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Three and a Half Days

Chapter Text

0.5

Returning from a distinctly unsatisfying lunch to find "his" cot unclaimed by anyone else, Garak sat down on its thin mattress, set down his shoulder bag beside him, opened it up to extract a twelve centimetre embroidery frame, chose a needle pre-threaded with low denier crimson silk, and set to finishing the edges of a piece of cutwork, humming a tune that would seem soft and idle to a casual listener but was actually the climactic aria from Tertok ej Ravoral, a classic Cardassian opera of blood and vengeance. Given the situation it certainly suited his mood: although he knew that to that same casual observer he looked like a mild and happy little tailor, resigned to the inevitable cold and dark and passing the time in thrifty productivity, his mind was actually clicking away like a mechanized loom, sharp steel teeth trying to parse a pattern that would get him out of this unpleasant situation.

Unfortunately, try as he might he simply couldn't seem to find a sequence of actions that would lead to an early release — except possibly having arrived a half-hour later to work this morning, and of course it was far too late for that to make any difference.

He'd been in his shop less than fifteen minutes, setting up a display of new blouses, when all the lights had gone out without warning. Less than thirty seconds after that they'd flickered back, but at the level of illumination common during this station's stint as Terok Nor — much easier on Garak's Cardassian eyes, but no doubt most inconvenient for just about anyone else on the Promenade. He'd done the smart thing — he'd stayed put and continued setting up the display, after making sure the shop doors were locked — and twenty-seven minutes later Commander Sisko had delivered an audio message informing everyone that the Promenade was on lockdown and instructing them to proceed to Quark's and remain there until further notice. Garak had considered holing up in his own back room instead, but a combination of curiosity and wariness of a different kind had quickly gotten the better of him and he had, after packing a shoulder bag with a little latinum and a few things to keep himself occupied in case this situation should drag on, locked his shop after him and set out for the bar, joining a thin crowd of other laggards consisting mostly of fellow vendors carrying bags of their own. Listening to their chatter as they walked, he heard nothing to shed any light on the mystery they currently found themselves in the middle of, and his perplexity had only increased when he'd arrived at Quark's to find the Ferengi doing a land-office business in drinks — and a medical team headed by Doctor Bashir busily drawing blood samples from anyone who'd sit still long enough, and asking constant questions of the station's computer, which seemed to be having a difficult time even articulating a response.

Garak had found a place to stand in a far corner where, once in the deep shadows, he'd hoped to avoid the notice of anyone in a medical uniform. It turned out to be a vain wish: evidently the good Doctor, as absorbed as he'd appeared to be in attending to two Dabo girls, had seen Garak come in, because in short order he approached Garak himself bearing a hyposampler and wearing an expression that brooked no argument. In response to Garak's perfectly reasonable questions as he surrendered some of his life's-blood the Human had offered only curt answers, something to the effect that the station was suffering system-wide failures and the situation was under control. This, of course, only made Garak's aural scales prick up even more: for one thing it was a contradictory statement, and for another… well, he was no engineer, but "system-wide failures" sounded an awful lot like "sabotage', and the fact that everyone with a pulse was being corralled and analyzed further suggested that a biological agent had been released and detected. When he tried to pin Bashir down, however, the Doctor had offered a tight smile, assured him that everything was going to be fine, ordered him to stay put (complete with italics and a significant glance from beneath elevated eyebrows) and set off into the crowd again with a determined stride and squared shoulders, barking an order over the babel of conversation that brought two orderlies running with admirable alacrity. 

For the rest of the morning Garak had watched him work, then disappear back into the mall, and return again a couple of hours later to announce that everyone present was under quarantine for three days for Nacinin Fever — and that Quark's was about to be converted into a temporary camp, complete with cots. After Quark was finished wailing (the volume had dropped significantly once it was pointed out to him that he'd still be able to sell food and drink to the squatters), everyone became very busy with moving tables and chairs out onto the Promenade (where Quark oversaw the set-up of a rather charming "open air" restaurant concept) and moving in the cots, which materialized on the Promenade in shimmer after shimmer of transporter energy. Garak was glad enough to join in after stowing his bag behind the bar, in part because he was deathly tired of waiting for something to happen but mostly because he was cold to his saurian bones: the ambient temperature had dropped noticeably since the lights had dimmed and because Odo had security guards roaming both levels to ensure that nobody tried to enter any of the shops he couldn't even go back to his own establishment to retrieve a bolt of warm raw fabric to improvise a shawl out of.

The matter of the Nacinin Fever didn't worry Garak terribly much: he'd been regularly inoculated against a variety of infectious agents during his years in the Order and had, in fact, received a vaccination against that particularly unpleasant illness shortly before being sent into exile. Technically it should still be good, but there was always a slight chance that it wasn't — and if it wasn't, the best place he could probably be at the moment was right here where a medical team was on hand and watching for the slightest signs of infection. Besides, even if he told Bashir about his vaccination status (an act of revelation he was naturally disinclined towards) it was unlikely that that station's CMO would release him from quarantine: doctors, in Garak's experience, tended naturally toward excessive caution under these circumstances. Therefore he'd kept his mouth shut about the matter and presented a cheerful and efficient front, following every order given to him promptly and doing his best to keep up the spirits of those around him; he even managed to sneak a cot into the singularly dark spot he'd originally gravitated toward on the first floor of Quark's, placing a white handkerchief from his trouser pocket neatly on the miserly pillow as a hopeful marker that this one, at least, was claimed.

The signal had served its purpose, and now here he was safely ensconced on his own little patch of Hell, surrounded by very nervous people of various races and levels of maturity (if that Bolian trader didn't stop whining to anyone who'd listen, Garak was highly inclined to rip out his tongue after lights-out), occupying himself with a bit of embroidery in an Alezian abstract pattern and keeping a slight smile firmly pasted on his face. Doctor Bashir was nowhere to be seen — doubtless he was in the Infirmary pouring over… well, whatever it was, it was likely more exciting than the prospect Garak faced in the next several hours. Perhaps after everyone else was safely abed he'd glide over to the bar proper and have a little chat with Quark: hopefully he wouldn't have to dodge numerous buckets of vomit in the process, although the way the day was going so far he wouldn't have been the least surprised to find that this was exactly the case.

Chapter Text

0.75

The hours dragged by, but finally the temporary inhabitants of Quark's Bar stopped milling around and started gravitating towards their narrow beds. Once most of them were settled down Garak packed away his embroidery again, set his bag neatly in the middle of his mattress, and slipped across to the bar to have a quick chat with Quark, but it wasn't much use: the Ferengi was terribly out of sorts at the prospect of people spilling their stomach contents all over the floor of his bar and hadn't been inclined to talk about much else. Garak briefly considered slipping into his I am of the Obsidian Order and you will tell me what I want to know persona, but decided that winding Quark up even more wouldn't serve any useful purpose. Better to wait until morning, giving him a bit of time to cool down and come to terms with his situation.

Heading back to his cot, Garak saw that someone was sitting on it — had, in fact, moved his bag off of it and kicked it to one side, and was now looking around with visible truculence. It was, of course, the Bolian trader, clearly looking to get a better sense of control through establishing his own petty dominance. Garak approached him without haste, smiling the while. Had Julian Bashir been present, the Human would no doubt have taken one look at that expression and hustled the trader off the cot as fast as he possibly could. The Bolian, being ignorant as well as insufferable, merely fixed Garak with a challenging glare as he approached, apparently oblivious to the fact that people nearby had turned to look — or perhaps relishing the fact that he had an audience for his little drama.

"Excuse me," Garak said mildly, still smiling, as he came within conversational range, "but you seem to have made a mistake. This cot is taken."

The blue-skinned alien stared up at him with unqualified belligerence. "And?" he challenged. Cardassian hearing wasn't particularly good by the standards of many humanoid species, but Garak fancied he could still hear the mass intake of breath from those observers who knew him — and what he was reputed to be.

Looking down at the would-be usurper, Garak kept his hands at his sides and his posture non-threatening. He did, however, alter the quality of his smile. Apparently he hadn't lost his touch in that department, because even though the obstruction of his overwhelming ego the Bolian clearly saw that something about this situation had changed — and not in his favour. 

"And," Garak said in that same soft voice, underlaying it this time with just a hint of the tone that had once broken men in interrogation chambers, "I think it would be a very good idea if you moved. Now."

With men like this it was always a toss-up whether they'd feel compelled to try to cling to their pride or creep away with their tails between their legs. The trader's eyebrows beetled, signalling to Garak that he was one of the former sort. "Who's going to make me, spoonhead?"

This time the catch of mass breath was indeed audible, but Garak scarcely had time to wonder if Quark would find blood on his floor as objectionable as vomit when a sharp cry — "Gentlemen, gentlemen!" — heralded the bar owner's swift approach, weaving between the crowded cots with arms waving urgently. Gaze locked with of his rival, Garak could still sense all other eyes turning toward Quark as he rushed to prevent mayhem from occurring — and held his attack. He knew he could get the Bolian on the ground inside of three seconds, but Odo might take a rather dim view of a fight breaking out in the middle of their impromptu camp. 

Panting, Quark came to a halt at a safe distance, keeping an occupied cot between himself and the two potential combatants. The woman lying under its thin blanket tried to make herself as small as possible, without much success. "What seems to be the problem?" he asked in a voice which managed to mingle the smarmy with the wary.

The trader clamped his hands onto the edge of the mattress like a child clinging to a favourite toy, and jerked his chin at Garak. "This… Cardassian… is trying to take my cot!"

"On the contrary," Garak interjected smoothly: "I moved this bed in here, and placed my bag on it as a clear marker. This man is the thief, not I."

Quark held up his open hands, slowly edging around the side of the intervening mattress, ignoring the woman on it as he made little smoothing gestures. "Is that all?" he asked soothingly. "Well then, there's a simple solution to all this: Erossol, you can have my cot behind the bar, and Garak can keep his cot. See? Problem solved!"

Erossol was still looking at Garak like he wanted to take a swing at him. "It's not right," he announced, looking around at the spectators for support, "a Cardassian getting a prime spot like this!"

Quark glanced round as well, and asked loudly: "Does anyone object to Garak having this bed?"

The silence was deafening.

With a wide smile, Quark spread his arms. "Well, there you go!" He was close enough now to clap the Bolian on the bicep, then throw an arm around his shoulders, radiating chumminess. "Come on, Erossol, let's get you settled! I'll even see if I can find an extra ration of larish pie for you, hmmm…?"

"Well…" Not surprisingly given the species involved, the offer of food obviously carried some weight. Erossol let himself be guided to his feet and led in the direction of the bar, giving Garak a final glower in passing. Garak settled for keeping his mouth shut and offering a small smile to the spectators, which now consisted of practically everyone in the bar. He could sense their disappointment — after a dull yet stressful day of waiting, seeing a fight break out would have provided a welcome release of tension… and Garak would indeed have wiped the floor with the trader if it meant keeping a position where he could sleep with his back and head to the wall. As he retrieved his shoulder bag he reflected that his own regret was perfectly natural: after all, given his training and background the life of a tailor, where the most violent thing that ever happened was cutting cloth with a pair of scissors, naturally felt a little tedious. 

Settling back down to fit in another hour of sewing before turning in, he regretted the way the heat of conflict was already fading in his reptilian flesh. It was really the first time he'd felt warm since the lights had gone out… oh, it seemed a lifetime ago, now.

If anybody close by objected to his soft humming, they wisely kept it to themselves.

Chapter Text

1.0

Morn's loud snoring was proving rather distracting. Garak resisted the urge to turn over onto his left side, opting instead to keep his back to the wall: it was the only position that offered any sort of safety during the vulnerability of sleep. Not that he was getting much of that, thank you, between the Lurian's jagged respirations and the way the temperature of the room seemed to have dropped even more since Quark had dimmed the lights. 

It was very dark now in Garak's little corner, which should have been conducive to rest but didn't seem to be helping much. He kept wanting to toss and turn and not daring to, acutely aware of his exposed position in a room full of relative strangers, some of them Bajorans who had (to their own way of looking at things) very good reasons to want to cause him harm. And just when he managed to relax enough for sleep to start creeping in, the thought of how smoothly his encounter with the Bolian had gone popped up to nag at him awake: it had been a little too easy, the crowd's failure to automatically take the trader's side against him troubling in all sorts of subtle ways. The idea that acceptance by one's fellow inhabitants of the station would be disquieting might have struck another man (Julian Bashir, for example) as strange indeed, but Garak had survived this long by virtue of his suspicious nature. 

Huddling under his thin blanket, Garak gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the way the mattress was setting up protesting twinges in his lower back. On top of everything else, that was the last thing he —

Someone had entered the bar and was threading his way between the cots, heading toward Garak's position and trying to be stealthy about it. The dimness in the main area of Quark's establishment still provided plenty of light for Cardassian eyes to clearly make out the slimness of the figure and the shock of close-cropped black hair that topped it, its body language reassuringly familiar: Doctor Bashir, although why he was paying such a late visit to the camp was a mystery. Garak closed his eyes and feigned sleep; perhaps the good Doctor had only felt an impulse to check on a friend before he turned in himself, and if that was the case seeing that Garak was still awake would only detain him from his own rest.

But when Bashir reached Garak's cot he knelt beside it and leaned close to whisper over the cacophony from Morn's end of the room: "Garak?"

Now curious, Garak kept his eyes closed until Bashir's hand touched his shoulder and gave it a gentle shake, then pretended to awaken, cracking open his lids to regard the Human sleepily. "Ah, Doctor…. what can I do for you?"

Those full lips curved in a little smile beneath dark eyes full of weariness. "Actually, I was wondering what I could do for you." The hand on Garak's shoulder shifted to his temple, strong but delicate fingertips taking both pulse and temperature. "You feel a couple of degrees colder than you should, at least. Would you mind if I shared your cot with you?'

Suddenly Garak was acutely awake, but he kept his gaze vague and his voice a little slurred. "That's — an exceptionally kind offer. But surely you have a more comfortable bed waiting for you in the Infirmary…?"

Bashir inclined his head, glancing away briefly. "Actually, no — the first cases of Nacinin Fever have presented and all the biobeds are taken, and the current shift is using all the chairs." His gaze returned to Garak's face, looking hopeful in a way that shouldn't have been so persuasive. "I could order Ops to send us another cot, but I knew you'd find the present temperature uncomfortable and thought we could kill two birds with one stone. As long as you don't object to being in such close proximity," he added hastily, as if suddenly realizing that he might be treading on sensitive cultural ground.

Garak smiled to himself: he was a man who valued his privacy, but in the case of the enchanting Doctor he was definitely willing to make an exception… and the little mammalwould undoubtedly prove toasty. "Not particularly, as long as you can put up with Morn's snoring, which I suspect is going to go on all night."

Bashir laughed softly. "I'll cope," he whispered, and Garak was finally able to turn over to face the wall, which provided his aching back with some relief. Quick as a wink Bashir slipped under the blanket and settled down against him, back to back; the warmth that radiated from the Human was immediate and blissful, almost drawing a sigh from Garak before he could stop himself. He was able to close his eyes, secure that another pair of eyes was now in a position to keep watch on the room, and within a few minutes he was asleep, evidently far more tired than he'd given himself credit for.

********************************

Some time later Garak awoke to find that he'd turned over in his sleep — and so had Bashir, although how they'd managed it on such a narrow mattress was a mystery. It was the scent, it seemed, that had penetrated the oblivion of sleep and roused him: the Doctor's skin and hair, faintly scented with some hygiene product or other, but beneath that the far more sublime perfume of a healthy young male shone through. The Human was snuggled up against Garak's chest and belly and thighs, one arm flung over him, that adorable scaleless nose almost tucked under his cheek, so close was he lying.

Listening intently, Garak could hear nothing to indicate that anyone else in the room was awake — it was safe then, to permit himself to enjoy this moment of illicit closeness. He studied Bashir's face as he slept on, taking in the sweep of dark lashes fringing his closed eyelids and the precisely delicate arches of his eyebrows, the sweet relaxed curve of his mouth open ever so slightly, gazing for once without fear of his interest being detected. In deep sleep Bashir looked so open and innocent, more like a tired boy than a grown man. Poor pretty dear, Garak found himself thinking with an unfamiliar surge of emotion it took him a moment to recognize as tenderness: He worked so very hard yesterday — I mustn't move and risk waking him! So he lay perfectly still as only a trained agent of the Order could and watched Bashir sleep, a hint of a smile sometimes chasing a trace of a frown across his freakishly smooth features. 

What was he dreaming of? Something active, clearly, from the way his eyes were tracking beneath their closed lids — and something amorous if the half-erection pressing against Garak's upper thigh was any indication. Garak resisted a mercifully brief impulse to bow his neck and press forehead to forehead in the habitually comforting gesture one would offer to a child… or to a lover, a momentary mad thought that had him chuffing silent laughter for a good ten seconds afterwards. A few seconds after that he was seriously worrying about his own emotional stability, that a few stolen minutes of physical closeness could even tempt his thoughts in that general direction: he'd been physically attracted to this man from the first glimpse of him across the crowded Promenade, and Bashir's initial physical reaction to him had been briefly encouraging, but he'd quickly come to the conclusion that the Human was exclusively sexually attracted to women and wisely left it at that. 

Therefore it should mean nothing to him, the way Bashir murmured in his sleep and shifted even closer, his arm tightening around Garak's middle and a beautiful smile lighting up his narrow face. Clearly the younger man was imagining himself in bed with a lithe young female, not a stout Cardassian spy in late middle age… still, the heat that flowed from all points of contact to Garak's serjakel and made it swell and tingle within its protective sheath evidently didn't care about such niceties. Nor did his heart, which gave an absurd little leap in his chest when Bashir's combadge sounded the hour — "Doctor Bashir, the time is 0500" — and those dark liquid eyes flickered open, gazing dreamily at Garak's face so near, then blinking into focus —

— then widening in horror, a half-second before Bashir released Garak's waist and pulled away as if burned, immediately starting to babble in a horrified whisper: "Oh God, Garak — I'm sorry, I didn't — I mean, I'd never —"

He was turning a most fetching shade of bright red, Garak noted ruefully, and the sight was doing nothing to quell his own arousal. He let none of that heat enter his voice, which he pitched to a soothing murmur: "Doctor — really, it's quite all right —"

"Oh God," Bashir repeated, and he looked so mortified that Garak's heart sank… but really, what else had he expected when the Doctor realized how close he'd gotten? 

"My dear," he smiled, "honestly — I didn't mind in the least." He risked reaching out and briefly touching Bashir's right hand where it had come to tentatively rest on the mattress between them — the boy was on the very edge of the cot now, another centimetre and Garak was sure he'd go over the edge — to make his point. "Only you looked so peaceful, I didn't want to disturb you…"

Bashir paused in his flood of words as if he'd run up against a brick wall, blinking at Garak again, then looking at him more closely in the darkness. "Really?" he asked, and there was a note of hopefulness in his voice that Garak deliberately didn't read too much into.

"You worked so hard yesterday," he continued in that same smooth low tone, "and were sleeping so deeply. It was a perfectly reasonable error to make — after all, I'm sure you're quite used to sharing your bed with lovely young ladies." He let no trace of the bitterness suddenly welling in his chest reach his friendly gaze. "Far be it from me to begrudge you a pleasant dream in the midst of this highly unpleasant situation."

The Doctor was still studying him, clearly trying to drink in as much information as possible in light conditions that were dim even for a Cardassian. "Then — you're not offended?"

"By a mistake?" Oh, the venom of disappointment, irrational though it was, was filling his jaws, making him want to bite. "Certainly not!"

The keenness of that gaze was becoming actively uncomfortable when, beyond Bashir's shoulder, Garak saw the form of a Bajoran nurse approaching the cot they shared. A soft voice carried through the darkness: "Doctor Bashir….?" and broke the moment of tension that had suddenly risen between them. Garak was actually relieved when Bashir glanced back toward her, nodded silently, then lifted the blanket off of himself and rose to his feet, tucking it in carefully again to retain the heat for Garak's benefit. For a moment the young Human stood looking down at him, his expression comprised of both puzzlement and something far more speculative, while Garak continued to smile, wishing that he would hurry up and take his leave.

"I'll… see you later, then," Bashir whispered at last, and turned away to answer the summons of the waiting nurse, leaving Garak to contemplate how eroded his personal defences had clearly become after so many years in exile. He tried again to compose himself for sleep, already suspecting that he was doomed to fail.

Chapter Text

1.25

In the end the memory of Bashir's hot skin (so close!) and the tickle of soft breath against his lips (so intimate!) proved too much: Garak was keyed up beyond the possibility of rest, so at last he pushed the blanket off and went to use the facilities located at the back of the bar, ghosting between the pallets so quietly that only a few people stirred at his passing. (Morn, at least, had stopped making quite such a racket, although his residual noises certainly helped Garak to make the journey undetected). Nobody else had gotten up yet and the long bathroom was peacefully deserted, a luxury that Garak appreciated while he could; he'd never been fond of crowds and the thought of being surrounded by one for the next two days made him want to find a secluded access hatch, pry the cover off it, and make a break for freedom. With a little of the luck many species held in such high esteem it would be hours before anyone noticed he was missing…

It was a foolish idle notion, of course. If the Promenade was under quarantine the place was probably completely sealed off… unless of course the station's systems were still malfunctioning, in which case there was a slight chance… but really, where would he run to? Quite aside from the fact that the mere prospect of crawling through a narrow shaft sent cold prickles of fear tingling down his spine. No, he was stuck here with the unwashed masses and all he could reasonably do was make the best of it.

Washing his hands thoroughly under the sonic cleanser, he devoutly hoped that at some point today Starfleet would transport in some portable shower units — or perhaps that Odo would prove amenable to letting him use one of those provided for the prisoners in the Security Office. Garak's training in the Order had accustomed him to all sorts of unpleasant circumstances but one thing he'd always found difficult to tolerate was being dirty: it wasn't so bad if he was alone, but if he was around other people… it was the result of another set of Order conditioning, he supposed, the admonition that an agent should leave no trace of his passing — including an odour. Heading back to his cot, he found himself considering how Bashir's scent would change as the days wore on, if the musk would deepen and if the underlying note of salt would intensify; the thrill that such speculations sent through his serjakel was undeniable, and before he could put them down completely a hot little whisper snuck through: And his most intimate smell and taste, how would that be affected, I wonder?

All quite pointless, and when he'd lain down again and pulled the blanket back on he closed his eyes, folded his hands under his right cheek, and turned his mind to putting his shop accounts in order. By the time the lights came up again and Quark called (with patently false cheerfulness) for everybody to "Rise and shine!", Garak had worked his way through payables and receivables and future equipment investments, and was working on a design for a new wedding dress that he felt could be quite fetching on a wider figure. 

The rush for the bathroom was everything Garak had feared it would be, but he was able to sit it out and be among the first at the bar to purchase a better breakfast than the Replimat rations provided by the Federation (his experience with yesterday's lunch and dinner having convinced him that a higher price was a small one to pay for food that wasn't underseasoned Giloran mash). Quark bustled back and forth seeing to the serving, and while sitting at the bar with a plate of sistarat wrapped pancakes Garak managed to catch him for a moment in his flight and ask, with just the right amount of casualness:

"How fortunate we all are that you're still able to provide real food!" Which was a question, even if it wasn't phrased as one.

"Tell me about it," the Ferengi groused, pausing long enough to lean a little closer and speak in a lower tone: "Three quarters of the replicators are spitting out sludge, and the rest…"

Garak nodded sympathetically. "Oh, I know. Last night's dishes from the Replimat were below even their less-than-stellar standards."

Quark bared his small sharp teeth. "Thank the Nagus I just brought in a big shipment of meat and produce, otherwise we'd all be eating escharot and Starfleet emergency rations." 

"Indeed." He shifted forward a bare centimetre. "Any word on when they'll be repaired?" 

A glance around at the milling masses, who seemed to be ignoring them, and Quark leaned even nearer in his turn. "Well, I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be a secret —"

"Oh, don't worry." Garak smiled, smooth as butter. "I won't tell a soul."

"— but word is the Bajoran Niscoro are responsible."

Garak's widened his eyes ever so slightly. "Really!"

Quark nodded grimly. "They slipped a worm into the station's computers during a routine docking procedure last week and planted canisters of Nacinin Fever distillate in the Promenade ducts days ago."

"However did they manage that?"

A shrug. "They infiltrated the engineering team, of course."

"You don't say!" The loom of Garak's mind was clicking again: the Niscoro were a new home-grown terrorist organization (not that Bajor had ever had any shortage of those), but not one that Garak would ever have pegged as having the manpower or the organizational skills to pull off anything so ambitious. Quark, however, seemed convinced.

"Odo's tearing his non-existent hair out because the saboteurs got away in all the confusion. Things are so messed up upstairs that they don't even have records left of which ships have been coming and going these past few weeks."

"Really," Garak repeated a little more flatly, fixing Quark with a variant of his best You really don't want to screw with me gaze.

Quark recognized it — and who was offering it — and opened his hands disarmingly, grinning in a way that didn't quite conceal his nervousness. "Or so I hear tell," he said hastily, then laughed lightly. "You know how these rumours go… I never claimed it was the truth!"

With a blink Garak transitioned from menace to mildness. "Of course not," he smiled. "I'd never hold you responsible for false information, Quark. You know that."

The Ferengi was certainly smart enough to read between those particular lines. "Listen, about Erossol…"

Garak waved the matter aside with one hand. "Oh, think nothing of it! I certainly don't blame you for his lack of manners."

"I had a little talk with him, and he knows better now." He glanced out onto the Promenade, where the trader in question was sitting alone at a small table chowing down on a double serving of eggs and bacon, and dropped his voice to a pleading register: "I don't want any trouble. If he tries to start something again, please don't kill him!"

"My dear Quark," Garak purred, "I wouldn't dream of upsetting the peace and harmony of your establishment."

Judging from Quark's expression as he hustled away, the bartender took that statement at its underlying value: If I needed to kill him, I'd do it somewhere much more secluded. Still smiling with a trace of smugness, Garak went back to his breakfast. He had other things to think about than the Bolian, who, while he would almost certainly prove to be further trouble, was not causing any difficulty at this moment: no, now that he was fortified with food and some red leaf tea he found his mind turning toward Bashir again, and in particular to the quality of the final look the Human had offered him before taking his leave. He was used to reading the good Doctor like a book, but that expression had been… opaque, to say the least, an odd mix of emotions whose individual threads were difficult to untangle. He hadn't looked precisely displeased, and certainly not disgusted, both of which were the reactions Garak had anticipated after Bashir realized he'd been pressing a definite erection against a male Cardassian's leg. Most curious… a development that opened up all sorts of possibilities that were probably so remote as to be practically non-existent, but still…

Every so often Garak glanced up, half-hoping that the Human would miraculously appear out of the crowd, but this morning his hopes were doomed to disappointment.

Chapter Text

1.5

By the time mid-afternoon rolled around Garak's common sense had talked those "possibilities" down to sterile dust. The Humans had a principle called Occam's Razor — the simplest explanation was most likely to be the truth — and while Garak made his fundamental career out of dealing in ambiguities he wasn't in the habit of deluding himself. Bashir had been dreaming about a gorgeous young woman and Garak had gotten a bit of physical intimacy out of it, including a nice feel of his undoubtedly pretty cock: that was what it all boiled down to, and he resolved himself to be content with that. 

So: more embroidery, watching this individual or that rise and stagger toward the Infirmary clutching their stomach, then return escorted by a nurse carrying a warm blanket and a bucket, to lie down and groan piteously in between voiding everything they'd eaten in the last couple of days. The spectacle didn't bother Garak particularly — he had, after all, worked in the interrogation chambers of Cardassia Prime, where a little vomit was the least of what one could expect to see emerge from a living body. He was, however, pleased to note that the sick were being shepherded into a part of the room toward the Promenade entrance but separate from the bar, which was far enough away that the worst of the smell didn't reach him. 

The Bolian trader, unfortunately, was not one of those laid low by a sudden attack of Nacinin Fever — he continued to wander between the Promenade and the bar, engaging random people in conversation and not looking in Garak's direction. This put Garak even more on alert rather than reassuring him, and he'd learned to trust his instincts. The cold continued to be distracting; by the time lunch was coming due he'd resorted to draping his blanket over his shoulders to ward off as much of it as he could, and had been surprised by a Nivanian woman who approached him and offered him the use of her rough knitted shawl, insisting that since her species came from an ice planet she really didn't need it for anything except looking pretty — and, as she noted with a hesitant smile, this really wasn't the place to be worried about that, was it? Garak had accepted the loan of it with genuine gratitude (she'd refused to accept any payment) and found it quite warm indeed when layered over the blanket; it was a rather distressing shade of pink, but he could put up with looking like a Sirellian grandma if it meant having more insulation. 

Lunch, courtesy of Quark's kitchen, turned out to be hasparat stew (something Garak had never acquired a taste for, but better that than the replicator's best offering), and Garak was still eating, back on his cot with the shawl around his shoulders, when who should appear but the dear Doctor and a medical team, bearing hyposprays filled (word quickly got round) with an inoculation for those who hadn't yet succumbed to the fever. Garak could actually hear the spirits of the crowd pick up — the pitch of general conversation changed, for one thing — and by the time Bashir reached his cot he'd set aside his empty plate and picked up his frame again, busily plying the needle.

"That's a nice shawl," Bashir grinned, and Garak actually laughed aloud at the transparency of the lie.

"It has a certain something, doesn't it?" he agreed, letting Bashir see the twinkle of humour in his eyes before he nodded at the hypospray. "You've been hard at work, I see."

With an economical gesture Bashir pressed the device to his neck just below the line of his jaw and triggered the injection. "The infectious agent we're dealing with is a variation on known strains, so we're hoping this works as a preventative. We're not sure, though, so we can't lift quarantine just yet."

Garak nodded. "How unfortunate — but entirely understandable."

The Human was looking at him with more concern. "If you were this cold, you should have said something. I could get you an extra blanket —"

"No need for that, Doctor. I assure you that I'm as warm as I am fashionable." He also didn't want to be seen as using his acquaintance with a Starfleet officer to curry favour: if the Bolian was trying to spread bad feeling about him he didn't need that sin hanging over his head on top of the color of his skin and the adornment of his scales. 

"Hm." Bashir didn't look convinced, but he settled for a quick nod. "Well, I'll still come by tonight and see if you need anything. Until then?"

Garak inclined his chin politely and turned his attention to his sewing, watching out of the corner of his eye as Bashir continued to make his rounds and pondering the meaning of that final statement. Could it be that he'd enjoy a living bedwarmer again?… He dismissed the possibility as highly unlikely. Unless the boy had found his experience of waking up practically in Garak's arms a positive one, he'd naturally be inclined to avoid a possible repeat performance. No, the best Garak could hope for was an extra blanket slipped to him under cover of darkness, and he found himself sighing with something dangerously close to wistfulness before deliberately applying his concentration to the mindless uniformity of a column stitch.

********************************

Garak didn't need to hear the rumours to know they were circulating: he was a student of sentient nature and under the circumstances a collection of bored strangers, thrown together and subjected to the stresses of unwanted proximity and waiting to vomit, would produce all sorts of stories to keep themselves occupied. Every so often he caught one in passing as he sat working, and the content — that the Promenade had been quarantined for something more dreadful than Nacinin Fever, that it was all part of a Federation psychological experiment, that Sisko and the rest of the senior staff had fled to save themselves — was not surprising in terms of either ridiculousness or paranoia. The most troubling speculation was the one that Deep Space Nine was sitting dead in space and the Cardassians were coming to overrun it, because it had the potential to stir up animosity against him personally: he strongly suspected that the Bolian had started it, and the ripples of fear that he sensed moving through the room probably had a lot to do with that piece of fiction in particular. Yes, Garak decided, he had to take the Bolian out of commission — and it didn't take long for him to whip up a plan to do exactly that.

The announcement that dinner was about to be served provided the perfect opportunity. Garak packed away his embroidery, set his bag on the bed, drew the atrocious shawl more tightly around his shoulders and headed toward the bar, keeping the Bolian in sight at all times and moving on a trajectory that would intersect the trader's path. People were crowding forward to be at the front of the line, so it was almost pathetically easy to let the milling throng push him into faking a stumble just as Erossol's took his plate of food — and to bump up against the Bolian's broad back hard enough that the plump man swayed alarmingly and spilled most of his stew, before swinging round in an obvious rage to glare into Garak's embarrassed face.

"Oh dear," Garak said unhappily, smiling with just enough of an edge to be provocative, "I'm so dreadfully sorry!"

"You…" Erossol was practically sputtering, and everyone within three meters was trying their level best to get more distance from him. Quark was at the far end of the bar, his back turned, in conversation with Morn — Garak calculated that if fortune favoured him, he had perhaps five seconds to set things fully in motion.

"How clumsy of me," he lamented, still baring his teeth. "Now you'll have to go all the way back to the end of the line! I do hope they'll still have some —"

Maybe there was something to the Human concept of "luck" after all, because Erossol roared — "Dirty spoonhead!" — dropped the nearly empty plate, and lunged at Garak with left fist foremost. Garak didn't try to evade the blow, although it would have been easy to sidestep it: instead he moved his head just enough that it connected with his cheekbone rather than his nose, and everyone was shouting and Quark was screaming and one of Garak's regular customers, a Bajoran vendor named Lesta Nol, was pulling Erossol away by one fat arm and yelling at the Bolian to back off, and then Security moved in and Erossol was being physically restrained and Garak, leaning against the bar and holding his cheek and clutching at the front of his shawl as if momentarily overcome, decided that things could scarcely have gone better if he'd been able to plan every detail of this tableau down to the last tiny stitch.

********************************

"Terlak Erossol is going to be spending the rest of this quarantine in a cell." Odo folded his arms, looking down at Garak suspiciously. "If you'd like to press charges…"

"I don't think there's any need for that!" Seated on his cot again after a very satisfying dinner, Garak shrugged disarmingly and put on his most innocent and virtuous expression. "We're all under such terrible stress — how can I blame any man for snapping, given the strain? Of course he'll have to be kept where he won't be a danger to anyone else —"

"Of course," Odo interjected wryly.

"— but I see no point in involving the courts in what was clearly a moment of bad judgement."

"Hrmph." The Changeling tilted his head, fixing Garak with a stern glare. "I've been asking around, and there was a lot of tension between the two of you, wasn't there?"

Garak shrugged again, this time with a note of puzzlement. "We had a minor disagreement over a cot, but other than that I haven't said a word to the man."

"Well." His tone dripped skepticism. "Fortunately for you, all accounts agree on that point as well." He unfolded his arms and gave Garak a look that would have done a Cardassian Gul proud. "But I'll be watching you, Garak."

"If I'm not mistaken," Garak said benignly, picked up the embroidery frame from where he'd let it come to rest in his lap, "you've been doing that for quite a while, haven't you?"

With an audible growl, Odo turned away and left Garak to his sewing, his shawl, his smile, and his triumph.

Chapter Text

2.0

When he lay down to sleep on the second night of the quarantine Garak was feeling inordinately pleased with the way things were turning out. Oh, certainly he had a bruise on his right cheekbone, but it wasn't painful unless he probed it with his fingertips and it had won him a certain amount of sympathy in the past few hours: several other people besides Lestal Nol had crowded round him him to ask if he was all right immediately after he'd been punched, and more had drifted over as the evening dragged on to commiserate about Erossol's thuggish behavior. He could sense the general level of tension in the room falling once the Bolian was dragged off into custody and was obliquely pleased that he'd managed to kill two birds with one stone, removing the danger to his own reputation and a public nuisance in a single stroke. 

Nobody, however, had come from the Infirmary — and most conspicuously, not his friend Bashir — to tend to his injury. Garak felt no rancour on that account: given the number of serious cases of Nacinin Fever crowding their biobeds, the station's medical team likely had little time to treat so minor a hurt as a glancing blow to the face. If it had been causing pain he would have been tempted to go and make a fuss about it, but as he settled his back to the wall and closed his eyes and composed himself for sleep, doing his best to mentally filter out the moans of the less severely ill and the raucous respirations coming from Morn's end of the room, he reflected that it would be most impolite to bother Bashir when he had so many patients on his hands. In fact, if the dear Doctor found time to drop off an extra blanket later this evening Garak would profess himself extremely surprised… although even with the shawl laid over his shoulders on top of his current bedclothes he still found himself shivering from time to time… if only he could look forward to Bashir's body heat (and scent, and sleepy little smiles), but alas, no… so sweet and so warm…

With the aid of such comforting memories he actually managed to drift off, which was a testament to how much his estimation of his own standing amidst the refugees had improved. When Bashir approached this time he barely roused at the sound of familiar footsteps, only blinking open his eyes when the Human laid a hand on his shoulder and gave it a brusque little shake. Looking up into that slender dark face, he saw an expression he hadn't expected — grim displeasure — and a tricorder in the Doctor's other hand.

Bashir cut straight to the chase in a hissing whisper: "Why didn't you tell me you'd been hurt?"

Garak blinked again, trying to get his mental feet under him. "I didn't — I mean, I thought you'd be —"

"Which side did he hit you on?"

"The right," Garak said, still a little dazed.

"On your back, please," Bashir said, in a tone of such command that Garak obeyed. By the time he'd shifted into position Bashir was already scanning the injured area; after a couple of seconds the Human made an impatient noise in the back of his throat, switched the tricorder for a dermal regenerator from the thick satchel he carried over his right shoulder, and leaned in to repair the damage. The focussed light from the regenerator made Garak wince and flinch away.

"Hold still," Bashir murmured, taking hold of Garak's chin with his other hand to further immobilize him. Garak closed his eyes tightly and let himself be worked on: when Bashir was in this frame of mind, the best one could do was let him get things over with quickly. "So what happened?"

"An unfortunate accident." A particularly loud snore from Morn punctuated that statement. Garak tried not to twitch under the tingling stimulation of the treatment. "Surely Constable Odo has filled you in on the details?"

"He did, but I wanted to hear your side of the story."

Garak shrugged as best he could without also moving his head. "There isn't much to tell, really. I stumbled and bumped into the man, and he took it personally."

"And the fact that he was going around calling you — well, all sorts of rather nasty things — had nothing to do with it?"

"As Odo surely told you, I'd been sitting here on this cot all day except for meals. When would I have had the opportunity to hear things he was saying behind my back?"

Bashir's tone conveyed almost as much skepticism as one of the Constable's trademark harrumphs. "You wouldn't, of course. There. Done." The bright light went out and Garak cautiously opened his eyes, to find Bashir pulling the anticipated extra blanket out of his shoulder bag. "If you get into any fistfights in the future, I want you to come straight to me, understood?"

"Doctor, when you're in this mood I wouldn't dream of opposing your wishes on any subject."

"Well, good." He made sure that the blanket covered Garak completely, finally cracking a small smile as he pulled it up over his shoulders. "That really is a hideous shawl, isn't it?"

"Don't let the young lady who loaned it to me hear you say that!"

"Ms. Fedaro and her daughter are in the Infirmary, keeping an eye on her husband. I think the secret of my opinion is safe for the moment. Better?"

"Much, thank you." The weight of the extra covering, slight though it was, was marvellously comforting — but Garak forgot about it completely as Bashir sealed up the satchel and proceeded to stow it under the bed. "Doctor…?"

"Move over," Bashir said, meeting Garak's eyes through the deep shadows. And after a moment of amazement Garak obeyed again, turning over onto his left side to allow the Human enough room to slip under the bedclothes behind him. His reptilian heart began to beat even faster when Bashir nestled right up against him, breath hot on the back of his neck and strong slender arm sliding around his waist, locking their bodies together.

For several seconds he lay perfectly still, absorbing the reality of firm physical contact from shoulders to knees. For once he couldn't seem to think of anything clever to say. Bashir shifted slightly, managing to move even closer, and rested the tip of his nose in the fall of Garak's hair; Garak heard him draw a deep breath and then emit a soft hum, redolent of satisfaction. Within less than a minute the sound of his breathing indicated that he'd fallen asleep.

Garak lay staring at the darkness of the wall while Morn snored on, his mind working furiously and getting absolutely nowhere.

********************************

But in time the warmth and security of Bashir's presence had its intended effect. Garak slept, and surprisingly deeply: on the few occasions when an individual sharing his bed had been permitted to linger after the sexual act his subconscious had remained on high alert, ready for betrayal. Apparently he trusted Bashir far more than that, even though he still wasn't sure quite what the young man wanted from him.

The "what" became clear somewhere in the uncharted hours of the night, when Garak was lured from the warm folds of sleep by the sensation of a strong but gentle caress on the top of his right thigh. Bashir was running his hand slowly up and down from hip almost to knee, his breathing calm and deep. Thinking he was still asleep, Garak cleared his throat, then hazarded a spoken word: "Doctor?"

"Mm?" Drowsy, yes, but not blurred as if in slumber. 

"Are you aware of what you're doing?"

"Rubbing your thigh," Bashir murmured in return, "which feels very nice by the way." He paused. "Why, do you not like it?"

In the span of a second Garak formulated and rejected three different answers, all of them varying degrees of a lie. The process wasn't facilitated by his awareness of a half-hard swelling pressed against his buttocks through Bashir's uniform and the thickness of his own tunic. "It's… very warm," he said at last.

"Oh, good," Bashir smiled, and went back to it, completely ignoring (or more likely, completely ignorant of) the effect he was having on Garak's serjakel, which was seeing more action during this period of quarantine than it had in the past three years. Garak was still trying to decide what to do about that — lie here and enjoy it? turn over and seek to return the favour? — when Bashir's hand slowed, slid down to curve around Garak's upper leg and slip his fingers in between Garak's thighs, gave a squeeze that Garak could only interpret as fond, and then settled. Bashir sighed, a soft contented sound, and his breathing soon took on the cadence of sleep once again. 

Garak sternly told his serjakel to slide back into its lair and be good. His serjakel told him to get stuffed, and he had to resort to going over his shop accounts again in order to cultivate the peace of mind necessary for further repose.

********************************

"Doctor Bashir, the time is 0500."

Garak was awake in an instant: his nervous system still hadn't fully stood down, even though Bashir's arm had returned to a relatively non-inflammatory position around his waist. From immediately behind him, a muted groan; then the arm tightened and those slim hips pushed forward, making him acutely aware of full hardness this time, and Bashir whispered hoarsely: "I've got to go."

"That's a pity," Garak responded, and immediately cursed his candour. It had been a long time since any embrace had made him feel this… impulsive.

"It is," Bashir agreed. He bowed his head and moved his hips again, pulling his erection away this time, and breathed a little ripple of utterly charming laughter against Garak's nape: "Just… give me a minute."

"Mm." No, of course he wouldn't want to go walking out of here with his cock in that condition: those Starfleet uniforms concealed nothing in that regard. After a long span of silent seconds, during which he assumed Bashir was doing something like advanced multiplication tables in his head, the Doctor pressed a light but firm kiss to the back of Garak's neck (which did his serjakel, which was achingly eager to come out and play, no favours whatsoever), released his waist after giving it a small squeeze with his hand, and removed himself from the bed. Garak was startled at the depth of the breath he found himself suddenly releasing: he hadn't even realized he'd been holding it.

"I'll see you tonight?" So serious and so hopeful at once, as he pulled his satchel out from under the cot.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Garak whispered in response, deliberately not turning over: if he did, he knew he'd reach up and pull Bashir down and kiss the boy outright. He was still wondering at such a blatant unequivocal desire when Bashir took his leave… but he was also smiling, a thin hot predatory smirk that might, had Bashir seen it, have given the Human a second thought or two about the game he seemed intent on playing.

Once Bashir was gone he turned over to face the room again and closed his eyes, letting the fever that those few touches had roused in his flesh subtly warm him in the depths of the cold and the dark. It would, he suspected, fade to shimmering embers as the day progressed — but not entirely die, no, not until it had found its consummation. And for the first time since he'd been exiled, he actively welcomed the burden of desire.

Chapter Text

2.5 

It was really quite heartening, what having something to look forward to could do for one's general disposition. Garak's soft humming as he plied his embroidery needle was genuinely upbeat today, a change of mood that seemed in tune with the aggregate of his fellow prisoners. Nobody had taken sick since early the previous afternoon and the crowd was abuzz with speculations that they might be released from quarantine early. Garak, who had some idea how such things worked, smiled to himself and did nothing to disabuse them of their hopeful notions.

The day was rendered even brighter by a spot of friendly interest: Ms. Fedaro, the generous lady of the bright pink shawl, came by just before lunch with her daughter, a little girl of equivalent development to a Cardassian six year old — cute as a button and charmingly shy, clutching a rag doll in a bright red dress with one arm and clinging to her mother's leg with the other, and peeking at Garak from behind it in spite of Garak's donning of his most unthreatening expression. 

"And how are you doing today, Mister Garak?" The young woman's smile was openly kind, but she looked rather tired and he decided not to correct her on the point of address.

"Very well, thank you," he smiled in return, setting down the embroidery frame (which was now almost full of bright patterns of colored thread) on his lap and moving over slightly to provide her with plenty of room to sit down. "I hope your husband is feeling better today…?"

"He is, thank you." She picked up on the signal and shook her head. "Oh no, we're just here for a moment — Ajara was getting restless, cooped up in that Infirmary, so we're going for a little walk, aren't we, precious?"

Araja nodded, but her eyes were now fixed on the embroidery in Garak's lap. He turned his attention to her and used his softest voice: "Hello, Araja. It's very nice to meet you." He tilted the frame so that she could better see the fruits of his labours. "You like that, do you? Isn't it pretty?"

She nodded tentatively, glanced up at her mother's encouraging smile, then moved out from behind her the tiniest bit, looking into Garak's face with a child's solemnity. Gazing back into her wide green eyes, he was struck by a generous impulse: "You know your mother's been very kind to me, don't you? She loaned me this lovely shawl to help me keep warm, and I've been thinking about what I could do to return the favour." He leaned a little nearer and was pleased to see her move back an equivalent amount: sometimes children perceived things so much more clearly than adults, and he thought she could see what he was beneath his amiable exterior. "Why don't you come by the shop with her tomorrow morning, the sooner after the quarantine is lifted better, and I'll have something nice embroidered for your dolly — just for you. How does that sound?"

Her mother's eyes widened. "Oh, that's really not —"

"It's the least I can do, madam," Garak insisted — gently, but firmly. "You can pick up the shawl, and Araja can have some embroidery of her very own to take home with her." He smiled at the child again, this time with genuine kindness: training and vocation aside, he appreciated the innocence of the young mind, untainted by unpleasant experiences. "It won't be much — just a sash for her doll — but it will give me something else to do to occupy my time."

After a moment's thought, Ms. Fedaro nodded and glanced down at her daughter, who was firmly attached to her leg again. "If you'd really like to… How does that sound, darling?"

"That sounds nice," Araja whispered, then reluctantly tore her eyes away from Garak — she was, he suspected, watching him with the same fascination a mouse accords to a snake — and looked soulfully up at her mother. "Can we go back now?"

"Of course we can! Maybe Doctor Bashir has some more news about Papa." She turned her smile on Garak again. "He's a friend of yours, isn't he?"

Garak nodded, reflecting that the term "friend" now covered quite a bit more territory than it had only forty-eight hours ago. 

Ms. Fedaro nodded in turn, as if unsurprised. "Well, he's a very nice man."

"The nicest man I know," Garak agreed, and for once he was telling nothing more nor less than the absolute truth.

********************************

A winding design of green leaves and purple flowers, he decided, would go best with the ill-sewn crimson dress that the doll had been clad in: the dress looked like it wasn't attached to the poppet, so perhaps if he had time he could even whip up a better one to go with the pretty sash he was making. He'd automatically taken the doll's measurements by eye and was confident he could produce something that would please the little girl, and by extension her mother.

Feeling genuinely virtuous for a change, he went back to work on a new frame of material, one wide enough to take the narrow design in three segments which he'd stitch together on a velvet backing once he had access to his shop again. With such pleasant employment the afternoon seemed to go by in a minute, marring his good mood only when the lights flickered back to full strength at intervals, a development greeted with cheers by everyone else followed by mutters of disappointment when they faded to Terok Nor levels again. Things were still dark when Quark announced that dinner was ready, and Garak entertained hopes (unspoken, of course) that Chief O'Brien and his redoubtable engineering crew wouldn't solve the issue before lights-out: he'd gotten used to doing fine needlework in the bright illumination that was now Deep Space Nine standard, but that didn't mean he liked it.

As he was waiting in line to pay for his meal, he was passed by Lesta Nol, who paused long enough to nod at his unmarked cheek. "You got that looked after, I see."

"Indeed," Garak smiled; he wasn't sure he trusted the Bajoran's support, but it wouldn't hurt to cultivate it. "I certainly appreciated your help, by the way. If you hadn't pulled him off of me…"

Lesta nodded. "He'd have been in real trouble, that's what." 

Garak made his smile even smoother and more innocuous. "Oh, I sincerely doubt that!"

After a glance round, which revealed that the people in front of and behind Garak were engaged in their own conversations, Lesta leaned a little closer to speak in a lower voice. "And I saw that Doctor Bashir came by after hours to take care of you."

A tiny alarm began to go off in the back of Garak's mind. "To my considerable surprise, yes, he did."

"Well good," Lesta smiled, and actually winked at him, and set off toward the tables on the Promenade, leaving Garak staring after him and wondering just how far that particular piece of speculation had already gotten around. The vendor was a man known for keeping his mouth shut when it came to spreading gossip, but still…

… who else had noticed the good Doctor's nightly visits, and drawn a similar conclusion?

********************************

After an hour or so of worrying the subject while eating and embroidering, Garak came to a pragmatic conclusion: if anyone else had noticed, which was virtually inevitable given the close quarters they were all stuffed into, there wasn't much he could do about it at this stage. He would, however, be very careful not to do anything too physically overt when Bashir — no, Julian, he supposed he was entitled to call a man who had surreptitiously fondled him by his first name — came by this evening. 

The slow burn of desire had indeed lingered all during the day and now, as lights-out approached, it began to flare and simmer under his cold grey skin. He'd found himself considering the matter while he worked, analyzing Bashir's — Julian's — actions and responses. The man had been surprised by Garak's acceptance of his arousal, and hadn't taken long to come to a decision to explore the possibilities of that acceptance: perfectly in-character for a brash young Starfleet officer, and for this officer in particular. Finishing the final flower, Garak found himself smirking fondly at the thought of Julian's willingness to throw himself into new experiences: he had a thing or two to teach the boy that, he suspected, Julian had never imagined possible… 

… if Julian wanted a sexual relationship beyond the period of quarantine, that is. Perhaps he was a man who only thrilled to illicit homosexual contact with the possibility of being discovered — well, if that proved to be the case, Garak knew all sorts of games he could play with the lovely Doctor. There were plenty of places on the station that counted as "public" while being relatively out of the way, places perfect for a covert assignation and swift panting bursts of lust. He rather hoped that Julian would prove amenable to more than that, though: the prospect of having those long beautiful limbs splayed out on a full bed, with plenty of time and leisure to play with their owner, filled Garak with a fierce joyful anticipation he hadn't experienced in far too long. 

He even went up to the bar and bought himself a glass of kanar when Quark declared a ten percent discount on drinks all evening, sitting and sipping and letting the jubilant atmosphere of anticipation for tomorrow's end of the quarantine swirl around him, and if he smiled more widely than was his wont, no one knew the real cause of his happiness but himself.

Chapter Text

3.0

Given the exuberance of the detainees at the prospect of freedom Garak had started to worry that they'd party most of the night, but to his relief Odo came in at 22:45, announced lights-out in fifteen minutes, and told Quark to stop serving drinks. This grim pronouncement led to an emotional protest from the Ferengi which, while entertaining to witness, was ultimately futile: fifteen minutes later the lights went out, and within the hour almost everybody was in their beds under the watchful eyes of Odo's deputies. 

Garak, who'd lain down under the covers on his cot shortly after Quark lost the battle to keep the bar open, observed silently while things quieted down and Morn began to snore, and shortly thereafter the deputies retired, presumably to positions outside on the Promenade. He listened while the quality of the mass breathing in his immediate vicinity gradually settled into the slow deep rhythms of sleep: himself, he was wide awake and acutely alert under the weight of the shawl that added extra warmth across his shoulders. He'd always enjoyed this part of covert operations — the exhilarating thrill of secret observation, of being the lone watcher of an unwitting group — but if he'd judged the situation correctly, he wouldn't be alone much longer. It was the first time any paramour had promised to come sneaking into his bed in the dead of night, and he found the prospect absolutely delightful in its duplicity.

And it was Julian who would be slipping in between the blankets to trade furtive caresses, a man whose essence was honesty and open dealings! That inversion was even more delicious yet. Garak smiled in the darkness, and wondered: How many other illicit rendezvous have you had in your life, beautiful boy — and how well you hid that capacity to lie from me! The thought that followed was even more satisfying: Or have I taught you so well that you've absorbed some Cardassian values in spite of your Federation indoctrination?

Long minutes dragged past, but Garak was patient by nature and knew well what rewards it could bring. His senses sharpened when a tall figure finally entered the bar — but it paused a few steps in, and was clad in warm browns rather than black and medical blue. Odo stood looking around at the sea of sleeping bodies; Garak closed his eyes, but could still sense that searching gaze when it passed over his position. It seemed an eternity before the Constable took his leave again and Garak could resume his watch — and he didn't have long to wait this time, because not twenty seconds later the lovely Doctor entered with a swift stride, looking perturbed and casting a quick glance behind him before making his way carefully between the cots toward Garak's even darker corner. 

This time Garak did not pretend to be asleep. He gazed at Julian levelly as he approached, letting a slight enigmatic smile curve his lips.

"I'm sorry I'm so late," Julian whispered in a hasty spill of words, going down on one knee and leaning close enough to be heard over Morn's relentless snoring. "Odo was patrolling the Promenade, and I didn't want to run into him." He twitched his shoulders in a shrug and smiled; Garak could feel the nervous energy spilling off him. "So I ducked into the shadow of a pylon as soon as I saw him, and waited — you'd probably have been proud of me, the way I —"

"Julian." He used the name deliberately, tasting it for the first time and adoring the way it felt in his mouth, and his gentle tone had the desired effect: the Human stopped babbling. Without another word Garak shifted back flat against the wall and lifted the blankets, inviting, and after a second's hesitation and a visible deep breath Julian climbed in with him, fitting the slight indentation of his waist over Garak's extended right arm and letting Garak drape the covers loosely over his back. His own left arm ended up folded along his chest, his left hand curled just below his jaw, his right arm coming to tentative rest around Garak's waist, and his slim body was full of tension that only increased a little when the weight of Garak's left arm settled on top of him and curved around him. He'd craned his slender neck to look backward over his right shoulder while Garak arranged the blankets, but now he had no excuse not to face the grey-scaled Cardassian's visage at very close range.

The moment of truth, as Humans called it, consisted of little shivers of apprehensive breath against Garak's lips and the scent of caramel skin (deeper and darker than it had been three days ago, and only more luscious) and wide hazel eyes, both amazed and anxious, gazing into his. He could almost hear the words running through the boy's mind:What am I doing here? I can't believe I'm doing this! And likely, given the thread of fear he could see dwelling behind that gaze: I know what he is and what he's done. He could kill me if he wanted to. 

Garak was accustomed to being feared. It was, in fact, something he cultivated. But that was not what he wanted from Julian at this moment, so he ran his open left hand slowly up the taut line of that lightly muscled back and curved it around the nape of the Doctor's impossibly delicate neck, locating points of tension with his fingertips and soothing them with precisely applied stroking pressure. A sharp intake of breath was his reward; Julian's eyes widened even more, then drifted closed. 

"Oh," he breathed, stretching slightly in Garak's embrace, "oh, that's nice…"

Garak let his smile widen a little. After three days of dealing with quarantine conditions the dear Doctor doubtless had all sorts of reasons to feel physically stressed that had nothing to do with lying in the arms of a lethal Cardassian operative. "Better?" he whispered, ghosting cool breath against Julian's full lips, which were starting to curve in a small smile of their own.

"Much," Julian murmured, his arm around Garak's waist drawing tighter as he cuddled a centimetre or so closer. His eyes opened again, regarding Garak more solemnly, searching and questioning. Garak looked back without blinking, keeping his expression calmly anticipatory, awaiting Julian's decision — and the darling boy did not disappoint.

He did, however, move in a tad too quickly and didn't properly judge his angle of approach in the dimness. Their noses bumped together and Julian started to apologize: his breath was coming in nervous gusts again, and his pupils were dilated even in relation to the darkness around them. Garak silenced him by moving in the rest of the way, capturing that full lower lip with a little lingering bite before tilting his chin up to lightly touch mouth fully to mouth. And Julian actually whimpered, his warm soft lips parting at once as he leaned in, the combination of pleading sound and intensified contact producing a thoroughly unexpected melting of Garak's heart. 

They didn't hurry. There was no need to. And when their lips finally parted after several seconds of leisurely exploration, Julian whispered in a rush: "I've been wanting to do that for two whole days."

Garak's pulse was beating faster in the erectile tissue beneath his scales, and he let some of that heat infuse his voice. "Only two days?"

Julian's glanced down, then up again, his gaze now unwavering. "Longer," he admitted, and punctuated the confession with a tiny kiss on Garak's lower lip, followed by a bite that, while gentle, almost made Garak moan in his turn. Such a talented mouth! "But I didn't know it at the time." Another bite, this one nibbling on the scales that edged Garak's chin. How did Julian know? "Can we talk about this later?"

Garak pressed his lips to the tip of that unadorned nose, telling his heart not to swell so shamelessly. "I never thought I'd see the day when you didn't want to talk to me," he joked, and sent a stern disciplinary message to his serjakel while he was at it.

"Making up for lost time," Julian muttered, and captured Garak's mouth again with much more assurance.

Even the soundtrack of Morn's ragged snoring couldn't spoil this engagement: the glide and press of inventive lips, and the wet little sounds they made coming together and apart; the initial fencing and thorough exploration of tongues, smooth and stroking, teasing and tickling; the nip of teeth, more aggressive and more sensual by turns. Garak had rinsed his mouth thoroughly prior to bedding down: he could only hope that his tasted as good as Julian's, although he had nothing to worry about if the younger man's enthusiastic response was anything to go by. And it didn't take long for Julian's cock to stir and stiffen against Garak's hip, filling him with the avid desire to reach down and explore, but he kept his hands to himself — for the moment. He didn't want to start something it wouldn't be possible to finish without the benefit of transporter technology to spirit away the inevitable mess.

His own serjakel was refusing to stay decently concealed, its impudence only encouraged by the way Julian's right hand kept straying down to Garak's buttocks to cup and squeeze and caress — and by the inevitable conclusion that if Julian was this good at kissing, he was probably just as skilled in other areas of lovemaking as well. For his part Garak concentrated on giving as good as he got, and on caressing that dear smooth face, and on running his fingers through that silky-rough tousle of dark hair, tracing the smooth sweep of Julian's alien eyebrows with a tender touch. Julian seemed just as fascinated with his own black mane, stroking it from his crown down to the nape of his neck, then running those strong surgeon's fingers over the scutes that patterned the skin there, making Garak growl deep in his throat when he slid his caresses up to the few centimetres of neckridge accessible above the collar of his tunic. But Julian never lingered there long, although the signs of arousal from such stimulation — quickened breathing, the growls, the way Garak's serjakel twitched against his own erection — must have been clear even for a Human to read. So he also realized that they weren't in a position to go too far, not with other people only metres away, even if those people were theoretically sound asleep.

Still, they did fairly well for themselves, all things considered: Garak doubted that even the woman on the next cot over, a metre or so away, would have seen anything worth mentioning in the darkness beyond some vague impressions of motion around Julian's head and over Garak's side — had she been turned to face them in the first place. But she wasn't, a trick of probability for which Garak was almost absurdly grateful. Perhaps, however, he shouldn't have been, because it took very little time and privacy to become extremely hot and bothered with such a lovely young man in his arms, warm and willing and downright eager for more. 

After a very long and pleasant interval, Julian pulled away just enough to whisper: "Do Cardassians get blue balls?"

Garak blinked, coming back into regular conversational space with an effort. "Do we get.. what?"

"Vasocongestion in the testicles caused by sexual frustration." 

"I should hope not!" Garak studied his blushing face keenly. "Why, are you —?"

Julian shook his head. "No, no — not yet, anyway." A sheepish grin. "But I might if we keep this up."

"Well then, we should stop at once! It sounds horribly unpleasant."

The younger man closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to Garak's, uttering a frustrated little moan. "It can be… but I'm so damned close… I just want you to touch me…"

"I know, my darling." He wrapped both arms around Julian's back, holding him closer in an embrace more affectionate than carnal. "I feel the same way, believe me. But we can't, not here."

Julian nodded, his eyes still shut. "I know. Damn it, why did I have to figure this out under these conditions?"

Garak rubbed his back, slow and soothing. "Come this time tomorrow we'll be out of quarantine, won't we?"

"If everything goes as planned, yes."

He dropped his voice to a sensual purr. "Then come this time tomorrow, we'll be in your bed without a potential audience to inhibit us."

Scowling, Julian raised his head and opened his eyes. "My bed? Why my bed?"

"Because I'm sure it's much bigger than mine, and I want ample room to play with you."

A look of such melting lust infused Julian's dusky face that for an instant Garak almost yielded to the impulse to roll him over and start biting every inch of sweet scaleless skin he could reach. "It is," he murmured, "but how can you be sure that I won't be the one playing with you?"

"Perhaps we can work out a time-sharing arrangement."

"I'll hold you to that." The yearning expression had been replaced by one of determination. "But if we don't stop kissing and touching each other right now I'm going to end up making a horrible mess of my uniform, and I really don't have the privacy to change into another one."

"My poor dear!" Garak purred, secretly exultant that he'd had such an overwhelming effect on the senses of this very sexually experienced man. "Well, we certainly can't have that, can we?"

"I'm pretty sure coming in your pants wouldn't do you any favours either."

"What makes you think I'm that close?"

Julian brought his right hand to Garak's neck again, touching the ridge lightly enough not to be too distracting. "Because the tissue beneath your scales is flushed with blood and the scales have started to darken. That's a classic sign of fourth-stage arousal, isn't it?"

"You can see that?" He was frankly surprised, given the light conditions.

"I've always had excellent night vision," Julian said smoothly. "And I can feel the change in temperature of the skin itself."

"What a clever boy," Garak retorted, allowing genuine admiration to color his voice.

"Thank you. I've always thought so." He leaned in for another kiss, this one light although it lingered. "And right now I think we should turn back to back and try to get some sleep."

"You're willing to stay?" That surprised him also, as did the compassion of Julian's expression.

"I came here initially to keep you warm, and that hasn't changed." He squeezed Garak's waist with his arm, smiling fondly. "By morning the heat should be back on and you won't need me anymore, but until then…"

"You're very kind, Doctor." The tightness in his throat was also unfamiliar.

"I'm your friend, Garak," Julian said simply, and Garak knew that as far as this generous young man was concerned that fundamental truth was unlikely to ever change. Looking into those dark eyes full of so much desire and affection, he felt another alien emotion, one far less easy to quantify — or perhaps he was simply afraid to acknowledge its existence, for fear it would open him to dangers even a ruthless member of the Obsidian Order had reason to avoid whenever possible.

But when it came to Julian, alas, it seemed that his sense of caution had awakened far too late to do him any good whatsoever.

Chapter Text

3.5

Something woke Garak in the uncharted hours of the night; his eyes snapped open and he lay perfectly still, tension automatically gathering in his muscles as he stared at the wall and listened intently, ready to fight or to flee. It took less than three seconds for him to pinpoint what had changed: the background noise of the station had taken on a deeper pitch, a subliminal hum that had been missing since the initial failure of the lights. It was audible even over Morn's intermittent sputterings and he could feel the subliminal caress of increased air movement wafting down on his face from the ventilation grill overhead. 

"Mm?" Julian asked sleepily from behind him, raising his head slightly from the pillow.

"Go back to sleep, Julian" Garak said softly, consciously relaxing his combat-ready body. "It's just the heating system coming back online."

"Mm," Julian mumbled, this time with a note of satisfaction, and snuggled back against him before laying down his head again. 

Garak stayed awake for a little while longer just to enjoy that closeness, and fell asleep smiling, remembering the taste of Julian's mouth and the way their breath had mingled with each kiss.

********************************

Julian practically bounced out of bed when his combadge sounded, pausing just long enough to give Garak's ass a sly pat and rub before tucking his paramour in warmly. Yawning and rolling over, Garak could already feel a difference in the air: it was still chllly from a Cardassian point of view, but nowhere near as icy as what he'd endured for the past three days.

"Comfy?" Julian whispered when he'd resettled himself on his right side, head resting on his arm under the thin pillow.

"Criminally," Garak responded, stretching in a way that made all the scales on his back feel like they were rippling. 

"Good." After a furtive glance back at the room full of sleeping people he leaned in to sneak a quick kiss. "Last night was amazing," he said earnestly, gazing into Garak's eyes in a way that had certainly mesmerized its fair share of women in his time. "I just hope you're not going to reconsider it in the cold light of day and change your mind."

"My dear." Garak extricated his left arm from the blankets and reached out to lay his hand over Julian's where it rested on the edge of the mattress, pressing warmly. "I was thinking the same thing about you, actually."

"Oh, no!" He traced the curve of scales framing the orbit of Garak's left eye with tender fingertips. "I know a good thing when I see it." The sweet fondness of his smile was so naked that it made Garak's slow reptilian heart begin to beat faster all over again. "Come by the Infirmary after the quarantine's lifted?"

"I have to take care of something in my shop first. Why don't you come by after you've squared things away?"

"We'll find each other," Julian decided. "Just don't let me keep you from a hot shower and a good meal."

"I fully intend to enjoy them both with you," Garak replied with a smile that was anything but coy, and was pleased to see a tint of rose flush Julian's cheeks. He stole another kiss and headed for the Infirmary, still blushing, leaving Garak to bask in his success like a lizard spreading its frills to the Cardassian sun. He was feeling so sleek and fat and self-satisfied that he didn't even bestir himself to slip into the bathroom before everyone else, and was still lying in bed when the lights came up — at full intensity, making him wince and sigh and reflect that on the mortal coil the Human Shakespeare had written about, perfection never lasts.

********************************

For the rest of the morning he took it very easy: still aware of everything around him, certainly, but the mood of the crowd had taken on a much rosier tint and the sense of constant impending danger had largely evaporated. He ate breakfast and set himself to embroidering in a desultory fashion, letting the needle smoothly glide rather than laying down quick sharp stitches; he recognized this state of relaxation, a period of marshalling his resources before an anticipated burst of intense activity, and the prospect of expending that bated energy on the lovely Doctor had him smiling and humming to himself — canticles this time, and aubades, and arias from operas that ended in laughter and bliss. Even Odo's sour face making the rounds and glaring at him with undisguised suspicion couldn't dampen his unrepentantly good mood.

He was, after all, a pragmatist, a man of realpolitik rather than unwavering ideals, and if a beautiful boy had indeed crept up on him and sprung his tender trap, who was he to struggle fruitlessly against it? At the very least it offered a mixture of friendship and desire that would pass many an otherwise lonely night most pleasantly; at best… 

He smiled, and sketched a pattern of two roses entwined thorns and all — one red, one white — and murmured the melody of a song that compared the sweetness of new love to a savoury wine harvested from well-tended vineyards. Surely Julian would explain his present euphoric state of mind in terms of endorphins and the increase or decrease of certain hormones, but after so many years of almost unremitting isolation Garak was much more inclined to simply enjoy it while it lasted.

********************************

Quark had announced lunch and was a little over halfway through serving it when Commander Sisko's voice intruded on Garak's life for the second time in three days, to thank the inhabitants of the Promenade for their patience and declare the quarantine lifted. The cheer that went up drowned out the second half of his statement: people were laughing, jumping up and down, hugging each other, and then either rushing out onto the Promenade or crowding close to the bar to order a celebratory drink. For his part, Garak quietly packed up his shoulder bag, picked up the hideous pink shawl from where he'd neatly folded it on his pillow, and departed for his shop, mercifully managing to avoid getting accosted by any unwanted embraces in the process.

After over seventy-eight hours trapped in Quark's bar with a gaggle of strangers his shop felt like an oasis of privacy and peace. When the door had closed behind him Garak stood in the shadows, looking around it and drawing a slow deep breath, then releasing it equally slowly, visualizing the tension and contamination of his imprisonment draining away, letting the comfort and security of his own space replace it. Then he called for the lights, went to the central work table, unpacked his shoulder bag and set about putting together the sash for Araja's dolly, backing it with a strip of thick soft blue velvet. That took only a minute, or so it seemed, and he'd laid out red silk and started to cut a doll-sized pattern for a gown from it when the doors of his establishment opened. Glancing up, a friendly greeting for Ms. Fedaro and her daughter on his lips, he found a wide smile bursting free instead.

"Doctor!" Best to maintain the proprieties of formal address when they were in public spaces. "I would have thought you'd still be in the Infirmary."

"Doctor Tumnar threw me out," Julian replied, grimacing a little at the thought. "I offered to stay and wrap up the final tests, but he told me to go and get some sleep before I fell over." He stifled a yawn against the back of his right hand. "So, here I am! What's that you're making?"

"A dress for the daughter of the very kind young lady who loaned me the awful shawl. Well, for her dolly, at any rate."

Julian crossed to his side, looking with interest at the sash which lay neatly to one side. "Did you make that too?"

"I've had ample time to devote to my embroidery these past few days." He nodded in response to Julian's questioning glance, and the Doctor picked up the sash and examined it carefully.

"It's beautiful work. I didn't realize you did this sort of thing."

"One day I'll embroider something for you — a pair of cuffs and a neckline, perhaps, for a shirt of heavy linen." He studied Julian's profile, adoring the sleek smooth lines of it. "Something to match your lovely eyes, or the caramel tone of your skin."

Julian glanced sidelong at him with a smile almost shy. "Oh, you don't have to —"

"Of course I don't. That's what makes it a gift."

The shyness in Julian's expression became chagrin, then secret pleasure. "Thank you, Garak. I'd be honoured to wear it." He set down the tiny sash and nodded at the pieces of the little pattern. "You're making a dress for her too?"

"The one she currently has is frankly awful. Really, you'd think they let anybody make doll clothes!"

"Actually, I think they do. Grannies, mostly."

"Well, someone that advanced in years should know how to sew a hem, that's all I have to say."

"So you need to finish that before…?"

Garak offered him a regretful smile. "I'd asked Ms. Fedaro to stop by after the quarantine was lifted to pick up the shawl and the sash. I'll need to hurry if I want to finish this in time. Oh, you needn't stay, my dear: go back to your quarters, and have a long hot shower, and —"

"Not without you." There was sexual challenge in Julian's eyes along with hints of humour and stubborn determination.

"Well, go and lie down, at the very least." He reached out with the hand that wasn't holding the laser cutter and brushed a light touch across the back of Julian's left hand where it rested on the table's edge. "I'll let myself in, and then we'll see about that shower."

Julian opened his mouth, then evidently thought better about what he was going to say. "I really should know by now that you can get into all sorts of places without permission."

Garak let a distinct carnal smoulder enter his voice and his gaze. "Oh, I'll be asking permission, all right, with every power of persuasion at my command." The startled look that crossed Julian's face, followed by another of those lovely blushes, filled him with keen anticipation that he was careful not to reveal, adopting a cheerful brisk demeanour instead. "Now run along, my darling! Once I've discharged my duties here I'll be by to ensure that you're perfectly, completely and exquisitely clean — and then I promise I'll do my level best to dirty you up all over again."

When Julian leaned in to steal an impulsive kiss — bold, daring, impossible boy! — Garak didn't have the heart of refuse him. Part of him ruefully reflected that the mighty had indeed come to a steep fall… but as those soft sweet lips pressed against his, mingling heat and breath and eager yearning energy, he decided that he could think of much worse ways to have his integrity compromised.

And that he could certainly learn to live with it, every day and every night, for as long as love lasted.

THE END