DISCLAIMER: Star Trek, Star Trek:Deep Space Nine and its characters are copyright Paramount and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan 1996.

IS IT A DREAM?

Morning.

Sleep left her slowly and she turned onto her back in bed, looking up into unexpected darkness. She frowned. Surely it was morning. She felt as if she had slept long enough, but it was far too dark in her room. She reached out to the side, seeking the clock beside her bed to settle the matter. Her fingers closed on nothingness. There was no clock. Come to that, there was no bedside table for it to rest upon.

Panic began to set in until a small, rational part of her brain asserted itself. She was dreaming. That was it. This was a waking dream. All she had to do was to go with it and soon enough she would wake up properly. Her course of action decided she pushed herself into a sitting position and swung her feet to the floor. She might as well at least see where her dream had taken her.

Carefully, wary of unseen obstacles in the dark, she made her way across the floor until her outstretched fingertips made contact with a wall. Slowly she felt her way along it, looking for a light switch. Her questing fingers failed to find one. Finally, exasperated, she cried aloud,

"Where are the damned lights?" At once the room was flooded with illumination. After being in total darkness the sudden influx of light blinded her. "Damn it, not so bright!" she protested indignantly and at once the light level dropped to something her eyes could cope with. She blinked, clearing dancing white specks of brilliance from her vision, and looked around her.

Her jaw dropped abruptly as she received visual confirmation that this certainly was not her bedroom. She did, however, recognise her surroundings. There was no doubt about it. She was in quarters on Deep Space Nine.

No, no I'm not, she told herself sternly. This is a dream. I was just up too late reading those stories last night and it's triggered a very intense DREAM.

Slowly she moved around the room, exploring, touching. Dream or no dream the textures felt incredibly real under her fingertips. This was almost too good to be true. So why not just let things unfold as they would? Where was the harm in it? Imagine all the story ideas that this could provide her with! She'd be writing nonstop for a week once she woke up.

She continued her cataloguing of the quarters and finally found herself in front of the replicator. She never could get her day started without a coffee, she mused. Before she could stop herself she found she had requested a raktajino. She'd always wondered what it actually tasted like. The replicator whirred into life and a few seconds later a steaming mug of the Klingon coffee had appeared. She picked it up gingerly, blowing on the hot liquid to cool it enough so that she could take a tentative sip. Hm, it wasn't bad at all. A little bitter for her taste, but definitely enough to jumpstart her into action.

With the whole of DS9 to explore it seemed a little foolish to stay in these quarters all day. She might wake up at any time and she didn't want to waste another moment. She looked around her for some clothes and to her disappointment found only her everyday attire - jeans and a loose shirt. Well, she was hardly going to blend in dressed like that. A sudden, delicious thought occurred to her. What a perfect excuse to seek out Garak's shop!

She set down the half drunk coffee and headed into the bathroom. It didn't take her long to realise why everyone seemed to prefer real water to sonic showers! The sonics tingled on her skin in the most peculiar way and she was glad when the program ended and she could step out and dress herself. Back out in the main room she picked up her mug of raktajino again, sipping it slowly.

Her mind was whirling once more. Despite her best efforts to ignore it a little voice inside kept telling her this couldn't possibly be a dream. It was just too real. She'd never had a dream in her life where the tactile sensations were so vivid. And she never got hungry or thirsty in her sleep! But the alternative.... It was just too ridiculous to think she might actually be on DS9. It didn't really exist. It was simply the creation of someone's imagination.

If that's true then why does this all feel so real, damn it?

She didn't have an answer to that question. So she finished the coffee and placed the mug back into the replicator, watching as it shimmered back into nothingness. Ultimately, she decided, it didn't really matter if this were a dream or not. She was here and she could interract with her surroundings. She could either make the most of this unprecedented opportunity or she could sit in these quarters and find herself regretting her inaction when this experience came to an end - as it surely would sometime soon. Squaring her shoulders she headed for the door.

"I'm going to find Garak's," she said firmly to the empty room. "I need to see a Cardassian about some clothes."

Some minutes later she realised it wasn't quite as simple as all that. She might have travelled to DS9 in her imagination countless times, but in 'reality' the station was large and all the corridors looked suspiciously alike. She began to get the nagging feeling she was walking in circles! She was on the verge of attempting to retrace her steps when she realised the door she had just passed didn't look like all the others - it was a turbolift! She quickly backtracked and approached the lift doors. They opened at once and she stepped inside.

"Um, Promenade - please," she requested a little self-consciously. It still felt more than a little odd to talk to thin air. Nevertheless the lift started moving and when the doors opened again she stepped out to find herself amidst the noise and bustle of the Promenade. She pulled up short, eyes wide. It was so much more vast than she had imagined! She looked around her wonderingly and the last lingering doubts faded. This was definitely more than a simple dream. She had no idea how it could have happened, but she was on the space station.

She took a deep breath and tried to orientate herself. A flashing sign caught her attention and she realised she must be looking at Quark's. No, she didn't feel up to going in there just yet! Her gaze travelled across the expanse of the Promenade. If the bar was there the door just across the way must lead to the Infirmary... She was tempted. There was no denying that, but she steeled her resolve and stuck to her original objective. First things first, she needed clothes appropriate to the location. Her memory provided her with a rough idea of where the tailor's shop should be and she headed quickly in that direction, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.

Finally she found a shop window filled with an elegant display of clothing. Well, here she was... Her heart was hammering in her chest and she realised she was nervous.

You're only going in there to get some clothes, she told herself sternly. Like hell you are! muttered another insubordinate part of her brain. You're here because you want to know just what those ridges look like up close - very close...

"Shut up!" she hissed under her breath as she forced herself to take the few steps that would carry her across the threshold of the shop. It was quiet inside after the bustle of the Promenade and the proprietor was not in evidence. She let out the breath she had been holding and began to look around the racks and displays. She didn't want anything fancy just...

"Can I help you, madam?" The voice behind her made her knees go weak in an instant. She would have recognised that voice anywhere. At the moment it was professionally warm and enquiring - and self-evidently needed to be replied to. She turned slowly, shaking a little despite her best efforts to remain calm and collected. Her composure nearly shattered completely as she found herself confronted in real life with the most piercing set of blue eyes she'd ever seen. Not one of her descriptive phrases did them justice she decided at once.

"I..." To her abiding shame her voice came out as a nervous squeak. She cleared her throat hurriedly, intensely aware of the look of amusement that had crossed Garak's face at her first attempt at speech. "Yes please," she managed, "I need some new clothes."

The tailor's gaze swept her appraisingly from head to toe. The warmth and intensity of his regard made her feel faint. One grey hand reached out and touched the material of her shirt curiously, testing the texture between thumb and forefinger.

"I think perhaps you do," he agreed. "I've never seen cloth - or clothing - like this before and it does you no justice, my dear. I believe this would be far more appropriate." Garak moved to one of his display racks and pulled out an elegant looking suit. He held it up against her and nodded approvingly. "Oh yes, the colour is definitely you."

"Thank you," she stammered, "but I don't think the fit is going to be right."

"That's easily corrected, my dear," soothed Garak. "Please take it through to the fitting room and change into it. Here, take this to go underneath the jacket." He selected a shirt of some silky material and handed it to her together with the suit. She clutched the bundle of clothing to her, but didn't move. The Cardassian smiled at her encouragingly, making shooing motions with his broad hands. "Go on now, I'll be through in just a moment. I have to bring my tailoring tools to do the fitting."

There was really nothing else for her to do but to make her way into the small fitting room. She cursed herself silently for behaving like such an idiot. Why was it so easy to write about being cool and sophisticated and completely impossible in reality? She'd always dreamed of impressing Garak with her wit and charm and now he probably thought she was a complete imbecile. But whatever he might think of her, in just a moment he was going to be joining her in the cubicle! With trembling fingers she removed her own familiar clothing and changed into the new outfit.

When she looked at herself in the mirror she had to admit Garak had been right. It did suit her. However the trousers didn't fit properly - they were too long and a little baggy. Also the jacket was too big across the shoulders to hang quite right. She was still surveying herself when Garak pushed the curtain aside and joined her. He smiled widely when he saw her in her new finery.

"Ah yes, an excellent choice - if I do say so myself," he approved. His head tilted to one side slightly as he considered the adjustments he needed to make. She gritted her teeth as the intense scrutiny began to make her blood heat. All at once Garak moved behind her, out of her line of sight, and her nervousness increased. When his hands came to rest lightly on her shoulders, smoothing the fabric carefully, she felt as if she would melt under the gentle contact.

If the tailor noticed her reaction though he gave no sign and simply began his measuring and adjusting. He made small sounds, almost as if he were talking to himself, as he worked. With absolute certainty she knew she was on the verge of making a few sounds of her own if Garak didn't stop touching her soon - probably moans and sighs! Damn it, she had been dreaming and writing about this man, this Cardassian, for so long and now here he was - real, tangible. His faintly spicy scent filled her nostrils and the warmth from his hands bled through the cloth draping her body and heated her skin. In utter embarrassment she knew she was becoming aroused.

Garak chose that moment to began talking as he worked, apparently completely oblivious to the havoc he was wreaking on her senses.

"Tell me, where are you from, my dear? I don't believe I've seen you on the station before. And forgive me, but your clothes are - unusual." She froze. Now what did she say? How could she tell him the truth? Especially when she wasn't even sure herself what the truth was!

"Um, oh, well... I'm from Earth actually," she stammered. That was true enough anyway. "I just arrived on the station today."

"Earth?" queried Garak. His voice sounded doubtful. "That's strange. I don't recall any transports arriving from there today - or for the past several days in fact." He moved back around until he stood facing her. The change in position made it still harder for her to hide the effect he was having on her.

"I - changed ships several times getting here," she improvised. The Cardassian's eyes showed clearly enough that he wasn't buying it.

"I believe there may be more to your story than meets the eye, my dear..." he surmised. Garak's blue gaze fixed on her intently and she flushed even redder than she had from just his touch. She tried to avoid the piercing stare before he guessed the state she was in. Too late. The Cardassian's eyes widened as he suddenly recognised the signs - the heated flush, the expression on her face... She knew the moment he realised and looked down, mortified.

"My dear..." he murmured softly, stepping closer. "Who are you? Why are you here?" The tone of his voice made her look up again. His eyes were mere inches from her own and they seemed to hypnotise her. She stared, mouth open, but quite unable to speak at that moment. "Ah, a woman of mystery then," he concluded. "I enjoy a good mystery..."

"I - would tell you," she managed at last, "but I don't know why I'm here." How could she lie with those piercing cornflower eyes so close, boring into her? And yet the simple truth itself sounded like an evasion. Garak's expression was abruptly sceptical as he pulled away from her. "No, Garak -" She finally brought herself to say his name. If he was surprised that a newcomer to the station would use his name thus, without any title, he didn't show it. "I mean it. It's - a long story."

"I have time," replied the Cardassian equably. Coolly he dropped to his knees and began to work on fitting the trousers of her new outfit. His grey hands were knowledgeable as they moved over her hips, down her thighs... To a casual observer he might appear to simply be conducting a normal fitting, but there was no doubt he now knew exactly what else he was doing.

She didn't know what to do or say. This was Garak on his knees at her feet, touching her and arousing her. Her capacity for coherent speech was distinctly limited at the moment, but she knew she had to say something. Yet how could she tell someone so manifestly real and alive that he didn't really exist - except as a product of someone's imagination? For that matter was that the truth in this here and now? She was by no means certain of that.

"I, I don't come from - here," she began slowly. "In all honesty I have no idea how I was brought here. I just - woke up in quarters on DS9." It sounded lame even to her own ears. "I have always wanted to come here though," she added with commendable honesty.

"Oh?" Garak looked up at her, all pretence of continuing the fitting gone.

"I - wanted to meet you," she admitted, "and - Doctor Bashir."

"Julian? You know of him too?" The Cardassian climbed to his feet pressing her back against the fitting room wall. The doubt was back in his eyes. "How? You say you have only just arrived and yet you know us. Who, or perhaps I should say what, are you? Are you a Changeling?"

"No!" she protested, shuddering as Garak's body came into contact with her own along its entire length.

"No," he agreed slowly. "I don't believe my closeness would so discomfit a Changeling, but you..." Unexpectedly Garak dipped his head and captured her mouth in a skilful, probing kiss. She gave a muffled whimper and her knees began to buckle. The Cardassian's strong hands caught her against him before she could fall. "Is this what you came for, my dear?" he purred.

"Yes!" she moaned helplessly. To say anything else would have been a transparent lie. Garak's eyes were luminous, but still calculating as he moved to a wall panel, still holding her upright at his side. First he pressed a sequence of buttons which locked the outer door of the shop and activated the closed sign. Then he opened a channel on the station's comm system.

"Garak to Infirmary," he said as he smiled at her in predatory fashion.

"Infirmary here. Have you called to ask me to lunch?" A familiar, teasing voice issued from the communicator panel and she gasped involuntarily.

"I have indeed, my dear doctor. Do you think you could take a long lunch break today? I believe it would be worth your while."

"Well, we're not especially busy here. Yes, I think so, Garak. When do you want to meet?"

"Now, if you don't mind, doctor, in my shop. I've closed up, but the door will open to your palm print of course. Just come through to the fitting room. I have something to show you."

"Ohhhh, you have one of those lunches in mind, do you. I'll be right there." Bashir's voice had dropped to a low, sexy whisper and she gasped again. So they really were lovers then? Was it possible? Garak regarded her amazed expression in open amusement.

"You don't mind my inviting the doctor to join us, do you?" he enquired sardonically.

"Not - not at all," she took in a gulp of air before asking tentatively, "but you and he - are you...?"

"Yes, my dear," replied Garak promptly, "we are lovers. Does this disappoint you?" She shook her head fervently.

"Oh no, not at all - quite the contrary actually," she assured him with a pleased smile. Before Garak could pursue the question further the fitting room curtain was pulled aside and Julian Bashir walked in, all long-limbed grace, with a welcoming smile on his face. The smile changed quickly to surprise - and a little hurt - as he found Garak with his arm around a strange woman!

"Garak?" he asked hesitantly.

Bashir's insecurity was quite apparent in his clear eyes. So, she surmised, this relationship must be in its early stages. Julian still wasn't sure quite where he stood with the tailor. Her writer's curiosity couldn't help wondering which one of them had made the first move, but she wasn't about to ask that!

"We have a visitor, doctor," observed Garak helpfully.

"So I can see," replied Bashir, still obviously a little put out.

"No, I'm not sure that you do," insisted Garak. "She claims to have arrived on the station today - from Earth. Oh, and it appears that she knows about - us. At any rate the relationship was no surprise to her."

"What? How? No one knows about us - we haven't told anyone yet. It's still too soon!" Bashir's own curiosity was clearly piqued now. "And - Earth? There've been no ships in from there in several days. Is she a Changeling? Do you want me to test her?"

"No, I don't think that will be necessary, doctor. I've never met a sexually aroused Changeling before!" Garak's eye ridges quirked up in amusement at the twin expressions of startlement on the faces of his companions.

"A what?" Bashir moved closer to her and Garak's arm about her waist held her firmly in place. The doctor stared at her intently, his professional eye cataloguing all the small signs of arousal. It occurred to her that between the pair of them they might just reduce her to a pool of Changeling-like goo! To make matters worse Garak chose that moment to run a broad hand down her spine to the curve of her backside caressingly. She gasped and flushed scarlet again. Bashir relaxed a little, the smile returning to his face.

"I see what you mean, Garak." The doctor turned his hazel eyes full on her own, warmly encouraging. "How did you know about Garak and I?"

"It would take a lot of explaining," she admitted. "I - I don't really know where to start."

"Doctor," broke in Garak exasperatedly, "I'm sure the story would be fascinating, but aren't there things you'd rather be doing than talking?"

"Well, when you put it like that..." Bashir moved in, sliding one arm around her and another round Garak. He dipped his head to taste first one pair of lips and then the other.

Her last coherent thought was that she didn't care how she had got here, but that she very much hoped it was going to be a long stay!

THE END

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