And so it was.

They were sitting across from each other at a pleasant little table just out of the bustle of the main flow of traffic. Close enough to hear the syncopated melody of the daboo wheel above the murmuring talk of patrons. It was comforting in away, all this hustle and bustle. It was always so easy to go unnoticed in a crowd. So easy to overhear what people wanted to keep hidden. The air was thick with potential. There were so many things he could learn and yet he was missing a great deal of it. Most of his attention was, as ever, focused on his dinner companion.

Bashir was talking about some recent novel that he had read some convoluted (according to him) mystery adventure that he thought Garak would enjoy. He was going over the finer points at the moment, as though to tempt Garak with little bits of mystery so that he might pick the book up himself at some point to read. Well of course Garak would read it; far be it from him to simply brush aside the doctor's hard work, he all ready had several ideas of who the murderers were and who (he smirked inwardly) was innocent. It was all rather mundane and if it was anyone other than Julian Bashir relating this to him he would have smiled politely and let his mind wander to other things.

The fascination, however, lay not in what Bashir was saying but how he was saying it. The mildly elevated pitch to his voice, the occasional sharp movement of an elegant hand, slightly dilated pupils all told of repressed excitement. Garak had the feeling that if he were just marginally closer he could feel the rise in Bashir's body heat as small amounts of adrenaline coursed through his system. All this because of a simple memory of a book. It was truly intoxicating watching him go on. This almost aggressive passion. Really Garak could almost smell it.

"But maybe I should stop," said Bashir, a quick smile flashing over hard white teeth. "You're looking a little glazed."

"Oh no," Garak said with a blink. "I am absolutely fascinated. Please don't let me stop you." He gave the doctor a look designed to be reeking with sincerity bordering on sarcasm as he sipped his drink. It was coffee, a thoroughly terran drink designed for thoroughly terran palates; it was frankly disgusting but warm against his lips.

"Right," said Bashir, though he seemed like he half believed him anyway. Such sweet naïveté, such trust…but of course he didn't fully believe him and that is what added to his charm.

"Why, doctor, it seems you think I am completely incapable of telling the truth. I am truly interested in what you have to say." He let that sink in, taking a moment to have another sip of that vile little drink. Bashir took a breath as if he was going to speak. "After all," Garak continued. "It's interesting to see you become so enamored of a book with no literary value whatsoever. It's rather like watching a shuttle wreck."

The barb sunk home. He could see the heat rise to Bashir's face, though it darkened his complexion only slightly. It wasn't anger. No such simple emotion would suffice for his doctor. The tug of a smirk at the corner of his lips, the slight narrowing of his eyes (that seemed to darken with the shift in emotion) spoke of rising to the challenge.

"Well maybe it's not up to your standards of literature, but it's a fun read." He put the padd on the table, his slender sensitive fingers pressing down on the darkness of the padd as he slid it toward Garak. "Give it a chance. I think you'll like it."

Garak regarded the padd for a moment, though his mind was more focused on Bashir's fingers, the soft brown of the skin the well maintained fingernails, gently rounded. Delicate..no… hardly that. Elegant. That was better.

"So you've been saying for the past twenty minutes," said Garak, sweeping out his hand to slide the padd closer to him and, quite on accident, brushing fingertips over the doctor's skin as he did so. So wonderfully deviously warm. But quickly enough he had lifted the padd and was thumbing through the text without really reading it. "But I still fail to see your reason, doctor. It sounds like every other mystery novel to me."

"You'll like it because everyone is guilty," Bashir said, settling back in his chair and smiling as if he'd just won a point and indeed he had. Garak was intrigued inspite of himself. Yet he couldn't believe it entirely. Everyone guilty? In a human novel? It couldn't be true.

"Oh?" said Garak. "No mistaken identities? No one being framed by some mysterious faction within the government?" Humans, it seemed, did so love mysterious factions in the government. It was as if they couldn't take their own ruling body at face value. It was something Garak admired about them. "Surely there must be some form of whiny adolescent caught in over his head?"

"None of that," said Bashir with that smile again. So self satisfied while at the same time so very charming. "In fact the only one innocent-"

"Ah," said Garak, setting the padd aside and going back to his thick spicy soup. It was delicious but he knew he would end up regretting it later.

"Is the detective," Bashir continued, the smile fading as he once again leaned forward. His face so young and eager. "But he doesn't count, Garak. He's the hero."

"So of course he is allowed to get away with anything, including going against the wishes of their superiors." Truly a dangerous man. "Or breaking the law. The detective in the last book trespassed on private property more than once and I do recall illegal surveillance in there somewhere."

"Yes but the point is they were doing it for the benefit of others," said Bashir. "If Detective Perriot hadn't broken the law that little girl could very well have died."

"Perhaps so but because he did he put his superior in a very bad position."

"Well the superior can live through it," Bashir said with a half smile, voice tinged with sarcasm. He didn't approve of Garak's sentiment. "Anyway it was all right in the end." And here his smile turned sly. Such a range of expression he had. Or perhaps Garak had been studying his face for entirely too long. "Don't you think the end justifies the means?"

And that too was a very Cardassian sentiment but couched in very human terms. It was hypocritical in a way, because Garak knew the doctor didn't truly believe it. Bashir leaned in, resting his elbow on the table and his chin on his fist, smiling as if he had just won a point. He looked, if possible, even younger than his thirty years. Youth looked good on him, Garak decided. Arrogance gave his face a certain light. He looked so soft, so vulnerable somehow. Only his eyes spoiled the illusion, shining with a savage intellect. Bashir gave the impression of waiting, not to be told he was right, but to be argued with, to clash with an intelligence as sharp as his own. And who was Garak to deny him?

"I wonder, would you say the same thing if the hero, oh say, murdered a puppy or pushed some innocent old woman off a bridge" or twisted a separator between a man's ribs and pushed the button until bones creaked and the man screamed out information even as he gagged on the blood filling his lungs. "In order to save the life of the little girl?"

"But he wouldn't do anything like that," said Bashir. "That's what makes him the hero. A real hero wouldn't have to resort to those measures." Then a real hero doesn't exist, Garak wanted to say. But he didn't. Because with every mystery that the good doctor read, he became that hero. He seemed too long to be the one that saved the day and rescued everyone from certain doom. It was as foolish as it was amusing.

"My dear doctor it seems you have a frightening case of optimism. You should get that looked at, you know. It could get you in a lot of trouble one day." After all, the higher the hopes the more crushing the failure, or so they said.. "A good hero can't always save the day." Nor could a bad hero, nor could a group of heroes no matter how hard they tried.

"Well your pessimisim is even worse," he said. "More often then not, the good guys do win. There is hope in the universe, Garak. You just have to believe in it." Garak smiled though he felt irritation twitch down his spine. Wonderful. Good old Federation under your scales optimism. As if Bashir truly had any inkling of the terrors of the universe. As if everything could be solved by a hypospray and a smile. But he couldn't hate Bashir, wouldn't allow himself to. The doctor was the one person on the station, it seemed, with a mind. He was the only one Garak could truly talk to and so he let himself relax, one muscle at a time, slowing his breathing just a touch but not so it would be blatantly obvious.

"I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree," said Garak pleasantly. He sipped at the coffee and made a face. It had gone cold. It seemed to be appropriate given the gulf that had opened up between them. Though one completely from Garak's side. Bashir was becoming increasingly alien. Oh he always was to be sure but Garak hated to be reminded of it. Reminded that they could talk every day at lunch but never be friends in the truest sense of the word. Ah well he'd never expected it.

An awkward silence that fell over them then and Garak's annoyance grew, circling around his intestines now, curling up his chest until it was a ball under his collar bone. He was irritated with the silence, that he had let it happen. He was irritated because he was being irritated. How could he let such a simple emotion overcome him? A simple conversation? He had spent to long here, surrounded creatures full of passion and lacking in self control. Cardassia… His home had never seemed so far away.

"Garak…" said the doctor, sounding concerned but seeming uncertain how to voice it. The emotion was sincere, Garak knew. Bashir was nearly devoid of emotional pretense. Did it ever make him feel uncomfortable? Garak wondered. To have his emotions splayed across his face like that like some sand painting.

"Don't mind me, doctor. I'm just feeling a little homesick," said Garak, surprised at his own sincerity. It was good to have a little sincerity now and again, though. It threw people off track. "This…coffee has gone cold and I'm growing tired of the cold. I miss heat." Stifling, oppressive heat that cloaked around you with a presence all its own "Which is probably why I spend time with you," Garak said, to lighten the mood, at least for himself.

Bashir chuckled, a soft easy sound though somehow seeming more surprised than anything else. Interesting.

"What is that supposed to mean?" he asked, shifting slightly, perhaps a bit uncomfortable with the sudden turn of conversation, perhaps just redistributing his weight. Garak was tempted not to expound on what he meant and see what conclusions the doctor came up with. However it could very well be something that put further strain on their pseudo friendship and so Garak was obliged to continue.

"Well usually when we have our little chats, you become…oh…impassioned," He let that word rest for a moment, then continued. "I'm sure you know what it does to your body heat."

"So what are you saying? I'm some sort of thermal blanket?" Bashir said, light and amused. Now there was a thought. Bashir's loose limbed body tucked over his, pressed skin against scales, puffs of warm sleeping breath drifting over his cheek and sounding in his ears. And as long as he was imagining that, why not add the image of Dukat in a badly tailored dress singing his own short comings. Amusing but a mood killer though the two scenarios had the same likelihood of happening.

"And an interesting dining companion," Garak said, toasting the human with his coffee cup and remembering almost too late that it was cold. He set the cup down and contemplated getting another, though perhaps something more agreeable.

"Well thank you, Garak," said Bashir with a ready smile and light sarcasm. "I think." He didn't believe him. Well Garak would just have to convince him. Though it was a dangerous thing to do. Bashir might take it the wrong way. On the other hand, Bashir might take it the right way and wouldn't that be fun? Most likely, Bashir wouldn't take it any way. For such a brilliant man he couldn't see the clues scattered right in front of his nose. It didn't seem to occur to him that there might be something more…

"I am quite serious, doctor," said Garak, lacing his fingers together and resting them on the table. He could feel that the soup was getting cold too and saw it slowly congealing out of the corner of his eye. He let himself ignore it. "There is a psychological term for those who indulge in relationships with exothermic species merely for their body heat."

"Is this considered some sort of mental imbalance?" Bashir asked, seeming to warm to the subject despite himself. Garak wondered if he would be looking it up in the database later to double check. He wouldn't find much. It wasn't in Cardassian nature to put all their psychological foibles in a database for all the galaxy to see. Though he wondered what the doctor would root out for himself. He seemed very adept at getting information when he was curious about something. An eager mind, a nose for intrigue, a vast cunning intelligence… Were he Cardassian the Obsidian Order would be salivating over him.

"Of course not, doctor it's merely a term. You might think us a close minded people but as far as relationships are concerned we are really quite open." Of course there were relationships and there was commitment. There weren't many exothermic partners on Cardassia Prime, only one that Garak knew of distantly. It took a wealthy man to do something like that. Wealthy and above the ridicule and disgust of his neighbors. It might be…have been a common enough practice here on Bajor and other Cardassian outposts, but on the home world it was almost akin to being a traitor. Raising an exotherm, or any species, to the same level as Cardassian was considered a grave insult. As if other species could even compare. Or so went the common thought.

"Why do I have the feeling there's something you're not telling me?" Bashir took a sip off his drink and Garak watched the play of his lips on the glass without letting his gaze center on them. Watching without watching. He wished his own food had not grown so disgusting so that he could have something to do with his hands, some prop to busy himself with that wouldn't distract him from the sight sitting across from him.

"You always do. One day I really am going to have to teach you to separate fact from fiction." Which of course he never would. "As it happens I was merely pointing it out just in case you ever find a Cardassian you happen to be attracted to." It was amateurish really. Right there out in the blazing open were even a child could pick up the blatant clue. But the doctor, oh the dear sweet innocent doctor, couldn't seem to conceive the possibility and so missed it completely. He finished his drink in a definitive motion and Garak watched his throat working, the subtle shift of skin, the bobbing of his adams apple. Such a curious name for a curious piece of human architecture. He wanted to feel it against the palm of his hand.

"Well should that situation ever arise, I'll keep what you said in mind." Bashir set the cup down and Garak quickly returned his gaze to the doctor's face. But he was putting his glass on his tray, arranging the cutlery so it would be of less danger of falling. Garak felt cold all ready but smiled. Another lunch done.

"Anyway," Bashir said, starting to stand. "I had better be-" He looked up, staring at something over Garak's shoulder. "…getting …some dessert." He sat back down again, still staring. It didn't take a secret operative to know the nature of the dessert that Bashir had in mind. Though it did take a good friend—companion to know that he had been making big brown eyes at a new waitress for going on two weeks now.

"Would this happen to be a Bajoran dessert?" Garak said, turning to look at whoever had caught the doctor's attention. A hot hand on his wrist startled him, thanks to his training he barely twitched though certain fluids rushed to places it would really be better for them not to go. Garak glanced back at the doctor who was giving him a particularly piercing look that certainly didn't help Garak's biology.

"Don't turn around," the human hissed in a whisper. "She'll think I was looking at her." Garak cocked his head to the side so he could hear Bashir better, though the doctor had managed to pitch his voice just in Garak's range.

"But you were looking at her," Garak said, deciding to be deliberately obtuse. It was either that or let Bashir's tight grip, the heat of individual fingers against the sensitivity of his wrist, drive him to utter and embarrassing distraction. He was sure the doctor wouldn't appreciate him lifting those warm brown fingers to his mouth and sucking on each individual one like they were an exquisite specimen of olive.

"And she is a waitress," Garak continued. "I imagine she's used to getting looked at." Especially by Bashir. Well he was hardly subtle about it, was he?

"Yes, but I don't want her to know that I'm looking at her," said Bashir, still in that fevered whisper. It put Garak in mind of an adolescent, spying his lover and ducking behind a nearby bush in order to watch without being seen.

"Then I will," said Garak turning and spotting the Bajoran waitress at another table, smiling at something the customer was saying.

"Excuse me," Garak said, flaring his fingers in a gesture.

"Garak," Bashir hissed. Garak ignored him. The waitress turned and spotted him and her smile went cold on her face. Cardassian, her very pose said. Her fingers tightened against her tray like she wasn't sure if she wanted to flee or hit him with it. Her gaze slid away then as if she'd just decided to ignore him. Well that wouldn't do at all.

"Excuse me," he said again. "But my shy friend wishes to sample some of your desserts." He gestured to the doctor and he could hear the human suddenly straighten, the intense heat leaving his wrist but leaving an aftereffect throb of warmth. "Maybe you could assist him?"

He expected her to continue ignoring them both and continuing on to another table, but a strange emotion flickered over her face as she looked past Garak to where the doctor was furiously pretending he didn't care. Oh dear, it seemed as if he had miscalculated. The Bajoran came closer to them; a bit wider than was necessary and angling herself so that she presented her side to Garak, not wanting to look at him but not trusting him at her back either. A distinctive musky scent drifted from her and it was all Garak could do not to react. She was wearing derak, he didn't know the Bajoran name for it, but it was a particular perfume pleasing to Bajorans and humans too. For him it was as if he'd licked the underside of an old replicator, the scent crawled into his nose and died in his throat and the back of his tongue, an insidious form of torture.

Garak had no choice now but to focus on Bashir and found the human glaring at him as if he wouldn't mind stabbing him with something in the near future. It was intoxicating. Oh yes, come at me, doctor, he wanted to say. Lunge at me with all your strength, I will make you forget you even know how to breathe. Instead Garak sat back and smiled at him, gesturing at him to go ahead and make his order.

"Can I help you, Dr. Bashir?" said the waitress in a light, slightly breathy voice. The look of murderous intent vanished from Bashir's face in an instant. Pity.

"Yes…er…Betta, is it?" Bashir said.

"Betta Miyan," she said, awkwardly sticking out her hand as if she was trying the human gesture for the first time. The doctor reached out and curled his hand around hers.

"Bashir. Julian Bashir," he said. Oh, really. Garak rolled his eyes and felt a sudden sharp pain in his leg. It took him for a moment to comprehend it. Did the doctor just…kick him? Did he really just kick him? What a juvenile thing to do. Garak was overcome with the sudden urge to kick him right back but restrained himself. That had really hurt.

"Yes," the Bajoran said with a giggle. "I know that."

Ah alien courtship, how winsome, how sweet. Someone show him a cliff overlooking a beautiful view so he could throw himself off it. His shin still throbbed. Not that it was anything he couldn't deal with, still he edged his legs further out of Bashir's range.

"So do you always work the lunch shift?" Bashir asked. "I…um…often see you here…at that time…when I'm eating lunch." He seemed to flinch a little and Garak didn't blame him. He should really be executed for a line like that. There was no finesse at all. It was if the rise of hormones reduced his capacity for rational thought. It seemed to work because her smile, or what he could see of it, brightened.

"Yes. I work here part time. I'm only on the station to visit my aunt, but she's usually busy during the day so I decided to come down here and make some money." She shifted, lowering her shoulders a little as if showing off the smooth expanse of her neck. "And it's a good way to meet people." Her voice seemed to pitch just a bit lower. Garak gave her credit where credit was most obviously due. She was a pretty creature for a Bajoran and if her assets weren't particularly large they were certainly…buoyant. Of course her conversational skills could use a little work.

"So you're not here for very long?" said Bashir disappointment clouding his face. Completely defenseless, vulnerable and soft. He would never survive on Cardassia.

"No, only a few more weeks."

"That's a shame," Bashir said, and looked like he wanted to say more but quickly changed his mind.

"Yes, I really like it here," she said.

"Yes, it's nice isn't it? Sort of."

"Yes well the people more than the," she waved her hand, indicating maybe the station itself or the atmosphere or even the décor for all he knew.

"Yes, I know what you mean."

If either one of them said yes just one more time Garak would not be held accountable for his actions. Of course now they had lapsed to a near painful silence. It was a unique brand of torture, a sadistic brand of torture, like locking someone in the same room with two lovesick adolescents. The irony of it all was that, were not for his own actions, this situation would have never blossomed to begin with. Or at least, not with Garak being forced to be present. There was no easy way to extricate himself graciously. An abrupt departure would make him seem a fool somehow and, while he could say something cutting, he was having an inconvenient attack of morals did not want to ruin the good doctor's chance even as it was ruining his own. For now he was no more than a lump on a rock.

"Are you busy during dinner?" said Bashir suddenly, recovering himself, not particularly admirably but at least getting the conversation going again.

"No," She was leaning forward just a bit, anxious. "Are you?"

"I don't have to be, Betta," he said, and there it was, the liquid smoothness of his voice heightened by the sweet roll of his accent. He had aligned himself, finally, and was going in for the kill. This is where the torture ended.

"Oh, bravo, Doctor," said Garak, clapping loudly and they both jumped while several others on the promenade turned to stare. "I admit you had me worried for a while but you redeemed yourself quite well." They were both glaring at him now, but he knew, or hoped he knew that Bashir would get over it, even if it did frost him for a few days.

"That was brilliantly excruciating I must say," Garak continued as if he didn't notice. He gathered his plate and cup. "But if you'll excuse me, I do have a shop to run." He nodded at them both. "Doctor, Betta." Her gaze dripped poison and a couple of sturdy Bajoran males a table over tensed and watched him with narrowed eyes. Garak left, though at an easy pace, depositing his things in replicator and sighing a little as he saw just how little he'd eaten before it was swept away. Well there was always dinner, wasn't there? And a very large glass of kanar to accompany it.

"Waste of food, that," said Quark, popping up near his elbow. Garak wasn't particularly startled. He hadn't really noticed him but there was no where possible to go in Quark's without the Ferengi's presence looming over one's shoulder. "But what do I care," he said with a flippant shrug. "You paid for it." He tapped something on his padd. I see you've met Betta," he said glancing up.

Garak looked back at the table he had just vacated. "She's very …charming," Garak said. He could only see her back. That was probably for the best.

"Not much to look at but she practically works for free," Quark said, then hesitated and drummed his fingers against his padd before looking at Garak. "You don't think I could rent her out to him, do you?"

"I think you would regret even asking her," said Garak, and he was suddenly tired of talking about her, tired of being in the promenade with so many chattering people talking about meaningless things.

"You're probably right." He scratched idly at his bulbous forehead as he glanced at the padd. "Some people can be so picky." The Ferengi glanced at him again with a gleam in his eye. "So, Garak, have you ever-"

"No, I haven't ever," said Garak, not wanting to hear it, just wanting to get away. "And I don't ever intend to. Now I really must open my shop so if you will excuse me."

He walked away before Quark could press his case but that didn't stop the Ferengi from trying anyway.

"It's a sound investment!" he called. "Think about it and get back to me!"

Garak didn't acknowledge that he'd heard. Instead he walked the short distance to his shop, tapped in the security code and felt a sense of relief as the doors slid open revealing quiet dark. He slipped inside, letting his eyes adjust before moving to sit behind his desk and lean his head against the wall. People would come sooner or later and it would be awkward if they caught him sitting morosely in the darkness of his shop. He called for the lights and after a moment, stood and began to adjust the collar on one of his display pieces. It was frivolous piece, really, black with sharp angled designs of white, meant for Andalite fit and tastes though it had been a long time since he last saw one of those on the station. It was more experimenting, really. Something new to do.

The door slid open behind him but Garak let it be for a moment. He liked it for customers to ease their way in rather than welcoming them right away. He felt the customer's presence coming awfully close and started to turn when a rounded Federation padd tapped him lightly on the shoulder.

"You forgot this," said Bashir. Garak's intestines knotted together in sudden emotion. The human was smiling, soft wrinkles forming at the corners of his warm brown eyes, as if he was happy to be here, as if all that awkwardness on the promenade hadn't happened. The faint smell of the damned musk was an irritating reminder that it had happened.

"It seems I did," Garak said, stepping to the side both to take the padd more efficiently and to put some distance between them. There was only so much he could take in a day. He glanced at the padd for a moment, trying to remember what it was he'd forgotten, then remembered. It was the clumsy little novel Bashir wanted him to read.

"That was awfully quick," he said, moving to set the padd on the desk. "But I guess by your expression that you will be busy for dinner?"

"Oh yes," he said, catching his reflection in a mirror and absently running a hand through his hair. "Very busy."

"Well I, for one, am glad," Garak said, straightening another display piece but this time it was him being angled so Bashir wasn't at his back. He wanted to keep an eye on him, watch him, at least peripherally, for as long as he could. "You've seemed a bit tense lately."

"I wasn't aware you watched me so closely," said Bashir, teasing. Garak tilted his head down a bit, staring into Bashir's eyes from under his brow ridges, imagining himself like a snake coiling to strike.

"I make it a point to always watch closely, doctor," he said, pitching his voice just a little lower. Bashir stared at him. Keep him intrigued, that was the thing. Keep his curiosity high and he would follow you to the ends of the universe just to find out what you were being so secretive about.

"For example, you always manage to wrinkle your tunic just by sitting down," he stepped closer to Bashir and smoothed the tips of his fingers across the doctor's midsection before the man could check for himself. "I've never understood it. Federation uniforms are so straight they fairly stand up by themselves but you manage to rumple it."

"I didn't see any wrinkles," said Bashir with a skeptical frown.

"Yes, well I'm a tailor. It's my job to notice them." He stepped back once again before he was overcome with the temptation to move disastrously forward and regarded the doctor up and down. "Now that's much better."

"Well I've noticed things to and you haven't been eating well. You barely touched your lunch," Bashir said, looking for all the world like he wanted to close the distance himself. Which of course he didn't and even if he did it would likely only be for a medical reason. "You shouldn't skip meals, it isn't healthy."

"Your concern is touching," said Garak, putting a hand to his own chest. As if guided by some other force, his forefinger ended up resting just above the indention on his collarbone. Like clear water, the words of the old fairy tale came back to him. "Though you hold a knife to my heart, I do not flinch," spoke Rana and his lover's pale hands trembled. Ultimate truth. Ultimate trust. Startling that that should occur to him. Here. With Bashir, this doctor, this human…well really anyone. Truth and trust were the two things furthest from their relationship, if he could even go so far to call it such. That definitely meant he should be spending a great deal less time with the doctor before his sentimentality carried him away. How fortunate that Bashir would be otherwise occupied for at least a few weeks.

"I'm serious," the doctor said. And of course he was. And this time Garak was as well.

"As am I. I shall strive not to skip a single meal in the future. If that's all I really must get to mending and I am sure there are important things waiting for you in Sick Bay."

"You will read that novel?" he asked, his face falling open once again, those eyes wide and fixed on him. "I know it's not to your taste…"

"My dear doctor, I would read the Federation manual if you asked me to." Especially when asked with an expression like that. How could Garak say no? Bashir chuckled.

"I wouldn't be that cruel."

"Good to hear," Garak said with a little half bow. Leave, his face said, his posture said, I have work to do and you, though pleasant, are making yourself unwelcome. Leave, his mind said, this is getting too dangerous for me, for you, and I am tired of wanting. Stay, said the soft place above his breastbone. Let me show you. Let me not be afraid.

Bashir left. Garak waited until he was well and truly gone before sighing and rubbing a thumb briefly over the indention on his forehead to relieve the slight pain building up behind his eyes. He puttered around the shop, mending here, creating there, checking his terminal for any messages but of course there wasn't any and if there had been he probably wouldn't have liked it.

Finally he gave up and sat dumbly behind the desk once more. It had been a more stimulating lunch than usual and he didn't know if he could handle another. He would have to build up a resistance to it that was all. Idly he picked up the padd and started to read the first line.

It wasn't my fault.

He rolled his eyes. In the end, it was all the same. In the end, all of Bashir's heroes were exactly alike. But Garak couldn't stop reading, he would never be able to stop reading. Because as Bashir saw himself as the heroes of his tales, so Garak saw him. Every human in the story that smiled cockily while delivering a withering line, every human that risked it all to save a few, that bandaged gaping wounds, that risked himself to save others that he didn't know was, to Garak's imagination, tall and slender with black hair and eyes that bled a depth of emotion Garak had never conceived possible.

And he hoped. Oh yes. Hoped. Every day. Without wanting to. Detesting this weakness in himself even as he feared losing it. He hoped for home. He hoped for peace of mind. He hoped for a gentle warm hand caressing his ridges, an acceptance of who he was, someone to ease the coldness and isolation from within and without. What he would get was a lunch once or twice a week which was a little brighter. And one day even that would be a lot to hope for.

But maybe…

Maybe…