Garak watched the wormhole swirl closed and turned away with a sigh. The phenomenon could be considered charming, even beautiful, he supposed. It was certainly easier to appreciate at 0300 hours, with the upper promenade vacant and Quark’s finally closed downstairs.
He took the lift to the habitat ring, resigned to another sleepless night in his quarters. There wasn’t anywhere on this station he hadn’t been yet, and his nightly strolls were having less and less impact on his relaxation routine. He was going to have to pick up a new method of settling down soon, like meditation or crochet.
As soon as he turned into the corridor for his home he stopped, instantly on alert. Someone was waiting outside his door.
It only took a moment to recognize the frame, even if it was draped in ill-fitting and unattractive blue striped cotton.
Intrigued, Garak approached. He immediately noticed that something was off; the normally fidgety human was just standing there, staring into space. He didn’t respond as Garak drew closer.
“Doctor Bashir, may I help you?”
The figure blinked, but didn’t even turn his way.
The back of his neck prickling in concern, he tried again. “Doctor? Are you well?”
“I’m looking for the samples from the Trizuccian pox study. Have you seen them?”
“I think the intracellular scanner is broken.”
Garak hesitated. The doctor didn’t appear physically sick, but something was obviously not right with his thought processes. Should he call Odo? The infirmary?
“I need to use the refresher.”
Well, that was something he could help with. “Allow me, Doctor. Why don’t you come in and use mine?” While I figure out what is going on and what to do with you, he finished silently.
He keyed in his access code and entered first. Bashir followed behind, but stopped again just inside the threshold.
“It’s right this way. Come along.”
Garak strode over to the lavatory and turned around, only to find himself alone.
Well, not entirely.
The human was sitting on his bed, vacantly regarding the bulkhead.
Garak took a few steps in that direction and stopped. It was disconcerting to see his lunch companion appear so normal and yet so… empty. Not even looking in his direction.
“The Tarkalean stew is rather dry today, Garak. Maybe you should try the gagh.”
Garak startled at being addressed. Bashir was finally staring in his direction, smiling for all the quadrant like they were having a talk over a table at the replimat. He smiled back reflexively, then walked closer in an attempt to engage the human a little more. But before he made it very far, he quickly detoured to his nightstand and pulled out a tricorder.
He ran a scan over the doctor, feeling somewhat absurd to be in a reversed position from their normal interactions. All of the readings came up normal. That was odd. He sat down on the side chair and pulled up a diagnostic program, then started entering symptoms.
He glanced to Bashir, who had turned to study the pillow at the head of the bed, which was black, not purple. The human suddenly leaned over and stretched out, pressing his face into the pillow and wrapping his arms around it.
The tricorder offered several suggestions, ranging from speech disorders to psychosis.
Bashir’s eyes were closed now, and he yawned. “Tribbles and…” he muttered something that sounded like gibberish. His shoulders relaxed, and he slumped.
On a hunch, Garak added “sleep” and “nighttime” to the search terms.
Only one result this time: somnambulism, or sleepwalking.
This wasn’t a condition that Cardassians experienced, but Dr. Bashir had shared a few stories here and there about patients experiencing it, so Garak was a little familiar with the idea, however strange it seemed.
He left the slumbering form in his bed to retrieve a padd and conduct some research in his main room. To his relief, this 'sleepwalking' didn’t seem to be a dangerous condition for most members of the human race, unless a subject tried manipulating machinery, sharp objects, or lasers.
Pleased that anything of the sort was already hidden away and not likely to be found even if one were to perform a rigorous search, he regarded his bedroom, now occupied by someone other than himself for the first time in years.
Doctor Bashir was in his bed.
Something tightened in his chest, and he clutched the arm of the sofa he was seated on. What had brought the younger man here, to his quarters? Was it random happenstance? A subconscious urge? Some--
Garak dropped the padd and ran into the other room.
Bashir sprang up into a sitting position, eyes wild. “You thought I was broken!”
Garak walked up to the foot of the bed. “Doctor, can you hear me?”
“No, you don’t understand!” the human yelled back. “You murdered Jules! I’m Julian, damnit!”
Taken aback by the outburst, Garak faltered. “Doctor?”
Garak was at a loss. He wasn’t even sure Bashir was really seeing him, or if he was arguing with a figment of his imagination.
“You’re not sorry! You’ve never once apologized, and you never will, because you still think you did nothing wrong! I hate you!” Bashir angrily climbed out of the bed and stormed into the other room.
Garak hurried after him, afraid he was going to leave the quarters. But the agitated human just paced back and forth like a caged animal.
“Ah, Julian.” Garak had never said his first name aloud before, and it felt awkward on his tongue. “Maybe I should call one of your friends over. Would you like that?”
“I don’t have any friends. You won’t even let me stay the night at anyone’s house.”
He must be reliving or thinking about something from his youth, Garak determined. Could he bring the doctor back to the present? Should he make an attempt to just wake him up? Yell or make a loud noise that might shock him into consciousness? “Perhaps Lieutenant Dax or Chief O’Brien? Would you like to talk to one of them?” he tried, hoping the familiar names would trigger something.
The figure collapsed onto the sofa in visible distress. “They’re too busy. They’re always too busy. Miles has his family, and Jadzia’s got a bunch of friends.”
Perplexed, Garak joined him. It seemed that Bashir had actually responded to him in a coherent fashion, so he continued. “Surely they make as much time for you as they can,” he offered.
Bashir’s face turned down. “Nobody likes me. I’m annoying, and I talk too much about things nobody else cares about. I don’t understand social cues, and I make things awkward.”
Garak didn’t see how any of those things would lead to people not liking the amiable and intelligent human. Cardassians were by nature a very passionate and dedicated people, and the new CMO of Deep Space Nine could have easily passed for one, perhaps just out of school, had he been grayer and covered in scales. Although Garak had noticed the less-than-favorable reception Bashir had first received among his own race and the Bajorans when he arrived. Baffling. “I find you rather charming,” he returned.
Bashir scoffed. “Charming enough for a night or two, but as soon as I open my big fat mouth about Romulan flu vaccine trials or the evolution of post-Modernist Denobulan paintings, they lose interest and I never hear from them again. I’m only good at two things: getting people into bed and scaring them back out of it.”
That had taken an unexpected turn. Ignoring the returning ache in his chest, Garak latched onto the second statement. “Personally, I believe that discussions on medicine and art are fascinating, and that anyone who feels otherwise is sadly mistaken.”
But Bashir didn’t seem to hear him. “Everyone’s willing to fuck me, but no one ever wants to listen. ” He brought his knees up and wrapped his arms around them. “At least in the holoprograms you make me, I can pretend that I’m important, and that people care.” He sighed and rested his chin on his knees. “I miss you, Felix.”
“I miss you, too.” It just slipped out. Garak wasn’t sure why he said it; the comment escaped his mouth in an automatic response.
Bashir rolled to the side and leaned into the back cushions of the sofa. He regarded Garak blearily. “I know it would never have worked between us, but I’m glad we got that time together, after Palis. At least you think I’m interesting. I wish you would visit. I’m so bloody lonely here. I spend all my free time in the holosuites and exercising. Or at the bar, picking up whoever, just so I can touch someone. And be held. And mean something to another person, even if it's only for one night.”
The raw emotion in Bashir’s voice scraped at Garak. He could relate to the loneliness, the desire for companionship.
But he also felt foolishly angry, too. Didn’t the human realize that the few friends he had was still more than Garak could lay claim to? That at least people were willing to sleep with him?
And if Bashir was so lonely, why hadn’t he tried spending more time with Garak? Everyone knew that the exile had nothing more than tailoring to keep him occupied. Did their lunches, strolls, and occasional sporting events mean nothing?
And underneath all that was the tiniest sliver of jealousy towards the never-before-mentioned Felix.
Garak frowned, only to realize that the doctor had fallen asleep again.
He sat there and debated what to do, half tempted to wake the man who had interrupted his evening and send him back home.
But he also kind of wanted to pull out a quilt and drape it over the miserably huddled body.
He stood and headed for his room, only to be brought up by a sniffle.
“--know why nobody loves me.” Bashir shuffled around on the sofa until he was leaning on his other side. “Jus’ unlovable,” he mumbled, sniffling again. “Too weird. Too much. Too fixated. C’n never be what ev’ry’ne wants…”
Garak changed course and grabbed a handkerchief. He brought it back to the whimpering human. “Doctor. Julian,” he whispered. The hazel eyes fluttered open. “Blow your nose.”
Bashir blinked a couple times, his eyes clearing up. He took the tissue. “Thanks, Keiko. I’m sorry to dump all this on you, but I can’t keep having lunch with him, you know?” He blew his nose, laid the crumpled square on the table next to him, and stood up to wander in a loop around the furniture. “Don’t tell Miles, okay?”
“Okay.” Garak stood still and watched Bashir pace, his stomach knotting up.
The human shook his head. “Hurts too much.”
Was he saying that lunches with this person hurt too much? Was it Miles? Or Garak? Or was Bashir's mind on to another topic now?
The human strode out of the room and perched back on the bed. “Jadzia, I can’t tell him how I feel. It could ruin everything!”
Confused, growing tired and a little frustrated, Garak followed him. “Ruin what , Julian?”
“I think I’m falling in love with him. I know, I know, laugh all you want. Seduced by the spy, haha, very funny.”
A chill ran down Garak’s spine. Had he just said what Garak thought he’d said? “In love with who?” Bashir pulled back the covers and started tucking himself in. He rolled over onto his stomach and wiggled a little as Garak moved closer. “Julian?”
“Go ‘way, Quark. Try’na sleep.” Bashir turned his head away.
Garak rounded the bed to face him. Unsure of how to proceed, he sat down. The human scooted away, but more like he was making room than avoiding company. “Julian, it’s me. It’s--it’s Garak.”
“Mm. Know yer name’s Elim. Tain told me.” His eyes were still closed.
Garak was surprised, but only for a moment. If Tain had share that information, he surely had a reason for it. And probably not a kind one. He chose to focus on the person in his bed.
He wondered what had happened to set Bashir off, to unsettle him so much that he was talking in his sleep, mentally hashing through things that bothered him on a fundamental level. Maybe he’d lost a patient. Maybe someone had made a particularly wounding remark.
“I’m sorry, my dear.” He paused, gathering himself. “I’m sorry that people don’t understand you, and that some of them have hurt you. But you’re not alone. Dax and O’Brien do care about you, and it’s likely this Felix does too.” He wasn’t positive if that was true or not, but he also wasn’t sure if Bashir was even awake enough to understand what he was saying, so he figured it was the tone and the sentiment that mattered. “And I do, too. Maybe I’ve never told you directly, I’ve always figured you knew that I value your company, but perhaps I haven’t been forthright enough. You do matter to me, Doctor, and I consider you a friend. And if you ever want to spend more time together, all you need do is ask.”
The human’s back rose and fell in slow, even breaths.
Garak remained there, watching Bashir sleep. He wanted to stay nearby in case there was another outburst or more tears, but he also just wanted to be near the person who had become so dear to him in the past few years. They’d strolled shoulder to shoulder in deep conversation, sat across a small table and occasionally brushed hands when reaching for something, sat mere centimeters apart on benches at the racquetball tournaments, but this felt so much more incredibly intimate. Tentatively, he lay a hand on Bashir’s back.
Even through the blankets, he could feel mammalian warmth emanating from the human. It was so tempting to climb in with him. To wrap himself around that captivating, endearing, and blissfully hot body. To feel his smooth, alien skin though just a flimsy layer of fabric.
After ten minutes of stillness and silence, he decided his visitor must have finally settled down for the night.
What should Garak do now? Sit and watch over him for the remaining few hours? Find a project to work on? Sleep on the couch?
And what in the Seven Sands was he going to say when Bashir woke up for real?
A thought occurred to him. A terrible, idiotic, somewhat dishonest idea.
What if he joined the doctor in bed, and pretended that the man had broken in and joined him there? As if he had innocently woken up to an intruder in the dark, only to find out it was a sleepwalking friend of his? And who was he to disturb what was obviously-needed rest?
He really shouldn't.
But he was going to anyway.
He made a visit to the facilities, then stealthily climbed out of his clothing and into his nicest pair of sleepwear. All he had to do now was… get in bed.
Gingerly, he peeled the covers away and slipped in. He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling. Wave after wave of heat washed over his side.
The human hummed in what sounded like interest and scooted closer. Before Garak knew what was happening, an arm draped across his chest, a leg wrapped around his, and a head nuzzled into this neck.
The body against his squirmed and readjusted. A deep breath was drawn in.
“Mm. Hullo you,” a husky voice breathed in his ear.
Garak froze. Had Bashir just woken up? And if he had, was that… he didn’t dare finish the thought.
“Smell so good.”
Bashir sounded like he might still be asleep. “So do you,” Garak replied cautiously.
A silky hand ran up and down his bicep. “Feel good, too.”
You have no idea , Garak thought as chills race down his spine. He reached up to pet the arm across his chest and tried responding again, but couldn’t get any words past the lump in his throat.
“Garak, one’a these days, I’m gonna get up the courage to throw myself at you,” Bashir murmured. He snuggled closer, half lying on top of his companion now.
“I wish you would,” Garak answered honestly.
What felt like lips brushed the scales of his shoulder. One press, then two.
And then a sudden release of tense muscles, and Bashir relaxed over him. A deep, shaky breath drew in and let out slowly.
No more words were forthcoming.
He lay there, wide awake and motionless, nerves on edge and blood humming, and waited for morning.