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“Aren't you even a bit excited?" Bashir asked, biting his lip, eyes wide and earnest.

"A vacation with you, my dear? Of course," Garak corrected course, running his hands smoothly over the navigation panel of the private spacecraft Sisko had gotten for their mission.

"Garak, I'm surprised at you! Such an opportunity for espionage, and you don't seem to be enjoying yourself at all!"

The tailor looked at him with a long-suffering smile. "Alright, Doctor, it will be nice to gather gossip to bandy about as I hem trousers."

Bashir scoffed, rolling his eyes. "You know, if you do well, Sisko will trust you more,"

"But why shouldn't he trust me?" Garak turned wide eyes on his companion, who smirked. "I'm only a simple tailor, after all."

"Not anymore," Julian reminded him. "You're a Gul now. Gul Ritza." The doctor smiled.

"Very well, then, Darius Sangh."

"Aren't you at all excited? A whole new identity, an undercover mission... How did you convince Sisko to let me come, anyhow? How did he talk you into going?"

Garak recalled what had in truth been an extremely uncomfortable conversation, and, unsurprisingly, decided to lie. "Why, he promised me a new bolt of that lovely silk from Betazed, the one the Ambassador admires whenever she comes."

Julian was looking askance at him.

"As for your coming along, my dear, is it really such a surprise? Starfleet wanted one of their own. Sisko and I agreed that it would be best to send someone who could get along with me, so as not to jeopardize our cover."

"But why not Odo? He likes you fine, and he could be anyone."

Garak saw that the doctor was probing, probably looking for tidbits for his ego, and he smiled a little. "If Odo likes anything about me, it's knowing where I am and what I'm doing. You seem to have infected him with your ridiculous notion that I'm a spy. Besides, the intercepted message specifically mentioned a human companion, and you know what difficulty the good Constable has with faces."

"Oh, I see... What sort of a companion am I, exactly?"

Garak pretended surprise. "Why, didn't Sisko tell you? Darius Sangh is Gul Ritza's consort." He raised his eyeridges in a way he hoped looked very much more playful than suggestive. It was already going to grate on him to do this, never mind with Julian knowing that he wasn't pretending.

Luckily, Julian's answering smile seemed to be playfully suggestive, rather than actually so. "I see... Is there anything I need to know? About Cardassian culture? Or how to treat a Gul?"

Momentarily, Garak contemplated turning the shuttle around and telling the Federation to take its intelligence gathering and stick it up a certain jefferies tube. Then he remembered that his life, such as it was, depended on the beneficence of the forgiving Federation. "All right," he put on his best customer service smile. "Generally, the consort of a Gul walks slightly behind them, so that the guards can go in front. This arrangement is usually continued even when guards are not present. Displays of public affection are usually quite limited, by human standards, but I suspect that in this scenario the Gul would want to... Show off." Garak stopped for a moment. Maybe it was all the truth-telling.

“That all seems rather basic,” Julian probed, leaning one elbow on the console and watching Garak attentively.

He reminded himself that Julian needed to know, for the mission. Any personal feelings were beside the point, just as were any ridiculous ideas Garak might have entertained about teaching Julian about Cardassian courting culture the proper way, in time. "Couples tend to argue, but maintain physical contact while doing so, usually in subtle ways,”

Julian laughed. “Yes, I remember that from Miles’ experience.”

Garak offered a slight smile. “Much to the Chief’s discomfort, I’m sure, but a good example for you to draw on.”

“So… Should I sort of- flirt with you like humans do? Like, hold your hand?” Bashir broke eye contact, glancing off at the void outside their craft, so he probably, hopefully missed Garak’s too-expressive response.

Making his voice light and dismissive, the tailor replied, “Well, if you must- our necks, hands, and chests are particularly sensitive- light and indirect touches only, please, particularly in front of the others. Kissing in the human fashion is also acceptable, though of course we have rather different ideas about the degree to which it should be done in public." He gave a delicate little shudder.

Bashir nodded earnestly. Garak could picture him taking notes, which for some reason made it easier. Less personal. "Alright. So I should argue- that won't be hard, we do that all the time- and hold your hand? Touch your shoulder?"

"Either or both. The fact that you’re human gives us a little more leeway than might be afforded to a pair of Cardassians, but there will still be some expectations. Don't put both of your hands on my shoulders, it's a bit forward and certainly wouldn't be done to a Gul. Or at least, not in front of anyone else."

Bashir seemed to miss the fact that Garak had done that very thing the first time they had met, bless his naïve little soul. "Kisses in public?"

"On the cheek at most. Be a dear and don't touch my forehead." Garak wasn't sure he could stand such an intimate gesture, mission or no.

"Right." It was clear Bashir was burning to ask why not, but thankfully he restrained himself. "So... I assume Guls generally would have… submissive consorts?"

Garak couldn’t help but smirk at him slightly, those naïve eyes with their long lashes blinking earnestly at him. "You're basing that assumption on Gul Dukat, aren't you,"

Julian blushed. "Well, he's the only one I've met."

"You have your own personality, my dear, and it would be a shame to hide who you are." Something in Julian's eyes shuttered, and Garak continued, "That said, however, I can't imagine a corrupt Gul who would keep a mouthy consort for long."

"So argue, but not offensively. Don't draw too much attention, but don't evade questions. Be doting but not forward. Sound like an appropriate consort for Gul Ritza?"

"Be yourself, my dear, and apply your knowledge of Cardassians and your best judgement."

"And you'll cover for me if I mess up, is that it?" Julian didn't look entirely pleased.

Garak called up the false identity Starfleet had built for Bashir on the main visual screen of the ship. "Look- according to this, we met on Risa two months ago. I think a little latent ignorance can be overlooked, especially if you allow that rather broad flirtatious streak of yours to come out. Provided you can bear to direct such behavior at me, of course." Garak tacked on that last bit as a reminder to himself and didn't really expect a reply, but he got one.

"Of course I can stand it," Julian snorted, looking at Darius' life story. "Right, should be easy enough. Look, they even included a year spent in medical school, so if anything goes wrong I have an excuse for this," he nudged his camouflaged medkit with his foot.

"How thoughtful," Garak said, mind certainly not on the medkit.

“So, what can I expect from you?”

“Pardon?”

“From Gul Ritza. What will you be doing? I mean, a Cardassian Gul at shady illegal races, bandying about secrets- the closest Earth equivalent might be an old Earth mob boss, and… well, I’m not sure the mental images are really going to match up to reality. I just want to be ready, so I don’t jump or anything,” Julian smiled, practically vibrating with the mix of nerves and excitement. Garak hoped none of the others at the gathering would be trained in reading body language. Or empathic. He almost put his hand over his eyes at the thought.

“Well, my dear, I will be answering to the name Breloc Ritza. Other than that, I will be myself. It’s much easier to stay in character when you don’t try to invent too much… I would imagine,” he sent a teasing glance at Bashir, deciding enough information had been handed out freely for one day. Or month, perhaps year.

Julian nodded seriously, evidently letting the implication slide for the moment. “Yes, but how will you be treating me?”

Garak winced. “The same as usual, my dear, with perhaps a little more contact.” This was going to be a long mission. Sisko was going to owe him a lot more than a new bolt of silk after this… assuming he came back in once piece, with enough sanity remaining to demand fair recompense.
*

“How much further do you think we have?” Julian asked, looking out the viewports nervously. “The moon was supposed to be right around here, wasn’t it?”

“I’ve heard that some of the celestial bodies in this sector have… some unusual properties,” Garak answered enigmatically, and Julian watched as the Cardassian began sensor sweeps of the area.

A proximity sensor went off and Julian sat up straight, peering out into space just in time to see a small moon de-cloak off their port bow. The comm channel pinged, and Garak answered it smoothly. The answering voice was bored, quiet, and directed them to a landing pad on the surface.

“Well, there we are then,” Garak smiled.

“Romulan technology,” Julian muttered.

Garak shrugged. “I wouldn’t be too sure- there are plenty of races to come up with cloaking technologies. And even if it is Romulan, my dear, I’d advise you not to mention it. Are you ready?”

A small flutter went through Julian’s chest, and he wasn’t sure if it was the usual one that happened when Garak called him my dear or a thrill of nerves… either way, he supposed he was committed now, Garak piloting their craft skillfully through the atmosphere of the moon. Julian took deep breaths all the way down and thought of Risa, his supposed home planet. He thought about the uniforms of the Cardassian Guls and tried to picture Garak in one. That sent a completely different sort of thrill through him.

They landed with no trouble, on a platform outside a luxurious-looking building that reminded Julian of the photos he’d seen of sky scrapers on old Earth, covered in glass and gleaming metal. He stood and looked at Garak, feeling as though he should say something, do anything, regretting that he hadn’t spent the whole trip telling his friend every thought he’d ever had about him, and then Garak walked past him, toward the opening doors. Julian grimaced and hooked his medkit over his shoulder, looking for all the world as though he were carrying a hatbox. Outside, in a warm breeze and soft sunshine, he and Garak were welcomed by a small group of beings who were somehow obviously criminal, with the aura of trouble thick around hands with too many rings and faces with too-welcoming smiles. This group included a Klingon, a Cardassian, and two Orions, as well as a small entourage hanging back far enough to seem less important.

Julian emerged from the ship behind Garak, carrying bags and trying to look around with a mild wonder, as though he were in the habit of being spirited away to beautiful hidden locations for dirty dealings by his gangster boyfriend. The thought made him bite down a smile.

He listened carefully as the others introduced themselves, each gesturing at their company with attitudes ranging from careless to loving. A Klingon woman called B'rella leered at him even as she swept her arm at two women standing just behind her, one Orion and one Romulan, each dressed more gaudily and more scantily than B'rella. They were introduced as Laadra and Kala. Each of them gave him a simper, and he moved closer to Garak's shoulder but returned a polite smile for each of them. This response seemed to please the party, and Julian felt the childish impulse to do it again just to see if they’d look even more approvingly at him.

The Cardassian man in the greeting party was called Kamin Vornia, supposedly a trader but Julian immediately suspected drugs, his medical training picking out subtle cues of dependency. He was the only one who didn't introduce a companion, and he eyed Garak mistrustfully, as though he knew more of Gul Ritza than Starfleet intelligence suspected the participants in this meeting would. The Orions were the orchestrators of the event, a brother and sister pair, which made Julian think Syndicate. He watched carefully as they introduced themselves as Hishesh and Rattin, and he noticed that they seemed to share consorts, though Rattin's eyes lingered rather fondly on a diminutive Romulan girl called Mnhotta.

Among their group was a Betazoid woman called Kisana Dro who immediately put Julian on guard. He supposed he had enough secrets that she was sure to pick up on one or another, but he hoped that he could avoid her subtly. Or that she was so used to being around criminals that a little deception didn't seem too out of place. Maybe he could just focus on the true bits of his persona and their mission, like his memories of Risa, or how he thought of Garak, or how pretty the moon was, or something. Of course someone had to bring a Betazoid, he reflected bitterly. There were humans, too, and Julian was sure that Mnhotta had some Vulcan in her, looking at very subtle differences in facial structure and the way she lacked the charming smile most of the others wore, as though they were the partners of affluent colleagues being introduced at a dinner party. In a way, Julian supposed they were.

And then it was Garak's turn, and he gestured at Julian with fondness in his voice, saying, "This is my traveling companion, Darius Sangh."

The Klingon woman, B'rella, looked him up and down openly, commenting, "He's certainly a pretty plaything, Gul Ritza. Wherever did you find him?"

"Risa, my dear, and if you'd seen him do half the things I have you’d know I wouldn't even think of sharing. But please, call me Breloc."

The two Orions tittered, and B'rella threw back her head and laughed. Julian felt himself blush and looked down at his feet, aiming for modest and slightly embarrassed- which he supposed he was, at that. He grinned shyly at Garak, who probably couldn’t see him, standing slightly back. Just as well, anyway; that smile was probably unwarranted, but sometimes he couldn’t help himself.

"And what have you brought to race, Breloc?" Hishesh asked, tilting her head. Julian hoped they could get to an unobserved place so he could give Garak and himself an anti-pheromone hypo.

"Oh, you know, the standard." Garak waved his hand, being modest. Sisko and Starfleet had wrangled to get them some of the more exotic banned creatures, and hopefully one or two of them would be quick enough to impress their hosts. He'd let Julian name the creatures, and as a result they all had rather fanciful names. His favorites were Byron and Shoggoth, both a strange six-legged kind of reptilian horse from Cardassia. Garak had told him what they were called, but frankly he couldn't pronounce it.

"Ah, just as forthcoming as Vornia, aren't you? These Cardassians," Rattin commented jovially to Mnhotta.

"Perhaps they think we will enjoy seeing the surprise on the track," she answered, her voice high and clear yet somehow calming.

"I rather hope you will, in fact," Julian could hear the smile in his voice and smiled at him in response.

"Well, there you are then!" Rattin said, as if they'd concluded a major debate. "Someone will see to it- come on, I'll have Xandra show you your room."

The group turned and entered the lobby of a rather well-appointed hotel, gleaming white with a bubbly gold and purple fountain in the lobby. "Take them up, will you?"

"Of course, Rattin," a blonde human woman smiled, breaking them away from the others, who were dispersing in different directions. "I hope you'll like it,"

Julian glanced at Garak before he spoke as the three of them entered a glass turbolift. "I'm sure we will," he assured Xandra, taking hold of Garak’s elbow lightly and giving him a fond look. “I get so tired of space! This place is so lovely," he looked around at the sprawling green of the hotel grounds as the lift climbed the side of the building. "Do you like it?"

"Oh, yes," she said, smiling back at him, and he noticed that she had heterochromia, one eye blue and one green, matching the colors interwoven in her long, translucent dress. Just the sort of vision he might try to capture, under other circumstances. "I don't get to travel much, with Hishesh and Rattin. They like to stay close to home, or at least on the ship.” She looked wistful for a moment, but tucked the expression away in a second and hurried to add, “We have a very nice ship, though, I'd hate to leave."

Julian wondered if she were afraid of being overheard. His own knees were nearly shaking, and he was grateful when she left them at the door of their suite with instructions for reaching the service desk and an invitation to dinner at seventeen hundred hours.
*

Watching Julian playact was so much more diverting in the real world than it had been on the holodeck. The doctor took to his role like a fish to water, and Garak had to admit he was a little envious of his own assumed identity. To have a man like Julian Bashir, so completely at his beck and call... Well, the luxurious quarters they were shown to weren't the only job perk. As soon as the door closed, Garak and Bashir traded covert glances and moved apart, searching the room for surveillance devices while maintaining a light conversation.

"Has the trip tired you out, my dear?" Garak asked as he silently overturned lamps and checked around doorways.

Bashir was half under the sofa when he replied brightly, "Not terribly- this is all so exciting! I want to see the pool. Do you think we could get some champagne from room service?"

"Really, how do you drink that? Kanar is so much more refined," Garak teased, smiling at Julian as the doctor wriggled under another piece of furniture.

"It's sweet," Julian defended himself, sounding endearingly petulant. Garak found it a little undignified, but also wished the human would adopt the tone for more of their arguments. "Like you," Julian added in the same voice, blowing an exaggerated kiss at Garak as he climbed on a chair to check the blades of the old-fashioned ceiling fan.

"You flatter me," Garak answered sarcastically, kneeling to check the air vents along the floor. "Here," he began in a low voice. A slight pause while Bashir looked around. "Come here and kiss me," Garak demanded, the way some Guls might have during the occupation. He winced at the comparison.

Julian dropped to his knees beside him and peered at the tiny audio transmitter Garak had spotted. "Mm, I always like that," he was saying, eyes on the device. Garak was glad that Julian wasn't watching his face. "What now?" Julian asked, eyes on Garak now, voice low and suggestive, delicate hands pointing at the bug. Garak shook his head leave it and stood silently.

"Whatever you like." He answered the other meaning of the question, offering a hand to pull Bashir off the floor.

Luckily, Julian left the floor with no telltale popping of the joints or any of the myriad noises Garak had observed other humans making upon standing- Chief O’Brien, for instance, had a particular grumble he only used for getting to his feet from his knees. Moving to the window and looking out over the greenery surrounding the hotel, race track in the middle distance, Julian’s face was caught by the light in a way that made Garak catch his breath. "Mm, I really think some champagne might be the thing, a little pre-dinner celebration?"

"You know how I love your ability to make any event a celebration," Garak answered fondly, moving to the comm panel. Julian smiled and went to the bedroom, and Garak watched him drop beneath the bed to check for further bugs. While Garak spoke to the well-groomed and demure concierge, Julian pointed under the bed and mouthed "one more."

Garak told himself once again that this was fine, that he could do this. He'd had far more difficult assignments in the past, but for some reason it seemed that watching Julian Bashir flop down on their shared bed with a pretty grin was the biggest challenge he'd faced.

"Champagne is on the way, darling. And dinner is in three hours- I do hope you'll wear something suitable."

"Oh, am I invited?" Julian sat up in a bouncy way that Garak doubted was at all fake. "How exciting!"

"Yes, that is what Xandra said,” he reminded the doctor with a smile. “And the very helpful concierge said we'd be escorted."

"Well, you can pick something out for me- you know I'm hopeless,"

Garak chuckled. Evidently, Bashir had taken the advice about being himself to heart. “Indeed you are, darling boy. But that’s what you have me for,”

Perhaps it was his imagination or the ambience of their situation, but Garak could have sworn that the smile playing around Julian’s mouth had a little undercurrent of fond desire. But then, perhaps it was a trick of the light. After all, Julian had worn a very similar smile many times on Deep Space Nine, and never once had it been followed by anything more substantial than a hand laid solicitously on his arm. “Come and help me unpack,” He said, refraining from making a comment he didn’t know how to phrase.

Julian pushed off the bed and grabbed the larger of the bags, dragging it to the massive mirrored closet and opening it, shaking out a dark green shirt in the traditional Cardassian style. “This is nice,” He tried, and Garak smirked.

“I know our fashion isn’t really to your tastes, my dear, but I do happen to like that shirt. Be careful not to crease it, won’t you?”

“As if it wasn’t just shoved in a bag,” Julian rolled his eyes, nonetheless making a clear effort to hang the shirt delicately. “Good?”

“Very good,” Garak offered his approval, bringing the other bag to stand beside Julian and hang clothes. Their hands brushed slightly as they both reached for the same hanger, and Garak drew his back slightly to allow room, while Julian jumped nearly a foot and pulled his hand back as if burned. “Really, my dear, I’m not going to bite,”

Julian sent a guilty look in the direction of the audio bug. “Not until later,” he tried with an apologetic grin, taking the hanger and pulling another Cardassian shirt onto it.

Garak couldn’t help but chuckle slightly. “Yes, exactly. Hand me that, will you, you’re going to tear it,” He gestured at the delicate fabric Julian had pulled from the bag extremely un-delicately.

“What is it?” The doctor asked.

“Call it a plan,” Garak stroked the red fabric gently into place on a hanger, pulling the straps just so. “And yes, this one is for you,”

“I- well, it’s lovely,” Julian replied earnestly, though with a slightly suspicious look. “What about this one?” He picked up a wrap shirt in a light bluish gold.

“That one is for you as well- for dinner tonight.”

“I love it,” Julian smiled warmly at him. “Ah, and let me guess-” he bent and pulled a second outfit with blue and gold geometric designs from the bag. “This one is your suit for the evening.”

“You’re absolutely right, my dear,” Garak continued to hang things with quiet efficiency, too entertained by Julian’s commentary to point out that the good doctor wasn’t making much progress with actually unpacking.

Julian laid their dinner clothes on the bed. “You have such an eye for these things,” He said with a mischievous smile. “In another life, you would have made an excellent tailor.”

“Be careful, my dear, throwing around accusations like that could get you in trouble.”

“Trouble with you? I quite like the sound of that,”

The door chime sounded, and both of them turned to look, surprised to find that they had drawn quite close to one another. Julian started toward the door, and Garak quickly hung up the garment he held and followed, calling, “Come in,”

“The champagne, sirs,” A bald humanoid with large dark eyes informed them, offering the bottle and two glasses on a small tray.

“Ah, thank you very much!” Julian took the tray with a wide, gracious smile. As soon as the door had closed, he put the tray on a side table and bent to rummage in his medkit. “Would you like to toast anything?” He asked, straightening up with a hypospray in hand, dialing it around and tipping his head meaningfully at the champagne. Garak began to open the bottle above the tray with the flutes resting on it.

Julian held up one hand and began to put his fingers down one by one, eyeing the bottle meaningfully. Garak waited until his last digit went down before pushing the cork from the neck, and Julian used the pop and resulting hiss of bubbling champagne pouring into the glasses to mask the hiss of the hypospray as he injected first Garak, then himself. “To the Orions,” he said, with the air of a toast.

Garak watched this performance, only mildly surprised, remembering all over again that Julian Bashir was a genius. He smiled very slightly. “Very good, darling, I applaud you. Hand me one of those glasses with its ridiculous sweetness so I can toast you with something appropriate to your personality,” He was only half teasing, and Julian rolled his eyes but smiled as if pleased, dropping his hypo back into the medkit and handing Garak a flute of light amber champagne. The Cardassian told himself that it wasn’t at all odd to think that the champagne was the same golden color as Bashir’s eyes when the sun had struck them through the window earlier.
*

When he recalled the mission later, Julian couldn’t have said for the life of him how they passed the three hours between ordering champagne and dinner. He knew they had sat down and talked for some time about the Cardassian repetitive epics and how they compared to Human epics, particularly in earlier centuries… but then suddenly it had been time to dress for dinner, and Julian had been acutely aware of the flattering cut and gentle feel of the shirt Garak had chosen for him, the slim-fitting pants paired with it, and the layers of approval in the Cardassian’s nod when the outfit was on. Somehow, they came to be in a restaurant at the top of the hotel, and on the way at some point Julian had taken Garak’s arm again, so that when they entered the room he felt absurdly like someone’s prom date, clinging to their elbow. He half expected someone to take a photograph.

The Orions were there, and the other Cardassian, but B’rella had not yet joined them. “Ah, Gul Ritza! Come sit here, come,” Rattin gestured at the two empty seats by his side, and Garak’s customer service smile was back as he walked the two of them toward the male Orion.

“Please, call me Breloc,” He drew back Julian’s chair for him, and then seemed to disengage, turning instead to Rattin and somehow charming the man into conversation within seconds.

Julian smiled at Garak’s back and looked around to see who he’d been seated next to. When their eyes met he nearly leapt out of his skin. "I love your shirt," Kisana Dro said with a smile as he sat down beside her with forced ease.

Reflexively, Julian looked down at himself and back up. "Oh, thank you; Gul Ritza chose it for me. I'm afraid I'm hopeless with this sort of thing," he smiled ruefully, and she laughed. “I once frightened away a whole host of tourists toting horga’hns with a particularly charming- I thought- combination of purple bottoms and a… well I suppose you could call it a patchwork top,” He shook his head at himself, memory still echoing with Garak’s criticisms of that particular ensemble.

Dro laughed. "Sounds like my father- he thinks every color can be worn with any other- or all at the same time!” She quieted, then quirked her head to the side. “You call him Gul Ritza?"

Julian reminded himself that she couldn't tell he was lying if he didn't lie. "He hasn't told me that I can use his first name," he shrugged with a lopsided smile, the charmingly regretful one he used if he accidentally spilled something on a date.

Though Garak was absorbed in his own conversation, Julian felt the Cardassian’s hand creep onto his leg. He wondered if that were permission to call him by his first name. Assuming he ever got his breath back enough to speak, that was. "Your date likes to keep you on your toes," Dro observed.

"Yes, he does at that.” Julian laughed warmly, sliding one hand under the tablecloth as casually as he could to give Garak’s fingers a gentle tap. He didn’t know what he meant by the gesture. Perhaps some acknowledgement, or thanks… amazingly, having his heart rate creep upward because of Garak’s hand on his knee was easier to deal with than feeling as though he were sitting alone at the dinner table doing his best to keep secrets from a Betazoid. “As do your dates- no offense, my dear, but bringing a Betazoid to something like this..."

Dro laughed. "Oh no, they aren't my dates. I'm just a friend."

“Somehow, I’m not reassured,” Julian replied, aiming for a friendly lightness. He hooked the wine glass in front of him with as much grace as he could manage, noticing proudly that Garak was already deep into conversation with both of the Orions.

“Well, maybe it would reassure you to know that I’m only half Betazoid- my mother was from Risa.”

“Oh, really? I’m from Risa! Do you ever visit? I miss the sun so often, I’m very happy to be somewhere with a similar climate for once. Cardassia has absolutely miserable heat- sure, it’s sunny, the same way space is a little chilly. Do you spend much time in space?” Julian grinned slightly abashedly as he realized he’d asked more than one question and not given Dro an opportunity to answer. He felt Garak’s hand on his leg, the tips of his fingers tapping absently. He paid attention to the pattern for a moment, taking advantage of Dro’s slightly overwhelmed pause to count the taps, but it wasn’t morse or any other code Julian knew, so he decided it was just Garak’s way of being reassuring. Warmth rose up in his chest and he felt his face soften. He tried to swallow the sensation with another sip of wine.

“I- no, actually, I’ve only been back to Risa once, for business. I spend most of my time in space, with Rattin and Hishesh. I’m sort of the unofficial first mate,” She smiled. “Have you been to Cardassia many times?”

Julian deflected again. “With all the time this one spends describing it to me, I feel as though I never leave! And the books he gives me, full of Cardassia! At this point, I’m surprised I don’t have Cardassia falling out of my pockets,”

Dro giggled. “You must enjoy it though, you’re smiling- and I can tell you feel quite a bit of fondness for him,”

“Who else would put up with me this way?” Julian asked. “And you? Is there anyone special for you?”

Dro’s face closed a little and she took a sip of her wine rather than answering, but Julian didn’t miss the way her eyes flicked to Mnhotta, sitting on Rattin’s other side, between him and his sister.

“Nevermind, I’m sorry I asked; I can be a little thoughtless. Let’s talk about something else- tell me about all the worlds you’ve seen! Where were you most recently?” Julian fought the urge to put his elbow on the table and lean toward her, instead opting for a friendly smile that probably looked over-bright due to the fact that Garak had slid his hand several more inches up Julian’s thigh.

“That’s perfectly fine, I just don’t like to talk about it much. Let’s see, the last place we visited… It was a Klingon outworld I think. Very interesting, with everything going on in the Empire, but I mostly stayed on the ship… Some engine trouble, I was having a look.”

“Oh, are you an engineer?” Julian asked, trying to ignore the way his heart was trying to reach Warp Ten with every slight motion of Garak’s hand on his leg.

“Not hardly, but I had a friend once who was, and I picked up a couple of tricks.”

Julian saw B’rella enter with both of her ladies in tow, all three of them having changed for dinner as well. B’rella caught his eye and smiled in that snaggle-toothed predatory way Klingons had, and Julian shot a flirtatious look back at her as her party took their seats at a diagonal from him across the broad oval table. Garak’s hand slid slightly further upward, the tips of his fingers moving almost playfully across the sensitive skin of Bashir’s inner leg. Julian wished that the Cardassian would look at him so he could try to guess what Garak was thinking, but there was really no point in that anyway. Instead, he turned back to Dro, and spent all of dinner doing his very best to work out where their ship had been and why in the past several months, playing up the innocent curiosity routine, and allowing the two draping halves of his shirt to fall ever more slightly open for B’rella’s benefit across the table. He figured, couldn’t hurt.
*

Garak was pleased with the way dinner had gone. Julian had performed admirably, even faced with the Betazoid- in fact, judging by what he’d been able to overhear of their conversation, Julian may have gotten just as much valuable information as he himself had, chatting with the Orions, complimenting and wheedling and ever so subtly changing track and stringing them into discussions of tactics, supply chains, having even been promised the name of a Tellerite buyer who operated off of several Federation worlds. All in all, a very productive night… and Vornia had given up staring at him an hour or so into the meal, which was a decided bonus. Riding up in the lift with Julian once more attached to his elbow, the only thing that remained to be puzzled out from the night was the way the Human had been bumping gently into him, had put his arm along the back of Garak’s chair, and why he himself had slipped a hand onto Julian’s knee at the first sign of trouble. He supposed he could tell himself that it was moral support, no matter how out of character he considered that to be.

As he keyed in their access code and the doors swept smoothly open, Garak's attention was caught by the rich coverings on the bed, one room away. They were going to spend the night side-by-side in that bed. Julian's cheeks were flushed; it was clear he was riding the high from a successful and fruitful conversation at dinner, excited to be a real spy. Even in his distraction and trepidation, Garak allowed himself a fond smile to answer the bright one Julian was flashing at him. It took effort to stay in character. "Darling, go get in bed," he directed almost indifferently, as though he had cause to expect Julian there every night.

He turned away and locked the door, taking a breath and bracing himself before turning around to the sight of Julian gathering pajamas from the dresser drawer, his head bowed as his fingers worked smoothly and deftly. Garak tore his gaze away, wondering what his dear doctor was thinking about, moving around the room to check that the curtains were closed, switching off lights, pulling out his disruptor and checking that it had charge. He hovered outside Julian's field of vision for a moment longer, standing in the dark just beyond the threshold of the bedroom.

He was facing down several hours spent in that bed with Julian at his side and a recording device under them.

"What do you think we'll do tomorrow?" Julian asked as Garak entered the room with easy, confident steps. It broke the possibility of any tension, and he blinked, relieved. Julian was so... He turned his thoughts away.

"I believe we'll be off to the races, if you'd like to come and see how Byron does,"

"Excellent, I've been looking forward to that," he smiled, and Garak wasn't sure if it were genuine or not, as he'd thought his dear doctor might be more worried about the wellbeing of the animals.

"I hope you enjoy it. If you like, I'm sure there will also be time to enjoy the pool- I saw you looking earlier."

"Oh, that would be fun! It looks so lovely. Will you come with me?"

Garak bent to retrieve his knife from his right boot, stepping out of the pair and storing the blade under his pillow. "If you like." He reached over his shoulder and unhooked the clasp that secured the second blade at the small of his back, and caught it deftly with his other hand before it hit the floor. Setting it on the side table, he pulled off his shirt without allowing himself to think about the motion. "Computer, raise temperature by three point five degrees."

"I could keep you warm instead," Julian said, and Garak looked up to find himself being watched with undisguised desire.

His hands stilled. Everything stilled. He could feel his own heart pulsing in his throat. There was a noise in his ears he’d never heard before, like the rushing of the sea. "I..." He remembered the recording device sending everything they said back to unknown ears. He'd better play his role just as well as Doctor Bashir was. After all, it simply wouldn't do for an agent of the Obsidian Order to be bested at his own game. "I would expect no less."

"Good," Julian shrugged out of his own shirt, crawling onto the bed, on his knees in front of Garak, whose mouth was dry. A white-hot spike bolted down his spine and rooted him to the spot, fingertips tingling. "Computer, lights off."

Was this all for the benefit of surveillance? Garak couldn't help but wonder, even as Julian's hands traced over his chest, followed by a gentle kiss, pressed to the dip in his chest that matched the one on his forehead. Prophets, was Julian making that soft sound for him or for the faceless entity on the other end of the listening devices?

“Mm, come here,” Julian’s voice was like the darkness in the room, warm and somehow soft, appealing like a challenge and a familiar game and soft candlelight all at once. There was that undercurrent of awareness, in both, that they were being observed, and something in the gentle drag of Julian’s nails over his scales felt like undertow. It drew him in, and he fell, unsure of whether he should detach himself from the feeling or give himself over to it. Perhaps this was a part of their charade. If so it was the most beautiful and convincing performance Garak had seen since his exile. He gasped when Julian bit softly at the ridge on his neck. He resented the third pair of ears privy to that sound.

"Mm, I've wanted you all day," Julian was saying, his mouth on Garak's chest, following a particular run of scales down the center, hands at his hips, fingers playing with the waist of his trousers. His teeth worried at a particular scale, and Garak's breath caught but it was Julian who moaned, a quiet noise half suppressed. Garak brought his hands up as if automatically to run them down Julian’s shoulders, over his arms, over and over as the doctor made maps with his kisses.

"Oh? Tell me," Garak wished he had the upper hand, would have given anything to be the one to set the tone for this first time. His knees trembled and he leaned into the bed, which he somehow abstractly blamed for this. He supposed he could blame Starfleet too, if he wanted. But what kind of a man was he? To assign blame for being given what he wanted.

Julian's hands were back on his shoulders, drawing him forward, nuzzling at the ridges on his neck and whispering in his ear now; "When we were on the ship, and you were working the controls, knowing just what to do, I wanted you to touch me the same way," he muffled his own speech by biting Garak's clavicle gently, clearly experimenting with the give of the scales there. "And then all day you kept dropping little innuendos, don't tell me you weren't. There is no way the Never-Ending Sacrifice has that many suggestive phrases on its own." He huffed a gentle laugh and kissed the hollow of Garak's throat. "And I swear you wore that tunic just to make me want to rip it off you- your hand on my leg all through dinner... God, stop teasing me, come here." Julian moaned breathily, his hands stroking down to Garak’s hips and stopping there, pulling the Cardassian toward him.

Fascinated by Julian, Garak went where he was guided, hissing lowly as Julian laid back, pulling Garak between his thighs. He wanted so much to murmur the younger man's name, to ask whether this was real, to take his Julian Bashir and not wonder whether it was Darius Sangh touching him like this. He'd been in the business long enough to know the difference between the two, even when they were the same person. What if Julian regretted this, when they got back to the station? He braced his hands on either side of the human, letting out a soft gasp when Julian's legs locked around his waist.

"Okay?" Julian murmured, and something in his voice made Garak think, yes, this is Julian Bashir- though whether he wants this or thinks he's only being convincing for the audio recorder under the bed...

Garak growled low in his throat and bent his head to take Julian's mouth in a rough kiss, making the doctor arch up into him, wrapping his arms around Garak’s shoulders and pushing one hand into his hair. He sucked lightly on Julian's bottom lip, losing himself in the taste. Julian began tracing the scales on his shoulders, the back of his neck, and the light pressure made him want more. He held himself back from saying Julian's name. Instead, he swore in Kardasi, face pressed into Julian’s neck, feeling himself begin to shake apart. Julian threw his head back on the pillow and let out the filthiest sound Garak had heard in his life, and he chased it down, capturing the human's lips again and dragging one hand roughly down his body, undoubtedly scratching him. Julian writhed, his breathing uneven.

"Take off those ridiculous pajamas," Garak directed, his voice a low rasping hiss. He could almost see the high color in Julian's cheeks as the doctor unhooked his legs, allowing Garak to roll off of him and make quick work of his own trousers, which he tossed off the foot of the bed.

"Please..." Julian whimpered as Garak traced a reverent line down his chest. That sound, Julian's voice...

After that, everything became a bit of a blur. He remembered a tantalizing human mouth, the burn of desire and uncertainty and overwhelming want. He remembered tremors in every joint he had, the sound of Julian’s voice in his ear, the feel of Julian’s hands everywhere he’d ever wanted them. When he woke up with Julian on his chest, the doctor curled around him like a petal about to unfurl, all he could do was smile. For that moment, who cared if it were a façade. Julian Bashir was asleep on his chest, naked and trusting.

He noticed a message pinging on the console.

Somehow, the meaning of this mission had gotten twisted around in his mind, tangled up in the fact that Julian Bashir was meant to be his consort- now was, he hoped. So it took a moment to build the resolve to disentangle himself from Julian, pull a tunic over his head, and listen to the message Hishesh had left.

A breakfast meeting, how very… quaint. Somehow he could just picture her there, Hishesh with her hands no doubt dripping in blood just as much or more so than his own, tucked in the corner of the little café beside the hotel’s garden with a small raktajino, watching him with her guarded eyes.

He supposed he ought to go realize that vision, and sent his acceptance of the invitation before returning to the bedroom to dress in silence, restore his hidden blades to where they belonged, and stand contemplating kissing Julian’s forehead for far too long a time before urging himself out of the room and down the hallway.

Despite the open view in the elevator, it was harder to ride alone than with Julian there. The trapped feeling was not alleviated when the elevator stopped only a few floors down and the doors opened to admit Kisana Dro.

“Good morning, Gul.” She said, staring at him as the lift resumed moving. He kept his face still and tried to calm himself. “If you don’t mind my saying, it seems you’re a little bothered this morning.”

He forced a smile and tilted his head dismissively. “I rose before Darius and left without telling him where I was going. Sometimes he… wanders off. He’s a bit impetuous.”

Thankfully, Dro laughed. “Yes, he was a very interesting conversation companion at dinner last night.”

“He does know how to talk, doesn’t he.”

“Certainly. It’s a good trait for a Cardassian’s companion.” The lift stopped at the ground floor, and she nodded respectfully to him before crossing the floor to the service desk, the opposite direction from the one he took, angled toward the garden and the café.

“Good morning, Hishesh. I believe you wanted to see me?” The vision he’d had of her was almost exactly right, except that she had a mug of some kind of warm pinkish drink in front of her that he supposed must be tea.

“Hello, Gul Ritza. Thank you for coming; would you like to sit down?” She had a smile like her brother’s, only there wasn’t anything to it but teeth. If she’d really been as pleased to see him as her smile suggested, Garak would have told her his real name and invited her to visit the station any old time she pleased.

However, as it was… He took a seat and waved away the offer of food and drink. “I am curious- you seem an early riser. Nearly everyone else is still abed! What did you consider so important as to be worth discussing at six hundred hours?”

“Last night at dinner, you seemed to indicate that the Cardassian military might have a certain amount of… flexibility… in their patrol schedules. Is this the case?”

He eyed her shrewdly, sizing her up before giving his answer. “It very well might be, for the right trader, with the right goods, at the right border, at the right time…”

She cracked the first real smile he’d seen from her, a thin sarcastic thing completely unlike her brother’s wide charming grin. “Spoken like a loyal military man.”

“Perhaps old habits die hard,”

“So, if for instance a shipment of an experimental new drug needed to cross for testing…”

“That would depend very much on the form and effects of this drug,” Garak countered, leaning back with an easy familiarity, as though they were two old friends discussing transport of holiday gifts.

“Generally it is a fluid or a gas, depending on how the user wishes to ingest it- inhalation, intravenous injection, and digestion are all viable options, though we believe each will have slightly different effects.”

“And why does this drug need to be tested in Cardassian space?”

“It’s a hormone inhibitor for mood stabilization- stabilization at a rather more elevated level than most species can handle without their nervous systems going into some kind of shock. We were thinking,” She looked slyly at him across her tea mug, “that since the Federation-Cardassian treaty leaves some Bajoran-occupied worlds on the Cardassian side of the border, any accidental deaths during refinement may not be… worth the time of the noble and heavily burdened state.”

Garak smiled the way he could picture Gul Dukat doing if presented with this scenario. God, he hoped Gul Dukat was never presented with this scenario. “That does seem like a rather sound theory, my dear. It shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange to get your traders the patrol schedules of Cardassian ships in whatever area of the border you were considering. Why don’t you have some plans encoded and sent to me- I’ll be sure to send patrol schedules to the captains of any vessels you specify. After all, sparing the State the unnecessary burden of pointless arrests and tedious investigations is quite the noble task. Cardassia ought to thank you- but since it is only me, I suppose the thanks of one Gul- and his assurances- will have to be sufficient for you.”

“My contacts say that you have always been more than understanding, Gul Ritza, and that your services to your state have been… exemplary. I thank you,” She dipped her head, that empty smile fixed back in place. “I will have a list made up. Where should I send it?”

“I would much prefer for you to hand it straight to me. I don’t trust indirect delivery methods. The more links a chain has, the more likely it is to break, wouldn’t you say?” Garak smiled back at her.

“Very wise, Gul. I will bring it to the racetrack tonight.” Hishesh rose from the table. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I had promised to meet Rattin and some of the boys in the gardens.”

“Ah, I understand. I believe Darius wanted to visit the pool before the races this evening, if you and any of your companions would care to join us.”

“Thank you, Ritza, I will ask the others.” She gave an odd bob like a cross between a nod and a curtsey before turning on her heel and swaying out of the café and into the garden. Garak rose from the table feeling satisfied with himself. Not even seven hundred hours and he had secured information on illegal drug shipments across the Cardassian border with intent to poison non-Cardassians. Assuming he had read Hishesh right, of course- but he thought he had. His skills might be rusty, but they hadn’t oxidized completely yet.

On his way back to the room, he stopped at the desk and asked to have breakfast brought up- he considered carrying it up himself, but the sight of a Cardassian Gul bringing breakfast to anyone with whom he did not share family ties would be… odd. So it would come via hotel staff, and that would have to be that. His nerves clenched in his stomach as he got back into the lift and prepared to meet Julian, awake, functional, and in the cold light of day.

He almost wished the lift ride were longer.

"I am sorry to have been gone when you awoke, my dear," Garak said as he closed the door behind himself. "I trust you managed to keep yourself occupied?"

"Actually, I'd like to talk to you," Julian was wringing his hands as he stood from the couch.

Garak tilted his head, trying to appear much less worried than he suddenly was. This is it, he realized. This is the part where he says last night was a mistake and ruins not only the mission but your life. Brace yourself, Elim. "Oh?" He began mentally mapping escape routes in case Julian’s speech blew their cover.

"Look, I just... I'm not sure I can take this for much longer without telling you something." Julian took a deep breath, which Garak used to tilt his head meaningfully at the ventilator where they'd discovered the bug. Julian nodded impatiently, and Garak could only hope that whatever the doctor had to say wasn't going to blow their cover. "I... I think I'm in love with you."

He stared at Julian in shock.

Really, the man had no sense of timing.

"I- my dear, that is quite-" he broke his attention away from the soulful eyes of his dear doctor, reminding himself of the presence of the surveillance device. "Well, of course your emotions are your own business, as long as... Things progress as usual." He winced. If only Julian had said something when he was capable of responding with his own words. Garak wasn't sure he'd ever resented a cover identity so much before. He did his best to soften the words with his expression, hoping his eyes were as expressive as Julian's, but with all the practice he'd had wiping them clean of emotion he wouldn't be surprised if his point didn't get across. Still, Julian didn't appear completely crushed. "In fact, why don't you come over here," Garak dropped his voice to a low purr, watching Julian's response. "And show me just how much you love me," he smiled despite himself as he said it. Julian loves me.

He found himself shoved against the door with an armful of very pleased human.

When a knock sounded from the other side of the door, and a pleasantly neutral voice called, “Breakfast,” Garak almost had a heart attack. Julian just laughed and pulled him away, shooing him to the couch before opening the door with a ridiculously bright smile and hilariously messy hair.

I love you too.
*

“The races are not until fifteen hundred hours. I thought you might like to go up to the pool before that,”

Julian looked up at Garak, his face resting comfortably on the scales of the Cardassian’s shoulder. Garak trailed his fingers down Julian’s cheekbone, making the doctor smile. “This is so nice, though…” He rubbed his hand across Garak’s chest to make his point, and Garak caught his fingers, pressing them to his mouth. “But I suppose we should get out of the room at some point, and that really sounds lovely.” He sighed. “Come on, then, let’s go see who else is up there- I’d quite like to run into B’rella,” he wriggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“Why, you cheeky thing! Just for that I ought to let her have you for an afternoon,”
Garak raised his eyeridges and pulled the bedcovers off of Julian in one quick motion, making the human gasp at the temperature change. “Well, would you like that? I’m sure I could call her right now, she seems to like me well enough- and I can only imagine how much more she’d like me if I let her borrow you,”

Julian was very close to sticking his tongue out at Garak, but he refrained- with great willpower, but still. He was almost giddy with happiness and relief, and the stress from the mission, of course- somehow, the listening devices under the bed and in the wall weren’t quite as sexy and fun as they were on the holodeck. In fact, he’d probably take them out of his spy programs in the future, now that he’d experienced the real thing. “All right, then, come on… if you’re going to kick me out of bed, you have to come too.”

Managing to look put-upon, Garak sat up. “What a convincing argument. Truly, my dear, your intellect is razor-sharp.”

“Yes, it’s lucky for me that I’m pretty, isn’t it,” Julian laughed, moving to the dresser and rummaging for a bathing suit.

“You’ll want to look for white shorts,” Garak told him, smirking. When Julian found them, he understood why. He’d seen men on Risa in these, though usually those were silver. These were almost blindingly white, and somehow he imagined that they were meant to be worn with a wide hat, sunglasses, and nothing else.

He shot a glare at Garak, but kept his voice honey-sweet for the audio recorder. “Oh, how cute! I’m so flattered you want to see me in these,” He really did stick out his tongue this time, and Garak laughed silently. “Where are yours?”

“Oh no, my dear, I will not be getting in the water. You know this.”

“Will you at least wear a shirt that unbuttons? For me?” He was pouting as adorably as a grown man can pout whilst hopping about on one foot, trying to wriggle into miniscule swim shorts. “So I can unbutton it?”

Smirking again, Garak answered, “You are incorrigible, my dear.” Nevertheless, he got up and began to search for appropriate outfit to wear beside the pool. Julian hoped he knew that he was very likely to be splashed- accidentally, of course.

“Yes, I think I might be,”

“Well, if I have to put up with you, I might as well put up with you out in the sun. Shall we go?”

Much to Julian’s simultaneous relief and disappointment, they didn’t see anyone from their party upon emerging into the hall. When they reached the pool, however, they found that this was because everyone else was already there. B’rella sat up and actually shaded her eyes for a better look at him, while one of her ladies- Laadra, Julian thought it was- whistled at him. He blushed and moved a step closer to Garak, who draped an arm lazily around his shoulders. “Good morning, B’rella!” The Cardassian said charmingly. “How are you today?”

“There are some sights which enliven the hearts of warriors, Gul! You have one of them under your arm, there,” She leered. “And I have two here,” Sweeping her arm back to indicate Laadra and Kala, she grinned fiercely, and both of them smiled. “Today would be a good day to die- if only there were a battle!”

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t join you in wishing for a fight, B’rella, but I find I’d rather like some more time to enjoy the sights,” He winked at her, and she made a grand gesture with her arm as if to give him permission to live another day. Julian grinned, finding that he rather liked the Klingon woman despite the circumstances. “Here, my dear, how is this?” Garak was indicating a recliner that looked to be made of stone and had probably soaked up the heat of the morning.

Julian dragged over a slightly taller chair made of cloth and wood. “Wonderful.” He watched Garak stretch out on the stone, appreciating the sight of his Cardassian friend warm for once.

Some of the others around the pool had whole harems doting on them, and Bashir bit his lip worriedly as he leaned close to Garak's ear, pretending to whisper something flirtatious. "Do you think we ought to have brought any of the others from the station?” He drew back and smiled prettily for anyone who was watching- and for Garak, if he were honest.

"My dear," Garak smiled indulgently and reached up to brush Julian's cheek. "Can you think of anyone else who could smile so becomingly at me or allow me to touch them without flinching?"

Julian looked down at him, feeling his expression soften, and he took the hand brushing his cheek between both of his own and pressed a kiss to the wrist, feeling a slight tremor go through Garak. "Be a dear and go fetch me some kanar," the Cardassian murmured, and Julian looked around to see the slow but purposeful approach of a new Orion, escorted by Rattin. Julian's brow furrowed slightly but he rose from his seat all the same, heading to the small bar in the corner of the rooftop pool.

He watched a little nervously, squinting in the sunlight to keep an eye on Garak as he talked with the newcomer. It looked cordial enough, but Julian didn’t like the sight of the pair of Orions towering over his reclining Cardassian. Although, Garak probably has a few tricks up his sleeves, even lying down. Julian smiled at himself as his own phrasing reminded him of the night before.

“One kanar, and… um, what do Orions usually like to drink?” He tried a smile, and the bartender looked askance at him for a moment before their gaze drifted down to his white shorts and they snickered. Julian frowned, about to ask what was so funny, but they handed him a tray with a kanar and two grayish pink drinks he didn’t recognize, and he shrugged and thought better of it.

They were clearly talking about something serious, Garak and the Orions. The new one was nodding earnestly, and Rattin had on a slightly less manic version of his bright smile. Garak seemed to have the upper hand, so Julian slid in with his tray of drinks and a smile. “Here we are, I thought you might like some drinks,” He tilted his head charmingly at the Orions, offering the tray.

“Thank you,” the new one acknowledged indifferently, while Rattin smiled at him. Garak looked over at him fondly for a moment.

“Darius, this is Mraana,” Garak introduced them. “Mraana, my companion Darius Sangh. Mraana was just telling us that they’re a day late because of some engine trouble. But, better late than never.”

“Very pleased to meet you!” Julian cocked a hip slightly, smiling warmly. “Is there anything else I can get you? How was your trip?”

Sharply, Garak said, “I told you to stop that.” He looked back up at the Orions. “Darius used to work on Risa, and I’m afraid some old habits die hard… but I’m not particularly inclined to share his services.” He leered, his teeth looking somehow sharper than usual.

“Of course not!” Rattin laughed jovially, and Mraana gave a thin-lipped smile. Julian thought Vornia might have a new best friend. They could skulk around together and look like the grumpiest, shadiest thieves this side of Antares.

“I’m sorry, Gul Ritza,” Julian set down the tray and perched on the arm of Garak’s stone seat, stretching himself along it and looking apologetically at the Cardassian through his lashes. It was almost a little much, he thought, but he’d committed to the part.

“That’s alright, Darius.” Garak patted his cheek. “Why don’t you go for a swim? It must be hot for you,”

Julian recognized the dismissal and stood. “Alright,” he smiled sweetly, trying not to feel too foolish as he swayed his hips to the edge of the sparkling water.

When he jumped in, he realized the water was only very slightly cooler than the air, and felt a bit like swimming in soup. Garak had better be getting some damn good information, Julian thought, trying to look as though he enjoyed being banished to the tureen.
*

The evening came quickly, though the sun remained high. Rattin and Garak had been practically inseparable, something Julian was encouraged by. He’d spent most of the afternoon with Kala and Xandra, though Kisana Dro had flitted by them too often for his comfort. He’d watched her move around and noted that she seemed to be some kind of secretary or assistant, keeping the whole event running smoothly. She talked a lot with Mnhotta, who never moved far from Hishesh and the group of humans she had brought. Julian hoped he’d get a chance to talk with them, but it seemed far more likely that Garak would, as Hishesh was cold toward anyone who didn’t seem to serve her directly, Mnhotta even more so.

Kala had teased him quite a lot through the day about his swim shorts, and he’d given up defending himself with the ‘I’m from Risa’ bit. Upon their parting, she’d said how eager she was to see what he wore to the races, and as he looked at himself in the mirror he didn’t doubt that she’d be satisfied.

His shirt was so open in the front that it might as well have been just a pair of sleeves, and Julian had thrown an accusatory look at Garak when he first put it on, causing the Cardassian to chuckle and go dress in the front room, leaving Julian alone in the bedroom with a pile of clothes and jewels he was terrified of somehow breaking as he tried to dress.

The long, many-chained necklace Julian was wearing was flat against his skin and reminded him a bit of a net, but the ornate design and bright Cardassian jewels recalled a Dabo girl more than anything. Julian hadn’t been ready for that when Garak handed him the box, but the more he looked at the thing the more he liked it. He twisted, watching the chain throw light in the mirror. A vision of Jadzia laughing at him came to mind, her voice telling him he looked like a hummingbird. There were worse animals, he supposed.

“Are you ready, my dear?” Garak walked into the bedroom, tugging on his shirt cuffs. Julian smiled at him in the mirror and turned away just in time to catch a hint of admiration being smoothed back into Garak’s usual neutral expression.

The doctor spread his arms. “What do you think?”

“Very nice for the track,” Garak nodded. “Shall we?” He gestured to the door, and Julian preceded him into the hall, looking around. No one met them, so they rode down to the ground floor quietly together, Julian trying to give Garak whatever space he might want, letting the other man take the lead. It wasn’t until the lift doors slid open and Rattin greeted them from across the lobby that Garak slipped a hand around Julian’s hips and led him to the group.

“Hello again, Rattin,” Garak greeted brightly.

“Breloc,” Rattin responded with a smile that was just this side of a leer, giving Julian a pretty good idea of who listened in on the bugs in his and Garak’s room. “Shall we?”

“After you,” Garak gestured, and Rattin set off, the rest of the party falling in his wake. Kala and one of Rattin’s retinue were talking animatedly, and Julian fell in with them as Garak focused in on Hishesh, speaking to the Orion in a low voice with a good-naturedness in his smile that he didn’t bother to extend to the rest of his face.

“Remain here,” B’rella instructed Kala and Laadra when they reached the racetrack, and Garak indicated with a glance that Julian should stay with them. He himself moved with B’rella to the lower stands closer to the track, seating himself between B’rella and Rattin as though it were perfectly natural.

“Bring any targs?” Julian teasingly asked the other two as they took their seats.

Laadra laughed. “Only as pets. B’rella likes to race things from Federation worlds- that way she can blame humans if they lose.”

The Romulan was smiling as she said it, so Julian laughed. “Fair enough.”

The starting gun sounded and Laadra’s attention shifted. Julian looked to his other side and found Xandra, also intently watching the strange creatures making their way around the track. Noticing the shock collars they’d been fitted with, Julian wasn’t particularly sure he wanted to watch this part.

It didn’t take very long, sitting in the sun watching Garak, for Julian to become entranced by the Cardassian’s grace. His hands as he leant back and gestured flippantly, talking with Vornia and Rattin. The light seemed to surround him without glaring, and Julian smiled at himself for the bit of exasperation he felt. Was there anything that didn’t work out in his Cardassian’s favor? His Cardassian? He resisted rubbing his eyes. Oh, Julian, you’re in trouble now… he told himself, not managing to look away from Garak. His mind drifted to the night before, fingertips absently brushing his lips.

“Someone isn’t paying very close attention to the races,” A voice interrupted teasingly, its owner leaning forward from the seat behind him.

“Kisana!” He startled, pulling his face into a smile as he leant back and turned around to talk with her. “I suppose I wasn’t. But can you blame me?”

“Mm, I can’t say I understand your taste,” Her eyes dropped to the net of jewels around his neck. “But then, maybe I can.”

Julian felt himself flush. “It isn’t- it’s not like that.” He made a great show of focusing on the starting gate, straightening his spine as he pointedly ignored her. Kala made a joke about entering a Denebian slime devil in the next race, and he laughed. Dro was watching him curiously, he could tell, and he made a great mental show of shoving his annoyance with her to the forefront of his mind.

“Alright,” She laughed after scarcely more than a minute, and he glanced back to see her holding up her hands. “It’s not like that. I believe you. You’re an odd duck, aren’t you, Darius?”

“The ugly duckling,” he smiled, letting her know she was forgiven. “That’s why he puts all these pretty rocks on me.”

Kisana laughed. “Oh, I don’t think that’s true,”

Julian shrugged in that coquettish way some of the Dabo girls did when explaining to a player that they’d lost big. “Who am I to contradict a Betazoid?” He smiled. “How are you this evening? Terribly rude of me not to ask sooner,”

“Is everyone from Risa so polite?” Kisana laughed. “I’m hot, mostly,” She underscored her words by taking off her hat, fanning herself. Julian noticed that her hair was up in a bun that would have met Starfleet standards and wondered where she’d learned that neatness in deep space with a bunch of Orions. “It’s been a long time since I was planetside, and it wasn’t anywhere near this warm,”

“Oh? Xandra mentioned that Rattin and Hishesh like to stay aboard ship, but she didn’t make it sound like it had been that long.”

“Well, time feels different for us all,” Kisana said enigmatically, shifting her gaze over his head as the starting gun fired again.

Julian turned back in his seat, watching Garak’s hands move as he spoke. “True enough.”

Kala stood up and shrieked encouragement at the animal B’rella had brought for this round. Julian honestly didn’t recognize it, and wondered if it were a new species. “What’s that, Kala?” He asked her sweetly.

Without taking her eyes off the race, she answered, “B’rella had it made specially on Demeter Four; she named it after Laadra.”

“It’s beautiful,” Julian answered, filing away the name of the planet where shady characters apparently got their illegal racing animals. At least no one could complain that he hadn’t done anything productive, he thought as he went back to watching the way the sunlight danced on Garak’s glossy hair. Kisana was watching him again, and he deliberately let his mind go blank.
*

Julian was relieved when the races ended, but when he moved to join Garak, the Cardassian waved him off. He was talking with Rattin again, looking pleasant and focused, as though lulling prey into a false sense of security before pouncing. Mraana had joined them, and Julian recognized where he wasn’t needed. He dropped back to walk with Kala, whom he thought he could actually get to like. Unfortunately, they were joined by Kisana.

“Ready to get out of the heat?” He asked her.

“You have no idea.” She answered, hat back on but apparently not providing much shade.

“Is it that much cooler on Betazed?” Julian wanted to keep her mind busy and not probing too deeply into his feelings, so he did his best to engage her in conversation.

Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to be feeling too talkative. “I don’t remember. This moon is very hot.”

“I suppose it is. I like it, reminds me of Gul Ritza’s quarters wherever we go. Do Orions keep their ships very warm?”

“Not the ship I travel on.” Kisana thwarted him with another clipped answer, now looking at him curiously. Julian figured he’d better quit prying, and instead turned to Kala.

“I rather lost track of the races,” he told her with a smile as though it were a secret. “How did your animals do?”

“Oh, fairly well- I imagine B’rella will be pleased. If she ever gets to stop talking to that dreadful dour Cardassian,” Kala gestured at Vornia, leaning away from B’rella but still apparently intent on talking with her.

“Well, I suppose they can’t all be charming,” Julian shrugged with a teasing smile.

“I suppose not,” Kala laughed. “Come, they’re going to talk business for hours, walk with me- I want to hear the story of how you managed to land yourself a Gul,” She grinned in the same lascivious way B’rella did, plucking playfully at the chains around his neck as though they were a leash.

Julian allowed himself to be broken away from the main group, glancing forward to meet Garak’s eyes and be sure the Cardassian saw where he was going, and with whom. “Well, it’s funny that you should ask… I worked in one of the warmer zones of Risa, weather sort of like this actually, and I was wearing these awful silver shorts…”
*

At dinner that night, they were seated nowhere near eachother, Garak on his right and Kala on his left, but Kisana’s attention from the other end of the table still felt like a spotlight.

She was staring at him again, that look on her face like she knew there was more to him than he was telling. Julian tried talking to Kala, but she was more interested in B’rella. Vornia was across the table, but Julian knew that was a no-go before he even opened his mouth. He mentally sorted through things to distract himself- and Kisana.

With his usual flawless timing, Garak provided. The Cardassian slipped a hand onto Julian’s knee and squeezed lightly. Smiling to himself, Julian slid his hand under the table to stroke gently at the back of Garak’s hand. He felt the Cardassian’s digits flutter, and his pulse mimicked them.

Kisana looked away. Julian didn’t let that stop him. He pictured the feel of Garak’s hands on his bare skin, propping one elbow on the table and letting his eyes glaze over as the light conversation drifted on around him. He pushed a little at Garak’s hand, wanting it to curl around his thigh like the night before. His Cardassian obliged without even a sideways glance, saying something that made Rattin laugh. Julian felt his nerves beginning to glow, a fire kindling in his stomach. His muscles tensed and his legs spread slightly. Garak fluttered his fingers again and Julian felt a blush rise to his cheeks. He glanced around; no one was looking at him, not even Kisana. He leaned closer to Garak, shuffling his chair slightly sideways to press himself against the older man’s shoulder. If the information Garak could potentially gather at this weird dinner party were less important, he might have dragged him back to their room. As it was, he made sure Garak felt the shiver that ran through him when he pictured the hand on his leg moving just slightly higher. His breathing stuttered. Garak’s fingers clenched. Julian wanted to slip his own hand into the Cardassian’s lap, but held that impulse in check, biting the inside of his lip.

He was staring straight ahead, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Kisana look at him in exasperation. Julian winked back, aware that he was having far more fun far less responsibly than Sisko had probably envisioned. That thought, more than anything, made him sit up straighter. Garak’s fingernails were digging into his leg, and as he suppressed another shudder he silently blessed the fact that Cardassian talons had evolved into far less deadly implements over the years. What if he starts doing this under the table at lunch? Julian thought- and then jerked his attention away from that line of thought. Back to where Garak’s free hand was gesturing fluidly, back to the sound of his voice as he doubtlessly charmed half his listeners with one sentence and the other half with the next. My god, I love him. It was like a flower unfurling, like a bright yellow flower like a miniature sun. It was sunlight in his stomach and fire in his nerves and it reminded him of a silly poem about a garden burning. He smiled, patting Garak’s hand lightly and dragging his nails over the back of it, across the underside of his wrist, slipping his index finger under the cuff of the Cardassian’s shirt. He felt like he was glowing.

Unfortunately, he was only projecting radiant energy to one person, and she didn’t want it; Kisana Dro looked close to kicking him under the table. Julian propped his face in his hand and smiled at Garak, immensely enjoying the tiny movements of Garak’s fingertips against his inner thigh, just a few inches above his knee.

“Darius!” Kala prodded his shoulder. “Darius,”

“Hm? Oh!” He sat up straight, blushing, and Garak drummed his fingers on Julian’s knee, silently laughing at him. “Yes?”

“B’rella and I were just wondering what there is to do on Risa? I mean, besides the-” She looked him up and down meaningfully before turning back to the Klingon woman on her other side with a suggestive smile. “She hasn’t taken us there yet, and I’d quite like to go.”

“Oh,” he smiled, tried to pay attention. “Well, there’s swimming, sports, games; inside and outside both.” Putting on a tour-guide façade, trying to ignore that everything he said felt like an innuendo. He pretended to laud a home rather than a vacation spot. “Really, Risa is the place to go for whatever you want. It’s got a few different areas of climate patterns, so you can choose what you like best, and there are hikes and holosuites and real things- anything you want. I loved it.”

“You must miss it very much,” Kala said, looking a little sympathetic.

Julian shook his head. “I’d rather be here. Well, I’d rather be with,” he looked over at Garak. Garak whose hand was still teasing up and down his leg under the table, keeping him on his toes without even looking at him, Garak who had taken him apart and put him back together since the first time they’d met, Garak who could keep up with him even when he forgot himself and did too many things too quickly. Garak who was funny and intelligent and mysterious and so very, very complicated. Julian couldn’t resist such an attractive puzzle.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here, or I wouldn’t have met you,” Kala said. “I’m quite sad that this little trip won’t last longer. I’d have liked to get to know you better.”

“I know the feeling,” Julian smiled at her. He knew she was part of something criminal, knew she’d made bad choices somewhere along the line previous to this, but he couldn’t help but feel as though she were a good person. It would be a shame to leave her to the mercies of this world, but then he supposed that there must have been a reason she chose it. “I suppose we’ll just have to make the most of the time we have! Tell me, how did you and B’rella meet? We never got around to it earlier,”

Kala’s story proved to be a fascinating one, something right out of a holonovel, and Julian didn’t even have to remind himself about Kisana for the rest of the dinner. And he learned about one or two planets with some shady dealings, besides. Starfleet ought to be impressed. *

“You seemed to be enjoying yourself at dinner,” Garak observed, smiling as they shut themselves into their suite, Laadra’s whistle echoing from the lift. They’d ridden up with B’rella’s party, and Julian had looked like a gagh on a plate between the three women. Admittedly, Garak probably should have distracted B’rella a little more.

“And you didn’t?” The human answered, sliding off the cuff bracelet Garak had given him and placing it on the dresser. Garak smiled.

“Of course I did, Darius. You’re always such good conversation.”

Julian looked as though he wanted to throw something. “Conversation?” He snorted, then seemed to relent and shook his head with a smile. “I hope you had better conversation with Rattin,”

“Oh yes, he’s quite the charmer.” Garak answered. “I rather like his sister too, though she doesn’t say as much.”

“You say enough for both,” Julian arched a brow at him, and Garak chuckled.

“Are you suggesting I sit staring into space and ignoring those around me?”

“Hey, I didn’t know Kala was talking to me,” Julian defended himself, pouting adorably. Garak couldn’t help his soft smile. “And it was your fault anyway.”

Garak sat down on the sofa, crossing his legs and looking innocently up at Julian. “My fault? I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,”

“Like hell you don’t.” Julian sat down in his lap, and Garak almost started in surprise. “What’s the matter? You look a little tied up in your thoughts.”

Almost without thinking, Garak retorted, “I ought to tie you up. After all your swanning about today,”

Julian smiled happily at him, leaning in for a quick, soft kiss. Garak brought his hands up to settle on the doctor’s hips. “Ah, how can I resist showing off when you dress me up so nicely?”

“Compliments will get you nowhere, my dear, you really were quite-” He found his mouth covered, Julian’s soft lips gentle as the young man’s fingers slid through Garak’s hair.

“If there’s nothing I can say to absolve myself, perhaps there’s something I can do? Humans have a very old saying; ‘actions speak louder than words.’” Julian was smiling, teasing, and Garak smiled back. When he did, Julian’s eyes lit up and he pressed a gentle, playful kiss to the underside of Garak’s jaw.

“You can start by shutting off the lights and getting in bed,” Garak told him, pushing him off his lap to stand and circle the room, checking his disruptor and beginning to remove his knives and clothing. “And I don’t want to hear another word from you tonight,”

“So much for conversation,” Julian laughed as he practically threw himself into bed, his clothes somehow finding their way to the floor.
*

As Julian woke up, he came to the realization that he’d completely lost feeling in at least two of his limbs. Of course, one of those could be explained by being tied over his head. “Er… good morning?” He blinked sleepily at Garak, who had apparently slept on his leg, which explained the other numb limb.

“Yes, it is,” The Cardassian said cheerfully, kissing his forehead. “Stay here.”

“Where else would I go?” Julian asked as Garak rolled out of bed.

“B’rella wants to meet with me privately. Kala and Laadra might be along shortly.”

Julian’s eyes widened. “You are not leaving me tied up for them to find!” He sat upright, and was surprised to find that the restraint around his wrist loosened immediately.

“Of course not,” Garak was grinning. “Your arms were in my face all night and I had to make you hold still somehow,”

Julian laughed. “Sorry. But that was a rather rude awakening, you know,”

“Mm,” Garak leaned over the bed to kiss him. “I suppose you’ll have to wait until I’m back for a better one. In the meantime, I suggest a shower,”

“Hey!” Julian tossed a pillow at him as he left the bedroom. “Fine. Hurry back,”

“Of course.” He closed the door, and the light and ease seemed to leave the room with him. Julian felt overly conscious of the recorders, and got out of bed fairly quickly to head for the shower. Under the water, all he could think about was how little he seemed to be doing for the mission. He knew that was his role- be Gul Ritza’s consort, pick up whatever he could from the people who would talk to him. But despite how much he had been enjoying that role, he hated to send Garak off alone to deal with the real threats. Garak can handle it, he reminded himself. Besides, B’rella likes him. Probably. He sighed and stepped out of the shower, toweling himself off.

There was a knock at the door.

“One second!” Julian yelled, pulling on the first thing he found. Luckily, Garak made it, so it at least fit, though he didn’t think it would cover all the marks of his extremely entertaining evening. But Laadra and Kala wouldn’t mind. He jogged across the room and looked out the peephole. Kisana Dro stood in the hallway, and Julian silently cursed himself for having already made noise and let her know he was in the room. He took a deep breath and opened the door. “Good morning Kisana! How are you?”

“I need your help,” Kisana said frankly. Julian grabbed a room key and stepped into the hallway, closing the door firmly on the listening devices behind him.

“What’s going on?”

“I can’t find Xandra anywhere,” She told him. “I’m worried about her. I can’t get Kala or Laadra, I don’t even know where they are and I don’t think they’d help me anyway. But you’re a good person. Aren’t you? Please, I have to find her.” Her dark eyes fixed on his face, the set of her jaw challenging. He wondered if it were a trap. Probably.

But on the off chance… “Where’s the last place you saw her?”

She exhaled heavily and tried to smile at him, starting off down the hallway. “I haven’t seen her since last night, but one of the concierges saw her going to the roof this morning,”

“And I’m guessing you checked there already,” Julian said, keeping pace beside her until they reached the lift. He thought for a split second of Garak’s telling him not to go anywhere, and wished that he’d left a note.

“Yes, I checked everywhere I thought she might be… Mnhotta was in charge of keeping track of this set, and if Hishesh finds Xandra gone there will be hell for all of us,”

“This set?” Julian asked, confused.

Kisana looked at him levelly as the lift dropped, and it clicked.

“And what happens to her if we find her?”

“Delivery as scheduled to a moon around Sigma Robles.” Kisana was watching him too closely for his liking, but suddenly his cover didn’t seem paramount, in the face of the trafficking of sentient beings. No wonder Starfleet had wanted spies.

“Right,” Julian blew out his breath. At least he could take that information back to DS9 and they could send a rescue party. As long as Xandra and the others made it safely.

“Will you help me find her, Darius?”

He met her eyes. “Where do we start?”

“She can’t go far enough to get off the property. I think she must be hiding in one of the ships, or somewhere in the hotel. I just don’t have the time to search alone.”

“You go look around the ships, I’ll look in the hotel?” He faked innocence to make up for his directive tone. “I wouldn’t know how to thoroughly check the ships.”

“Right,” Kisana nodded as the lift hit the ground floor. “If you find her, take her back to your room. I’ll tell Hishesh that’s where she is if she asks. I’ll come get her- we probably have an hour.”

“Right,” Julian agreed, and they separated, Kisana heading out toward the ships as Julian sauntered to the concierge desk. “Hi,” he greeted with a vapid smile. “I was supposed to meet one of my new friends and go to the pool. She’s blonde, one green eye one blue. Have you seen her? I can’t remember where we were supposed to meet,” He shrugged loosely.

The Caitian behind the desk looked at him as though he were stupid. perfect. “Yeah, she was headed up to the roof about an hour ago.”

“Thanks,” Julian smiled again and headed off, back to the lift. It was the only solid starting place he had, so he hit the button for the roof. When the doors opened, he looked around, thinking about the times he’d hidden as a child, the places he’d had to hide since then. He almost wished Nog or Jake were there with him; those two could get anywhere, it seemed.

He didn’t want to draw too much attention to his search, so he decided against asking anyone else he might run into for help. He didn’t know what would happen to Xandra if Hishesh found her missing or heard she had been, but he could guess, and none of his guesses were particularly pleasant.

There weren’t many places to hide on the roof, except the massive air vents, but he didn’t think Xandra could have got in one without someone noticing. There were a few people on the roof even now, as he took a quick lap around the edge, pretending to see the sights.

Perhaps Xandra hadn’t actually gone as far as the roof. He went down a level and wandered the corridor as quietly as he could, looking around.

Nothing.

Nothing on the top floor, nor one down, nor one below that.

He was getting frantic, trying hard to smooth his emotions down. Half their time was gone. He wished the floors weren’t so large, that he could move faster, that he could ask more people for help.

Finally, on his fifth floor down, he spotted something that might be a clue. There was a tiny strip of wallpaper peeled down, as though scuffed, just below an air vent. He did the dimensional math in his head and decided that if she tried hard enough Xandra could probably have hidden in there. He moved under it quietly and stood on his toes, trying to look in. He couldn’t quite see, but he thought he heard an irregular sound below the quiet hiss of air escaping the vent.

Wedging his fingers in the grate, he gave it an experimental tug. To his surprise, it came out almost silently in his hands. He leaned it against the wall and reached into the hole, pulling himself up with great effort to be silent, not sure what was on the other side of the wall.

As his face came level with the vent, he saw a pair of feet. Oh, god, please still be breathing, “Xandra?” He murmured. She jerked and he sighed in relief. “Xandra, come out of there. Please.”

“Why?” Her voice was muffled by the angle and the vent.

“I honestly can’t give you a good reason. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. All I know is that if Hishesh realizes you’re gone, she’ll punish everyone. And Xandra,” His arms were trembling slightly with the effort of keeping his face level with the vent, feet dangling off the floor. “I can help you. Please, I come from a Federation world. I know where they’re taking you. I can… someone will come find you, Xandra. I promise.”

“How can you promise? You’re just a Risan plaything for a Gul.”

“I used to be a medical student at a Federation school. There are people who remember me, people who would help me.” God, this would be easier if he didn’t have to be Darius Sangh.

“How can you be sure, though? How do I know that you don’t want me to come out just so your vacation isn’t ruined?” Her voice was condescending, and also getting fainter. He wondered if there were a connecting vent pulling stale air near her face. If she inhaled too much carbon dioxide…

“Listen, you don’t really know me, and you have no reason to trust me. But I promise you, Xandra, I’ll help you. I’ll pull you out if you let me. I can get you away from Hishesh and Rattin. But right now you have to go through this. I’ll help you, I’ll do anything I can do for you. Please come out?” He made his impassioned plea as earnestly as he could, concern twisting in his stomach alongside utter revulsion for what she must be going through.

After a long moment, she shifted back a centimeter. “Why are you looking for me, anyway?”

Julian hoped that telling the truth was the right thing to do. “Because Kisana Dro asked me to. She was worried about you, Xandra.”

“Kis?” Xandra shifted back a few inches further. She sighed. “Am I being stupid? Look at me, in an air vent.”

“Not at all,” Julian assured her, sympathy welling up in his chest. “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. I really do want to help you, Xandra. And so does Kis.”

“You promise?” Xandra asked. “Even if you have to go back to the Federation? What if they arrest you?”

Julian’s arms trembled again. “I don’t care. You’re being very brave, Xandra. I can’t do less. No one should have to be taken anywhere against their will, ever. You’re brave to survive it. You’re very brave to run away. And you’ll be very brave to go back for the others,”

She was quiet for a long time, long enough that Julian almost fell from the vent. He didn’t say anything more. It wasn’t his choice to make, in the end.

“Alright. Help me out,” Xandra said at last. Julian dropped from the vent and looked around the empty hall, reaching up to help pull Xandra as she moved backward. “You promise someone will come?” She asked as she slid from the vent, his hands at her waist for support.

“I swear,” Julian said. “Whatever it takes. Thank you, Xandra.”

She wiped her hand across her face. “Where’s Kis?”

“She’s looking for you in the ships. She told me to take you to my suite- she’ll come get you soon. I think about ten minutes. Are you okay?”

“I just- I miss my family,” Xandra started to tear up again.

Julian’s heart went out to her. “Can I hug you?” She nodded, and he pulled her into what he hoped was a comforting embrace. “I’m so sorry, Xandra. I swear I’ll get you home. Where are you from?”

“A mining colony,” She shook her head against his shoulder. “It’s tiny, you won’t have heard of it. I can hardly find it on star charts. But I- I just want to go back there.”

“You will. We’ll get you back there,”

She nodded, taking a deep breath. “Kis says so too. I just- Rattin was talking to Mnhotta about keeping me, and Kis said I’d be okay once I got to Sigma Robles. I just got scared.”

Julian wondered what Kisana Dro had to do with freeing people from Orion trafficking, but that wasn’t the important question at the moment. “I’m sorry. Can I do anything?”

“No,” Xandra stepped away from him. “I won’t get home if I die here. You’re right. Can we go wait for Kis now?”

Having seen enough to know when someone was done talking, Julian gave her her space. “Of course.”
*

“Hello,” Julian greeted softly, curled on the sofa when Garak opened the door.

“My dear, why do I leave you to dress yourself?” Garak asked, smiling at him.

A smile tugged at the corners of Julian’s mouth, and he sat up straighter. “I have no idea. Maybe if you hadn’t run out in such a hurry I’d have on a real outfit.”

Garak shut the door, pressing a hand to his heart. “I swear I shall never do it again, if this is what I come back to,”

Julian forced a tiny laugh. “You can always take it off me, you know.”

“Tempting. You will have to get dressed again eventually- there's a card game tonight and I’d like you to wear something I made- ordered made for you." He was looking at Julian with concern, and the doctor tried to make an ‘I’m fine even though I’m not fine’ face to reassure him.

"I love the things you get for me," Julian smiled. “How was B’rella?”

“Very… interesting.” Garak shook his head and mouthed, “later.” Julian nodded unhappily, and Garak continued, “You left the room,” his eyes sweeping over Julian.

“Kisana and I went for a walk,” he shrugged, shaking his head, eyes fixed seriously on Garak’s. “It was nice,”

“Well, I suppose if you’re going to ignore everything I say you might as well enjoy yourself,” Garak said archly, tilting his head toward the bug in the vent. Julian stood and wrapped his arms around the older man, kissing the ridge below his ear.

“I’m sorry,” he said, loudly enough to be heard by everyone listening. “I won’t do it again,” He buried his face in Garak’s shoulder, thinking of Xandra and the others.

Garak’s arms came up to hold him tightly, one hand in his hair and the other resting gently on the small of his back. “It’s all right, my dear,” he said, kissing Julian’s temple softly. “Just don’t do it again,” he continued, loudly enough to be picked up.

“I won’t…” Julian answered, trying to pull himself back into character. He gave Garak a final, grateful squeeze before stepping away and trying to infuse his voice with a little more brightness. “Can I see what I’m wearing tonight?”

"This one is a bit... Different." He crossed to the closet and carefully extricated the strappy outfit he’d hung so carefully when they arrived.

"Oh, this is just like a spy film! What am I going to do, come up behind you, distract your opponents?"

"Something like that," Garak smiled at his returning enthusiasm.

“And how long do we have before that happens?” Julian asked, looking perhaps a little too obviously toward the bed.

Garak shook his head good-naturedly. “You are incorrigible. I would like to take you to lunch with Mraana if you can stand to be dressed for that much longer.”

“I suppose I can, if you choose me something new. I’m afraid this shows off more than a few of the results of your more enthusiastic moments.” He grinned cheekily at Garak, who smiled rather roguishly back.

“That seems a prudent consideration. Come along then, we’ll choose something new.”
*

It took nearly an hour to get Julian ready that night. The outfit was hard enough to get on, particularly with Garak’s finicky comments about where the straps ought to sit and how careful he needed to be with them. Then a little kit came out and it was revealed that Julian was to have his face made up as well. This he enjoyed a little more, as it kept Garak hovering within easy kissing distance as he carefully applied tiny amounts of pigment at a time.

“There, you may look now,”

“Ah, just when I was starting to enjoy being fussed over,” Julian teased, turning to look at himself in the mirror. “Actually, that’s… I don’t look half bad!”

“Good. Now let me get dressed- stop pouting,” he ducked as Julian moved to kiss him. “Don’t even try it, you’ll smear your lipstick. Let it dry, you insufferable boy,” he pressed a swift kiss to Julian’s shoulder before moving away, leaving Julian to laugh at him and admire himself in the mirror.

“How long until you want me to come down?”

“Oh, give it an hour. We should all be dealt in by then, and I’ll have been able to observe their tells,”

“Breloc Ritza, I had no idea you were a card shark,” Julian smiled, watching his face move in the mirror. The longer he stared at himself, the better he looked.

“Not at all, my dear, but I have picked up one or two more tricks than your average fizzbin player,”

Julian caught sight of him in the mirror. “And you look wonderful. You don’t even need me,”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Garak told him, smiling gently.

“I love you,” Julian couldn’t quite stop himself from saying.

Garak’s expression softened. “I know, dear boy.” He looked at the chronometer beside the bed. “I have to go down. See you in an hour?”

“Yes, you will,” Julian answered, smiling, but when the door closed behind Garak there was nothing to do but wait.

Entering the card room was one of the scariest moments of the whole adventure, in Julian’s opinion. As soon as he set foot in the room, he felt eyes on him. At first, just the other companions, lounging by the bar. Xandra, Kala, others he didn’t recognize. He smiled at them. Kala raised her eyebrows and looked him up and down. She raised her glass in what he assumed was a toast to his audacity, or maybe a proposition.

Then the players at the card table- B’rella first, at the head of the table. She snarled in what he thought was approval, judging by the raised pitch at the end. The sound tipped off the others, who glanced up. Rattin’s eyes fixed on his midriff, mostly bared by the arrangement of straps. Hishesh was looking at his face, and he hoped the makeup Garak had taken so much trouble with had survived their brief separation. A slight blush was rising to his cheeks, and he hoped that only added to the effect. Vornia was watching his legs with something that was almost distaste. Almost, but not quite. Mraana was also staring at his legs, though with much less distaste. The only one who couldn’t see him was Garak, for the simple reason that he was almost directly behind his Cardassian.

Julian stepped onto the slight platform where they played and bent slowly at the waist, keeping his eyes deliberately off the other players. Garak turned very slightly to look at him, then look away, ostensibly paying attention to his cards, though Julian would have bet that the Cardassian was paying far more attention to the other players. "Good luck, darling," he said, sliding a hand across Garak's well-dressed chest, kissing the ridge just below his ear. He distinctly heard the only other Cardassian at the table give a sputter of indignation. There were titters from the others, and of course an extremely loud bark of laughter from B’rella, and Julian smiled into Garak's neck as he imagined the face his tailor must be making to prevent the others from saying anything. The atmosphere was thick with protest, and as Julian drew back, tracing his fingertips over Garak's scales, he distinctly saw Vornia dip his cards, busy staring offended daggers at Julian. If he were with anyone but Garak, he might fear for his life.

"Go wait by the bar," Garak told him, raising a hand to pat his cheek without looking up.

Julian turned and sauntered off toward a group of Orion girls standing by the bar watching the card players, allowing the straps at his hips to ride low. He hoped the others were taking an eyeful and forgetting their cards.

“You are something,” Kala told him, handing him a drink. “You’ve got to teach me how to walk like that,”

“I was walking like something?” Julian teased her. He’d practiced walking up and down their room like the men on Angel One, but he wasn’t about to tell Kala that.
*

"Did you win?" Julian asked when all the players rose, leaving his martini on the bar as he moved to meet Garak.

"It's a break. We'll start again in five minutes."

"So I get to have you for five minutes?" Julian ran his hands up the front of Garak's impeccable shirt. He leaned in and kissed the ridge beneath the Cardassian's ear, murmuring, "what are they talking about?"

Turning his face into Julian's hair, he answered, "border disputes and sabotage,"

"Mm, make sure to remember it all," Julian breathed.

"Go wait for me in the room," Garak said, drawing back as Mnhotta passed nearby. "And take this off," he hooked his finger under the strap that crossed Julian's collar bone and snapped it gently.

"See you soon," Julian responded in a low voice. He turned away, and one of the Orion girls he'd noticed earlier matched his pace as he left the room, entering the elevator beside him.

"You think you two might want something extra tonight?" She asked with a wink.

Julian bit his bottom lip, sucking at it and trying to look thoughtful. "I don't think he'd like the surprise... Not very keen on unexpected things," he smiled slightly. "But I'll ask him- it would be a good present tomorrow maybe," Julian smiled widely. “Who are you here with? So that I can find you,”

“Hishesh,” She said, looking over his shoulder. He nearly turned to look too, but he could see in the reflection in the glass that no one was there. He fought the impulse to frown.

“Alright! Great. I’ll ask,” he smiled at her and backed out of the lift on his floor, standing and frowning at the closed doors for a moment before turning and heading back to the room.

Looking at his own painted face in the mirror, he almost laughed. Starfleet espionage, indeed.
*

"You are absolutely filthy," Garak told him as he pinned him to the door. "I can't believe you did that."

Julian smirked, enjoying the biting kisses being pressed to his chest. "You said distract them," the doctor defended himself. "I hope you got a good look at that other Cardassian's cards- he nearly dropped them he was so offended," one of his legs hooked almost distractedly over Garak's hips, drawing the Cardassian closer still.

"I was no less offended, believe me," he nipped at Julian's bottom lip.

The younger man looked genuinely concerned, an odd expression for his still made-up face. "Really? I didn't mean-" Garak silenced him with a kiss, hands finding the backs of his thighs to lift him and pin him properly against the door. "Oh, G- oh, God," Julian moaned, and Garak worried that Julian would shout out his real name. He supposed he'd have to keep the doctor's mouth busy.
*

Julian woke up first on the morning of their departure, thoughts full of Xandra. He rolled over to press his face into Garak’s shoulder. “Are you awake?” He murmured.

“That depends on what you want me to be awake for,” Garak answered, arms moving slowly to hold Julian closer.

“I just have a question.”

“What kind of question?”

“The easy to answer kind,” Julian smiled into Garak’s shoulder, dropping a light kiss there.

Garak considered, pushing his hand into Julian’s hair and rumpling it. “Alright,”

“What time are we leaving today?”

“Ah. I believe around eleven hundred hours,”

Julian rolled over. “They don’t believe in wasting time around here, do they?”

Garak followed him, settling on top of Julian with his elbow propped on the pillow, resting his face in his hand. “No, I don’t believe they do. B’rella has invited us to breakfast, if you’re worried about saying goodbye,”

“Alright. Do I need to get up?”

“Not just yet,” Garak said, drawing a hand down his chest.
*

Breakfast was a rather brief affair, but B’rella found plenty of time to let him know that she expected to see more of him. Julian was almost sorry to disappoint her. Laadra said her share of goodbyes, and Kala gave him one parting once-over as they said their farewells.

Back in the room, they packed quickly, checking everything once more to be sure they’d left no traces. Then Garak made a thorough mess of the bed, smirking at Julian, who understood that a Cardassian Gul would never tug the sheets back into place as Julian had done that morning. He looked around. It was almost a shame that they would never come back.

Garak checked the ship over for sabotage or recording devices while Julian justified the delay by making a fuss over a shoe he'd supposedly left in the room. At last, they took off, and Garak felt smug in the knowledge that no one had enough suspicions to even bug or track the ship.

“Do you think we did it? Do you think we got enough? You don’t think they’ll send anyone after us, do you?”

“Slow down, my dear, I doubt very much that they will send anyone after us. As for Starfleet, only they know what they wanted, and we did everything we could.”

“I wish we could have saved Xandra and the others,” Julian said, looking out the viewport. “We’ll get someone to the moon, right?”

“What moon?” Garak furrowed his brow, and Julian remembered that he hadn’t been there for the experience with Kisana and Xandra.

“Hishesh and Rattin are traffickers,” Julian said. “They’re taking Xandra and the others to a moon around Sigma Robles.”

Garak looked at him with some surprise. “I had gathered that they were traffickers, but they were very careful not to let on where they were going. How did you find out?”

“That walk I took with Kisana Dro,” Julian sighed. “I just wish I could have helped them…”

“It would have blown our cover; we would have been dead in minutes, if not seconds. This way, the Federation will be able to apprehend Rattin and Hishesh, and perhaps to track down their previous victims as well.”

“I suppose so…”

“It will be alright, Julian,” Garak said. “Besides, you found out where they are going. The Federation will track them down in no time. Especially Xandra, with those distinctive eyes.”

“You’re right… I guess we did the best we could.” Julian leaned back in his seat, sighing again. “I’m glad that whole week of lying is over, that felt like the longest time of my life.”

Garak wondered if it were possible to freeze from the inside. Julian did’t mean…

“Are you excited to get home and get to drop all those pretenses?”

“Yes, I am very happy to be a plain and simple tailor, thank you. All of this spy business had best stay on the holodeck.”

“Can I ask you one thing and have you answer honestly?” The doctor was looking at him now, those lovely eyes focused on his face.

“That depends very much on the question” Garak answered, hoping to sound lighthearted.

“Do you love me?” Julian asked, seriously.

Garak hesitated for a split second- if he said it, and Julian had been lying… “Yes.”

“Really?” the doctor smiled like he’d been granted a wish. “I love you too, Garak, thank god. Oh, god.” He slumped back in his seat. “You don’t know how worried I was, thinking you were only doing it for the mission, all of it- I couldn’t have handled that.”

“You don’t have to,” Garak told him, and Julian leaned over to kiss him.

The doctor laughed, relieved. “Oh, god, I’m so glad.”

Garak smiled.
*

"How was the super secret mission?" Jadzia asked, signaling Quark for more drinks.

Julian sighed.

"That good, huh?"

"'Starfleet-approved sex vacation' hardly seems an appropriate title for the report," Julian reflected, grinning at Jadzia's sun-bright smile.

"Can you send it to Ben with that as a working title? Please?"

Julian groaned. "God, he'd have my head on a plate,"

"I'd save you," she laughed. "Oh, thanks Quark,"

The Ferengi leered down at Julian. "So, Doctor Bashir, I heard some very interesting rumors about where you've been the past few days."

"Oh? And who's telling you anything?"

Quark sent a guilty look at Morn. "Is it true that you didn't leave the station at all? I heard you've been... Tied up... In a certain someone's quarters all week."

Julian paused for a bare second. Then he leered over the rim of his glass, saying, "Tied up is right."

Quark took a step back, hand to his chest dramatically. Jadzia laughed. "Get out of here, Quark," she smiled at him and he grinned back in the slimy sort of way that meant that Julian would wake up tomorrow with the whole station wondering what kind of rope Garak used.

"Good cover," Jadzia said. "Even Starfleet would approve."

"Well, the Syndicate and the Romulans will have a hard time proving we were spying if the whole station swears up and down that we were locked in Garak's quarters all week." He took a smug sip of his drink.

"Genius," Jadzia raised her glass in a toast. “Now you just need to tell Ben about your brilliant alibi.”

Julian choked on his drink.

**Epilogue, six months later**

Julian stopped dead in the doorway to his sickbay, contemplating turning around and finding an airlock to jump out of.

“Darius?!”

Too late for that option, then.

“Er… hello, Kisana.”

“What’s with the-” she gestured to his uniform.

“I’m…” He tried to think fast. “Well, you remember I did a year in medical school, and I just-”

“You’re lying to me,” She cocked her head. “You’re not from Risa.”

“And you arrived here on the Enterprise.” He countered, his wits coming back to him in bits and pieces. “It’s the only ship that’s docked this week.”

“I’m- yes, I did,”

They held still, as though the air around them had solidified and locked them in place. Their faces were similarly frozen, regarding each other warily, waiting for one or the other to thaw and crack.

The doors behind Julian swept open, and Sisko entered with his hand on the shoulder of a human woman Julian didn’t know. The Captain was laughing. “I see you’ve met Kisana Dro, Dr. Bashir.”

“Doctor Bashir?” Kisana echoed, looking back and forth between Julian and Sisko.

“I don’t understand, sir.” Julian said, at a loss for anything else.

“Kisana is one of the finest in Starfleet Intelligence.” Sisko elaborated, a smile unfurling.

Julian felt the urge to bury his face in his hands. “Ah,” was all the response he had to offer.

Kisana began to laugh, the human woman under Sisko’s arm moving to stand beside her. “How’s your arm, Kis?”

“It’s going to feel much better soon, if I recall the details of this man’s magic touch,” She grinned at Julian.

“Oh, god,” Julian again heard the call of the airlock, color rising to his cheeks. The memory of some of the things Kisana had seen made him cringe. The shorts. The shorts haunted him.

“Doctor Bashir, huh?” Kisana Dro was smiling still, and she twined her fingers through those of the human Sisko had brought in. “I knew there was something wrong with you. You little shit, you messed up my empathic abilities so badly.”

“Sorry,” Julian ducked his head, unsure how to respond to being called a little shit in his own sickbay, especially when it was so well-deserved.

“So how did you come up with ‘Darius Sangh’?”

The other woman looked at him. “Darius Sangh?” She repeated incredulously. Bashir seized his medkit and began running a scanner over Kisana. “The Darius Sangh from… oh god,” she giggled, color rising to her round cheeks.

“Yes, well. Yes.” He cleared his throat.

“I’ll leave you three alone,” Sisko chuckled on his way out, apparently feeling that this was deserved punishment for the Starfleet-approved sex vacation Jadzia had told him about.

Julian swiftly precluded other conversation by asking, “What did you do to your arm?”

“Kayaking on the holodeck,” Kisana answered cheerfully. “Nothing as fun as those few bruises you had that first morning. Or was it the second? I remember thinking how creative some of them were.”

Julian cleared his throat more loudly. “YES, well… You know, I have a friend who does the same thing, I have to put his shoulder back in every other week.”

“Really? Are you sure it’s just kayaking? A friend of Darius Sangh?” The human woman was giggling again.

“I didn’t catch your name,” Bashir said, ignoring her laughter but for the flaming embarrassment across his cheeks.

“Oh, I’m Gwen, I’m bonded to Kis.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Julian smiled as he ran a dermal generator over the bruises on Kisana’s arm.

“And… Gul Ritza? Your partner?” Kisana asked. “You really are partners, aren’t you? No one can fake like that. It probably saved you more than once. Hishesh would have seen through you like that with anything less.”

Julian was sorely tempted to lie. Apparently Garak was rubbing off on him. “He’s here, actually. Just down the promenade. In fact,” A smile crept over his face, “feel free to visit him, without mentioning the part about being Starfleet Intelligence.”

Kisana laughed. “Neither of you were even acting, were you?”

“Well, a little bit.” Julian smiled. “I’m just glad everything worked out. Have you heard about- erm, the one we went looking for?” He wasn’t sure how non-confidential he could be in front of Gwen.

“All fine,” Kisana nodded in satisfaction. “All of them.”

“Well, that’s a relief. I suppose those shorts weren’t for nothing, then,” He tried to lighten the mood.

“Kala certainly wouldn’t say it was nothing,”

Julian’s face was as red as it had ever been. “Oh, for the love of-” he took a breath. “I mean, do you see her often?”

“Once in a while,” Kis smiled.

“We should have dinner,” Gwen said, grinning at both of them. “All five of us.”

Kisana looked at Julian for his opinion. “Five?” He asked, hoping to god no one else from the races was actually Starfleet. He didn’t need those shorts known throughout the ‘fleet.

“Our bonded T’Shi, also,” Kisana said. “Would you mind? I’ve told them about you, as far as the confidentiality of Starfleet Intelligence allows, anyway. You really put on a show- I will never forget that card game for as long as I live.” She grinned, rotating her shoulder. “Much better, by the way, doc.”

“Try bending the elbow,” Julian told her. “I’m sure Garak would love to have dinner with you all- but let’s surprise him. How about we meet outside Quark’s at eighteen hundred and go from there?”

“Sounds wonderful,” Kisana hopped down from the biobed. “Thanks for fixing me up,” She said with a smile.

“See you tonight!” Gwen waved.

“Stay away from the tailor shop until then!” Julian called after them.