Crossing his arms over his chest and his right ankle over the left, Bashir leaned up against a bulkhead to the right of Dax’s console in Ops. ’Jadzia… after shift, I was wondering, would you be amenable to giving me another go at that concentration sphere game you introduced me to when we first came aboard the station?’
‘Sure, Julian,’ Dax said flatly, focused on the readouts in front of her.
‘And dinner before? Or after? After is fine too,’ said Bashir, smiling at his own parody of how he used to awkwardly flirt with her.
Not this again, thought Dax, but grinned when she looked over her shoulder and saw the teasing laughter crinkle the corners of his eyes and crease his cheeks. How far he had come, now able to laugh at his early inept attempts at seduction. Had I had any idea a few years ago of the man he would become…. But that ship had sailed.
A shrill alarm drew her attention back to her console. Dax’s brows drew together as she studied the readouts. ’Something is putting significant stress on the power grid. It seems to originate in Section 57. I’m trying to re-route around it, but as soon as I change anything it reroutes itself right back to the way it was. Chief, have you got anything running down there that would account for it?’
‘No,’ said O’Brien, squinting over her shoulder at the readouts. ’That doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing down there. Nothing that works anyway. There were some old solar-electric generators, but the Cardassians busted them up pretty badly when they left the place.’
‘How serious of a problem are we looking at, Old Man?’ Only the tension in Sisko’s voice revealed his level of concern.
‘Potentially very serious, sir. It looks like… sir, it might be sabotage. We’ll be forced to divert power from life support to shields and weaponry should we need them… and if there’s one thing we can count on in this war, it’s needing them.’ Dax watched closely as O’Brien tapped a rapid series of instructions into the console and cursed the convolutions of Cardassian technology under his breath.
‘Well sir. The power’s been rerouted through a lot of relays and power couplings, but the teriminus is somewhere in the habitat ring…. Give me a second. Yeah, Habitat Level H–3… Chamber…901,’ the Chief said slowly looking up at Bashir whose face blanched at the pronouncement.
‘That’s Garak’s quarters.’ Bashir closed his eyes, sighed violently, clamped his lips together so tightly they compressed into a thin line. When he inhaled again, his balled fists clanked into the bulkhead and the air hissed past his teeth. Striding towards the lift he said, ’I’ll go find out what he’s up to now. Computer! Current location of ‘Elim Garak?’
‘Elim Garak is currently located in Habitat Level 3 Chamber 901.’ Replied the computer.
’Julian! Be careful,’ said O’Brien. ‘I’m getting a similar set of readings from his shop on the Promenade.’
Kira who had been observing the goings-on tapped her combadge, ‘Kira to Odo.’
‘Here, Major,’ came Odo’s filtered response.
‘I need you to report to Mr. Garak’s quarters. Doctor Bashir will meet you there. The station is experiencing a power drain that seems to route back to that location.’ Kira paused. ‘Be careful, Constable, we have reason to suspect sabotage. I’ll also need you to have a look around Section 57 to see how that relates.’
‘On my way, Major,’ said Odo, severing the connection.
Ten minutes later, Bashir, Odo, and a contingent of three Bajoran security officers were stood outside Chamber 901. Bashir hit the button to page for entry. There was no response. After a moment, he hit the button for the intercom. ‘Garak, I know you’re in there; answer the door.’
Another pause, then Garak’s filtered voice responded, ‘How lovely of you drop by, dear Doctor. One moment and I'll be right out.’
Less than two minutes later a freshly showered Garak, neat as a pin, stepped out of his quarters so quickly he walked directly into the security detail. His eyes went wider even than usual, the whites showing almost all the way round the bright blue irises. He cocked his head back and to the left and his prominent brow ridges climbed towards his hairline. ‘Gentlemen, ladies, I’m so very sorry. I wasn’t expecting a…party.’ Never directly meeting anyone’s eyes, he continued, ‘Doctor, Odo… to what do I owe this…pleasure?'
Bashir genuinely liked Garak, in spite of the darkness that surrounded him, in spite of the lies, in spite of the secrets. Probably because of the lies, because of the secrets. But he was also well and truly tired of playing baby sitter to a man half again his own age. ‘Garak, what are you doing in there? And in your shop. And in Section 57.’ Every syllable was clipped and crisp, every consonant scalpel sharp. He consulted a tricorder ’You quarters are…’ he blinked,’ thirty-five degrees and the humidity is so high it’s probably about to rain in there.’
Garak inhaled sharply, smiled too brightly. He brought his hands together beneath his sharp raised chin. ‘Odo, Doctor Bashir, perhaps we could take this… conference… to the Replimat.’
‘I don’t think so,’ growled Odo, already advancing towards Garak’s quarters.
‘Ah well, I see,’ said Garak, recovering quickly, ‘perhaps you would agree to come in and join me for a cup of tea…. And leave your charming entourage… out… here?’ There was an unmistakeable edge to Garak’s tone.
‘Harrrmph!’ Barked Odo. ‘Sirn, Karso, wait here. If we aren’t out in fifteen minutes, override the securities. Baalin, go to Section 57. Get tricorder scans of the area and send them to us as soon as possible.’
‘Aye, sir,’ replied Karso, as she took up a position to the right of the door while Sirn took the left. Baalin nodded and set off down the corridor.
‘I assure you this really isn’t necessary, Constable,’ said Garak, as he keyed in his entry code and walked through the doors. Bashir and Odo followed. Even expecting it, Bashir was almost smothered by a blast of extremely hot, humid air. He looked to Odo, but Odo was unfazed.
Though Garak’s quarters were dark, Bashir’s eyes quickly adapted as he looked around. There was an intricate network of wires spider-webbed across the floor and neatly sealed down with self-sticking wire-conduit. All the wiring eventually made its way back to the walls…walls that were covered in…blankets?
Garak walked over to the replicator, ’Computer, one red leaf tea and one Tarkalian T—‘
‘Belay that,’ said Bashir. ‘Iced tea. Please.’
‘Ah, yes. Computer, one red leaf tea and one…iced…tea.’ The way Garak pronounced the word ‘iced’ it might well have been a curse. Perhaps it was in Kardasi. Maybe instead of telling someone to go to hell, you said ‘go freeze yourself.’ Bashir smiled slightly at the silliness of the thought and walked over to more closely inspect the blankets.
With the exceptions of the floor, the door, and the viewport, they covered everything. The walls, of course, were covered in blankets - seven layers deep in some places. The couch, the bed, the chair at Garak’s desk. Even the ceilings were covered, especially over the light fixtures. That was what caused the room to be limned in a gaseous orange haze. Every blanket radiated heat. And nearly every visible blanket was covered in bright, intricate embroidery.
There were grey figures engaged in combat in a sandpit, then studying engineering in a school room, then hunting who knows what in a bleak wilderness with a strange constellation overhead. Almost comically, a lizard peeked out from behind a rock. And with the pictures, words. Words everywhere, neatly cross-stitched, weaving and intersecting vertically and horizontally, and all in the angular, scimitar-like script of Kardasi.
So fascinated with the imagery all around, Bashir nearly tripped over a humidifier. There must have been at least fifty of the little things strewn around the room. ’What is all this Garak?’
‘I hardly know what you mean, Doctor.’ Garark wasn’t even making an effort to hide the lie. Odo’s eyes narrowed, but he merely continued to inspect the room for something more nefarious than blankets and humidifiers.
Bashir pushed himself into Garak’s personal space and tried to look as imposing as he could with his hair sweat-matted to his forehead. He snorted his disbelief. ’The blankets,’ he said, gesturing round the room, ‘and the humidifiers. You’ve turned the place into a… a Hebitian sauna!’ He abruptly stopped himself and leaned towards Garak so closely that the tip of his nose brushed the raised ridge of the at the tip of the Cardassian’s. ‘I’ll be damned. This is where all the electric blankets on the station keep disappearing to. You’ve been stealing them!’ He tapped a finger sharply into the centre of Garak's chest.
Garak tilted his head back, opening up some space between them without retreating, smiled and softened his gaze charmingly. Bashir wondered if this was what it was like to be lured in by an angler fish. Garak clasped a pale hand on his bicep and handed him the glass of tea with the other. The doctor did not miss that Garak tried to touch the cold, perspiring glass as little as possible. ’Now, now, my dear, one man’s ‘stealing’ is another man’s ‘borrowing. And it’s not like anyone was actually using them.’
Well, that much at least is true. It was fairly uncommon for anyone to require one, and Bashir himself would never have noticed their disappearance if not for one of those uncommon occurrences in the infirmary last week.
Odo, inspecting the area around Garak’s terminal, harrumphed.
‘I will admit that since that Breen… refugee… moved in next door, I have felt… compelled to do a little redecorating, but it hardly warrants a search of my quarters.’
Bashir took a half step back and gestured expansively with an upturned palm. ‘You did all this… because a Breen moved in next door?’ He paused to regard Garak thoughtfully for a moment. Suddenly doctor's head tilted back and his jaw fell open in the non-verbal equivalent of a shouted ‘ah-ha!’ ‘Garak, are you… well?’
‘But of course doctor, never better in fact,’ said Garak, ‘but perhaps one of you could explain what brings you here today to search my humble domicile and question my sanity?’
Putting a hand on Garak’s arm and giving a friendly squeeze, Bashir said, ’I promise I’ll explain everything as soon as I can. Odo, might I have a word with you?’
‘Outside,’ Bashir jerked his head towards the door. ‘In private,’ he said, looking directly at Garak.
Outside Garak’s quarters, Odo dismissed the two remaining guards.
‘He will never admit it, but he’s cold. It’s just a sauna.’ said Bashir.
‘Yes, so I gathered, but it’s just a sauna that makes the station vulnerable to attack. I’m amazed that network of wires and conduits even works at all. Why doesn’t he set the environmental controls like a normal humanoid,’ Odo’s too-smooth face wrinkled into a scowl.
‘I’m not sure, but I mean to find out,’ said Bashir. ‘A few years ago, when… when he was… unwell… he refused to be treated in the infirmary. I came here, and his quarters were the same temperature as the rest of the station. Under duress, he admitted he felt cold all the time. I raised the temperature myself, and it worked for me, but now I wonder if maybe he can’t change it.’
‘Another thing he would never admit,’ Odo conceded.
‘Bashir to O’Brien.’
‘O’Brien, here. How bad is it?’
Bashir flicked through several screens on his tricorder and said, ‘Not bad… at least, I think not. Um… where are you, Miles?’
‘In a Jeffries tube on Level 7, why?’
‘Course I’m alone. It’s a Jeffries tube not a ballroom, you twit. You gonna ask me what I’m wearing next? Sheesh.’
Bashir smiled and cut to the point. ‘I’m going to assume you have a tricorder with you. I’m sending you some readings from the scans we took here, and ones Baalin sent from Section 57, see if you can make anything of them. Also,’ and here he hesitated at some length, ‘can you poke about in the computer and find out if Garak has access to his environmental controls?’
‘Sure,’ said O’Brien, ‘but I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t; everybody quartered here does. …Alright, I’ve got the scans. Well, I’m amazed it works… whatever it is. If it’s sabotage, it’s a piss-poor attempt. A cherry bomb in a toilet has more potential to do real damage. …It’s definitely running back to one of those old solar engines…. Ah, that explains the power drain. We’re too far from Bajor’s sun for the engine to work well and worse than that, it’s all feeding back through a a single overloaded coupling in his quarters. What is it, anyway?’
‘A heating system, we think,’ said Odo.
There was the sound of a spanner clanking against metal deck-plating on O’Brien’s end and he swore. His voice was constricted as if he were lying down and having to work with his arms stretched out overhead in front of him, which he probably was. ’Yeah, alright, but the readings only make sense that way if there were, say, a few hundred very small heaters all routed back to the same power source.’
‘Electric blankets,’ said Bashir. ‘Hundreds of them in his quarters and probably more in his shop, or the back room where he works anyway. We think he’s trying to recreate the climate of Cardassia.’
‘Ha! That’s… insane. Hang on a second, I’m getting a tricorder link to the main computer…. Well, that’s odd. Garak, doesn’t have access to his environmental controls, but what’s even weirder… neither do I. Oh come on, Computer, what, the Chief Engineer not good enough for you?’ There was another long pause while O’Brien tried something to fix the problem. ‘Sorry Julian, there’s nothing I can do. Says here that it requires the station commander’s override to transfer control. You’ll have to go to the Captain. It looks like a little prank the Cardassians left for Garak when they decamped.’
‘Damn. Garak would be livid if he found out the Captain was brought into this.’ Julian paced down the corridor, turned, paced back.
‘Perhaps, Doctor, you could you try a medical override?’
‘Yes, Odo! Brilliant! Computer, transfer environmental controls for Habitat Level 3, Chamber 901 to Elim Garak - Emergency medical override Bashir one-Alpha.’
‘Station Commander’s override required to transfer environmental controls of Habitat Level 3, Chamber 901,’ replied the computer.
‘Grraaah,’ Bashir kicked a bulkhead.
Odo switched his own tricorder off and let it drop to hang at his side. ’Hmmm, perhaps we should ask Captain Sisko to transfer the controls… and lead Garak to believe you used a medical override.’
‘Doctor Bashir, Odo,’ said Sisko as they entered his office. ‘What did you find?’
’It’s not… sabotage, sir. At least, not intentionally.’ Bashir looked out the view port behind the Captain. How did one describe what they’d found? ‘… Garak has… built a… an unusual heating system in his quarters… out of… ’borrowed’ electric blankets.’ Bashir handed his tricorder to the Captain.
‘He doesn’t have access to the environmental controls for his quarters,’ added Odo.
’This is… one of the most ridiculous - if not the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard,’ said Sisko rising from his desk and scrubbing a large-fingered hand over his bald scalp. ‘And his solution was to build a blanket fort? No wonder you’re friends with him; our resident Cardassian spy is at least as much of man-child as you are, Doctor. Why does he not have access to his climate controls? Better still, why are you telling me about it?’
Bashir wrinkled his nose. Man-child, honestly? There was nothing immature about enjoying a good holodeck fantasy, but now was not the time to fight that battle. ’Computer, transfer environmental controls for Habitat Level 3, Chamber 901 to Elim Garak - Emergency medical override Bashir one-Alpha.’
‘Station Commander’s override required to transfer environmental controls of Habitat Level 3, Chamber 901,’ replied the computer.
‘Miles can’t transfer control either. He thinks the Cardassians were… playing a prank on Garak when they left.’ Bashir’s smooth voice became shrill with righteous indignation. ‘Whoever locked him out knew he would never reveal any perceived vulnerability to the Bajorans taking over the station by reporting the problem. It wasn’t a prank, it was torture and it’s been going on for as long as we’ve been here!’ He took a deep breath. Calm, Julian, be calm. ‘When the Breen refugee moved in next door, I guess the cold seeping over through the shared wall just got to be too much, and he took matters into his own hands. I don’t think anything that’s happened since we were in the internment camp has helped either.’
Sisko sighed. ’Computer, transfer environmental controls for Habitat Level 3, Chamber 901 to Elim Garak - authorisation Sisko-theta-epsilon–7–4.’
‘Environmental controls for Habitat Level 3, Chamber 901 transferred to Elim Garak,’ said the computer.
Returning to his seat and taking up a data pad, Sisko said, ’I’ll leave it to you two to make a up a suitable story about how the controls suddenly started working without my ever having heard anything about it. And I expect that power draining… thing to be down within the half hour.’
Bashir just caught the beginnings of Sisko’s long-suffering smile as he and Odo turned to exit.
Bashir stood outside Garak’s quarters, alone this time, and rang for entry.
Garak allowed him in, but his eyes were hard and the smile that stretched his thin lips was a chill one. The doctor was a dear friend, but honestly, how dare he? It was, he, Garak, who showed up in* Bashir’s quarters uninvited, not the other way around, thank you very much. It is time, you, my young friend, learnt something about how the universe works. Leaning towards Bashir, nostrils flared, neck ridges at full flush, Garak knew himself to be the very aspect of a Terran cobra set to strike.
Apparently Bashir did too because he yielded, eyes wide, and took a step back. ’Um… Garak, I’m very sorry about all this….” He waved his hand round, generally encompassing the entire room and the recent events that had taken place therein.
‘I believe the words you’re looking for are ‘invasion of privacy,’ said Garak.
‘Yes,’ said Bashir. ‘This… um… invasion of… your privacy. I’m… so … so sorry, Garak. It’s just… this… redecorating… you’ve done… is… well, the tapestries are beautiful, but the… um… heating… is massively inefficient. It’s draining the station’s main power and we can’t route around it. If we were to be attacked, we would have to divert power from life support to defend ourselves.’ Blushing, Bashir hung his head and studied his nails. He looked like nothing so much as a guilty schoolboy. It was Garak’s undoing.
Garak took a step forward into Bashir’s personal space. He might already be defeated, but the dear doctor didn’t need to know that just yet. ’Surely, my dear, you could divert power from the refrigeration system you insist on running full throttle throughout this entire facility before you cut life support?’
Bashir kept his head down and shrugged. ‘Well, yes,’ he mumbled. ‘I suppose we could at that. …But,’ he paused, head still lowered with his eyes raised to meet Garak’s. ‘… Even still… you have a fire hazard here, Garak. It’s very dangerous. You could die if this all shorted out.’
‘Perhaps fire is a risk I’m willing to take if means dying warm?’ replied Garak with a challenging glint in his eyes.
Bashir raised his head and his voice, ’Well, it’s not a risk I’m willing to take!’ There was a long pause as they regarded one another. Garak, for his part, was too surprised by Bashir’s outburst to say anything.
‘We’re at war,’ Bashir said returning to a conversational volume, ‘and I understand that there are acceptable risks that have to be taken, but, Garak, this is not one of them.’
Bashir’s hands rose to grip Garak’s deltoids and he actually shook him a bit. ’For one sickening moment in that internment camp, I thought they were going to execute you.’ His voice started off strong but faded to a whisper as his throat clenched tightly. He paused for a deep breath then continued in a reedy, emphatic whisper. ’Too many people are dying in this war. Too many friends. Don’t you ever, ever make light of your life to me. I know you’re cold and I know you’re probably as miserable as I am about the internment camp, and I know you don’t want to directly acknowledge any of it. But, Garak, you could tell me that you’re cold, and I would fix it. I already know you aren’t invulnerable, and god help me, I do keep your secrets. Speaking of which, you should try your environmental controls; they work now… medical override.’ Bashir was breathing hard by the time he reached the end of his soliloquy. He stepped back and his hands fell to his sides.
Garak blinked, swallowed, opened his mouth to say something, then not quite knowing what to say, closed it again. It was an uncommon occurrence in his life, that someone genuinely cared about him. He could probably count on one hand all the times he had ever felt loved. He studied Bashir. Dark circles like bruises rimmed sunk in eyes, cheek bones rose too high over sunk in cheeks, untrimmed stubble peppered his chin, and the generalised pallor of the sleep-deprived seemed to envelop him. He has been different these last months, since our return from the internment camp, more tense, on edge… and it only got worse when his genetic enhancements became public knowledge. Oh Elim, why are you so surprised? The only training the poor boy has had for war is this war.
Sentiment was the greatest weakness. Nevertheless, Garak reached out the short distance and pulled the human into his broad chest. ’There, there, doctor,’ he said, rubbing Bashir’s back, ‘I’m alive and well, as you can no doubt see for yourself.’ Bashir fell into the embrace, leaned into Garak and pulled him into a mighty grip. They stood like that for time unaccounted, two friends, two soldiers, celebrating life still lived.
Bashir recovered himself and stepped back, releasing Garak. Garak smiled a real smile and a puckish light began to dance in his eyes. His voice dropped a little low as he said, ’So what you’re saying, Doctor, is that if I told I was cold, you would warm me up?’
Bashir barked a laugh. This was familiar; this was a game he knew how to play. ‘Well, maybe if you asked nicely enough,’ he said with a wink and his cheekiest boyish grin.
‘I always ask nicely, dear Doctor,’ said Garak, putting his hands on Bashir’s shoulders the way he’d done the day they first met in the Replimat.
‘But now you won’t need me.’ said Bashir, theatrically.
‘Oh I wouldn’t go that far, my dear,’ said Garak leaning forward a little with a smile that looked like a threat. ‘I’m sure if I were to repay your unexpected visit to my quarters with one of my own to yours, I would find myself in a refrigerator, much in need of a warm little mammal to thaw me out.’
Not to be beaten, Bashir pulled himself to his full height, just a little taller than the Cardassian and replied, ’Oh well, that’s too bad then. I am a mammal and I am very warm, but alas, I am not ‘little’.’
‘You do realise, my dear, that in this game of ‘chicken’ as you so charmingly call it, I am under no compulsion to retreat, and therefore I will win.’
‘Hmmm,’ said Bashir, quietly, meeting Garak’s eyes, ‘Maybe I want to lose.’
Garak drew in a sharp breath. Tread carefully, Elim. Sentiment is the greatest weakness. Nevertheless, Garak’s hands had already slid up Bashir’s neck, already moulded to his jaw line, already drawn his unresisting head down, already pressed grey lips to red. And oh gods, they were warm. Garak’s closed eyes squeezed tighter as Bashir’s long fingers slid into the Cardassian’s hair and the doctor opened his mouth to deepen the kiss. Garak was no stranger to physical experience, pain or pleasure, but it was novel to find himself the one out of control and whimpering. And when Bashir sucked on Garak’s thin lower lip, moaning so low and deep that it was felt more than heard, Garak opened himself, tasted the salty alienness of the human, allowed himself to be tasted, and felt no defeat in the surrender.
Grey hands on tan cheeks and tan hands on grey ones. One ragged breath in a still room and one more. A smooth forehead resting against a ridged one. A thousand questions all answered by exquisite silence. Brown eyes slowly opening to look into blue. This first kiss ended, as all first kisses must do. And they stood like that for time unaccounted, two friends, two would-be lovers, celebrating life still lived, life yet to be lived.
The heat eventually reminded Bashir that unfortunately he had other business here. ‘Garak, can you shut down your… decorating from here or do we need to go to Section 57?’
Garak disengaged, albeit reluctantly, went to his desk, and tapped in a short sequence of commands. ‘There, my dear, all done. Now I believe you told me that you found Gul Dukat’s little parting gift and fixed it so that I now have access to my environmental controls, is that right?’
‘Yes, you should try it out.’
‘Computer, set temperature, humidity, and lighting to Cardassian standard.’
‘Acknowledged,’ replied the computer. The lights, already dimmed by the blankets, dimmed more and the room was shrouded in red darkness.
‘Ah excellent!’ Garak glanced at the time on his computer display. ‘Doctor, it seems to have gotten late enough that I think I might enjoy dinner. Would you care to join me? Quark’s perhaps?’
‘I'd be delighted,’ and smiling he said, ‘You know...You've had your tongue in my mouth, I think you can probably call me Julian now….’
Together they exited Garak’s quarters and began walking towards the lift that would take them out of the habitat ring and onto the Promenade. ‘Tell me, Garak,’ said Bashir, ‘what was it that you illustrated on the tapestries? They really are very beautiful.’
‘Oh you like them,’ said Garak, horrified to find himself unable to resist preening at the flattery. ’Just scenes from… a work of literature.’
‘Really,’ said Bashir. ‘Well, it looks fascinating. I hope you lend it to me sometime.’
‘Hmmm…’ said Garak thoughtfully, as they made their way into Quark’s. ‘Perhaps I’ll produce a copy for you one day.’