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Garak smiled benignly — well, perhaps he permitted just the tiniest edge of sharp teeth to peek through — and shook his head as if puzzled and slightly saddened. "My dear Doctor, are you even listening to what you're saying? I simply can't believe that you actually put any stock in the rather —" A touch of a condescending laugh. "— unworldly opinions you've just expressed!" 

Bashir smiled with more than a hint of answering challenge and picked up his cup of tea in both hands, regarding Garak across his nearly empty plate (as usual, he'd eaten his lunch at a speed which would make a Korrelian Dragon gulp with disbelief) with intent hazel eyes. "Oh, I meant every word I said," he asserted — and Garak's heart, in spite of knowing much better, gave an absurd little upward skip in his chest. Because really, the Doctor was so remarkably beautiful like this: his eyes alight with the rousing spirit of a sharp debate, his finely sculpted and deliciously full lips sporting that familiar wry quirk, his elegant hands curved around the cup that was poised between them, practically begging Garak to push it aside and lean in closer… and the sentence he'd just spoken, the one that Garak had called him to task for, the one which suggested that in the Cardassian novel Night of Shattered Spirits the main character, Gul Mentok, would have done better to choose his trusty aide Nortess (in reality his lover, as the subtext of the narrative clearly demonstrated) over his betrothed bride Elena, who obviously symbolized the Cardassian State.  

He was trained never to let his gaze linger on anything he was truly interested in, not during a sparring match like this, but he couldn't help savouring the angles of the Human's brown fingers, so strong and so capable. He had no doubt that Bashir knew exactly what he was saying — after two years of weekly training the boy was actually becoming somewhat competent at layering meanings into a conversation — and that it was yet another move in the chess game they'd been playing for the past three months, the one in which Bashir was relentlessly manoeuvring to take Garak's king… and, not to put to fine a point on things for once, to get him undressed and into one of their beds.  

Garak had to admit that the chase added a welcome thrill to his dull life aboard Deep Space Nine, even if he wasn't the one in active pursuit. Not that he hadn't started the whole affair: when an Evorian trader had taken a fancy to Bashir during the Bajoran festival of Kejal-am and refused to take the Doctor's outraged "No!" for an answer, Garak had taken the opportunity to move in and provide handy camouflage for Bashir's avoidance of the nuisance by pretending that they were sexually involved. And it had worked wonderfully well on a number of levels — it had put Bashir in his debt, it had put Garak in better standing with Sisko for his quick thinking in short-circuiting a potential diplomatic incident, and it had provided the opportunity to flirt with his Human friend quite outrageously, all under the pretext of educating the charming child and carrying out a necessary deception.  

Bashir's reaction to Garak's sexual overtures had been most gratifying as well. Surprise had quickly given way to a most appealing responsiveness, and to an unabashed willingness to let Garak take him as far as Garak wanted to go — which was, admittedly, very far indeed. But Garak had restrained himself. For one thing, becoming genuinely involved with Bashir would put him in a much more dangerous position on Deep Space Nine, under Sisko and Odo's more intense scrutiny; for another, there was no guarantee that the Cardassian Central Command would view his entanglement with a high-ranking Starfleet officer as a positive development, and he had no desire to cast his own reputation any further into the shadows. And of course there was the fact that playing with the darling boy, keeping him interested and keeping him guessing, was indeed the bright spot of Garak's life in exile: if he gave Bashir what Bashir wanted… well, everybody on the station was well aware of how quickly Bashir tired of his sexual toys.  

No, it was far better to keep his distance and string his friend along, a game that Bashir had thrown himself into with new enthusiasm and enough innuendo to sink a Keldon class starship. And Garak had to admit that he rather enjoyed being the prey in this equation, keeping at least one step ahead of Bashir's amorous pursuit and occasionally granting the Human a crumb or two of encouragement to whet his keen sensual appetites. 

Like now, for example: Garak widened his smile just a little and let his gaze openly dwell on the younger man's admittedly very sweet mouth.  "I see," he purred, ducking his chin just a little and raising his eyes to Bashir's again with a flirtatious lowering of his lashes. "You honestly believe, then, that Martok would have found greater fulfillment in choosing the company — completely illicit, I might add — of his best friend over a far more proper life of devotion to the State?" 

It was a thoroughly brazen gambit, and he had the pleasure of seeing Bashir's honey-colored cheeks darken with a blush, his lips growing even rosier. Yes, quite deliciously responsive. "The real question is, could he live with himself after leaving his… friend, behind? Without ever knowing what could have happened between them? Surely that kind of uncertainty would haunt him for the rest of his life." 

"I assure you, the failure to fulfill his duty would be a far worse burden to bear," Garak countered smoothly.  

Bashir took a sip of his tea, his gaze never wavering from Garak's. The intensity of that connection dimmed the noise and color of the crowded Replimat and Promenade around them to insignificance. When he'd lowered the cup from those damnable lips and swallowed unhurriedly, the Doctor asked quietly: "And why couldn't he have had both?" 

That contention made Garak laugh out loud, gaily. "Oh, come now — you know far more about Cardassian society than that!" He put down his fork, which he hadn't used in the past five minutes, and leaned forward, fixing Bashir with a reproving stare that nonetheless contained an element of fondness. "Quite aside from the matter of the lack of social context for any such… relationship… with Nortess, there would be the positive antipathy of Cardassian sensibilities of that place and time when it came to —" 

He was warming to his new argument to the point that he really wasn't paying much attention to the environment around them — a most dangerous lapse in surveillance, as he realized when he saw the change in Bashir's expression from friendly (and somewhat sexualized) interest to surprise — and a degree of alarm. A half-second later his own lunch plate was quite ruined when something was tossed onto it from behind Garak's right shoulder: something long and white and raw and blood-streaked, bent and cracked in the middle, needle-sharp splinters adorning its broken edges.  

Bashir slammed down his cup of tea and leaped to his feet, his dark eyes flashing. Garak was peripherally aware of their new fire: he was busy staring at the object in front of him, which he now recognized as the thighbone of some large animal, forcibly fractured as if it had been twisted to the breaking point by a powerful grip on either end. And then a deep velvet voice rumbled from behind and above him, a voice he instantly recognized, snapping all the pieces of the puzzle into a coherent configuration: 

"I shall rend you, I shall unjoint you, I shall frust you into scraps too small to be scorned by the mice that cower beneath my father's table. No more shall you nourish that which I have marked for my own. Stand and fight, need-gut — or flee empty, and perhaps I may spare your miserable life." 

Garak turned in his seat and looked up… and up… into the pale broad arrogant face of an Evorian nobleman, posed in a proud stance with arms akimbo, his immensely powerful body clad in considerably richer garments than Garak had last seen upon it. His green eyes, irises ringed with paler blue, gazed down upon Garak with undisguised aggression — as if presenting him with a forcibly fractured piece of dead animal hadn't been enough of a clue that his intentions were less than friendly. 

And it was Bashir who responded first, outraged anew: "Zevar Til Assok! What are you doing here?"  

The trader smiled at Garak, a far from pleasant expression, before turning his jade gaze on Bashir with a more tender regard. "You see now that I told no lies, pretty Morsel. I said that I would one day return to win you from this half-empty grain sack's larder — and behold! I have kept my vow."