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 1996.

Unacceptable Alternatives

(or, what might have happened in "Our Man Bashir" had Julian's aim been just a little less accurate...)

"Computer!"

"Don't!"

"Or what? You'll kill me?"

"If you call for the exit you might kill Sisko and the others and I am not prepared to risk that."

"I'm afraid I don't believe you'll pull that trigger."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that."

"It's time to face reality, doctor. You're a man who dreams of being a hero because you know - deep down that you're not. I'm no hero either, but I do know how to make choice - and I'm choosing to save myself."

Julian Bashir stood stock still, a determined expression on his face. His arm was raised and his hand held a small gun which was still trained resolutely on his Cardassian companion. His gaze never wavered for a moment in spite of the tailor's deliberately provocative words. Secure in the knowledge that the mild-mannered doctor would never actually pull the trigger Garak turned away, raising his voice again.

"Computer, show me the mechanism..." The tailor got no further with his request as a single shot rang out, echoing in the claustrophobic confines of the passageway. Garak cried out in surprise and pain, slumping against the rocky wall. His face now quite expressionless, except perhaps for the faintest trace of distaste, Julian lowered the gun and walked across to look at his companion. As he approached the tailor's legs buckled and Garak sank to the ground, one hand clutching convulsively at the side of his neck. Julian's eyes widened in concern as he noted the deep red blood that was welling out at an alarming rate from between the Cardassian's grey fingers. The doctor sank hurriedly to his knees at Garak's side, the small gun slipping unheeded from his hand.

"Garak!" Carefully Julian turned his friend onto his back so that he could see more easily the extent of the injury he had caused. Damn the Cardassian's stubbornness - and his total inability to trust the judgement of another! If he had just listened to reason...

Garak's face was etched with stark lines of extreme pain. Even the most cursory examination made apparent the seriousness of the wound. The sheer quantity of blood that had already spilled from the tailor's neck, soaking into the heavy material of the tuxedo he wore and running down to pool on the ground, alarmed Julian.

"Doctor..." Garak's voice sounded startlingly weak as he plucked ineffectually at the young man's sleeve.

"Hush, Garak, just let me see." Julian surprised himself with the degree of calmness he managed to inject into his tone. He applied pressure with his long fingers at the site of the wound and pushed Garak's bloodstained hand away. He glanced quickly at the tailor's face. The blue eyes were wide and blank and steady tremors were beginning to run through Garak's stocky frame - he was going into shock. Julian began to talk, trying to focus the Cardassian's attention. "Everything's fine, Garak. I'm just going to take a closer look. You just lie still..." The words were hollow - intended only to soothe. Who? Him or me?

A closer inspection did nothing to allay Julian's initial fears. The weapon had ripped a wound deep into Garak's neck ridge, tearing an artery - and every beat of his heart pumped out more of the Cardassian's lifeblood. The doctor was well aware of the seriousness of the situation. Even with a med-kit to hand Garak might well bleed to death, and here and now Julian didn't have the luxury of any kind of medical equipment.

The doctor pressed down hard on the injured area with one hand, seeking to staunch the flow of blood. With the other he began to tug at Garak's shirt, pulling it free of the tailor's waistband. Awkwardly Julian managed to rip some strips of material from the hem. He worked fast - Garak's face was beginning to look unnaturally pale, his eyes glazed. One-handed the doctor wadded several strips into a thick pad, pressing it over the gaping wound. He tied it in place as tightly as he could with a longer piece of material. The white cotton darkened rapidly as the Cardassian's blood soaked into it, but the rate of bleeding seemed to slow. Julian gulped in a lungful of air - in his concern for his friend he seemed to have forgotten to breathe.

"Doctor." Garak's faint voice drew Julian's attention. The tailor was feebly attempting to sit up. The doctor placed his hand firmly on his companion's chest, pushing him back down.

"Don't try to move! Just lie still, you're going to be fine, Garak," said Julian abstractedly. The tailor gave a breathy laugh.

"My dear doctor, you never were very adept at lying," observed the tailor sardonically.

"Garak, be quiet, I'm trying to think," said Julian tiredly.

"What is there to think about?" asked Garak matter-of-factly. "You have to leave me - if you still want to try and save all the others. And that is what this was about after all..." The tailor gestured vaguely in the direction of his injured neck.

Julian wished he could deny the truth of Garak's words, but he could not. He had shot at the Cardassian because his actions threatened the lives of Sisko and the others - and now, by delaying here, he was putting them in jeopardy just as surely as if he had allowed Garak to call for the holosuite doors. Julian knew perfectly well that if the program ran to its conclusion as the previous ones had, without his intervention, then either Honey Bare or Colonel Komonanov would die - which meant that either Dax or Kira's transporter pattern would be erased, killing his colleague. So why was he hesitating? Julian knew perfectly well why. Because if he walked away now Garak might die - and he would be the one who had killed him, no murdered him, in cold blood.

Decisions. Choices. Julian had been faced with difficult options before and had always been confident of his ability to choose the right one, but this was different. It seemed there was no right or wrong here - it could all too easily turn out to be a no-win situation. He had staked the life of one on the hope of saving five others. Garak...

Julian had never hesitated when asked to make a hard choice before. Now he doubted himself. Of late it seemed that others had been quick to question his judgement - first Miles and then Garak - now he questioned it too. In his heart the young doctor knew what he had to do. Put bluntly, Garak was expendable; Sisko and the others were not. And yet Julian still couldn't bring himself to make the decision which might well sentence Garak, his friend, to death. An unnecessary, lonely death - which was entirely his fault.

No. You can't take the blame for this. He brought it on himself, said a small voice in Julian's head.

But my finger was on the trigger... insisted the doctor's conscience. The first voice had no answer to that accusation.

The doctor shook his head, trying to block out the inner dialogue. Instinctively Julian knew that Garak was watching him. Did the tailor sense his indecision? Could he understand how hard this was for him? For a moment he almost envied the Cardassian, wishing he had Garak's cold, hard Obsidian Order rationalisation to fall back on.

With a grimace of frustration Julian drew away from the tailor, climbing to his feet. The blue eyes, their usual intense fire dimmed, followed him. The doctor refused to look into them - afraid of the reproach he might find there. He squared his shoulders, knowing there was no more time for hesitation. The facts spoke for themselves. The doctor had done all that he could for Garak in the present circumstances. The makeshift ligature, fashioned from the strips torn from the Cardassian's shirt, had slowed the bleeding somewhat. Now there was nothing else he could do until he had access to his medical equipment. The only way that was going to happen was if Odo and Eddington could rematerialise the patterns of Sisko and the others, freeing up the station's computer memory once more. That process was out of Julian's hands - what went on here in the holosuite was not.

The decision was made. Staying with Garak achieved nothing - except perhaps in some small measure assuaging his guilt at having caused this situation in the first place. If he left now he might still ensure the computer did not erase the pattern of either Dax or Kira as the program ran its course. Julian glanced down at the still, supine form of his friend one more time.

"I'm sorry, Garak," he said simply. "I have to go." To the doctor's surprise a faint smile tugged at the tailor's lips.

"It is the right choice, doctor," said Garak softly, his expression registering approval. "Perhaps I was wrong about you after all. Maybe you do indeed have what it takes to be a hero. Now go quickly, and - good luck..." Julian opened his mouth, but no words came out. He reached down and squeezed Garak's hand reassuringly - it felt cold and clammy, not at all like the usual warm, dry texture of the Cardassian's skin. For a moment the doctor's resolve weakened, but he forced himself to let go of the tailor's hand. He searched briefly for the small gun and retrieved it before straightening up. Julian managed one final curt nod to Garak then turned and hurried away along the rocky passage, stumbling in his haste. If he slowed down he would turn around and go back, he knew.

This is my fault. If he dies I will never forgive myself... Julian's eyes burned, but he ruthlessly suppressed his emotions and did not look back.

THE END

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