Of the Highest order (AU2)
Please be sure to read OF THE HIGHEST ORDER before reading this story; otherwise this one will not make sense, as I’ve taken some shortcuts and glossed over some sections in this one, in order to avoid repeating myself. In this Alternate Universe, Garak is a little more callous and Bashir a bit more timid than in the previous story, or than we’re used to in our own Universe.
With Garak, Dukat, and Tain all standing over him, waiting for answers about Sloan, the tied, chair-bound Bashir wasn’t about to argue.
“Is it true that you-all will spare anyone who surrenders and gives you no trouble? Oh, please let it be true, because I do surrender!”
Garak and Dukat exchanged sardonic looks, but Tain managed to respond without apparent derogatory attitude. “It’s true enough. So let’s hear all about this human agent and his organization.”
Words tumbled out of the helpless human, as he frantically worked to recall and provide every scrap of information that he possessed on the required subject. The most difficult part, however, was in not being distracted by the humor shared between Garak and Dukat in regard to how quickly and easily they’d intimidated the doctor. Garak’s amusement, in particular, wounded the sensitive human’s feelings; he’d known that his Cardassian friend could be somewhat cold and cavalier, but he had been under the impression that Garak cared at least enough about him not to want him to be abused by his comrades in their species’ infamous way, let alone enough not to laugh at his fright during the process. He couldn’t help but feel betrayed by all of the sly grins and nudges that passed between Garak and Dukat.
When at last Bashir had revealed all that he knew, he looked up at the three in clear trepidation. “Now, please, won’t you let me go???”
Tain nodded silently. But even he couldn’t resist asking, “Where’s that brash young man who came to me for help in saving Garak’s life when he suffered from that cranial implant?”
“I really knew very little about your species then, and almost nothing about your Obsidian Order.” Bashir shivered violently. “My brashness was the result of ignorance and naďveté. I’ve learned a lot more since then, including how foolishly I behaved that day.”
A flash of contempt and annoyance entered Garak’s eyes. “From whom did you learn all of this? From O’Brien, right?”
Bashir sank lower in the chair, alarmed and perhaps a bit embarrassed, and he simply nodded mutely.
“What’s the significance of that?” Dukat demanded of Garak.
Snidely, the latter answered, “O’Brien is the station’s resident Cardassian-hater, other than the Bajorans.”
Dukat responded with a sneer of his own.
Garak again addressed the human. “I’ll bet he even advised you to avoid me, and to refuse my friendship, didn’t he?”
Another timid nod was the sole response.
Dukat grinned nastily, and told Garak, “After this, he probably thinks that he should’ve listened to his bigoted friend.”
Heart pounding, Bashir carefully kept his expression neutral, and avoided their eyes.
“Well? Do you??” Garak demanded, unsatisfied with the lack of reply.
The human sagged miserably. “Oh, please, the last thing that I want to do is to risk offending any of you! I’m not thinking anything of the kind, really! My mind is nearly numb with fear! I only want to go home!”
By now disgusted with the fragile human’s loss of spunk, Tain said to Garak, “All right, get him out of here.”
Returning to DS9 in a shuttle borrowed from Dukat’s ship, Bashir finally worked up the nerve to break the long tense silence between him and Garak. “You’re ashamed of me, aren’t you?”
“Now why would you say that? You mean, just because you groveled, and begged, and caved in at the slightest sign of a threat?” Garak’s tone was nonchalant, even though his words were cruel.
“There’s no need to be sarcastic,” Bashir said pleadingly.
“Oh, what, now even sarcasm frightens you??” he responded to the imploring, beseeching tone with a belittling, condescending one of his own.
The human stared. “No. It hurts my feelings,” he said stiffly.
“Oh, well then, we can’t have that, can we? You certainly must not be hurt, not in any way!”
“Cut it out, Garak! What’s wrong; are you afraid that Dukat and Tain will be ashamed of you, for even befriending me??”
He stared disparagingly. “Hardly. They know how humans are. I just expected better of you. I thought that you’d show some courage, at least. But, no matter.”
“Well, I’m sorry to have disappointed you,” Bashir replied stiltedly, even bitterly.
This time with heavy sarcasm, Garak nearly taunted, “Now, don’t tell me you’re going to cry??”
“Look, at least you enjoyed your laughter at my expense, as did Dukat, so you can’t think it all negative. And I’m not about to be tortured for either your pride or your amusement, not if I can possibly help it.” The human was self-righteous and affronted, and yet still red-faced, and plainly miserable in his disillusionment.
Silence returned and remained for the rest of the trip.
Bashir was more relieved and pleased than he would’ve cared to admit, just to be in the company of other humans again. He promptly told O’Brien all that he’d endured, and received the expected response, along with a rapid insistent escort by the Irishman to tell Sisko as well.
In the Commander’s office, Sisko nodded shortly, and commented, “I was afraid of this, and not a bit surprised. When I first took command of this station, and found out that we’d have a permanent Cardassian resident aboard, I took it upon myself to bug his shop.”
O’Brien stifled a guffaw.
Sisko went on, unnoticing, “Ever since then, he’s made frequent calls to Dukat, as well as occasional ones to other influential officials of his Empire. For an ‘exiled’ man, he maintains awfully close contact with ‘the home office.’”
“Then he is a spy,” muttered Bashir sadly.
“More than that, Doctor,” Sisko insisted, regret etched in his features. “For some time, I’ve tried to spare you this, but now I think that you should know. One of the first conferences that he had with Gul Dukat was about you.”
Bashir blinked. “Commander, with all due respect, why didn’t you tell me??”
“Because you were an excellent potential source of information about Garak, and I wanted to see where it would lead. I also didn’t want to risk tipping my hand about the tap. If I had told you this straight out, you likely would’ve refused his friendship immediately, and Cardassians are way too clever and intuitive for him not to have suspected why.”
The doctor nodded reluctantly.
Sisko looked contrite. “I’m sorry to have used you in that way. But I didn’t know you well enough to know how good a ‘poker-face’ you had, and it was imperative that I have as many sources of information about that slick operator as possible.”
“What did he say to Dukat about me?” Bashir was clearly steeling himself for further disillusionment.
Sisko sighed, now also reluctant. “He bragged to Dukat regarding how easy it was to intimidate you on your very first encounter. He mentioned that you stammered, timidly called him ‘Sir,’ and even became flustered while self-consciously entangled in the decorative plant on your lunch table. As a final test of his ‘power’ over you, when he was leaving, he deliberately placed both hands on your shoulders, just to see how badly you would jump in alarm. Apparently, you…satisfied him quite well in that regard.”
Humiliation nearly purpling his face, Bashir murmured, “I remember. I nearly leaped out from under him,” he confessed, ashamedly. “It’s a good thing that he at least was behind me, and unable to see how wide-eyed I know I’d become.”
“Don’t worry about it, Julian,” O’Brien consoled him stalwartly, with a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I would’ve reacted the same.” Resentful on his friend’s behalf, the engineer asked Sisko, “So why were Garak and Dukat even discussing this? Just to get their jollies at Julian’s expense?”
“Much more than that. Garak boasted of Bashir’s evident gullibility, and of how easy it was going to be to manipulate him, whenever they needed to do so.” Seeing the brunette’s expression, Sisko assured him, “Don’t let it bother you so much. You weren’t the only one on whom they made such an assessment. A little over a year later, Dukat bragged in the same way to Garak about how easily he was going to intimidate and manipulate Kira.”
“You’re kidding!” declared O’Brien.
“Not in the least. During that first Maquis fiasco, while we were in a runabout together, Dukat terrified an alien go-between freighter captain into dropping his shields so that we could board and inspect the cargo for Cardassian weapons being smuggled into the Demilitarized Zone. He did a relentless countdown-before-firing, completely panicking the captain into yielding. And he said, among other things, ‘I am not just any Cardassian! I am Gul Dukat!’ Apparently, when Dukat sat back down, he noticed Kira, exceedingly wide-eyed, staring at him in absolute astonishment, and perhaps awe. As soon as he caught her look and stared back, she hastily turned away, unable to face him. He smiled quite smugly when he told Garak about that.”
“Now wait a minute!” Bashir’s volume had risen slightly in keeping with his resentment toward the Cardassians. “Garak and Dukat hate each other! Remember that devious business between them regarding Rugle?? Which, I might add, was the beginning of Dukat’s vengefulness against me; he made that quite clear during my abduction and interrogation! Also, I’ve heard something about Garak’s having tortured and killed Dukat’s father!”
Sisko shook his head throughout Bashir’s tirade. “All fabricated, to keep us from suspecting their close connection. They concocted the whole fiction in detail. I heard that in another communication that they exchanged. They’re actually close friends and allies.”
O’Brien made a rude sound, and Bashir turned away in grief and bitterness.
“Anyway,” Sisko went on briskly, “that’s why I always act tough-as-nails, unyielding, with both of them, so that they won’t think that they can maneuver me, too. It was most difficult when Dukat and I were stranded alone on that planet, and with me injured yet. It’s why I was so abrupt with him. It would’ve been more in my nature to thank him for saving me, instead of asking him why he did; it would’ve felt more normal to show appreciation for the soup that he served me and for the salt that he put in it, than to complain because he was slow to do so; and it would’ve seemed more appropriate to thank him for caring for my broken arm than to argue with him about whether or not he was an evil man. But I knew that I dared not. I couldn’t afford to seem ‘soft’ in his eyes.”
Bashir said nothing. But O’Brien and Sisko could both see how badly he smoldered in anger at the way that he’d been used.
Although steamed, Bashir probably should’ve waited until he was calmer before confronting Garak. But, afraid that he would lose his nerve, he roared into his “friend’s” shop immediately upon leaving Sisko’s office.
“I’d actually thought that you were my friend!” he bellowed. “But no, you were just using me, weren’t you?!!”
The tailor regarded him dispassionately. “Been listening to O’Brien again, have you?”
“I should’ve done so sooner!”
“Well, I can’t say that I’m overly surprised.” He turned away, unruffled.
“Is that all that you have to say for yourself??”
“My dear doctor, what else is there to say?”
“Not a damned thing! And don’t call me ‘dear’; it’s obvious that I was never dear to you! Goodbye!”
After the human had stormed out of the shop in righteous indignation, Garak muttered to himself, “How inconvenient.”
Within a day, Garak, Dukat, and Tain had Bashir in that chair again.
Obviously afraid, but also needing answers, Bashir tried to force bravado. “What is this? Are you taking revenge on me for ending our friendship, Garak?”
“Don’t be silly.” Garak was unperturbed. “We’re simply adjusting to new circumstances. Since I can’t pump you gradually for secrets over lunch anymore, we might as well drain you dry all at once.”
False bravery already slipping dangerously, Bashir said, anguished, “Why didn’t I listen when Miles warned me not to take up with you??!”
“Who?” inquired Dukat curiously of Garak.
“O’Brien’s first name, his ‘friendly’ name.”
“Oh. It wouldn’t’ve mattered, Bashir, whether you’d accepted Garak’s companionship or not,” remarked Dukat. “You would still be here with us now. O’Brien’s never been our friend, but he’ll be next, after we’re finished with you.”
Venomously, Bashir retorted, “Except that this time, I’ll warn him! And unlike me, he’ll listen!”
Garak regarded his erstwhile “friend” almost pityingly, but still in significant amusement. “Julian…. You won’t be going back to ever do so.”
The screaming went on for a long time.
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