DS9: Bashir/Ezri, Bashir/Garak; Rated PG; Character death warning
Pacifica in the spring was about as close to the blessed afterlife as you could get. At least it was to Garak. The temperature was just right, the humidity not too oppressive and the sun shone all day long. He strolled down Anemone Boardwalk, taking in the sights, smells and sounds. It had been several years since he'd taken the time to travel offworld; he was jokingly referred to by his few acquaintances as a 'recluse.' What people said about him didn't matter, it never had.
He caught a glimpse, just a token sighting; a reflection in a storefront window. He spun around, breath caught in his throat, berating his mind for playing tricks on him. The resemblance was unnerving. He leaned against the building, lost in time as more than thirty years of memories washed over him.
He recalled the first day they'd met and the weeks afterward -- the wary looks, the heated debates, the long dinners. The first time they'd confessed how they felt about each other, the first time they'd made love.
Garak shook his head as he recollected his brief infatuation with Zyial, the hurt in his lover's eyes and his eventual return to grace.
There were the final days of the Dominion War, the time when he wasn't sure from one minute to the next if he'd come out of it alive. The triumphant victory that he'd wished Damar had lived to celebrate.
Then. . . his decision to help rebuild Cardassia, leaving behind the station and everyone he held dear. It had been almost twenty-six years since his decision to leave, and there wasn't a day that went by that he didn't regret that decision in one way or another.
His former lover had visited him on Cardassia once, had been there to help with the relief effort. Garak had met him for dinner one night, good food accompanied by awkward silences and half-hearted attempts at conversation. Too much had been left unsaid and Garak had cried into his pillow that night, alone.
But now. . . now, he wished for so much more.
He shook off his musings with an embarrassed laugh. //See one person with an uncanny resemblance and you're off on a tangent,// he chided himself. He continued his stroll along the sidewalk, trying to concentrate on the wares in the shop windows, but his eyes kept wandering to the vision in blue.
As he got closer, Garak could see the tinges of gray and white at the temples, the slightly stooped shoulders, the gauntness that comes from too much work and not enough play.
He raised his head, and Garak knew. The eyes! He could never forget those eyes. Garak stopped in his tracks, wondering at the cruel whims of fate. Why here, why now after so many years?
Julian smiled at him, slow and sweet. It took Garak's breath away. "Julian?" Even with the evidence staring right back at him, a part was afraid to believe it was really him.
The voice was as cultured and melodic as Garak remembered. "How. . . What?" For once words failed him.
"There's a xenopsychology symposium at the Regency Hotel this weekend. I'm chairing a panel on -" he stopped to smile. "Cardassians."
Garak couldn't contain a wry chuckle. "I guess they wanted the best," he complimented.
"Maybe not the best, but undeniably the most prolific." Julian cocked his head to one side. "What brings you here?"
"I've retired from government and decided to take a vacation." It was the most unlikely reason Garak could have thought of, and it was true.
Julian just nodded, staring into his eyes.
"I'm sorry," Garak blurted out.
Julian's smile was tender and a just a bit sad. "I know. I think I've always known. You had a choice between me and Cardassia, and I always knew who the winner would be." He put his hand on Garak's shoulder. "I forgave you years ago, Garak. I'm just sorry you couldn't forgive yourself."
"I could have done more, I *should* have done more. I should have insisted you come with me." He sighed, a tired old man full of ancient regrets and empty dreams. "I should have listened to my heart."
"You did," Julian insisted, "and it led you to Cardassia. Look at your homeworld now, Garak. *You* are responsible for their regained prosperity and embrace of more cultural pursuits. Imagine what it would have been like had it returned to a militaristic, oppressive, narcissistic regime. Could you have lived with it if that had happened? Honestly."
Garak knew what his friend said was true. "No," he answered in a small voice. A part of him hated the man he'd become and, because of that, hated the man he'd been all those years ago.
Julian removed his hand from Garak's shoulder. "So you finally retired. Do you have any plans after this vacation?"
Garak shook his head. "No. I bought a cabin in the Kryoc Mountains. I guess I'll spend a lot of time. . . doing nothing." Garak voiced the question that had been bothering him since he'd heard of the announcement. "How are you and Ezri doing?"
Julian turned his eyes downward. "She died almost two years ago."
"I'm sorry, I had no idea." He wanted to reach out, to enfold him in a comforting embrace but wasn't sure if his touch would be welcome.
Julian looked back up into his eyes. "It's okay, it doesn't hurt anymore. There are still times I miss her. Like there were still times I missed you. She knew that there would always be a piece of me she could never touch, and she accepted it."
"What about the symbiont?"
"Thankfully they were able to transfer it. Liam Dax is a scientist on Trill. He asked if he could keep in contact with Richard."
"And what did you say?"
Julian shrugged. "Richard is an adult now, twenty-three last December. I left the decision up to him, and last I heard he was considering it."
"You raised a remarkable son, Julian."
"He was an easy child that practically raised himself." Julian switched gears. "I have a confession to make."
"My main reason for coming to Pacifica was to find you. I called your office and a very talkative woman named Durona told me that you'd retired. With a little persuasion she told me about your vacation plans, too. The conference was just a fortunate coincidence -- they happily added me to their lecturer list at the last minute."
Garak wasn't sure what to say. A part of him wanted to ask why the doctor had sought him out, but another part was afraid of hearing the answer.
They stood there in silence, each not sure what to say next. It was just like that one visit Julian had made to Cardassia after the war. Garak remembered how it had turned out and he'd be damned if he'd let history repeat itself. "I still love you, Julian, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't regret not doing more to keep you in my life."
Julian's eyes misted over. "I still roll over in the night and reach out for you, for your gentle strength and warm touch. I never, not for a second, stopped loving you, Elim."
"Would you like to join me for dinner tonight?" Garak tried but couldn't keep the hope from his voice.
A smile spread across Julian's face and he reached out to take a hold of Garak's hand. "I can't think of anything else I'd rather do."