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 1997 with revisions January 1998.

Author's notes: This is a new story based on an old episode and it's taken me nigh on three years to get around to finishing it! The original inspiration for the story came from the following piece of an interview with Sid.

: At the beginning of "The Wire," Bashir tells Dax that he and Garak aren't really friends.

Sid: That was certainly a little bit of pride creeping in there. He was angry that Garak had given him the cold shoulder and he was also trying to show Dax that he was grown up and could handle it. And so the best way to do that was to be completely the opposite and lie!

: So you think Bashir knew, even then, that they were really friends?

Sid: Oh yes. I think Bashir absolutely adored Garak at that point and needed him. . . needed his guidance.

DEGREES OF TRUTH

Here we are - arguing again! And over literature of all things - what a strange rapport it is that we share. We are so different. Yet I think that's a significant part of the fascination - for both of us. Of course, it's not exactly a surprise that we tend to see things in very different ways too. Though the fact that he is a Cardassian while I am human is really the very least of it. More importantly, the experiences which have shaped us are not at all the same, of that I'm sure - little as I do know about Garak. Yet I think we both gain a great deal from this unlikely friendship of ours. Well, I know that I do; perhaps more than he even realises... He's the first person I've found this easy to talk to and been so comfortable with for - well, quite a long time. As for Garak - who can really know what goes on inside that intriguingly devious mind of his?

<<Oh, that is so typical of my luck! Why is it that when one most wishes things to run smoothly they never do? I can't recall when I last saw such a queue at the Replimat... Why today? Why? No, be calm. I must not let my disquiet show. Please, just let me get through this next hour without giving the good doctor a reason to suspect that anything is wrong. I know how persistent he can be when he scents a mystery or a secret to be uncovered. That's right - smile, make some inconsequential comment about Cardassian literature - everything is normal. All is... No! Not again... like a knife sliding into my brain! Stop! Please stop!

Oh no, I recognise that look in his eyes - the concerned doctor. No, there is nothing for you to worry about here! Believe me, don't pry into things you are better knowing nothing about. Now is not the time for that persistence of yours to manifest itself... Don't push me, doctor! Please... I have to get out of here, away from him, before I say or do something he and I may both have cause to regret. Ah, see that look of hurt confusion on his face. He can't understand why I won't accept his offers of help. I'm sorry, doctor; it really isn't personal...>>

What just happened here? One moment Garak and I are heading peacably enough for our weekly lunch and the next he is striding away down the Promenade having cut me dead! I didn't think our disagreement was of that much consequence. Yet it was almost as if he took my criticism of Cardassian literature as a personal affront. And then I was only concerned for his health, but the way he refused my help - you'd think I meant him harm. I've never seen him look so unwell though - the pain in his eyes... I'm sure he should be in the Infirmary. Why is he so adamant that nothing is wrong? It's such an obvious lie - and that's not like Garak at all. His deceptions are usually far more subtle.

So much for trust and friendship anyway! Why is it that you're happy enough to seek out my company when you want to play your games of intrigue, but when there's something important going on you run away? Damn! I suppose I shouldn't let it get to me like this, but we are supposed to be friends, aren't we?

******

I wish I understood what was really going on here. Is Garak prepared to trust Quark with whatever it is that's happening to him, but not me? Why? Aren't I his friend? What's Quark to him anyway? I've barely ever seen them pass the time of day before. And all Quark is interested in is where the next bar of latinum is coming from. I hardly think he has Garak's best interests at heart. Oh, listen to yourself, Julian - you know you and Garak aren't really that close; so, it's just your curiosity and a few hurt feelings talking. Admit it though, you thought Garak would come to you if he needed help. But it seems all he wants from you is some company over lunch, someone to talk to once a week. Talking - that's more than Quark's doing! He's giving nothing away, of course. The sizing scanner nonsense is just that, I'm certain. I suppose I didn't really expect he would admit to anything, but how can he help Garak with what I'm sure is a medical problem? Damn, damn, damn! Maybe I can find some kind of a clue in the old Cardassian medical records...

<<Yes, that's right - everybody come and take a good look at the show! Here, a toast to your good health... and another! Come and see! Especially for your amusement Deep Space Nine's one and only Cardassian is drinking himself into oblivion! Oh, if it were that simple - if only I could... Maybe then this pain would stop! No. There's no bottle of kanaar in the quadrant potent enough to blot out this - this self-inflicted agony... Ah yes, the last laugh really is on me this time. All my own inimitable handiwork! And all because I was too much of a coward to face up to reality without this - crutch.

Oh, and now to make a perfect day complete... Well, doctor, do you want to get drunk with your favourite lost cause? Shall we share a bottle and our deepest thoughts on life, love and literature? No, it's not my company you desire. You simply want to examine me, atom by atom, until you find out what's wrong with me! Just another mystery to add to all the others... Well, I'm sorry, dear doctor, but not this time! This is one medical puzzle that is not yours to solve. And why are you so intent on helping me anyway? Don't you realise who I am? Don't you...? NO! Make the pain go away! Make it stop... I beg you, doctor, make it stop!!>>

Well, the records were a nice idea, but it's becoming patently obvious I can't wait weeks while Chief O'Brien tries to piece those files back together. Garak drunk? It's beyond belief! If there was one thing I would have said about him without fear of contradiction it's that he values being in control above all else. He's always calm and unruffled - so self-possessed. He always has to be the one guiding whatever situation he finds himself in. Still, he plainly isn't in control here.

Under other circumstances I might even have welcomed this opportunity. I know he's never come this close to dropping his guard with me before. Given all that's going on right now though it's more than a little frightening. Here I am getting just a glimpse behind that mask of self-possession, but it's not because he wants it. Oh, he's trying for his usual veneer of charm and politeness, but there's such pain in those blue eyes of his - and real anger too. Sometimes I think his eyes are the only part of him that ever tells the truth... No, I've come to the conclusion that truth and Garak are mutually exclusive. Those eyes can make you want to believe though. I know there have been times I wanted to trust what I thought I read there...

Do I have any idea what I'm getting myself into here? No, I suppose not, but I know that Garak needs my help - even if he's not ready to admit it - and what else can I do for my friend but give it?

******

At least he is peaceful now. The way he was in Quark's - I can't bear the thought of seeing him like that again, not in front of practically the whole station. He doesn't deserve that. Just what is that device in his head though? God, Garak, how many more secrets are you hiding from me? Was it put there to punish you when you were exiled? As if exile itself, here among your enemies, were not punishment enough. No, that makes no sense. I've seen no sign of this pain you're experiencing before now. I would have seen it. Your eyes - they would have given it away, the way they did earlier. Given all the times I've sat across from you at lunch and just looked into those beautiful, compelling eyes... Oh! Get a grip, Julian, what are you doing letting your mind wander like that now? The implant, yes - it seems older than the time of your exile though. Then again, perhaps whatever led to you being exiled was not the first brush you had with Cardassian law... Maybe the intensity of the pain from this thing has increased over time until it finally overwhelmed your control? I don't know. I'm completely in the dark here. The only thing I am certain of is that Quark knows more about this than he's letting on. Ah well, maybe Odo and his surveillance device can help me shed some light there. I hope so - because otherwise, right now, I have no idea how I can help you.

******

The Obsidian Order? Garak, I am fast coming to the conclusion that I really don't know you at all! And why does that realisation hurt so much? Is it that I suddenly have the uneasy feeling you've been playing me for a fool from the beginning? Maybe I should have listened to the people who cautioned me against having anything to do with you, but I was so caught up in the thrill of having 'the spy' seek out my company. I suppose I was flattered you chose me, seemed so - interested in me. Surely it wasn't all wishful thinking on my part...? I have enjoyed our lunches together, the debates and verbal sparring. My life on the station would have been a lot less interesting without them, but just who have I been lunching with?

I suppose I know now why you've been so damned evasive about this - illness of yours. You didn't want me to find out you had some kind of connection to Cardassia's secret police. But were you a part of this Order - or simply its victim? What the hell does all this mean for our friendship, Garak? How can I trust you at all in future when there's clearly so much about you that I don't know?

Ah, this is the last thing I should be worrying about now. Far more important is getting you back to the Infirmary so I can take proper care of you, my obstinate - friend. Come on, come on, answer the damned door! I know you're in there. What are you trying to do - kill yourself? Oh God, no! Julian, don't even think it! Come on, computer, override the bloody security code!

<<Not now! Will you give me no peace, doctor? By whatever deity you believe in, just get out! I don't want you here; can't you see that? There's nothing you can do for me. Only Quark can help me now. He must help me... I don't believe you, doctor, Quark can't have failed me! The consequences... Ah well, I suppose I should have known better than to place my trust in a Ferengi.

So, that's it then, isn't it? It all comes down to this... You see, doctor, there really was no great secret, no mystery to fathom. I was merely a coward who couldn't cope with the reversal of his fortunes and so sought an escape - an easy way out. I have no one to blame but myself for this. I can't even accuse the one who had me put this thing in my head. Oh Enabran... no doubt you're laughing at me now! Every stab of pain in my head is just the echo of all the ridicule I endured from you throughout the years. You always wanted to make me suffer for the mere fact of my existence. I did everything you asked of me and it was never enough... Now I've simply proved you were right - I never was worthy of your acknowledgement...

Doctor, why are you still here? Haven't you listened to a single word I've said? Ah, I can't stand the pity in your eyes! Isn't this pain punishment enough? Why do you still seem to think that there is something here worth saving? There's not. Please... just GO! Leave me with whatever shreds of dignity I have left. Damn you! What will it take to make you leave? Believe me, I wish you no harm. I don't want to use my strength against you. Words have always served me better, but how much of a monster do I have to make of myself before you'll walk away? I see horror in your eyes and yet... After everything I've said there is still friendship and compassion there too. Why do you want to help me, doctor? I don't deserve this trust you place in me...>>

******

Silence - God, it's becoming oppressive. I wish he would open his eyes, speak - anything but this continuing silence. Strange that I should want to hear his voice again after all those terrible revelations, but I do. Yes, I suppose you have shattered a few illusions, Garak, but the story you told... How much of the real truth was there in it? Why tell me that now, when more than ever you need me, need my help? Are you deliberately trying to push me away? Are you afraid I'm getting too close to something? I just don't know... Are you a cold-blooded killer, a man with no conscience, or what? I just can't reconcile that with my plain and simple tailor. I don't know you any more - and damn it, I want to! I need to know what's going on behind those bright blue eyes of yours. Who are you, Garak...?

How many hours has it been since I switched that wretched implant off? Too many! His whole system has gone into shock. How could you do this to yourself, Garak? Why didn't you come to me for help? I would have done whatever I could for you. You could have trusted me. Surely you knew that. Bloody stubborn Cardassian!

Ah well, I suppose sleep can only be good for him now, but what's going to happen when he wakes? What lasting damage might the protracted use of the implant have done? How will he react to the reduced endorphin level - what kind of withdrawal symptoms is he going to experience? I wish I had some answers, but I just don't know. Damn it, Garak, what am I going to be up against here? I don't think, as a doctor, I've ever felt quite so - useless. I know so little about your Cardassian physiology. Still, that's pretty much par for the course with you, isn't it? I might not really have believed that you were just a tailor, but I never suspected...

And I don't even know where to start trying to figure out the implications of what you told me on our future relationship. How can I sit down to lunch with you again and make small talk as if nothing has happened, all the while knowing what I do now? You were responsible for the callous, cold-blooded slaughter of all those innocent people... Or was that just another lie? I don't think I have ever wanted so much to believe that something I have been told was a lie. But if it was then I'm no nearer to knowing the truth about you. You're still hiding things from me and we're right back at square one!

Hm, and I didn't suspect about the implant either, did I? Some doctor I am! For that matter, some kind of friend I've been too. I should have noticed you were distressed sooner. There must have been signs in the weeks leading up to this. But you hide everything of importance so well, don't you, Garak? It's all locked away behind that deceiving Cardassian face of yours. It's almost like sleight of hand - you charm, you tease, you flirt and all the while I'm busy watching that parade of expressions the small but important details slip past unnoticed. Damn you! I'll never forgive myself if you don't pull through this...

What would I feel if you were gone? Lonely? As if I had lost something special? Yes, it's strange, isn't it - how a being so alien should have come to be one whose company I would really miss. Crazy - especially when it seems you have given so little of yourself in return. Dax made light of our friendship and I let her get away with it - even told her she was right and that I didn't really trust you, that we weren't really friends, just acquaintances. Of course, the irony is I did trust you. You just didn't return the compliment.

Still, in spite of all that, you are my friend, Garak, despite your evasiveness - or is it because of it? Is that air of mystery and intrigue you love to project what's kept me coming to our lunches each week? Well, maybe that is a part of it. And if it is, what has made you continue to seek out my company? I suspect you knew just about everything there is to know about me before we even spoke for the first time, but you do value the hours we spend together. I can see it in those cool, Cardassian eyes of yours. In some small way I think I am important to you. Well, my friend, I don't think I want to find out how I would feel without you and your intrigues around. I will get you through this - whatever it takes. I promise.

<<NO! What have you done? It's gone! That wonderful cocoon that protected me, kept me from feeling... It's just not there any more! How do you expect me to bear this? I feel... too much. No! Don't touch me - it's too real, and I don't want reality... This is your fault, doctor! I should never have listened to you. Who are you to presume to make decisions for me? This pain is because of you! I hate you, doctor! What right did you have to make me suffer like this? I'd almost managed to forget how much I lost... Now, thanks to you and your pity, it's all so clear again. How many times am I expected to face this exile...?

Look at you, doctor, you're pathetic! What a naive fool! To think I even sought out your company. If that's how badly my judgement was impaired perhaps I am better off without this implant. Ah, and I suppose you think I should be grateful to you for doing me this great service! I could have done it for myself... any time... if I'd wanted to. No, I didn't need you. Whatever possessed me to consider that you were worth even a moment of my time?

I hate what you have made of me, doctor - you, your fellow humans, even the Bajorans. You've made me weak. Meek, subservient - that is not how a Cardassian should be and I won't allow myself to play such a role any more. I had power, influence - far better men than you feared me, doctor! And believe me, I will teach you to fear me... But it's all gone now... gone... You have forced me to face that fact yet again. I didn't know that you could be so cruel. Perhaps we have more in common than I suspected...

Why are you still here? Why haven't you left me like everyone before you did? You only stay so you can inflict more pain on me, don't you? What a fool... Do you really believe you could ever hurt me? Doctor...!>>

******

Dear God, Garak! You're not making this situation any easier, are you? There I was, waiting for the moment when you would wake and speak to me, and when you did... After all that I've tried to do for you! Those angry, hurtful words you flung at me. Did you have any idea how they made me feel? Or did I manage to hide the hurt behind my own mask - the professional, doctor one? It has its uses at times. I never dreamed you would turn on me like that, Garak. How much of it did you truly mean? Am I so insignificant to you after all? Or was it just your pain talking? Can I hope that it was? God, I wish I could believe you didn't mean what you said, but somehow I have the sinking feeling that you were being more honest with me than you ever have been before. Is that really what you think of me? Do you hate me? I thought... Oh bloody hell, I don't know what to think now.

And yet another story about your past - what on Earth am I supposed to make of all this? I want to believe you didn't kill all those people, that you took pity on those children. Damn it, Garak, you can't die on me now! I won't let you. There's too much between us to be resolved...

<<Peace. No pain. Am I dead then? No, for surely if I were I'd be in the darkest corner of hell now. This place may not be heaven, but at the moment it seems like the closest thing to it that I could hope to aspire to! Ah, doctor, there you are. I didn't really expect to find you still concerning yourself with my well-being, I must admit. My little outburst... Well, I did my best to drive you away, but it seems that even in this I failed. Such persistence, such - friendship... all quite unwarranted, don't you realise? Ah, what am I to do with you, doctor? You deserve an apology, an explanation - but there are still secrets I must keep.

I wonder if you understand just how much I appreciate what you have done for me? Still, it seems that it will all be for nothing in the end. I may not be dead, but I am quite aware that I am dying. I suppose it's only fitting really. Will you do me one last favour, doctor? Will you allow me, for this time at least, the illusion that I meant something to you - as a friend, not merely as a puzzle to be solved? Perhaps you might even trust me enough to forgive me for all that I was before I knew you. There is no one else who might care sufficiently to do so. Enabran... well, he has washed his hands of me for good, and everyone else who might have done so is dead. You want answers from me, doctor, I know that. I can't give you what you seek, but perhaps this will be enough instead. Will you understand?>>

You asked my forgiveness, Garak, mine - and I gave it to you. How could I have done otherwise when you turned those persuasive eyes on me like that? I know you're manipulating me again, but you can be so very hard to resist. Still, is it my place to absolve you from the sins of your past - whatever they were? How many more different tales are you going to weave? Or was this one actually different? Maybe it was more like another interpretation of what you told me before. Elim. He seems to be the common thread running through it all. I wonder if I'll ever know what he truly was to you? Probably not.

You offered me your hand, but did you really offer me the truth as well, my Cardassian friend? I must admit the gesture was something of a surprise. Perhaps it was also intended as an apology of sorts, for the things you said to me before. I'd like to hope it was your way of telling me that you didn't mean them... It felt - strange to take your hand like that. Odd, but I hadn't really noticed what fine hands you had before. Maybe it was because I never quite got past being caught up by your eyes! I didn't get around to looking at your hands - cool, smooth grey skin, broad and capable - quite a contrast to my own. But your grasp was so weak; it really brought it home to me. I have to face the fact that you're dying, and if Enabran Tain won't help me I don't think there is anything more I can do to keep you alive.

******

Damn you, Garak! So much for me deserving the truth from you! I don't know whether to be angry with you, to laugh at my own gullibility or simply give up in despair! Well, I wanted to know who you were, didn't I? Certainly not so plain and simple as you have always claimed. Do I believe Tain? Yes, I'm afraid I do - unlike you he had no reason to invent lies for me. I wonder what it was you did to earn such bitterness from him? And your stories, they were just that it seems! Elim never even existed - at least not in the way you would have had me believe.

What am I supposed to make of it all? Before I left you seemed so sincere... Did you think that if you were dying you had nothing to lose by spinning more and more lies? Did it matter to you what I thought of you? Perhaps, but now I'm not even sure how I feel about that. Am I supposed to be flattered that my good opinion of you was important enough for you to weave such a complex tissue of lies? You certainly went to great pains to hide the truth from me. And it wasn't just a few things you lied about. To be honest I'm not sure if I can believe one word you've ever told me about yourself. It seems the Garak I've come to know and trust is just a fabrication. I suppose I can understand why you lied. If I had known about Tain and why he had you exiled from the beginning I might never have let myself become so involved with you. After all, if you have betrayed once...

So, what do I know for certain about you, my elusive Cardassian? That you worked for Tain? Yes, which means you were indeed a part of the Obsidian Order. That's hardly a reassuring thought given what Odo told me about them. Even if the stories you told me before weren't true I doubt you could have been a member of such an organisation and kept your hands totally clean. How many Cardassians did you make 'disappear'? And then, as if that's not enough, you betrayed Tain somehow. Whatever it was you did it made him hate you and it got you exiled from your home. What the hell could have warranted that? What does all of this mean? Should I be afraid of you? Might you harm me? I just don't know, and it seems so hard to reconcile all this with the face you show me now.

Well, despite what I've learned, I will use what Tain has given me to save your life - though I don't think I'll pass on his 'good wishes'. I gave you my word and Tain's information will allow me to keep that promise. I won't go back on it, even though I'm no longer sure just who I gave my word to. As to the future though and our friendship - well, where does that go from here Elim Garak?

******

<<Ah, there he is. So solemn, so distracted! No doubt he is still going over every nuance of our conversations during my - illness. And he is intelligent; given time he might even piece together the whole puzzle. Time to cover my tracks - so easy to weave a few more stories to intrigue and confuse him! Still, I do owe you my life, doctor, and that is a debt I won't soon forget.

See his eyes brighten as I smile at him. It does this old Cardassian heart good to be on the receiving end of such appreciation! I will admit I still don't understand why you wish to be my friend, doctor, but I am grateful that it is so; more so than you will ever know. Now that I no longer have the implant to rely on I must find other ways to deal with this exile, and you have given me hope - of friendship and acceptance. That is a rare gift indeed.>>

Look at him, sitting across the table from me, so charming and bright! Same old flirting glances and teasing smile - anyone would think nothing at all out of the ordinary had happened to him. How easily he seems able to dismiss it all. I wish I could forget it so quickly. It would make it so much easier for me. I just don't know how to react any more. Can we get things back to the way they were before? Is that what I want? The emotional upheavals this whole situation caused, for both of us - when I thought I was going to lose him... We should be closer than ever before and yet... Part of me still wants to take things that step further and another part just doesn't know if I can trust him that far. He even has the temerity to deny any connection to the Obsidian Order in spite of what he told me, and even though he knows I encountered Tain. Ah, Garak, even now you won't give me a straight answer. "All true... especially the lies...", what the hell is that supposed to mean?

So, where, in heaven's name, is this unlikely friendship of ours going? It always has to be a game, a mystery with you, doesn't it? Why? Can't you at least be honest about this one thing? For just a moment, in the Infirmary, when you gave me your hand, I thought perhaps you were showing me what you felt, but that was before I met Tain and everything was turned upside down again. Oh, there you go with that enigmatic smile again! Sometimes I despair of you, Garak. And yet, in truth... would I have it, have you, any other way?

THE END

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