“… Oh, and one last thing,” Captain Sisko said from the head of the meeting table. “The Talridians have a societal bias regarding relationships. They apparently don’t trust people who are not in a committed relationship quite as much as they trust people who are. So, if the ambassador asks, try not to take it too personally,” he said, glancing at Worf and Odo. “Dismissed.”
Bashir stood, along with the rest of the senior staff, as the room filled with its normal conversation. “Hey, Chief, are we still on for this afternoon?”
Chief O’Brien groaned and closed his eyes for a moment. “I’m so sorry, Julian, I totally forgot! I told Keiko and Molly that I’d spend some time with them, since they just got back from Bajor.”
Raising his hands, Bashir’s smile masked his disappointment. “Please, spend some time with your family. I don’t want to get in the way of that.”
With a sigh of relief, O’Brien clapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks. I promise I’ll make it up to you,” he called over his shoulder as he headed for the door.
Bashir was about to follow him, when he was stopped by the captain’s voice. “Doctor, I need to speak with you.”
“Of course,” he said, turning as the door slid shut behind the last person.
“I’ll put this bluntly. You are the only person on my senior staff who is not in a relationship at the moment. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but the Talridians are unlikely to let you sit in on the briefings. And, seeing as they’re here seeking help with a plague, it would really be ideal if you could be in those meetings.”
“That certainly would be helpful.”
“Is there any way, anyone you could at least pretend to have a relationship with while they’re on the station?”
He thought for a moment. “I suppose I could ask Leeta if she’d be willing. Or one of the nurses.” Garak. He pushed the name away. “Morn and I have had some good conversation,” he mused. “I could ask him.” Garak. It was persistent, he had to give it that. “For that matter, I could ask Quark, though I doubt he’d agree,” he continued, determinedly ignoring the name.
“Well, whatever you decide, try to find someone quickly. The ambassador is scheduled to arrive in two days.”
“What exactly is it you would like me to do?”
Bashir glanced nervously around Quark’s, but nobody seemed to be paying the doctor and his lunchmate any attention. “I want you to pretend to be my boyfriend,” he said softly.
Garak looked at him.
Bashir swallowed the anxious lump that was forming in his throat. “Just for a few days while the Talridians are on the station, then we can go back to our lunch discussions, and that’ll be that,” he rushed. He leaned forward slightly to whisper. “Well?”
Mirroring him, Garak leaned forward as well, a smile playing at his lips. “Well, my dear doctor, if we are to be dating, don’t you think we should let others know?”
Julian blinked. “Is—is that a yes?”
A greater sense of relief than he had been expecting washed over the doctor. “Really?”
“Of course. Shall we start with dinner tonight?”
“But the Talridian ambassador isn’t arriving until tomorrow.”
“Ah, but if we are to be believable, we really should do something before she arrives. Unless,” Garak continued, sitting up straight, “you would rather we pretended to be together in name only.”
“No!” Julian cleared his throat. “I mean, it would be much more believable if we were seen together as well.”
“In that case, my question stands. Dinner?”
Julian smiled. “I would be honored.”
That evening, Julian walked into Quark's at 19:32 and scanned the upper balcony for his new temporary boyfriend. After a moment, he saw him sitting at their normal lunch table. Dodging the dabo tables, he made his way over to him.
"And what can I get the two of you?" Quark said as he approached with a knowing smile. "I know a dish perfect for a first date, incorporating both human and Cardassian--"
"Quark, it's not an actual date. We just need to make--"
The ferengi held up his hands. "I know, I know, the Talridians won't trust you unless you're in a relationship."
Julian glanced at Garak, then back at Quark. "How do you know about that?"
He shrugged. "I run a bar. People talk.”
“Indeed they do,” Julian muttered.
There was a pause, then Garak spoke up. “My dear doctor, we would be wise to let him make this dinner as romantic as possible if we are to convince enough of the station of our relationship that the Talridian embassy won’t hear otherwise.”
He regarded Garak for a moment, then sighed. “Fine, we’ll have the ‘first-date food’.”
“Ah, and, Quark?”
“Hm?” he said, entering the order into the padd in his hand.
“Bring out some candles while you’re at it.”
He paused, then acknowledged the request with a nod and left.
“Now, my dear doctor,” Garak said, leaning forward, “tell me about yourself.”
He hesitated, then righted his posture. “I did some research on human dating customs that indicated that dates generally start with the two individuals getting to know each other. If I was mistaken…”
“No, no! It’s just… since we already do know each other, it seems rather silly to start there.”
Garak smiled. “Oh, I’m sure you have some things about yourself that you haven’t told me. I know I do.”
His smile widened. “Come now, doctor, you don’t really expect me to tell you things that easily, do you?” He leaned forward again. “You’ll have to earn them.”
Julian mirrored the Cardassian. “And what exactly does ‘earning them’ entail?”
“I suppose we’ll just have to find out, won’t we?”
“The time is 0600 hours.”
“Mmmm…” Groggily, Bashir rolled over. A moment later, he sighed.
“The time is 06—”
“Yes, I know, I’m getting up.”
Twenty minutes later, he was on his way to the Infirmary, when a call came over the com system.
“Ops to Doctor Bashir.”
“Doctor, the Talridian ambassador arrived early this morning and has requested she see you. She’s in Captain Sisko’s office now.”
“Thank you, Major. I’m on my way.”
As the turbolift ascended, he found himself tapping his fingers against his arm, a nervous habit he had thought he had broken long ago. Mercifully, the doors soon slid open to Ops, across which he could see into the captain’s office. The captain was sitting behind his desk across from a figure wearing a long, flowing, deep red cloak. The figure did not have hair, but rather a series of ridges made their way down the back of their head, slowly tapering out as they hit the neck. The doctor pressed the button to buzz the door. A muted “Come in!” sounded, and the door opened.
“Ah, Doctor! This is Rhodara Shinark, the Talridian ambassador. Ambassador, Doctor Julian Bashir, chief medical officer of Deep Space Nine.”
The ambassador held her lower arms out to the sides, before returning them to their previous positions folded beneath her cloak. “The sun shines upon this day of meeting you.”
Bashir smiled, then extended his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Ambassador Shinark hesitated for a moment, then extended one of her upper arms to shake his hand. “The captain was just telling me about the history of the station and of his relationship with—” She glanced at Captain Sisko. “—Kassidy Yates?” He smiled and nodded. “He also tells me that you are in a relationship?”
“Ah, yes. His name is Garak.”
She looked at him sharply. “Elim Garak? The Cardassian?”
“I see his reputation precedes him,” he observed, looking to the captain for an explanation, but he shrugged. “How do you know who he is?”
“Word gets around,” she gave as explanation. “Well, I will not give input into a relationship, no matter how… unsavory one’s companion may be. What matters is that you have a relationship. There’s no risk of sharing secrets with one-night spies.”
“One-night… Nevermind. Is there anything I need to know before the briefing later today? I believe I already received many of the medical files your doctors have provided.”
“That should be all. Thank you for meeting with me this early in the morning,” Ambassador Shinark said, again spreading her arms.
Bashir smiled. “Of course. And I hope that, over the few days that you are here, you will come to see that Garak has many more sides to him than you give him credit for.”
The second day that the Talridians were on the station, Garak brought up going on another date.
“Perhaps we could see if Quark has one of his holosuites open for tonight,” he mused, examining his meal.
He looked up. “Yes. Is there a problem with that?’
“N-no, I just thought…”
“You thought what?”
“Well, if we want people to know — to think we’re dating, we should be doing something out here, where people can see.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I believe what I have in mind will get plenty of people thinking.”
“I see.” Bashir took a bite of his lunch. “And what kind of holosuite program did you have in mind?”
“Oh, nothing big really,” Garak answered nonchalantly. “I was thinking perhaps we could pay Vic Fontaine a visit.”
A smile broke out on the doctor’s face. “I would love that!”
A less radiant, but still sincere, smile appeared on the tailor’s as well. “In that case, meet me at my shop at 1930 hours.”
“I’ll be there.”
At 1925 hours, Bashir was waiting outside Garak’s shop, nervously straightening his bowtie. He glanced around, but nobody seemed to be paying the fidgeting doctor any attention. He had been standing out there for two minutes and 34 seconds, when finally the door to Garak's shop slid open.
"My dear doctor, what a pleasant surprise! You're early!"
"Well, a first impression is almost as important on a second date as it is on a first."
"In that case, you have certainly made a positive one."
As have you, he thought, as he took in Garak's suit.
"Shall we?" The other man asked, extending a hand.
Cautiously, Julian took it. The Cardassian's hand was different from what he had expected. Unlike the coarseness that he had assumed would accompany the hand of an Obsidian Order operative, it was cool and surprisingly soft, with a firm, but gentle grip. As they started towards Quark's, a strange urge popped into the doctor's head. He quickly weighed the idea, before realizing that the Ferengi’s bar was getting steadily closer.
He ran his thumb in a circle over the back of Garak's hand.
The other man's stride faltered the tiniest amount, enough that only Julian's enhanced senses noticed it. It filled him with an odd feeling, a sense of pride almost, to have thrown off Garak's cool, no matter how slightly. It was enough that Julian almost missed noticing the slight ridges on the back of his hand, no doubt the remains of fused scales that were now invisible to the naked eye.
As they rounded the corner into Quark's, this time it was Julian's turn to hesitate. "Garak?"
"Yes, my dear doctor?"
"The main area is quite busy; are you sure you don't want to enter by the holosuites? I can find Quark and meet you up there."
Garak smiled. "Thank you for your concern, but I'll be fine. Or do you not want to be seen with me? Did the ambassador disapprove of our relationship?"
"I— Well, she did, but she said it was none of her business, as long as I was in one."
"In that case, the more people see us together, the more believable it will be." And with that, he stepped into the bar, flagged down Quark, and lead the doctor to the holosuite where Vic and his lounge were waiting.
As the door slid open and they stepped inside, the chaos of the station faded into the background. Rounding the corner, they were greeted by a smile and an offer to show them to their seats. It was warm in the bar, enough that Garak wasn't freezing, but still comfortable for Julian, and soft jazz played from the stage. Sitting atop the table in the center of the room were two candles on either side of a small jar of flowers.
"This was very thoughtful of you, Garak! It looks fantastic."
Vic Fontaine's soothing voice interrupted Garak's open mouth. "As much as I'm sure he would love to take credit for the setup, I have to make sure credit is given where it's due," he said, coming around the corner. "This is one of the default date arrangements that came with my program, with of course some personalizing touches by yours truly."
Julian wanted to kick himself. Of course Garak wouldn't bother going through the trouble designing a whole new arrangement when Vic's program had some that would work perfectly fine.
"Although the room may be holographic, the food is not and is getting colder the longer we stand here and admire the room," Garak observed. "Shall we begin our meal?"
The doctor, still recovering from his hopefully hidden embarrassment, forced a smile. "Of course."
As the two sat, he scrambled to think of a topic to get the conversation started. "So, Garak, I've been meaning to ask. Why a tailor? I mean, you could have chosen nearly any profession, so why a tailor?"
Picking up the cutlery, Garak smiled. "People are surprisingly talkative while getting measured and fitted. Besides, you never know when it will come in handy to know somebody's measurements."
"Giving presents, identifying dead bodies, the like," he mused.
"And I'm sure you do lots of that," Julian said sarcastically with a smile.
"In the Obsidian Order, yes."
Julian looked up from his food to see Garak's face looking seriously back at him. He cleared his throat. "I uh, I went into medicine so that I could help people."
"As you have said before, my dear doctor."
"Right." The quiet jazz filled the space between them as they took bites of their meals. Suddenly Julian set down his fork. "This is ridiculous. We've had how many lunches together and never had a problem keeping up conversation? And now that we happen to be in a holosuite wearing suits on a date that isn't even a real date, instead of out in the rest of Quark's, we can't find a single thing to talk about."
"Dates, real or otherwise, do tend to give a degree of reservedness to the parties involved," Garak observed.
"Well, how do we normally start our conversations at lunch?"
"Usually by you disparaging the latest Cardassian classic that you read."
"That's because they're all the same repetitive and boring epics hailing the glory of the Cardassian empire!"
"And therein lies the beauty of them, my dear doctor, that is what you fail to appreciate. That no matter what one does, people never really change."
"And that's where you and I disagree. I believe that people can change."
"A very human quality, as always," he said with half a smile.
Julian smiled back. "If you really didn't like it, you wouldn't spend nearly as much time around me."
At 0630 precisely, the doors to the Infirmary slid open, and a few footsteps signaled the person approaching the doctor where he sat sipping raktajino and working on a padd.
“So? How did your dinner with Garak last night go?”
Bashir looked up at Chief O'Brien's voice. “Fine… How did you know about that?”
He raised an eyebrow. “It wasn’t exactly a secret, you did go traipsing through the middle of Quark’s at one of its busiest hours.”
“Oh right… That was Garak’s idea. He insisted we make sure as many people as possible see that yes, the rumors are true!" he proclaimed sarcastically. "The great Doctor Bashir and the secretive and suspicious Garak are in fact dating! Or pretending to anyway. Frankly I don’t see why it was necessary. Can’t people just take a poor man’s word for it that he has a boyfriend without parading around?”
“I, uh… Sorry, I didn’t realize it was such a touchy subject.”
The doctor turned back to his work. “And it went fine.”
The chief was quiet for a moment, before curiosity got the better of him. “Just… fine?”
“Why, what else do you want me to say?”
“I dunno. That there was good conversation? That it was quiet and peaceful and romantic? That it was too quiet and awkward? When there’s not the rest of Quark’s around to distract, there can be a lot of pressure to keep the conversation moving.”
Bashir rolled his eyes. “Well I’m sure Vic would have jumped in if there was any problem.”
“So… there weren’t any problems?”
The doctor finally spun to fully face the chief. “No, Miles, there weren’t any problems! The conversation was wonderful, Vic made sure the atmosphere was perfect, Garak was handsome, and the music was flawless. Happy?”
The chief blinked. “Yeah. I guess so.” He paused. “Certainly sounds like you enjoyed yourself.”
“So what if I did,” he asked with a small shrug. “It’s not like we’re having any more. The Talridians left this morning. Garak won’t have to keep the charade up anymore.”
Miles regarded him for a moment, and a small, knowing smile crept onto his face. “Why, Julian, it almost sounds like you’re disappointed.”
For a brief second, Julian maintained eye contact, before his gaze dropped. “Maybe a little,” he said softly.
He nodded. “I take it you haven’t told him how you feel?”
Julian scoffed. “I can’t do that! You know how he’d react? He’d smile condescendingly, then say something about human sentiment and weakness and ‘Oh, my dear doctor, I really had hoped you’d be immune to all that with your genetic enhancements.’ Then he’d go on about how the Federation has only nurtured and encouraged my naiveté and optimism—”
He stopped and looked at the chief.
“How did you say he addresses you?”
The doctor blinked. “What?”
“When you were mimicking Garak just now. How does he address you?”
“Uh… ‘My dear doctor’ generally. I’ve never really paid it much attention.”
“‘My dear doctor,’” Miles repeated. “You know, in all the times I’ve talked to him of been around him, I’ve never heard him call anyone else ‘my dear’ anything.”
Julian looked closely at him. “What are you getting at?”
“Look, I need to get going, or I’m going to be late. I told Quark I’d get a team down to fix one of the holosuites, and—”
He shrugged. “I dunno. You’re the one with the enhanced brain. Figure it out for yourself.”
That afternoon, a message arrived from Garak, saying that if the doctor could find himself present at the other man's quarters as soon as his shift ended, they might be able to come to a more satisfying end to their faux relationship. So, at 18:30, Doctor Bashir found himself making his away down to the habitat ring.
Taking a breath, he pressed the buzzer. The door slid open to a slightly dimmed room and warm air. As he stepped inside, he glanced around for Garak, instead finding a table set with two places and a candle. "Garak?"
Seeming to be summoned at the sound of his name, the man appeared around the corner. "Ah, my dear doctor, please do come in," he welcomed, starting for the replicator. "What would you like?"
"Garak, what is this all about?"
He answered without turning to face the doctor. "I thought we might... talk. That's all."
"Not with this set up, you didn't. We could have just talked at Quark's over lunch. What is this really about?"
Garak was quite for a moment before answering. "My dear doctor, the past three days have been some of the happiest in my life."
"No, doctor, please. Let me finish." He turned to face Julian. "I know that my feelings are not reciprocated, or you would have asked to actually date, rather than pretend. But I respect you to much to continue with this large of a secret being kept from you, even if it does expose a weakness that my father warned against. The one secret I could not keep." He half turned back to the replicator. "I do care about you greatly."
In the silence that followed, Julian paused, then walked over and placed a hand on Garak's neck where it blended into his shoulder. The scales were softer than he had imagined. "Garak," he said gently. The man looked at him. "Chief O'Brief helped me realize something this morning, that I was disappointed that our dating was ending. The only reason I didn't ask for it to be real was because I didn't realize you felt the same." Julian smiled. "Garak, I also care about you greatly."
Reaching up, he cupped Garak's chin with his hand, turning it slightly. Then, leaning forward, he placed a gentle kiss on his lips. A moment later, he pulled away, searching Garak's face for any signs. In response, he brought his own hand up and pulled the doctor back into a passionate kiss.
A few seconds later, Garak paused. "You still have yet to answer my question. What would you like for dinner, my dear doct-- what would you like, my dear?"