A/N: After 4x10, Garak and Julian start to associate less compared to before. This attempts to fill in the gaps about what is happening behind the scenes between them, starting after their misadventure in the holosuite. Canon-Compliant if you agree that Garak's pansexuality remained loosely canon despite the writers trying to hush it up. This fic is supposed to be realistic, so we are trying to be in character as much as possible. If you don't like Garak/Bashir, but like their friendship, you should still easily enjoy this fic. Also treating a Stitch in Time as canon.

This chapter spans episode 4x10 to episode 4x19, starting with the end of "Our Man Bashir" and ending just after "Hard Time", with references to happenings in between. Please remember to review!

Chapter 1: A Hollow, Sweet Victory


Garak smiled at his reflection as he tied a bow tie for the third time in his life. Last night had certainly turned out much better than he'd expected, all things considered. Faced with the doctor's unusual bad temper and their ridiculously narrow escape from death by laser, earthquake, or molten lava, it was a wonder he had made it out of there with no more than a "flesh wound" to the neck.

He paused a moment, smoothing his crisp, white, uncomfortably restrictive shirt collar. The wound was gone now, of course—Bashir had seen to that as soon as they'd made their exit from the holosuite. All's well that ends well, Garak thought to himself, before remembering the words came from that trite human playwright, Shakespeare. But it fit well enough in this circumstance. Since in the end Bashir had agreed—indeed, extended the invitation himself—to have lunch together in the holosuite, Garak had decided to treat all the tension of the previous night as part of the same ridiculous game.

Quark's was busy for an afternoon, and Garak had to squeeze past a few rather large aliens to get to the stairs, but soon he had risen above the crush and stood at the corner of the balcony, waiting for his handsome young friend to appear. All the irritation and loneliness of the past few weeks was forgotten as he watched the crowd below with casual interest.

"All set in your costume I see."

Garak turned happily, about to compliment Bashir on his ability to approach unnoticed, but he was immediately distracted by the sight of Chief O'Brien dressed in the same eye-patch and coat as the night before.

"Yes, I decided I'd rather err on the side of being over-dressed," Garak said quickly, turning his eyes onto Bashir, who was wearing a tux as well. "A good thing, too, if—as it seems—we're about to perform a re-enactment of last night's drama. Will Major Kira be joining us as well?"

"No," the doctor said with an embarrassed half-smile. "Just Chief O'Brien."

"Can't play a James Bond program without a proper villain!" O'Brien said, in what Garak supposed was meant to be a gruff, menacing voice.

"Exactly," Bashir smiled, hands behind his back. "So, shall we go see what Mona Luvsitt has prepared for lunch?"

"Does your character normally ask his arch enemies to dine with him?" Garak couldn't help asking as O'Brien moved to enter the holosuite ahead of him.

"The program becomes a bit more flexible when one of my friends is playing Falcon," Bashir informed him.

"I see," Garak said quietly. This wasn't exactly what he had had in mind.


"You sure you wouldn't like a martini, Mr. Garak?" Mona Luvsitt asked, leaning over in a most suggestive manner.

"Quite sure, but thank you my dear."

"Probably a wise precaution," Bashir said in his suave voice. He was staring over his glass at "Falcon". "Our one-eyed guest is not particularly trustworthy."

"If I'd wanted to poison you, I'da done it already," O'Brien laughed obnoxiously over Mona Luvsitt's protestations. "Besides, you think I'm too scared to get you in hand-to-hand combat?"

"I'd say poisoning is no more cowardly than trying to stab me while my back is turned."

It had been like this for the entire meal. Bashir and O'Brien kept falling in and out of character, making not-so-subtle death threats and snide remarks without really getting anywhere. They would have been absolute failures at interrogation. Garak fiddled with his napkin, considering his options for butting in. They were obviously enjoying themselves, but what part did he have to play in this? After all, he was still just Julian Bashir's friend Mr. Garak, not any particular character.

"How long will you be staying, Falcon?" Garak asked politely.

O'Brien paused in the middle of brandishing a knife at Bashir. "What's your hurry? Am I not welcome?"

"I was simply wondering if there was a purpose to your visit, apart from a lust for culturally incongruous delicacies?" Garak indicated the table spread with bits of European food. "Surely you came here to discuss something important with Mr. Bashir?"

"Of course he did," Bashir interjected pointedly, rising to his feet and leaning across the table toward O'Brien's steak knife. "So what is it, Falcon? Enough beating around the bush. What's this really about?"

As O'Brien launched into a cliché monologue about how he would never reveal his diabolical plot—even while dropping obvious hints with every half a sentence—Garak resigned himself to an afternoon of being Bashir's silent sidekick, and merely hoped he'd be allowed to do something vaguely entertaining before the end of their date.


With a quick blow to the wrist, Garak disarmed "Falcon" and, catching the pistol, flung it to Bashir, who trained it on O'Brien. Garak had the chief firmly in an arm-lock. They were standing on the wall of a crumbling stone bridge somewhere in the mountains, and Bashir's hair was being ruffled handsomely by an updraft.

"Too bad!" Bashir's boyish face was lit with triumphant enthusiasm, somewhat spoiling his air of pretentious mystique. "You're losing your touch, Falcon! The eye's not as sharp as it used to be, I'm afraid."

"Shall I knock him out for you?" Garak asked impatiently. He'd already forgotten how tiresome these suits became after wearing them for more than forty-five minutes. Or was it the cold wind from the canyon below them that set his teeth on edge?

O'Brien dropped his voice. "I've got to go work on the captain's replicator again in five minutes, just shoot me!"

"Aw!" Bashir scoffed. "Too easy. You disappoint me." He lowered his voice theatrically. "For the last time!"

He pulled the trigger and O'Brien flinched, then let out a dramatic gasp and went limp in Garak's grip—Garak let go at just the right moment to send him tumbling to the floor.

"A splendid performance," he said, clapping his hands together once or twice before stepping over O'Brien and toward the doctor. "I'm sure you would have been more formidable if you had been given more time."

"Yeah, well, next time we'll have to book an evening," O'Brien grumbled, getting to his feet. "Tomorrow night?"

"Surgery," Bashir sighed. "Two nights from now? Eighteen hundred hours?"

"It's a date!" O'Brien said, clapping Bashir on the arm. "Gotta run."

The holosuite exit's appearance in the empty space beside the bridge effectively dissolved the fantasy as O'Brien left, and Bashir was about to follow.

"Ah-Doctor," Garak said quickly. "Leaving so soon?"

"Well I'm supposed to be on duty in twenty minutes."

"The infirmary is only just across the promenade. I see no reason to rush away." Was it just Garak's imagination, or did Bashir seem suddenly uneasy? "Is there a problem, Doctor?" he asked innocently.

"What? No. No problem, just, ah… I thought I'd take a shower before my shift."

"I see. Well, in that case, don't let me stand in your way. I'm sure I'll see you again at lunch next week. Will we be meeting here or at the replemat?"

"Oh… I'm not sure yet."

"May I make a small suggestion?"

For a moment, Bashir's face took on a very similar look to the impatient one Garak had seen all too often last night. But the doctor just sighed, smiled, and said "of course. What is it?"

"The program might be a bit more enjoyable for all of us next time if I were to take the role of one of the pre-existing characters. I'm not sure it's entirely fair to Falcon to have to face both the great Julian Bashir and his mysterious, equally dangerous ally!"

Bashir nodded briefly. "You're right. I'm sure Miles would appreciate it if the score were evened out."

"Of course," Garak smiled, following Bashir out into the noise of Quark's bar, "if you'd rather play one on one with Chief O'Brien, I'd be more than happy to resume our regular lunchtime discussions." Before last night, Bashir hadn't been showing up to their lunches for quite some time. Garak now had hope that this would change.

"Right, well," Bashir cleared his throat, nodding. "I've been pretty busy lately, but I'll see what I can do."

Busy doing what? Garak wondered.

Bashir was about to head down the stairs when he stopped and looked back at Garak. "I'm actually surprised you asked to have lunch in the holosuite. I guess I assumed that, after yesterday, you would never want to see another piece of bad 1960s furniture again."

"Believe me, Doctor. It's not the décor that drew me back."

"Am I to believe you actually enjoyed such a silly fantasy about the life of a spy?" Bashir was fighting not to let one of his adorably surprised smiles break free.

"Let's just say I learned much more from the experience than I expected." He closed the distance between them as the noise level took an upswing. "In fact, there are certain things I'm still not sure what to think of."

"I see. There must be more holes in your training with the Obsidian Order than I realized."

If only you did realize, Garak wanted to say. They don't teach us how to keep a real friendship from deteriorating. Even with a crucial friendship between important figures, if the one went too far astray from the relationship it was far easier to simply replace the one with someone more receptive. But Julian Bashir could not be replaced.

"Good day, Doctor," Garak said suddenly, with a polite nod, and left Bashir standing at the top of the stairs with a faintly puzzled look.


"Can't stay long." Bashir said, hurrying past where Garak was sitting to grab his food. "I'm way behind on my reports."

Garak watched him standing in line and was briefly tempted to follow him. It would give them more time to talk, but such a move would probably be too forward. He waited.

Bashir was back in good time and sat down with a sigh. "Sorry I'm late."

"Oh no, it's no problem," Garak said lightly. "I hope this doesn't sound offensive, but I've learned never to expect a Cardassian sense of punctuality from non-Cardassians." After giving Bashir a few minutes to get started on his food, he said "I have another novel to recommend."

"More Cardassian literature?" Bashir looked up reluctantly.

"Didn't you like Meditations on a Crimson Shadow?" Garak's voice held hurt surprise.

Bashir chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. "Well, it was certainly… poetic…."

"But too relevant to our times, I know. I think you'll like this one, Doctor." Garak pulled a rod from his pocket. "The protagonist shares certain traits with you."

"Really?" Bashir's brow furrowed. "What kind of traits?"

"Well," Garak grinned. "He's young… handsome… and—despite all odds and the selfish, individualistic influences surrounding him, he develops a clear sense of duty. He makes hard choices. Interested?"

"Is this about what happened in the holosuite?" Bashir asked immediately.

Garak didn't speak for a moment, caught completely off guard. "Yes. Yes it is."

"If you don't mind, I would like to avoid going over that right now," Bashir said quietly, turning on his food with an unnatural amount of concentration.

"If you insist," Garak said, a bit put off by the doctor's response. "Perhaps we can discuss it once you've read the novel. It's called—"

"I'm not sure I have time to be reading novels right now," Bashir broke in.

"My dear doctor," Garak pushed on, undeterred. "They can't have you working around the clock like this. Surely you would never permit such behavior in one of your patients. Why should you allow your own health to suffer for the sake of work? If you don't even have time for a bit of light reading—"

"I appreciate your concern, but you are not my doctor."

"No." Garak nodded sharply, never letting his smile slip. "I suppose you must know what's best for yourself. I assume you find playing darts with Chief O'Brien much more soothing than curling up with a classic book for a few minutes a day. Knowing you, there is a perfectly sound scientific explanation for that, and I'd be fascinated to hear it."

"Unfortunately, I don't have time to explain anything right now," Bashir sighed, scowling at his unfinished lunch. "I suppose I'll just take some of this with me."

"Good luck, Doctor," Garak called after him as he walked away. "I hope your workload gets a bit lighter sometime soon."


Weeks passed, and Bashir remained "busy" every time their lunch day rolled around, but Garak could find no legitimate reason why the doctor should be constantly swamped in work. All of the most interesting goings-on were not of the kind that brought unusual numbers to his infirmary. Yes, twenty-seven people died at that changeling-infiltrated conference on Earth, but that was on earth, not here. Yes, the Bajoran First Minister came aboard the station to avoid assassins, but no one managed to kill him. Garak kept his ears open for the news, as always. There was some whisper of Dukat defecting from his military command, and word that his daughter Ziyal was now on the station under the protection of Major Kira, but after the first few days Garak gave up on ever seeing this fellow Cardassian about the promenade.

One day, after another lonely lunch at the replemat, Garak passed Quark's bar and stopped dead in his tracks. What was going on? A line of people had formed beside the entrance to the bar, and they were all thanking the passers-by for not going to Quark's. Garak's mood suddenly brightened. He had heard Bashir say, last he'd dared to bother him about this week's lunch meeting, that he was going to be busy in the holosuite with Chief O'Brien—with some excuse about O'Brien needing his company. But knowing the idealistic doctor, he would support this strike, which meant he was somewhere else on the station.

Fifteen minutes later Garak found himself being ushered into the brig by Odo, only to find Bashir, O'Brien, and Worf in a holding cell.

"Garak!" Bashir looked startled and embarrassed. "What are you doing here?"

"I heard you got caught in the middle of some trouble and I thought I'd come see how you were doing." Garak eyed the gash on Bashir's forehead. "I hope you're not seriously injured."

"No, it's just a scratch," Bashir said distractedly. "I tried to stop an argument between these two."

"An argument? Over what?"

"Chief O'Brien and Doctor Bashir were betting on who would pass by the upper entrance of Quark's," Odo said dryly. "Needless to say, they were shocked when Lieutenant Commander Worf ignored the strike."

The Chief and the Lieutenant Commander remained in sulky silence.

"I see. Well, I hope this won't keep you from your work, Doctor. I know you have been very busy lately."

"They're spending the night, but that's all," Odo huffed.

"Was there something you wanted to say to me, Garak?" Bashir asked suddenly, stepping close to the edge of the containment field.

"Oh… nothing important. I just wanted to make sure you weren't suffering silently in some desperate need for conversation and company." As I have been, Garak wanted to say, but of course didn't. "But I can see you have plenty to keep you occupied. It's fortunate, isn't it? If you're going to spend a night in the brig, why not spend it with your best friend?"

"Yes… I suppose you're right."

"Even if he is the one that put you there."

"I take responsibility for my own actions," Bashir said quietly. "I should have called security."

"That's right," Odo said bluntly. "Alright, visiting time's over. Let's go."


Garak had been keeping himself confined to his tailor shop and quarters for some time. The return of some ancient Bajoran poet had caused a spike in Bajoran presence and activity on the promenade, and Garak didn't feel it would be wise to insert himself in the midst of all that anxious energy.

Now that the poet had gone back to his own time, things were finally getting back to normal, and Garak was starting to feel a little stir-crazy from having no one but the occasional customer to talk to. How had he managed before Bashir came along? Ah yes, the wire. Well, there was no going back to that.

A sudden decision took him to the infirmary. A nurse met him at the door.

"I'd like to see Doctor Bashir, please. It's urgent," Garak said, bringing a hand to his head and wincing.

"Garak? What's wrong?" Bashir was at his side in a few steps.

"These headaches. They've been coming back."

"Come on, sit down." Bashir led him over to a hospital bed and Garak sat on the edge as the doctor grabbed his medical tricorder. "Have you been taking the pills I gave you?"

"I ran out."

"Well why didn't you come ask for more?"

Garak watched the Doctor's look of concentration for a moment, those unusually deep wrinkles in his forehead. He was so dedicated to his patients.


"Well, I know how busy you are. I didn't want to disturb you."

"That's ridiculous. You could have asked one of the nurses for your prescription. And even if I was the only one here, it only takes a few seconds for me to hand you a bottle of pills!"

"Of course. How foolish of me. How have you been keeping up, Doctor? Have you been eating enough now that you're regularly skipping lunch?"

"Don't change the subject. Here, take some." Bashir handed Garak a new bottle of pills and a glass of water.

"I'm afraid these don't always help even in normal cases. And today my symptoms are a bit different I think."

"Different? How?" Back to the medical tricorder. "Everything checks out the same as last time you came in."

"Well, more than the pain in my skull, there's this feeling in the pit of my stomach," Garak said in an emphatic whisper which, as he'd hoped, made Bashir lean in closer.

"You have a stomachache?"

"It's not indigestion if that's what you're implying. No, it's… more of an empty feeling."

"Perhaps you're hungry."

"I just came from lunch," Garak smiled.

"What is this about, Garak?" Ah, so he'd caught on.

"Indulge my curiosity, Doctor. What are you doing with Chief O'Brien tonight, to unwind after such a stressful day at work?"


"Nothing? That's unusual."

"Not at all. Miles isn't on the station right now."

"Oh! When will he be back?"

"He was supposed to be back yesterday. Captain Sisko is trying to get through to the Argrathi authorities and find out what's going on."

"Oh, I do hope nothing has happened to him."

"So do I." Bashir's tone was still terse. "Now take your medicine."

"In a moment, Doctor," Garak said seriously. "First, I have something to say."

"What?" Such an uneasy look. Garak wondered what it was about him that seemed to be making the doctor so uncomfortable lately. Surely not his physical appearance—it had never bothered Bashir before.

"I understand you have your duties as the station's medical expert, and in comparison my life as a simple tailor must seem utterly dull," Garak said. "You and the Chief no doubt have much more fascinating topics to discuss. Perhaps you find comfort in commiserating about how many broken bones and broken replicators you both have to fix on a daily basis due to the carelessness of others."

"Garak… why is it any of your business what Chief O'Brien and I talk about?"

"I'm merely in search of some constructive criticism! You know how important the art of conversation is to Cardassians. If I can't hold your attention, perhaps Chief O'Brien could give me some pointers in engaging humans in interesting dialogue."

Bashir sighed heavily. "I don't have time for this right now," he mumbled. "Take your medicine and report back to me tomorrow if the symptoms continue. That will be all."

With a dismissal like that, the only thing Garak could do was smile politely and say, "Good evening then, Doctor. Feel free to drop by if you want some company tonight," before he left the room.


Breakfast with Odo resumed now that Odo wasn't overwhelmed with keeping order on the promenade. Garak was just wondering whether it would be impolite to ask Odo for details about Bashir and O'Brien's latest escapades now that O'Brien was back on the station, when the Constable cleared his throat.

"Have you heard of the Argrathi?"

"I don't know much about most species from the Gamma Quadrant, I'm afraid."

"Mm." Odo shook his head, pretending to take a sip from his "mug". "They've developed a rather interesting form of incarceration. Somehow, they can give their criminals the experience of years in prison, even decades, but in reality only a few hours have passed."

"Fascinating," Garak said sincerely, but with an edge of reserve. "I suppose on the one hand it is benevolent of them to not take so many years from the span of a person's life."

"On the other hand…." Odo frowned as his mug refilled. "They have that much longer to live with the effects. Either way, I suppose they should be admired for their… efficiency."

"The Argrathi… isn't that the species which was detaining Chief O'Brien?"

"Yes. He's now recovering from twenty years of incarceration, and quite frankly I'm not sure what to do with him except give him more time in the brig."

"And why's that?" Garak was all ears.

"He's been irritable and unstable ever since he came back. He attacked Quark last night, all because Quark didn't get him his drink fast enough." Odo rolled his eyes.

"Don't they have a saying, on Earth, about the Irish having bad tempers?" Garak asked.

"I know what you're thinking—this isn't the first time O'Brien's been in a fight at Quark's. But this is different. Even Doctor Bashir can't get through to him. Captain Sisko has relieved him of duty until further notice."

"Well," Garak said softly. "That is different."

That afternoon he went to try and find the good doctor, hoping he might be able to bridge the gap a bit by offering any help he could give. Doctor Bashir was not in the infirmary, nor in his quarters, nor at Quark's playing darts or in costume. Garak gave up and went back to his tailor shop.

Later that night he was on his way to his quarters when he rounded a corner to find himself alone in a hallway with Bashir on the other end. The doctor looked exhausted and distracted. Garak wondered if it would be kinder to leave him alone, and was about to turn around when Bashir took notice.

"Oh. Garak."

"Doctor," Garak said, with a polite nod. "I was just heading to my quarters. You look like you could use some rest."

"Actually, I don't think I'll be sleeping much tonight," Bashir muttered as he came closer. "Are you busy?"

"I'm at your disposal, Doctor," Garak said, a small smile spreading over his face.

"Perhaps we could… talk… over tea or something."

"A splendid idea. Where would you like to go?"

A few minutes later they were sitting down in Bashir's quarters—not the ones in Hong Kong—and Garak's full attention was turned on his distressed friend.

"Long day at the infirmary I take it?"

"You could say that," Bashir groaned, putting a hand over his eyes for a moment. "I had a very close call with a patient."

"But, I assume, your medical expertise has saved another life. You should congratulate yourself."

"It wasn't any medical expertise," Bashir said bitterly, leaning back and taking a slow sip of Tarkalean Tea. He lowered his voice so it was barely audible. "Don't tell Chief O'Brien I told you. But he almost committed suicide today."

"Suicide?" Garak stared, unsure of whether Bashir was joking. "Why?"

"He's suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress because of his incarceration with the Argrathi."

"Yes, Constable Odo informed me about their methods."

"He wouldn't talk to me," Bashir said softly, staring into space while cradling his mug. "It was… as if… I dunno. He was on the other side of this… impassable chasm and I just couldn't get to him. For a moment I honestly thought I was going to have to watch him shoot himself."

Bashir's eyes refocused onto Garak. His face had such a charming innocence to it, even when drawn with worry.

"Well," Garak said. "I believe you must have a talent I don't quite possess."

"And what's that?"

"The ability to move past that distance. If Chief O'Brien is still alive, you must have found some way to get through to him." Garak slowed his words for emphasis. "To help him understand how much his friendship means to you."

Bashir stared back at Garak for a moment. "The worst part is that even though I know he was acting out of fear, I started to feel like he hated me. Like maybe I'd done something wrong, or he was just pretending to like me all this time. You know, he did hate me when we first met."

"I can't imagine why," Garak said before he could stop himself.

"Well I told myself not to give up. It didn't matter if he hated me, I just didn't want to lose him."

"I understand you perfectly, Doctor. So what finally brought him out of it?"

"I told him not to let the Argrathi win. If he killed himself, they would have succeeded in stripping him of his humanity."

"Ah. You appealed to his competitive nature."

"I suppose you could say that." Bashir sighed again and took a few more sips of tea in silence. Garak waited, watching his face intently.

"I'll have to remember to appeal to your competitive nature if ever I find myself close to losing you," he finally said with a smile, when Bashir showed no sign of speaking. Even as he said it, though, he knew that making Bashir jealous would never work.

"Listen, Garak…." Bashir blew out a sigh, staring at the table. "I realize I haven't been a very reliable…."

"Friend," Garak said firmly.

"Yes." Bashir cleared his throat. "I don't want you to feel as if I dislike you. I do actually enjoy our lunches together."

"As do I, Doctor. And I've been missing your company, but I understand if you find holosuites and darts more interesting than Cardassian literature. And as I said before, you and Chief O'Brien probably have more in common than you and I; at least… on the surface."

"This has nothing to do with Cardassian literature… or even with you being a Cardassian," Bashir said awkwardly. "It's just… well…."

Garak waited for Bashir to finish his sentence, but after a near minute he had to speak.

"Are you afraid of me, Doctor? I find that very confusing, considering you've proven that you have no problem putting me in my place should the occasion arise."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Bashir asked. "Are you talking about how I shot you?"

"Yes, exactly. But as I've been trying to tell you ever since, you have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, my respect for you has only grown." He leaned closer to Bashir, speaking with quiet, fierce intensity. "When you pulled that trigger, you proved that I was wrong about you. You can make hard choices. Your loyalty to Starfleet, if I may make such a comparison, is not unlike my devotion to Cardassia. And in the end you proved to me that you were taking the game seriously, not just playing at being a hero, but actually willing to take a life for what you believed in, without thinking twice."

"I'm afraid I did think twice about it," Bashir said softly.

"But all the same. You did what had to be done."

"I'm not sure if I see it as simply as you do," the doctor sighed.

"I just have one question for you, Doctor."

"And what's that?"

"Were you actually trying to kill me? You did seem dreadfully annoyed when I intruded on your fantasy, though I should remind you that at that point I had no choice in the matter."

"Garak," Bashir said exasperatedly. "If being annoyed at someone meant you wanted to kill them, O'Brien would have killed me a hundred times by now."

Garak let his constant smile widen a bit. "But you haven't answered my first question, Doctor. Are you afraid of me?"

Bashir paused, staring at Garak with narrowed eyes as if trying to see inside his brain. "Let me put it this way. I'm not sure how close I should let myself get to someone whose motives are never quite clear."

"Ah. You're still afraid that I'm not trustworthy—that I'm working for Cardassian interests, against the Federation."

"That is… one… aspect of it," Bashir said guardedly.

"Well… can a man be blamed for keeping his people's best interests at heart? I don't see why that should get in the way of our having lunch together."

"It's not only about the Federation."

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," Garak said. "Isn't that another human adage? So whether we are friends or enemies or…something else—" Bashir's mouth twitched "—I think it's in both our interests to keep seeing each other, wouldn't you agree, Doctor?"

Bashir sighed and lifted his hands, allowing himself a helpless smile that made Garak feel oddly giddy.

"Alright. You've made your point. I'm sorry. Actually, I didn't ask you here to get advice on Chief O'Brien. I wanted to apologize for how I've been avoiding you lately."

"No apology is necessary, Doctor, as long as we'll be seeing each other again." Garak hoped he wasn't beaming too broadly, but he was pleased to see that Bashir was now echoing his smiles. He'd seen too few of those in the past few months.

"I guess being brushed off by O'Brien when I was only trying to help made me realize that I didn't want to risk doing the same to you, even if I'm still not sure what you want from me."

"My dear doctor… I assure you, my intentions toward you are quite simple."

He waited for Bashir to ask him to elaborate, and he wondered how much he should say. But instead of taking the obvious opening, Bashir just took a deep breath and nodded.

"Right. Well." The doctor's eyes crinkled in a smile. "I'll see you at lunch tomorrow then. We can discuss that novel you lent me."

"I look forward to it," Garak said, pleasantly surprised that Bashir had read any of it. "And I do hope Chief O'Brien is back to his old self again soon." It was clear to him now how important the Chief's friendship was to Bashir; who was he to put himself between them? As long as the doctor could still spare some time… Garak kept his eyes wide and his face calm.

Bashir looked a bit startled at that. "I appreciate that, Garak. I really do."

"Tell him I wish him well, then."

"I will. Tomorrow afternoon, the usual time?"

"I'll be waiting," Garak said. And he knew he would be. No matter how long it took.