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the instinct of the blind insect

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From his vantage point on the second floor, Garak watched Doctor Bashir and Chief O’Brien arrive at the bar and order their drinks. The two humans chatted for a few minutes, then - right on cue - O’Brien waved over a third figure. A short Bajoran in a Starfleet uniform approached the pair and appeared to greet O’Brien with some familiarity. She also ordered a drink, snapped something venomous at Quark, then delved into conversation with the chief. The set of her shoulders, and Bashir’s obvious waning interest, revealed their discussion as something related to engineering. 

Garak glanced at his chronometer. So far, so good.

He sipped his kanar, taking the time to admire Bashir’s slender figure slouched on a barstool. After a few more minutes the doctor sat up, facing the door, then stood and appeared to call over another person. A moment later Odo came into view. 

Garak watched closely.

Bashir gestured to the ensign, and then back to Odo, who nodded at her gruffly. The doctor swung his hands behind his back and gazed expectantly at the shapeshifter, then at the Bajoran woman. There was an uncomfortable pause in which looks were exchanged, and finally three baffled - two verging on irritated - expressions managed to chip away at Bashir’s enthusiasm. Finally he coughed and spoke again, staring at the floor, and the tension evaporated from the little group. Odo nodded again and strode off, presumably to interrogate Quark, and the ensign left after exchanging a few more words with Chief Obrien. The two officers were once again sitting alone at the bar. 

Garak sighed. It had been a long shot, but he had hoped Ensign Ro had enough in common with Major Kira to get Odo’s attention. And she may have, but the interest waned immediately.

Through the din Garak could now hear the gravely low and squeaky high tones of Odo and Quark arguing. He had considered Quark as an option - the pair had an undeniable rapport - but then concluded that Quark was the type of person who would proactively pursue his interests and wouldn’t need assistance. Besides, dealings with Quark always ended dramatically. This was only a fun distraction, something to occupy Garak’s time.

At the bar O’Brien spoke to Bashir, who slouched into his cup and muttered something into his beverage. The chief slapped him on the back, jostling his arm and slopping synthale over the counter, and the doctor exclaimed something in irritation. The pair then left, dripping alcohol, towards the dart board on the other side of the bar. 

Garak needed to make some adjustments to his list of candidates. Apparently short, Bajoran and angry weren’t the only traits he would need to sway the Constable.

Below, Quark reappeared with a rag. As he mopped up the spilled drink Odo followed him into view. He appeared to be haranguing the Ferengi, gesturing as Quark rolled his eyes and snapped back in irritation.

Garak smiled into his kanar - at least Odo was not bereft of all social relationships. Maybe he should ask for Quark’s assistance - no. Again, dramatic.

Garak was contemplating ordering a second drink when Odo suddenly dropped the conversation mid-stream and turned towards the bar’s entrance. Both he and Quark greeted two new arrivals: Ensign Ro once again, but this time joined by Major Kira. 

This warranted further observation. 

The two women ordered cocktails, the ensign’s posture still threatening despite her diminutive stature, and Kira briefly chatted with Odo. Garak shook his head sadly, caught up in the melodrama; Odo was leaning in towards Kira like a plant into sunlight, obviously desperate for attention. When their exchange ended, the Major patted him on the shoulder in a friendly way then turned to leave with Ro. The same hand drifted down to the small of the ensign’s back and wrapped around her waist as the pair left. 

Odo’s raw, longing gaze could probably be seen clear through the wormhole and into the Gamma Quadrant. Perhaps that was how the Founders monitored him.

Garak was not a sympathetic man - he could not afford that luxury, not in his career - but he did feel a twinge of empathy. Odo’s plight felt a little too relatable some days. (Particularly days when the infirmary was overrun and staff were too busy for lunch breaks, or when the Defiant was overdue to return from a dangerous voyage.)

Clearly, there was work to be done here. And if it was entertaining work, all the better.

Prior opinions now galvanized, Garak ordered a second drink and waited for Bashir to conclude his game with O’Brien. By the time the human finally arrived, bounding up the spiral staircase, Garak had a fully formed plan to implement.  

“I still don’t understand WHY you put me up to that,” Bashir complained, later in the evening. His familiar expression of friendly confusion was sweetened even further by the liberal glasses of kanar Garak had offered. (Quark was still offloading the stuff for cheap, and if Garak had to taste root beer, the Doctor had to try kanar.)

“That was the most uncomfortable 60 seconds of my life! Ensign Ro will never respect me now. I try to live my life avoiding awkward conversations like that!”

Garak hummed to himself, pleased. “Consider it a favor for a friend. One I fully intend to repay.” He shifted in his seat, the movement slightly pulling at his shirt collar and exposing a scandalous amount of his neck.

He congratulated himself for suppressing a satisfied smirk as Bashir’s gaze lingered on the exposed skin. 

Odo wasn’t the only lovestruck fool on the station.

<<< >>>

“Interesting, isn’t it?”

“What?”

Garak discretely nodded towards the other end of the replimat. The tailor and the officer were meeting slightly later than their normal standing date, and the promenade was much busier than usual for Garak and Odo’s appointments. More than one curious Bajoran had taken a second glance at their security chief apparently socializing with a known Cardassian criminal. But Garak had gestured past the onlookers, towards a table where Lieutenant Dax was talking with a humanoid the Cardassian couldn’t place. 

“Do we have new visitors from the Gamma Quadrant? I had not seen any unidentified vessels arriving on the docking bay schedule.”

Odo glared at Garak, but without any real malice. “Those documents are restricted to Provisional Government personnel.”

“Did I say see? I must have meant heard. Your deputy Fulmar was in for a fitting yesterday, and you know how he likes to gossip.”

The rebuttal was instinctual, a knee-jerk gesture that was as useless as Odo’s toothless interrogation. But it was a now familiar pattern, a reliable back-and-forth that both men found comfortable. 

“Anyways, I cannot place this person's home world - do you have any insight, Constable?”

“Interesting, isn’t it?”

“What?”

Garak discretely nodded towards the other end of the replimat. The tailor and the officer were meeting slightly later than their normal standing date, and the promenade was much busier than usual for Garak and Odo’s appointments. More than one curious Bajoran had taken a second glance at their security chief apparently socializing with a known Cardassian criminal. But Garak had gestured past the onlookers, towards a table where Lieutenant Dax was talking with a humanoid the Cardassian couldn’t place. 

“Do we have new visitors from the Gamma Quadrant? I had not seen any unidentified vessels arriving on the docking bay schedule.”

Odo glared at Garak, but without any real malice. “Those documents are restricted to Provisional Government personnel.”

“Did I say see? I must have meant heard. Your deputy Fulmar was in for a fitting yesterday, and you know how he likes to gossip.”

The rebuttal was instinctual, a knee-jerk gesture that was as useless as Odo’s toothless interrogation. But it was a now familiar pattern, a reliable back-and-forth that both men found comfortable. 

“Anyways, I cannot place this person's home world - do you have any insight, Constable?”

Odo took a second look at the humanoid. They were slight, pale with a greenish tint to their smooth skin, with only a ridged forehead to distinguish them from a Human. They sat politely, smiling and nodding as Dax gestured to their meal, pointing out different foods. At the Trill’s obvious emphatic insistence they took a cautious bite of something pink, chewed thoughtfully, and nodded emphatically. 

“Their name is Lor, a representative from J’naii. Alpha Quadrant, but not affiliated with the Federation - I believe their planet is part of a small star system alliance, but seeking to expand into new territories.”

Garak nodded. “Interesting. Well, I assume they are being treated well by the Lieutenant?”

“That depends on your definition of treated well,” Odo replied, voice dry. He swirled his fake mug of coffee, took a sip. They both watched as Lor tried a different dish, then began to frantically cough. Jadzia laughed uproariously as the unfortunate J’naii spluttered and attempted to wash out the taste with their drink. “Dax can have some rather… ersatz concepts of diplomacy.” 

Garak sipped his own tea. Dax was leaning forward, resting one hand on Lor’s arm while she wiped a smudge of food off their face. Lor blushed a forest green, averted their eyes. 

Odo snorted, rolled his eyes. “Her conduct is hardly befitting a senior officer.”

“I don’t think Dax is such a terrible cultural liaison,” Garak mused. He picked at the remains of his meal. “Other than perhaps yourself, who better to greet a representative of an entirely unknown race?”

Odo frowned. “What makes you say that?”

“My dear Constable, despite our differences there is one clear thing myself and you have in common with Dax.” As Odo failed to catch on, he continued: “The three of us, and now this J’naii- we four are each the only representative of our people on the station. Regardless of our wishes, we are also ambassadors for our people and planets every day.” He set his fork down on a plate. “The main difference being, I suppose, that the average Bajoran has much less… animosity towards Trill or J’naii. As opposed to Cardassia and, now, the Dominion.”

Odo rested his chin on the fist of his free hand. “I see your point.”

Garak shrugged. “Who better to make a newcomer feel welcome, than someone who themselves once did not?”

Garak looked back over. Dax has laced her fingers in Lor’s, still leaning in. She was still speaking emphatically, but now in a much lower voice. Lor appeared completely dazzled by the Trill’s charisma. 

Odo reluctantly agreed. “An astute observation.”

Garak glanced sidelong at his breakfast companion, seeking some sort of emotional response to Dax’s flirtatious display. The Constable’s gaze had narrowed somewhat, something like a worried frown furrowing his brow.

“It is something I rather admire about the Lieutenant,” Garak continued. “Her brazen ability to form bonds and bridges with anyone she meets.” 

“So, the polar opposite of yourself?” Odo’s voice was distant, as if he was only barely listening to Garak. 

“You wound me, Constable!” 

“Hmm.” Garak watched Odo, who watched the couple hold hands and interlock their fingers. The slightest hint of a sneer curled his lip, but it appeared half-hearted. His gaze, shadowed at the best of times, had a particularly hollow ring to it now. 

Garak attempted to reel the conversation back on track. “I wonder,” he hinted, “if there is anything else you have in common with Dax and myself.” Across the replimat, Dax had jumped up to greet a friend, then sat back down and draped an arm over the J’naii’s shoulders. Lor fell into her casual embrace.

“I could not say.” 

Garak sighed to himself. These painfully transparent comments were clearly above the distracted Constable’s head. 

“Well, Odo,” he said, stiffly getting to his feet. “I can only assume you are seconds away for reprimanding the Lieutenant for public indecency, and although that sounds like an entertaining show I do have some work to complete.” Odo snapped out of his apparent trance and also stood. 

Empty tray in hand Garak made to leave, but stopped to look Odo in the eye. “I sincerely enjoyed your company, Odo, and I want you to know I look forward to these occasions.”

“Hmph,” Odo grunted, but there was not much malice in it. “They are… tolerable.”

“Our normal time tomorrow? Provided there are no more emergency missions that call you off the station.”

“Very well.” The changeling nodded stiffly, and his stern expression briefly softened into what could almost be called a smile. 

Odo turned and left, walking straight past Lieutenant Dax without stopping to acknowledge her greeting. The confused Trill made eye contact with Garak, who shrugged theatrically. 

Clearly, Odo was jealous of Dax’s budding relationship with this J’naii person. Garak could conspire to separate them from Dax, and direct them into the Constable’s direction, but something about that plan didn’t ring true. Besides, if Lor was an ambassador they were not likely to linger on the station, and Garak needed a long-term presence. 

Garak made a note to greet Lor at a later date, and maybe entice them into sharing some images of their homeworld fashion - he needed to freshen up his portfolio for the upcoming Bajoran spring season. 

<<< >>>

They were breaking the rules.

Odo couldn’t even articulate what rules Dax and Lor were violating, but he knew that they were. He knew it intuitively, in the same way that he knew gravity would cause a dropped object to fall.

After meeting his people and discovering their inherent chaotic and ever-changing nature, Odo knew such inflexible rules were his alone. That knowledge still stung, casting doubt on who and what he was - what other things about Odo went against Changeling nature? Where did he end and his race begin? The lack of clear boundaries was distressing.

Garak was saying something about his friendship with Lieutenant Dax, and Odo could barely care. He stared down the couple, furiously interrogating his own emotions to find what rules they were so casually breaking.
Jadzia was shameless. She has been since her arrival on the station, putting her friendships and sexual relationships on display, freely flirting with anyone and everyone, obviously enjoying her life. The remaining scraps of Curzon’s memory told Odo that this was not a facade - the Dax symbiote was genuinely that confident. Unfortunately, that boldness had evaporated with the rest of the Trill’s memories.

In the back of his mind - the part that policed himself as well as the rest of the station, the part that never stopped observing and noting and analyzing his surroundings - Odo knew he was jealous. Not of Jadzia, not of the alien humanoid wrapped in her arms, but of her confidence, her ability to be herself around others. She was unashamedly herself, living with the confidence granted by many lifetimes of experience.

Watching Jadzia giggle into Lor’s neck, squeezing them around the middle, twisted something in Odo’s chest. A discomfort he could not articulate. 

As he walked by Jadzia the Trill made a friendly comment, but he didn’t have it in him to do more than grunt in respond. He wasn’t truly angry at his colleague, he knew; just what she represented, what she reminded him. Not a deficiency per se, but a difference, a misalignment of emotional gears that prevented him from enmeshing with the social strata of the station.

Odo was sure that, if someone else recognized his irritation triggered by Dax and her partner, there would be talk of jealousy and intimacy, words behind which things like sex and love were never far behind. Vast amorphous concepts he had heard about, read about a thousand times. He knew about the symptoms, physical effects, the tiered status that most humanoid cultures deferred to such things. How such partnerships were the core of social units, the nucleus of families, the bedrock upon which societies were built. How biological reproduction shaped lifestyle, family history, dynasty and legacy. Almost everything about a Human, or a Bajoran or a Cardassian, could be traced back to a connection between two other people, a series of chemical reactions triggered in each others’ presence.

Odo understood these things. Just as acutely as he knew that he did not have the capacity for them. Much like his inability to shift any chemosensory structures, on a physical level he could not string the molecules together to create romantic chemical reactions. Like his nose and smooth forehead, like his sharp 16 hour curfew on physical form - all things Odo could not change. It was a limitation that shaped him just as much as any of Mora’s instruments once had.

Odo was not envious of the solids, with their needy bodies or hormone-addled brains. What he was jealous of was the apparent ease with which they interacted with one another. The way they inspired such passion in each other, and how they were able to clearly identify their personal needs and act upon them. All just as shameless as Jadzia, able to identify what they need and obtain it with ease.

This was a cultural divide between Odo and the rest of the station. A difference just as vast and complex as the physiological differences between Bajorans and Changelings.

Before the discovery of his people Odo had clung to this disconnect. He had believed it was representative of his culture, his own potential family structure. A cherished hint of what someday awaited him. It was the feeling that had driven him into the Gamma Quadrant, and the Denorious Belt, and finally to the Founders.

Every Bajoran couple he saw holding hands, every Human parent carrying a child and laughing, every passionate Cardassian argument felt like a promise, that SOMEDAY he too would bond with someone just like himself. That the universe would open up and deliver unto him a second half, another humanoid with a sharp nose and a liquid form.

Of course it did not. His people had their own version of this connection, too, but through the Great Link he saw who they were and what they represented. The choices they made to sustain their lifestyle. Their compassion and love for Odo was entirely conditional, and did not extend to any of the colleagues he had grown to respect and admire in the decades separating him from the rest of the Link.

So, now he had neither. Repulsed by the physiological couplings of humanoids, unable to create the emotional bonds they sought, and repelled by the amoral cruelty of the Changelings. Just like the station he served, a place not entirely belonging to one nation or another, desperately trying to bridge the gap.

There were times when Odo almost succeeded, when he was more than just “the shapeshifter” or “security.” When Sisko invited him to dinner, even though Odo couldn’t participate. When Miles O’Brien persuaded him to join whatever absurd holosuite game he and Bashir would play. During his weekly meetings with Kira, where she would relax and let down the professional facade and they would commiserate about the Federation.

But the moment would end abruptly, and Odo would once again realize that he was a singular unit, on the outside of every social unit looking in. The depth of connection he had briefly experienced with the Great Link was inaccessible with solid humanoids. As incompatible as water and oil.

Odo stood in front of his office doors, twisting the PADD in his hands, and suddenly felt his anger change course and surge back around at himself. Dax was not taunting him, he told himself sternly. Dax and Lor were merely two humanoids on a station of hundreds, living their lives in accordance to their biological prerogatives, and Odo was too. The universe was impartial, and while there were rules to be followed, apparently some people were exempt.

For a brief second Odo let the features of his face slack, relaxing the details of his form. It was too early into his non-regenerative period to be this tired and discouraged - there was still a long shift ahead of him.

With the shape shiftings equivalent of a deep breath Odo shored up his face and entered the security office, his console already alit with a list of notifications. Issues to address, problems to solve, tasks to complete.

Odo threw himself into the workday, allowing the minutiae of station criminal activity to saturate his mind, and pushed any troublesome images out of his thoughts entirely.

 

<<< >>>

Garak waited a week before his next attempt. To strike too soon, and come on too strong, would likely spook Odo and make him more resistant to any advances, so the tailor moved slowly. Anyways, he had nothing but time. 

A young Andorian woman had recently arrived on the station, with a relatively large family. At first Garak had thought the young man that often accompanied her to the replimat was a spouse, but then the pair had patronized his shop, seeking a matrimonial robe for - Garak soon learned - the twin brother. 

Befriending Amarh was easy, and she was indeed charming and easy to talk to. She went out of her way to tell Garak that she was excited to live on such a multicultural station, and meet so many different types of people. As her brother had recently married, she explained, she was in no rush to find a husband, but - she soon confided - she was interested in getting to know a few non-Andorian men. 

A gentle insinuation of the Constable’s availability was all it took. Amarh visited Garak’s shop for a dress alteration, and politely but firmly told Garak he would introduce her to Odo sometime within the next few days. Garak informed her that he and the Constable would be enjoying breakfast together at 0700 the following morning.

“You said he doesn’t eat?” Amarh frowned, antennae lilting to the side in confusion. 

“He does not,” Garak acquiesced. “One might say, he sustains himself on conversation alone. Please join us!”

The Andorian beamed and twirled in her gown. “I think I’ll wear this,” she announced, admiring her reflection in the triptych of mirrors before her. 

“Madam, if he declines your company, it will be a crime against art. You look divine.”

Amarh practically floated out of the shop, mended dress stowed securely under one arm, and Garak hoped that Odo’s obvious affection for Ambassador Troi would extend to other loquacious, ornate women. 

<< >>>

Garak needed to reassess once more. His early morning meeting with Odo and Amarh had not ended poorly: yes, the Constable had been visibly baffled that an Andorian woman in full evening wear happened to be strolling the promenade at such an early hour. But he had politely accepted Garak’s introduction, listened to Amarh complement him on his work subduing a rowdy Klingon smuggler at Quark’s the previous night (shooting Garak a suspicious glance as she spoke), and was very possibly about to ask her out on a holosuite date when his comm badge beeped. Duty called, and Garak reassured himself that the speed at which Odo departed for the Security Office was no faster than usual. 

The only evening plans that had resulted from their encounter was Garak consoling the devastated Amarh, and the tailor quietly asking Leeta to push a reasonable suitor in her direction. Fortunately, within the week Amarh was back in his shop, wrapped around the arm of a Bajoran merchant, seeking matching formal wear.

Garak gave her a generous discount, for her time.

<<< >>>

It was midday in Garak’s Clothiers, and the tailor had an audience. Doctor Bashir was half-sitting on Garak’s desk, watching his work with approval. The first ten minutes of their meeting had been spent comparing Federation surgical stitching to traditional Cardassian methods, and Bashir had requested a demonstration.

“If you want to know so much about Odo, why not ask him yourself?”

“Constable Odo is a very private man, doctor. I would not wish to embarrass him by asking such personal questions in public!”

“Isn’t it worse to have such “personal questions” threaded through the grapevine, with even more people listening in?”

Today’s lunch date in the shop was the result of a little test Garak had devised. He had messaged Bashir earlier that morning, apologizing for the timing, but he had a last minute emergency fitting and he simply cannot leave the shop until it is complete even though he was so looking forward to this week’s discussion.

At their usual lunch time, Doctor Bashir arrived at the shop, thermos of tea in one hand and to-go containers from the replimat in the other. He was here, he explained, in a medical capacity: he wanted to make sure Garak was eating properly to avoid fatigue. 

Garak was quite pleased, and even more so when the doctor lingered past the end of the hour to watch Garak work. 

“I simply wish to get to know the man better, doctor.” He emanated innocence. 

“So you’re asking me, to ask Miles, what Odo is like on their outdoors holosuite excursions. That’s how you get to know someone?” 

“I do have a reputation to maintain, you know.”

Bashir looked incredulous. “Why do you suddenly want to know about Odo, anyways?”

Garak looked wounded, then returned his attention to the delicate garment in front of him. “Should I not care?” he said. “ The Constable is a dear friend of mine - out of the light, please.”

Bashir rolled his eyes and leaned back further. Garak wasn’t exactly pleased with the doctor leaning up against his workbench like he was, but the resulting close proximity was well worth the trade off. 

“A dear friend? A dear friend who you visit with every morning? Sounds more dear than friend.”

Jealousy? Garak tamped down a smile. “Fear not, Doctor Bashir - you’re not being replaced. You are my dearest friend on the station. Hand me that sonic seam ripper you’re almost sitting on.”

Bashir fumbled behind himself and managed to grab the correct tool. As Garak slowly began to dissolve threads, he continued, “I think we can all agree that the Constable could benefit from a little extra moral support right now. I would like to be a better friend to him, so I come to you.”

“Well you’re right, you certainly couldn’t come to Miles.” Bashir fidgeted with a tricorder while he spoke.

“Both Miles and Keiko like the outdoors,” he said with a shrug. “Frankly, I’m not even sure how he talked Odo into accompanying him on the first trip. It may have had to do with Miles trying to describe the Grand Canyon on Earth, and then he insisted he bring Odo along to show him in person. Or in hologram.” 

Garak paused in his work to contemplate the odd pairing. It was difficult to imagine the uptight, restrained Changeling socializing with the boorish, often insensitive Human. But still - opposites did attract. Quark was the polar opposite of Odo, and they socialized often. Perhaps the Constable found loud, simple brutes a refreshing change from his rigorous, intellectual life. Maybe Garak had been looking for the wrong type of person, and should find a less verbose individual.

Bashir brought a hand up to his mouth and snickered. “Miles won’t take holos, but he did tell me he insists that Odo wear a helmet and life preserver,” he said, as if revealing a scandalizing secret. “Even though it’s a holosuite and Odo can’t physically drown if he tried.” 

Now that was a fascinating mental image. Garak did not try to hide his delight, and couldn’t help but join the Doctor in laughter. “Does that offer any insight, Garak?”

“I believe it raises more questions than it answers,” the tailor responded thoughtfully, triggering more laughter from the Doctor.

“Regardless, thank you for indulging me.” Garak gave a little deferential nod before continuing. So now, I believe I should indulge you. This morning, I completed your most recent reading assignment. I must say that, out of all of the frivolous Human literature you have subjected me to, this is the most indulgent drivel of them all.”

“That’s the point.” Bashir gestured emphatically. “It’s a criticism of a subsection of Human culture, right before a very notoriously turbulent period in Earth history. We are meant to critically evaluate the characters, not support their choices!”

“Still, trite. And perhaps the least subtle use of symbolism I’ve seen outside books written for Cardassian children.”

As Bashir valiantly tried to defend Fitzgerald’s critique of American excess, Garak’s mind wandered, flipping through a perpetually updating rota of potential romantic entanglements for Odo. Certainly, men like Miles O’Brien were not in short supply in Starfleet: the Federation somehow attracted blunt, straightforward people. 

By the time Bashir had wound down his charming yet deeply flawed argument Garak had a candidate in mind. Engineer Passek worked aboard a freighter that occasionally brought Garak Cardassian fabrics. Passek was nowhere near as expressive as Chief O’Brien, as one would expect of a Vulcan man, but he was similarly blunt and straightforward, and remarkably affable. Garak simply had to find out when The Tasmania would be passing by the station next. 

Seeing Garak smile to himself, Bashir pointed in misplaced triumph. “See! You DO agree with me!”

The Cardassian saw no reason to break the Human’s spirit immediately. “You present a compelling argument,” he conceded demurely, and basked in the joy emanating from his companion like an orchid reaching for the sun.

<<< >>>

They’d never formalized what “the usual time” meant for their morning breakfasts, and for that Odo was immensely grateful. He suspected this was a conscious decision Garak had made, and he appreciated it - to put a time to their associations was on par with putting a label on their friendship. A little too close to familiarity for Odo’s comfort.

Besides, Odo thought, it was not like he socialized with Garak daily. Station matters would interfere, Odo would be commed, a warp-lagged client still on Bolian time would demand an early morning fitting. If either he or Garak failed to appear, it was with the unsaid implication that it wasn’t personal. It could not be, as the breakfast meetings were clearly impersonal.

Regardless, despite his best intentions Odo was pleased when Garak joined him one calm morning. The constable was reading an incident report (describing a fire in the Klingon restaurant the previous night, probably a genuine accident but one could never be too vigilant) when Garak sat down across from him, tea in hand, with his usual polite detached smile.

“Good morning, Constable.”

Odo sat upright and set down the pad, deactivating the screen. “Garak. I trust you are well?”

“Never better! Just yesterday afternoon the shop’s new carpeting was finally installed. That just leaves a handful of lighting elements and monitors that need replacing, and all will be completely back to normal.”

Odo knew this was true, at least - he’d signed off on the construction permits the previous month. “Almost like it was never the victim of a terrorist attack at all. I suppose congratulations are in order.”

Garak beamed at him. “Thank you, Constable! That means a lot coming from you.”

“Hah.” Odo shapeshifted a cup into his right hand, mimicking the shape and color of the one Garak held.

“So!” Garak took a sip. “How shall you be protecting our lovely station today? Another Dominion invasion drill? I hear the last one went well.”

“That information is classified.”

“I don’t get to hear any more details than that?” At Odo’s scowl, Garak set down his cup and put a hand to his chest in theatrical hurt. “Constable! You insulieutenant my craft. Do you think that, even if I had superiors waiting to hear my report, I would directly ask you for Starfleet intelligence? Please give me more credit than that.”

Odo had to concede this point. “Fair enough. The drill responses are… adequate. But we are limited in resources on the station to push times any further.”

“Surely, this is where the famed resources of the Federation become an asset? After all, when Cardassia generously offered Terok Nor over to Federation control, it was with the promise of continued guardianship of Bajor.”

“To a certain extent, yes, Federation assistance has been... appreciated.” Odo didn’t bother to disguise the irritation in his voice and Garak nodded in assent. “I must admit, Lieutenant Worf has been more useful than I anticipated. His time in conflict with the Borg has given him first-hand experience with the closest thing to the Dominion the Federation has ever faced before.”

“Fascinating.” Garak was the picture of wide-eyed sincerity.

“And,” Odo said, “I’ll admit that Major Eddington’s holosuite training programs have been beneficial for both Federation and Bajoran security staff.” He didn’t bother covering his self-satisfied smile. “In fact, he has requisitioned continual use of a holosuite.”

Eddington’s program was quite time-intensive, and Odo made sure it was in full use during peak business hours.

“Thereby also increasing Quark’s costs for the rest of us.” Garak frowned. “Do I know this Major Eddington? I don’t think he has ever visited my shop.”

“Then clearly he’s a man of taste.”

“Hm.” Garak’s lack of reaction to this barb put Odo at unease. There was a pause in conversation, in which the Cardassian took a long sip of tea, before speaking again. “What do you make of him?”

Odo huffed, swirled his artificial mug vigorously. “He is distinctive in his… single-minded loyalty to Starfleet.”

“Is that a hint of admiration I detect?”

“Hardly. He is, in a way, my replacement. Brought aboard the station just before we made contact with the Founders, retained ever since.” Odo grimaced. “Should I one day decide to change my loyalties, sell my colleagues out to the Dominion” - he gestured towards Garak with his mug - “he is poised and ready to take command of all station security.”

“Ah. An attitude so unfortunately typical in humans.” Garak gazed into the middle distance with some distaste, and Odo wondered what memory he had triggered. “Paranoia.”

“Had it been left up to Eddington, The Defiant would not have come to our rescue in the Gamma Quadrant. In fact, he nearly succeeded in sabotaging the ship.” Odo mimed taking a sip from his shifted mug, finding security in familiar mimicry. “You would be dead with Tain, and I…”

Odo trailed off, suddenly acutely aware of their fellow early risers scattered through the replimat. This was not a conversation for a public space. Which meant, he realized, that he was having a somewhat private conversation with Garak, discussing personal issues. When had he become so comfortable around Garak? Garak of all people! They had been friendly for less than a year, yet here Odo was: revealing information he wouldn’t even share with Major Kira.

Appalling. Odo was chatting away as if he were Doctor Bashir or Lieutenant Dax: as if he were a solid humanoid without a care in the universe or a single secret to conceal. His lapse in personal vigilance had happened so gradually Odo hadn’t noticed.

Garak must have misread Odo’s look of sudden self-reflective fear. “Suffice to say,” he said, “if that had been the case, neither of us would be here to enjoy the other’s company on this fine morning. And to be sincere, Constable, I am glad for it.”

He raised his mug in a little salute and Odo looked away to hide his unexpected gratitude. Movement on the promenade caught his attention and he turned, catching sight of Kira emerging from a turbo lift and heading in his direction.

There was a small pocket in the back of Odo’s mind that remained critical at all times, separated from the rest of his neural matrices. It had been that same voice of scorn when he saw Dax with the J’naii ambassador weeks before. It was a critical asset in Odo’s work, and it never stopped observing, noting both Odo’s own behavior and his external environment.

Without fail that same inner investigator, hyper critical and phaser-beam precise, went into overdrive in Kira’s presence. The intense scrutiny that was so useful when gathering evidence and interrogating suspects would then latch on to any weakness in Odo’s appearance or actions, highlighting the deviations from the Bajoran norm. Each time, it came to the same conclusion: Odo was too different from the solids, too different from Kira, to be worth her time and attention.

He may as well be a computer console: a Cardassian asset, left over from the Occupation. Just like the faulty wiring and struggling life support systems, another defective relic that was probably best forgotten.

The coffee cup in Odo’s hand was starting to deform and melt, so he shifted it away as quickly as he could. The brief resulting silvery gelatinous mess at the end of an arm caused Garak to raise a brow but Odo didn’t even notice, too preoccupied watching the Major scan the promenade, catch his eye, and wave.

Moments like these suddenly, painfully reminded Odo that, in addition to the legal rules he enforced on the station, he was embedded in a web of specific and often counterintuitive social rules. If he was to fit in among the solids, maintain a meaningful balance of respect and authority, he needed to follow the countless intangible protocols that most Bajorans and other Humanoids were able to navigate.

Odo snorted. The Federation may claim to be progressive and free of prejudice, but the unspoken social contracts each Starfleet member followed were just as complex as any Ferengi financial contract. Quark’s employment contracts for the dabo girls at the bar might be miserly, sexist and overbearing, but at least they were written down.

The rules surrounding solid intimate and interpersonal relationships were somehow the most confusing of all. In Bajoran culture, everything was anchored in a fundamental understanding of primary relationships, sexual and religious ones generally prioritized above the rest. Young Bajorans either dedicated their lives to the Prophets, or sought out pair-bonding to start the next generation.

Without the seemingly otherwise universal drives and urges associated with coupling or spirituality, Odo was completely rudderless.

Unlike Major Kira, who had nearly arrived at Odo and Garak’s table. Kira, who navigated the invisible maze of Bajoran social structure with grace and confidence. Kira, who often broke the rules, but did so with far more grace than Dax ever had.

Kira, very nearly the first solid to speak to him as a person, instead of a Cardassian novelty.

The internal investigator reminded Odo that his affection for Kira was a flaw in his otherwise logical and practical mind. A weakness to be exploited. Used to threaten not only Odo but the station at large and, ultimately, the Alpha Quadrant. Her friendship was a liability, with the potential to compromise Odo’s ability to protect the station.

In fact, Odo thought with a sudden frown as he watched Kira approach, it was not dissimilar for the trust he had unwillingly surrendered to Garak after the stasis field incident. Kira and Garak both held leverage over him, both had the means to destroy him emotionally or professionally. The only difference was that Garak was aware of his position.

The sudden intrusion of Garak into his thoughts left Odo feeling off-balanced, and he quickly shook his head to resettle his thoughts.

“Hey, Odo,” Kira called out as she arrived at the table. Her eyes flickered to Garak. “Garak.”

“Major.” Garak’s obnoxious, overly friendly replying tone was ignored by everyone else as Kira handed Odo a pad. “I ran into Deputy Tjerr on my way up,” she said. “She looked into that Agnathan customs scheme you caught last week. Guess who did the exact same thing at Starbase Montgomery a few weeks ago?”

“Really!” This brought the internal investigator’s manic stream of critical comments to a lieutenant. This was interesting. Odo gladly accepted the pad, shoving aside all uncomfortable thoughts about Kira or Garak as he pulled up the document and began to read through it.

“Yes, and he said they weren’t even aware that Agnathans are herbivorous, and would not need to transport livestock.” Kira looked more than a little smug. “You know, the thing you immediately noticed and investigated.”

Odo was too preoccupied with the report to even feel embarrassed at the compliment. “No one even searched the hydrothermic cargo hold?”

“I know, right? Sloppy work. Makes me feel really secure knowing that these people are the ones we’re begging for Federation membership.”

“I suppose most humanoids find extremophile environments intolerable. I don’t really blame them for not searching as thoroughly as normal.”

“But at the very least they should have known about the lamprey venom! With that delegation going on at the same time last week - Odo you definitely prevented a poisoning, if not a flat-out assassination!”

Garak, not one to be left out of any conversation, projected astonishment. “My word! Constable, is this true?”
It probably was, and Odo agreed that Federation station security often failed to meet his own standards. “Classified matter of station security.”

Garak looked remorseful.

“Do we know where the Agnathans are headed next?” Odo asked Kira, still skimming through the report.

“Possibly. Tierr sent out a subspace transmission to the nearest bases, we’re waiting to hear back.”

“Good.” Odo glanced back up at Kira. When she smiled at him the critical thoughts from before began to crawl their way back into his mind, more toxic than any Agnathan lamprey venom.

“Anyways,” she said, “I’m heading up to Ops. I just thought you’d like to know beforehand.”

“I’ll come with you,” Odo cut in hastily, pushing himself to his feet, before suddenly remembering his faux-dining companion. He turned to Garak. “I apologize for cutting our conversation short -“

“Nonsense!” Garak raised his mug in a cheerful salute. “Duty calls. I would never dream of obstructing justice on this station.”

Kira glowered at him. “Really.”

“Major, I strive to be the most law-abiding Cardassian aboard the station.”

“Not hard to do.” She crossed her arms. “Ready to go, Odo?”

As they left Garak to the remainder of his meal, Odo could feel the tailor’s gaze on his back. He could imagine the expression of careful scrutiny he knew accompanied it.

For a moment, Odo was back in Mora’s lab, and the inner investigator was not a voice but just another beaker to confine him.

What remained of Odo’s high of a case well-solved evaporated.

He was still trying to settle his discomfort when Kira snapped a command at the turbo lift computer and rounded on Odo.

“Do you actually still trust Garak? How do you know he’s not reporting intelligence back to Cardassia?”

“Major, I doubt that Garak has any contacts remaining to inform. And even if he does, I would prefer that he keeps them busy with reports on small-time Agnathan smugglers, instead of real security threats.”

“Fair point.” Kira crossed her arms. “I still don’t trust him, though.”

Odo snorted. “Neither do I,” he said, “but at least this way I’m keeping an eye on him.”

“That’s true.” Kira smiled. “Even on your off hours you’re looking out for station security. Prophets, Odo, how would we survive without you?”

For the second time that morning Odo felt genuinely flattered and embarrassed, but Kira continued on, “oh! That reminds me!”

She flipped open her pad, pulled up her calendar. “Next week ensign Ro Laren will be on the station for a delegation. You should come to the reception afterwards!”

Odo blanched, pride curdling into fear like milk in red-leaf tea. “I’m not sure I will be free. Besides,” he said, letting the tiniest amount of bitterness bleed into his words,“won’t you be bringing Minister Shakaar?”

“Oh no, he’s busy. And besides, this isn’t a wedding, Odo, I can bring as many people as I’d like! Chief O’Brien will be there,” she added, obviously hinting.

“Hmph.”

“Please? Laren is my friend, and I want you two to get along.”

Odo opened his mouth to reiterate his disinterest, but then hesitated.

Kira would never fully be truly free of the Occupation. It was in her body, in broken bones incorrectly set, in how she moved and talked. But when she spoke with other Bajorans, something else shone through: an otherwise hidden gentleness, a kindness normally guarded by her tough spiky exterior. Her expression would soften as she prayed with widows and lit candles for the orphaned and the missing. Kira was her most vulnerable authentic self when she was among fellow survivors like Ro Laren, or Barial, or Shakaar.

It had not occurred to Odo that she considered him a fellow survivor.

This revelation surprised the inner investigator into silence. The thought that Kira put him in such an important group of people - the pinnacle of her important social relationships - was as exhilarating as it was frightening.

“…I suppose, I can check my schedule.”

Kira beamed, impulsively flung an arm around Odo’s shoulders in a half-hug. Odo was paralyzed by his conflicting desires to pull away to emotional safety, or lean in to the comforting contact.

The lift had arrived at Ops and Odo made to leave, but Kira’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned to meet her suddenly intense gaze.

“Just so I know,” Kira said, voice low, “Garak knows what I would do to him if he hurts you in any way, right?”

Too little too late, the inner investigator giggled in a hysterical voice, and Odo was intensely glad that his expressions were under such conscious control. Face carefully blank, he nodded. “Of course.”

“Good.” Her eyes crinkled up at the corners and she smiled, the threat fading away, and she squeezed his shoulder one last time before walking out of the lift, flagging down Dax, and launching herself into conversation.

Slightly dazed, Odo made his way to Sisko’s office, uncertain what to do with the lightness that had welled up in his chest like the lights of the Celestial Temple just outside the viewport windows.

<<< >>>

 

Doctor Bashir had once recited a quote about the best laid plans. It came to mind as Garak gloomily watched Passek exchange a chaste Vulcan salute with Constable Odo before rejoining his crew at the Dabo tables. 

Garak, seated at the bar, swirled his kanar. He was growing tired of this vintage, but it was all Quark had left. 

As if summoned by his thoughts, the Ferengi materialized on the other side of the bar. “Something wrong with the drink, Garak?”

“Mmm? Oh, nothing is wrong.” Garak set down his glass. “I’ve just found that one can often have too much of a good thing.”

“That’s for damn sure.” Quark nodded over Garak’s shoulder, at the crew of The Tasmania clustered around a table. “First time I’ve had a Vulcan show in months, and he’s wiping the floor with my Dabo wheel. I need to find out his favorite drink and jack the price up by a zero or five.”

Garak glanced back over his shoulder. “Oh, Engineer Passek? A profoundly logical gentleman,” he said, with more genuine morose than he intended. “And one presumably immune to the charms of your hostesses, as well.”

“He was talking with Odo for a while,” Quark mused. “I’d love to know what about.”

Garak caught sight of a brown and beige uniform working its way through the crowd. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

“Ask me about what?” Odo’s gruff voice carried, arriving at the bar a moment before his body did. The constable leaned on the bar, next to Garak, and scowled at Quark. 

“Oh, our mutual acquaintance Mister Passek,” Garak said. “Quite the gifted engineer, I have always believed.” Immediately he felt more confident in the familiar waters of obfuscation. “We met several years ago, when his husband commissioned me for some rather lovely formal garments. I thought you would appreciate his unique insights. From one technologically minded man to another.”

Odo grunted. “Perhaps. But I don’t appreciate being accosted by apparent strangers while on duty.”

Garak shrugged. “Are you so opposed to expanding your social circle?”

“Not opposed. Just unwilling to invest time in frivolous social obligations when there are more pressing issues to address.”

Garak shrugged. “It is my understanding that The Tasmania will remain on the station for a few more days. Why not ask him along on one of your patrols? You never know, you may learn something, and four eyes are better than two! As I’ve been told the odd Human saying goes.”

“If I wanted four eyes I’d have them. And if this is an attempt to invite yourself along to see my most recent security code changes, Garak, I’d say you’re losing your touch.” Odo’s scowl quirked up into a brief smirk. “Although if you are so interested in my role on the station, the holding cells are always open for your inspection.”

Garak raised his hands in defeat. “Very well, constable. I am merely looking out for your best interests - I won’t push this matter further.”

“Hmph.” Odo pushed himself back from the bar top, preparing to leave. “See that you don’t.” Raising his voice, he continued, “I need to go check on Cargo Bay Eight to scan for unauthorized biomatter.”

Quark’s voice piped up from the other end of the bar, where he was back to mixing drinks: “I don’t know anything about that!”

Odo rolled his eyes again, nodded to Garak, then left.

Now alone, Garak gazed at the bottle Quark had left for him. The kanar had suddenly lost its appeal, the viscous liquid no longer appetizing, but nauseating. The sound of it sloshing in the bottle unpleasantly put him mind of - what else! - the Warbird.

The stasis field, the cold buttons on the touchscreen, the wet, borderline retching noise as Odo splattered to the ground like spilt Romulan ale. 

Garak set down his glass and pushed both away.

It wasn’t guilt. If Garak had guilt over every interrogation he carried out, he would not have lasted a year in the Order. And, despite what he may have once told Doctor Bashir, he did not need to agonize over the past. Some doors remained locked for a reason.

No, this was frustration. Of course progress was slow: Garak had known it would be when he started this absurd endeavor weeks ago. Odo’s stubborn nature was no secret. Even the most determined of people would be discouraged by the shapeshifter’s perpetual disinterest. But Garak was a master of patience, practiced in the art of waiting, and he knew that the challenge would make his eventual success all the more sweet.

Garak knew this. Yet his inability to steer any willing participants into Odo’s arms was truly starting to bother him.

Sullen, he glared at a ring of condensation in front of him, reflecting neon lights onto the bar top. Garak really should just wash his hands of the whole project. It had started for his own amusement, more than anything else - a distraction to occupy his mind during long hours of tedious stitching and hemming. Other diversions could be invented.

But no matter what distracting thoughts Garak conjured (and they could be very distracting, particularly following his dates with Bashir), he always found himself returning to his little psychological experiment. Turning the situation over in his mind, contemplating potential romantic or sexual partners, analyzing how they could fit in with Odo’s rough edges and cagey exterior.

Of course, Garak knew why the slowness of his plan was so frustrating. Frustration and annoyance were cathartic, but more than that they were distracting. They occupied his mind entirely, blotting out other larger, more troublesome feelings.

If Garak was put at phaser-point, somehow legitimately forced into honesty - he had to admit that he cared about this little project because he had grown to think of Odo as something of a friend. As his friend suffered from Major Kira’s perpetual unavailability, Garak too suffered with him. And because Garak wanted this misery to abate, he was putting genuine work into their friendship.

He genuinely wanted to find a good partner for Odo out of altruism.

Garak was not shocked by this revelation. Because he had recently spent so much time trying to avoid thinking the exact same thought that he just put into words, he had created a precise contour of its shape in his mind. Like a blind man in a dilapidated home he’d known for decades, knowing where to jump to avoid a missing step, Garak had managed to ignore it.

For several weeks now Garak had been able to avoid articulating the thought. To name a thing was to make it real. To speak its name was to summon it.

Addressing this realization was as distressing as touching an open wound, and Garak would have about as much luck wishing away a physical infection. Ignoring the injury would not repair the damage, even as Garak could feel it festering.

Somehow his most recent interrogation subject had become one of Garak’s closest associates on the station.

Garak had once shared a lively discussion with Doctor Bashir about the evolutionary histories of their respective species. Humans, he had learned, were distantly related to smaller, fuzzier mammals, yet prehistoric characteristics still lingered. Undignified traits like their odd flat teeth, and how the tiny decorative hairs that dusted Bashir’s arms would sometimes stand on end.

Bashir had defended his useless pelage, and made the accusation that Cardassians, descendants of venomous, reptile-like bipeds as they are, must also possess some vestigial traits that were “quite silly, when you get down to it.”

The conversation had ended before Bashir was able to worm the truth out of Garak, but had he been more persistent, he would have learned about atrophied venom glands, and increased salivary production as a subconscious stress response.

Mouth now suddenly watery, Garak returned to his Kanar and poured himself a generous shot.

From the opposite end of the bar Quark caught Garak’s eye. He was doubtless contemplating the last time Garak had drunk himself into an irritable wreck, and was calculating the odds of a repeat performance. If Garak appeared at all inebriated, Quark might call Doctor Bashir - an additional humiliation he did not need. Worse, he might call Odo.

Or why not both? A gruff voice, never far from Garak’s mind. You can confess your undying adoration to both of them.

It was natural that you should develop feelings for the people you lived with.

To show that he retained control of his facilities, Garak gave Quark a polite nod and raised his glass. Quark smiled back and returned his attention to a demanding customer, but Garak was not fooled. He would not be free from Quark’s watch for the remainder of the evening.

He took another sip of Kanar, his growing revulsion overpowered by the promise of alcohol-deadened nerves. The obvious upside to this situation was that no one had to know, had no way of knowing Garak’s feelings towards Odo. Or Bashir for that matter. Even if they did - well, that was just the Cardassian Spy putting up a front. No one on the station would be bold enough to confront him on it, and Tain… well.

Garak would never have to worry about anything Tain did or thought, ever again.

He poured himself another drink.

No sense on dwelling on this thought process any further, not when he needed more potential suitors for Odo. Garak forced himself out of his slouch and sat up straight at the bar, and discretely took several slow deep breaths. As his heart rate slowed back down to the usual Cardassian sedate rhythm, and as the Kanar dissipated through his body in warm rosy loops, he was able to keep his more troubling thoughts at arm’s reach. He needed to think about this Odo problem, and what his next move should be.

The thought of having a mission was reassuring, grounding. By counting every blade of grass, Garak knew, he could entirely convince himself not to see the Cardassian savanna. The more minutiae he devised, the more convoluted his plan, the less he could think about everything else.

The more he contemplated a handsome human who just walked past the bar, wondering if Odo would appreciate his no-nonsense haircut and stern frown, the less he could think about the last few seconds he remembered of Tain, in complete denial moments before his death.

If he considered, oh, calling for a security alert in his store while a customer was less than fully dressed, deploying the security force fields and trapping the constable in, he could not think about how the Order was the last dangling thread connecting Garak to Cardassia, and how that had been cut by the Founders.

If Garak thought about just walking up to the Constable himself, grabbing his strange smooth humanoid neck and kissing him like a Bajoran (a surprisingly not intolerable proposition, Garak realized), and maybe then finally getting Odo to pay attention to Garak’s machinations - he couldn’t be preoccupied by the realization that there was no way to return home. That he was now a device without a purpose, with nothing more to offer the universe than a broken sonic seam ripper, and equally destined for the matter recycler.

He hadn’t drank like this since before the implant was deactivated. Garak grimaced as he remembered more than one evening when the device had malfunctioned, failed to meet the threshold for holding off debilitating withdrawal. He could begrudgingly understand Quark’s concern.

But that wasn’t relevant now!

Although pleasantly numbed, Garak wasn’t drunk enough to confront Odo directly. He would find one more suitable partner, do his damndest to communicate his implications to the constable. If this failed as well, Garak would need to do the vulgar thing and inquire directly.

Garak stood (only slightly unsteadily), waved a waiter over to pay his tab, and then walked out of the bar at a very dignified pace. He needed to think, and a rowdy bar was no place for that.

He let his feet carry him away from the promenade, towards the shop. Sleep felt impossible now, with such a heavy weight on his shoulders.

Once securely in his locked tailoring shop, Garak got to work, his rapid thoughts supported by the reassuring physical actions of cutting, sewing and measuring fabric. He could solve this. Garak could solve this.

Every stitch carried Garak further and further away from his upsetting realization, and soon enough he was deeply preoccupied with both the physical and sociological task at hand.