TITLE: The Thread of Truth
AUTHOR: Kathryn Ramage, (c) May 1997
CODES: G/B, rated PG
SUMMARY: A sequel "Especially the Lies." Garak tells the doctor one more story. Like its predecessor, this story is basically a conversation where no one says what they're really talking about.  Rate it PG, because you never know how these things will turn out.
DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns Star Trek, DS9, and the characters.  This story was  written for personal amusement and should not be taken as intended copyright infringement or indeed anything but the product of a slightly bored mind seeking its own entertainment. 
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of two stories from Kathryn that have recently been released from print 'zine exclusivity; the other, "Especially the Lies," can be found in this issue of the 'zine.

~*\*~*/*~

He was still standing indecisively in the corridor across from Garak's quarters, arms around himself, when the door whisked open.

"Doctor?  Are you certain you're all right?"  Garak stood in the doorway, face shadowed by the brighter light of the room behind him.  He sounded genuinely concerned. 

"I'm fine," Bashir answered.  He looked up suddenly into the tailor's eyes.  "It's me, isn't it?"

"Not here," Garak told him.  "Come back inside."

"Garak-"

"Come here."  It was a command.

Bashir pushed himself away from the wall and went back into his friend's quarters. He took the seat he had vacated so nervously only minutes before while Garak went to the replicator.

"No," Julian protested. "Please, Garak, not another drink." Garak had given him his first glass of kanar earlier in the evening; the drink had been astonishingly strong, and Bashir would have liked to blame 
his subsequent behavior on its effects--though he knew that this was not the case.

The tailor held up one hand for silence.  "Water--cold," he ordered and, when the glass materialized, picked it up to offer to his guest.  "Sip, Doctor.  Don't gulp.  If the kanar has made you ill, a deluge 
of cold water will only make it worse."

Obediently, Bashir took a few sips; his eyes followed Garak as the tailor wandered the room, straightening things up.

"It's me, isn't it?" Julian asked again.  "All those stories--you were talking about me."

"The one great love of my life?"  Garak smiled, amused but not unkind, as he returned to his own chair.  "Really, Doctor, you flatter yourself."

"But that's what you wanted me to believe.  You said-" he hesitated.  What _had_ Garak said?  Technically, nothing about him.  Garak had been telling a sad story of an unrequited love from his past, but each time Julian had asked a question, the details of the story had changed.  The setting, the circumstances, even the race and gender of the person Garak remembered as the object of his unspoken desire had slipped away as inconsequential. Cardassia, Bajor, Obsidian-Order agent, Resistance fighter--none of it was real.  But beneath the elaborate scheme of rapidly-changing details, another, more significant pattern had begun to emerge...

Did this happen all the time?  Julian thought of all the contradictory and seemingly pointless stories Garak had recounted on evenings like this.  How often had he sat here, complacently listening to the lies and missing everything his friend was really telling him?

And what exactly was Garak telling him?  That he cared for him? That, in spite of his feelings, he knew it could never work between them?  After all, Garak had said that his interest was inappropriate. Several times, he had insisted that the object of his love couldn't be interested in him.  He had even said that possessing the thing one desired was never as thrilling as longing for it. 

Or had Garak only meant to tease?  Was this nothing more than a game, with Garak seeing how close he could come to making a declaration without Julian being aware of it? Had the circumspect tailor expected him to understand at all?

Bashir reviewed the phrases his friend had used to describe him while ostensibly speaking of other people. Perhaps, once, he had been everything Garak had said: an inexperienced child in search of a father-figure, an awkward youth who required a teacher's guidance, someone who was incapable of reciprocating, or even understanding, the love offered by a man of a different species and so much older than himself. And perhaps he had once been a blind little fool who couldn't see the truth unless it were explained to him slowly in words of one syllable. But he had grown up since. 

Did it disturb Garak that he had worked it out?

"I shouldn't play with you like that," Garak told him, with a tone of apology.  "I had no idea that my...reminiscences would so alarm you. Be assured, Doctor, while I do find you a charming companion, my affection for you is entirely platonic."

Bashir was almost certain he was lying, and he was furious with himself. 

*Idiot!* he thought. *You've spoiled everything!  He'll never tell you the truth now.*

When he had first realized what Garak was trying to tell him, he'd panicked.  He hadn't been prepared for the consequences of his discovery, and he'd fled.  Like a fool.  Like a coward.  It was, without a doubt, the worst thing he could have done. Maybe he wasn't ready for this, but now he might never have the chance to _be_ ready.  By panicking, he had confirmed Garak's impression that he could never reciprocate his feelings.  In his way, the tailor was very sensitive. 

He was too cautious to risk himself.  Having once been rebuffed, Garak would never say another word. 

Julian couldn't just leave it like this. 

"No," he insisted.  "Garak, please, tell me the truth, just this once. _Were_ you really only teasing?  Or did you mean it?  I have to know."

Garak seemed momentarily uncertain what to make of this plea.  Then, with a new light of comprehension in his eyes, he leaned forward to peer at the doctor.  "Which answer," he said, "would frighten you less?" 

It was impossible to meet that penetrating stare for very long; Julian's gaze faltered.

"Just tell me," he said to his own hands, curled around the glass of water on his knees.

Garak considered him for a few minutes longer before he said, "You thought I was talking about you?  No, dear Doctor.  I understand your confusion, but I was speaking of another young man of my acquaintance."

Bashir's mouth dropped open in astonishment and dismay at the tailor's audacity.  _Now_, Garak would not even admit that he had been playing mind-games. Tomorrow, he would probably deny that this conversation had ever taken place.

"Who?" the doctor asked, and felt a sickening little tightness in his chest; he knew there was no such person, but he had to hear what Garak would say.

"Reveal his name? That would be indiscrete," Garak answered cheerfully. "Doctor, may I tell you another story?"

Julian sipped his water.  "I don't think I could stand another one of your stories tonight."

"Oh, I can promise you'll like this one," Garak assured him, and settled back in his chair.  Regarding his guest with an expectant expression, he began:

"Cardassia had only recently sent me to live in exile among our enemies.  Can you begin to conceive the depth of my humiliation, dear Doctor?  The misery of a life in disgrace, confined for who-knows 
how long to this seventh circle of frozen hell surrounded by hostile Bajorans and Starfleet personnel.  All those ill-fitting, hideous orange and dreary black uniforms.   It seemed as if I had been given 
a fate worse than death."  Although Garak spoke with surprising lightness, he could not entirely keep the harder edge from his voice. 

"And, if this were not enough to make me regret my continued existence, my own people attacked the station I had been forced to call my home not long after the Federation took possession--no doubt you recall it. Our friend Gul Dukat had unfortunately disappeared into the new-found wormhole and his associates were...eager to see him recovered.  I was examining the ruins of the shop I intended to use for my tailoring business when the attack began. I stepped the doorway, to seek shelter 
from the flying debris as well as to observe the chaos on the Promenade, and I found my attention drawn to a particular young man, one of the new Federation officers, who was aiding the injured. Not 
because he was remarkably attractive for one of his species-"
 

"Species?" asked Julian, raising his eyes from the carpet. 

"Bolian, Doctor.  He had a most arresting bright blue complexion. It made a striking contrast to the darker blue of his uniform."

"Medical personnel, was he?" He began to understand.  "A doctor?" 

"Of course not," Garak chided him.  "You know as well as I do that you are the only doctor on this station.  May I continue my story?"

"Oh, yes," Julian tried not to sound too eager.  "Yes, please do."

"As I was saying, he drew my attention _not_ because he was remarkably lovely--although of course he was--" Garak's lips twitched slightly at Julian's sudden grin, "but because he was _bullying_ Odo.  I had not known the good constable for very long, but I had already learned that he was not easily intimidated.  It quite astonished and delighted me to see this arrogant child ordering our intrepid shapeshifter about.  I decided then that this young man was someone I wanted to know better. 
I gave him considerable attention after that, and when the appropriate moment arrived, I introduced myself."

"Why?" Julian asked.  "Just- ah- for fun?"

"Well, I hated to see so much potential go to waste." The Cardassian explained:  "During my observations of this...intriguing young person, I couldn't help noticing how often he sat alone.  It struck me as odd--I couldn't fathom why someone who possessed so many attractive qualities should be so often set apart from his own kind.  It came as quite a shock to me when I realized that the Federation officers were _irritated_ by my young friend's self-confidence."

"But not you," said Bashir.

"Cardassians view this type of behavior differently," Garak told him.  "Believe me, arrogance does have its charms.  And I knew that it would only be a matter of time before the disapproval of the other Federation personnel crushed the spirit out of this promising young man.  I couldn't stand for it.  I saw a strength there, an intelligence--in spite of some deplorable manners--that needed to be nurtured."

Garak had called him a child more than once tonight, but he'd also said that he thought Julian had matured into an outstanding officer and he was proud of him--as if he had had something to do with it. He probably had.

"You were the first person I met here who didn't treat me like an annoyance," Julian said with affection.

"Ah-!" Garak lifted a finger, scolding.  "Doctor, I'm not talking about you!  You really are very vain, aren't you?"

"This other young man, then," Julian answered, chastened but persistent. "You presented yourself to him as a teacher."

"Yes, Doctor.  Something like that."

"And," remembering the stories Garak had told him, "you began to find yourself caring more for your- ah- pupil than you expected to.  But you didn't want to risk damaging your friendship."

"Your perception is astonishing."

"So you've never told him?"

"I have considered it," said Garak, "But the probability that my affections were returned has always seemed rather remote.  My young friend--I find his behavior eternally contradictory, and extremely 
confusing.  I never know what to expect.  He is emotional. Impulsive.  You know how Bolians can be."

Julian, running one fingertip around the rim of his glass, nodded.

"It's only been recently that I've begun to wonder if I do indeed have a reason to hope--but of course I may be entirely mistaken.  A lonely man is apt to allow his...imagination to mislead him.  I would hate 
to make a fool of myself over a mistaken impression.  I'm sure you understand."  When the doctor did not respond, he added,  "I confess, I don't know how this particular story will end.  Do you have any 
suggestions?"

The question made Julian nearly drop his glass. What was he going to say?  For a moment, he was unable to do anything but blink at Garak helplessly and clear his throat. But, ready or not, he couldn't back down now unless he meant to end this permanently.  He had to take the chance. 

"I- I think you ought to say something," he answered at last. "Life is too short.  When- ah- lonely people have an opportunity for happiness, they ought to seize it."

"Do you really think we can make each other," the tailor paused at the word, "happy?"

"Yes. Uh- yes, I think so."

Garak nodded.  "Thank you, Doctor.  This has been a most enlightening conversation.  I shall certainly consider your advice."

Bashir's tremulous hopes plummeted into disappointment.  This was not the response he had expected.  In spite of this game they were playing, he'd been certain they were about to arrive at an understanding.

Well, what _had_ he expected?  That Garak would be so delighted with a few discrete words of encouragement that he'd sweep him right off his feet?  Garak would always be cautious.  He would guard his secrets. He couldn't be honest when he lay on his own deathbed. The tailor was so circumspect that he couldn't even make a heart-felt confession without wrapping it in layers of fabrication.  Would he ever surrender the simple truth?

The situation was too frustrating.  Julian wanted to shout--*Will you please stop playing with me and just _tell_ me what you want!*  But such an outburst would only make Garak more evasive. 

And, besides, what hadn't Garak already said?  In his own way, his friend had let him know exactly what he'd thought from the first moment he'd seen him.  He'd told Julian why he found him appealing, 
explained why he was reluctant to approach, and had even asked for some indication of the response he could expect if he _did_  dare to speak--and all without making a commitment.  Could Julian ask for more than that unless he was ready to commit himself?

If Julian wanted the truth, he would have to learn to listen for it.

When he glanced up, he found that Garak was watching him with intense interest, and he knew suddenly that everything that had crossed his mind must have been plain to read on his face.

"I really shouldn't play with you like this," Garak told him, his voice strangely soft.  "But you make it impossible to resist.  Julian,"

The sudden evocation of his first name jolted him;  Garak had never used it before.

"Come here."

It was not a command this time.  An invitation.

Julian put down his glass of water and, aware that Garak was still watching him, waiting to see what he would do, rose from his chair and crossed the room to where his friend was sitting.  As he drew near, Garak reached up to slip an arm about his waist, and then pulled him down so abruptly that he sprawled across the tailor's lap and landed surprised and breathless against the solid chest.

*Ready or not...*

Hands on Garak's shoulders, he tried to push himself up, but the Cardassian's arms encircled him tightly, holding him where he was.  Lips grazed just beneath his ear, and Garak whispered:

"Doctor, I have something important to tell you..." 

~*\~end~/*~