For someone so intelligent, Dr. Bashir was the most oblivious person Garak had met in his entire life.
At first he'd thought it was a cultural misunderstanding, so he'd watched Human couples interact, read a little about Human psychology, even mimicked some of the flirtations in the Human literature that Bashir lent him -- hoping that, if he wasn't quite doing it right, at least Bashir might get the idea from the literary reference.
But he hadn't yet, and Garak was beginning to think that he never would.
"Garak. Hi. I know this is short notice and all..."
Garak looked up from the jacket he was mending and smiled, pushing away his train of thought for another time.
"What a pleasant surprise, Doctor," Garak said. The words were honest, but he intoned a touch of weariness. He'd learned that seeming too eager was not considered an attractive trait, though Bashir himself was guilty of it often enough. "You haven't come by my shop in months."
Bashir smiled. "I haven't had much time to wear anything but this lately." He gestured at his uniform.
"But I'm going to see someone special tonight, so I'd like to wear something special."
"Ah. Let me guess. Something blue." Garak held up a piece of gauzy lingerie from a nearby table, raising his eyeridges innocently.
Bashir crossed his arms and said with mock sternness, "Something I could wear to dinner."
"Another time then." Garak smiled in a way that he was fairly sure could be considered coy. "What sort of outfit are you looking for? A suit? Something more casual?"
"I'm not sure."
"What sort of impression would you like to make on your lady friend?"
Bashir pressed his lips together, as if trying to avoid a grin. Most likely that lovestruck grin he wore whenever he was chasing after some new prize. "A good one?"
Garak pointedly ignored cold little ball of jealousy forming in his stomach.
"Well..." Bashir continued as he fingered through one of the racks. "Not just good. My 'lady friend' is a classy sort. I want to look like I deserve her attention. But I still want to seem accessible, not too formal." He sighed, giving up on his browsing. "What do you think would look good on me? I'm not a good judge of that sort of thing."
Accessible. That little ball he was ignoring was certainly growing rapidly.
"Is she Human?"
Bashir shook his head.
"Do I have to keep guessing, or will you tell me?"
"I'd... rather not say. I want to keep our relationship quiet for now."
Garak ostensibly eyed his inventory list as he made a mental note to check the visitor's logs for someone who might fit the profile. But it could be Dax. Garak frowned at that thought before he caught himself. If she was a visitor, the "relationship" would be doomed to the short-term, but he doubted he would be much competition for Dax if she ever accepted the doctor's many advances.
"Ah, here," Garak said, pretending to discover an appropriate suit. In truth, he'd ordered it with Bashir in mind, though he'd never really expected to have the chance to see him in it. He handed the PADD to Bashir. "What do you think of that?"
Bashir inspected the little rotating image on the PADD screen. After a moment, he nodded. "I'd like to try it on."
"Just a moment. I think it's..." Garak found the shelf where the suit was vacuum packed in a storage bag and pulled it out. When he turned around again, Bashir was already waiting in the dressing room, shifting from one foot to the other anxiously.
Whoever this woman was, Garak was thoroughly disgusted by her if she made Bashir feel that he had to go to these lengths to impress her.
As Garak hung the suit on a hook inside the dressing room, Bashir reached around him to run his fingers down the length of its arm. "I like the fabric."
"Yes," Garak said. A bit too tersely, as he tried to ignore how close Bashir was standing. "If you'll tell me when you're ready..." He began to head for the curtain.
"You don't have to leave. I'd like your opinion, actually." He grinned as he unfastened the collar of his uniform. "I'm afraid it won't be much of a show, though. I'm wearing my underclothing today."
Garak considered making some excuse -- that he needed to finish that jacket before lunchtime or that he should watch the store. But he simply closed the curtain instead.
"By the way, have you finished that play I lent you?" Bashir asked as he disrobed.
"I'm afraid that this Shakespeare's humor eludes me even more than his drama. What he deems dramatic is farce, and what he deems humor is..." Garak could see out of the corner of his eye that Bashir was wearing standard issue briefs. Without an undershirt. No show indeed. "If he were alive, I'd expect to find him in a mental institution."
Bashir laughed. "I think I'll give you Tennessee Williams next. That should be interesting." He had the shirt on, but he was looking down at it, perplexed. "How do I fasten this?"
"Ah, yes, that one's a bit complicated..."
Garak hesitated. He had wanted to see Bashir in these clothes, had thought about it extensively in fact, but now that the time had come... His fantasy had been ruined by this nameless woman.
Likely Dax. In fact, he was sure it was Dax. Bashir would not be this excited about anyone else, and Garak had known she would break down eventually under that sort of pressure.
Bashir's eyes were wide, expectant, and Garak went to him. He kept his eyes on the shirt, not the smooth skin underneath or the soft blue cloth of the briefs that left very little to the imagination.
He could feel Bashir watching him. He wanted to be irritated at his young friend, but he found it impossible. Bashir had no idea what this was doing to him.
"This flap secures underneath, under your left arm," Garak said, as he followed his own instructions. Careful not to brush against Bashir's chest as he worked. "And this one goes over top, fastening under your right arm."
Garak pulled gently at the fabric until it formed a perfect V that opened above Bashir's clavicle. Almost involuntarily, Garak's eyes followed the line up to the straight collar that curved just under his jaw and hugged the back of his neck.
"How does it look?" Bashir asked, turning his head to look in the mirror. The angle made the tendons in his neck bulge. "Good, I think."
"I'm sure you'll make an impression."
"Especially if this is all I show up in," Bashir said, grinning as he took the pants down from the hook.
Garak watched as Bashir stepped into the pants, suddenly unconcerned with being caught. He may as well get something out of this, and it wasn't as if Bashir would notice. He never had before. Bashir tucked the shirt in before fastening the pants, but...
"You've missed some of it," Garak said. "In the back."
"Where?" Bashir twisted himself around, but couldn't seem to find it.
Garak took a deep breath -- masked as an impatient sigh -- and took the stray bit of fabric himself. He slid it into place. This tips of his fingers could have only been a few inches above Bashir's tailbone.
"Oh. Thanks. I swear, I can usually dress myself."
"I've seen the results of that. Perhaps you should leave it to the professionals."
Bashir pretended to be offended, but he allowed Garak to help him into the jacket.
"It's a pretty good fit, isn't it?" Bashir said, stretching out his arm to see that the cuff didn't slide up on his wrists. He turned to look at himself a bit more closely in the mirror. "Wow, it actually does look good."
"You sound surprised."
"No offense, but Cardassian and Human fashion sense isn't always that compatible."
"None taken," Garak said dryly. "I hope that it is also pleasing to the Trill fashion sense."
Bahsir's eyes widened, caught. Garak forced a smile into the mirror for Bashir to see, and Bashir smiled in return. "Don't tell anyone, all right?"
"I've been known to keep a secret or two."
"I appreciate it. All of this, actually. I didn't want to have to show up in something horrible." Bashir looked at him, and Garak was a bit startled by the seriousness of Bashir's expression. "Thanks. I'll, er. Take it, obviously. How much do I owe you?"
Garak placed a hand on Bashir's shoulder, allowing himself a moment to believe he could hold him still, keep him there. Allowing himself to believe that he had any right to be possessive of this kind man who had somehow befriended him.
"What you owe me," Garak said slowly. "Is the promise that you'll thoroughly enjoy your evening and that nothing will be torn when either you or your lady friend decides to take that lovely shirt off."
Bashir chuckled and patted Garak's hand. "I give you my solemn vow."
Garak sat at the desk in his quarters, trying to go over schedules and shipments and profits and all of the tedious things that had become his career. Trying, but failing.
Because his mind kept going back to that dressing room. To what he could have done with Bashir if... Well, if a lot of things were different.
And, worse, when he managed to take his mind off of the dressing room, he was thinking of Bashir in Dax's quarters. Her fingers unfastening his shirt, his pants. Her hands sliding under the fabric and touching his skin.
Jealousy. One of the clearest signs of his downfall. There was a time when he wouldn't have been jealous of anyone. When he could have simply found someone else to pass his time. When he would not have dwelled on any one interest for so long.
He frowned and pushed himself back in his chair. Well, perhaps it was humiliating, but at least there was one thing he could do to distract his mind.
He opened his pants, imagining that it was Bashir's hand. Sighing, he tilted his head back. He didn't really want to see himself, didn't really want to think about what he was doing. All he wanted to think about was Bashir in the dressing room. Looking at him with eyes that knew the lengths Garak had gone to trying to attract Bashir's attention. Letting him push that shirt off his shoulder's and press him up against the--
The door chimed.
Garak sat up straight, so abruptly that his head swam. He glanced down at himself to see what state he was in. Not too bad, not too noticeable. And the little surge of panic had helped it become less noticeable, certainly. He stood, fastening his pants and pulling his tunic down for extra cover.
He was at the door before he had a chance to wonder who would be there this time of night, but he was past paranoia.
Bashir smiled at him as the door slid open. A dazzling smile that seemed almost too broad for his narrow face. His hands were behind his back, pulling the V of the shirt open a bit further than it should've been.
Garak blinked at him. "Is there. Something wrong with your suit?" he asked, relieved that his voice sounded calmer than he felt.
"No. It's great, actually."
"Then, if you don't mind my asking..."
"I wanted to apologize," Bashir said sincerely.
"I wasn't entirely honest with you this morning. When you assumed that I would be entertaining a 'lady friend' tonight, I didn't correct you. I even went along with you. Which is inexcusable, of course. But I couldn't have made an impression if you knew ahead of time."
Garak searched Bashir's face, trying to get a read on his expression, trying to decide whether or not this was some sort of joke. "It is late, Doctor, and I'm not entirely sure that I'm... following you."
"All right. Here's a hint." Bashir leaned closer, his eyes fixed on Garak's. "I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner with me tonight. In your quarters."
"There's. No lady friend," Garak said.
"Not tonight. Unless there's something you're not telling me about yourself."
Garak could feel that his mouth was slightly agape, and he quickly closed it. He'd been caught off guard. How could he have been caught off guard?
How had he become the oblivious one?
Bashir was standing there, patiently waiting for his answer. For a moment, Garak wanted to close the door in Bashir's face. Make him feel that insanity that Garak had been going through for the last few months.
That moment did not last long. "I would be honored," Garak said, and Bashir brushed against him as he stepped through the doorway.