Elim Garak paced his quarters the entire night, but wherever he went, temptation followed. Jareth's power of persuasion was frightening. Elim despised himself for becoming weak, for allowing his stupid infatuation to subvert his perception of reality. He was a Cardassian, an exile, and a disgrace. He enjoyed lying to Julian Bashir and would undoubtedly continue to do so. The human would never accept that, would never accept him. No talisman could ever change reality, and he had been a fool to allow Jareth to gain such power over him. No one had power over him, not Tain, not Dukat, not the Bajorans or Sisko, not Jareth. And certainly, not one Starfleet doctor, however enchanting.
By 0600, Garak's resolve was iron-clad.
He would accept Jareth's offer of power. To regain his place in Cardassian
society, to rule...that was all the reward he needed. And now, he
really must prepare for a meeting with Commander Sisko. Order.
He would have order. And control. Always, he must be in control.
For the first time since Jareth's collapse, Bashir felt he had the situation mostly under control. He'd given a favorable report to Captain Sisko and the senior staff.
"It took forty trial runs, but we at last have an inhibitor both His Majesty and I can live with," he'd begun, launching into a lengthy explanation of how he'd combined enzymes from several different inhibitors to form one powerful substance that seemed to do the trick. Jareth said he was now able to hold off the destruction of his realm for a week at most. That was all Bashir could permit him to do, but he promised that Jareth would soon be sufficiently recovered to resume his endeavors. The discussion had then turned to Garak's information, and a heated debate had issued over whether or not it, and the tailor, could be trusted. Sisko held off making any decisions until the meeting with Jareth tomorrow.
It had been a long day, and Bashir entered the Infirmary feeling somewhat drained. He was surprised to find Doctor Elaine Zohar waiting for him. His energy level lifted a bit. Finally, some stimulation outside work...and a distraction from his fascination with Jareth. Elaine was intriguing. But he couldn't shake the nagging and irrational thought that she might just be using him to finish the paper. He certainly hadn't been able to entice her into any activity beyond the purely intellectual...of course, getting rejected was hardly a new experience for him. He wondered for the millionth time what gross gaffe he kept making with women. And even men...
"Hello, Julian." Her thin lips smiled, and for a moment her usually haughty marble-white face relaxed. She completely ignored Jareth watching in the background. "Are you busy? I know there's been a lot going on lately."
"I think I can spare a minute." Bashir turned on his charm. "Particularly for you."
Jareth watched and surreptitiously shook his head. The coldly lovely woman attempting to chat up his doctor was a leech. An intelligent leech, but still a bloodsucker, only out for what she could get. Definitely unworthy of Julian.
"It's about our paper," Elaine
said, handing Bashir a datapadd. "Could you take a look at these revisions?"
Bashir scanned the datapadd and frowned. "Elaine, these rates of neurosynaptic regeneration aren't taking into account the factors we noticed. The way you've presented the data is inaccurate and might give rise to overconfidence in the nanites. And I really think we should mention Wesley Crusher's experiment on the Enterprise-"
"Oh, come on, Julian, nobody is going to take a teenage boy's science project seriously." Elaine spoke in perfectly measured, even tones. No doubt to mask the superciliousness, Jareth thought spitefully. "And the data is accurate. So we discovered a few aberrations-"
"Actually, I was the one who noticed them."
"Speaking of teenage boys, your attitude is truly adolescent."
"I'm sorry if I seem that way to you. Suppose we talk about this in an adult fashion over dinner? Things are slow here, and-"
"I should be getting back to the Sutherland." It was a clear brush-off. "I need your approval on these revisions before we submit it to the Journal of Nanotechnology. I want to do that before the Sutherland leaves at 0930 tomorrow."
"I can't approve those revisions," Bashir said, feeling very high-minded and extremely stupid. "Why don't we take some time to think about it, then talk about it in a week?"
"Why don't I just take your name off the paper," Elaine said sweetly. "I'll give you credit in the bibliography."
"Thanks for that crumb," Bashir muttered, surrendering once again to disappointment...and relief. "I have to get back to my patients."
"See you later." Elaine breezed out of the Infirmary. Bashir sighed and felt weary all over again.
"I don't know about you, but the chill has left my bones," Jareth remarked lightly.
"Am I really being adolescent?" Bashir sighed aloud. "Or could I have misjudged her that badly? And why am I wasting time on this?"
"If I may make an observation, you are well rid of that woman. Actually, 'woman' is a gross misnomer. 'Intellectual prick-tease' suits her much better. Not to mention 'bloodsucker.' Are you certain she isn't related to the charming Kai?"
"Only spiritually," the doctor murmured, stifling a laugh.
"Such a pity," murmured Jareth. "Such a sinful waste of a glorious body."
Bashir hid his blushing face. Really, he was too transparent. "Yes, well, she has other redeeming qualities. She's the best at what she does, she's brilliant, she's disciplined-"
"I was talking about yours."
The bold words made Julian's mouth hang open. He shut it quickly. <Face him, Jules, act as if he never said that...>
He looked at Jareth, and felt as though he were drowning in heat.
Jareth reclined on the biobed, propped up on one elbow. The sheet had somehow worked its way down around his knees, and even in the purple pajamas every patient wore, he was impossibly sexy. Tall, lean, and leonine, he filled the room with his sheer physical and mental presence. The animal magnetism radiated from him in potent waves. His eyes smoldered as they traced a path up and down the other man's body. For the second time in as many days, the sensation of a caress seared Julian's skin-just from a word, a look-and the bliss he experienced was indistinguishable from agony because he knew he should not be feeling this way, not for his patient...God, but the man looked magnificent, was magnificent...Bashir sought refuge behind a console to conceal the growing hardness between his thighs.
"Er...is there anything you need?" It was a fatuous, stupid question, but he couldn't put together any other coherent thoughts.
"You." The word was infinitely seductive in its directness. "Not right now, of course, not while I am your patient. I respect your professional integrity, and don't think that your response to me diminishes it in the least. You have done nothing but look out for my welfare, defended me from Winn, and done more for me than anyone in years, and I'm grateful...but that is the least of my feelings for you."
"It's quite a common occurrence to get a crush on your therapist, and I suppose that applies to physicians too-"
The sound of his name on that man's tongue ensorcerelled him, and he forgot everything but Jareth. His rationalizations were thin shields, and the other man knew it.
"We barely know each other, but you are everything I've been searching for. Your fiery, gentle spirit, your brilliant mind, your character are rare in my experience..."
"I'm not what you think I am," Julian mumbled. He had to dissuade this man...nothing could be gained from these feelings...
"We are never who we are," Jareth said cryptically, paraphrasing Shakespeare. "You, endowed with so much goodness and somehow doubting it, and I, the center of my universe and envied, feeling that I am nothing but decay. We are both trapped in our loneliness, Julian, but we need not be. I don't expect redemption-I am far past that-simply someone to cherish, to be my companion, to be stimulated by, intellectually and physically. In return, I am capable of giving you what you crave. I suspect it's been a long time since someone has touched you intimately, received the gift of your passion, or even simply held you and taken pleasure in your nearness."
"It's been forever." The words were almost a moan. Contrary to station rumors and his own boyish bravado, he didn't bed very many women-or men for that matter-let alone find a true meeting of souls. "But I don't think..."
"Stop thinking and listen. Your wait is nearly over. Once I'm out of here, you and I will be free to indulge our desires." The voice was gentle and achingly sensuous. "I'll start by slowly removing your clothing, not that dreadful thing you wear. I leave the attire up to you, since I'm infinitely more intrigued by the satiny skin that lies underneath...and there's not an inch of you that I won't caress, stroke, lick, kiss, and tease into total, quivering, ecstatic responsiveness. I'll begin with your long lovely legs, starting at the toes and slowly working upward...leaving what lies between your thighs alone for the moment, just to drive you wild and prolong our pleasure, although I'll be aching to taste you and have that luscious mouth on me...I'll watch your face as I kiss my way around your chest. Then perhaps I'll have you lie down on your stomach so I can fondle your pert, perfectly shaped ass, which I intend to pay particular attention to. Before I'm through, I will find everything that pleases you, and teach you what pleases me. You'll have ample opportunity to reciprocate and have my body at your mercy...When we can't bear another moment, I will take you and savor every second of being inside you, of sinking my cock deeper and deeper into you while I caress yours. Never fear, I'll let you return the favor. The thought of you driving into me is enough to take me over the edge right here, but delight is always much more satisfying when deferred, and when shared. The anticipation will keep me from going insane with desire until I finally have you...."
The words turned his leg muscles to jelly. Julian clutched the console to keep from falling, but he had already fallen under the spell of that magnetic personality, of those words that seduced him more than anything else had in a long time. He should have nipped this in the bud immediately. The attraction had started from the moment he'd looked into those eyes, but he'd denied it, knowing instinctively the potential danger, just as he'd denied what he felt for Garak, and subsisted on the tailor's friendship, fearing he could not possibly be reading Garak's feelings right It was better that way, yearning after what he couldn't have...like Jadzia Dax. Dax he could handle. Dax was safe. She would never return his affections, and he'd learned to be content with friendship and with tortured longings, because she was unattainable, had lived seven lifetimes and was infinitely more sophisticated...rather like Jareth, except Jareth was within his reach and it excited the hell out of him while making him want to run...but he couldn't do that, not to a patient...not to this patient, who had awakened his deepest, most concealed needs and would never allow him to bury them again.
"You have no need to fear me," Jareth said, reading the shyness in Bashir's body language. "I would never hurt you in any way."
"It's not you," Julian muttered. "How could I let this happen?"
"You're only human, with desires."
"I should be above that." The doctor straightened up and took a decisive step away from the console. "I'm a professional, for God's sake, and I will not let your mind-games distract me."
"Mind-games? You confuse me with M'sieur Garak. I've been completely open with you-"
"Have you?" Julian challenged. "Then tell me, what happens on the proverbial morning after? Do we walk off into the sunset? Do you turn me into a goblin...or a plaything?"
"Afraid of the future? I know that prison as well as you and I've just handed you the key to unlock both our cages. Are you going to reach out and take it, or will you continue to hide yourself away on this remote station-"
"Hide!" Julian spluttered. "I am exactly where I want to be. I have a full life-"
"Your eyes tell me a different story. Behind that boyish facade, I see the hidden soul crying out in quiet desperation, stifled by 'whatever will my friends think if they know I'm not as wonderful as I pretend, what will happen to my career.'"
The doctor picked up a hypospray and administered the new inhibitor with a force that made Jareth suck in his breath. "So you do have claws and teeth," the sorcerer murmured. "I was beginning to wonder..."
"If I was as naïve as I seem? I've got news for you. You are not the first man to proposition me like this, and you won't be the last." Julian turned aside and muttered to himself, "Must be retribution for all the times I came on too strong to Dax and she turned me down."
"Poor, lovelorn Julian," Jareth mocked. "Forever pursuing what you cannot have because it's safer that way-"
"Shut up," Julian whispered, appalled at the uncanny perception.
"I will be far better for you than even the magnificent Dax...or anyone else. Physically, mentally, emotionally...I will demand everything you have and I will give myself wholly to you in return. If this is not what you want, what you've always wanted...what you want with me....just say it now, and I shall never importune you again."
"I thought as much," Julian muttered. "You're only doing this because you're on that bed and helpless. When you get out of here...tomorrow morning and not one minute sooner...nothing will come of your promises."
Jareth smiled brilliantly. "You've just thrown down your glove, dear Julian..."
Jareth was wearing his gloves, Julian noticed dazedly. Nurse Jabara had taken them away...he must have an endless supply that he conjured. Jareth noticed Julian's fascinated expression and slowly peeled off his gloves. He held his bare, elegant, beautifully shaped hands up for inspection. My God, Julian thought, even his hands are perfect. Jareth tossed the black leather gloves to him. Still bewildered, Julian caught them in one hand.
"And I accept the challenge. The only reason you are not lying across my lap right now is because I know, my ethical one, that I would drive you away...and I must conserve my strength. But the moment you discharge me..."
Julian opened his mouth, and Jareth placed a hand over it, feathering his fingers over the full lips. A shudder ripped through Julian, and his groin tightened.
Jareth let out a sigh, and his own manhood hardened. "Think about it," he whispered, caressing Julian's cheek once before dropping his hand. "I'll be patient...I've been waiting a long time for you..."
To Bashir's befuddled brain, his own voice sounded like a transmission from the other side of the galaxy. "Ask me again after you're out of here..."
"Is that a yes?" Jareth pressed his advantage a little too quickly and wondered anxiously if he'd overplayed it.
Julian didn't trust himself to speak.
But his eyes answered for him.
Jareth gave a soft, contented sigh and settled back down, closing his eyes. "You won't regret this..." His voice trailed off, and he forced himself to feign sleep. He'd gambled for high stakes and won but it was time to lay down his hand and let the cards fall where they would. At least as far as his Julian was concerned.
In slow-motion, the doctor checked his patient's vital signs, then moved about the infirmary attending to three cases of Rigellian flu and one shattered leg.
He nearly jumped and whirled around. "God, Miles, you scared me."
"Sorry." Miles O'Brien made his way to the back, holding his left shoulder as though it would fall off if he didn't. "I just thought, since you're still here-"
"What was it this time? Kayaking? Racquetball? The Jeffries tube?" Julian helped his friend to a biobed and gently massaged the shoulder. "Pulled muscle. You'll be fine."
"It doesn't feel 'fine,'" grumbled O'Brien. "I was chasing one of those goblins, you know, the baby one they couldn't change back. She escaped, and I was checking a power fluctuation n the conduits when she ran past me. I went one way through a junction...and my shoulder went another. She moves faster than Molly. I couldn't catch her. Luckily, Odo blocked the conduit and got her. Poor thing wasn't happy about being caught."
Julian talked as he worked on the injured shoulder. "With any luck, once we get those daj'zhas reunited, we might be able to change her and the others back to their natural forms. That's what the Vedeks say."
"Hope they're right." O'Brien shivered. "Y'know, I grew up with tales of the Little People, fairies, Tir-Na-Nog, hobgoblins...but I never thought I'd meet them in person."
"It's a huge galaxy, Miles. Room for everyone."
O'Brien nodded at Jareth. "Even him. Not giving you any trouble, is he?"
<If you only knew, Miles...> "Less than you," Julian said lightly. This was one romantic episode he could never confess to his friend. "It's quite a refreshing change. There you are, just try not to chase any more goblins."
"Will do." O'Brien lowered himself off the biobed. "You should get some sleep. You don't look well. I can nag too, you know."
Julian smiled warmly. "Goodnight, Miles."
"Goodnight, Julian." Something in his friend's face made Miles O'Brien pause in the doorway. "Anything bothering you?"
<Oh, no, nooo, nothing, I've just been propositioned by a potentially dangerous and definitely powerful Goblin King and agreed to a tryst with him...what could be troubling me?> "I just need some rest." Julian did one last once-over of the Infirmary, then followed O'Brien out the door. "Tomorrow I'll feel as right as rain."
Tomorrow, tomorrow, there's always
tomorrow, and after all, tomorrow is another day...Julian waved to O'Brien
as the Irishman disappeared into his quarters. His other hand clutched
around something. He glanced down and saw he was still holding Jareth's
gloves. He started to turn around, to return to the Infirmary, give
back the gloves. Then, inexplicably, he shook his head, did an about-face
and strode down the corridor to his quarters. The leather gloves
felt cool and sensuous in his hand.
Garak smiled and greeted Promenade passers-by affably as he headed to the Infirmary. Outwardly, he was the Cardassian they knew, or thought they knew. Inwardly, he was a changed man, a man stunned by the complete mental reversal he'd undergone.
He would look Jareth in the eye and accept the gift. It was the least he could do to protect Bashir from someone as insidious as Jareth. It did not mean he was going to actually use the absurd talisman on the doctor. It simply meant that Julian was far, far too naïve and trusting to be left vulnerable to Jareth and his whims. He didn't need Jareth's help to pursue Julian...
The Cardassian entered Julian's domain and hid his dismay. Jareth was upright, miraculously dressed in his flamboyant clothing, chatting to Nurse Jabara and an attentive Jadzia Dax as Julian conducted scans just to check his vital signs. For once Garak blessed the Great Gul that the doctor was such a stickler for procedure. And Dax's divertissements didn't hurt. Jareth absorbed it all as though he ruled the Infirmary. He spied Garak first and imperiously beckoned him over. "Good morning, M'sieur Garak!"
"Ah, I see you've fully recovered," Garak said as genially as he could.
"And not a moment too soon," Jareth answered. "I doubt I could stand to spend another moment in this sterile place. I've never been fond of hospitals."
"Or doctors, either?" Garak just kept smiling.
"I've loathed doctors for centuries." Jareth glanced lightly at Julian. "Although I'm changing my mind."
"Julian's bedside manner wins over another patient," Dax said, elbowing Julian teasingly.
"Me? I've done nothing but poke and prod him." Julian's manner was as easygoing and relaxed as ever. Garak carefully scrutinized the doctor's face for any sign of dissembling, any hint of anxiety or coyness or flirtation. "I'm not surprised he's relieved to get out of here."
Jareth winced as another hypospray full of inhibitor pressed against his neck, followed by a stimulant. "That's an understatement."
Julian's comm badge chimed. "Doctor,
incoming transmission for you. It's Dr. Zohar from the Sutherland."
The doctor sighed in irritation and glowered at a grinning Dax. "Not a word out of you."
"Who, me?" Dax said innocently. "I just came here because a Klingon warrior gave me a nasty scratch in the holosuite. Julian fixed it and now I've got to start my shift in Ops. See you later, everybody. Behave yourself, Jareth."
"A bientot, Jadzia," Jareth murmured as the Trill exited.
Julian nodded at Nurse Jabara. "I can handle discharging this patient. I'll be back in a moment." He disappeared into his office, and Nurse Jabara prepared to end her shift.
Garak and Jareth regarded each other in silence. Garak spoke first. "I've made some progress on simulating a daj'zha explosion. A programmer recommended to me by Quark can create a holographic illusion that the Federation sensors can't penetrate. If Captain Sisko decides to undertake the recovery of the daj'zha, Starfleet personnel will be secretly involved...and I've learned never to underestimate their skills. The programmer can have the simulation done by 1500 hours tomorrow...but he comes at a high price."
Jareth produced a glittering diamond and tossed it at Garak, who caught it. He'd posed as a jeweler during one of his missions for the Obsidian Order, and his eye told him that the diamond was worth a small fortune. He took out a small mirror he always carried and scraped the diamond across it. The glass shattered instantly. Jareth smiled. "Humans say breaking a mirror means seven years' bad luck."
"Cardassians don't believe in superstitions. The bad luck would only befall us if the diamond weren't real."
"Trust me, your artisan will have no complaints." When Garak simply nodded, Jareth continued, "Once Captain Sisko approves the mission, I'll tell you just how I plan to make it look as though you thwarted a Cardassian attempt to destroy Bajor."
"And how will you factor the Labyrinth into the equation?" Garak demanded.
"Oh, I'll think of something," Jareth murmured. "You've performed well so far. You deserve this." He twirled his black-gloved hand and produced the talisman. The gloves had been in Julian's possession for a night, and he had graciously returned them this morning. The thought of Julian with the black gloves was titillating...He dangled the charm before Garak's face. Jareth hated to make the offer again, but tradition demanded it. Besides, he had found the way to subtly dissuade Garak if necessary. "Have you reconsidered my gift? Time grows short. I'll soon be discharged."
"I'm surprised at your insistence, considering your interest in our young doctor."
"Come, come, Garak. You and I don't subscribe to the foolish notions of eternal, sacred love that plague these humans. We're more pragmatic than that. We see someone we desire, and we take him or her. Affection may be involved, liking and respect, but love? Romantic love is an illusion...one that can destroy everything we work to build. Empires and civilizations have fallen because of these foolish entanglements, and still humans continue to write ballads, sigh and become pathetically insecure when the object of their love doesn't turn out to be who they thought, or conform to their ideals."
Garak thought of all the times Julian had failed to understand Cardassian culture, had chased after beautiful women while disdaining his overtures, had argued with him over something as trivial as morality, human morality at that...and he knew that Julian would never understand his reasoning that the Bajorans could afford to live without two insignificant relics, but he, Garak, needed so much more than a tiny tailor shop on this wretched station, he needed power...They were simply too different. It could never work. The sex would be pleasurable...once he'd taught the human how to satisfy him...but Julian would probably mistake it for more than it was. It wasn't only human females that were so damned sentimental...
"Humans amuse me," he told Jareth. "That's all Doctor Bashir truly is, an amusing diversion, just to fill the hours. There is no one else on this godforsaken station who can hold a decent conversation. He would be a good lay but hardly worth the trouble. I'd much rather have the power you offer."
"Very well." Jareth made the talisman vanish with a gesture of finality. "I'll see you in half an hour. Adieu, M'sieur Garak."
"Adieu." Garak marched out of the Infirmary, holding in a deep sigh of relief...or was it regret? Best not to think about it.
Jareth stared after him and smiled smugly. If Garak was willing to give up that easily, he truly didn't deserve the prize. No question about it, he was going to be good for the doctor. It terrified him to think of how quickly this being had come to matter to him, and he wished he meant his cynical words...but Garak would never know that he didn't. And after all, for the moment he was merely infatuated with the doctor.
Think of the devil, or the angel in this case.
Julian strode out smiling. "Sorry about that. Doctor Zohar wanted to tell me once again what a mistake I was making. I told her that she was the true author of the paper and she deserved whatever accolades she got. It'll be interesting to read the criticism next month. Someone will point out the gaps in her methodology."
Jareth chuckled. "You are more devious than you appear."
Bashir blushed like a guilty child and performed another scan. "Where did Garak go?"
"He had some hemlines to raise, or some such business, before the meeting. Speaking of which...will you be there?"
"Yes, Captain Sisko has asked me to report on the Bajoran transformations...three more children have begun to change."
"Not for long," Jareth said determinedly. "Where are they?"
"Their parents are keeping them sequestered in their quarters. I'm sure Kira could get you in to see them...and when you do manage to change them back, they're coming straight to the Infirmary for observation."
"With so much ahead of me, must I stay in this Infirmary a moment longer?"
"You're free to leave," Julian said. "But if you disobey my instructions, you'll be back in here before you know it."
"I'll behave myself," Jareth promised jauntily.
"I find that difficult to believe," Julian shot back.
The sorcerer laughed softly. "I do want to thank you for all you've done for me."
"It was my duty." Julian felt awkward, and comfortable with the dry words. He was expected to say them. Never mind that this man had given him an unforgettable erotic experience while barely touching him. His words had been potent enough...and that voice. The voice had filled Julian's dreams. He'd expected to be tormented by vivid, explicit, searing night fantasies. Instead, he'd dreamed of a room lit with candle flames and stars, the night enveloping him with its cool fingers, the sultry smell of sandalwood, and an indefinable but sweet and haunting melody...and he'd known the sorcerer was singing to him. He'd heard Jareth croon to himself during the many tests they'd done yesterday, and he'd been charmed by the melodious sound and the song, "Witchcraft," that Jareth sang. In his dreams, he couldn't make out the words, only the sound of that voice around him, and it seduced him thoroughly. He'd awakened to find himself hot, bothered, and fully aroused, and it had taken several cups of lemon tea for him to go back to sleep. He'd tried to figure out the hold this man had on him...damn it, why did he always fall for mysterious, sophisticated types?
The glitter in Jareth's eyes penetrated the doctor's confused thoughts. "Nevertheless, I must repay your kindness. Dinner tonight, my quarters?"
It wasn't a question. And they both knew it wasn't only a dinner invitation. Julian swallowed, and said in his most assured voice, "Dinner sounds great. Around 1930 hours?"
"Perfect. A ce soir." Jareth leaned forward and brushed his lips over Julian's, then grinned and sauntered out of the Infirmary.
Julian touched his trembling mouth, sighed and was grateful for the respite. Thank God he would only have to see the sorcerer at that meeting, then avoid him until 1930 hours. He needed time to think and wonder what he had just let himself in for...had he just made the worst mistake of his life?
Mistake or not, a Jem'Hadar squadron couldn't keep him away from that dinner.
"So be it," he murmured.
"Are you sure about this, Emissary?" Kai Winn asked sweetly. "This mission cannot violate the treaty between Cardassia and Bajor."
"That's why I'm not authorizing anyone to take the Defiant for this mission," Sisko said. "Besides, strictly speaking, this isn't a Starfleet matter. A shuttlecraft will have to do. Mr. Garak, Your Majesty, you will travel with a minimum of Starfleet personnel."
"And me," Kira added. "But a shuttlecraft will be too risky. Quark's negotiating the price for a nondescript merchant vessel. Bajoran Intelligence has learned that the Cardassian colony is due for a shipment of medical supplies. Quark's working to convince the merchant captain who makes the run to stay home."
"When is the merchant ship due at the colony?" Sisko asked.
"Two days from now," Kira answered. "Quark thinks he'll have everything arranged by tomorrow. Of course, Quark's insisting on a finder's fee."
"Tell him we'll pay, and tell him not to take too long," Sisko said. "Your Majesty, is this acceptable to you?"
"I have no complaints, Captain. It seems to be the only solution. The Vedeks and I have made little progress with the daj'zha, and I have been unable to change the fully mutated Bajorans back into themselves," Jareth said. "Your Eminence, how say you?"
"Bajor stands to benefit," Winn said diplomatically. "I approve this mission. And I hope that the endeavor will solve your world's troubles, Your Majesty."
"I'm certain it will. Ask your Prophets to guide us." Jareth turned and moved toward the door. "Now if you'll excuse me, there are some other Bajoran children who have begun to be afflicted by the daj'zha's effects. I feel somehow responsible for this, and so I must help."
"I'll come with you," Kira said, matching her steps to his.
"Thank you, Major. Your presence will facilitate matters. Eminence, would you care to join us?"
"I would like to be witness to this miracle, yes." Kai Winn followed them out of Sisko's office.
Garak nodded at Sisko and Bashir. "I hope I've been helpful."
"Very," Sisko said. "Now, all we do is wait."
"I'm quite good at waiting. If you'll excuse me, Captain, Doctor, I have a shop to tend to." The Cardassian left, and Bashir started after him.
"Just a moment, Doctor," Sisko said.
"What is it, Captain?" Bashir turned about and stood with his hands behind his back.
"What do you make of our visitor? You've observed him for two days."
<How do I answer this question?> "He's a complex man. Brilliant, charming, arrogant, poetic. He's told me quite a bit of his history."
"Yes, I've read your preliminary report. But is that all he's revealed to you?"
<If you only knew...> "He's guarded. If his behavior is any indication, he's maintained order in his kingdom by being very controlled and not exactly approachable, not in the way that you are, for example. He keeps everyone at bay, letting no one get close."
"Sir?" Bashir's heart pounded.
"He came in here a few minutes before the meeting and spoke of you in glowing terms. Among other things, he mentioned you were one of the most compassionate, brilliant and personable people he'd ever encountered. I'd say you made quite an impression."
"He...impressed me as well. On the surface, he might seem evil, but I believe there's more to him than that. Hidden depths."
"Any hint that he might be a serious threat to the station or Bajor?"
"We still don't know the story behind the daj'zha's appearance in his realm. Yes, it is possible, but he's been fairly cooperative so far."
Sisko nodded. "Doctor, I have an assignment for you. You are free to decline, of course."
"What's the assignment, Captain?"
"You are the only one he's established a rapport with. I want you to use that rapport. Spend time with him outside of the Infirmary. See if he drops his guard and reveals something."
Bashir was nonplussed. "I think you should know he invited me to dinner tonight, in appreciation of all I've done."
Sisko tried not to react. He hadn't missed the looks Jareth had been giving the doctor, and he seriously questioned the wisdom of his decision. It was a potentially incendiary situation. He didn't want the doctor under Jareth's power, in a situation that might jeopardize not only his safety but that of others. "Do you have any reason to believe he might be interested in you romantically?"
"I suspect he's just a natural flirt. He was all over Dax in the Infirmary this morning." <That's it, Jules, lie to your commanding officer...it should be easy by now.> "This assignment will be no problem, sir."
"I'm glad to hear it," Sisko murmured. "Dismissed."
Bashir left with alacrity. A moment later, Dax rang the door chime and walked in. "Well? How did it go?"
"Sit down, Old Man," Sisko sighed,
using his pet name for the woman who had once been his male mentor, Curzon
Dax. "I'd like your input on a few things..."
Stifling the qualms surging inside him and the butterflies in his stomach, Julian slowly strolled toward destiny. He carried a foil-wrapped bottle. The linen fabric of his trousers caressed his legs. He'd chosen to wear his new suit and paired it with a white silk blouse. He felt oddly confident.
Julian whirled around to see Garak leaving his quarters. "Evening, Garak."
"You finally decided to wear my suit," Garak murmured, breathless at the sight of his creation on his doctor. "It's breathtaking on you."
"Thank you, but you did all the work."
"And who are you wearing it for tonight?"
"Oh..." Julian tried to sound casual. "Jareth asked me to dinner in appreciation for all my efforts. I didn't do anything, really, but he was insistent."
Garak wanted to bounce the ungrateful human off a bulkhead-repeatedly. He'd made that suit for his own delectation, not Jareth's! He opened his mouth to expose Jareth, but all that came out was more dissembling. "I hope you have an interesting evening, Doctor. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a dinner engagement as well and Constable Odo does not like to be kept waiting."
"Have fun," Julian said, suppressing a twinge of guilt as the Cardassian strode away. He would wear the suit for Garak at their next dinner. Shrugging off the increasing unease, he continued along the corridor, carrying the bottle. He stopped outside the door to Jareth's guest quarters, took a deep breath, and pressed the door chime.
"Enter," came that unmistakable voice.
The doors parted, and Julian walked into one of DS9's standard guest quarters. It was unadorned, bare, but then, Jareth hadn't exactly spent much time there, and what use would a sorcerer (if sorcerer he was) have for luggage? He could produce whatever he needed, magically.
Hold on, Jules, you don't believe in magic.
But as he looked at Jareth, his disbelief was not only suspended, it was blown to pieces.
The elegant man had risen from his chair at Bashir's entrance. He was swathed in luxurious white and blue silk. The white silk shirt was open to the chest, and the flowing blue silk trousers set off his legs even better than the tight leggings. He wore no gloves, but he did wear his horned pendant. On impulse, Julian had researched its shape and found that it was similar to symbols associated with the Horned God of Celtic mythology. The Horned God was a tempter, a