by Henrietta Wotton
He stands outside the replimat, waiting for me. It's early, only 1130 hours. It was his suggestion that we meet "before it gets disagreeably crowded." I don't know whether to be touched by his concern or resentful of it. I do know that I will not continue our friendship if every minute of it reminds me of the deplorable weakness I revealed to this man who saved my life.
He waves at my approach, that dazzling smile spreading over his face. "So, Garak, how are you feeling?"
He regards me with his diagnostic gaze, checking for signs that I have returned to my daily routine too soon. And something more. Have I, he wonders, sought any substitute for the missing endorphins, some other addictive anodyne to take the pain away. No, my dear doctor, now my only hopeless addiction is you.
"Never better, I assure you." He doesn't challenge the lie.
Soon his tray is stacked high with a full course meal of Trill delicacies. His curiosity about other worlds and other species has apparently extended to the consumption of every cuisine available on the station. Or perhaps this is another attempt to attract the romantic interest of Lt. Dax.
I select a bowl of plomik soup and one of those grainy yellow squares the humans call corn bread. My stomach still hasn't returned to complete equilibrium.
"You're not eating much today," he observes between bites of halazem souffle.
"I had a late breakfast."
"I didn't have time for anything but tea. I was finishing the Preloc novel you lent me."
I relax slightly. Better to discuss someone else's fictions than keep spinning my own. "And I'm sure you can't wait to point out its deficiencies from a Federation perspective."
He fidgets, caught. "I do have to say that the author's portrayal of the Klingons is rather one-dimensional."
"They are the villains of the piece," I remind him. He's obviously never read any of the novels written by humans directly after their first contact with the Klingons. By comparison, Preloc's characters are souls of complexity.
"But not very interesting ones. They're drunken buffoons who seem barely capable of piloting their own vessels, let alone planning all out war."
"Planning never was a Klingon strength. They fight bravely, I'll admit, but you can hardly call them clever. I doubt you'd find weekly literary discussions with a Klingon very stimulating, my dear doctor."
"True enough," he laughs. "The Cardassians in Meditations on a Crimson Shadow would be far preferable as lunch companions. As long as you watched your back. Gul Tremak's scheme to get the Klingons to start the war he needed in order to claim the leadership of Central Command was a masterpiece of deceit. The fact that it cost thousands of Cardassian lives didn't seen to faze him, or anyone else in the novel."
"The state emerged stronger from the conflict. None of my compatriots would deny that the end justified the means." His expression tells me that he is incapable of understanding such reasoning. "So you once more find Cardassian literature not to your liking," I say with a sigh.
"Actually, it was a pretty good read--lots of action and a plot twist per page. The characters were quite vividly individualized, which certainly wasn't the case with The Never-Ending Sacrifice."
"Oh, who did you find the most intriguing?" I have always flattered myself that Preloc modeled the sinister and erudite Tremak on the legends that circulated about me.
"Two of the minor characters, strangely enough. I thought it very moving when Glinn Lema stayed behind on the asteroid with Khemlor, preferring to die with his friend rather than leave him."
"Really? I wondered whether the destruction of a single Bird of Prey was worth either of their lives." His sentimentality surprises me. The tragedy of Lema and Khemlor is a clear case of useless heroics. A commanding officer with any ingenuity could have triggered the asteroid's implosion remotely, without any need for his men to sacrifice themselves. Then again, ingenuity is a rare commodity in Preloc's Second Order Space Corps.
"Garak, the point isn't whether it was a good strategy." He leans forward, eager to make his idealistic argument. His always beautiful eyes turn into glittering nebulae. "These two men valued their friendship more than life itself. Such bonds between comrades in arms have a long history in human literature: David and Jonathan, Achilles and Patroclus, Hamlet and Horatio. This was the first book you've given me where we see a Cardassian version."
"I'm afraid Cardassian friendships are more likely to resemble the one between your Brutus and Caesar."
"Or you and Elim? In all those stories you told me, you betrayed him."
Indeed I did. Despite my unpropitious origins I was on the threshold of limitless power, and then I let it all slip away. I'm still not certain whether it was through being too ruthless or not ruthless enough. "As I said, in our society friendships often have to be sacrificed to other priorities."
He leans in farther, gesturing with his fork. "You hardly sounded so casual about it then, Garak. Didn't you say that betraying Elim was a worse crime than anything they accused you of?"
"Doctor, I thought you didn't believe anything I told you during my illness."
"I believe that you had a very special relationship with Elim, one it would have been impossible for you to have with anyone else." And then he smiles at me.
So, he's decoded that puzzle I set for him. Or he's gotten the answer from someone. He's been quite evasive about how he obtained the Cardassian physiological data that enabled him to cure me. While he was at it, he would have tried to pry the true story of my exile from his Cardassian contacts. Few of them would have the truth to tell him, and those that do would die rather than divulge it. If he repeated my stories to them, however, they would at least enlighten him as to the identity of my "aide." One did not have to be in the inner circles of the Obsidian Order to tremble at the name of Elim Garak.
I return his smile. "Even so, I did betray Elim, proving my point that Preloc's friends to the death are very unusual Cardassians."
"Hmmf." His mouth is full of a flaky Trill pastry, and he hurriedly bolts it down, leaving a few crumbs at one corner of his mouth. "Perhaps there's more to it than friendship."
"What more could there be?"
"From all the homoerotic subtext, I got the strong impression that they were lovers." His tone is offhand as he says this, but the look he gives me is anything but casual. What is he up to?
"You are over-interpreting," I try to match his nonchalant air. "The novel would never have been approved for publication by the State Bureau of Literary Fitness if anything of the sort had been suspected.." Fortunately for Preloc the bureaucrats at Literary Fitness were too literal-minded to pick up on the very obvious overtones to which the good doctor is referring.
"Cardassians believe that love between two men is unfit?"
"Let's just say that it isn't behavior they would attribute to heroic defenders of the state.""And how about you, Garak? What do you think of love between men?" The beautiful eyes are suddenly very serious and trained on my face.
I have a spoonful of soup half way to my mouth, and I hold it there, suspended. He's propositioning me! For more than a year I've been flirting with him in embarrassingly non-subtle ways, and he hasn't shown a flicker of interest. What has changed?
Elim, you know what has changed--you just don't want to admit it. He thought you a dangerous spy, left behind by a foreign power to probe for Federation weaknesses. His oath as a Starfleet officer kept him from any sexual entanglement. Now he knows that you are exiled, disgraced, cut off from political influence. Now he believes it safe to let the seduction succeed--
Oh, doctor, do not deceive yourself. I may be lonely and despised, but I am never, ever safe.
"Garak, are you all right?" He is waving his hand before my eyes. "I hope my question hasn't shocked you into another seizure."
I bring the spoon to my mouth and drink the soup. It gives me a few seconds to collect myself. Do I save my pride and deflect his remark, or do I encourage him? Do I seize the prize that has remained so achingly beyond my grasp, even though it is now offered only because he believes the advantage in the relationship has shifted to him?
"No, I don't find the question shocking at all. I am perhaps somewhat surprised that you would ask it of me." He smiles at me again in a manner so enticing that all my resistance crumbles. "To give you your answer-- I believe that the biological attributes of the object of one's desires matter little if the being is sufficiently alluring." I let my fingers brush the back of his hand.
At this the bold seducer abruptly gives way to the easily flustered young man who usually shares this lunch table with me. He ducks his head and quickly bolts down the remaining portion of his dessert. "You know, Garak, I . . . uh . . . I saw a suit in the window of your shop that I'd like to try on," he mumbles through the pastry. "I don't have to be back at the Infirmary for half an hour. Could I come by for a fitting?"
Hardly the most comfortable place for our first encounter! Perhaps he likes the surreptitiousness of the assignation, given his fascination with covert operations. At this point, I'll take him wherever he offers. I nod my assent and we leave the replimat and head for my establishment. I think it's all either of us can do not to break into a dead run.
He keeps up the pretense to the extent of taking a suit from the rack. While he is in the dressing room, I lock the door and make sure that the "closed" sign is still lit and the display windows still opaque. I have just finished when he calls to me, "Garak, I'm ready for you."
I pull back the curtain, and there he stands, nude and inviting. There is an Hebitian sculpture of the solar spirit in the State Museum. He bears no small resemblance to it. But soon my mind cannot focus on metaphors because he has drawn me to him and kissed me so forcefully that I stagger back a step. He is undressing me even before our lips part, and I help him, even though my hands don't want to lose contact with his smooth flesh. Finally, both naked, we become one figure of desire, hands, lips, teeth seeking the places that give the other ecstasy. My thoughts drown in sensation; there is no world but him.
At last I return to myself. Opening my eyes, I stare into the dressing room mirror and see myself pressed up against the side wall. He pinions my wrists while his mouth works the sensitive scales just below my rib cage. The pleasure of it is so exquisite that when his fingers loosen on my left wrist and seek my member, they barely have to touch it before I come. He gives a little cry of delight and pulls my right hand to his own swollen organ, directing it to the completion of his own orgasm.
Then he turns away and sinks to the floor, leaning back against the mirror. I pick up the suit that has fallen from its hanger during our exertions and wipe myself with it. Then I bend over to do the same for him. He takes the cloth from me and pulls me down beside him. As he cleans himself, I kiss him repeatedly, on his neck, his eyelids, his earlobes. Then I enfold him in a fierce embrace, which he returns but only for a few seconds. He disengages and scrambles to his feet.
"No, we can't start again. I do have to get back to the Infirmary," he says. "We'll have more time and more comfort in my quarters. We can get more deeply acquainted, so to speak. You can be there tonight, I trust?"
"I'll have to check my calendar," I respond with a laugh.
"Just see that you cancel any previous engagement," he counters with mock sternness.
We both begin to dress, each lost in his own thoughts. Despite my joy, I cannot accept this unhoped for bounty without interrogating it. Old habits die hard. "I'm curious, doctor. I have been trying to make this happen for over a year. What motivated you to take advantage of my affections at this particular time?"
"Since I saw you through your... crisis... with the implant, everything has changed."
"In what way?" I wait in dread for the answer that tells me he has done this out of pity for a lonely exile.
He faces me, fastening the jacket over his uniform tunic, even though he has yet to put on his trousers. "Before, I couldn't be sure you weren't just trying to get me into your bed so that you could more easily use me to accomplish some devious plan. Now I know that you love me."
There is no answer I would have expected less. "What gave you that idea?" I ask in genuine perplexity. "Was it when I called you an infuriating pest and tried to throttle you?"
He puts his hand on my shoulder. "No, it was when you asked me to forgive you. I remembered a comment the investigator made in that first enigma tale you ever lent me: 'When a Cardassian is dying, he gives his secrets only to those he loves, and from them only does he ask forgiveness.'"
How often I have scoffed at this sentimental tradition among our people, only to find myself embracing it when I think I am dying. "It's remarkable of you to recollect that saying, doctor," I evade. "It's quite irrelevant to the plot of the novel-- which you read ten months ago."
"I, uh, have a very good memory," he replies and then turns away to finish dressing.
He doesn't turn away quickly enough. I have caught that second of hesitation, seen the flush to his cheeks. It's not that he's told me a lie. He does have a good memory. Nor has he admitted to anything surprising. There's no reason one of the most promising human graduates of the elite Starfleet Medical Academy should not possess the powers of recall of a well drilled Cardassian schoolboy. But there's something else, something hidden, secret, shameful even. Talking about his excellent memory puts him on the brink of revealing it. I've seen the physiological signs so many times in the interrogation room. The resistance fighter speaking of a childhood hiking excursion who inadvertently names the current location of his cell's hiding place. The subversive recounting her university studies who waxes particularly enthusiastic about a class also taken by the person who many years later recruited her into the dissident movement.
I am staggered. I have always found the doctor far too self-revelatory for his own good. I've set myself the task of teaching him wariness and suspicion, hoping that he might protect himself from the vulnerability that such openness creates. Now it appears that I am the one who should have been more wary. This Dr. Bashir I think I know is just as much a fiction as the plain, simple tailor Garak I perform for him.
The instincts that have helped me survive against all odds tell me not to go to his quarters tonight, to break off the affair before it goes any further. Yet here, so close to him, remembering his caresses, I doubt those instincts. They have preserved my life, true, but it is an empty life. I have always been too careful to share the deepest parts of myself with anyone, and for all my care, I have lost everything I hoped to preserve by avoiding intimacy.
Donning his composure along with his boots, he leaves the dressing room, heedless of how much he has revealed. I follow, unlock the door and declare myself open for business. He pauses at the threshold. "I haven't got this wrong, have I? You do love me, don't you, Elim.
Oh, Elim, beware. He'll break your heart.
No doubt he will. But, for now, I think he's the only one who can mend it--
I take his head in both my hands and kiss him as I'm sure he's never been kissed in his life. "Oh yes, my dear, I love you more than anyone in the entire universe."
Part of me cringes at the cliched hyperbole even as I utter it. On the other hand, if I'm going to turn reckless romantic at this late stage of my life, I might as well go all the way.
DISCLAIMER: Paramount Pictures owns these characters and situations, except for the ones I made up.
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