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Story Spinner

Title: Story Spinner
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Garak/Bashir (Friendship. Pre-slash.)
Spoilers: Takes place after Broken Link. Sequel to Chain Stitch
Summary: Bashir responds to an emergency and Garak weaves him a story of lies, deceit, and some painful truths that are hard to ignore.
Beta: No beta yet. :(

This is a different tone of story from Chain Stitch, so I'm not sure they really go well together as a series, but I started this intending it to be a sequel. But it could stand alone.

Story Spinner

With an urgent hiss the doors to Constable Odo's office parted and in rushed Doctor Julian Bashir, eyes filled concerned panic, his medical kit slung haphazardly over his shoulder, his breath coming out in a rasp.

"Medical emergency?" was all he managed to rasp out.

"Yes, though I'm not sure I would call it an emergency now," Odo got to his feet and lead Bashir to the holding cells. "At about 8 hundred hours this morning Garak breached in the security fields in the holding cells and attempted to escape. My deputy, fortunately, was on duty in the office and managed to stun him before he could finish hacking into the station's transporter system."

"You should have brought him straight to the infirmary!" Bashir said angrily.

"It was easier to just move him back into his cell until your arrival," said Odo. "It was a low stun setting, Doctor. And it was a good thing we had stopped him. He was going to beam himself into a depressurized airlock. The transport he had been planning to beam onto left this morning a little bit ahead of schedule."

They came to a secure isolation cell at the far back of the prison, where the long term prisoners were held. There was only Garak right now, but usually Odo had a few others in these cells, mostly those who had been caught smuggling stolen goods onto the station. Odo stopped in the hall for a moment where his deputy was still standing guard.

"He's awake now," said the Bajoran security guard, looking rather smug. "You can go in."

They entered the cell and Bashir stopped dead in his tracks. Odo noted the concerned look that spread across the Doctor's face as he beheld the Cardassian tailor sitting on his cot, staring at the other wall, a look in his eyes whose only emotion was fear. However when Bashir approached, pulling out and initializing his medical tricorder with the speed of a sharp shooter, the Cardassian's entire expression changed to nervous delight.

"Ah, D-Doctor, I th-thought you would n-n-never pay me a v-visit. It h-has been a m-month you know..."

The discordant stuttering voice was uncharacteristic of Garak. It unnerved Odo just a little, but he kept his composure. Maybe his Deputy had caused more damage to the man that he'd thought.

Bashir unabashedly touched Garak's face, felt his pulse through the pressure points around his eye ridges where the veins were close to the surface and easier to get to. His tricorder was screaming its harsh blip into the quiet of the cell.

"Well, I've been a bit busy with work..."

Doctor Bashir is turning into a first rate lier, Odo decided gruffly. He knows very well that Sisko has ordered his staff to stop any personal association with Garak. He's too dangerous, we know this now.

Odo watched as the Doctor rummaged though his kit, asking Garak questions about his symptoms, which the later naturally refused to answer with constable Odo in the room. Odo decided to give the Doctor privacy in order to go write his report for Sisko on the attempted escape, and left his Deputy guarding the cell. When he entered his office though, he turned on the audio feed to the cell and listened in carefully to their conversation. He didn't get his reputation as the best law enforcer in this sector by letting important information slip out from under him.

However, what he overheard that morning chilled him in his unpleasantly solid bones.

"What happened?" Bashir asked as soon as Odo left them, examining the stun wound on Garak's chest gently before cleaning it with his sterilizer and then grabbing his hypospray and gave his friend a bit of relief from the pain.

"What d-do you m-mean what hap-p-pened? I b-broke out of m-my cell of c-course. I was stunned. Nothing t-to t-t-tell really..."

Julian could hardly bare to look into Garak's desperate frightened eyes for another second. Something had been broken here. Some part of Garak's incalculably clever brain had snapped. There was little sanity to the happy but nervous voice that replied to his question, and Julian did his very best to listen, trying to keep his heart and his head in professional mode.

"I don't think Odo is listening in on us..." Bashir said gently. "He's an honorable man."

"Oh, I don't care if he is listening!" Garak said harshly, the stutter almost gone from his voice with his sudden, unexpected anger. "I don't care if the whole station hears! Let them know, and laugh at Garak's terrible horrible secret!"

"What terrible secret?" Bashir said wryly, knowing that an angry Garak was more honest than a happily passive one and wanting to keep him in this mood long enough to let some information as to his state of being slip through. "That you tried to beam into space?"

"YES!" Garak said, suddenly standing to his feet, forcing Julian to jump back and away from him, his med-kit falling to the floor. "Yes! Let them know that I've lost my mind! That Elim Garak, terrible bloodthirsty agent of the Obsidian Order, spy and tailor and would-be assassin, is claustrophobic!"

"You're not...are you?" Julian changed his comment to a question midway, picking up his fallen tricorder with a shaking hand.

"Isn't it obvious?" Garak said glumly, turning to look at Julian again, and this time his teeth were clenched, and panic was in his eyes. "Do you know how desperate I am to get out of this little confining white box! I would do anything, anything to escape!"

"Really? Anything?" Julian laughed, though inside he was calculating now the possibility that Garak really was claustrophobic. His eyes were dilated and his blood pressure was through the roof.

"Anything!" Garak agreed, and he started to pace the cell, clenching his fists, stumbling in the circular path he was taking inside the narrow room.

"All right," said Julian, pulling out his tricorder to monitor his friend's heart rate, which was through the roof. "Then tell me what you would do to get out of this cell."

"I would kiss Gul Dukat!" Garak said, and Julian had to suppress the urge to laugh hysterically at the thought. "I would sleep with Worf!"

"A bit rough in the sack, I hear," Julian said, though now he was starting to feel with sinking clarity just how desperately miserable his friend had become in just one short month."

"I'd enter the Bajoran temple, get on my knees and thank all the prophets that exist if I could just spend a day out of this cell. An hour!"

He had calmed down enough now that he had vented his feelings and Julian watched him sag back onto the cot, the same previous look of empty fear filling his eyes. Pacing the cell hadn't eased his symptoms, it had only spent his remaining energy. Now he sagged boneless where he sat and Julian couldn't handle it anymore.

It hurt. His dear friend was miserable. To heck with Sisko's orders! He climbed into the cot next to Garak and put a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm here," Julian said. "I don't know about Prophets, but If you want someone to talk to, I'll listen."

Garak smiled gently and put a hand on top of the one on his shoulder.

"You'll listen? You'll really listen? And not just accept the lies, but find the truths? Because what I'm going to tell you next is a complete and utter lie, and the greatest truth of my existence."

"Certainly, I'll listen," said Julian, knowing he was about to either hear one of the biggest tales Garak could ever spin; or something so profound that it could change their lives forever.

"I've always been claustrophobic," Garak said. "As a child my father decided that the easiest way to punish me was to lock me in a closet. My mother accepted these punishments very passively, until one time, I was no more than five or six, I'd gone just a little too far with my bad behaviour. He left me in the closet overnight. By the next morning I was a tear stained miserable screaming mess. I'd soiled myself, threw up on the floor and had slept not a wink. I could not be consoled or comforted. I was a very unhappy little boy."

Julian winced, and Garak shuffled a bit in the bed, looking around to make sure that he was still here, in a cell, not in that childhood closet, though for Garak the two things were probably one and the same.

"I'd never heard my mother yell at my father. Not once in my entire life. And not once again after that day. But her righteous temper or my behalf was enough that my father never locked me into a closet again. I remember her words, her hair, flying around her as she advanced on him. Never had she seemed deadlier. And no moment in my life could better define the fact that she was my mother. I belonged to her."

Julian nodded, feeling his eyes widen as the story wound its way into his soul. He listened, not knowing if it was true, and not caring. Garak was explaining, in his own way, how it felt to be claustrophobic.

"About a week later father took my mother and me on a trip to the country to visit her family's farm. For the first time I would be able to meet all these cousins I was told I possessed by the hundreds. Most of them were farmers, some were breeders of prized riding hounds. And father took me riding every day."

Garak's voice went quiet for a moment, as he was remembering.

"On Cardassia, nearly everything is defined by barren rock and the crush of industry. The cities are crowded with people, the few well tended public parks were reserved for the wealthy. Factories fill the skylines, the gloom of pollution hangs in the air and the oceans are dark black and lifeless. Soot clings to everything and its almost impossible to stay clean as a result.

"But the country, with its fruit orchards and well tended farmlands and riding trails was my first taste of the real wilderness, and it stretched out farther than I could see. There was no words for the what I felt that weekend, exploring the vast areas of Cardassia's agricultural hinterlands, trying, and mostly failing, to ride a hound. It was freedom of the spirit. I could run for an hour and not run into anything even if I wanted to. I couldn't get lost, there were no big buildings or crowded places where I could get into trouble. And the food was fresh, not a week old from the market, or replicated. It was truly pastoral, now that I think about it.

"But the thing I remember the most was my father, taking me out riding one last time before we were due back to the city, the back of my head against his chest, and he promised that I would never be trapped again. He would see to that."

Garak's voice stop. His breath hitched. Julian put his hand to Garak's shoulder again and the man nodded, taking a deep breath. He closed his eyes.

"Not long after I was inducted into the Order war broke out between Tzenketh and Cardassia over a trade agreement. Ships were sent to blockade Tzenketh and force them into a treaty. Ground troops were sent to take out key cities in order to frighten the civilian populace.

"But the battle was longer than Cardassia had expected. Tzenkethi are truly fierce fighters, and even the civilians were relentless against us. By the time we had captured some key positions and gained the advantage, we were low on troops. There was a general rumble of mutiny amongst the lesser soldiers. There was no reason for this war, for all the death, the resources Tzenketh had weren't that valuable. Thus, the Obsidian Order was tasked to keeping the troops in line. Agents were sent to each unit to inspect them, and being rather green and new I was sent to what was supposed to be an easy mission; bring orders to Gul Sentar to scout the enemy and count their numbers. Something that a simple military clerk could have done easily, but for the fact that Sentar had reported some suspicious behaviour amongst his troops to high command. In short; he had all but asked for an agent to look into the matter."

Garak turned to look at Julian, and his eyes were filled with a sadness and bitter irony that was implacable.

"I should preface all this by saying that Tain had very little hopes for me at this point in the venture. I was one of a hundred new recruits who had been trained to eavesdrop and gather information. I'd been present for a couple of mild interrogations of civilian dissidents by my superiors but for the most part I was a paper chaser. The sort of Agent who reports back to base all his findings but doesn't do anything about it himself, leaving it to more qualified 'adults' to handle. I was a baby, as far as the full agents were concerned, and this mission was nothing more than a bit of information gathering. At least it was supposed to be.

"Gul Sentar's troops were stationed at a village called Telfar at the base of a mountain, also called Telfar. Which lead to Telfar Pass and the heavily guarded capital of Tzenketh itself. When I arrived at Telfar there was no fanfare. The troops had been basking in the glory of their victory over Telfar for weeks. They were all ready for their next battle. And so they stood line to line, toe to toe, their proud commander at the front of the line, waiting with childlike eagerness for their next mission.

"I must say, I rather liked the look that Gul Sentar gave me when I arrived. It was one first of confusion, and then slight disgust. I was probably not what he expected. Short for my age, all of eighteen years old and spar in weight, with no more muscle than a baby wompat. He did manage to mask his dislike for me with boundless enthusiasm.

"'Agent Regnar,' he said. 'We've been expecting you.'

"I nodded, my most amiable smile on my face, assessing him from head to toe as he reported the state of his platoon. He struck me at first as a real soldier. He had a reputation for bold strategies and great victories. On Cardassia Sentar was something of an unsung military hero, beloved by everyone, including his troops.

"Now, it had been reported by Sentar that there was some grumblings of mutiny in his group. This in itself was very unfortunate, for if there was anyone whose loyalty to the State and Cardassia was unmatched it was Gul Sentar and his men. So of course it would puzzle me that these men would want to turn on their victorious leader. Men who had victory at every battle, full bellies when they went to bed and enough alcohol to intoxicate a Vulcan should have been happy men.

"True to word I stayed with them for the first three days wondering why it was I was there. They seemed very happy. Their behaviour didn't change a hair in or out of my company. They were as glorious and honest in privacy as they were in public. I heard no rumblings of dissent, not for the first three days. And every night at dinner Gul Sentar regaled me with lively tales of his stirring victories."

"So it was time to stir things up a bit. And Tain agreed with me when I contacted him with my report. Sentar's orders would now change; they would hold position in the village. Nothing else. Gul Macet's troops would arrive in three weeks and they would receive further orders upon their arrival.

"The mood of the troops after that changed drastically. There was a quiet restlessness and confusion that swept over the assembly. They avoided eye contact with me as they walked passed. Gul Sentar seemed less amiable at dinner, distracted, annoyed with my presence even. Guessing that his trigger happy troops were feeling sullen about their orders, I slipped into the barracks to eavesdrop.

"Now I should stop here Doctor and say that the reason why I was inducted into the order, the reason I was picked out of hundreds of school children for a future in intelligence gathering was simply my size. I was small back then. I know, I'm rather large now, having gained so much weight in my old age. But I was a poor student from a poor family when I'd been chosen. I was underweight most of the time due to not having proper nutrition. I was also a late bloomer; by the age of eighteen other Cardassian males would have shed their scales seven times, I had done so once and so my neck ridges weren't fully formed yet. My small size, combined with my stealth training meant that I could slip into places severely undetected and listen to conversations that bulky men could not.

"So I slipped into one of the barracks undetected and listened to the troops as they complained.

"And did they ever complain!

"'We can't do this now, not with our orders. Has Sentar lost his mind?'

"'Trying to take the pass now is folly. We all know that its too well guarded. Macet's bunch gives us the bulk we need to press the matter. Right now its suicide!"

"'Sentar will go through with it, even if it is folly. Have Gul Macet take away from his glory? Not on your life!"

"'And it won't matter what this green Agent they sent us has to say about it. Once we take the pass nobody else will care. We'll be heroes!'

"'Since when do we take orders from them anyways? Wasn't Sentar saying just awhile back...''

"'I listened in amusement as they went on like this for some time, some for Sentar's wild battle plan and some against it. I began to notice that the ones against the plan were the troops who were directly under the command of Sentar's first officer."

"So what was the plan?" Julian asked, it came out so quickly that his breath hitched. He hadn't spoken until then, hadn't wanted to break the thrall of Garak's words, but his curiosity had gotten the best of him.

"Oh simply put, to sneak half his troops over the mountains, while the other half drew the enemy down into the valley. However, there was a snag to that plan, and I'll come to that later. For now, I had two very big problems; one, that the Sentar's troops were divided in loyaty, just as he had said, and two, that Macet's reinforcement troops wouldn't be there for three weeks, in which time Sentar had plenty of time to carry out his futile plans. Naturally I only had one option; I contacted Tain immediately."

Garak took a deep breath and turned to look at Bashir.

"I could use a glass of water. This part is a bit difficult."

"Oh, right," Julian stammered, then went over to the replicator to make some. This replicator only had a few items on the menu; water, tea, and some basic Federation prison fare. Julian made a face; he'd have to talk to Odo about Cardassian nutritional needs later.

Garak drank deeply from the glass and sighed.

"Anyways, where was I? Oh right, Tain. Tain's order's were very specific. Take Sentar into custody immediately. Put his First Officer in command of the platoon. On no condition were Sentar's men permitted to leave the mountain village or try to take the pass. I was at odds with my orders. For one, Tain sounded rather unhappy about the state of things, and two, there was a dampening field in place to prevent the Tzenketh from leaving the planet by transport, which meant he couldn't get me off the planet if anything went wrong, or send anyone down. I'd have to wait for Macet. In the meantime, all meager five and a half feet of me was supposed to arrest an over six foot tall war hero, one whose troops were fiercely loyal and not likely to let me proceed.

"I didn't know what to do but to try and carry out my orders. I did a quick search in the compound for Sentar's location and realized quickly that he wasn't even in the compound. He was headed for the village. I followed him of course, for I had my orders. But this village had been quickly deserted during the battle to seize it and the Tzenketh prisoners installed elsewhere. Sentar had no reason to be there. So here I was wandering an empty village and feeling my doubts about my mission starting to crawl up my spine like Bolian acid ants as I tracked my prey. It was not a pleasant feeling Doctor, but the worse was yet to come. Sentar's signal lead me to an empty storage room in the back of an old hospital. It was a tiny space stacked up with about sixteen crates of Tzenketh blood leeches. And to my unbound horror, the signal I had been following through the village was now at my feet; Sentar's combadge. I heard the horrible hiss of the door closing behind me, the light fell down upon me and I realized, with the horrible weight of clarity, that I had been tricked. Sentar had been leading me right into a trap, and I had fallen right into it."

Garak's eyes closed, his mouth a grimace of disgusted memory.

"Do you know what blood leeches taste like Doctor? Or what it was like, forced to consume them, and the liquid they had been living in, in order to stay alive? Not to mention how cramped in the space was. There was no room to move. There was barely enough air to breath coming in from under the door, which I couldn't force open no matter how hard I banged on the unyielding metal. There were no access panels and no air ducts. Just my tricorder and the Gul's combadge. I cobbled the two of them together to give the combadge a bit of a boost and sent out a distress signal. And there I was, for the next three weeks, waiting for rescue, slowly losing what little mind I had as the claustrophobia took complete control of me."

Julian felt his breath suddenly hitch and home out, and Garak turned to look at him startled.

"Why Doctor, you're crying!" he said, his eyes taking for a moment a sparkling quality of joy that leapt into Julian's brain and ignited his senses. "There's really no need, this story does have a happy ending you know..."

"I..." Julian could feel that Garak was trembling now though he was smiling. His whole body was tensed in anticipation.

"Nothing to fear now Doctor. This cell is nothing compared to three weeks in a box eating blood leeches..."

"What happened?" Julian said now, feeling his heart pounding. "How did you escape?"

"I didn't escape, I was rescued, upon the arrival of Gul Macet. Now, you should probably know that Macet is almost the mirror image of his cousin Gul Dukat. It makes little difference to this story, except that Gul Macet and Gul Dukat are almost complete opposites in their character. Macet is a quiet and commanding presence. His cousin, as you know, talks constantly in the company of others. Macet cares deeply for his troops and the welfare of others. Not so his cousin. And Macet is one of those truly patriotic Cardassians, the one who would murder his own mother before betraying his planet. Gul Dukat, however...well you know him. So it makes no difference that it was his identical cousin that found me. Simply put that after three weeks of insanity I was ready to accept any rescue, from anyone, and in my fevered state, despite knowing the Dukat family reputation, I was even willing to accept Dukat, and seemingly out of nowhere there he was! When the closet door opened and light poured down on me I swear I was gibbering with grief and thanks and relief at rescue. I must have mistakenly called him Dukat, for I remember him laughing quietly and correcting me.

"'No, Gul Macet,' he said, and helped me out of the closet. 'It seems my cousin's reputation proceeds even me.'

"I must say, the look on his face when I came out into the light was one I will never forget. Pure rage.

"'How old are you?' he asked me, 'What's your name?' and suddenly I understood; he thought I was a nothing but a child!

"There was no need to disabuse him of that notion, not in the condition I was in, half mad and thankful to be breathing the fresh air of freedom! I managed to get out the entire story, and his face took on a cold look and he quickly turned me over to the care of his platoon's doctor while he tracked down Sentar and his men.

"Naturally my mission was more than just an abysmal failure. It was a nightmare beyond comprehension. If word had gotten back to Tain that I had snapped I would have been drummed right out of the Order. And so I quickly tried to pull together the threads of my sanity and self as Macet and his men quickly learned what had happened to Sentar's men.

"Those that had gone into the pass to draw the Tzenketh out of hiding had walked into a trap; the Tzenkethi troops had mined the pass, anticipating such a move. The men who had gone into the mountains had succeeded in their half of the mission; Sentar and his men had managed to survive three weeks of fighting by playing cat and mouse with the enemy and had annihilated the Tzenkethi troops. The pass was ours.

"It was bitter pill to swallow; that he had emerged victorious and I had emerged from that closet covered in my own excrement. It was the horror of my childhood all over again, but made a thousand times worse by the irony of it all.

By the time Macet and his men had returned to the village with Sentar and the other survivors in tow I was recovered enough from my experiences to be released from the hospital. I'd more or less used my Cardassian mental control to block out the frightful memories. Not healthy, but effective for the time being since I was on the front lines and I still had a job to perform; interrogate the survivors.

"My anticipation burned within me that day and everyone could see it. It was there as I walked to the mess hall to eat with Macet's troops. It was there as I paced about the barracks like a predator stalking his prey. There was a fierceness in me that nobody had expected. They backed away from me. They talked in hushed whispers. They avoided looking me in the eye. They were afraid of me.

"I was shedding for one, and a shedding Cardassian is a vengeful and frightening creature Doctor. Never come to visit me if you know I've been shedding recently.

"They also probably thought I was going mad, and they might have been right. But I needed some way to salvage my reputation and having them afraid of me helped in that regard. Tain would blame me for not taking Sentar into custody. I would be responsible for getting myself into this trap if I couldn't fix things. Also, I was all of eighteen and I didn't need reports of my claustrophobia making it back to the capital. We don't have psychiatrists offices on Cardassia Doctor. We have prisons and poorhouses. I had to prove that I was strong, that I was ready to go back to duty, and that I wasn't a complete failure, or else I'd be ruined.

"So that night I approached Macet and told him that I would conduct Sentar's interrogation myself.

"He didn't argue with me. He didn't seem to think I could handle it either, for he told me to eat something and get a good night's sleep first. No, I wanted to do it then. But food was a good idea, and he had some brought down."

Garak took a deep breath. His eyes were now on the walls again, not wanting to meet Julian's gaze. Julian took another reading with his tricorder and was happy to note that Garak's signs were closer to normal than they had been. Garak chuckled.

"No need to fear Doctor, as I said, this story has a happy ending. I entered the cell where Sentar sat, rambling on and on about his glorious victories. He was raving mad now, and every good interrogator knows that its next to impossible to get anything out of a madman. I already knew everything I needed for my report. Macet probably wouldn't have even bothered with interrogation, it was a cut and dry case of a man who had ignored orders, but had emerged victorious. Cardassia the strong. Sentar might be dismissed from the military, but nothing more. He was too well loved and had too many well placed friends and he knew it, and he was revelling in his victory.

"But I did have a plan, that had started to form in my mind the moment I set eyes on Sentar again. I started giving orders left right and center to those around me. Within minutes I had Sentar bound in a chair in a small room. We were alone.

"The first thing I did was take away his ability to talk. A simple drug that is easily countered locked his jaw shut tight and numbed his voice box. Of course, then I went a step further, and administered a stimulant, something to keep his attention on me at all times and prevent him from going to sleep.

"Then for the rest of the night I kept him that way. I ate my dinner. I read a wonderful book. I wrote some poetry and I read it to Sentar. I'm not much of a writer, but I suppose I could have tried better to make it rhyme, just a little. I then started reading other things to Sentar; A guidebook on Bolian tourist attractions. An essay on the complexly mathematical mating rituals of the people of Binar; a novel written by a Vulcan about her experiences undergoing the kolinahr. A calculus textbook. Anything I could find that had bored me to death in school. It was all very fascinating stuff. I made sure to keep his dosages regular, of course. I always kept my eyes on him if I could, smiling at him and engaging him in delightful one-sided conversation. I kept on like this for some hours, as I said, and then as dawn approached I was growing tired. So I left the cell and let the drugs I gave him wear off.

"Rumor has it that Sentar's screams could be heard all the way to the Tzenketh capital. But those were only rumors of course. The strange thing about rumors; partially true, and partially not, they could be real, or they couldn't. I do know one thing; when I went to report to Macet on what the prisoner had to say, which was all of nothing, he didn't look at me as a green young recruit anymore."

Julian swallowed hard, eyes wide, but Garak regarded him with a playful, happy smile. His hair was flopping about his head as he spoke and his manner was light hearted. But Julian's skin had broken out in a sheen of sweat and he could no longer speak; as if his jaw too, had been locked into place like Sentar's.

"When I returned to Cardassia Prime there were already parades going on; Tzenketh had capitulated and agreed to the terms of the trade agreement. Cardassia was victorious and the war was over.

"On the day of Sentar's hearing I was summoned by Tain to join him in the audience. We were to be present. I was supremely nervous of course. Tain's messages before that had been brief. I had filed a report on my mission, he had ordered me to return to Cardassia with Macet. Nothing more than that. So as I settled into my seat next to Tain, his face impassive, I put on my most congenial smile and said nothing. He said nothing. For a moment, I felt the room burning with his displeasure at what had happened on Tzenketh.

"For a moment.

"Then the prisoner was brought in. Sentar walked into the courtroom a proud man, though he was battered, his sentence was of course, discharge from the service, but he had a chance for early parole. He was a hero. He was a good Cardassian who had snagged a great victory. He wasn't a traitor. He had a lot of friends in high places it seemed.

"But none of that mattered when he caught sight of me in the audience. Our eyes locked. Mine smiling, congenial. I curved my lips ever so slightly. His lips twitched. His eyes dilated, his eyebrows shot into his hair. There was silence in the room. The Archon had asked Sentar a question. But the man's gaze was fixed on mine.

"I grinned at him. And opened my mouth as if to say something...

"'All right I did it!' he suddenly screamed. 'I disobeyed my orders! I confess! I knew about the minefield in the pass! But my first officer was up for a promotion and I'm old enough to be retired and I was desperate, so I sent him and his men into the pass! I sent them into a trap! I killed them to secure my own career!'"

"A horrible terrible mewling sound was coming from his mouth as he backed into the wall, a frightened animal, unable to break eye contact with me. The silence that followed this was terrible to behold, and everyone's eyes were suddenly on me. I frowned slightly, and turned to Tain, and shook my head sadly.

"Tain's eyes were fiery, not with anger, but with something else entirely. Ambition is the closest word to describe it. He was seeing in me in that moment everything that I could become, with just the right direction, and once, barely perceptibly, he nodded at me. Somehow, in that moment, I had turned a terrible failure into a great victory."

Garak took a deep breath, face beatific in his joy.

"The Archon called for a frantic recess and the court room fell into chaos after that. But Tain and I did not stay to find out what would result from that startling courtroom confession. We went out for lunch, and to discuss my next mission."

Garak went quiet, for a moment, and his happy smile softened into a slight frown.

"After that I knew what my calling was, what I was to become. There were whispers within a week about the newest 'Son of Tain'. Word gets around quickly, and never again was I seen as the new recruit, the child, the green one. I had found my place. But Tain had broken his promise. And he would do it again...I'm here, after all."

Julian jerked his head, suddenly thunderstruck, his heart pounding. His brain was now reeling from everything he had just learned, and he didn't know what to say.

"You can leave me now Doctor, I feel much better now. The walls here don't seem as closed in as they had before. Its not like Tzenketh, certainly this is true."

Julian nodded, unable to speak anything more than a promise to check in on him regularly before leaving the cell. His mind was numb and reeling and he stumbled out into Odo's office with his mouth dry and his stomach churning.

"Do you believe any of it?" Odo said immediately, having listened to every word of it despite Julian's assurances to Garak that he wouldn't.

"I do," said Julian. "And I am going to have to request he be moved to a bigger cell due to his medical condition."

"Why?" said Odo. "Not the cell, that's a simple enough request to fulfill. And I certainly don't want him using claustrophobia as his excuse for another break out attempt. But why do you believe what he said?"

"Because he slipped," Julian said. "Garak is a master at lies, but in this story he slipped, in a very big and unrepairable way."

"How?" said Odo, face a picture of amused curiosity.

"Tain," Julian said. "He never mentioned what that promise was that Tain had broken. But if you recall, somebody had make a promise to Garak..."

"His father," said Odo, eyes suddenly wide. "You don't think...could it be...?"

"Well that's the trouble with Garak's stories," Julian said, feeling himself smiling in spite of himself. "They're all true in some fashion."

"Even the lies?" Odo huffed.

"Especially the lies," Julian replied, and he went back to sickbay to file his report.

Garak suffers from claustrophobia, he wrote firmly. He'll need regular check ups until I'm satisfied that he won't try to beam himself out of another airlock again.

He'd be going back tomorrow to check up on Garak. And every week after that. And maybe, just maybe, when Julian came to visit, Garak would spin him another story.