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“As much as I would love to sell you another synthale, doctor, at this hour it’s simply not cost effective to keep the bar open for just one customer.” Quark pretends a thought suddenly occurs to him. “You know, if that yellow-haired beauty was still here drinking with you, or that mmm delightful Bolian woman you were playing dabo with earlier… or that the lovely little-lobed lieutenant… or Dax--”

Julian grimaces. “Point taken! Now about that refill… To take the sting off rejection, let’s say.”

Quark gives him a hard look and points to the door. “You can bat your pretty lashes at me all you like” -- Julian quirks an eyebrow at this -- “but it’s not your poor, hardworking bartender’s fault that you struck out.”

“Oh? What about Morn, he’s still --” Julian looks around, but then recalls Morn walking off with a dabo girl an hour or so ago. “Well, I know I’ve walked past during night shift when he’s the only one.”

Quark waves away Julian’s point. “That’s different. He’s my best customer! Plus, Morn’s a courier -- he could drink anywhere, but he chooses here. You, doctor, are stuck with me.”

“I could spend my evenings at the Klingon restaurant instead. I do appreciate a decent vintage of bloodwine. And gagh! Mmm, I’m sure you of all people can understand the satisfaction of a live meal!” Julian smacks his lips dramatically.

Quark gets distracted for a moment -- he can imagine what kind of worm those lips might enjoy. He regroups and points a stern finger at Julian. “Fine. One more, while I clean up. Then you’re gone. You don’t have to go home, but --”

“But I can’t stay here.” Julian sighs. “Fine.”

“Oh, that’s good. I’m going to start telling all my customers that.”

Somehow, they were often the two left alone at the end of the night. It was inevitable, really.

---

“What are you whistling about?” Dr Bashir emerges from the holosuites swinging his racket. His face is flushed from exertion: the picture of hew-man vitality. “Happy that those orphans didn’t get their blankets after all?”

Quark pops out from under the nearby dabo wheel. “Didn’t you hear? Martus left the station!”

“And now the scams are all yours,” Bashir says wryly.

Quark winks and gives the dabo wheel a test spin. Around and around past dabo and around again -- perfect.

Bashir raises his racket in a sarcastic salute, but his smile is genuine. “Cheers to that, I suppose.”

Truth is, nothing gets Quark going quite like the lobe-flushing thrill of a good scheme -- the promise of windfall from a raucous crowd’s hard-earned bets, a tidy sum so close to his he can already taste the latinum, the delicate act of seeing how far he can push a lucrative opportunity before it all comes crashing down… Despite that his latest one didn’t entirely work out, he’s still feeling exhilarated from the experience nonetheless.

Quark gives Bashir a once-over. Not the first he’s given him of course, but now with a new eye.

No, nothing excites Quark quite like high stakes gambling… but a skimpy outfit, designed to both reveal and entice, could come close.

If you think about it, they have similar appeals, really.

Open negotiations, see where it goes.

“Is, uh, Chief O’Brien meeting you for a game today?” Quark says, strolling closer. “Or is he with his wife this evening?”

An outfit -- like, say, a skintight jumpsuit with shiny eye-catching fabric that stretches and bunches up just so in certain delicate areas -- an outfit like that isn’t all that different from a flashy jackpot enticing you to take risks beyond your more grounded sensibilities. An outfit like that is deliberate in its intentions -- but also coy in that it pretends it isn’t. One wrong move, one leering grin too far, and the wearer can pretend to be offended at your (otherwise correct) assumptions, and any chance at sealing the deal is off.

Quark knows all about this game; the outfits his dabo girls wear he picks out specifically to convey this impression, of course.

“Ah, well, we did have a match planned, but there was that meltdown in sensor array -- I’m sure you heard. No matter! I don’t mind a little solo practice, when a partner is hard to find.” Bashir grins a winning grin and jumps up to mime hitting a volley, in what Quark notes as a sprightly display of strength.

“Plus I charge a cancellation fee, for the holosuites.” Quark loosens his collar slightly, eyes lingering on how Bashir’s long fingers grasp the racket handle. He can certainly imagine Bashir’s solo activities.

Bashir leans in close, as if to tell a secret to Quark’s tingling lobe. “And, Garak designed this performance wear specially for me -- wouldn’t want it to sit in a closet unused.”

“Is that so? Waste not, want not.” Taking this as an opening, Quark runs a hand along Bashir’s arm, feeling the fabric and the sinewy limb beneath. He lingers for a moment, then pulls back, considering that this outfit may be Garak's own strategic bet. “Tell him I have a better source from Ferenginar. Moisture-wicking. This one feels cheap.”

Bashir smirks and looks over Quark’s shoulder. “Some advice to you -- finish with that dabo wheel for the night before Odo makes his way over here...”

Quark whips his head around in alarm. No sign of the constable. He chuckles and shakes his head. “Ah-ha, very funny.”

Bashir winks at him, then prances along.

Quark admires the view as he leaves.

Strange fellow, but no matter how saccharine his idealism or naive his puffed up notions of himself, that Dr Bashir is still one tall masculine glass of root beer.

---

“See, I would have been valedictorian, were it not for one crucial mistake.” Julian’s eyes are wide, enraptured by his own storytelling.

An Andorian woman sits next to him at the bar. She twirls a strand of her big bouffant of white hair around her finger. “Uh-huh,” she says, her eyes a bit glazed over.

Quark, refilling their drinks, mouths along with Julian as he continues: “I mistook a preganglionic fiber for a postganglionic nerve! Silly of me, really.”

Quark rolls his eyes as he leaves to make his rounds in the dining area. The Andorian woman nods along for a while longer, humoring Julian, and eventually makes her excuse to leave as well.

“Another synthale, Quark,” Julian says cheerily when Quark returns.

“Coming right up.” Quark pours and hands it off. “Say, does that ever work?”

Julian cocks his head in polite inquiry.

“The, you know,” Quark waves his hand, “the whole ganglion story. What are you even trying to accomplish -- you want them to think you’re an idiot?”

“The time I took a preganglionic --”

“Yes yes, that one,” Quark says impatiently. “And the one about tennis elbow, and the other one where you saved a dying child but lost your trousers in the process… You tell the same stupid stories over and over.”

Julian shrugs, as if it should be evident. “I’m being relatable!”

“Then you should try harder.”

“Har har. People like someone they know is human -- or well, I mean, just a regular person like them. I may be an elite Starfleet-trained doctor, but I’m not infallible!”

Quark raises an eyeridge. “I wouldn’t have guessed.”

“It’s true!” Julian doesn’t pick up on Quark’s sarcasm. “I don’t want people to be intimidated by me. Especially when I’m trying to… seal the deal, as one might say. Score a romantic encounter.”

“Right, so let me get this straight… you deliberately try to undersell yourself, with the idea that women will think you’re worth more than you are?”

“Not how I’d put it, but --”

“You’re honest and upfront about all your flaws, before you’ve even made the sale?”

“Well…” Julian squints.

“We have a rule about that: number twenty-seven, ‘There's nothing more dangerous than an honest businessman.’”

“Better than what you do!”

“And what’s that, exactly? My large lobes?”

“Ancient humans had a term for it -- negging.”

“And that’s a… financial term, I assume. I impress them with my business acumen.”

“No, no…” Julian suddenly notices something on Quark’s face. “Say, Quark, did you get new eyeshadow? Usually you look run down, but tonight you look” -- Julian grins -- ”not half bad.”

“Oh uh,” Quark says, taken aback. He casts a sidelong glance towards the reflective surface of a kanar bottle nearby. “No?”

“And what is that fragrance?” Julian leans in, sniffing him with genuine intrigue. “Smells like a dog I used to have.”

Quark’s face flushes. “What’s a dog?”

“Darling little Rufus, always playing with the rubbish. Loved that little fellow. You remind me of him.” Julian smiles.

“That’s an animal? You’re comparing me to a useless animal?” While Quark takes it he’s supposed to be flattered to be compared to something Julian feels so fondly about, it’s still rather patronizing.

But he realizes how close Julian is, only a foot of bar counter between them as they both lean in further. Quark wants to prove he’s more than a pet. He licks his lips.

“Oh don’t do that, you’ll chap your lips more than they already are.” Julian reaches up to put his thumb gently on Quark’s mouth. Any forthcoming complaints Quark had on the tip of his tongue are stoppered. Julian closes the distance between them further, so that Quark can feel the puff of his breath when he says softly, “Trust me, I’m a doctor; I know more than you.”

Quark parts his lips, leaning forward for the kiss. But just as he grazes Julian’s lips, Julian rears backwards with a loud guffaw. Quark stumbles forward, counter jutting against his stomach, as he tries to catch himself.

Hah! Now that, is negging. Backhanded compliments, undermining someone’s confidence to make them seek your approval.” Julian grins ear to ear. Quark blinks, dazed and in a whirl of confusion. He feels like he’s been scammed out of a prize he’s not sure he actually wanted. “I didn’t think it would actually work, on you.”

“It -- uh, it didn’t,” Quark mutters, as his face grows hot with humiliation. “I was playing you, to see how far you’d take it.”

“It worked. You were attracted to me,” Julian teases. “Admit it.”

Quark huffs. “If you want to kiss me for real, you’ll have to do better than that.”

---

Quark tries punching in the locking sequence into the bar door again, but his finger misses the nine and swipes the six instead. “Great Gint’s -- hic -- frippering -- hic -- FUCK,” he grumbles.

“Quark?” Bashir strolls down the empty promenade. He’s dressed in scrubs, which means he’s probably taking a quick break during a late night shift. “Are you -- drunk?”

“The numbers keep -- hic -- moving.” Quark squints at the locking pad, willing his vision to still, but it doesn’t obey him. That’s just great, another element of his life upending known patterns.

“Quark, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you drink.” Julian says gently, “Let me help. What’s your code?”

Quark chortles, abrupt and too loud for the silent station. “I don’t -- hic -- give away my security codes.” He waves his finger accusingly at Julian. “Nice try. And I don’t drink -- hic -- usually.”

“You can change the code in the morning. At this rate, you’ll end up passed out against the door before you manage it yourself. I swear on my honor as a paying customer that I won’t steal your rightful possessions. Happy?”

“Fine.” Quark closes his eyes to keep the world steady and droops against the wall. He didn’t mean to drink more than a sniffer of that new Tellerite whiskey he got in stock. But the first made him feel so warm and at ease. And the melancholy over the revelation that not only was Odo capable of romantic attraction but that he reserved this obscene emotion only for Kira, and soundproofed flooring or not, that attraction would never be for Quark -- it threatened to close around Quark this evening. So he broke one of his personal rules as a bartender and drank another shot. Or two. Or so.

“Alright, let’s get you to bed.” After Julian punches in the numbers Quark recites, Quark feels a sudden firm grip on his forearm, pulling him away from the wall. Quark sighs wistfully and leans into Julian’s scrawny frame. Warm, comforting.

“Don’t wanna go to bed. Empty. Lonely,” Quark mutters, eyes still closed. His throat closes up. All the moreso because now his quarters are silent -- good for sleep, but the realization that he won’t ever hear the daily movements of Odo oozing and pitter-pattering around the room above him hits Quark now as a great loss. A sob gets stuck in Quark’s throat and his eyes threaten to well over. “Don’t -- hic -- don’t leave me alooooone!”

“Oh! Oh okay okay,” Julian coos. “I won’t leave you, come with me.”

Julian holds onto Quark to stabilize him and steers him stumbling along toward the infirmary.

“I’m not -- hic -- sick,” Quark whines, trying to pull away as Julian hoists him onto a bed.

Julian jams a hypospray to Quark’s neck before he can protest further, and Quark yelps. “Shh shh. It’s mostly electrolytes, some hydration, a vasodilator... Help you sober up.”

Julian scans a tricorder over Quark’s prone body, monitoring the output. Quark can feel his head clearing already, impending nausea subsiding, and he sighs in relief. It's nice to feel taken care of. Julian’s eyes flicker into contact with Quark’s and his lips part for a moment. That Julian’s alright for a hewmon, concerned as he is for Quark's well-being.

Quark grabs the front of Julian's shirt and pulls himself up to kiss him, messily. Julian kisses back for a second. Then he comes to himself and firmly presses Quark back down into the bed.

“You’re drunk, Quark. And I’m on duty. Go to sleep.”

“Go to sleep. Don’t cheat the customers. Don’t break the law,” Quark recites in a mocking whine. “He doesn’t want to kiss me either. And I’ll never--” one last hiccup catches Quark off-guard and he realizes he’s been talking out loud. "Never mind."

“Who?” Julian’s eyes widen in surprise. “The law, you mean --”

“No one,” Quark hisses. He silently swears never to drink again. “I said never mind.”

Julian pats Quark’s shoulder in what he intends to be a comforting manner, but Quark can tell even in his state that it’s patronizing.

“Don’t fret,” Julian says. “You may try to pretend otherwise, but you’re a romantic like me. You’ll find a worthy lover one day.”

Quark gasps, clutching his chest with his hand in offense. “A romantic? Don’t insult a miserable drunk man like that, Doctor. It’s cruel.”

“Oh really.”

“I’m not a romantic,” Quark spits out the word like a curse. “I’m practical. I’m Ferengi. Finances before -- uh -- before females. Or whatever, you know what I mean.” He gives Julian a lingering lascivious onceover, suddenly feeling much more in control of himself, the melancholy flipping to libido just like that. “I have needs. Physical ones. As a doctor, perhaps you wouldn’t be opposed to a little oomox? For purely practical purposes. Not like you have any lovers of your own to get jealous.”

While anyone else on staff might have twisted their face in disgust or offense, Julian laughs. Not an ideal reaction to a proposition to be sure, insulting even, but Quark laughs along anyway, brushing off the sting.

“So help me if I ever take you up on that offer. It would be a testament to my own desperation.”

Julian shakes his head in disbelief and leaves Quark for sleep while he continues his medical duties through the night.

---

The released suction of Julian’s lips give a loud smack. “Too human! Can you believe that?”

Quark whines, the sound echoing around the small storage closet they’ve somehow both found themselves in after hours. He squirms beneath Julian’s firm hands pinning his thighs to the box of vintage kanar.

Julian gives him one tongue swirl before, unfortunately, continuing to waste his mouth on talking. “Too human, as if I’m not the most open-minded xenophiliac human on this station! I don’t care about what’s in a person’s pants, I care about romance! The exchange of pleasure! I’ve devoted my life to learning anatomical divergences! It’s all just biology.”

“Then I suggest you prove it, by attending to the business at hand.” Quark says between gritted teeth. He’s exasperated and a bit desperate. Usually it’s Quark disrupting the rhythm of a decent blow job to prattle on about some concern or sales pitch or whatnot. He’s discovering that to be in the reverse position is rather infuriating.

Julian, not really listening, switches to jerking Quark off with his hand instead. Quark collapses back in renewed relief. A little too rough, but at least there’s an end to Quark’s ever-lengthening sexual dry spell.

Which is what led them to this situation, of course -- mutual frustration and a way to help each other out.

“You would know -- you’ve got a holosuite program for every known species, within the Federation or without! You sample your own wares, surely…”

Not all species, Quark doesn’t point out. There’s one notable exception.

Quark hasn’t yet managed to trick the only Changeling he knows into letting him holocopy his physiology. Alas...

But also holosuites really aren’t the same as the deft manipulation of a genuine physical hand (or tongue or cock or… whatever Odo would want to conjure in the moment). Quark isn’t about to point this out either, not eager to malign his own profit’s lifeblood.

“I don’t limit myself to Ferengi either. ‘The most lovely quality in a female is her submission,’” Quark recites, in between panting under Julian’s warm strong hand.

Julian snorts in disbelief. “Is that how you explain why you flirt with, oh -- Jadzia, or Kira, or --”

“I’m -- guh -- equal opportunity.”

“Or how you explain this?” Julian gestures with his other hand between the two of them. (Both of them male of course, and Quark very much gravitating towards a submissive role.)

“This is -- a matter of -- convenience. Ow -- ow! Doctor, if you pull any harder it’s going to come off!” Quark grouses. “You’d like that wouldn’t you, another victim for your sickbed.”

“My apologies.” Julian, chagrined at taking out his own irritation on Quark’s poor aching cock, gives a gentle suck.

Quark groans. He could cry from how good it feels. It’s been so long… “You know maybe that’s exactly your problem. You humans are too curious and unrestrained for your own good. Maybe your female wants you to pretend you’re interested in her for more than physical novelty.”

“I am,” Julian says, shaping the words around Quark’s small knob of dick before sucking off. “Wait -- my who?”

“The female who said you’re too hew-mon. Which is true by the way. You’re the most disgustingly hew-mon of those on this station. You know I’m telling the truth because that’s not a compliment.”

“Oh,” Julian looks away, face shuttering closed at some thought. “Not a woman.”

“Then who -- ah ah AH!” A high whining keen escapes from Quark’s mouth, as Julian sucks him to completion. Quark writhes under his grip as he comes, throwing his hands behind him to grasp the shelf for stability. In the haze of post-orgasm, he realizes there’s only one not-female not-human he sees following Julian around like a lost Cardassian riding puppy. Key word: Cardassian. “Oh, him.”

Julian wipes his mouth off with the back of his sleeve, but doesn’t answer. He stands up and unzips his own trousers. His erect member is at Quark’s eye level. Quark takes Julian’s hand, placing it on his lobe for stimulation during the act.

He closes his eyes, imagining for a moment it’s someone else’s tender, liquid touch. “His loss, our gain.”

Quark braces himself against the box behind his head. Julian thrusts into Quark's willing mouth, relieving his frustrations, and Quark's eyes water with the effort.

It doesn’t take long. Julian tucks himself back into his pants. A note of guilt creeps into his voice in the aftermath: “Do you mind if we keep this, uh, discreet."

Quark shrugs, still draped across the boxes and shelf. It’s not the first time he’s had that request from someone, but with Julian he finds he doesn’t really care. “Whatever.”

“And let’s -- let’s not make this habit.”

They do.

---

“Wait wait ow stop! I have a rock digging into my ass --”

“At this rate that’ll be the only thing in your --”

“And my lobes have sand in the creases--”

“Just relax already --”

“And. And, the sun is too bright.”

“It’s supposed to be bright, we’re on Risa.”

“Well it’s hot,” Quark finishes lamely. “Is it supposed to be this hot? Do I have a fever? I heard Morn came down with Leethian blood fever after couriering to Risa once, do you think -- ”

“That’s it.” Julian sighs. “The reinvigorating vacation I came here for is officially over.” He flops out of the water onto the white sand banks. His long lean -- nude -- limbs glisten in the thankfully restored Risian sunshine. As does his semi-erect humanity.

When Julian again suggested skinny dipping in a hot springs, after all that mess with the New Essential-whatsits, Quark imagined other people tagging along with them, any number of beautiful women (or men) grateful for one last carefree good time in Quark’s company before he has to head out.

Not that the good doctor himself is lacking in the looks department, if you’re into that sort of thing, or bereft of nimble fingers, but... well. The disappointment of the whole trip is threatening to crash down around Quark, to spin him into an all-too-familiar melancholia, and Julian isn’t proving sufficient enough as a distraction, and he suspects the feeling is mutual.

Quark readjusts, hunching down fully into the frothing water until his chin broaches the surface, and he rinses off his lobes. “I didn’t have any complaints during jama’haron yesterday, with Tindala and Yana.”

“That’s because Risians know how to have fun,” Julian sighs wistfully. “They can appreciate a good time. Unlike Jadzia, apparently.”

“Now that she’s tied herself to that stodgy oaf...” Quark scowls.

“Leeta always knew how to have a good time.”

“And yet she’d rather be with Rom, of all people. Now what does that say about you and the appeal of your own fun-loving good nature, hmm?”

“It says that your brother has a beautiful voluptuous lover ready to throw herself at him, and that somehow we’re all alone.”

Quark laughs, a strained loud cackle. “Speak for yourself. I’m keeping my options open for the right opportunity. Don’t want to get tied down. Too much drama.”

Julian snorts. “I’m sure.”

“I’m serious!” Quark drops his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Ladies love a well-made drink, you know what I’m saying.”

Julian recoils. “As the station doctor, if you are insinuating you spike drinks --”

“That would hardly be profitable! Not to mention my establishment’s fine reputation.” Quark is offended. “I only meant it helps to be the one providing a good time.”

Julian looks doubtful.

“Well, except when I water down the alcohol people order, but that’s healthier even, right doctor?”

“Okay, okay! Understood.”

“Honestly, you sound like Odo, jumping to ludicrous conclusions at my expense --”

“Speaking of Odo --” Julian butts in, eyes alight with a dangerous sort of curiosity.

“Now who’s killing the mood,” Quark says darkly. “Say, what was the last novel you read in your little book club? I noticed you didn’t take any Cardassian epics for some light beach reading this weekend...”

In all their mutual complaining, there’s two people they avoid discussing directly.

(The two people that matter most.)

“Point taken.” Julian grimaces. “Back to the matter at hand, then: I myself am an exceptionally attractive suitor --”

“Uh huh.”

“-- perhaps the most eligible bachelor on Deep Space Nine --”

“Most delusional, maybe.”

“--and yet--”

“And yet here you are, on a planet full of scantily clad beings of all sorts of delightful shapes, sitting in this mudhole, with me.”

“Quark, that’s not --”

“That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it? Well I’ll tell you, I have plenty of places I could be right now, and yet here I am keeping you company -- !”

“And yet, Leeta thinks she’s the one who has better prospects awaiting her. Rom! I’m the one who decided to end it”

“I thought you said it was mutual.”

Julian waves his hand dismissively, gazing up at the puffy clouds floating by. “I was being the bigger man.”

“Uh huh.”

“So to speak.”

Quark’s eyes flicks to a particular portion of Julian’s exposed body. “What do you say about being the bigger man in this hole? Uh, water hole -- back down in the spring, with me?”

Julian turns to him with a sly amused look. “You know, Quark, earlier I was going to say you’re as much work as Jadzia, what with all the grousing of yours. But truth be told, you’re downright easy.”

He continues smirking, slides down beside Quark, and doesn’t hesitate to grasp a lobe.

“Why can’t it be both?” Quark sighs, whether in relief or resignation it’s hard to say. He reaches underwater to reciprocate. “And you’re one to talk.”

---

Julian pulls out with a wet squelch and flops over to the other side of the bed. Quark remains facedown, post-orgasmic euphoria fizzling through him like a hazy cloud.

Until now their occasional hookups here and there have been what would be considered acceptable encounters between business partners -- handjobs, blowjobs, making out, oomox. Penetrative sex however is supposed to be reserved for marriage contracts and procreation. Although Quark’s never been strict about those rules with non-Ferengi, it does make what comes next awkward.

“Do you want water?” Julian says, getting up to go the replicator.

Quark shakes his head and continues to lie there. Fluids start to dry in and around him and while it’s uncomfortable, he can’t be bothered to move to clean up just yet.

Julian settles back down onto the bed with a cup of tea. He pulls out a couple of medical reports to review, before double-glancing at Quark. “I'm done, if you didn't realize, you can get up now.”

“You'd like that wouldn't you. Well you can't make me.” The flush of sex is residing, and a soup of hormones is starting to wash over Quark. If Julian wants him to leave his quarters, he's going to have to try harder than that.

“Suit yourself,” Julian mutters and returns to his medical reports.

Quark curls up like a pillbug, making himself small and compressed. He squeezes his limbs around the pillow under him, which was there to support his hips for a better angle during the act. It's acting as a different sort of comfort now.

“What are you doing? Are you--” Julian cuts off, eyes suddenly scanning as if solving equations in head or reviewing texts in that unnatural photographic memory of his. “Ah-ha… What neurotransmitters are involved for Ferengi, I wonder? Some form of oxytocin is expected, I'm sure, but --”

Quark groans. “Save it for the infirmary. I'm not your test subject.”

“‘Post-Coital Bonding Response in Ferengi,’ makes a catchy name for a paper, don't you think?”

“You better not be scanning me with your tricorder,” Quark squeals, burrowing his face into the mattress. “That's theft! It'll cost you at least a bar of latinum.”

“Is that the going rate for medical information on Ferenginar? Explains why there's so little Federation knowledge on your people… Hmm, I do have some savings…”

“Don't even think about it! It's it's -- an invasion of privacy! Don't you have some doctor code you're supposed to follow?”

Julian laughs at Quark's indignance, but stops when he notices him scrunching up tighter around the pillow. “I was only kidding.” A long pause. “Do you need -- something?”

As much fun as being pounded into the bed can be, this situation right now is what Quark usually tries to avoid. The concern, the need for tender physical contact. The possibility of developing unwanted inconvenient feelings brought on only by the biological imperative for intimacy.

Quark lets loose a string of expletives, griping incoherently into the mattress.

“Let’s see if I can come up with a diagnosis. Hmm.” Quark can hear the smug smile in Julian’s voice, and he hates it. There’s a tentative touch on his shoulder. Quark’s body automatically relaxes under its warmth, and the touch graduates to a methodical stroking. Julian snickers. “Just as I suspected. Prescription: cuddling.”

“I have thirty-eight holosuite programs involving doctors,” Quark grumbles, while arching into Julian’s hand like a pleased haracat, “and you make me want to toss them all out the airlock."

"Because I'm the only doctor you need?" Julian teases.

"Because you've ruined the fantasy. Anyone ever tell you you're obnoxious?”

“It’s my best quality.” Julian scoots until he’s sitting up against Quark’s hunched form and drapes one arm across him. There’s a click-click of a padd as Julian returns to his med reports while continuing to rub Quark’s back.

Quark lets out a pleased sigh.

It’s only later Quark realizes that -- except for the bitching about Jadzia’s marriage while out at Vic’s, the initial impetus for the hookup -- they didn’t complain about her (or even indirectly reference their other lost loves) the entire night. It had just been the two of them.

Another first.

---

“Well that was --” Julian gestures in a loop, searching for a follow-up that doesn’t come.

“Don’t embarrass yourself thanking me, Doctor,” Quark says before Julian can say some empty sentiment he doesn’t really mean. He busies himself with putting his clothes back on.

It was fine. Perfectly acceptable sex, even if on balance -- like most normal things recently -- they’re both left feeling a little more empty than comforted for the effort.

It’s been only a couple months since Jadzia died -- since Sisko left the station, since the war threatens in the background -- and they’ve all been trying to move on and get ready in the meantime. Nothing has really helped the pervading morale. There’s a set of spots missing from all their lives. A ready joke and a mischievous smile that should be there, but isn’t any more.

What could have been crowds out what’s here now.

“Oh I wasn't,” says Julian absently. He stops in the middle of pulling on his Starfleet jumpsuit with sudden contemplation, his hairy eyebrows furrowing like two caterpillars. Quark feels a sudden wave of apprehension. “Uh, do you mind if -- We should stop. Doing this.”

Her death also makes it all the more difficult to sort out how they feel about certain other people on the station -- including but not limited to each other. There’s no longer an unobtainable gorgeous scapegoat to project any and all stray emotions onto.

“We’re not doing anything,” Quark snaps. He takes longer than necessary aligning all his many clasps and buttons.

“Right.” Julian zips the single zipper on his Starfleet uniform -- a feature of insulting thrift in Quark's opinion -- and lingers near the door looking a little like he has indigestion. “Right of course not. It’s just -- it doesn’t seem right. Us, like this.”

“No one’s forcing you. I don’t care.”

“She would want us to man up. Tell people what’s in our hearts while we still can. Jadzia --”

“Whatever! Okay!” Quark stands up abruptly. He tugs his jacket into place, smoothing down the front. “You don't have to keep selling me.”

“Alright then. If that’s settled.” Julian’s expression clears. “Cheers.” He gives Quark a manly pat on the shoulder before heading out.

The thing about being such an important community figure as a bartender is that it makes it impossible to avoid anyone.

---

The mood in the bar is infectious, and Quark’s ingratiating smile is entirely genuine for once.

“You look happy. Not still upset about your brother the Nagus, then?” Julian deposits two empty synthale glasses on the counter, grinning.

Quark waves his hand -- old news. “The war’s over, people are making plans for their lives, and sales are up in celebration. It’s almost worth everything else beforehand.”

"You mean the war?" Julian quirks an eyebrow. “And what are your plans?”

Quark drums his fingers on the counter, thinking. “When profits are on the rise, it’s the perfect time to plan for the next big opportunity. I plan to ride out the good fortune that the Great River brings while I can.”

“It’s not enough for you to celebrate the moment? You know the Bajorans have a saying --” Julian teases.

“Bajorans, that’s it! A betting pool for the next Kai --”

“Which is technically illegal --”

“Which means that the first step, as always, is how to distract Odo --” Who left several days ago with Kira back to his planet. Quark frowns.

“And so your good fortune continues!” Julian raises his empty glass in a mock toast.

“Did you want something, Doctor?” Quark asks peevishly, good mood plummeting just like that.

“I heard your special for the night is the Root Beer Surprise.  What's in that?"

"Root beer liqueur, root beer, root beer flavored ice cream --”

“Oh, no no. Nothing so decadent.”

“You didn’t even hear about the surprise--”

Julian glances back to the table he came from and reconsiders. “Actually, Ezri has a bit of a sweet tooth. And we’re celebrating, so why not! Two, please.”

“I suppose a congratulations on outbidding me for her hand is in order,” Quark says rather bitterly. He knew he was a long shot in the romantic pool, but still, he had hoped.

“You can congratulate us by putting in extra 'surprise.'”  Julian grins, oblivious to Quark's mood swing.

The bar stays lively and profitable until late, happy couples spend generously while planning for peaceful futures together, and at the end of the night Quark resets it all for morning like he has for every day before that. Alone. He’s a rock stuck in the current of life.

The Great River giveth and the Great River taketh away.

---

“So you’re ditching this place too, I hear?” Quark sets down a heavy bottle in front of Julian with an unnecessarily loud clank. “Leaving for brighter stars, and after all the Black Holes I’ve poured for you lot, and now that it’s over you don’t even have the courtesy of telling me yourself… Consider this your parting gift. Ten percent discount.”

Quark fills two small glasses full of viscous liquid from the bottle -- Tarkalean tea flavored brandy -- and shoves one in front of Julian. “Now don’t get sentimental on me, because I’m expecting you to come back eventually. Maybe your engine will give out the next star system over; maybe you find out you get spacesick now after all your time on station. You’ll be back.”

Julian squints at the small drink with a faraway look.

Quark continues on: “Not that I’ll miss you, of course. The more I get to know a customer, the easier it is to pinpoint what they need. Make a sale.”

They clink glasses, and Julian chokes his down with a grimace and manages a half-smile. “One would almost think you consider me a friend.”

“Well, I…” Quark frowns at him: puffy red eyes, hair greasy from a skipped shower, general haggard appearance. Julian isn’t the cavalier, lovestruck fool that Quark would expect, if he were following Ezri on the five year Explorer mission as Quark had assumed. “Oh... You broke up. You're staying.”

Julian pours himself another glass, examines it for a moment, then downs it in a gulp. Meanwhile, Quark discreetly swaps the bottle for a cheaper less potent brand, just in time for Julian to reach for it to pour another. Profitable markup or not, Quark isn’t so irresponsible as to let the station doctor drown himself in a mood like this. Plus, Tarkalean brandy is meant to be savored.

“Who needs a counselor when you have a bartender, right?” Julian says with a wry smile. "I suppose I'll be seeing more of you, now."

Quark’s heart spasms like a trapped vole. “I -- uh -- I know we’ve had our, our arrangements, but -- you can’t expect me to -- it was never like that. It didn’t mean anything, to me. You --”

A short bark of a laugh escapes Julian, a break in his grim demeanor. “No, no don’t be ridiculous. I meant at the bar.”

“Right…” Quark’s brief panic subsides and in its place is an unexpected bitterness in his gut. He scowls. “Like you’re such a catch yourself.”

“Apparently not,” Julian says, setting down his empty glass for Quark to refill yet again. “Here we are, Quark. Both of us left behind while everyone moves on around us. Loveless and unwanted as always.”

Quark exchanges Julian’s glass for a larger one and fills it with root beer instead. Nonalcoholic, but at least he can still charge for it, unlike water.

“Speak for yourself. I for one have several opportunities on the horizon. Take the Gamma Quadrant for example, there’s -- ” But Quark cuts himself off.

He had been about to say “new trade routes,” but they both know that’s not the real reason Quark would find himself travelling out there. He’s finding he’s not as good at pretending as he used to be. Probably a symptom of living among non-Ferengi too long.

There’s a silence between them for a moment. Julian sighs, staring into his root beer.

“So, I heard...” Quark starts, aiming for an offhand and casual. He clears his throat and starts again. “I heard there’s a new hospital opening up for war survivors, near Lakarian City.”

Julian looks up abruptly. They don’t mention who else is on Cardassia, almost certainly working in Lakarian City.

“They’re asking for Starfleet trained doctors. You could -- I mean, maybe it’s not too late for you.”

Julian stares at him, a brief ray of possibility brightening -- but then the clouds returns. Julian shakes his head. “Nah.”

And that’s that.

They linger for a while more, talking about nothing as the bar clears out for the night, and then they’re the two who are left.

“My place? If you’ve nothing better.”

A shrug. “I suppose.”