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It’s always a pleasure meeting Bashir for lunch, even though Garak knows he ought be slightly more restrained when they’re together. They’re on Cardassia now, after all, not the station, where no one cared particularly about a Cardassian arguing with a touch too much interest.

Now that they’re finally located in the same city, Garak finds himself dining with Bashir even more often than they once did at the station. Twice a week at least, sometimes more than that, when their schedules align. Bashir has quickly determined which Cardassian foods offend his palate and which he can tolerate, and like Garak, he works near the city’s center. They meet for lunch, for dinner, in dimly lit restaurants with menus Bashir quickly learns to interpret. His accent is terrible.

Bashir brings up books they disagree about, and sometimes Garak catches himself arguing too spiritedly. Sometimes he can’t quite bring himself to de-escalate the conversation, even when he knows he ought to. Quickly he grows too accustomed to onlookers watching them with either indulgence or alarm. The sight of alien species on Cardassia is still new, let alone an alien flirting with a Cardassian…

Something of Garak’s training, even after all the years since he’d served the Obsidian Order, is left, though, and being noticed on Cardassia doesn’t sit well with him. Especially since Bashir’s interest in him seems to go no further than having someone to argue with, which, while a pity, is more than Garak had hoped for. He had been back on Cardassia for the better part of a Federation year by the time Bashir had arrived as part of Federation relief efforts, and even then, they had both been busy enough that there had barely been time to send each other the briefest of updates of comms.

Garak should say something. Bashir should be clever enough to notice the way other Cardassians look at them when they argue in public, the way his nurses shake they heads and gossip when Garak comes to find Bashir for lunch and Bashir launches into an argument before they can even leave the building.

It takes weeks for Garak to convince himself to say something. He finds Bashir at the same place he usually does for lunch or for dinner, but unannounced; the attendant at the front desk had waved him in without question, disconcerting in and of itself. Bashir is in the atrium of the medical branch, discussing something with one of his nurses. He stands up straight, looking pleased, when Garak appears.

“Doctor,” Garak says, taking Bashir by the elbow, “if I could speak with you for a moment?”

Bashir rolls his eyes. “Sure, Garak. It’s not as if I have anything else to do.”

The nurse gives both of them a knowing sort of look which Garak does his best to ignore. Years of training by the Obsidian Order has given him enough self-control to keep his neck ridges from darkening with embarrassment, thankfully. “Alone, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Bashir sighs, but when Garak nudges him, he leads the way through a set of doors leading to an empty hallway. “I hope it’s nothing urgent that brings you here,” he says as the doors close behind him. Garak drops his hand from Bashir’s elbow, and Bashir takes that as his cue to stop walking. It’s just the two of them in a low light.

The building is old, survived the worst of the war because it was sturdy, but it’s a bit cool, and Garak finds himself wishing they were somewhere else: outside, perhaps, where it would be warmer, and where there wouldn’t be a low ceiling, and walls that could crush in at any moment. “Of course not, Doctor,” he says breezily. “Just a minor thing. Trifling, really.”

“Trifling,” Bashir repeats sarcastically. “But important enough to interrupt me at work?”

“Indeed.” Garak sets his shoulders back and stares at Bashir as seriously as he can. Bashir, for his part, is looking right at Garak, half-smiling, which manages to annoy Garak even further. “I enjoy our meals together, Doctor, but If you continue your insistence on arguing with me in such a public fashion, people will begin to .”

Bashir shrugs. “Let them talk,” he says. He leans against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, and grins lazily. “I don’t mind.”

“I don’t think you understand, Doctor. We can’t carry on here the way we did on the station.” Garak looks away from Bashir to steel himself. It’s humiliating having to explain this, but this is what he gets for having indulged himself for so long, back on Deep Space Nine. “I’m aware you might not have known so at the time, but we were engaged in what any Cardassian would regard as shameless flirting, bordering on–”

Bashir interrupts him. “Garak.” He pushes away from the wall, arms still crossed against his chest, his brow furrowed. “I know. I did pick up a few things from all those books you made me read.”

Which is not the reaction Garak had expected. He considers Bashir’s expression for a moment, and all he can think to say is, “Ah.”

“I thought you knew that I knew that.” Bashir puts his hands on his hips, and goodness, he does have quite the silhouette when he’s dressed properly; the Federation uniform had done him no favors whatsoever. “You were arguing back with me – Garak, have I been making you uncomfortable? I’d hoped you were interested, but I never intended to–”

And, oh, Garak’s been a fool. At least the situation seems salvageable, if perhaps with not all of his dignity.

“My apologies, Doctor, it seems I’ve misread the situation.” He tries his best customer service smile. Really, surprised so much by Julian Bashir? It’s not the first time, but still; something in him thrills at the realization that Bashir is interested. Garak suppresses the feeling. He’ll have time to feel pleased by the prospect later, in private. For now, he tries to speak as mockingly as possible: “Surely you can’t blame me. After all, you never did quite grasp the complexity of any Cardassian work I showed you. Why would I expect you to adapt so quickly to our cultural norms? If anything, they’re more complex!”

A grin splits across Bashir’s face. “Well perhaps if you’d given me something more modern than enigma tales to read, I might have had an easier time of it! I’ll have you know Nurse Arkal laughed at me when I mentioned I’d read them. I thought your taste in literature would be less dated, Garak.”

“Speaking of literature, have you read the latest by Saeihra? Apparently her post-war work has been quite a departure.” Bashir glowers as Garak knew he would – he has less appreciation for Romulan political intrigue in fiction than he does Cardassian. “Actually, Doctor, don’t tell me – perhaps this conversation would be more suited for another time? Dinner, perhaps?”

Bashir smiles at that, more gently though, relieved. “I’d like that,” he says. “Although, perhaps if we’re going to argue about it…”

“Quite likely,” Garak concedes.

“...we might meet somewhere more private?”

Not for the first time and, Garak suspects, not for the last, Bashir has him searching desperately for something to say. After a moment of silence, he nods. “I’d quite like that, Doctor.”