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Garak stared at the full glass of kanar on his dining table, its parent bottle of blue liquor beside it. Aside from pouring the glass full, he had yet to touch it. He was thoroughly disgusted with himself for the impulse to drink it at all. Ziyal was dead, and this was the best he could do? Drown himself in kanar? His face contorting briefly, he snatched up the glass and flung it against the wall with all of his strength. Chest heaving, he grasped the edge of his table with both hands, squeezing hard until the moment passed. Love is weakness, his thoughts informed him in Enabran's voice.

“I don't care,” he said aloud, carefully enunciating every word. “For this one night, you will leave me alone, Enabran. I will have this night for myself, and tomorrow, I'll be the same Elim Garak they all expect me to be, the one they need to help them win this war. Tonight, Ziyal gets her due. You can begrudge me that all you like. You're dead, I'm here, and I get to decide this time what I will or won't allow.”

Deciding to love had been a personal rebellion against his common sense from the moment he made the decision. He had always feared he would pay for it. He just had no idea how dearly until he saw Ziyal's still form in the infirmary. Kira's open hurt was a lash to his vestigial conscience. By all dictates of decency, he should have been able to share that moment with her. Decency had no voice with those raised to the Order, so he had said something typically “Garak” and left her there to claw her own way out of the new hole in her heart. What did he have to offer a Bajoran anyway but cold comfort at best, and if she had returned it? It might have broken him the rest of the way, and that was something he would never allow no matter how much he hurt.

What was there left to any of them but cold comfort in the face of so much loss? He felt every year of his life right then. Were his spine any less stiff, they would have borne him straight to the floor. Instead, he took up a rag to clean the thin blue liquor that had run down his wall and was now staining the carpet. He even minded the glass and took extra care. Ziyal would have never approved of self-inflicted harm, especially not because of her.

He threw away the whole mess in the recycler and kept his back to his empty quarters. Her presence was still there, around every corner, in every shadow, just behind his turned back. He knew what denial was and why he was experiencing it. He rejected it outright and turned to face the emptiness. Take a good, long look, he told himself. Never let it be said no one can see the future. This is your future.

His door chime intruded on his thoughts, this deliberate working through grief at a necessary fast forward. There could be only one person with such temerity at a time like this. It would serve him right if Garak answered the door and vomited every ugly thought he had ever entertained about the nave puppy of a human right to his face. It wouldn't be the first time he took his wrath out on the doctor. He knew the man would take it, which was precisely why he decided against it. He had no use for martyrs tonight, nor did he understand that brand of loyalty or how he managed to inspire it. “Open,” he said, his voice tired and flat in his own ears.

Doctor Bashir stepped into the threshold, neither in nor out. He looked decidedly uncomfortable, fidgeting his hands until he tucked them behind his back. “Garak,” he said carefully.

“Decide, Doctor,” Garak snapped. “Stay or go. Don't hang about in the doorway like some fickle pet.”

Bashir's jaw tightened, and he stepped into the room, allowing the door to close behind him. “I know you'd rather have your privacy right now,” he said.

“That never stops you, does it?” It just kept coming, this endless stream of venom. He wished the man would snap and put him in his place just this once. He dearly deserved it.

“For once, I'm not here for you,” Bashir said, his voice hardening slightly. He met Garak's challenging glare and held it. “It's about...Dukat. He keeps asking for you.”

The room spun for just a moment, shock and rage vying for control of his tongue and his thought process. Of all the times that the doctor chose to surprise him utterly, it would be now? He underestimated the human's capacity for cruelty. It was with a completely new level of respect that he spat, “I should care about this why?”

“You shouldn't, and perhaps I shouldn't be asking, but I am. I'm a doctor,” he said, at least having the decency finally to look away. “His condition is fragile. If seeing you will bolster it, then I have to ask until a psychologist arrives for him.”

Garak's eyes brightened dangerously. “What makes you think I won't tip him in the other direction? Do you think me incapable? Do you think for one instant I wouldn't, and that I wouldn't enjoy every single moment of it? I don't need to touch him to hurt him, and you're a fool if you think otherwise.”

“Ziyal,” Bashir said quietly. “Ziyal makes me think you won't do that, because regardless of how you feel, she loved her father, and you can't deny it.”

Garak staggered back, finding his dining table with a hand to keep himself from going to his knees. He stared at Bashir as though seeing him for the first time. “You've been paying attention after all,” he breathed. “All of our lunches haven't been for naught. Oh, Doctor, are you certain interrogation isn't in your future?”

Bashir flinched. “I deserved that. Believe me, I know what I'm asking.”

“Do you?” he demanded. “Do you really? I wonder.”

“Yes, or no?” the doctor asked implacably. “I won't hold it against you if you say no. I want you to know that.”

“You think your regard is a factor? Perhaps you haven't learned as much as I thought,” Garak said, turning away because he wasn't completely certain he could keep that lie out of his countenance. He was far from himself that night. Another thought sent a chill through him. Dukat could hurt you tonight. That sword cuts both ways. Oh, Enabran, why is it every time in my life I refuse to listen to you it costs so very much? “I'll come,” he said, still facing his table, “on two conditions and two conditions only.”

“What?” the doctor asked very carefully.

Smart man, Garak thought with the ghost of a smile. “You never bring it up again, and you never ask me why, not now, not ever.”

“That's fair,” Bashir said, sounding relieved.

Don't think you're out of the woods yet, my dear Doctor, Garak thought with unadulterated malice. I'll have my pound of flesh from you for this, rest assured. My favors are never cheap, and making you suffer is all too easy. He turned then, his face set in a mask of solicitousness. “Let's go,” he said.

“If you need more time,” Bashir said awkwardly, “it doesn't have to be right now.”

“Don't tell me you're already losing your stomach for this? You have what you want of me. I'd think you would want to enjoy your triumph and be eager to see it through,” he said, a hard glint in his eyes.

“Look, Garak,” the man said sharply, his accent thickening as it always did when he was irritated, “I take no pleasure in your pain, and I resent the implication. I'll take a great deal from you because I'm your friend, whether you reciprocate it or not, but not that. You want to lie to yourself about my motives for whatever reason, you're more than welcome to do so. I'll kindly ask you to keep those particular lies to yourself.”

Exhibit A: The Doctor Grows a Spine, ladies and gentlemen, Garak thought. Sorry to disappoint, but the long awaited sequel The Agent Grows a Heart will not be showing tonight. Thank you for coming, nonetheless. He gestured the man ahead of him out the door and fell into step with him in the corridor.

They said nothing more to one another on the way. Every step Garak took battered his residual denial. Ziyal would never step here again, or here, or here. They would not walk the Promenade together. They would not lunch in Quark's bar. She would not surprise him in his shop with early dinner. She would not wear the dress he planned but had yet to start with the distractions of the war. He would never make the dress. Every space, internal and external, that she had filled, he systematically emptied with the same dispassion he held for sentiment in others. Let it never be said he was a hypocrite. He was an equal opportunity offender, and he never, ever spared himself.

Only when they reached the security office could he truly breathe for a moment. This was one place she had never been with him, so he didn't have to banish her. No, that would come when they moved to the brig, and how in the world would he manage that feat? Odo eyed both of them suspiciously. “Doctor?” he said in that querulous way of his that was as much “Odo” to Garak as his weirdly plastic features and slicked back hair.

“He has been asking for him,” Bashir said quietly.

“He isn't in his right mind,” Odo retorted patiently.

Under any other circumstance, Garak might have laughed. The changeling had an excellent point. No one who was sane would request him in his most vulnerable moment, not unless he were a masochist, in which case Garak would just deny him the pain he could inflict.

Bashir simply met the assertion with a long look. Odo threw up his hands and turned away as though to say Dukat's pain was the least of his concerns, and it probably was. The doctor turned to Garak. “Do you want me there?”

Garak blinked at him. “Please correct me if I'm wrong, but you're giving me a choice about that?”

“Yes,” the man said, nodding.

“Are you certain it's only Dukat who has lost his mind?” he asked blandly. “You're trusting me?”

“I'm trusting that you love Ziyal,” he said.

“Twist that particular dagger in me one more time,” Garak said casually, “and friend or not, I will end you.”

“I'll be here if you need me,” the doctor said, either absorbing or ignoring the threat. Garak couldn't be certain which, although the latter would be very foolish.

He met his gaze for some long moments, and in a rare moment of concession turned away first. He clenched his hands into fists as he walked across the threshold to the holding cells. Dukat's voice carried well as it always did. However, it was pitched in a tone Garak had never heard, gentle. Loving. Garak almost lost his nerve right then and there. “You'll love Cardassia,” the voice drifted from the farthest holding cell. “And in time, I know they will love you. Your art is brilliant, and it will speak to our people's souls.”

He closed his eyes, feeling his gorge rise acidic in the back of his throat. Putting one foot methodically before the other, he walked down the cell bank, finally coming to a stop before the one containing his old enemy. Had he not known for a fact who he was, he might never have recognized him. Minus the bombastic swagger and egotism, he looked somehow diminished, small, and fragile, curled as he was on the floor cradling nothing but air.

Sickening. Disgusting. Weak! Just whose voice colored those thoughts Garak couldn't say. There were times he and Enabran were in total agreement. “Dukat,” he said, surprised at how gentle and steady his own voice came in the face of what he wanted to do to the man. If he pounded him to bloody pulp, it wouldn't be the beginning of enough. If he vaporized him, it would only be a start. He was dizzy with loathing and only just self-aware enough to realize it was his own reflected weakness he truly wanted to destroy. Dukat was beyond judgment and reckoning in any meaningful way.

His voice had an amazing effect. Dukat immediately dropped his arms and straightened. Lifting his gaze to Garak, he pressed himself up from the floor and sat neatly on the bunk, his back straight. “She said you would come,” he said, sounding sane and rational except for the glaring fact that he was hallucinating the dead. “I told her she overestimated your capacity for any true feeling. I should learn not to doubt my Ziyal. She's a better judge of character than I give her credit for, but what do you think it says about her that the two men she loves most in the world hate one another beyond reason?”

“Why did you ask for me?” Garak asked, not about to be dragged into the other Cardassian's delusion.

“Because there's nothing I won't do for my Ziyal,” Dukat said, tilting his head slightly. “It hurts her that we're at odds.”

Don't you forgive me, Garak thought in alarm. Don't you dare! You have no right! “Ziyal is dead,” he said, attempting to throw Dukat off the trail he seemed intent on following. “She can't be hurt by anything now.” She can't be hurt ever again, small mercy that it is.

Dukat tilted his head further and laughed softly. “I know he is,” he said, fixing Garak with the most warmth Garak had ever seen in those ice chip eyes. “She says you're stubborn. It's one of the things she loves about you.”

“I'm not interested in having this discussion,” Garak said coldly. “Doctor Bashir brought me here, because in his infinite Starfleet optimism, he thought I could help you in your deluded state. All I have for you is harsh reality, from one Cardassian to another. It's all I know to do. Your daughter is dead,” he said the last four words very distinctly, each of them a dagger to his own heart.

“My daughter is free,” Dukat countered with a look of pity for Garak, made all the more intolerable because of its utter sincerity. “Would you have me believe that you, of all people, don't understand the difference?”

“Hide in your delusion,” Garak hissed. “Bury yourself as deeply as you can go. You want the truth about why I loathe you as much as I do? Do you really think it has to do with that piddling incident all those years ago? As much as I may lie, I know when I'm lying. You never do, and you somehow believe that's enough to absolve you. It isn't. It never will be. You're as damned as I am. You're just too afraid to see it. If losing your daughter isn't enough to open your eyes, I don't know what would be.” Garak's nails dug half moon furrows in his palms, the trickle of blood tickling his nail beds.

“I'll never lose Ziyal,” Dukat said with the certainty of madness. “And you,” he added, again with that compassion that made Garak want to scream with rage, “will never have her again, because you'll never let yourself. I never really understood you before, but Ziyal opened my eyes in more ways than one. You hug one armed, and you say you'll stay, all the while with one foot already out the door. You say I'm afraid? I've never seen a soul more afraid than you, Garak, and for that you have my genuine sympathy. You even fear my daughter, the one person in this world who would never hurt you.”

Only a lifetime of control kept his internal shuddering from manifesting physically. “You sickening piece of filth. I don't want or need your sympathy. You're the one who is pitiable. You're the one who's broken. Not me. We're done here, and I suppose I owe Doctor Bashir an apology for not keeping my word.” He turned on his heel and started for the brig door.

“Are you certain about that?” Dukat called after him. “From where I sit, you sound awfully broken. In fact, you sound an awful lot like me. Maybe one day you'll be able to forgive yourself, Garak.”

Garak stopped cold and favored him with one look over his shoulder. “No, Dukat,” he said harshly. “I don't have the right to forgive myself any more than you do. You can try self-absolution. Maybe you already have, and that's why you've come to this. Sooner or later, you'll see the truth. Don't expect me to find it within myself to pity you then. You've had more chances than I ever will.”

He walked past Bashir and Odo without really seeing them, out of security, off the Promenade, back to his quarters. After seeing his enemy broken and brought low as he had always desired, he felt nothing but emptiness and tasted nothing but ashes. The price was far too high, and had he known what it would be from the outset, he never would have played the game, even if it meant losing before he started.

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