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Convergence

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It was closing on noon and Garak hadn't had the most ideal of mornings. In hindsight he'd later wonder if he should have just stayed in bed from the start.

He'd awoken to yet another piercing headache, a malady that had appeared to be increasing in both frequency and severity of late. He had a reasonable hunch as to the cause and knew that barring death, there wasn't exactly a feasible way to deactivate the implant that wouldn't result in that outcome anyway. Hacking the device to enable its function had been an act born of sheer misery and desperation, and he'd been quite aware that doing so might prove potentially lethal. But then, at the time, that risk hadn't seemed terribly objectionable when he'd considered the alternative.

At any rate, there was no use dwelling on it, his condition was tolerable for now and the headache would usually sort itself out once he'd finished washing for the morning. Unfortunately however, that likelihood was looking less promising as the throbbing pain in his temples persisted throughout breakfast.

Distracted by the annoying aural blur clouding the edges of his vision, he'd somehow managed to knock over his tea into his lap and by the time he'd finished sopping up the mess and changing into fresh clothing, he'd realized that if he didn't hurry, he'd be late for his oh-seven-hundred delivery. He'd sprinted through the promenade to his shop, fully expecting to have to apologize profusely to an impatient messenger awaiting his signature tapping their toes on the doorstep of his shop. He'd arrived with barely a minute to spare, short of breath, hair amok and in generally less than publicly presentable form for the day, dismayed to discover neither messenger nor parcel.

This setback would certainly foil Garak's attempt to impress his newest client whom had been quite insistent on examining every sample of material intended to fashion the gown she'd commissioned for her upcoming Bre'nNan. Over the course of the past two weeks, she'd proven rather difficult to appease, always less than wholly satisfied with any of the dozens of design he'd drafted. 'The applique shouldn't go there', 'The shoulder doesn't sit high enough', etc.

Although, in her defense, Garak knew all too well that her potential future mother-in-law, a proud woman of a prominent house and rank, as well as occasional patron of his when passing through, could never be recommended for bearing anything remotely resembling a forgiving nature.

Sounds a bit Oedipal actually,” Julian Bashir had remarked after Garak had related the trouble he'd been having to the doctor over lunch last week. “Of course the beloved son would seek a mate that would so resemble mummy dearest.” After discovering his companion had little context for the reference, Garak had been subjected to an animated lecture about ancient Terran mythology that had left him breathless. The doctor's impressive breadth of knowledge and intelligence never ceased to amaze him.

Regardless of his current difficulty with his demanding client, Garak kept his nose down to the proverbial grindstone and his eyes on the prize. If the young woman was indeed found to be a suitable match for the old matriarch's precious son, the following union aboard the station would result in at least a dozen new commissions from the visiting attendees.

His incentive would come in the form of more than just the gratifying sums he'd tally in his ledger at month's end, but in the demonstration of his ability to provide reliably nondiscriminatory, exceptional service to all the inhabitants of the station regardless of Cardassia's presently strained relations with the Federation. Ever since Terok Nor's handover post occupation, and with thanks due to the discovery of the wormhole and subsequent relocation to the Denorios belt, the outpost had developed into a thriving center for commerce and trade, drawing in various races from all across the quadrant. Yet, in spite of the refreshing influx of different faces, the majority of the resident population was still by default, Bajoran, which didn't exactly create the most hospitable atmosphere for the only resident Cardassian. Thus, establishing a good reputation had become rather imperative for not only the maintenance of a comfortable income, but also to regain favor with Tain. There was potential in his current situation he could work to his advantage. If could earn the trust of the Federation, he could become a sort of de facto representative for Cardassia; a convenient cover for a spy. Plain, simple Garak the tailor, the perfect decoy, and if he did his job well, perhaps he would be allowed to eventually return to his beloved homeworld.

Garak had fully intended to use the small block of time before his appointment with the Klingon to wash and card the Galipotan wool in preparation for its presentation, but instead, delivery MIA, he'd found himself with little else to do to wile away the hour but to twiddle his thumbs and tidy the shelves. Unfortunately, too often the shelves were already in impeccable order.

His client's reaction to the delay was unsurprisingly displeased (to say the least), and this displeasure carried forward into her opinion of not only his latest drawings but the quality of the targ pelts he'd brought out of storage. 'The fur is far too dull,' she'd insisted, disdainfully scowling at the freshly combed and oiled pelts he'd lain out. Of course, he'd have to put a rush on any order to replace them, and even then, they still might not come in time, he'd explained, attempting to appeal to reason. This was met with a growl of disgust as she reluctantly accepted the fact that she would simply have to make do. “You'll incorporate more hide than fur to compensate,” she'd instructed and Garak had nodded obediently, gritting his teeth behind a tight, closed lipped smile. Finally, he'd bade the Klingon a good day, promising to present her with a design by tomorrow that wouldn't fail to inspire envy from every clothier and highborn woman on Qo'nos.

The young woman had narrowed her stern, dark eyes at him and sneered, “For your sake, tailor, you better be sure you're right about that.” Garak never could understand why Klingons always felt like they had to make everything sound like a threat.

The only real saving grace to the day by this point was that come twelve-hundred he could look forward to sharing his lunch with the Doctor again. It had become something of a weekly routine over the past year—he would meet the young man at the replimat and over their meal they would engage in an invigorating conversation and Garak would delight in his friend's cleverness and company. Then, come time to part ways again, in spite of the constant artificial release of endorphins, he couldn't help but feel too sharp a pang of disappointment. For a little while afterward, his world would always seem a little bleaker and the unfortunate circumstances of his reality would be felt like a dull blade carving a methodical hole between his ribs.

What an interesting new friend he'd made, indeed. Not just anyone would have risked their reputation to talk to the mysterious and distrusted exile. It made every slur, glare and slight he politely endured merely venturing into public everyday sting a little less bitterly. Still, he sometimes wished for a small amount more than the meagerly rationed hour the Doctor afforded him but once a week.

Garak sighed as he put away his drafting padd back into the drawer of his desk. Perhaps his grim mood was making him feel a little more resentful than usual.

At a quarter til noon, just as he'd been considering closing shop early to head down to the replimat, the entry bell chimed alerting Garak to a small group of Tellarites wandering in. Suppressing an irritable sigh he smiled tightly, welcoming them and providing an offer of his assistance if desired.

He cringed as he watched two young men rifle through his meticulously folded pile of Oslan silk tunics, a notoriously stubborn material to press wrinkles out of and groaned inwardly as their older female companion ran her hand over the delicate fabric appraisingly.

“Are you quite certain there is nothing I can help you find?” Garak asked, keeping his tone evenly modulated and his smile friendly. The woman in question turned her rather unfortunately pronounced porcine probosces toward him in half acknowledgment and frowned. “These are all too long,” she complained.

“Anything in the store can be altered to your specifications,” Garak explained politely. “If you would care to schedule a fitting, I should be able to slot you in for an appointment later this afternoon.”

“Maybe some other time,” she shrugged noncommittally, and Garak, taking this as an encouraging cue that they would be turning around to leave any moment found himself growing quite impatient as they did just the opposite. The relentless devastation exacted upon his carefully arranged displays was utterly distressing enough that he'd briefly humored the idea of calling over Odo to have them arrested for vandalism.

Of course, by the time they had finally decided to leave after laying waste to his shop, they'd neither purchased a single item nor bothered to secure a single appointment.

“Garak! I've been waiting for ages,” Julian exclaimed as Garak finally stepped out of his shop. “I was almost ready to head off to lunch without you.”

“I'm sorry I kept you,” Garak apologized, “I had to do just a touch of tidying after a rather unexpected hurricane swept through.”

“Curious misfortune considering DS9 is climate controlled,” Julian remarked ironically.

“And yet somehow not insulated against the inconsideration of certain Tellarites.”

“Mm,” Julian hummed.

“What a waste of a morning,” Garak grumbled as they walked through the promenade together. “That Galipotan freighter was scheduled to be here at oh-seven-hundred and it still hasn't arrived.”

Julian nodded sympathetically and Garak sighed. “Well, I suppose that's the price of doing business with a culture that refuses to even acknowledge the concept of time...though I have to admit, they make wonderful sweaters.”

The young man attempted to unsuccessfully cover a yawn and Garak frowned. “I hope I'm not boring you, Doctor.”

“Not at all,” Julian dismissed, “I was just up late last night.”

“Entertaining one of your lady friends?”

“Unfortunately, no. Actually, I was reading the last few chapters of the Never-Ending Sacrifice.”

Garak couldn't help but be secretly pleased by the correction to his assumption, renewing his respect for the young man. He didn't count himself among those on the station that looked askance at the Doctor's notorious skirt-chasing ways, but it was flattering to know that his friend had been more interested in preparing for their lunch conversation than getting laid.

“Isn't it superb? Without a doubt the finest Cardassian novel ever written,” Garak exclaimed, laughing to himself at the Doctor's unenthusiastic expression. He knew the young man well enough to know by now that his recommendation would not quite be his 'cup of tea', but if they were going to persist discussing Cardassian culture, his friend was going to need to have a passable understanding of its ethos.

“I'll take your word for it,” Julian replied blandly.

“You didn't enjoy it?”

“I thought it was...interesting, though maybe a little dull,” Julian hesitated. “In spots,” he added a second later, backpedaling.

Garak's grin fell as they reached the long line for the replicators. He could already feel the return of his headache from earlier. “Wonderful. At this rate, we should be done eating lunch just in time for dinner.”

“There's always Quark's,” Julian suggested.

“True,” Garak admitted, “but I'm not really in the mood for noisy, crowded and vulgar today.”

Julian smirked. “Then I suppose the Klingon restaurant is out of the question?”

Garak shook his head with convincing disbelief. “I can't believe I'm eating lunch with a man who thinks the Never-Ending Sacrifice is dull,” he sighed, returning to their original subject.

“I just thought it got a little redundant after awhile,” the Doctor defended. “I mean... the author is supposed to be chronicling seven generations of a single family... but he tells the same story over and over again. All the characters live lives of selfless duty to the state, get old, and die. And then, the next generation comes along and does it all over again.”

Garak grimaced, rubbing his throbbing temples. “That's the whole point, Doctor. The repetitive epic is the most elegant form of Cardassian literature and the Never-Ending Sacrifice is its greatest achievement.”

“But the characters never really come alive,” Julian argued. “I mean, there's more to life than serving the state.”

Of course he would think so. “A Federation viewpoint if ever I heard one,” Garak huffed irritably, scowling at the unmoving cue in front of them. “This is ridiculous. Can't you just move to the front of the line? Tell them it's a medical emergency or something.”

“We're almost there,” Julian replied, looking less concerned by Garak's complaint than he was by the fact that Garak seemed to be complaining in the first place. Garak was immensely grateful when out of respect for his privacy, the Doctor wisely steered the conversation back to their debate. “Look, maybe if you lent me another book...by a different writer?”

Garak barely processed the suggestion, squeezing his temples as he was attacked by another wave of discomfort. “It would only be a waste of time,” he spat out just a little more tersely than he'd intended. “When it comes to art, you're obviously a prisoner of Federation dogma and human prejudice.”

The Doctor glanced at him, taken aback by the criticism. “Sorry you feel that way, but I am trying my best to...” Julian trailed off unable to ignore Garak hunched over in sudden, crippling pain. “Are you alright?”

“I'm fine,” Garak replied lightly, struggling to maintain his facade against the intolerable agony pulsing behind his eyes.

“You don't look fine,” Julian remarked, examining him. “Your skin is clammy and your pupils are contracted.”

Just then, to his relief,the torment seemed to subside and Garak quickly collected himself, tossing an easy, pacifying smile in the Doctor's direction. “I assure you, I'm in perfect health. Now, you were asking about other Cardassian novels,” he continued, redirecting them back to the subject, “Something maybe a little more accessible...”

Then suddenly, Garak felt as if someone had taken a sledgehammer and smashed it with all their might into the top of his skull. He grimaced as a wave of nausea passed through him.

'Perfect health' you say? Then Cardassian standards must be a little lower than mine,” Julian huffed.

Damn it all, of course it was too much to hope he could make it through this without alarming the Doctor's doctorly instincts.

“Come on,” Julian directed, taking him gently by the arm in an attempt to lead him out of line. Garak bristled at his nerve.

“Doctor, what do you think you're doing?” he demanded in as light a tone as he could muster.

“Taking you to the infirmary.”

“That won't be necessary,” Garak told the young man defensively, trying and failing not to wince as his accursed head pounded like a herd of fat toj'lath were trampling through.

Julian gave him a small, placating smile, “Maybe not, but humor me.”

“Frankly, Doctor, I'm getting a little tired of 'humoring' you. There's nothing wrong with me that a little peace and privacy wouldn't cure,” Garak snapped. “Now if you'll excuse me, I seem to have lost my appetite.”

 

<~~~>

 

Living on this station is torture for me, Doctor,” Garak had miserably confessed. “One day I decided I couldn't live with it anymore. So I...took the pain away.”

Julian frowned down at the tray of hyposprays he'd been organizing, sidetracked by his thoughts,. the drama of the past couple of weeks replaying in a constant, frustrating loop.

With a defeated sigh, he dumped the rest into a basket in the cabinet to deal with later and decided he may as well head off to the replimat early. Barring an actual medical emergency, he had faith that Jabara could handle herself well enough. If anything, in his current state of distraction he was little better than underfoot if the nurse's small, irritated sighs throughout the morning were anything to go by.

“How's Garak?” Julian asked the nurse, busy administering treatment to a patient's sprained wrist.

“Still asleep as of half-an-hour ago,” she reported before returning her attention to the old Bajoran. “Now if you could, just close your hand into a fist and release again. Very good. How does that feel?”

“I was thinking I might pop off to lunch a bit early today if you wouldn't mind,” Julian announced, hesitating a little as he glanced between Jabara's patient and the room where Garak was sleeping.

“I think I can manage to hold down the fort, Doctor,” she replied wryly, easily intuiting the source of his concern. “I'm fairly sure we'll both survive in your absence.”

Not wanting to appear as if he lacked confidence in Jabara, he fought the urge to double-check on his friend and forced himself out the door before he could change his mind again. He knew he was running the risk of becoming paranoid, but getting the stubborn Cardassian to stay put and rest hadn't been an easy feat.

Though, the thing of it was, it was neither the status of his patient's post-op recovery nor the exhaustive enigma of lies and startling revelations he'd waded through in his effort to save him that currently weighed so heavily on Julian's mind.

You think because we have lunch together once a week, you know me?”

Of course, he didn't truly know him. Could anyone really? Garak was just as 'plain' and 'simple' as Julian was—which was to say, not very—and they both wore their respective disguises expertly. Even then, the extent of their interactions had been fairly minimal, constrained to just the ritual once a week lunch they shared. Still, this hadn't seemed to hamper the development of their relationship.

Perhaps initially it hadn't started with the noblest of intentions; Julian had been clever enough to figure out why the Cardassian had come over to his table that day.

It was evident enough by the fact that he was sitting alone that he'd suffered a rocky start making friends on the station. His colleagues hadn't taken to him readily and the other residents had seemed to feel neutrally at best. In short, he'd been lonely, and because of this, from Garak's point of view, he could concede he'd made himself an easy mark. Befriending the young, naive Federation officer would make for simple work and open all the right doors for a clever spy seeking to gather intel. Or at the very least, provide a sufficient access point a desperate exile would need to gain standing again with his former superiors.

However, these duplicitous motives weren't one-sided. Julian had preened with excitement. Out of everyone on the station, the most fascinating person aboard had chosen him. He could turn it around on the spy, carefully extract little bits and pieces here and there to feed back to ops...

Of course, in reality, this venture had proven mostly fruitless and eventually his professional investment had become more of a personal hobby.

Then there had been this unexpected ad idem realization—a mutual recognition of common interests and discovery of an intellectual equal. Garak's sheer brilliance demanded a certain level of reciprocity, and thus, for once Julian could relax his guard to some extent. The discovery of an outlet where he could finally flex his restless, long sequestered aptitude and be more authentically himself than he'd ever been was an extraordinary and unexpected gift.

It had always been of absolute necessity to maintain the veneer of normalcy, not only to protect his position within Starfleet, but for the sake of preserving his very livelihood and freedom. He'd crafted the perfect illusion, one of unprepossessing naivety to compensate for the less likable show of braggadocio and unapologetic arrogance, the latter of which was crucial for creating a convincing obfuscation. Why? Because the greatest way to hide the truth was to amplify it.

This all worked almost too effectively to keep others at an arm's length. Intimacy risked discovery which in turn almost always risked inevitable exposure. This was why his love affairs were short lived and friendships were few, far between and fundamentally superficial at their core. Which was why, after nearly a decade-and-a-half of keeping up the exhausting pretense, the peripheral threat was no longer enough to discourage him from taking the gamble that his very clever, very observant friend might put together the pieces of the puzzle. Besides, there was always something thrilling about playing with fire and for all his many talents his enhancements afforded him, Julian had never been particularly good at self-denial. The game was an addictive one: he and Garak would take turns baiting and evading the traps the other would set, daring the other to slip up and reveal his hand.

Additionally, there was an innate sympathy shared by two people who knew the lonely burden of keeping secrets, and loneliness was a condition Garak had undoubtedly suffered here on unfriendly turf, met with a constant barrage of prejudice and general hostility at nearly every turn.

Julian had to admit, he'd used this to his advantage, further endearing himself to the exile by making an express effort to pointedly ignore the speculative and reproachfulful stares they'd get as they'd pass through the promenade together. He couldn't exactly misread the quiet gratitude this earned him.

Most importantly, regardless of everything else, at the end of the day, not only did Garak appreciate his company and conversation, he also seemed to actually like him, and oddly enough, in spite of their differences, Julian had come to like him too.

And thus, over the course of several meals and books, this disingenuous arrangement originally built upon mutual usury, gradually and quite organically evolved into a mutually beneficial friendship.

I was left to live out my days with nothing to look forward to but having lunch with you.”

I'm sorry you feel that way,” Julian had replied, stung. “I thought you enjoyed my company.”

I did. That's the worst part,” Garak had lashed out, seething with fury and self loathing. “To think that I actually enjoyed eating mediocre food while staring at your smug, sanctimonious face.”

Julian knew it was neither productive nor fair to dwell over the harsh and unfair things Garak had said to him during the depths of his misery, but no amount of rationalization could keep him from fixating on the their memory.

He knew Garak had meant to hit below the belt and Julian had even understood why—anyone in Garak's situation, in that condition would have resisted his well-meaning 'meddling'—

Julian wasn't nursing any resentment. He'd fully and easily forgiven Garak. That wasn't what he was still hung up on. No, what he couldn't get over was how keenly hurt he'd felt.

I hate this place, and I hate you.”

Alright, Garak, that's your prerogative,” Julian had replied, his determination never faltering despite the fact that he'd felt as if he'd just taken a punch to the solar plexus.

Garak was emotionally unstable and in excruciating pain. He'd known better than to believe him, but that had neither softened the blow, nor mitigated the ache that would linger afterward. Just the prospect of Garak hating him had disturbed Julian enough that he'd found himself forced to evaluate just why it bothered him so much. And up until that point, he'd never realized quite how much he'd valued Garak's good opinion nor how much he'd relied on the man's friendship.

He was confused by the scope of his reaction. Of course he knew that he hadn't gone to these lengths just to uphold his Hippocratic oath or preserve his moral integrity. Not that he doesn't invest great effort into the care he gives all his patients, but he seriously doubted he'd have stayed up all night personally monitoring his patient's condition and travel all the way to face a man like Enebran Tain for just about anyone else.

After Garak had collapsed, Julian had been a wreck of raw nerves. The thought of losing the man had him awash with dread, and although he'd performed his operation with steady hands, Julian's pulse had been anything but.

Once he had collected his lunch he headed to an empty table and took a seat. He dragged his hands wearily over his face.

So, it looked like he cared about the impossible bastard. Not that this was a particularly startling revelation, it was just that he cared far more than he'd suspected or ever anticipated and he really didn't know what to do with that.

Julian poked at his meal without much enthusiasm feeling confused and lonelier than ever when he suddenly noticed someone step up to his table. His eyes widened in surprise as they settled on Garak standing over him holding a food tray.

“May I join you?”

Julian nodded, granting his permission and Garak took the seat across from him.

“What are you doing up?” Julian scolded. “You're supposed to be in bed.”

Garak gave him an amiable smile. “Out of the question. I couldn't stand to be cooped up in that dreadful infirmary for another second. Besides, I feel perfectly fine,” he reported. “How's the I'danian spice pudding today?”

Julian gawked at him incredulously. “'How's the spice pudding?' Is that all you have to say for yourself? You're just going to sit there and pretend the last ten days never happened?”

“I for one, Doctor, am perfectly satisfied with the way things turned out and I see no reason to dwell on what was doubtlessly a difficult time for both of us. By the way,” Garak smirked, “I just had the most interesting conversation with Constable Odo. It seems he was under the impression that I was a member of the Obsidian Order.”

“And what did you tell him?”

“That he was mistaken, of course.”

Julian quirked a wry grin. “And he believed you?”

“He said something about keeping a closer eye on me in the future. I told him to be my guest...I have nothing to hide,” Garak replied with casual nonchalance as he took out a dataclip and placed it on the table. “Here, I brought you something.”

Julian looked at the item curiously. “What is it?”

“It's Meditations on a Crimson Shadow by Preloc.”

“More Cardassian literature?”

Garak smiled pleasantly. “I think you'll find this one more to your taste. It takes place in the future, during a time when Cardassia and the Klingon Empire were at war.”

“Who wins?”

“Who do you think?” Garak queried mischievously.

“Never mind. Don't tell me. I wouldn't want you to spoil the ending,” Julian grinned before setting the clip aside. “You know, I still have a lot of questions I want to ask you about your past.”

“I've given you all the answers I'm capable of.”

“You gave me answers, all right, but they were all different. What I want to know is... of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren't?”

“My dear Doctor, they're all true.”

Julian narrowed his eyes skeptically. “Even the lies?”

“Especially the lies,” Garak replied mysteriously, giving him his patented half-smile, and Julian was so relieved to see it again, that for a split-second he couldn't decide whether he'd rather wring the bastard's neck or kiss the cheeky grin right off his infuriating face.

Wait... what?!

Julian abruptly flinched, recoiling inwardly as far back as he could from the jarring, spontaneous urge.

Where in the seven hell's had that even come from?

Screwing a tight lid on the thought, he quickly purged it to the back of his mind, concealing his sudden discomfort with an easy-going grin, only to find Garak eyeing him with mild curiosity.

“I don't mean to pry, but are you feeling well?”

“Of course,” Julian replied lightly, his stomach turning a flip. “Why wouldn't I be?”

Garak's eyes narrowed the tiniest fraction, studying his face for some sort of sign he wasn't being entirely honest and Julian quickly drew up his shields, attempting to appear innocently clueless. 

Seeming to come to some kind of decision after a second's debate, Garak ceased his examination and his expression turned thoughtful.

“You've been remarkably kind to me, Doctor,” he eventually remarked and Julian couldn't help but notice after a few protracted seconds of silence, that Garak had no intention of completing the thought, leaving it strategically open-ended as if hoping for an explanation—leaving the ball, so to speak, in Julian's court.

In a way, he supposed it was kind of sad really, that Garak had seen so little genuine kindness that when he received it, he instantly suspected some ulterior motive.

“Garak,“ Julian began, “I would have done whatever I could for anyone in your position—” he paused as he noted a perceptible shadow cross his companion's expression.

“Of course,” Garak replied in a chipper tone that was not mirrored in his eyes.

The thing was, Julian could recognize the uncharacteristic display of vulnerability for what is was: if Garak hadn't wanted him to see the flicker of hurt he'd felt, he was more than capable of completely hiding it. The fact that he'd chosen not to tugged at his heart.

“If I may clarify, what I mean is, that while I always try to do what I can for my patients, there are certain reasonable limitations I typically take.”

There. If Garak could stick him with open-ended remarks laden in subtext, so could he.

His companion's closed off expression softened, and the glowing smile he gave to Julian was not only pleased, but rather proud, and Julian could almost hear him say, 'what an exceptionally quick study, you are, my dear Doctor.'

“As I was saying,” Garak continued, “You have been remarkably kind, and if I may, I would like to return the favor.”

“I assure you, you owe me nothing,” Julian waived, pulling a serious face. “I had only my own interests at heart, and trust me when I say they were entirely selfish.”

Garak's grin widened playfully. “Is that so? And what, pray tell, Doctor, was your motivation?”

“Well, where else am I going to find someone to dispel me of all this unfortunate indoctrination of my Federation upbringing?”

Garak chuckled warmly, settling back in his chair. “I can't think there would be too many volunteers as patient as I've been. Regardless, I would still like to somehow show my gratitude. What would you say to a new addition to your...somewhat deficient wardrobe?”

“Why am I not surprised by your offer?” Julian sighed, rolling his eyes. “You're always trying to find a way to heal me of my 'abysmal' fashion sensibilities.”

Garak snorted. “'Sensibilities'? Not exactly the most fitting term to describe your peculiar sense of aesthetics. If you're going to insist on being seen in my company, we really must address the issue. After all, I do have a professional reputation to protect, Doctor. What must the general public think of my service whenever they see you in your civilian attire? I just hope they don't jump to the conclusion that I had anything to do with it.”

Julian combed his fingers back through his hair and let out an exasperated sigh. “You never give up, do you?”

Garak regarded him fondly, his eyes sparkling with mirth. “Ah, but persistence, my dear Doctor, is the key to success.”

“I'll have to take your word for it,” Julian replied dryly, but no less fondly—

Helplessly so, really.