Author's Note: When I came up with the premise of Bashir having an orb experience, I originally thought to include it in my fluffy Garashir drabbles series, but then realized that an idea so deeply sentimental had to be far more than a drabble. For those unfamiliar with my take on this ship, I write Bashir as being completely aware of both Cardassian courtship and his and Garak's feelings for each other.

"Nerys…" said Bashir, "I don't think I can even grasp what an honor this is."

"That's right, you can't." Kira finished lighting the candles, whose flames made their shadows flicker against the wine red walls of the temple. "But you were there, in his final moments, and… and I thought it would help for you to be here." Although her back was to Bashir, he could tell by the sound of her voice that tears were welling up in her eyes. "If you hadn't kept him alive through those talks, this orb never would have been reclaimed from the Cardassians. This is his legacy." She gestured to the orb, which to Bashir, looked a lot like an hourglass filled with sparking plasma, or an opal somehow taking gaseous form.

"When one has an orb experience, is it like being taken somewhere else?" Bashir asked.

Kira turned around, having willed the tears away. "Something like that."

"In that case, I'll be here for you when you come back!" He paused. "And do we know which orb this is?" His gaze was inexorably drawn to the artifact. He was an atheist, yet had always believed that understanding the reality behind mysticism did not make it any less powerful. Or beautiful, in the case of a phenomenon like this. "I know I wouldn't trust Winn to tell us the truth."

"We'll know soon enough. If not now, when it's returned to Bajor." She took a long, hooked object and pulled back the door, as if she was opening up a lantern in order to add oil.

Bashir stepped back and watched as the scintillating lights drifted out of the orb like morning fog sparkling in the sunlight—but as Kira inhaled, readying herself for whatever she would be shown, the light instead made a beeline for Bashir.

Kira's eyes flew open. "Julian? Julian?!"

But the light already felt like an old friend Bashir had never noticed he had been missing, and he had already held his hands out, fingers spread wide, ready to embrace it. Soon, nothing but pastel colors filled his vision, and Kira's voice drifted away.

When Bashir came to, he was lying on soft sand face-up, staring up at the sky. It was almost completely obscured by a patchwork of orange clouds, but he could see a pale moon peeking out from behind them. A moon obviously too large for this planet to be earth. As he slowly sat up, the extreme heat seemed to seep through his uniform. The sand beneath him appeared golden in the light. "To think I believed these orb experiences took you into your own mind, or your past, or would have you surrounded by people you already know…" he murmured to himself. In the distance, he saw a city skyline obscured by heat shimmer, the architecture sleek and pointed. Not seeing anyone as he stared off into the horizon, he turned around.

To his delight, he immediately laid eyes on a lush garden, blossoming before a quaint little hut. Front-and-center were a patch of Edosian orchids, looking huddled together in their beautiful fragility. "Cardassia! Of course, I'm on Cardassia Prime!" Bashir cried. "And these are Garak's favorite!" He rushed over, throwing caution to the wind. It was an orb experience, he figured, what could it hurt to take a closer look at some flowers? And if the orb was showing him Cardassia and Edosian orchids, it must be due to his close relationship with Garak. Professor O'Brien had explained that it was very difficult for them to be grown off-planet, so Bashir wanted to take in the sight of them now that he had been given the chance. As he examined the blooms up-close, he heard a door unlatch. He sprang up. "Garak!" he called out to his friend, and grinned.

Bashir saw a flash of shiny black hair and blue eyes, but he froze mid-wave when he saw the man's face. "Has news of a plain and simple groundskeeper reached Starfleet?!" the Cardassian asked, his eyes wide.

Bashir blinked fast. This was not the Garak he knew, but the familiar softness to his features, his response to the name, his syntax… several questions he could ask this Garak ran through his mind, and he systematically disregarded them all. Even in an orb experience, he could not outright ask if he was Enabran Tain's groundskeeper, or if he knew Mila, and he did not feel comfortable using Garak's given name when speaking to a stranger. Finally, he took a deep breath and settled on, "Oh, it's a different Garak I'm acquainted with, actually."

The gardener cocked his head, oh so similarly to Bashir's Garak. "...And how exactly did you manage this visit, Mister…?"

"Doctor Julian Bashir, Chief Medical Officer aboard the station Deep Space Nine," Bashir said, anticipating that whenever he was in time, it may have been prior to the end of the Occupation of Bajor. "And I didn't—not intentionally. I was brought here—if I'm even on Cardassian Prime, which I don't think I am—by one of the Orbs of Bajor. It's known as an 'orb experience,' and I'm fairly certain, like most oracles, it's really one's own mind that's being explored. I'm not an expert on Bajoran religion by any means, but I do work closely with many Bajorans and have gotten to know—"

The gardener raised one of his hands. "Please, not so fast. I'm not certain if I can handle this in my old age!" he said. "Bajor and the Federation? Who is the Garak that you…" he trailed off.

Bashir nodded. "The Occupation has been over for years now."

His face brightened, framed by the low sun. "You are from the future, you're young—and I saw how you smiled when you called out for Garak! You must know Elim! How is he, Doctor? I've been worried about him, but if he's been taken prisoner by the Federation and you are a prison doctor, well, I'm sure you know that's a relief. Your prisons are nothing like ours."

Bashir resisted the urge to smile ruefully at his assumptions. Somehow, even though this was surely just a vision contained in his own mind, he did not want to give Garak away or fail to do him justice to a relative even here. It was just like how he still treated Garak as his friend even in his restless dreams. Bashir schooled his features. "You believed my story rather easily, didn't you, Mister Garak? Not even a hint of confusion at its outlandish nature? And you couldn't possibly have assumed I was in Starfleet based on nothing but this badge and uniform! It also doesn't seem very Cardassian to skip past news of the end of the Occupation and move the conversation right to some relative. Where's your duty to the state? If I were in an uncharitable mood, Mister Garak, I might even label you a dissident, if I didn't know who you truly work for."

The gardener blinked slowly, before throwing his head back and laughing, a full belly-laugh, in fact. "You do know Elim, very well, in fact, if this reaction is any indication." He grinned.

Bashir blushed before he could stop himself.

"Don't worry, Doctor, I'm not a very stodgy Cardassian," he continued. He gestured to the front door. "Please, come inside and join me for tea."

"I'll have you know that I'm only drinking this tea because this is an orb experience and I know it won't matter if I'm poisoned," said Bashir. He took a sip. "Tell me, why aren't you questioning this business with the orbs of Bajor, Mister Garak? Even if I'm not lying, I'd expect some doubting of their abilities or of the fact that a member of Starfleet of all people was brought here."

Mister Garak, who was supposedly the uncle of Bashir's Garak, shook his head. "Even if I did doubt, what purpose would it serve? You're here now, and I might as well be a good host."

Not a very convincing vision, Bashir thought to himself.

Mister Garak sighed. "Exile… I shouldn't be surprised. The last I'd heard, Elim had been excelling at his work, living up to every ideal—nothing could be more dangerous." He did not need to elaborate for Bashir to understand. He had long suspected that Garak's exile had something to do with the fact that Garak had truly internalized ideals he had been taught while his colleagues had not. "Tell me, Doctor Bashir," he said, emphasizing the first syllable of the surname just as Garak always did, "does Elim have any other friends on the station?"

"Yes, actually." He finally let himself smile. "There's a professor who's a botanist, and they discuss gardening. Then there's the Changeling in charge of station security, they've bonded over being exiled from their home worlds—"

"A Changeling?"

"Ah, we've only recently interacted with the species. They're highly-skilled shapeshifters and can take liquid form." He chose not to mention the conflict with the Founders. "Garak is also on good terms with my medical team."

"He would find shapeshifting appearing. And what good news you bring!"

"What can I say?" Bashir smiled into his tea. "'Bringer of good news' is my name, Mister Garak!"

"A doctor like yourself is the best companion for Elim," said Mister Garak. "He is always getting into trouble. But he managed to make it to middle age, and I need to take solace in that." A sad, distant look flitted across his face.

Bashir left him to his thoughts for a moment, using the time to take in his surroundings. But what he saw left him crestfallen. The furnishings were scarce and handmade, and almost every object was either a gardening or woodworking tool. It was obvious that, belying Cardassian culture, this hut was exactly what it had appeared to be. If this entire scenario was based on reality, this place must have only served as an occasional sanctuary for Garak.

"What are you mulling over, Doctor?" Mister Garak asked.

Bashir stared down at the table, its worn surface. "Was this orb experience intended to comfort me by suggesting that my friend Garak had some semblance of support in his early years? If so, it hasn't been much of a comfort. Or a particularly convincing illusion." As he contemplated the fact that this Cardassian might never have existed, he asked himself, "Why can't I ever have a dream that's strictly pleasant for once?"

"Doctor, if you want to know if I existed, you could ask Elim."

Bashir huffed, feeling a bit better. "I could, yes. And then he'd ask me a dozen leading questions and, if he's feeling generous, weave some story that's even more elaborate than one of his tunics, and I'd have to pick out which details are true and then spend my next shift in the Infirmary deducing the underlying message of the entire farce."

Mister Garak's eyes sparkled in the light filtering in from the windows as he smiled one of those Garak smiles that made his face look especially wide. "Oh, Elim!" he said, wistfully. "I'm so happy for him! Doctor, thank you for seeing past those displays and spying his nonconformist nature!"

Bashir shifted in his seat to sit on his leg. "He never stopped those infuriating displays, you know."

"Of course."

"He wanted to demonstrate that he didn't actually believe in the State's propagandistic messaging, but did he tell me? No, of course not. Instead, he wanted to teach me, in a roundabout fashion, all about said propaganda, and then left me to figure out that he hadn't internalized it by observing his actions." Finally, thought Bashir, someone who could relate to this nonsense! "And how did he teach me about duty to the state?! He asked me to read all of The Never-ending Sacrifice—in a single week!"

Mister Garak gasped and bumped his teacup. It clattered on top of its dish. "And… you did it for him?"

"Obviously I did. Do you really think I was about to miss an opportunity to eviscerate—" He cut himself off. "Ah, Mister Garak, I-I'm not certain how well-versed you are in Terran culture, but before I continue this rant, I should probably inform you that I take an interest in Cardassian social studies, and that while I do understand how what debate signifies in Cardassian culture—particularly debate of the literary variety—but you see, among—"

"Doctor." He cocked his head to the side once again. "Don't worry. I told you I appreciate Elim's true, nonconformist self, and that I'm not a stodgy Cardassian, didn't I?"

"Ah. I see." Bashir cleared his throat. "Garak did mention that when he was growing up, there were certain individuals who noticed his…" He recalled a euphemism Garak had once used. "...good taste. Were you one of these individuals?"

"Yes! And I knew it was perfectly natural. After all, where would families be without those eccentric aunts and uncles?"

Bashir burst out laughing, only to cough as he swallowed his tea wrong.

"How did Elim even manage to convince you to be his, what's the word—special friend in the first place? Did you have to chase him, Doctor?" asked Mister Garak. "Surely the silent stares were a bit off-putting before you really got to know him."

"What do you mean?" He asked, catching his breath. "He was the one who approached me. Or propositioned me, is more like it," he grumbled. "He crept up to me, probably thinking himself incredibly stealthy all the while."

"Really? I suppose he's grown a lot since my time. In my experience, he fixes any man he finds handsome with a piercing stare and then flees if they notice."

"How endearing and annoying." Bashir smirked. He was definitely going to put this forbidden knowledge regarding Garak's baby gay phase to good use. "Tell me, how would you feel to know that after he introduced himself to me and before he walked away, he squeezed my shoulders?"

Now it was Mister Garak's turn to choke on his tea. "He did what?!" he sputtered. "What became of his manners?!"

Bashir waved off his outburst. "Oh, he's impeccably well-mannered. He sensed it would be welcome," he said. "In fact, he helped me realize my own good taste."

"Really?" Mister Garak leaned forward, pressing against the table. "How long have you and Elim been courting? Based on how grumpy you become every time you talk about him, things must be very serious!"

"Well, I'm not sure, Mister Garak... it's actually a little unclear, you see the two of us are—"

"Ah, then it's been a very long time!"

Bashir pouted. "I wouldn't say it's been a very long time. Until last week, we'd remained quasi-special friends—in a de facto romantic relationship—for years!"

"That's still a serious courtship," said Mister Garak. "Just because you weren't ready to be intimate until recently doesn't make it any less beautiful."

"I wouldn't say we weren't intimate, Mister Garak." Bashir smiled as he gazed past the window, at the distant white moon. "We shared plenty of de facto intimacy. We made each other dinner, we indulged in late-night cuddling sessions, and best of all, to mark the shift from a de facto to a full romance, we got into a heated argument with life-or-death stakes. To prove my point to him, I shot him with an antique projectile weapon!" Bashir touched the side of his neck. "Right here!"

Mister Garak's eyes were as large and soulful as the moon. "You nearly killed him?"

"Even better, Mister Garak." Bashir leaned in conspiratorially. "There was no risk of that happening, but I successfully tricked him into thinking there was." He rested his chin in his hands.

"Oh!" he gasped. "That is just like one of my favorite stories... well, before it was censored! Very romantic!"

Bashir's smile grew.

They ended up sitting together on the front steps, overlooking the garden. The air was thick and still, so the delicate stems and thin petals did not even shiver. Soon, Bashir felt the pull to get lost in his familiar daydream, the one in which he and Garak inexplicably had a little house on Cardassia Prime with a luscious garden where they could sit and have have lunch whenever they wanted, whether it was lunch hour or not, while in their spare time they worked to resettle war orphans. Instead of discussing the intricacies of this fantasy with Garak's uncle, he instead tried fruitlessly to distract himself by asking what the ecological role of grub-like creatures might be, and why so many of the flowers here sported green blossoms.

"No, of course they aren't pests, they're not voles! They have a symbiotic relationship with the leafless plants, since they can't produce their own food," said Mister Garak. "And I'm not sure what you mean. Do you not have green blooms on your planet?"

"I wouldn't exactly call earth 'my planet,'" Bashir said, mostly to himself. "No, they do exist, but it tends to be easier for earth's common pollinators to spot flowers of different colors, and the most common classes of chemicals that result in the colors of petals don't tend to bring out the color green... and it's not as if a structure as temporary as a flower needs chlorophyll. At least, this is what Professor O'Brien has told me." He smiled at the memory of discussing the old earth symbol that was the green carnation with Garak over lunch.

"I do have another question of my own for you, Doctor," said Mister Garak. "Do you know how much longer you'll be able to visit? I don't imagine these orb experiences last forever, and I wouldn't want you to worry Elim and your friends on the station."

Bashir did think the heat mirage framing the flowers was reminiscent of the waves of light that emanated from the orb's case. "The orbs tend to show people a truth about themselves. I don't think it's going to end until I'm honest with you." He turned to look him in the eyes. "But if I'd been honest right off the bat, that wouldn't have been very Cardassian of me, would it?"

"But Doctor, you aren't a Cardassian! And Elim is right to respect your customs in return. You don't have to act for me if you don't want to."

"That's the problem," said Bashir. "I do want to. I'm always acting, actually."

In true Garak fashion, Mister Garak put a hand on Bashir's forearm. "Well then, if you're more interested in putting things indirectly… my given name is Tolan. And I have noticed that all this time we've been talking, you've avoided calling yourself a human."

How long had it been, Bashir wondered, since he had last wanted to cry? But the look on Tolan's face was telling him that Bashir did not have to feel pressured to elaborate, so instead he blinked any newborn tears away and said, "Tolan, I don't think that in my time you're around anymore. There are people Tain threatened in one last-ditch attempt to chain Elim down, and you weren't one of them."

Tolan took a deep breath and looked askance, toward the moon. "It was inevitable."

Bashir returned the touch on his arm, making sure Tolan was looking right at him as he spoke. "You have no idea how it feels to finally meet a supportive family member." For both himself and Elim, he left unsaid. "Only for it to be some illusion?! We've had enough of those! I've looked deep into my heart enough as Elim and I have struggled to make things work—why would the orb put me through this?!"

Only as Tolan tightened his grip did Bashir realize he had started thrashing, as if he were in a nightmare. "Even if it is only your heart, that doesn't make it any less valuable. Why, it sounds to me like your heart is the most valuable thing there is for Elim!" He carefully placed one hand on Bashir's chest for emphasis. "And no matter what, you are a part of this family now, Julian!"

Lights were swimming in his eyes now. "Tolan, if you have a message for Elim, you must tell me now," was all he could say. As he memorized the message, he was embraced by the blooming colors again.

Bashir awoke to the feeling of Kira's iron grip on his arms. He was fairly certain she had been calling his name. "N-Nerys?" he said, shakily.

She pulled him to a standing position before withdrawing. "Are you all right?"

Bashir nodded, too overwrought to trust his voice.

"Good." Kira scowled and turned toward the doorway, and Bashir suspected she was feeling bitter that she had not been chosen by the Prophets on this day. "You were smiling that boyish smile of yours, but with tears in your eyes. What could you have possibly been shown?"

That boyish smile returned to his face. "My heart."

Despite an enthusiastic invitation from Garak, Bashir hesitated before crossing the threshold into Garak's quarters. He was greeted by the sight of Garak sitting back in an easy chair that was the same shade as Bashir's science blue. Garak would often joke about how lying back in that chair was reminiscent of receiving a big hug from Bashir.

"To what do I owe the pleasure, Doctor?" Garak shifted in his chair to gaze up at him. His smile thinned. "Not another mission gone awry, I hope?"

Bashir slowly walked toward the bed, already knowing he was welcome to do so and took a seat so that he was facing Garak. He managed to regulate his breathing, but imagined his face was flushed and that his periorbital puffiness had been exacerbated. "No, nothing like that, as you know. If it had been a mission, you would know all about it by now."

"Would I?" Garak fluttered his eyelashes at him.

Bashir glared fondly at him, and gathered his strength. "Today, Major Kira had me accompany her to the Temple. She planned to visit the orb that's being kept safe here until it can be returned to Bajor. She thought it was appropriate that I stand by as she consulted the Prophets, considering I was the one who prolonged Vedek Bareil's life."

"And things did not go according to plan, I take it?" Garak cocked his head to the side, and Bashir's heart beat faster.

"That's right. Instead, the orb chose me to have the experience."

"I imagine that was quite the shock for both you and the Major," said Garak. "Was I present in your vision, Doctor?"

"No, I never saw you there." Bashir shook his head. "Oh, it's a different Garak I was met with, actually."

Garak blinked. "I'm afraid I don't follow?"

Might as well say it, Bashir decided. "I was brought to a little homestead with a beautiful garden out front, and had a nice long chat with your uncle, Tolan Garak."

Garak shot up from his seat. "What?! It brought you there?!" he snapped, and began circling the bed. "Why am I surprised? I shouldn't have expected any less!" his voice had taken on that sharp tone he only used when truly furious. "Tell me everything that happened!"

Bashir gripped the sheets and tried to get the words out, but for once, nothing was coming to mind. His heart continued to race. "I-I—"

"Now, Doctor!"

He squeezed his eyes shut. "Tolan approves of our relationship!" he shouted, overpowering Garak's voice in volume.

Garak swayed on his feet, as if knocked off balance. "W-What do you mean?"

"He told me a doctor was the best possible companion for you to have, considering the way you're always getting into trouble! He was impressed to learn you grew enough to withstand introducing yourself to a handsome man, though he was scandalized by the fact that you put your hands on my shoulders! He referred to me as your special friend!"

Garak spun around so he was facing the window and whined. His head was in his hands.

Bashir pushed himself off the bed and moved to stand behind Garak. "Look at me."

Garak quivered slightly.

"Garak, please, you have to look at me. You need to see me."

Slowly, Garak half-turned, so Bashir only saw his profile and a glimpse of one of his blue eyes glinting as the station spun.

"I'm sorry the orb intruded on your privacy," Bashir whispered. "Believe me, it was hard for me to experience, too, no matter how charming Tolan is." Bashir delicately lifted one hand, his fingers unfurling like petals. "Can you forgive me? I need to know that someone forgives me."

Garak finally faced him and melted before Bashir. "My dear Julian, I've already forgiven you, but there is nothing to forgive!" He accepted Bashir's offered hand, and they pressed their palms together and let their fingers intertwine. Bashir was struck by how beautiful and skilled Garak's hands were, as he had been many times. The two of them tightened their hold and then looked up to gaze at each other's faces. Garak's eyes were even more starry than space outside. "I will always forgive you," he said.

"Always? Even if I wear clothes I know full well you'll hate? Or break into that hidden panic room in your shop and eat all of the Delavian chocolates you've been saving? Or create a PSA about the importance of healthy eating habits out of photos of you at lunch taking only the daintiest bites?"

Garak rushed to hide his face in the crook of Bashir's neck and sobbed. He continually made sounds almost like Bashir's name, but not quite.

Bashir reluctantly let go of Garak's hand and instead used both arms to pull him closer. "My dear Mister Garak," he said reverently. "I know. Tolan gasped when he heard I'd read the entirety of The Never-ending Sacrifice for you in a single week, and you should've seen how wide his eyes were when he announced that my shooting you in the Holosuite was like one of his favorite romances before it was censored. And before you ask, he had a message for you."

"He always was an old sap." Garak sniffled.

They both shuffled over to the bed, still holding each other tight, so that Garak could use Bashir as a basking rock. As Garak curled up on top of Bashir, he shyly asked, "And what was your impression of my uncle, Doctor?"

"Silly and old, but not queenly. Your queenliness is unique." Bashir nuzzled into Garak's sensitive neck ridges.

Garak shivered and made a pleased hum. "I am sure Tolan would take that as quite the compliment."

"I believe you—I was teased relentlessly!"

"What a good sign! He must have liked you even more than I thought, Doctor." Garak gave Bashir a squeeze. "You mentioned that he had a message for me?"

"I did."

Garak lifted his head, and Bashir saw that much of his face was blushing a dusty blue. The color was collected in the teardrop-shaped depression in his forehead as if it were a tiny goblet collecting rain. "Please, my dear Julian, don't keep me in suspense! Not now!"

"Tolan asked me to tell you to make sure to do hand exercises and to moisturize to make sure they don't get too cramped or worn-out from all your tailoring and gardening, so that you'll always be prepared to hold my hands."

Garak shook, letting out a noise that was a hybrid of a laugh and a sob.

"Um, would you like a glass of water?" Bashir felt even warmer inside than he had during the orb experience.

"Thank you, my dear, but then you must rest! I'm not the only one here who is exhausted." He slid off of Bashir. "It is fortunate that I was able to muster the strength to let you stand up. I nearly pressed my forehead to yours, and had I done that, well!"

Bashir sat up and stretched. "I imagine I wouldn't have been getting up for quite some time!" As soon as he stood, he yawned, and the yawn brought tears to his eyes. Those tears were followed by more that soon streamed down his cheeks.

Garak leapt to his feet with uncharacteristic energy—was it because he had reveled in Bashir's warmth?—and rushed over. "Doctor!" He took Bashir by the arms and leaned in to lick away the tears with a mlem before peppering Bashir's under-eye wrinkles with tiny kisses.

"Garak!" Bashir laughed. "That's enough!" He half-heartedly pushed him away as a blush bloomed on his face.

"Oh, my dear doctor," said Garak, his blue eyes sparkling now more than ever. "It is far more than enough."