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 1998.


by Karen Colohan (copyright December 1998)

Julian Bashir stared out of the viewport in the wardroom and sighed. He supposed it had been a good idea of Captain Sisko's, to throw a party to see in the new year. They could certainly all use a chance to relax and celebrate something. The past twelve months had been difficult for them, one and all. So many changes... The war had affected every one of them in some way, whether it was apparent or not.

Contemplating the peaceful vista outside Julian admitted to himself that he really didn't feel much like celebrating. What did he have to look forward to after all? Despite the apparent calm the war went on, and was likely to reach out to touch them all again soon enough. Even on a purely personal level Julian could find nothing to cheer him. He felt more alone than he had in a very long time, regardless of the presence of his friends and colleagues close by.

Caught by that thought Julian glanced over his shoulder at the group of people laughing, chattering and now excitedly counting down the last seconds of the old year. As they finally reached zero and erupted into loud cheers Julian turned back to the viewport. He raised his glass in silent toast to the stars outside.

To the turning of another year - and to the old friends who aren't here to see it. Julian took a sip of wine from his glass to complete the salute, then set it aside. He really ought to leave; he was very poor company tonight. Before he could act on the thought Julian started abruptly as a voice sounded close behind him.

"I believe the appropriate expression is 'a penny for them', doctor." Julian turned to find Garak standing nearby, watching him thoughtfully.

"Garak, you startled me!" he protested.

"I'm sorry, if you don't wish to be disturbed..." Garak turned and began to move away. Julian held out a hand to stop him, finding himself suddenly grateful for the company.

"No, really, it's all right. It's just that I was a long way away. I didn't hear you until you spoke." Julian ventured a slight smile. "As for my thoughts though... No, I wouldn't want to depress you on what's supposed to be a cheerful occasion."

"You didn't look as though you had much cause to celebrate," observed Garak softly. "Don't worry on my account though, doctor, I'm hardly in the mood for these festivities myself. But it was a kind thought of the captain's to extend me an invitation so I felt I should attend - if only for a little while."

"Well, if you really want to know, Garak. I was thinking about Dax, actually - Jadzia that is." Julian turned his gaze back to the stars. "I miss her. She was a good friend for a long time. I could talk to her about, well, just about anything. Ezri is a lovely person, and I know she has all Jadzia's memories, but..." Julian shrugged, trying to express what he was thinking, and failing. "Tonight really made me think about it all again."

"I think perhaps I can understand some of what you are feeling, doctor," admitted Garak. "There are some things you cannot replace."

"Yes, I suppose you can," agreed Julian. "It must have been somewhat the same for you when Ziyal died. You and she always seemed to confide in one another quite a lot; both being Cardassian I guess that was natural..."

That wasn't what I was thinking of at all, dear doctor, thought Garak sadly. Have we really grown this far apart? That you should no longer think our time together even worthy of remark, or regret its loss... Or does it now repel you so much that you simply cannot bear to even think about it?

"Garak? Garak, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you by mentioning Ziyal." Julian sounded genuinely contrite.

"No, it's all right, doctor. There's no harm done," Garak assured him. Except perhaps to my pride, the Cardassian added to himself.

"Look, Garak, I'm really not in the mood for this party," said Julian with a sigh. "I don't want to put a damper on anyone else's enjoyment by standing around here looking miserable though. What about you? Are you ready to leave?"

"I think perhaps I am," agreed the Cardassian. "I believe the noise is becoming a little too much for me."

Yes, Garak thought, he would be grateful to get away from the throng of humans - and this human in particular, whose presence could still cause him such a sharp pang of regret. He followed the doctor out of the wardroom and they both heaved sighs of relief as the door slid shut on the crowd of people still noisily enjoying themselves inside.

"Thank God for that," muttered Julian, rubbing his temples distractedly. "It was starting to give me a headache too."

The two men strolled together in silence as they headed for the habitat ring. In spite of his resolve to set aside his feelings for the doctor Garak could not stop himself from glancing surreptitiously sideways at Julian as they walked. His eyes carefully marked the changes the past months had wrought in the doctor. They had spent very little time in one another's company since the station had been retaken so the inventory was somewhat overdue.

Garak still wasn't entirely sure what had caused the doctor's withdrawal. It wasn't something Julian had talked about; he had simply retreated from his relationship with the tailor. The war had been a convenient excuse when one was needed and, at the time, Garak had accepted the steady lessening of contact between them. He had believed all Julian needed was his own space and a little time, so he had let it happen.

It was only when the weeks turned into months that Garak realised the mistake he had made. Julian had expected him to fight for what they'd shared. When Garak didn't the doctor evidently concluded that he didn't care. His whole manner around the Cardassian changed on those rare occasions they chanced to be together. It was too late. Too much time had passed and, in the end, it seemed easier to Garak to let the mistake go unrectified.

It wasn't true, of course. Garak had cared - still did.

"Garak, don't do that, please." Julian's voice broke into the Cardassian's reverie.

"I'm sorry, what?" he asked stupidly.

"You keep staring at me when you think I'm not looking," Julian elaborated. "It's... distracting."

"My apologies, doctor," said Garak quickly. He hadn't expected to be caught out. "It was not my intention to..."

"So what's the verdict then?" Julian interrupted Garak's protestations. "Have I changed that much?"

"Doctor!" Garak's eyes widened, startled by the perceptiveness of the young man's comment.

"Come on, Garak, I know you well enough to recognise that look." There was the faintest hint of laughter in Julian's voice, borne out by the look of tolerant amusement on his face.

It was, thought Garak, the most warmth he'd felt from the doctor in a long time. Running on an unnamed impulse, the Cardassian adopted a similar tone for his reply.

"And what look might that be?"

"Your - professional one. I can see you making mental lists every time you glance across at me." Julian in his turn now looked at Garak appraisingly. "You think I've changed."

"Well, haven't you?" enquired the Cardassian mildly.

"One day I'll get a straight answer out of you on the first attempt!" muttered Julian in exasperation.

"Perhaps..." Now there was humour in Garak's tone, and it drew an answering smile from Julian before he turned serious again.

"The question still stands though," the doctor insisted. "Do you think I've changed since...?" He couldn't bring himself to complete the thought and it fell to Garak to do so.

"Since we were together?" the Cardassian supplied. Julian nodded silently. "Yes," continued Garak, "I do, but then... Well, show me one person on this station, myself included, who has not."

"And is that why you kept away?"

The quick, pained question took Garak by surprise.

"No!" The single word was shocked out of the Cardassian.

"Why then?" Julian demanded.

"Because, doctor, it seemed to be what you wanted." Garak felt suddenly too tired to do anything other than offer honesty.

"I never wanted that, Garak!" There was a deeper pain now in Julian's voice. "It wasn't easy for me, though. The war... There were those who didn't trust you..."

Julian made a futile gesture with his hands, trying to convey to Garak what he'd never been able to successfully explain to himself. With or without the war there had always been those who mistrusted Garak and his motives where the Starfleet doctor was concerned. But with Cardassia's position in the war the ramifications of having a lover of that race had been that much harder to deal with. Had Julian finally allowed political expediency to become a convenient excuse? Probably. And where had it got him? Alone. That was where it had got him.

The doctor realised suddenly they had stopped walking. Ah, they had reached Garak's quarters; that was why. The Cardassian was watching him, his eyes shadowed. Julian wondered what he was thinking, but there were no clues on the placid face. He wished Garak would say something, anything! It seemed to be up to him though. Julian took a deep breath, but the words he wanted to say wouldn't come.

"Well, good night, Garak. I - I'm glad we had a chance to talk," he managed finally. "Happy new year."

"To you too, doctor." If the words spoken disappointed Garak he gave no sign of it. He merely raised his hand to the door panel.

"Thank you. Garak..." Julian regarded the Cardassian nervously as he turned his calm gaze back to the doctor.

"Yes, doctor?"

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry." The words came out in a rush.

"What for?" It seemed that Garak was not about to make Julian's attempts to clear the air between them easy. The doctor sighed, shaking his head slowly.

"For not explaining, for being a coward... for hurting you. Whatever you might think of me, Garak, please believe I never meant to do that." Julian saw the faint tensing of Garak's shoulders, but it was all the outward reaction the Cardassian allowed himself.

"Ah, doctor, I never had any expectations..."

Garak's voice was soft. but Julian felt as if he had been physically hurt. If the Cardassian had wanted to repay Julian for his treatment of him he had done so a hundred times over. To think that Garak had always had so little faith in him... He had been proven right though, hadn't he? Julian swallowed hard against the sudden bitterness that caught in his throat.

"All the same," he murmured at last. Julian stared down at the floor, unable to meet Garak's eyes.

"I understand. Thank you." Garak regarded the doctor's bowed head for a long moment, but Julian didn't look up again. With a sigh the Cardassian keyed open the door to his quarters and turned to step inside. "Good night, doctor."

Just as the door was about to slide shut behind him Garak heard Julian call out. He spun round, curious, halting the door's closure.

"Garak, wait!" The doctor appeared flustered, but he drew himself up, meeting the Cardassian's eyes as he continued. "Would you like to go to lunch tomorrow?"

It was offered tentatively and Garak could see that Julian expected to be turned down. After all, what had their conversation really changed between them? No, Garak knew the sensible thing would be to refuse. To accept would only be to open himself up to yet more disappointment. Consequently, Garak's next words surprised both of them.

"Thank you, doctor, I believe I would like that. Would 1300 hours suit you?"

"Yes, that would be perfect." Julian's relief at this outcome was palpable. "I'll see you tomorrow then."

The doctor stepped back, allowing the door to slide shut between them as Garak nodded his acknowledgement. Only a small step, both physically and figuratively, but it was a start.


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