Sisko knew as soon as he materialized aboard the Defiant that something else had gone wrong.
Garak turned to greet him with that absurd primness and false smile, unsuccessfully concealing a wince at a nasty-looking split lip. "Captain Sisko," he replied in the same tone.
"Mr. Worf didn't break any bones, I trust?"
"My cheekbone feels the worse for that encounter, but nothing that won't keep until our interview is over."
"Good," Sisko growled.
"You seem angry, Captain. I must admit I'm surprised. Human though you are, you've always struck me as more pragmatic than this."
"Pragmatic?! You tried to wipe out an entire species!"
"Ah yes, we must think of the innocent civilians, the children, mustn't we? The enslaved, powerless Changelings under the yoke of the cruel Founder regime," Garak sneered. "You know better than that, Captain, and so do I."
"What about Odo? What about Dr. Bashir?"
Garak sighed and sank onto the bench. "I do regret using Odo to gain access to his people." He looked up sharply. "Did they leave him alive?"
"I'm glad. We're very much alike, he and I; we understand each other. What I've done will offend his sense of justice, but he will know it wasn't personal."
"That just leaves Dr. Bashir," Sisko said.
"Ah, my dear Doctor." Garak smiled again, this time almost wistfully. "I certainly don't expect you to understand that."
"Try me. One of us has to explain this to him."
Garak blinked and sat up straighter. "I would consider it a kindness if you would allow me to explain it to him. Alone, if you please."
Sisko smiled darkly. "Explain it to me first, Mr. Garak, and we'll see."
Garak eyed him warily, then said slowly, "If I had not failed in my attempt, I would have had one regret."
"I'm glad to hear that you care about something."
"No living Cardassian would know that Dr. Bashir had died by my hand."
Sisko gaped, aghast. Garak's tone was still wistful, and his face reflected an emotion that could almost be joy, if it weren't for the words coming out of his mouth.
Garak smiled indulgently at him. "I told you, Captain, that you wouldn't understand."
Sisko turned and left the brig, hoping it didn't look too much like a retreat.
When Sisko entered Sickbay, Bashir was gathering his equipment and saying playfully to Odo, "'... small altercation with Mr. Worf...' Honestly, we leave him alone for a few hours and he winds up in the brig!"
Odo gave a decent imitation of one of his usual snorts, smiling slightly.
"Feel free to stay here if you like. I know your usual quarters aren't really outfitted for you now..."
"Thank you, Doctor."
Bashir smiled when he spotted Sisko. "I'll be back soon to give my report, Captain. I have another patient to see to, I'm afraid."
Sisko didn't smile back. "Actually, Doctor, I wanted to talk to you about that."
Bashir blinked. "He isn't seriously hurt, is he? I know he's in the brig--"
"Of course, Captain. Come with me." He led the way to his tiny office and offered Sisko a seat. "Is Garak all right, sir?"
"Yes. But you're not going to see him alone. I'm assigning an armed guard to escort you."
"To see Garak?"
"He threatened you, Doctor. I'm not risking your safety."
Bashir just looked puzzled. "Perhaps you'd better start from the beginning."
"Garak commandeered weapons control while we were on the Founders' planet. Commander Worf stopped him before he could fire on the planet's surface."
"He was trying to kill the Founders," Bashir said. Sisko nodded. "I'll be sure to impress upon him that his actions were horrible, but I hardly think that constitutes a threat to me personally."
"When I went to see him, he said he regretted not killing you specifically, Doctor. That is a threat as far as I'm concerned."
The doctor was as infuriating as his putative friend. He just looked puzzled again, then said, "Sir, I need you to tell me exactly what he said."
"With all due respect, sir, did it occur to you that he might have been trying to make you angry? That he might have been lying?" Bashir chuckled. "You can't believe everything he says, you know."
"What possible motive could he have had to lie to me about that?"
"Tell me exactly what he said, and I'll hazard a guess, Captain," Bashir said, his tone very carefully respectful. "At the moment, I'd say sheer perversity."
Sisko sighed and glared, but cast his mind back to the shock of hearing Garak's wish to betray someone he'd seemed to care about for years. "He said that no Cardassian would have known that you had died by his hand, and that would have been his only regret."
Bashir nodded meditatively. "I thought it might be something like that."
"It wasn't a threat, it was a literary reference." Bashir smiled with the air of a man who wants to change the subject. "I'm sure he was just trying to make you angry, so sheer perversity it is. No need to worry about me seeing him alone."
He wasn't lying, but... "You're hiding something." Sisko was certain of it.
Bashir nodded. "The meaning of the literary reference. I promise you, Captain, that it's nothing you need to concern yourself with."
Sisko felt a headache developing. Bashir was really no more likely than Garak to respond to glowering or shouting; where Garak took perverse pleasure in riling him, Bashir simply became truculent or righteously indignant.
He was, however, still young enough that he occasionally responded to paternal concern. "I understand that you feel safe with him, Julian. But I think we've all trusted him too much. Tell me why you're not worried."
Bashir sighed and relented. "I don't mean to be mysterious. It's just that... it's private. I don't know if he meant it and I don't know how I want to respond." He blushed a little.
Ah. That... didn't explain it. "It wasn't exactly the most romantic declaration I've ever heard," Sisko commented.
"Cardassians have odd views of romance," Bashir said. "One of the most common tropes in Cardassian romantic literature is being forced to kill the person you love to save the State." He sighed again. "Captain, I can assure you that Garak doesn't want to hurt me. Are you satisfied that he's not a threat to me?"
"I am." It made as much sense as Garak ever did.
"Then may I treat my patient in privacy?"
Bashir gathered his things and walked out.
When he'd spoken to Sisko, Julian truly hadn't known what his answer would be. Now, though, with Garak's eyes and Garak's voice and Garak's warm scent... He knew exactly what he wanted, and wondered what that made him. The doctor and the murderer.
"This isn't entirely unexpected, is it?" Garak asked. Julian shook his head. "We've both simply been waiting for the right moment."
"How can this be the right moment? You tried to kill them all..."
Garak's hand found his and squeezed. "You have forgiven me before; I hope you will do so again. If you want to stop, to wait..."
All his moral qualms melted away when Garak kissed him.