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The Game

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The room, if anything, was colder than his own. But, then, he'd had years to block air vents to reduce the drafts that made sleeping so difficult. The figure that lay asleep before him had no such problems. The doctor lay in restless slumber, now a living still life, now a sleep dancer moving in slow motion to some unheard melody.

The urge to stretch was becoming overwhelming. Once again Garak asked himself why he was doing this absurd thing - sitting here in a darkened room, in a chair meant for punishment and not for pleasure, and looking at a stranger. The stranger turned and the covers momentarily outlined the slim hips before the man fell onto his stomach, the twin hillocks below the trim waist drawing the eye and the imagination.

That was why, of course. Garak sighed. So many years when there had been no time for even the briefest dalliance and, now that he had the time, so little desire. Oh, how he missed it all - the wildness, the joy when, against all expectation, you found yourself ALIVE! And then, for the smallest moment, it had come back to him there in that pathetic Replimat. A flicker, not a flame; more a memory of passion than a drowning storm. This man had brought it back and Garak had to know why.

So here he was, waiting to see if that hint - that memory - of aliveness could be turned into reality. For an instant he wondered if that last bottle of kanar had been wise. So many things could go wrong with this insane scenario. The doctor could be startled into raising an alarm. That thought should have set off instinctive counter planning - designing just what reactive move he would take when the subject of his observation did this or that. But, instead, he just wondered how long it would be before this would play itself out and he could get something to eat.

He'd waited until Quark's bar had closed at 02:00 before bypassing the inadequate security controls of the doctor's quarters. The more responsible Starfleet officers had long been asleep in preparation for the next day's work, and the younger ones had stumbled home and collapsed in their beds before Garak had dared invade the sacred military corridors where his presence would certainly have given rise to unwanted questions.

As primary doctor on the station, the young man was entitled to larger quarters than Garak's own. The doctor rated a bedroom, while he, a mere shopkeeper, was assigned a single room. He could have asked for quarters with a bedroom, but his single status would have meant he'd have to argue for the space and, if this small room were any example of what would be available, he wouldn't have wanted to sleep in such a small room anyway. As it was, his dislike of enclosed spaces was kept at bay here by concentrating on the task before him which was, for this moment, feasting on the beauty of the sleeping man.

Station gossip, if true, as it likely was, reported that the bed before him would soon become a crowded terminal, busy with the comings and goings of beautiful young women. So strange. Cutting oneself off from half the possibilities of pleasure. Garak, himself, was here to offer to expand the doctor's horizons. As well as his anatomy.

Much as he appreciated the beauty of a Cardassian face, its features perfectly proportioned and endlessly fascinating in their complexity, the smooth lines of Doctor Bashir's face, which yet another movement had turned toward him, almost as though the sleeping man were watching him through dream-closed eyes, were fascinating. Skin that Garak could feel beneath mental fingertips, pureness of curve and sweep of cheek almost artistically minimal. And as bare in that moment as the body Garak could so well imagine beneath those absurd pajamas.

"How long have you been sitting there?"

The voice startled Garak, and a wave of embarrassment passed over him as he realized that he had let anticipation cloud observation. Oh, but he was slipping. He'd been so right to come. If one must discover the erosion that time had brought to instincts, better here than in another place or time where mistakes could so easily become fatal.

"Not long. I thought you might want to know the results of our little operation." Garak kept his voice as even and low as the doctor's had been, attempting to make his sitting in this chair beside the man's bed seem to be the most natural thing in the world.

The doctor moved to sit up and, Garak noticed approvingly, balance his weight so that he could move suddenly, if necessary. "So, what happened?"

"Apparently we've just missed being blown into our respective atoms. Tahna was going to destroy the entrance to the wormhole with the explosive device but, because of our warning, the plan was thwarted in time to save the day. And our atoms." Garak smiled. "Well done, Doctor."

"I just passed along what we heard," Julian's eyes narrowed. "And you couldn't just tell me that at breakfast." The statement was actually a question.

"I was sure you'd want to know as soon as I knew."

"But you didn't wake me up when you so kindly arrived with the news." Again, the question in the statement.

"Blame it on the kindness of my heart," Garak said. "The sight of you sleeping so peacefully...I couldn't. So I settled in to wait and thought I might get you to join me for breakfast. By my body clock it's already 06:00. As a doctor, I'm sure you believe in the importance of the morning meal." He let his eyes drift down to the middle of the man's body. "And healthful exercise." He met Julian's eyes. "So very important, exercise. Don't you agree, Doctor?" Too fast. Too fast. Why did hunger always bring out impatience? Let the doctor lead. Respond. Hints, not statements. Guide, don't force.

"You know I'm not attracted to you, Garak." There was no question in that statement, just calm finality. Whatever nervousness had been present when Garak had first accosted the man in the Replimat was gone in the security of his own quarters, as well as in his confidence that he could take care of himself.

"I admit I was afraid of that." Brightening and ever optimistic, Garak added, "Which doesn't mean that you won't be attracted in the future."

"And if I'm not?"

Garak sighed. "That will be very disappointing."

"My choice, of course." Julian stated.

"Of course," Garak replied in surprised indignation. "Cardassians aren't animals. We seduce. We don't force." Garak was pleased to see Julian's body relax as he accepted Garak's statement. Though what Garak had said was true, Garak thought that the doctor really needed to not be quite so trusting. Though trust would make seduction so much easier. Hints, he reminded himself yet again. The opponent must believe that control lies with them.

Settling himself more comfortably in the chair, Garak said, sympathetically. "Disappointing for you, as well. You have no idea how very well trained I've been."

As Garak had expected, Julian sat up straighter, immediately interested. "Trained? Sexually, I assume you mean. Is that normal Cardassian education?"

"Or from some sort of spy school, you mean?" Garak asked in his turn. "Merely a slip of the tongue, I'm afraid. I meant experienced, of course."

"Of course," the doctor agreed, disbelief obvious. "Which reminds me, how did you get in here? You had to have bypassed quite a few security protocols."

"Only three. A useful skill for anyone needing to drop off completed clothing when the customer isn't home. If you like, I'll show you how to upgrade your security locks to at least six."

"Against anyone but you," Julian stated flatly. Garak smiled in acknowledgment. The doctor's curiosity had been obvious at lunch, as well as his fascination with spies. The combination of spy and secret knowledge seemed to make a perfect lure. The trick would be laying out the trap with subtlety, and baiting it with the doctor's own inquisitiveness.

Stretching, Julian got up from the bed and, ignoring his visitor, headed to the bathroom.

Garak watched the play of lean body through the thin, threadbare pajamas. Though what was needed was something not quite so constraining. A nightshirt perhaps. It would also make much easier access to the doctor's more interesting parts. Once he'd achieved such access, Garak reminded himself. First things first.

While Julian went about his business, Garak got up and prowled the room more openly than he'd been able to do while his companion was sleeping. He had had time to thoroughly examine the living room, but had been cautious exploring so near the bed. Opening the closet, Garak found himself face to face with a stuffed animal.

"That's Kukalaka."

Garak stopped himself from spinning around. He was definitely getting careless. Curious, he picked up the small toy, which was plucked from over his shoulder. Julian looked about his room and walked over to a shelf, placing the bear carefully down. Garak, who had followed behind, picked it up again to examine. A leg seam was crudely mended with thick black thread, and puckered seams traced a history of hard use and rehabilitation. With some embarrassment, Julian took the bear back and replaced it on the shelf. "A bit crude," he admitted of the most obvious repair, "but it was my first operation."

As Garak prowled the room, he was aware of Julian settling himself back in bed and watching. Surely the man should have thrown him out by now, or gotten dressed, or even just gotten angry at the invasion. Was it possible that this seduction was not totally unwanted? An inner smile glowed, and the growl in Garak's stomach moved several inches downward, suddenly becoming a real arousal.

"Well, have you learned what you wanted to know about me? I'm neat. I sort my socks by color. Oh, and I still haven't given up my childhood. You should be able to write a book about me now, I suppose. A very, very boring book."

Garak flashed a smile and bent to open the bottom drawer of a dresser set into a wall. At a quick intake of breath from the vicinity of the bed, Garak pulled it out a little more and felt around the corners. A chuckle told him that he'd been set up and he closed the drawer and straightened. "A short story, perhaps. Certainly not a novel." He returned to his chair and settled himself in, enjoying the point and counterpoint of their game.

"You were deeply loved as a child and were probably an only child." At the doctor's raised eyebrow, Garak explained, "Kukalaka brings only good memories, and you would have kept him in better condition if he were the gift of a departed mother, so I would guess that your mother is still alive. She has a busy life of her own since she hasn't replaced the pajamas she gave you. That might mean that your father is also still alive, a reasonable assumption given your age and theirs."

At Julian's nod, he continued. "Not only are your socks carefully arranged, but your clothes are also hung by what I would guess to be their frequency of wear. A combination of the efficiency and organization that comes from your profession as a Starfleet officer, as well as the qualities needed for a successful doctor."

"You make me sound obsessive," Julian said with a frown.

"I suppose it would be possible for your professional traits to excessively overwhelm your personal life, but you'll be pleased to know that your sports equipment was quite randomly spread across your closet floor."

"Actually, I hadn't gotten around to organizing them yet," Julian sheepishly admitted. "Maybe I'll just leave them there. So, what else have you discovered? I suppose you've already learned what clothes I'll need to replace by visiting your shop?"

"Always useful information. We'll talk pants later." Running his eyes over the body displayed to such advantage in the thin material, Garak observed, "You're a natural athlete. You play many different games and, based on the condition of your equipment, you're probably very good at most of them. Your body is a testament to your fitness regime." At Julian's self-satisfied look, Garak added, "But your health regime is too concentrated on academic opinion and not enough on listening to your body. You toss and turn so much, in part, because of that ridiculous pillow and partly because you keep your bedroom too cool. Your body would relax more while you were sleeping if you were warmer."

"That's what the blanket is for," Julian explained, defensively adding, "and the pillow has been proven to be the ideal shape for correctly supporting the spine."

"Maybe Morn's," Garak replied, dismissively, "but not yours. That's why you move almost continuously in your sleep."

"I don't..." Garak's knowing look stopped Julian's defense. Julian corrected himself. "When I'm alone my sleep is completely restful." Trying to find a more comfortable position, and shoving the maligned pillow to the far side of the bed, Julian summarized Garak's observations. "So I'm a muscle-bound obsessive who could use a refresher course in ergonomics. And that attracts you because..."

Leaning forward, Garak put his hand on the young man's thigh and looked deep into his eyes, "You're a beautiful man, and a fine doctor, as the papers and awards you've tucked away in the living room closets will attest. You don't need me to tell you that. You're perfectly aware how good you are."

Julian's hand reached out to lightly grip Garak's wrist and, after a moment, the muscles that had tightened in Julian's thigh relaxed again. Reading that as Julian's growing interest - he'd been right! - Garak tried to move his hand in a caress, but Julian's hand was steel-band tight. Interesting, Garak thought. The doctor was unafraid but also uninterested. Garak smiled as he pulled his hand free and settled back into his seat. This was going to be a lovely challenge.

"Shall I tell you about you?" Julian asked, surprising Garak yet again. Nodding, Garak waited with thrilled anticipation. What joy this relationship was going to be!

As if to confirm Garak's hopes, Julian ran a long, slow look down Garak's body. Only when he looked back at Garak's face did he begin. "You come on as a sex-starved teenager, but you actually have very little interest in sex." When Garak would have objected, Julian brushed his objections aside, driving on. "For some reason you're interested in me. I have no idea why, but you're testing me - pushing me to see how I react." Julian reached out and took Garak's hand again and held it lightly. "Nothing I've done would be of the slightest interest to Cardassia."

Though Garak didn't reply, Julian nodded to himself. "Yes, you agree. You're not concerned with me politically. But, still, you're interested in me. Then it's personal, if not sexual," he concluded.

"Fascinating, Doctor," Garak said. "But I assure you that I am very interested in having sex with you."

"Actually, you're not," Julian replied, contradicting him. After a moment he corrected himself, "You would be willing to have a sexual relationship and, undoubtedly, you'd enjoy it, but that's not what this is about, is it?"

Things were definitely not going as expected. Uncomfortable in a tension that was no longer sexual, Garak prodded, "You tell me, my dear Doctor, since you think you're so good at psychoanalysis."

After a long minute, Julian's eyes opened wider. "You're playing a game." When Garak would have pulled his hand back, Julian gripped it tighter, fingers warm and burning through his hand. "You were taught. That's what you said. You were taught seduction in spy school." The tug of war over Garak's hand was becoming a contest. "You're practicing on me!"

Garak ripped his hand away and jumped up from the chair, turning it over as he did. But he could still feel Julian's eyes through the cloth on his back. This wasn't the way the game was supposed to be played. He was supposed to be in charge, regardless of what his opponent thought. So why was the carpet beneath his feet slipping out from underneath him? How could Bashir have known? What had he, Garak, done wrong? What signal had he missed?

Turning around Garak attempted to keep his voice calm, though he could sense he was failing. "I don't need to practice. And it wasn't a spy school." His voice returned to a more modulated tone as control returned. Better to temporarily retreat and regroup to understand his mistakes. Nodding stiffly he said, "I'm sorry you don't find me to your taste. I'll leave now since it seems you're not interested in expanding your sexual limits."

That brought Julian, eyes shining, out of bed and to the doorway to block Garak's exit. "So how did you get recruited into the spy business? What were they looking for and why did you decide to do it? How old were you? They must recruit young, like Starfleet, if they expect to mold personalities."

"Mold?" Garak spit out. "They don't have to mold anyone. Spying is a hard business and you either learn to do it right or you die early." Realizing what he was saying, Garak made a small gesture of denial. "That is, I would imagine that's what the life is like. As a tailor, you understand, I sometimes overhear customers talking and spies need their pants to fit as much as anyone else does."

Julian's smile revealed just how much he bought into that explanation. "Then, theoretically speaking, of course, why would anyone become a spy? The glamour? The danger?"

Almost sputtering, Garak replied, "Glamour? Trying to get information out of some scared old man who's wetting his pants? Oh, yes, it's very glamorous to spend days watching a doorway and only learn later that the owner of the house moved a week before." He began pacing the room as he continued his rant. "Danger? Who in their right mind wants to live with the daily knowledge that you could die at any time? That's just something you accept because the end is so important that your life doesn't even weigh in the balance." Realizing again that he's said too much, Garak extemporized, "I would imagine that the life of a spy is very different from what you read about in those spy novels that fill your closet." He stopped and spread his hands in a deprecating gesture, "But what would I know..."

Julian finished for him. "... being only a simple tailor. Yes, I know. But what is the end that is so important that you'd die for it? Why would anyone choose that life? How does your family feel about it? Do they even know?"

The doctor couldn't have chosen a better way to slash Garak's soul if he had that soul laid out and exposed on his examination table. The physical memory of standing in front of Tain's desk while his father flayed that very soul into shreds blocked all awareness of carpet and cold and man and present time. As then, his fists clenched with the need to not let emotions paint themselves across his face. As if Tain would have cared. All the old man knew was his own blinding rage and nothing Garak could have said would have stopped a word or a sentence. Sentence. Yes, a lifetime sentence that had ripped him from everything he loved.

Just as suddenly as the physical memory had come, it was gone and, with it, the tension that had kept Garak proudly upright and unyielding before his father. But now his legs felt weak and Garak walked past the doctor and threw himself onto the bed that had cooled to ice while they had played their stupid game. Dimly he became aware of the doctor picking up the chair and moving it beside the bed before sitting down.

After a while, Garak turned onto his back and stared at the ceiling, very aware of, and strangely comforted by, the silent observor. The words burst out. "I love Cardassia. Oh, Doctor, you can't imagine it if you've never been there. The cities vibrate with the intensity of life. Some of the most magnificent literature and music and art were created there. I can close my eyes and walk down our main street at night. The shop windows are full of color and pattern, and I can hear the street musicians as I walk, the music of each group blending slowly into the next - each sound disappearing in its turn."

Turning his head, he looked at the doctor and cried, "And I can never go home." Julian reached out and took his hand, sliding down to hold his wrist again. They sat for a few minutes in silence. "Does my family know?" Garak shook his head despairingly. "My father is the one who had me exiled!"

"For what?" Julian blurted out.

"Everything. Nothing. He somehow got the mistaken impression that I had taken something he valued - an old painting that had been his father's."

"And had you?" Julian asked.

"Well, grandfather had given it to me before he died."

Garak felt the pressure on his wrist increase slightly and Julian shook his head. "You wouldn't have been exiled for something that minor, even if you had actually taken the painting. Which I doubt."

It took an effort for Garak not to react, but he concentrated on maintaining a calm exterior and not letting his heartbeat increase. However the man was doing it, his young friend was actually playing lie detector with Garak's pulse rate. A surge of pleasure and adrenaline got past him, however, as he could see from Julian's reaction. If anyone had to interrogate the good doctor someday, they'd need do nothing but look at his face. Again Garak worked to bring his heartrate down. What absolute joy this man was! What had started out as a simple game to see how well old skills had survived had morphed into something that this wonderful, marvelous man was making into something so much more devious and delicious. Well-played, Doctor. Point to you.

"So why were you really exiled, Garak?" Julian asked again, interrupting Garak's thoughts.

Exhilarated by the game, Garak began his new story. "An enemy of my father thought he could get at him through me, so..." Julian shook his head and Garak switched in mid-sentence. "I insulted one of the ruling committee members and..." As before, Julian's head moved from side to side and Garak segued smoothly into "There was a slight problem with my using the money that should have gone for taxes to repay some minor gambling debt." A few more interchanges and Garak had gotten no further in bypassing his human truth teller. "My father thought I'd betrayed him," exploded out of nowhere. The grip on his wrist tightened and then hand slid into hand.

"And did you?" Julian asked quietly with no judgment in his voice.

"I hadn't meant to," Garak admitted, and awarded the doctor a second mental point. The game had to quickly change or it would be lost before barely begun. "Enough of this psychobabel, though" Garak declared, sitting up but still holding the doctor's hand. "You like games. Let's play a game. One that you might find a little dangerous." Yes, when he concentrated, Garak could feel the doctor's pulse against the side of his hand, and the rate had just increased.

"Tell me the game and I'll tell you if I'll play," Julian challenged.

Garak suppressed a smile. He had him. "You want knowledge. I want to see you naked. A simple transaction." The hand pulled roughly from Garak's grasp as Julian jumped to his feet.

"No!"

"Too dangerous, doctor?" Garak purred. "Surely, as a medical man, nakedness doesn't shock you. And I've already told you that I would never use force against you. I do want to have sex with you, but only with your full and enthusiastic cooperation. If you think being naked with me is going to tempt you to ravish me, then I can only tell you that you have my complete agreement in advance. Do what you will to me. I'm open to taking on any role you want me to play in our little drama."

"What knowledge?" The question reluctantly pulled out of the man.

"An ancient sexual technique that I'm willing to wager isn't in any of your medical texts. And the reason you'll be willing to let me apply it to you is that, to do it right, I never touch you. It's one of those things I was NOT taught, in what was NOT a spy school."

Looking directly at Julian's groin, Garak sighed and looked up to meet Julian's eyes. "I could avoid the more obvious places on which to practice. And I give you my promise that, even if you beg, I will not have sex with you. So, what say you, Doctor? The danger is to your self-control, not mine." Again he tempted. "Do you want to learn something that no one in your medical profession even imagines is possible? Could anything be better than that, my dear Doctor?"

"You're crazy, Garak."

"Undoubtedly. But I'm also the only one who will ever be able to show you this. I assure you, it's a piece of knowledge that you will thank me for for the rest of your life."

"And you're offering me this knowledge because..."

"I already told you. It's a transaction of sorts. You learn an ancient secret and I visually enjoy your naked body. Surely not too high a price to pay. Only you and I will know that every time I see you in the future, I'll be able to mentally undress you. Oh, the fantasies in which you will star. And no one around us will ever know what I'll be thinking. Only you."

"I couldn't care less what your fantasies are, Garak. That's between you and whoever has to be your counseler. And you're right. Nakedness isn't important to me." It wasn't clear which way Julian would decide but, finally, he said, "Okay, show me." With that, Julian removed his pajamas and threw them on the bed beside Garak. He made no attempt to cover himself, but stood silently and calmly before Garak's gaze.

The game was a draw. But at least Garak would have his price. Taking his time, Garak got up and walked slowly around Julian, letting himself enjoy the view, but finding that much of the pleasure seemed somehow gone with Julian's lack of embarrassed response. A mischievous bubble grew. Reaching into a pocket, Garak removed a cylinder and held it up to Julian's inspection. "Since you'll eventually be my customer, I might as well take your measurements now. I can make up clothes for you far more accurately when I have your exact dimensions."

"Just get this over with, Garak." Suddenly suspicious, Julian added, "Is that a camera?"

Garak handed him the instrument and smiled as Julian examined it, then handed it back with a sigh. "It's just like medical examinations, Doctor. You always want to have base measurements for later comparison. So if you don't keep up your exercises," Garak methodically ran the measuring instrument across Julian's shoulders, back and waist while he talked, "I'll be able to tell you when you're losing that trim, tight shape." Kneeling down, Garak continued his measurements over Julian's bottom and down his legs.

Julian looked back over his shoulder as Garak checked the cylinder's data. "That's a rather clever device. It could actually be useful in baseline exams."

"I think you'd find, Doctor, that almost no one keeps up a level of fitness like yours. For most people, this would just be a sad reminder of the changes engendered by the passage of time." Standing up, Garak warned, "I'll measure your front now," and moved around to face Julian.

"You measure all your customers naked?" Julian asked, looking up at the ceiling.

"A truly awful thought! I'm going to have to recite some of Vondra's poetry to myself until I get those images out of my head."

"I love Vondra's poetry," Julian enthusiastically broke in. "Wherever did you discover him? He's rather a minor poet among the Rebellionists." Glancing down, Julian saw just what Garak was now measuring and quickly looked back at the ceiling.

"Minor? I think not. Remember that he was the one who invented the alternating stanza, and the poetic variations that were built on that rhythm formed the basis for the Great Literary Awakening in at least four star systems, including Earth, if I remember correctly. There, Doctor, almost done." With that, Garak stood up and moved back behind the man.

"You should have enough measurements now to make me a new birthday suit," Julian grumbled.

"Actually, you probably could use a tightly fitting athletic suit. I could make something that I'm sure you would find absolutely stunning." He put the cylinder back in his pocket. "It's a shame I can't get a miniaturized version of this to fit in my shoe."

"What are you talking about?" Julian asked in complete bewilderment.

Leaning down, Garak pulled a small, flat instrument out of his shoe, showed it off and put it back. "Every good spy should have their shoes handmade. If someone is searching you, they'll rarely look closely at your shoes."

"You're kidding me?" Julian asked incredulously.

"Yes. But it actually is a perfectly sensible place to keep extra tailoring supplies. You certainly don't want to keep needles in your pocket. I'll give you the name of my shoemaker."

"Are you done, Garak? I am really starting to regret this."

"Ah, so eager." At Julian's glare, Garak said, almost to himself, "Now let's just hope I still remember how to do this."

Rubbing his palms together to sensitize them, Garak examined Julian's back, trying to decide where to start. It was an old Vulcan sex game - touching and never touching. He wondered if they avoided touch out of guilt over enjoying sex or because they got off on doing things in the hardest way possible. But, be that as it may, the trick was to move the hand rapidly above the skin so close that the hairs would tremble and produce an overwhelming sexual stimulation - just so long as the hand kept moving, and didn't get too far away or didn't touch the skin. Move out of range of the skin and the sensation stopped. Touch the skin and the sensation stopped. You needed absolute control of your hand, and it had to be instinctive. Think about it and your hand would wander uncontrollably and you'd fail.

This had been his worst class, and the memories were indelibly burned into his brain. The instructor had been an elderly Vulcan who found no amusement in each student's fumbling attempts to rub the air above his wrinkled skin, and who could be guaranteed to let the rest of the class know how inadequate each try had been. Garak buried that memory back into whatever dark recess it had crawled out from. Julian. Concentrate on Julian. And quickly, too, before the man became impatient. With a deep breath, Garak began moving his hand over Julian's left shoulder. A sharp intake of Julian's breath told Garak he had gotten close enough. Now it was just a matter of concentrating on the surface undulations. His palm burned with the awareness of the warm skin just out of reach. His eyes saw each undulation of flesh and his hand followed precisely. Concentrate. Shift. Concentrate. Shift.

As his hand moved lower, Garak shifted his own body position to give himself the most natural access to every hill and valley of firm, smooth flesh. When you concentrated this way, small changes became magnified in your mind, much like the effect of drawing an arm between wrist and elbow over a fifteen minute period. You began to see minor differences as major ones. Garak's hand was under unbelievable pressure and he didn't think he could continue much longer. By now, though, Julian would have learned the advantages to be found in someone skilled in such esoteric practices. Even though the spine was missing the complex beauty of a ridge line, there was still a purity in the smoothness, and his hand seemed to speed faster over the warmth than he ever remembered having it do. The only thing holding him back was the need to compensate for the trembling.

It was only when that trembling turned into almost violent shivering that Garak realized that he had reached the rounded prominences before which he had planned to stop. Memory warned him that you avoided this area if you didn't intend to immediately satisfy the urges being brought to an insatiable pitch. But temptation firmly suppressed memory, and he let himself linger over the beauty of curve and slope. So smooth. A minimalist sculpture. And such a warm one. The trembling was becoming too difficult to compensate for and Garak became suddenly aware of what he was doing. With a sudden motion, he jerked his hand away and let his hand shake with the intensity of relief of the mental pressure he had used to guide it.

A gasp from Julian echoed Garak's move away, and the trembling before him became almost uncontrollable. Garak cursed himself. He should have prepared for this, but it had been so many years since he'd used this ancient technique. Besides, the temptation had been irresistible. But he should have resisted, Garak scolded himself silently. He knew what it felt like to be left in that condition. He wanted to satisfy the feelings he had created, but he couldn't violate the promise he had made. He wouldn't. In moments Garak knew Julian would be begging him to enter Julian's body. There was only one thing to do, and Garak did it. Pausing only to whisper, "A gift," Garak took the coward's way out and darted from the room, not seeing that behind him Julian was sinking to his knees.

Julian burned from the inside out. He couldn't imagine any other way to describe what was happening to his body. It was a perfect burning, as though he were being consumed by flames that would fulfill his entire existence. Except that they wouldn't complete the consumption. They just burned and cried out for a single solution - to be mounted by the one who had put him in this condition in the first place. A gift? A curse.

At any moment he expected the Cardassian to return and finish what he started. To quench this burning the one way Julian was sure would work. But Garak never came, and Julian was finally coming to realize that he probably never would. He, Julian, was the only one who could get control of his body. It was possible. Julian knew how to exercise past unimaginable pain. Would Garak have left him like this if there wasn't an end to the pain? Only it wasn't pain, was it? It was the purest pleasure. A gift. Hah! He knew exactly where he would shove Garak's gift the first chance he got. Which thought brought back the overwhelming need to have Garak in him right this minute. Oh, the unpitiable irony and agony.

Breathe. Focus the mind. His day's work. There was no pattern to the work yet. It was all too new. Some old experiment then. The blood chemistry experiments to explain why Denebian Fever never appeared in the inhabitants of that small town on the coast. What was its name? Takfudintu. No wonder he didn't remember it. What had he used in each of the experiments? Oh, the need! The tests. What had he tested in the two hundred and thirty-five failed experiments? He was mentally examining the hundred and seventeenth when the answer suddenly came to him. Manganese. There were no reports of manganese present in the soil. The PH was low and if the soil contained any manganese, it would have showed.

The realization that the burning had receded into a generalized, feeling of well-being - a buzz - came suddenly. Tucking the experimental discovery aside for later consideration, Julian got to his feet. He was stiff, as though he'd been on the floor for hours, but his internal clock told him it had only been twenty-three minutes. It was the tension his body had been under that made him feel stiff. Regretfully, he put the idea of breakfast aside. He'd have to hurry if he wasn't going to be late for work.

As for Garak, Julian knew he had some payback to consider. Some very slow and very painful payback.

**********

Garak was brushing off a piece of fabric that had fallen to the floor when he was scooped up by a tornado and deposited in one of the empty dressing rooms at the rear of the shop. Julian jerked the curtain closed across the doorway and shoved the unresisting Garak up against the wall. "Just what did you think you were doing? Were you taking some kind of revenge on me for not wanting sex with you? What were you doing!" His voice was low and menacing.

"I'm sorry."

The complete capitulation stopped Julian cold. Slowly and reluctantly he let go of Garak's shirt, but his eyes still asked for an explanation and he was still visibly furious.

The words didn't come as smoothly as they usually did. The jokes weren't there, nor the evasions, nor the excuses. When he had stood before his father, Garak had felt some defense against the accusations. This time there was none. He had violated a promise and he had taken no responsibility for his actions. In another life, that might have been accepted, even expected, behavior. Now, for some unexplainable reason, he felt that he had to give this man the one thing Garak wasn't good at offering - the truth.

"I got carried away and went too far. I am truly sorry." Picking up Julian's hand, Garak wrapped it around his own wrist, desperate to be believed. "I never meant to make you want me like that. I only wanted to show how clever I was to be able to create such intense sensations. When I realized that I had gone too far, I should have stopped right away but I didn't. And once I realized what I had done, I...ran. I'm sorry."

It was a full frozen minute before Julian admitted, "I let myself in for it. I have to share the blame." Julian's eyes blazed again. "But never, ever try anything like that again without fully informing me what you expect to happen."

The part that Garak heard was that fully informing the doctor might mean another session if he could come up with something else just as exotic. But this wasn't the time to verify that point.

For another minute they stared at one another as Julian processed what Garak had said, and Garak's mind raced over every sex technique he'd ever tried or been told about. "Are there any after effects I should expect?" Julian asked.

Garak shook his head. "I've been on the receiving end of that at least a dozen times. Normally it ends in a more..." he stumbled trying to find a delicate way of putting it. "...definitive manner. But when I have been left in that incomplete state, I was fully functional again in less than four hours."

"Then I suppose I should thank you for not turning me into garg. That damned burning lasted half an hour."

Attempting not to appear impressed by Julian's control, Garak took Julian's free hand and pushed up the sleeve, holding his hand suspended about the arm and looking at Julian, an offer that was part apology, part hope of reigniting his interest. "It doesn't have to be so overwhelming. It can produce the lightest stimulation."

Julian looked apprehensive, but nodded. As the hand above his arm produced the sensation described, Julian clutched Garak's wrist more tightly and closed his eyes. Garak stopped quickly and Julian opened his eyes. "Fascinating." he breathed. "It's like the effect of a good whiskey while you do it, but there's no hangover when you stop." Thinking a moment, he asked, "0 to 10?"

Smiling, Garak said, ".3 today. 4 yesterday."

Julian's eyes opened wide and Garak knew he was trying to extrapolate just what a 10 would do to him. Julian shook his head in amazement, then looked down at the wrist he still held. "You won't have to do that again. I'll believe you."

"That really wouldn't be wise at all, I'm afraid. I never promised not to lie to you. Just not to break my promises." The small smile left Garak. "Which I did."

"We're all human..." Julian started, then corrected himself at a lifted eye ridge. "...or rather, we're all sentient. I can forgive a mistake." At the relief in Garak's face, Julian smiled and they grinned at one another. Letting go Garak's wrist and turning to push him out of the dressing room, Julian continued, "Close up for lunch. I didn't get any breakfast and I'm starving. Besides, I have a thousand questions for you. Vulcan non-touching. That I was able to learn. But there are no details posted anywhere!" Julian's voice drifted away as Garak waved at a button to close the shop on his way through the doorway.

After a short while a soft voice hesitantly called out from a far dressing room, "Hello?"

**********

"You don't think they're going to make my feet look too big?" Julian stretched out his leg and turned his foot this way and that.

If the shiny, black shoe was any broader than the one he had worn into the shoemaker's, Garak couldn't tell. "The question," he reminded Julian, "is how they feel. What about the side pockets? And the heels? Do they feel the same as your old shoes?"

"They're more comfortable, if anything," Julian admitted as he got to his feet and paced around the store. "I'm surprised I can't feel the pockets."

"It's the barrier he puts between your foot and the compartment. And the outer surface is cleverly made to simulate your foot. Just in case someone did think to check your shoes for contraband." It necessitated some effort for Garak to keep his face expressionless for this discussion, but he was enjoying Julian's enthusiasm over spy shoes too much to do or say anything that might discourage his new friend. "What about the heels?"

Julian bounced a little as he walked. "There's no change I can feel in my posture, so they must be the height I'm used to." Looking to the waiting shoemaker, Julian nodded. "They're perfect. I'll wear them and you can wrap up the ones I wore." As the man disappeared with Julian's other shoes, Julian whispered to Garak, "What does he think about all this?"

That did get a smile from the keeper of another shop. "He thinks that he's lucky to have customers who are willing to pay for handmade shoes."

With the package tucked under arm, the two went out and looked around the promenade. By mutual agreement, they climbed the stairs to the second floor and began a leisurely stroll, glancing occasionally through the view ports to see if anything was coming through the wormhole. It was a quiet evening with nothing much happening except for a religious service that was ongoing at the Bajorian shrine. Garak glanced over to Julian, and quickly away.

What an amazing two weeks it had been. Instead of turning his back on Garak, Julian had accepted a friendship that rested on an intimacy Garak had forced upon him. While Julian might have bared his body, Garak had bared his soul. To no one else had Garak ever spoken of his father. True, Garak couched his past in the camouflage of half truths but it didn't really matter if this detail or that was not clearly revealed. What was important was that he had found someone who would listen to his stories and not judge him for a past that sometimes tore at a conscience he hadn't even realized he had. A priest who could hear his confession and perhaps, someday, even forgive his sins.

Garak knew he was still playing the game, but the goals and the rules of the game had changed. The bet he now laid upon the table was no small price. He would seduce this man, and in the seduction gain not just a body but another soul. And so he played, oh, so much more carefully. To this lover of secrets and knowledge, he brought threads that could be followed and hints that would tantalize. To this man who loved spies, he brought a spy. And if the spy actually was one, then let that be another thread with which to tie the good doctor to him. Handcuffs of mystery.

And there on the promenade below, Garak saw another opportunity to entrance and, yes, to tease. Garak touched Julian's arm to draw his attention to a couple passing beneath - the woman Andorian, the man Vulcan. "You're always asking me what I learned in spy school, well, if I had ever been in spy school, they might well have taught me distance surveillance. Can you figure out what those two are talking about?"

"What I'm always asking is for you to teach me your Vulcan touch technique," Julian complained.

"Which I won't," Garak agreed, "for both our sakes." Indicating the couple more firmly, he repeated, "What are they talking about?"

Doubtful, but willing, Julian leaned on the railing and stared at the couple as they approached. "The man is waving his arm in the direction...of Quark's," Julian finished triumphantly.

"And..." Garak encouraged.

"And his wife - she's not affectionate enough to him to be his mistress - she's looking the other way. Now she's looking back. They passed the Klingon restaurant a few shops back. She's probably saying she wants to go there."

"But they just passed Quark's, so what does that tell you?" Garak asked.

"That he'd better turn around soon and go to the Klingon restaurant with her, or it's going to be a cold night in their place tonight."

"Can you tell what either of them are saying?" Garak asked, pointing to the man. "Try reading his lips."

Leaning forward, Garak stared at the Vulcan. "Why do you think I know Vulcan? Which I do, actually."

"I didn't know that, but it's obvious they're both speaking English." Garak drew Julian's attention to the corners of Garak's mouth as he exaggerated the "EE" sound of "Beetle." "Neither Vulcan nor Andorian have a sound that makes their mouths move like that. Neither does Bajoran. But English does, so it's likely that they're using that language."

As the couple moved down the promenade, Garak and Julian hurried to get in front of them again. "They didn't stop at Quark's," Garak reminded his friend.

"No," Julian agreed, "and they didn't go back to the Klingon restaurant. So maybe that wasn't what they were talking about."

"Why not try to tell what they're both looking at," Garak suggested.

Julian nodded and stared intently, eventually turning to Garak in amazement. "They're both watching the man walking a few shops in front of them. They're stopping when he does and trying to look interested in things they're near."

"Fascinating" Garak said, nodding. "Now why might they be following him?"

Julian led them onto a walkway where he had a more direct view of the approaching couple. "They seem to be arguing. They're turning back. No, they're going on." Shaking his head in frustration, Julian admitted, "I have no idea what they're doing." He glanced at Garak, who shrugged and smiled.

"Actually, I have no idea either, Doctor, but I do think we ought to mention this to the constable tomorrow. Don't you? Maybe you'd like to do that?"

"I will!" Julian exclaimed joyfully, leaning further over the railing as the couple began to disappear beneath the walkway.

Worried that the doctor was unbalanced, Garak moved up behind him and grabbed his waist. The sudden connection of rump to groin seemed to complete Julian's imbalance as his knees buckled and he pitched forward. Garak's arms tightened around the man and he jerked him back onto firm flooring, then stepped back several feet as Julian continued to tremble. There was silence for a few minutes until Julian regained control of himself. He turned and their eyes met. "I apologize again," Garak said quietly. "I can only think that the effects last longer on humans for some reason."

"Unless you're willing to let me research the subject directly..." Julian waited.

Garak shook his head. "They wouldn't talk to you."

"Then I'll have to leave it to you." Julian said, not happy with that solution. Garak briefly nodded. "Maybe we should just call it a night. I have some reading that I need to do, and we can look for things to put into my shoes some other evening."

Garak's face closed as he nodded again, then suggested, almost pleadingly, "Lunch? Tomorrow? The Replimat?"

Nodding briefly in his turn, Julian strode off leaving Garak to watch after him and then to slowly follow. It made no sense. If there had been a single human partner reacting this way, the news would have spread. If for no other reason than bragging rights. So either this particular human was extremely sensitive, or something else was going on. How frustrating that he couldn't just investigate directly. The hands-on approach, so to speak. But the doctor was highly unlikely to appreciate that particular research technique. It would have been flattering to think that he was the cause of Julian's reaction, but the man's firm rejections made that unlikely.

A number of faces flashed through Garak's mind as he tried to think who would know the most on the topic and be the least likely to want to pursue Garak's purpose in asking. He brightened. Godul! Garak doubted that there was a man or woman with whom the Cardassian had had sex that Garak didn't know about up to the time of his banishment. Godul would love to catch Garak up on the ones Garak had missed over the last few years. His steps speeded up. If Godul stayed true to form, he'd be heading for a bar very soon.

As he hurried, Garak glanced down to the promenade, noticing that the couple they had been watching had turned and they were now walking swiftly back in the direction from which they had come, the wife saying in perfect Vulcan, plainly discernible to Garak's well-honed skills of distance surveillance, "I'm sorry, dear, but I'm certain that I left the water running in the bathtub."

**********

"That's much too large. If you could even get it into the shoe pocket, your limping would make anyone look there first." Garak leaned back on the sofa and watched Julian trying to stuff the miniature tricoder into his shoe. The liquor was a fine Roqque brandy he'd brought with him and a sip spread a warmth through his body that was definitely making him feel very good. "No, that's too heavy. Small, thin and light. Surely you have something with those characteristics that could be useful in an emergency."

"Communications, illumination, escape and repair. Yes, I remember. But surely it would be extremely useful to be able to examine your surroundings, and this would even keep notes." Julian grunted with the effort of trying to stuff the small instrument into the side pocket before giving up and fitting it into the heel. "It fits fine here," he said triumphantly.

"Yes, it does," Garak agreed. "But you'll find it a bit crowded in there when you add other essentials. And just as important as getting things into that space is being able to get them out in a hurry."

While Julian again began opening drawers to reexamine meticulously kept tools and potentially repairable equipment, Garak settled himself more comfortably in the corner of the green plush sofa, enjoying the soft texture that he stroked with one hand while playing with the stem of his glass with the other. The temperature of the room had been thoughtfully adjusted up and, while still chilly, Garak found himself more relaxed and contented here than almost any other place on the station.

Their game had resumed at a lower level than before. Garak kept his sexual teasing to the minimum required to remind Julian that they weren't simply buddies, and that he wanted the doctor's attention directed at him and not at the women whom Garak was more frequently noticing the man's eyes following as they walked the promenade or shared a meal at one of the restaurants.

As Julian bent over a lower drawer, Garak's breath caught. He'd spoken truth when he'd told the good doctor that the memory of the man's body would remain with him. At some unexpected moment like this, Julian would move in a completely normal way and Garak would find himself suddenly lost in lust and fantasy. Imagination had previously been relegated to a toolbox for plotting and planning - for making sure that every possible scenario was followed and examined so that each reaction could be appropriately made to every potential action. Sex in the way too distant past hadn't been for fantasy, but for purpose. But this - this slow mental pleasure - was becoming addictive.

"Show me yours."

Almost spilling the brandy onto a top of which he was particularly proud, Garak sat up straighter and brushed needlessly at the fabric. "What?"

"The contents of the compartments and heels of your shoes. Show me yours."

Garak's burst of laughter made the double entendre clear, and Julian joined in Garak's laughter. The doctor had come to enjoy their sexual banter since it was never threatening, even if always directed at him. Becoming a sexual object for a male was beginning to be taken for granted as a normal part of life for the man. Garak wondered if he had ever been so comfortably self-confident. Probably not.

"Since you've already shown me yours, that seems only fair." Garak reached down to remove one shoe and paused, glancing up. "I'd be more than happy to continue. I imagine comparative anatomy must have been one of your subjects. It was certainly a favorite of mine. And I assure you, Doctor, you'd find the study one of great satisfaction." At Julian's amused head shake, Garak sighed, "Well then, if it must be just the shoes," and proceeded to remove them both.

Coming over and sitting down, Julian picked up first one and then the other, laying what he found on the sofa between them. On the green plush rested a miniature phaser and a pronged knife blade, very small but deep enough to penetrate a vein or artery, the prongs forming a hilt to protect the hand from being cut during a stabbing motion. An assortment of small pieces joined the weapons.

"Communications, et cetera?" Julian asked skeptically, reaching out to examine the small phaser.

"Be careful with that," Garak said quickly. "There's no safety." When he saw that Julian was taking proper precautions, Garak leaned back again and took another sip of brandy. "That's a generic inventory. Each skill set needs its own tools."

"Then we can assume that your profession is not that of physician," Julian said with extreme sarcasm.

"A simple tailor," Garak agreed, "who needs to cut material. And a cautious one who protects his stock. You'll find needles and thread deeper in the side compartments."

The named items joined the others. "Actually, I'd think this 'thread' might be easily adapted with these 'pencil' stubs to make a very practical garrote." Julian looked closely at two small pills and started to lift one to his mouth.

"Don't!"

The cry stopped the doctor's hand midway. He looked intently at Garak. "Not a vitamin, then."

"No, not a vitamin." Garak reached for the few objects and tucked them back where they had been stored. "A stimulant. For when you've been sewing too long but the dress has to be finished by morning."

"Of course," Julian agreed. Then looked back at his own shoe. "So what do I put in mine?"

Getting up, Garak looked around the room, then went over to a door which opened to a drawered cabinet, and opened the bottom drawer, brushing through the miscellaneous clutter and emerging with a dented Starfleet emblem. "These old communicators had an on/off switch, as I remember. Make sure it's turned off and that the power source is good, then put that in the heel."

After handing the device to Julian, who had followed, Garak looked around then brightened and went over to the desk, Julian following again. Examining a tiny magnifying lens Garak suddenly twisted and broke it. Ignoring Julian's startled cry, Garak kept only the plastic lens and sorted again through the most frequently used miniature tools. Triumphantly he lifted up a simple piece of wire. "This is very rigid, but can be flattened at the end to make a most useful screwdriver. Sharpen the other end and it can be very useful, too."

"Illumination?" Julian reminded him.

"Ah, yes." Garak agreed. "Your eyes will dark adapt, so you don't need much light." Looking around, he pounced on a round disk. "This will be perfect. It doesn't give off much of a glow when you take off the plastic shielding and expose it to air but, then, you don't need much. And there's still room available in all the compartments if you should come across something else that is absolutely essential." At Julian's skeptical look, Garak added, "Trust me."

Julian shook his head and sighed. "I always seem to, don't I."

They smiled at one another. "Against your better judgment, I'm sure, and against your best interests, I'm afraid," Garak agreed. He broke the mood. "Now, leave all that and come and join me in this excellent brandy. You haven't had nearly enough."

"You're trying to get me drunk, aren't you?" Julian said as they settled back on the sofa, and he took the proffered glass, sipping cautiously.

"Would it do me any good?" Garak asked hopefully.

"Not in the long run, so I shouldn't think the short run advantages would be worth it,"

"Probably not," sadly agreed Garak.

"By the way, thank you for the nightshirt, and for Kukalaka's, as well. It wasn't necessary, but I appreciate it. And he looks much better with his seams repaired."

"I thought you might want to keep that first repair," Garak said, concerned that he should have repaired that, as well.

"He wouldn't have been the same old friend, so thanks for not fixing it."

Reassured, Garak leaned back and, for awhile, the two sat in silence, watching each other and feeling the liquor's warmth spread through their bodies. Garak could see the small changes that showed the liquor was having its effect on the man. The body that had sat so upright was now slowly slumped against the pillow and it was easy to imagine that beautiful body spread out and naked before him.

As he stared at Julian's groin, he realized that the material was tightening, a significant bulge prominently growing. The sudden hope that the long, slow seduction might be finally having an effect was dashed as he looked up to Julian's face and noted the small smile and the slightly glazed over expression. Apparently he wasn't the only one to enjoy sexual fantasies, though Garak would have wagered that Julian's mental companion was not the man's match in strength or gender.

The fantasy apparently finished, Julian refocused his attention and demanded for the hundredth time, "Teach me the Vulcan touching technique."

A wave of jealousy flooded Garak's body. He let it subside. "No more after effects?" Garak asked, pointedly ignoring Julian's groin and the undoubted purpose of his request. "I've talked with a few friends and, as far as anyone has heard, your reaction is unique." He added, with a leer, "If you'd like to roll over, we can perform our own experiment to see if the problem still exists."

Ignoring Garak's insinuations, Julian got up and stood over him, swaying slightly from the easily underestimated potent drink. "Take off your tunic."

"Gladly, but why?"

"Because this is getting ridiculous. There's nothing to be afraid of. You know that you would be able to keep control doing it to me now that you recognize the problem, so are you afraid that I'll drive you out of your mind and you won't be able to stop yourself if I do it to you?"

Garak's voice was soft, but tinged with an edge of danger. "So you want to excite me. Can I assume that means that you've finally come around to accepting that you're attracted to me?"

Julian ignored the tone and stayed squarely where he was. "No, but you can assume that, as a scientist, I can't let a chance go by to learn about something that isn't in the literature."

"And what if I can't control myself again?" Garak asked, pointedly looking the slim body up and down.

"I'm a doctor, dammit. I know how to handle situations like this."

Garak got up, pushing past Julian and landing him on the sofa in the process. He looked back. "You expect the person who is attracted to you - whether or not you're attracted to him - to teach you how to excite your female companions. Is this really about science, Doctor, or is it about becoming a better lay?" Before Julian could respond, Garak had stormed out.

"It's not like you're in love with me, Garak," Julian called after him. "And you forgot your shoes."

**********

"And if you're not completely satisfied, I expect you to let me know."

The elderly woman leaving the shop in a dress at least ten years too young for her was evidently taking Garak's repartee as flirting, and giggled as she swayed out of the shop. Julian stepped forward from behind a table of fabrics and watched her go. "Wasn't that cruel?"

"Not at all," Garak said, beginning to put away the fabrics and dresses that the sale had ended up leaving around the shop. "She's as young as that dress makes her feel." Checking the hem of one skirt to make sure it hadn't loosened, he admonished Julian. "I would think that you, Doctor, as a physician of the body, would consider nurturing the soul to be just as important."

A quick smile was his only reply as Julian picked up a fashion magazine and spun through the computer images. Garak unconsciously shook his head. They might have the occasional spat, but they always seemed to drift back together. In apology of their last, Julian had brought him a holobook of early Earth poetry. Garak had not mentioned that he had already read it, but read it again and the resulting literary discussion had smoothed over any remaining awkwardnesses.

But Garak could tell that the good doctor's attention was still wandering. Garak had begun experimenting with touching the man more. A slap on the back, a comforting caress on the shoulder. Sometimes he could even imagine that Julian was beginning to lean into his touches. Perhaps the man was not even aware that he was enjoying the growing intimacy, but Garak certainly was. What they needed was more time alone. But there was a restlessness in Julian that made Garak worry that their uneventful life was boring the good doctor. Perhaps it was time to step up the slow motion seduction. Perhaps he should talk to Quark about holosuite programs.

Glancing over to the still silent man, Garak noticed that he was absorbed in a brochure Garak had left on the counter. "It should be a memorable performance," Garak's sigh must have been loud enough to draw Julian's attention, the man looking up. "Janton hasn't been off Cardassia in, oh, twenty years. This is supposed to be the last concert on his farewell tour." Shaking his head with a small smile, Garak folded fabrics into neat piles, then paused at a memory. "I saw him when I was ten years old. It was one of the few times my father ever took me with him, but the friend he was going with had cancelled at the last minute. It was absolute magic," he sighed, remembering, then briskly returned to his straightening.

"Are you going?" Julian asked, still reading.

"Oh, if I only could but, alas, it's on Deleb, as you can see, and that is a bit close to Cardassean territory."

Julian looked up. "But you're only banned from Cardassia, aren't you? This should be fine."

"If I don't mind that being the last thing I ever hear, perhaps. I'm afraid, my dear Doctor, that there is something of a price on my head should I ever decide to leave this station. And so you are guaranteed to have me available into the indefinite future for an endless series of totally mediocre lunches."

"I thought you said your father had you exiled. Who put a price on your head?" Julian asked, his interest fully aroused. At a look from Garak, he asked in amazement, "Not your father?"

"Probably not directly," Garak admitted, "but I'm sure he could have stopped it if he had wanted." Carrying the pile of fabrics to a back table, he threw over his shoulder, "Don't let it bother you. I don't."

Putting down the brochure, Julian followed him. "Well, it does bother me." He brightened. "What would you think of our going to the concert together?" Enthusiasm bubbled in his voice. "I could get a runabout, I'm sure, and we could disguise you."

"As an Andorian," Garak suggested, sarcastically.

"Or a Klingon, or a Romulan, or a Vulcan. They're all easy for a surgeon of my superior abilities. Leave it to me," Julian said, his voice filled with excitement.

Perhaps there really was a fate, and perhaps that fate had just lain opportunity in front of him, Garak thought. He shouldn't leave the station. He knew that. It was crazy and it was a lot more dangerous than this kind and good man who liked to play with imaginary dangers could ever imagine. But who was Garak to turn his back on a gift that smiled and offered itself so trustingly to him. Another sigh, this one loud in artificial capitulation. "Not a Klingon."

Julian laughed in happy triumph and agreed. "Not a Klingon."

**********

"You're sure you can undo this?" Garak asked, as he inspected his new blue face in a shop window as they passed. Tossing his head, he watched the antenna bob.

"Every mole and every ridge right back where it was," Julian assured him.

Garak couldn't stop himself from running fingertips over strangely ridge-free skin. It was as if someone had sculpted an artistic distortion of himself. Absolutely fascinating, but continuously startling. Though there was something about the white hair that he did like. Only on the very young, and still rebellious, had Garak ever seen anything other than the dark Cardassian hair and he couldn't help catching a glance in windows whenever he could. Maybe he could get Julian to capture an image as a souvenir. But then he'd probably always be annoyed by the clash of red suit, blue skin and white hair.

"There was nothing in my wardrobe to go with blue," Garak complained yet again. "This red clashed, and the green was just insipid. If we had had time I would have made something up in a light brown."

"Who cares what you're wearing. We came for the music not the fashion show. Did you notice how Janton embroidered the theme of the second piece at least six times in the space of just seven minutes? His fingering was perfection."

"That's one of his most popular works. I have four different live recordings you might want to hear when we get back." Garak added, enlarging on Julian's point and temporarily distracted from the passing images of his dancing cranial decoration.

Without thinking, Garak linked arms with Julian as they argued some obscure chromatic point. But Julian's stiffening made him realize what he'd done. He could have pulled away. He could have apologized but, instead, he met Julian's eyes and smiled. "There's not a soul on this planet you'll ever see again. Enjoy it." A moment, and then Julian's body relaxed. A slight squeeze to Garak's arm in his and a large squeeze to Garak's heart. What an absolutely beautiful night, Garak thought, wishing he had a singing voice so he could repeat one particular chorus that they'd just heard at the top of his lungs. A most beautiful night.

The crowds around them were just thinning out when Garak found himself itching with that sense that someone was watching him. Directing their meandering stroll closer to the shelter of the storefronts, one side covered, Garak scanned the area for something that might explain what he was feeling. "Julian?"

Julian's enthusing died at the serious tone in Garak's voice. "What?"

"Do you see anyone who might be standing around, someone whose behavior is at odds with what you'd expect?" As Julian's head jerked around, Garak tightened the grip on his arm. "With some subtlety, if you please."

"Is this one of your little games, Garak?" Julian asked, but his head movement was more restrained and there was a tension in his body that hadn't been there before.

"I told you there was a price on me," Garak reminded him.

"On a Cardassian, Garak. Not on an Andorian. How could anyone know?"

"All I can tell you is that my instincts are screaming that we're going to be in trouble very soon." Garak laughed as though Julian had said something funny and asked, softly, "Did you notice anything unusual when we came through customs?"

"No," Julian said definitively, changing immediately to "Maybe." followed by a triumphant, "Yes! They were using a new version of scanner that I've read something about recently." He became very serious as he remembered. "It can recognize originating DNA. If anything set it off and an alarm was sounded..."

Garak nodded. "We've been here for hours. More than enough time for the word to go out and some bounty hunters to show up."

"I'm sorry, Garak. I didn't mean to get you into trouble."

"Us in trouble," Garak corrected. "You enjoy a little danger, Doctor, I think you're about to get some." And, with that, Garak pulled Julian into a narrow alleyway and slammed him against the wall as he pulled a blaster out from under his tunic.

"How did you get that past customs? This is supposed to be a weapons-restricted planet," Julian gasped, pulling out a similar one.

Laughing, Garak waved his phaser. "Scanner-proof alloy. Yours?"

"The same," Julian agreed. "We should confer more on weaponry. Maybe you could get us a better price for volume."

Just then, a phaser beam split the alley darkness. Garak and Julian instinctively moved back to back and Garak shot at a shadow which had appeared in the alley way illuminated by the street lights beyond. A scream said one danger was down. Police sirens split the night and shadows raced in both directions past the opening. Then there was a sound of more phaser blasts. Garak pulled Julian with him as he ran a few doors down, then ducked behind some empty packing cases that had been left at the back door of a shop. Handing Julian his phaser, Garak pulled the cases close around the door to completely block it - and them - in, making it appear that the boxes rested against an empty wall. He took back his phaser.

"Shouldn't we get out of here?" Julian whispered into the ear pressed close against his mouth. Garak's answer was a hard kiss. At the sound of running feet going past, and several more phaser blasts, one of which had, by the smell, singed one of their shielding boxes, Julian stopped struggling. There was a momentary silence, and then Garak felt the man begin to return the kiss. Adrenaline burned through them both and the kiss deepened. Hips ground together until they were both hard and panting for breath. The sound of returning steps froze them in place. Garak pulled his lips away to whisper. "Now we should be going." Then leaned in for another kiss that ended in grins from both that could be felt in the darkness, if not seen. As Garak suddenly stooped down, Julian whispered in panic, "Not now, Garak!" But Garak just stood up again, leaned against Julian and, reaching around, felt for the door lock. In just a moment the door opened and they fell into a dark storeroom. Garak quickly closed the door. "That flattened wire in your shoe could have opened it, too," Garak told him. One more hard kiss with hands gripping butts, and they ran together toward the front of the store.

**********

If Garak had thought that anything had been settled in the back of that shop, he found himself sadly mistaken. Julian concentrated on the mechanics of driving the runabout and every time Julian seemed to have a moment free, he needed to go over to check out some system or device. Getting the message, Garak had retreated to his seat and waited for the endless ride to be over.

A hurried trip to sickbay and the Andorian had disappeared, leaving Garak to emerge, with some relief, in his original form. Julian had been business-like throughout the medical procedure, and had given him an injection that he explained would help Garak sleep and suggested, rather strongly, that Garak hurry to his quarters before he collapsed in a corridor.

Garak hadn't seen the doctor in the two days since. And now there he was, walking down the promenade with a buxum brunette clasped tight against his hip. Judging by the direction in which they were hurrying, they were headed for the turbolift that went to officers' quarters. Slowly Garak walked back into the shop and pressed the button to close the gate. He had some accounts he needed to finish and they'd concentrate his mind enough so that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have to think about what was going to be happening on that double bed with the greenish sheets, beneath the fake stained glass light. What a shame that his implant couldn't be cranked up any higher. This would be the perfect night for achieving oblivion.

**********

"Are my pants ready yet?"

At the sound of the voice from over his shoulder, Garak froze. Four weeks. Four lonely, miserable weeks since the doctor had disappeared from his world without a word. And now here he was. It was a moment before Garak could turn around. "Since you haven't ordered any, Doctor, they aren't. But I have several pairs that are close enough to your size that they would take only minor adjustments to fit you. Would you like to see them?"

"I was wondering if you're free for lunch. It's been a while."

"Your lady friend stand you up?" Garak asked, turning back to gather up the hemming he'd been about to start, and so that the trembling in his hands wouldn't show to his observant former friend.

"She left yesterday. Business and vacation over and back to Delem. I'm free now."

"How sad for you, Doctor. Unfortunately, I'm not."

There was silence and then Julian asked, "I do need pants. Would you measure me?"

Garak froze again. Slowly he turned, stiff hands clenching fabric. "What are you playing at, Doctor? What do you want from me?"

"I missed our lunches, and I thought you might miss our game."

"Our game!" Unconsciously Garak ripped the fabric he was holding. "I suppose it was an amusing game." Following a moment of shocked silence, the viciousness in Garak's voice gave way to controlled sarcasm. "How clever of you to have seen through it. Did you find it diverting? I assure you that I did." Seeming to suddenly realize what he'd done to the fabric, Garak shook his head. "Such fragile materials. I really have to speak to my supplier. I assure you that I will be very stern in demanding a refund for such defective material."

"Garak, please."

"No, really. It's too much to let someone get away with such shoddy business practices. Just ask Quark. He'll tell you how important it is to follow the rules."

"Garak!" Julian reached out a hand, wrist turned up. "I'm sorry."

The silent reminder stopped Garak, who just stared at the hand as if he'd never seen one before. Finally he asked, "And you want me to forgive you?"

"I forgave you," Julian reminded him.

Forgiveness. The word represented the deepest desire of Garak's soul - the washing clean of past sins. A gift, freely given. Garak had asked and Julian had given, with no conditions on the gift. If Garak were to deserve forgiveness, then how could he withhold it? How was he ever to purge the past from his soul if he hadn't learned anything from the man standing before him? Who would ever forgive him again if Garak couldn't forgive in his turn?

Closing his eyes, Garak took a deep breath. After a moment, he opened them and smiled at his friend and restarted their initial conversation. "So, you need pants. Quite true. Those are sadly out of fashion. I presume you're looking for something that could be worn anywhere."

Julian's smile would have lit a dark room. "Actually, something for lounging in my quarters would be perfect. I'm so rarely out of uniform."

"I think I know just the thing. Something that goes well with your sofa, perhaps?" They both laughed and Julian pulled Garak into a hug, Garak being careful to exert just the right amount of pressure to keep Julian comfortable. They pulled apart. "Just let me close up and then lunch would be fine." Garak paused. "But first I think I'll check the dressing rooms," he said with a small smile. Julian laughed out loud.

**********

Their normal table had been free on Quark's second floor, the surrounding noise giving them a sense of isolation. Their interactions had become almost natural again, but underneath could still be felt a constraint that hadn't been there in the past. Julian was the one to attempt to break through that barrier. "I haven't been honest."

"That seems only fair, Doctor. I rarely am with you."

"Our kisses scared me."

"I know," Garak said quietly.

"I'm not attracted to you, but I was ready to have sex with an Andorian male on the floor of that shop. That's not how I think of myself."

"You object to casual sex?" Garak's eye ridge lifted in silent reference to Julian's month-long companion. "Was it my being male, or my being blue, perhaps?"

"Stop joking around, Garak. You know that sex with you wouldn't be casual." There was no accusation. It was the simplest statement of fact.

Garak dropped his eyes to the table top and picked up a spoon to stir the remains of his lunch. "I really try not to be all that obvious."

"Then maybe you should have taken up with someone else over the past month," Julian suggested.

Garak nodded his head in reluctant agreement. "That would have been sensible." Slowly he added, as if to himself, "If it was only a game."

Julian's eyes followed a nearby waiter, then dropped to the plate where Garak's leftover stew now formed a tall and sharp peak. Eventually he sighed and looked directly at Garak. "I shouldn't have come to your shop. I don't want to hurt you, Garak, but you know I'm going to."

"My dear doctor, I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I'm not some delicate thing that requires your skilled medical care. I see a relationship with you as worth the risk."

"Is it possible for us to have a friendship without sex?"

As much as Garak wanted to say yes for Julian's sake, he found himself shaking his head no. Sex wasn't some emotionless coupling. In many cultures it was a spiritual path, and that was what Garak suddenly realized he wanted - the intimacy, the sharing that made two bodies into one, that drove friendship to a level deeper than bodies drove each other physically. Only in the closeness of sex with this man would he be able to reach that melding that would mean he wasn't alone. And no matter how many times Julian said he didn't want to want him, what they had found together in that dark alley wasn't the scratching of the adrenaline itch of danger. The only reason Julian would fear their kisses was because they could come to mean too much.

"Then that's that," Julian said with resignation and started to rise.

Garak reached out to hold him back. "Julian, couldn't you try to have a relationship with me?" Garak's hand pressed tighter. "What have all your other affairs been - enjoyable interludes? Short term passion? Haven't you ever wanted something more? Something that could be written in the very stars your poets write about? How do you know that that isn't us? Until you give us a real chance isn't it possible that you're passing by something you'll always regret? Isn't it worth a little danger and discomfort to find out?"

Julian shook his head, but still he sat back down and leaned toward Garak. "I can't just jump into your bed. I don't think I'm wired that way, Garak. And, even if I could, I lose the chance for a normal family someday."

"You're assuming that we live long enough to have those families, aren't you? I don't know about you, Doctor, but I've never planned that far ahead."

"Well, maybe you should have, Garak. I've just gotten here. This could turn out to be a completely uneventful tour of duty and then I really will have to worry about the future."

"Somehow I'm not as hopeful on that as you seem to be. But be that as it may..." Garak shrugged. "Let's leave the future to tomorrow. It's now we need to settle."

"Don't you understand, Garak, I'm just not ready for commitments longer than a month."

"Then a month it is. Give me one month to see if you can find something in us that you're not expecting. It's dangerous to your self-esteem, I understand that, but one month out of your life..."

There was a hesitation in Julian's face and Garak rushed on before the doctor could fix his reply in concrete. "If it doesn't work out, it's just casual sex. But if it does..." Garak's smile promised the world. "We'll go back to basics. Pretend we're both virgins and just fumble around until you become comfortable." Julian laughed. "I won't push you into anything you don't want," Garak insisted. "All I ask is that you give us a good try. Just us," he emphasized.

That brought Julian's eyes up to meet his. "Faithfulness, but no sex?"

"Faithfulness, and sex whenever you're ready for it."

"I've rather gotten used to sex again," Julian mused.

"And you can still have it anytime you want. And if you aren't ready, then I think you'll find that among my vast store of sexual skills are some truly amazing mastubatory techniques, which I'd be more than happy to share with you."

Julian stared at him for a moment, then put his head down next to his plate and started laughing uncontrollably. Garak's mouth began to tremble and then he, too, began laughing. As the diners at the neighboring tables looked over, the two tried to pull themselves together.

"I have so missed you, Garak."

"And I you, Doctor."

**********

A week and a half of teenaged fumbling had left Julian more frustrated than he could have imagined. Garak did attract him, though he'd never let Garak know, but in some way Julian realized he was also - not repelled - but disturbed by Garak. It was as though Julian would be betraying his own character if he gave in and let himself enjoy the body of another man. And so, while he did let Garak use hands on him to amazingly intense result, he never let Garak finish him off and, while Garak worked, Julian let himself imagine those hands belonging to a beautiful redhead. It had been touch and go more than a few times but he found he somehow liked getting so close and then stopping. Garak, of course, was going insane. But since the game had been the Cardassian's to start, Julian's sympathy was distinctly limited.

He could have finished himself off, of course. And sometimes he did bring himself close. Early in the morning when he first woke up, or late at night before falling asleep. He'd start out remembering Kanssy, who'd shared his bed for a very satisfying month, and would find that somewhere between strokes his fantasies had moved on to a solidly built and rather dangerous man, with a body that could take a full strength sexual assault and give back as good as it got. Once he would realize the way his thoughts were drifting, Julian would stop and just grind his teeth against the frustration.

Today he was leaning on a familiar bar, listening to Morn, on the next stool, tell a story to a newcomer to Quark's that Julian had already heard at least three times. It seemed the right place to bring one's frustrations to see if they could be drowned in a bottle of brandy.

"Doctor! We haven't seen you here for over a week. Or that very lovely friend of yours. You're still together, I hope." The professional bartender's sincere interest in his customers, and their commerce, pulled Julian out of his misery.

"She's gone home, I'm afraid. I am, as you see me - a lonely man again."

"But not for long, I'm sure," Quark assured him, glancing around the bar, then turning back. "There are four women in here right this very minute that I've seen giving you the eye at one time or other. I'll point them out to you and you can choose one, then have me send her a glass of our very best brandy," Quark looked contemptuously at the cheap brand Julian was drinking. "I'm sure that you'll have a warm bedmate within the hour."

As Quark started to turn to do this, Julian reached out to stop him. "Not tonight, Quark. There really should be some mourning period between lovers."

"Certainly," agreed Quark. "Half an hour seems about right. Now do you see that blonde in the corner..."

"Quark," Julian said firmly, "For the time being, you see before you a celibate man. No blondes, no brunettes, not even a redhead."

"No blondes?" Quark asked in horror.

"No blondes," Julian confirmed.

"Well, if you change your mind, Doctor, just give me a wave and I'll have a woman in your arms before you forget what to do with one." An idea came to him. "Of course, if you're determined to ignore my lovely customers, I'm sure that I could find a holosuite program that would satisfy your every fantasy until you're ready to jump back into someone's real bed. Do you like cowboys, Doctor? I've got a program with a cowgirl and a sheriff that..."

"Enough, Quark," Julian said, stopping him. "No women. No holosuite. Just your brandy."

"Up to you, Doctor. But if I were you," he added confidentially, "I'd try the better stuff. What you're drinking has just a trace of aphrodisiac and you're going to end up really regretting that later tonight if you're serious about going home alone." And with that, Quark left.

For a moment, Julian stared at his glass, then put it down and got unsteadily to his feet. As he made his way out, Odo wandered over to where Quark was pouring a drink and leaned across the bar so he could say in a low voice, "The doctor doesn't usually get that drunk. Know what's up?"

"Just lack of women troubles. Actually," Quark said, leaning an elbow on the bar, "I'll bet he's also having some Garak problems. Have you noticed that it's been quite a while since those two have been in together. For a while it seemed you wouldn't see one without the other."

"Interesting," Odo said, looking toward the door through which Julian had disappeared.

**********

"I hate to tell any good customer that they've had enough, Garak, but I think you'd better call it a night."

"But, barkeep, I've barely started celebrating," Garak said, hugging his glass to his chest.

"Celebrating what? Maybe I'll join you," Quark suggested with unfeigned interest.

"Hope. Optimism. The triumph of possibilities." Garak held out his glass. "And, of course, this very excellent kanar."

Refilling the glass, Quark tried again. "You're not making any sense. Possibilities of what?"

Garak leaned forward, confidingly. "If I told you that, I'd have to kill you." Giggling at Quark's horrified expression, Garak remained inscrutible. "Let me just say that this week is turning out to be much better than it started." He repeated the words with satisfaction, if not with great sobriety. "Much better."

"That's good, Garak. Business picking up? I've been thinking of dropping in for a new suit. Something a bit more dramatic maybe this time. It never hurts to promote a successful image when you want people to see a prosperous business."

"Very astute," Garak agreed, squinting his eyes as though to see Quark in his new raiments. "Yes, I'm sure we could come up with something that would lend a certain cachet to this establishment."

"Good," said Quark, pleased. "I'd been thinking of something in red..."

Garak interrupted. "Too early in the process. Let the materials lead the design. I'm sure you'll be very pleased."

As Garak started to rise from his stool, his glass now empty, Quark casually mentioned, "Saw your friend in here earlier. I have to say he seemed a bit down. And why shouldn't he be, with that beautiful girl gone from the station."

"That beautiful girl," Garak repeated, "was of no importance at all. Merely a temporary dalliance."

"That's just what I told him!" Quark agreed. "But he actually said that he's giving up women. Can you believe that?"

A pleased smile spread across Garak's face. "Did he say that? Well, it's probably for the best. New posting. New interests to take up his time." Taking a piece of latnium out of his pocket, Garak laid it on the bar. "May I say again how much I enjoy your exceptionally fine establishment." And with that he was gone.

Quark caught Odo's eye and the changeling nodded.

**********

The hallway seemed unusually dark as Garak wound his way to 901, Habitat Level H3. When his fellow Cardassians had left the station, they had destroyed far too much in their wake. Now you never knew what was going to be working and what wasn't. Or for how long. Garak could only hope that the replicator in his quarters wouldn't be offline again. Except for lunch, Garak took most of his meals on the small table in front of it, and it would wreck his schedule - and budget - if he had to take all of his meals at the Replimat.

"Wait up, Garak," a voice called from behind him.

Extraordinarily pleased, Garak turned. "Doctor! I didn't expect to see you again so soon. Didn't you say you had some early morning examinations?"

"I had something I wanted to tell you, but now I can't remember what it was." The strangely blurred figure made Garak rub his eyes. "Maybe you remember what we were talking about?"

"Lunch tomorrow?" "No." "Your coming trip to the research conference?" "No." "Palatir's second novel? The one that you didn't want to borrow?" "No."

A glow of mischief rose in Garak. Leaning forward, he asked, "Maybe this?" And kissed Julian on the mouth, pushing his lips apart and moving his tongue deeply into the warm wetness. The body he held stiffened, and Garak started to reach a hand down to see what else might share that characteristic when his wrist was clutched in a grip of iron. With a strange fluidity, Garak found the lips he was kissing change and he discovered himself kissing Odo. The two sprung apart and stared at one another in horror.

Garak recovered first, his head completely free from its previous alcoholic stupor. "I've always wondered how you kept so well informed on station matters."

"My apologies," Odo said, still embarrassed and not quite sure what should happen next.

"Could I perhaps suggest that this conversation stay between us?" Garak asked, attempting to act as if kissing the changeling was the most natural thing in the world. "It doesn't show either of us off to advantage."

Odo nodded. "Agreed. And, again, my apologies. I think we can consider this entire exchange to have never happened."

"My thought exactly." With a slight nod of the head, the two men turned their backs and strode swiftly away in opposite directions. When Garak had turned the corner of the corridor, he leaned against the wall and quietly laughed. He didn't think Julian needed to hear anything about this little adventure. Around him, the lights brightened and Garak laughed aloud as he continued on to his quarters.

**********

The air was cold and thin, the rocks rough and catching on the cloth of his pants. He'd try brushing the dirt off again, but there was so much loose gravel that Garak knew he'd be spending all his time swatting the cloth and that would just use up more of his limited energy. Julian was at least twelve feet above him and moving as smoothly and confidently as he had when they'd started this ridiculous climb forty-five minutes ago. If he weren't getting an excellent view of the man from below he'd be tempted to stop right here. Garak did stop and put his head down on a rock that felt surprisingly comfortable.

It was a week ago that Julian had started these exercise sessions, as he called them. It had started with racketball. Once they'd picked Garak off the holosuite floor, they'd mutually agreed that Garak was not going give Julian any sort of a worthwhile game. And while Julian might have looked amazing in the racketball outfit Garak had designed, the sleek fabric complimenting the sleek body, Garak knew that he, himself, showed to better advantage in more roughly textured cloth, such as what he was wearing now. He looked down miserably at the once brightly colored design, dark and grey with dust, and sighed.

After the racketball idea had died a well-deserved death, Julian had come up with another idea - fencing. Garak had loved the costumes, the formalities, the potential violence. What he hadn't liked was not getting a blade anywhere near Julian. The man was everywhere and nowhere. While Garak's blade slashed air, Julian's had played a rhythm on Garak's steel. Even after Julian had rather obviously restrained his superior skills, the only hits Garak could make were ones that made him feel as if Julian was standing still and waiting for his thrusts out of pity. That exercise, too, had been given up.

So here they were on a holosuite mountain, with the virtual ground lost far below some clouds, meaning he didn't even have the advantage of enjoying a distant view. He knew he was standing on the ground, but his strained muscles were strongly telling him that he was about to die a horrible death if he loosened his grip on the peyton Julian had installed just for him.

"Julian, I can't go on. Please end this program before I do it for you. All I want is a drink and a bath. In that order. Julian!"

A scramble of small stones and Julian suddenly appeared at his side. "What's wrong?"

"I'm dirty. I'm exhausted. And I want to get off the side of this damned mountain." Steeling his heart against Julian's obvious disappointment, Garak continued, "I'm a few years older than you and this body of mine, while more than adequate for everything I choose to do to it, is just not up to the cold and thin air."

"Computer, raise temperature forty degrees and increase oxygen by thirty-five percent," the doctor ordered.

Garak pulled the balmy air deeply into his lungs, closing his eyes and basking in returning warmth. "Thank you," he breathed sincerely.

"Do you think you could keep going for another five minutes? There's a rather wide ledge just a little higher where I was planning to have us stop for a long break. There's food and even an air mattress for your tired bones," Julian assured him. "There's Paravian Stew, which you know you love, four different Earth apple pastas, and what's left of the brandy that you left in my quarters that time," Julian continued, encouragingly. "Just five minutes more and you get your reward."

"Five minutes?"

"Five minutes."

"Brandy? And an air mattress?"

"Brandy and an air mattress. Can you do it?" Julian asked, freeing a hand to put on Garak's shoulder.

Responding to the hopeful expression on Julian's face, Garak nodded. "I can do five minutes." Julian patted his shoulder and reclimbed the distance he had backtracked. Struck by a thought, Garak called out, "How did all that get up there?"

"I trekked it in when I tried out the route this morning," Julian called down.

Garak rested his head back on the rock before taking a deep breath of the warm air and starting to climb again.

The five minutes were more like ten but, when he reached the promised ledge, Garak found Julian setting an actual feast in place next to a wonderfully thick bed. As Garak settled his trembling limbs onto the softness, Julian handed him a large glass of fruit juice. "Brandy," Garak had enough strength to demand.

"After the fruit juice," Julian insisted. "This has exactly the right balance of electrolytes for your Cardassian physiology after the exercise you've had. Drink up," he encouraged, waving the glass. Obediently, Garak took it and drank it down, letting the glass fall next to the bed. "Computer, clear away the clouds," Julian commanded, and a magnificent vista appeared beyond their feet. He smiled at Garak, who was closing his eyes. "Don't fall asleep yet," Julian said, shaking his friend. "You need to eat to keep up your strength. "Brandy," he bribed.

With a groan, Garak sat up and took the small cup Julian was filling. His eyes drank in the view before he even thought to sip the drink. "It's wonderful."

"It is, isn't it," Julian said in satisfaction, pouring himself a smaller one and settling himself against Garak on the mattress. "You never did any climbing when you were young, did you?"

Garak shook his head, enjoying the warmth of liquor and friend. "When I would have been old enough, I was deep into my studies. Vacations at school were just different study trips, always with the purpose of immersing ourselves in some new language or culture. Never to simply enjoy the experience."

"What about vacations with your family?" Julian asked.

Garak could feel himself tightening and purposely relaxed his muscles. "Mother died when I was young, and father was too busy for vacations. I stayed with a housekeeper, but we would go on occasional day trips." He smiled, remembering. "She was very fond of me."

"I'm sure your father was, as well," Julian said, looking over when Garak couldn't control his stiffening.

Garak sat up, metaphorically brushing off the discomfort of their conversation. "You mentioned Paravian Stew. I'm starved. Exercise does do wonders for your appetite. Between the muscles I'm going to develop and this good food, I'm going to have to create an entirely new wardrobe for myself." With a slight hesitation, Julian followed Garak's lead and the discussion turned to food and restaurants.

They woke several hours later, lulled to sleep by warm air and good food. Garak looked down at Julian who had ended up curled into his arms. As always, he found himself wondering at the beauty of the man. As a child, Garak had been attracted to art and aesthetics. Never had he thought to hold art like this. His slight movement must have disturbed the sleeping man because Julian stirred and opened his eyes. Surprised for a moment, then comfortable with the situation, Julian's body relaxed and snuggled a little closer. Garak's smile deepened into a broad grin. Perhaps mountain climbing wasn't so bad after all.

"What time is it?" Julian asked.

"We both have a body clock," Garak reminded him. "You tell me."

"20:35," Julian stated confidently. "We should turn the day back and climb down soon. I've got a meeting tomorrow morning."

"It would be more efficient to sleep here," Garak suggested, receiving a head shake in reply.

Julian lay watching the simulated sky, as a simulated shooting star blazed across the dome. "Vulcan touch technique," he asked once again. Garak shook his head as the now familiar game played out. "Why do we have to wait? We've tried just about everything else." At a raised eye ridge, Julian modified that. "You touch me. I touch you. Surely we can add NOT touching to that."

"And you're ready for me to penetrate you if I lose control?" The answer was clear enough, even in the dim light. "Let me know when you are, and I'll show you just what a "10" can do."

"You must have studied some other cultural habits that I don't know about, Garak."

"Probably," Garak admitted, pondering the question. "Aldebaran kissing?" he asked innocently.

"Gag!" Julian burst out, both of them laughing. "Do they really do that?"

"I haven't the slightest idea," Garak confessed. Reluctant to leave, they lay quietly, enjoying the sense of being suspended among stars that they seldom even noticed anymore. There had been another night like this once, Garak remembered. A chuckle landed an inquiring elbow into his side. "I was thinking about this Andorian tongue technique, and how very much I'm going to enjoy showing it to you in the, hopefully, not too distant future."

"Same problem?" Julian asked lazily.

"Oh, yes!" Garak confirmed with a smile in his voice. "You know that problem Andorians have with premature ejaculation," Garak asked. At Julian's nod, which Garak could feel and only dimly see, Garak explained, "The temple system developed a technique to slow down sex so that a healthy Andorian male could have sex for up to three hours. It was so popular that temple priesthood skyrocketed and the population decreased so precipitously that it was outlawed."

"Fascinating," Julian said rising up to sit crosslegged on the mattress.

"It was extremely popular within a certain spy organization for decades."

"And you were part of this organization?" Julian asked.

"Of course not," Garak told him. "It was just something I was taught by a grateful customer. And whether he was part of that insidious organization I would, of course, have no way of knowing."

"Of course," repeated Julian. He lay back down. "Very frustrating." "I suppose you could describe the process in great detail," Julian mused while two shooting stars criss-crossed overhead.

"Pervert," was Garak's laughing reply.

For the next five minutes they just lay there, letting the quiet permeate their souls.

Garak's voice broke the silence. "Are you ready to finish it yet?" Into the silence he asked softly, "Maybe now?" There was no response - not positive, but also not negative. Reaching out a hand to find Julian's arm, Garak pulled him very slowly on top of himself. For a long while, Garak simply held Julian so that the man could have broken free at any time. Julian's body was tense and then, suddenly, relaxed and lips descended on Garak's, blocking out any view of the stars that were now forgotten by both men. As Julian began to rub his hips against Garak, Garak stayed passive, unwilling to move more than just to meet those hips in a light rhythm, fearful of changing a decision that he was almost sure Julian had finally made. The sound of Julian's communicator buzzing froze them both in place.

Julian's slap at the badge was the response of a trained physician who answers all communications as potential emergencies. "Bashir here."

"Finally!" The female voice coming thru the tinny speaker caused Julian to pull away, leaving the place where he'd lain on Garak to become suddenly cold. Julian sat up. "Kanssy?"

"Computer, stop program."

Blinded by the sudden illumination and confused by Garak's unexpected command, Julian got to his feet on the now visible holosuite floor and walked over to the wall for a bit of privacy.

"What did you say?" the tinny voice asked.

"Nothing. Is something wrong?" Julian whispered, glancing back to where Garak was efficiently gathering together their abandoned picnic.

"No! Something's right!" Her enthusiasm blasted through the silent room. "Would you believe that the deal I was working on for the magneto chips just came through. My boss is sending me back to the station tomorrow to close the deal. I'm going to be there for at least a week! Can you believe it?"

"No." Julian admitted, hesitantly adding, "Congratulations."

"Well, you don't sound very happy about it, Julie, and it was so hard getting through your answering service. Look, I'll come to sickbay just as soon as my shuttle lands. This is really big. They might want me to stay there and act as contract monitor. I'll tell you all about it then." A confused babel interrupted her, and then Kanssy's voice continued hurriedly. "Look, I have to go. Tomorrow. Ooohhh, I can't wait!" Mouth still open, Julian stood there listening to the sudden silence as the static ended.

When Julian turned away from the wall, he realized that their picnic remains had been neatly organized into a pile, and that even the mattress had been deflated. The only thing missing was Garak. With a sigh, he walked over to the detritis and started to pick things up, belatedly noting that the air mattress's flatness was obviously due to some rather large knife slashes. Sighing, he added it to the jumble in his arms.

**********

A whirlwind invaded the quiet lab where Julian had been working for the last few hours. Since he'd checked arrivals, he'd known when Kanssy was coming, but her enthusiastic entrance still caught him off guard. She threw herself into his arms, ignoring the amused glances of the medical personnel who quickly exited the area. "Oh, Julie, I have missed you so much." The words were demonstrated by a fierce grip and kiss, her arms twined around Julian's neck and unremovable, though he did try. Her hands moved up to grab handfuls of carefully arranged curls, and then Julian did manage to put her away from him, with only a wince showing how good a grip she'd gotten.

"I saw that funny Ferengi - Quark - while I was coming here. He told me he'd have our regular table ready at 20:00." She looked more than a little naughty and pleased. "I told him we might not make it tonight. We had some catching up to do." She was back in his arms, her lips on his as if punctuating every sentence with a kiss.

"Kanssy!" Julian tried to say, but that just opened his mouth, which was instantly invaded by a small, enthusiastic tongue. Pushing her hips away, while her mouth still clung, Julian again tried to get out, "Kanssy!" The kiss ended when the woman wanted it to end, and not a moment sooner. Pulling away she struck a pose, hand on hip, then twirled in joy and pleasure, waiting impatiently. "Well, do you like it?"

It took a moment for Julian to figure out what she meant, then ice water metaphorically poured over his body. "The dress. It's lovely. Old?" he asked hopefully.

Pouting, she ran her hands down the rainbow-hued chiffon. "Brand new. That little store across the way. Did you know that a Cardassian runs the shop? Actually he was very nice. I haven't met one before. Wait! He did tell me to tell you..." Julian's heart seemed to stop as Kanssy searched through her very small memory, brightening to add triumphantly, "...that the material for your pants wasn't available any more and that he wouldn't be able to fill your order. He was very apologetic."

While she beamed at successfully remembering the message, Julian found enough energy to respond with a deadened, "Oh."

**********

"Tarkelian tea, Doctor?" Quark asked unnecessarily, since that was always the doctor's beverage of choice. "Extra sweet," he added, smiling at Kanssy.

"Brandy, Quark," Julian requested instead. "A large one." At Quark's conspiratorial grin, Julian added with emphasis, "The best you have, not your house brand.

"I'll have the same," Kanssy announced, pleased with Julian's extravagance.

"You've got it," Quark agreed and started to leave. He paused and leaned down to Julian's ear. "It goes against my principles, but I do think you're making a mistake not to order our house brand."

Repeating himself, Julian insisted, "The best." Shaking his head at the idiocy of hu-mans, Quark left to make up their order.

"I really don't see why we had to come here now. I had a much better idea of what to eat for dinner." Her glance down at his lap turned Julian's face a slightly ruddier tone.

"I told you, Kanssy, we need to talk."

Ignoring him, Kanssy rose in her chair and waved enthusiastically. Julian glanced around in time to see Garak entering the bar in the company of six and a half feet of hard-muscled Klingon, the man's clothing marking him as a diplomat rather than a warrior. As Julian watched, Garak returned Kanssy's wave with a discrete nod, while the Klingon waved back enthusiastically. Garak's eyes passed over Julian as though he weren't even at the same table but, to Julian's shock, his arm snaked around the Klingon's waist, who seemed to take the gesture as exuberantly as Kanssy would have done, crushing Garak to his side. They continued on to a table on the other side of the room while Julian just sat staring. Eventually, Kanssy's voice broke through. "...some sort of violation of a Tellurian ship..."

Julian interrupted, turning to stare at her. "What are you talking about?"

"Malick! The Klingon over there with the Cardassian dressmaker! I told you. He was on the shuttle with me. He's trying to avoid a war with the Tellurians over - something or other. I forget. Anyway, it's all very important." She clutched Julian's sleeve. "I bet that's his 'friend.'" The quotes couldn't have been more obvious if she had drawn them in the air. Julian's head whipped around again.

"What did he say about his friend?" Julian asked insistently.

Kanssy settled in for a lovely gossip. "Well, they haven't seen each other in just years. But they used to be quite an item. He was planning on surprising him. I guess he did." Getting back to a more important topic, Kanssy asked, "Now what was it you wanted to..."

Grabbing her by the hand, Julian pulled her out of her chair and dragged her over to Garak and Malick's table. Her reluctance disappeared at the wide, smiling welcome she received from the Klingon, who looked Julian up and down with undisguised pleasure. "Your description didn't do him justice, Miss Kent." To Julian he added, "Will you join us?"

His eyes fixed on Garak, who maintained a passive expression, Julian nodded, "With pleasure." He seated himself close beside his would-be lover and, leaving Kanssy the chair beside Malick, said in a low, but stressed, voice, "I tried to find you yesterday."

Garak nodded pleasantly. "I was busy."

Malick glanced at the two and a smile trembled at the corner of his lips, even as he listened politely to Kanssy's praises of Garak's dressmaking skills. "I can see that his tailoring skills are, indeed, exceptional. I've never had the opportunity of having him dress me, I'm afraid." The leer clearly made the unsaid point that Garak would have been far more likely to un-dress him. "But, I can assure you, dressmaking is the least of his skills." he finished. Bending a look of affectionate nostalgia to the modest tailor, Malick leaned over and pressed a kiss on Garak's lips, oblivous to Julian's gasp and Knassy's coo of pleasure. "His truly impressive skills."

As Malick settled back in his seat, Julian rose to his feet and grabbed Garak's arm, throwing at the Klingon, "So I've heard. If you'll excuse us for just a minute, there's something I need to talk to Garak about, now that I've found him." And, without giving Garak time to object, dragged him from the table and to the restrooms in the back. There was only a single occupant, quickly leaving at a glare from Julian, who then blocked anyone else's possible entrance by leaning back against the door, his hand still clamped onto Garak's arm. Garak looked down at the hand but remained silent.

"You weren't in your quarters all night," Julian accused. "I had Odo open your shop and you weren't there. Where were you?"

"Just walking," Garak said without enlarging that bare description.

"What's he doing here? Yes, I heard about some diplomatic mission, but did you arrange to have him come?" At Garak's slight smile, Julian shook the other man for the double entendre. "Yes, I'm sure you could arrange that, too. But what do you think you're doing?"

Garak took a moment to peel Julian's hand off his arm, checking for wrinkles on the fabric. "I assume I'm free of the restrictions we put on our relationship." He met Julian's eyes. "You certainly seem to be."

Without warning, Julian pulled Garak into a tight embrace and kissed him with passion as well as anger. The embrace was immediately returned and they began to struggle against the door, grinding themselves together and breathless in their need. A pressure on the door, and disgruntled knocking, then pounding, did nothing to break them apart. Julian pressed his face against Garak's, rubbing his cheek against the ridges as he imagined those ridges that ran elsewhere down the Cardassian's body. There was no reason, no thought in the storm that was shaking him. There was just need. Julian could feel the pressure building and, this time, he did absolutely nothing to hold it back. When it overtook him, he clasped Garak tightly and held on as the contractions took him over, hardly noticing the convulsions taking place in his arms. At last, their bodies collapsed together, and Julian held on tightly, unwilling to let any distance separate them. Their eyes met and they both began laughing, then kissing, and then clutching each other all over again.

By the time they had straightened their clothes and emerged from the washroom, there was a small line of men glaring at them from in front of the women's room. The glares were not even noticed. In a low voice, Garak said, "Malick stopped by to show me a picture of his newest daughter. He's been married for three years now and it's his fourth girl."

"And if he wasn't married..." Julian asked, his jealousy not quite at rest.

"And I weren't committed?" Garak asked in turn. "Then we'd probably be pounding each other into the mattress in my quarters at this very minute." At Julian's tightened glare, he hurriedly added, "Which we never will again." He pulled Julian to a stop. "You need to get your own affairs in order," he reminded him. Glancing across the room to where Kanssy and Malick were enthusiastically talking over one another, Julian nodded. "And we have a problem," Garak said in sudden horror, looking down at his wet, and obviously stained, pants. A quick glance at Julian showed that it was a problem that they shared.

Reaching out to a passing waiter, Julian snatched two drinks off the tray, smiling his apologies, then splashed one onto Garak while pouring the other down his own front. "Problem solved," he concluded with some pride.

Garak's nose wrinkled as the smell rose. "Next time, you get the synthehol and I get the kanar!"

Their laughter was refreshing. Julian's died away as he looked again toward the chattering couple at the distant table. "I still have something I need to do." Noticing the direction of Julian's gaze, Garak stilled as well and nodded. "I'll wait."

**********

Something brought Garak instantly awake. Motionless, regular in his breathing, he listened, then moved very slowly as he analyzed the change in his environment. His voice shocking in the quiet, he said at normal volume, "Computer, lights up ten percent." Julian was caught in midstep, frozen by the unexpected detection. Casually, as though he always wandered through strange rooms in the dark, Julian continued his movement into the room and came to stand beside the bed. "You take foolish risks," Garak said as he removed the phaser from under his pillow, finger still on the firing mechanism, and put it back under the mattress.

"I'll remember to call first," Julian agreed, lightly running a finger around Garak's eye ridge. He looked around. "So, this is where you live."

Garak leaned onto his elbow and looked around the familiar space. "Do you like it? I did it myself, you know. I thought of having a decorator in but, after all, who knows my taste better than I do."

"I'm glad to see you're using the pillow I gave you," Julian said, the doctor adding, "Is your neck feeling any better?"

Surprised at the realization, Garak answered, "Actually, it is!" and rubbed the area under discussion.

Smiling before turning away, Julian walked over to a closet and opened it. Examining the contents, he threw over his shoulder, "I thought you'd keep your rooms warmer." Garak just shrugged.

A locked box stubborning resisting his shoe pick, Julian glanced back to Garak. "Top desk drawer," Garak said, answering the implied question. Julian was back with the key almost immediately. The container proved to contain some latinum, as well as a very lethal little phaser. "Computer, raise lights forty percent." The command was accompanied by a sympathetic, "You can't really see inside that dark closet with the lights so low."

"Thank you," Julian acknowledged as Garak lay back down, relaxed in a scenario which reversed his own visit to Julian's quarters. Closing the box, Julian put it back. "Odo is going to know that I overrode your security, though he didn't ask any questions when I got him out of bed the night before to search your shop." He paused, before continuing his investigation. "He probably knows what we've been up to anyway."

"Probably," Garak agreed with a small smile.

As Julian looked around the spartan space, Garak pointed at another grid that hid a second closet. Julian nodded and proceeded to perform the same inspection there.

"You're surprisingly good at searching," Garak noted professionally. "I wouldn't have thought it was a useful skill in a physician."

"Spies aren't the only ones who need to be able to go through someone's things. Back when I was an intern, this was something we'd have to do when we had a patient who was an addict and we needed to find his stash."

Head bent over the desk, the doctor missed Garak's noticeable wince. Garak sat up. "Well, luckily, that isn't why you're here. Would you like me to type in my computer password?"

"Wait until I finish here. I'd like to see the password when you type it." The smile Julian threw at Garak was returned by a shouted laugh.

"You know I'll change it."

"Of course," Julian acknowledged, "but I'll enjoy making you do that."

It seemed, Garak thought, that Julian was not only getting even for Garak's first intrusion into Julian's space, but was also taking control of their relationship. It was a different game than he was used to playing, but it did have a spicy edge to it.

It was another five minutes before Julian finished with the desk. Picking up a large computer pad, Julian glanced at Garak, who responded with a recitation of his password. Julian quickly made his way through the files, shocking Garak only when Julian sent copies to himself. "So I can take my time looking through them," Julian explained to Garak's pleasure.

"Can I offer you a drink?" Garak asked. "Perhaps some brandy?"

"No, thank you," Julian replied, head now bent over the labels of holobooks. He glanced up momentarily to request or, perhaps, order, "And I'd rather you not take one yet either."

Smiling, Garak put down the decanter he had just lifted. "Whatever you say, Doctor. It would seem that you're in charge of this little adventure." Julian flashed a smile at him and returned to examining the labels.

Temptation was winning over patience and Garak could feel Julian start as he stepped up behind the man and allowed his erection to find its natural place between the slim hips Garak lightly clasped. Night shirts were so practical. A shiver went through Julian's body and his head rose for an instant before he returned to sorting through the books though, perhaps, with a little less concentration on his task.

"There, that one. I meant to have you borrow it. A classic Cardassian mystery that I'm certain you'll enjoy." A few small thrusts made the point that there were other things yet to enjoy. It was with disappointment Garak found himself pushed back as Julian straightened and pulled away to face him. At least, Garak noted, the book he had mentioned had been left out.

"Next..."

If the doctor was using a clinical attitude to try to make Garak uncomfortable, he was not succeeding. "Me, I would imagine," Garak suggested with a smile. At Julian's nod, Garak said, "Computer, raise the temperature seven degrees." Neatly and quickly, Garak removed his nightshirt and folded it onto a chair, then came to stand before Julian, the rough texture of the carpet pleasant beneath his bare feet.

"Fascinating," Julian muttered as he circled around.

"I like to think so," Garak agreed, smiling and comfortable as Julian continued his examination. "But surely I'm not the first naked Cardassian you've seen."

"The first live one," Julian admitted. "And the autopsies, while thorough enough, were just holo images."

"It's so difficult to obtain Cardassian bodies, now that the war is over."

There was an edge to Garak's voice that drew Julian's attention. "For which we're all grateful," the doctor assured him. Garak nodded, accepting the doctor's oblique apology for the awkwardness of his phrasing. Finally, stepping back for one last overall look, Julian gestured for Garak to lie down. "The table, please." He corrected himself. "I mean the bed." Looking at it critically, he added, "It's very narrow and high."

"But the central location makes the room appear so spacious, don't you think?" Garak lay down, smiling as Julian slowly made his way from the crown of Garak's head down to his feet, and enjoying Julian's scientific examination of his organ, Julian weighing it in his hand before putting it down gently and continuing his exploration. The smile never left Garak's lips.

The pleasant thread of Garak's thoughts broke abruptly as he became aware of the doctor standing looking down at him. "Finished, Doctor?" he asked.

"For now. But it's time to move on to Stage 3."

"Which is?" Garak asked, curiosity evident.

"Ground rules," Julian said with quiet seriousness. "I've just spent a long time thinking about what happened between Kanssy and me. Some of the unpleasantness could have been avoided if we'd been clear and honest with each other before we started." Very slowly, he began stroking Garak's cheek, as if to mitigate what was coming.

"You should know, before we start, that this isn't a happy-ever-after story. I have a long history of short term involvements, and I can't think I'm about to change. I'll be faithful to you while we're together, and I won't insult you by asking the same of you. I know you will be." Julian ran his fingers up the ridges that ran into Garak's ears, leaning down to drop a quick kiss on lips that softly parted in response, and following that up with small kisses to the corners of Garak's mouth, while Garak's eyes never left Julian's.

"When we break up, I'll hurt you. I can only say now that I'm sorry for the pain I'll cause you, but that's the way it will be." He paused to let the words sink in. "This is the time for you to change your mind, if you're going to." Garak swallowed, but nodded and closed his eyes. Julian returned to placing kisses that framed Garak's face, letting his lips glide over the eyes and forehead ridges, and finally ending with a kiss to the oval indentation in the middle of Garak's forehead.

"What you teach me I'll use on other people when we're no longer together," Julian continued inexorably. "But while we are together, you'll always know where we stand. I'll be honest with you and I'll expect honesty from you." Garak's eyes opened again. "Oh, not in the small things. And I'm not saying we won't have secrets from each other. But in the big things..." Again, Garak slowly nodded and let his eyes fall closed again. The kisses resumed, light as puffs of vapor, and there might well have been vapor in the room because some seemed to have condensed in the corners of Garak's eyes.

Increasing the pressure of lips on lips, while simultaneously holding down Garak's forearms, Julian began changing the mood between them. Garak relaxed and let Julian control. Lips moved over ridges and along the chin line, small licks bringing up goosebumps as Julian worked his way around the side, and then back, of Garak's neck. A few nips textured the skin more deeply. Julian followed this up by kisses that explored Garak's chest and then ran lower. By now it took more force to restrain Garak as Julian settled in to licks and nips that circled their intended target, without ever touching it. Then one quick lick to the end of the ridged organ, resulting in a spasm of Garak's body, and Julian straightened, standing quietly until Garak opened his eyes, having no idea what the next play in their game was to be.

Taking Garak's hand, he ran the palm gently over the back of one of his own hands, his eyes never leaving Garak's. "Teach me."

Garak's voice was husky and took a moment to steady. "Do you have any idea how many months it took me to learn the basic techniques? And it was years before I could do it reliably. Let me do it to you. I promise. I won't leave you wanting."

"Teach me." Julian was relentless.

"Are you always going to be this difficult, Doctor?" Garak asked, curiously.

Julian smiled. "No, but I may as well get my way while I can. What you do to me, I do to you."

"Equal and opposite. Action and reaction." Garak nodded approvingly. "You're a very fast learner."

"You have no idea," Julian admitted with a small, secret smile. "Now, teach me." The demand left no room for argument.

"The trick," Garak explained, though he knew the exercise would be futile, "is to become so aware of the skin that you're able to move with the shape of the body. It takes close observation and steady hands but, most of all, it takes an instinct for knowing when you've gotten too far away. Getting too close is obvious," he added, demonstrating by carressing the hand he held.

"Your hand participates in the stimulation, of course, since your instrument is skin, after all, and is at the same distance as that on which you're working. Much less sensitive, of course, because of the lack of body hair. But it's the feedback in your own hand that tells you where you are." Julian nodded.

As Garak talked, he turned Julian's arm over and, tuning the man out, concentrated on the motion he was about to perform. With increased awareness, the contours of the surface anatomy seemed exaggerated, much like time slowing in an emergency. Once started, it wasn't difficult to maintain the proper distance. Old skills had come back. Only a slight trembling, at first, betrayed Julian's reaction, or the man's subsequently regained control, both effects being lost on Garak as he maintained his focus on his own actions. When he felt that he had adequately made his point, Garak pulled his hand away breaking the connection. Aware again, he was surprised to find Julian aware, and not lost in the sensations.

"My turn," Julian announced. While Garak attempted to conceal his amusement, Julian picked a spot on Garak's chest that was free of the ridges. As expected, his hand would fly up and down, but never at the needed height to produce the desired results.

Garak, expecting failure, tried not to appear discouraging and let himself retreat into fantasies of his immediate future. Ten, twenty, thirty failed attempts. Garak lost track and stopped counting. After all, even when Julian only brushed against his chest, it was very pleasant and even tingly. That brought Garak alert in an instant. There was no way that the doctor should have been able to make Garak's skin tingle, the characteristic initial sensation. Not breaking his still awkward and uneven motion, Julian used his other hand to push Garak's head back down, only the smallest interruption in the sensations being the result of the simultaneous motion. Garak couldn't catch Julian's eyes, of course, because Julian was concentrating, but there was most definitely a tingle. And it was increasing.

Taking a deep breath, Julian looked down at the still figure. "Now be quiet," he warned, though Garak hadn't said a word. "I need to concentrate."

When Garak next regained any coherency, Julian had moved away from the bed and was quickly removing his clothes, putting them neatly next to Garak's nightshirt. Once naked, he reached down and took something out of the side of one of the shoes which had been carefully placed under a nearby chair, then walked back to the bed, holding up a packet for Garak's view. "Lubricant," he explained, unnecessarily.

"Remind me to see what else you put in your shoes," Garak got out as Julian began vigorously applying the contents of the newly opened packet to the appropriate part of Garak's anatomy.

"Later. Right now, you're going to finish what you started quite a while ago. And then..." Julian concluded mischievously, "...we're going to play turn around and I'll show you a few tricks of my own."

**********

Awakening in the half-light of the familiar room with his customary immediate alertness, Garak could feel the warmth behind him and the weight of the arm slung over his waist. He breathed out in a long sigh. So this is what happiness felt like. He would have laughed out loud except for the fear the sound would also awaken the man behind him. For now, he was content to simply - be. No dangers to run from; no soul-deadening boredom to endure. Just a moment of complete peace.

But moments aren't timeless and the present must become the remembered past. And so, before this fragile bubble of time burst, Garak did what he did best - he began to capture it. He'd been trained to observe, but it was his nature, perhaps inherited, that had taught him how to neatly store away those observations in such an organized manner that he could retrieve them for later analysis and possible correlation.

This data he would put away, too, but in its own private place so that he could take it out again to cherish.

Like running hands over silk, he let his body feel and stored those feelings away - data in his mental computer. The chill of his front. The warmth of his back. The flow of breath on a certain spot on his back that was there and gone; there and gone. The pressure of the arm on just that spot on his hip. The smell, tantalyzingly familiar, and now soaked by the only perfect exercise into the material of his bed. He inhaled deeply. He could place himself, in his mind, in a remembered location and be there. Tactile memory - the edges of memory vision dim, but Garak could push them back, inch by inch, to recapture forgotten details. Aromas were more difficult to remember unless you smelled them again but, oh, how desperately he wanted to remember this one, this fragrance of man. Filling his lungs, Garak imagined the redolent aroma passing into his bloodstream and changing his very being. Julian and he merging more intimately than they already had.

Temporary? The good doctor hadn't the faintest idea just how addictive Garak intended to become. Whatever it took to capture Julian as throughly as the man had captured him, Garak would do. Boring? Never. Garak would become an endless source of stories and mysteries to intrigue the scientist and mesmerize the man. Sex? Julian couldn't even imagine. But he would.

What else had Julian asked for. Oh, yes, honesty. Trust the man to know just where to find Garak's vulnerabilties. The shopkeeper/spy whose trade was deception. Well, if that was the only currency in which this transaction could be paid, then so be it. The big things. Tain's face slammed into Garak's mind, but Garak forced it ruthlessly away. That, too, someday. Not now.

This slim and beautiful man might look soft, but Garak knew he wasn't. The hardness would be at the rock bottom of his soul or he would never have chosen Starfleet as a profession. He would be able to handle the blood and the bodies of Garak's past. What worried Garak more was the differences in their base philosophies. The young and idealistic doctor had been trained up in Starfleet's idiotic willingness to let total disaster happen if it violated their precious rules and regulations. Garak had not the slightest doubt that the ends really did justify the means. To avert disaster, he was willing to balance right and justice and become judge and jury. There, they would be at odds. But if Julian was anything, it was rational, and Garak was certain that, with time, he could make the idealistic man into the hard realist. A terrible loss in some ways, that innocence, but necessary.

They would endure.

With shock, Garak realized that he was planning a future. He, who had never known if he'd be alive from one day to the next, who had wondered if he even wanted to live after being abandoned on this godforsaken station, was actually looking forward to tomorrow. And did it really matter if tomorrow never happened? He had this moment. He had now.

The game was over. He'd won.