended. I must admit I wondered if you'd ever get around to saying anything to me yourself though."

"I'm sorry, doctor..."

"Don't be, and try Julian for a change."

"Well, I am sorry... Julian. I would never have dreamed of..."

"It's alright, Garak," interrupted Julian."But I'm not sure that now is a good time to try and discuss this. We're both too upset, too emotional to deal with it properly. We will though; I promise you." Liquid brown eyes met clear blue, filled with a longing quickly suppressed. It was replaced with a look of heartfelt relief.

"Thank you, doc - Julian, I'm glad we - understand one another," murmured Garak. He pulled himself together, continuing in something like his normal tone. "Now, are you really going to be alright?"

"Yes. I will be. It's going to take a bit of time, but now he's gone, out of my life for good, I can start putting things back together." Julian glanced across at Garak curiously. "Does he really know more about you than I do, Garak?"

"Perhaps, to be honest I have no idea what he thinks he knows," replied the tailor. "You could have asked him."

"No." Julian shook his head emphatically. "I don't really need to know; I don't want to know - at least not from him. If it's that important you'll tell me."

"And what if he's right; that you shouldn't take me at face value?" queried the Cardassian softly.

"I don't anyway," smiled the doctor. "I've known you long enough to make my own judgements."

"Thank you, Julian." Garak's voice was barely more than a whisper.

"What for?" asked Julian in surprise.

"For trusting me, there's no real reason why you should," came the reply.

"Yes there is," insisted Julian. "You're my friend, Garak, and in the end that's _all_ I need to know." He smiled gently at the tailor. "You and I have a lot of things in common, more than anyone else knows. If I can't trust you, Garak, who can I trust?"

On an impulse Julian held out his hand. Slowly Garak reached out and took it in his own, caressing the long, slender fingers gently. He raised the hand to his lips, kissing the palm tenderly. Julian made no attempt to pull away, grateful for the reassuring contact. His eyes met and held Garak's in silent affirmation of their friendship and of the new possibilities, unwittingly raised by his father, which now opened before them.

THE END

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