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Story Notes: Was speed-beta'd by PrelocAndKanar. Thank you so much, sweetie!

Part 1.

Enough was enough. Garak thrust a bolt of cloth roughly back on its shelf with an annoyed huff. Dukat had gone too far this time. Regularly poking fun at the caged circus attraction he often felt like in his exile was one thing. But to even hint at taking away the one thing that made the whole thing even remotely bearable... exile or no exile... this meant war!

Dukat had strutted into Garak's shop simply to bait him earlier that day, as he always did when he was on the station. Predictably, Garak easily deflected the poor attempts at getting a rise out of him. But just before he left, Dukat had suddenly pulled out a very unexpected ace from his sleeve. Just thinking back on it made Garak's clench his fists until his knuckles burned.

Garak had delivered his final stab in their 'discussion', using Major Kira as the ultimate weapon. A cheap trick, but an effective one. Dukat really was delusional when it came to that woman. But then things took a very uncomfortable turn. Just as he was about to stalk out of the shop, he turned back, smirked very unpleasantly at Garak and said in an offhand voice:

“You know...I might be overly confident when it comes to Nerys, but at least I have the courage to make an effort. Oh, I know you, Garak, better than you think.”

Garak simply blinked at Dukat, not taking the bait.

“I highly doubt that, Dukat.”

Dukat's smile became down right frightening when he replied.:

“Really, Garak. Don't try to be clever in front of your own kind. We're not all as easily fooled as your little Federation lunch companion.”

Ignoring his stab of worry at the words, Garak simply sent Dukat his best customer-serving smile and said:

“You certainly could have fooled me.”

Grinding his teeth for a second, Dukat made Garak confident that he'd won, but then that frightening smile was back and Dukat actually laughed, as he slowly backed out of the shop. Just before he reached the doors, he made his final move.

“In any case... I think I shall have to pay a little visit to the infirmary, now that I'm here. After all, the doctor on this station is one of the best in this star system. I'm 'sure' I can persuade him to give me a 'thorough' physical.”

And then he was gone. Not only had he had the last word for the first time ever in their silly little debates, but he had delivered the one challenge that Garak simply could not ignore. He felt very tempted indeed to run to the infirmary and rip Dukat's head off for putting his pathetic moves on poor Doctor Bashir, but his self control served him well. No. There had to a better way to get him back for this.

He thought about it for most of the day, and by closing time he had a plan ready, that actually made him smile to himself, as he locked up the shop. With a little luck, the first stage of his plan would be executed that very night. With a new spring in his step, he made his way to Quark's bar.


Part 2.

Quark's was thankfully not overcrowded, so Garak took a seat at the bar next to the ever present Morn, being fussed over by Quark himself.
Ordering kanar, Garak settled down prepared to wait patiently for the right moment to set his plan in motion. He could hardly believe his luck when he almost immediately spotted the key player in his scheme, descending the stairs from the holosuites upstairs with Dax.

Their costumes would suggest they had left another one of those fairy tale scenarios that Jadzia was so fond of. Both she and the major looked radiant in their flowing satin and lace gowns, but of course Kira was as uncomfortable as ever about the whole thing and wore a frown that spoke volumes about her evening. Dax apparently had somewhere else to be and strode from the bar with her dress flowing behind her.

Kira pulled off her veiled hat and sat down heavily at the bar one seat away from Garak. Perfect. He really could not have planned it better himself.

“Why, Major, you certainly look ravishing this evening!”

Kira quirked an eyebrow at the Cardassian, just as Quark came to take her order.

“Thanks... I guess. Yes, I'll have a-”

“Please, allow me to buy you a drink! It's not every day one gets to drink with a vision of such skillful tailoring so wonderfully displayed.”

Ignoring Quark, who was openly listening in, Kira squinted at the tailor.

“What are you up to, Garak?”

Garak chuckled and rolled his eyes.

“Really! Here I'm simply trying to be friendly and immediately I'm suspected of being 'up to something. Should it really surprise you that even the outcast Cardassian would feel generous in the company of such beauty?”

Kira's eyes were still narrowed and apparently she didn't trust Garak any further than she could throw him. So to Quark's immense disappointment, she simply excused herself and found a table elsewhere in the establishment, where she was quickly joined by Odo. Garak followed her form with his eyes all the way to her table, and not until Quark had delivered her drink and returned to the bar, did Garak return to his kanar.

Quark sighed at the sight of Odo joining her, and talked to the air.

“A damn shame. One of the most beautiful females on the station, with hands that were simply made for oomox, prefers to drink with the biggest stick in the mud that ever lived.”

Garak sipped his kanar and glanced at the constable.

“Yes, the lovely major does seem to hold the admiration of a multitude of races. Especially Cardassians...”

Suddenly aware of what Garak had said, Quark turned to the tailor with a sneaky grin.

“Oh? And would that admiration extend to you, by any chance?”

Garak could have danced with joy at how perfectly things played out, but he kept his face calm and simply said in an undertone, that was easily audible to the huge Ferengi ears not two feet away:

“Oh no. I wouldn't want to go down that road again.”

Sipping his kanar, he pretended not to notice how Quark suddenly gripped the edge of the bar for support and stared at him with a mixture of horror and excitement.

“You... you're not telling me that you... and the major...?!”

Hitching on his best bland face, Garak swirled his kanar a few times in his glass before answering.

“Of course not. I told you no such thing.”

With that he drained his glass and left the bar, only containing his grin with massive effort. Stage one executed to perfection.


Part 3.

A few days later, Kira entered Ops with a fresh frown and went to her console without returning any of the greetings coming her way. O'Brien sent Dax a questioning look, but she simply shook her head covertly at him in a -don't ask- gesture. When the major went back to the turbolift, Dax followed her and started talking as soon as the lift was in motion.

“Are you feeling all right, Nerys?”

Kira spun around to meet the Trill's concerned eyes.

“Why is everybody asking me that today?! Everyone keeps treating me like somebody I know died! Something really strange is going on!”

Dax lowered her eyes and shrugged.

“Well, I suppose people just want to make sure that you're ok... considering.”

The venom dripped from Kira's words as she asked:

“Considering... what, exactly?!”

As the turbolift came to a halt, Dax wisely attempted to escape, but it was too late. Kira cornered her and her eyes shot lighting at her friend.

“You know something about this, Jadzia! What's going on?!”

Trying to slide past the major, Dax replied evasively:

“It's 'really' not my place to say.”

Capturing her arm in a vice like grip, Kira snarled:

“Oooooh no. It most certainly IS your place to say!”

Knowing she was caught, Jadzia motioned for Kira to leave the turbolift with her, and went into one of the alcoves on the promenade. Folding her arms over her chest, Kira waited with smoldering eyes. Dax swallowed and tried to explain.

“Well... it's just... word has been going around the station for a while that you've just... uhm... ended a romantic relationship.”

Kira rolled her eyes.

“Gossip. I should have known. All right then. Who should I supposedly have had a relationship with?”

A few seconds later half the promenade stopped in shock as the major's voice made the shop windows tremor.

“WHAT???!!!!”


Part 4

Not five minutes later, Garak saw the major stomp into his shop, practically shooting daggers at him with her eyes, and the one costumer browsing his wares was clever enough to flee from the shop immediately.

“I should have known you were up to something the other day at Quark's!”

Garak simply smiled placidly at the furie in his shop.

“Good day to you too, Major. And whatever you seem to think I was 'up to' I'll tell you again, like I did then, that I was merely being friendly.”

Kira looked like she was about to spontaneously self-combust as she snarled:

“Then how would you explain that the whole station suddenly thinks that we've had some sort of affair and have recently broken up?!”

Letting his eyeridges rise, Garak replied calmly:

“Do they really? Well, I would suppose that Quark has been starting rumors again. I guess it was only a matter of time before he ran out of more interesting material.”

Stepping in so close to the tailor that he could feel the angry heat from her face, Kira hissed at him:

“Are you trying to tell me that you have 'nothing' to do with this?”

Rolling his eyes, Garak pushed the major gently away from him.

“Major, whatever I might have said or done, I can assure you I certainly did not start this rumor. So why don't you go put your considerable charms to good use with the Ferengi, who is no doubt the originator of this particular tale?”

Seething, Kira sent Garak a last look, that spoke volumes of his untimely death if he was lying, before she spun on her heel and stomped towards Quark's.


Part 5.

Doctor Bashir was busy as usual in his infirmary, when Quark staggered in with a pained look, holding on to his left ear as if afraid it would fall off.

“Doctor! I need help! Major Kira just tried to take my ear off!”

Getting up from his console with a frown, Bashir placed Quark on a bio-bed and gently pried the Ferengi's hand away from the ear to inspect the damage.

“It doesn't look like there's any damage, Quark. And why would Kira try to hurt you?”

Quark sent the doctor an outraged look.

“I have no idea! All right, so I might have told a few people about her breakup with Garak, but that's hardly reason enough to pull my lobes off!”

Busy running his tricorder over the ear, it took Bashir a few seconds to absorb Quark's words.

“I don't see any internal damage either- hold on.... Garak? And Major Kira?!”

The Ferengi waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and replied:

“Old news, Doctor. Now what are you going to do about my lobe?!”

Absently reaching for a hypospray, Bashir blinked hard, trying to absorb this piece of information.

“I can give you a mild painkiller, but that's it. Garak and Kira? When were they together?!”

Not wanting to answer until he got his hypo, Quark sighed with relief as it hissed against his neck.

“No idea. But trust me, it was all over their faces a few days ago that they just broke up. I think Garak dumped the poor major. He was all smiles and she was crushed, poor thing.”

Bashir's voice was thick with disbelief at the Ferengi's words.

“You can't be serious...”

Jumping off the bio-bed and straightening his jacket, Quark gave Bashir the superior look of a man, who knows something that others don't.

“Never more so, Doctor. Thank you for your time, but now I really must get back to my bar.”

As Quark strode out of the infirmary, Bashir sank slowly into his chair with a shocked look on his face. Garak having a relationship... with Major Kira?! How did he manage to miss that? He knew that he hadn't had much time for their lunches lately, but surely something like this couldn't possibly have happened without him even suspecting.

Shaking his head, he tried to return to work, but his nurses would spot him several times that day, simply sitting at his console, staring into the air with a distant look.


Part 6

Meanwhile, Garak was unfortunately on the receiving end of the major's wrath and was currently pushed up against a wall with her elbow slowly crushing his windpipe. Garak wheezed a few times before he managed to croak:

“Major, whatever I have done, surely it doesn't merit this kind of violence!”

Kira's eyes blazed and her dangerously low voice assured him that resistance would only make it much much worse for the tailor.

“You told Quark that you had been with me before and would never do so again.”

Another wheeze and a futile attempt to swallow preceded Garak's reply:

“I really don't remember saying any such thing. Did he happen to recall my exact words?”

Squinting at the Cardassian, she let up the pressure a little, at the sight of the blue eyes starting to water.

“He claims you looked at me and said that you would never go down that road again.”

Garak gasped in a few more mouthfuls of precious air before nodding.

“Ah yes, I see now where things might have taken a bad turn. Allow me to explain myself. And perhaps you might consider releasing me? This is certainly not my preferred way of conducting a conversation.”

Again Kira's eyes conveyed very clearly, that to her, this was certainly not a conversation. More like an interrogation, and she was very unwilling to grant her suspect any more freedom. But after a few seconds, she did move away, finally letting Garak breathe freely.

Crossing her arms over her chest, she watched him take a few deep breaths, smooth his hair back and straighten his suit, before hitching on his usual pleasant smile and directing it at her.

“I would never try to deny that I said those words. In fact, I commend Quark's memory for recalling them so clearly. But apparently his sordid mind has jumped to conclusions again.”

A deadly look from the major made him hurriedly continue:

“When I said those words, I was merely referring to the fact that I once had a... liaison with a Bajoran. Sadly, the whole thing ended very badly and I was eventually forced to go to Constable Odo to put a stop to the unpleasant attention I got from ending the affair.”

Kira's eyes seemed to squint more and more, until only the smallest slit of her dark eyes were visible.

“You're kidding...”

Garak's smile vanished in favour of a serious and slightly affronted expression.

“I assure you, I never joke about love. I'm afraid that I cannot tell you the name of the Bajoran in question, as secrecy was part of the compromise we finally agreed upon. But if you really don't believe me, you can go ask Constable Odo. He can verify my every word.”

Searching his face for any untruth and finding none, Kira finally huffed angrily and resigned herself to leaving the infuriating Cardassian behind, in favour of seeing the only person on this station that she knew she could trust to always tell her the truth.

Behind her back, Garak allowed himself a satisfied smirk. Oh yes. Things were progressing nicely.


Part 7.

Quark was very busy at the bar, when Dukat sat down and ordered a drink. Quickly getting him his order, the Ferengi sprinted to the other end of the room, with a speed that took even the gul by surprise. Dukat was just about to sip his drink, when he suddenly noticed Morn looking intently at him. In all the years both during and after the occupation, he had never seen the Lurian fix him with a stare like that. The slack face revealed no real emotion, but the eyes seemed to almost... pity him!

Having just seen his daughter and found her well, (and for once without the disgusting company of the slithering tailor) he was in a fairly good mood and saw absolutely no reason for a pitiful stare from the station's resident sponge. Frowning at the alien, he drawled:

“Is something wrong?”

Morn's mouth opened as if he was about to say something, but then he seemed to reconsider and closed it before returning to his colorful drink.
Annoyed, and very much wanting an explanation, Dukat debated with himself whether he should force the lump to explain himself or let the subject lie, when he spotted the much easier target of Quark, trying to ease himself covertly back to the bar.

Just as he tried to slip behind the counter, a grey hand caught his left ear in a grip not unlike the one the major had used earlier in the day, and the bartender squealed undignified at the renewed agony of the tender area.

“Quark... these ears hear everything that goes on around here. Don't they?”

His only answer was a squeak and a whimper, so the Cardassian continued smoothly.

“Is there anything... anything at all... that you might want to tell me? Something perhaps concerning me in some way?”

Seeing that Quark was about to shake his head minutely in denial, Dukat dug his nails into the delicate skin on the earlobe with renewed force, making half the bar turn around at the sound of shrieking worthy of a pig taken for the slaughter.

“Well...?”

Pointing frantically at the hand crushing his ear, Quark indicated that the pain was impairing his ability to speak, so Dukat let go with a final twist to the now angrily red skin of the upper lobe. Clutching his ear for the second time that day, Quark eased himself away from the Cardassian, just far enough away to be out of range of the strong hands. Dukat raised himself a little in his seat in a clearly threatening move, that made Quark immediately spill everything in fear for his precious lobes.

“It's just a rumor, I swear! I had nothing to do with it! Word is that Garak and Major Kira had a fling and that he dumped her. That's all I know, you've gotta believe me!!”

For the second time that day, liquids quivered and shop windows shook with the force of a single word bellowed out in unmistakable rage:

“WHAT??!!!”

A few residents were lucky to catch the blur that was the station's bartender sprinting from his bar towards the infirmary.


Part 8

Doctor Bashir was jerked out of his thoughtful repose as Quark came storming into his infirmary, clutching his ear in a perfect imitation of his earlier visit.

“Doctor!!! Save me!!”

Following the Ferengi as he dove behind the bio-bed, Bashir gibbered:

“Wha-? Quark?! Save you? From what?!”

Coaxing his patient up from the floor so he could inspect the ear, Quark agreed to sit on the bio-bed as soon as he was assured that nobody had followed him into the infirmary.

“Gul Dukat. Apparently he hadn't heard the news about Garak and the Major, so he decided to mutilate my ear instead of just asking me. I tell you, those two deserve each other...”

Preoccupied examining the now rather swollen ear, Bashir commented without really concentrating on the words.

“I'm not surprised. He does tend to get rather- I'm sorry, 'who' deserves each other?”

Turning to the doctor with a frown, Quark replied with a tone of voice that one would use with a rather slow child:

“The Major and Gul Dukat. They're both overly emotional and uncontrollably violent, if you ask me. I think I'll have to talk to Odo. I'm gonna need some protection until they get over their little tiffs and have some sex. Trust me, doctor, there wouldn't be half as many wars in the universe, if other humanoids got as much oomox as we Ferengi. It's the perfect way to relieve frustration.”

Momentarily thrown by a mixture of relief that Quark wasn't talking about Kira and Garak, and confusion from several emotions brought on by the somewhat strange statement about 'oomox for all', it took Bashir a few moments to come up with a suitable reply.

“I... see.”

Returning to the safe subject of his profession, Bashir quickly fetched a dermal regenerator and got to work on the bruised skin of the very sensitive part of Ferengi anatomy.

“He did crush your ear pretty badly. On top of the earlier irritation, you've got some tears in the cartilage and the outer skin layers, so it's going to need a bit of treatment.”

The only reply he got after that was the pitiful whimpering of a man very concerned about the state of his damaged manhood. When he finally convinced the terrified Ferengi to leave the infirmary and seek out the station's security chief, the doctor sat down heavily and considered the day. Something really odd was going on. Nothing sufficiently strange to warrant a call to Sisko or any of his fellow officers, but certainly enough to demand his attention.

There was a mystery here. A mystery involving one of his best friends, no less! And especially since that friend happened to be his very intriguing lunch companion of several years, did he really feel the urge to find out more.
Bashir simply could not bring himself to believe that Garak would ever be with Kira. She hated him with a burning passion and he certainly disliked her as well, in his overbearing sort of way.

But... he couldn't help thinking that Dukat and Kira had a rather hateful relationship as well, and even without rumors to support it, it didn't take a genius to spot the sexual tension there. No... he simply refused to believe it. Kira would never sleep with the one Cardassian on the station, and Garak... well. He had to admit, there was no doubt that the tailor was rather lonely. Would he be lonely enough to relieve his loneliness with a Bajoran?

A stab of discomfort lanced across his gut. No, why would he? Why would he go to a member of a race who hated him so thoroughly, when a much more suitable candidate frequently sat across from him at their lunch table? And that was the whole core of his unease, wasn't it? The thought that Garak would turn to someone else, when Bashir was more than willing to provide whatever relief the tailor needed in his exile.

But he had never told Garak this, so he only had himself to blame if this rumor really was true. After a few more minutes of deep thought, the decision was made. He would not waste anymore time! He would go to the tailor shop right now and tell Garak just how he felt. And with a little luck, he would also find out if this rumor was true or not.


Part 9.

In the security office, moods were running high and Odo paced back and forth as he explained:

“Look, Major, I'm no happier about this than you are, but rules are rules! I can't give you the names of any of the Bajorans who have bothered Garak in the past, unless you suspect them of some crime. Suffice to say that there are plenty, and that given his talent for secrecy, I doubt you'll ever find out if he was romantically involved with any of them!”

Staring at the gruff Changeling for a few seconds, Kira finally sighed and let herself drop into a chair.

“So that's it then. I guess I'll just have to take Garak's word for it.”

Noticing the major's pained face at the thought of extending any sort of trust to the tailor/spy/agent she liked least in the quadrant, Odo tried to soothe her nerves by bringing up another crucial point with poorly contained glee.

“Well, I am by no means convinced of Garak's innocence in this matter, but I do know someone, who is most certainly guilty of at least escalating the situation. If you like, you can come with me when I arrest Quark for disturbing the peace!”

Sitting up straighter, Kira brightened at the prospect of at least having 'someone' punished for this miserable business.

“You can do that?”

Odo harrumphed happily and extended the crook of his arm gallantly to Kira.

“Oh yes. And that's just for starters. We'll see what else I can come up with on the way to the bar.”

Taking his arm with obvious joy she let Odo lead her leisurely from his office. And just before the doors closed behind them, she said in a low voice, heavy with schadenfreude:

“I'm 'sure' you'll think of something...”


Part 10.

The promenade was relatively quiet, as most people were still on duty or spending their time in Quark's this afternoon. The traders were hidden away in the depths of their shops, getting their wares ready for the next turn of the shifts, that would bring fresh customers and only a few travellers and merchants were seen crossing the airy walkways at a brisk pace.

But like a quiet before the storm, it was only a matter of time before chaos erupted violently in the peaceful setting.

Odo and Kira were about to enter Quark's bar, when Dukat stormed past them without casting one look in their direction. Taking a quick look inside the bar, Odo was convinced that some wrongdoing had just taken place. One of the barstools was practically ripped from the floor and Morn lay in a dazed heap at the end of the bar.

He was covered in shards of glass and various alcoholic liquids, apparently knocked off the shelves above him in a scuffle of some kind. The unusual thing here was not Morn getting into a bit of a fight. No, the unusual thing was seeing Morn with a huge black eye and several cuts and bruises across his muddy face. Whoever did this had certainly taken the poor Lurian badly by surprise.

Several other costumers looked rather terrified and the dabo-tables were not spinning. Everything Odo saw made him more and more concerned, and he was about to step inside and find out more, when very loud noises from another establishment suddenly called his attention back to the promenade. Seeing that a few of the dabo-girls were more than happy to help Morn to the infirmary, Odo turned his back to the bar and went to investigate further, with the major in close pursuit.

Hardly two steps away from the bar, Odo was almost knocked over when a terrified Ferengi bumped into him, only to grab him about the waist and attempt to hide behind him.

“ODO!! HELP! I demand protection! People can't just assault me like that whenever they feel like it!”

With a harrumph of disgust, Odo promptly shapeshifted out of Quark's grip, making him stumble backwards into the major. Kira pushed him roughly away from her, perfectly ready to enjoy watching the constable drag him back to a holding cell, when more noise distracted them.

Taking a firm hold Quark's upper arm, Odo dragged his squirming catch with him towards the clothing shop, that was apparently the source of the noise, while calling for more security.

When Odo, Kira and a very unwilling Quark entered the shop, they only barely managed to get out of the way of one of Garak's mannequins, as it came flying towards them. It soared through the open doors and landed on the promenade outside with a loud metallic 'clang'.

From somewhere further inside the shop, there were sounds of more things being thrown and a strange combination of laughter and animalistic roars.

“COME BACK HERE, YOU COWARDLY VOLE!!!”

Dukat's voice was muffled by a large pile of fabrics he had apparently been tangled in, in his attempt to get his hands on the tailor. Garak himself came skipping towards his three newest visitors, with a grin of someone playing tag, rather than someone about to be killed by his mortal enemy, who was currently clawing his way through the expensive wares he was trapped in.

“Constable! How perfectly timely your arrival is! I'm afraid Gul Dukat is under the impression that I wronged him somehow, and I must say that I'm beginning to fear for my safety!”

Before Odo could say anything, Dukat came storming at the tailor, his face a grimace of rage and his hands already making strangling movements from several feet away. Garak stepped aside smoothly and Dukat, unable to stop his own momentum, smacked into poor Quark with the mesh pattern of his chest plate first. The Ferengi promptly collapsed with a sad little sound when the metal made contact with his forehead, efficiently stopping the Cardassian's progress.

Just then, Bashir stepped into the shop, his eyes widening in horror at the scene before him.

“What the hell is going on in here??!”

Just then, Odo managed to catch Dukat and shapeshifted so he locked himself around the upper arms of the gul, while attaching himself to a loop in the bulkhead behind them. He slowly managed to pull the incensed Dukat back to the wall and away from Garak, who had only narrowly escaped the enraged attack directed at him.

Kira had flattened herself on the other side of the entrance to avoid being mowed down by Dukat, and bent down to check on Quark while the doctor remained frozen in the doorway at the sight of the battlefield in front of him. His eyes took in the breathless tailor, the raging Dukat caught in Odo's golden tendrils, Kira checking Quark's head and finally the interior of the shop reduced to a mess of rags and broken furniture.

Dukat seemed to finally regain his powers of speech after a while of struggling in Odo's grip and snarled:

“Let me go! I'm going kill him this time! By my life's blood, I will KILL HIM!”

Merely becoming more convinced that keeping Dukat immobile was a very good idea, Odo asked sharply:

“Why? What has he done to you?”

The Cardassian strained against his bonds again, sputtering and hissing.

“This filthy animal has gone too far! First he seduces my daughter with all his toxic lies, and now he's had his hands on MY NERYS!”

The yell following this statement was enough to catch everybody's attention, even the fuming Dukat.

“EXCUSE ME?!”

In an instant Kira was nose to nose with Dukat and her wild eyes left no doubt that she was very deadly.

“I am not 'YOUR' ANYTHING, DUKAT! I have never been yours in any possible way, and I assure you, I never will be!”

Dukat blinked at the force of the words flung at him and suddenly he felt Odo squeezing him a fair bit harder than he would like. Seeing that odds were suddenly against him, he immediately relaxed his pose and appealed to the stunned doctor:

“Doctor Bashir, would you be so good as to take poor Quark to the infirmary? I'm afraid I accidentally knocked him out.“

Sadly, even Bashir had now had enough. He was by no means willing to aid Dukat in deflating the situation he created himself in the first place and replied in a cold voice:

“Pardon me if I don't think I need you to tell me how to do my job.”

With that, he bent down and proceeded to examine Quark with the tricorder he always had on him.

The security force Odo had called for earlier finally arrived, and they stormed into the shop with their phasers ready, only to come to a dead stop at the sight that greeted them. Odo untangled himself from the bulkhead, without letting go of Dukat and while Kira was busy sending him deadly looks, he addressed the doctor himself:

“When you're done treating Quark, have him escorted to my office. I have a few things I need to discuss with him.”

Closing his tricorder with a snap, Bashir replied smoothly:

“Of course, constable. He's not in any danger. I think he simply fainted from shock.”

He then addressed a few of the deputies still standing immobile in the doorway, apparently unable to decide what to shoot at or who to arrest.

“Could you two take Quark to the infirmary? One of the nurses can take care of him. I'll be along shortly. I have a few things to take care of here first.”

Casting nervous glances at Odo who nodded at them, they hurriedly picked up the Ferengi and practically ran towards the infirmary. The remaining two deputies each took hold of one of Dukat's arms and allowed Odo to resume his form, with Kira still promising murder with her eyes.

Turning to Garak, who had been silent during the whole exchange, Odo sent the tailor his best menacing glare and warned in his gruffest voice:

“I'll be back later to have a little chat, Garak. Don't go anywhere.”

Treating the constable to his best genial smile, Garak answered pleasantly:

“Of course, Constable. You know that you're always welcome in my humble establishment.”

With a final harrumph, Odo gestured to his deputies to take Dukat away and strategically placed himself between the fuming Kira and the uncomfortable gul. Dukat took the opportunity of sending Garak a few last venomous glances before the doors slid closed behind them, leaving the tailor and the doctor alone in the suddenly deadly quiet shop.

Garak turned to the young man, puzzled at his remaining behind.

“Can I help you, Doctor?”

Bashir blinked a little surprised, and met the tailor's questioning eyes.

“I... I just wanted to ask you something.”

The older man quirked an eyeridge and simply said:

“Oh?”

Swallowing a few times, Bashir stepped a few steps closer to Garak and finally said:

“I just wanted to ask you... is it true? About you and Kira?”

Garak cocked his head in surprise and fixed the doctor with an amused look.

“Why, Doctor. What could it possibly matter to you?”

Swallowing again, the doctor let his eyes drift to the floor and gathered his courage.

“Well... I just wanted you to know... you don't have to.”

The tailor frowned and asked:

“I don't have to.... what exactly, Doctor?”

Suddenly the young man was very close indeed and the brown eyes met blue again with renewed courage.

“If you ever get too lonely... you don't have to go elsewhere for... intimacy. Come to me.”

With that, he slowly pulled away from the now rather breathless Cardassian and made his way back to the infirmary.

Garak was frozen to the spot for a few minutes before he felt like his brain was functioning properly again. Then slowly, ever so slowly, a broad smile appeared and he chuckled to himself as he went about cleaning up his shop. Oh, he would have to thank Dukat the next time they spoke. What a difference a few well selected words could do in the ears of the right people.

The end.


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