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.

Author's notes: As far as the choice of partners goes, OK I know it's highly unlikely, but in these circumstances it made sense to me at the time!

This story takes place after "Hippocratic Oath" and before "Our Man Bashir".

NO SUBSTITUTE

It is late in the evening at Quark's, but there are still plenty of people filling the place. At one table near the bar a lone figure sits silently, quite unaware of the other patrons moving around him. Strong, grey hands slowly turn a nearly full glass of kanaar. Unseeing eyes, as blue as the liquid in the slender flute, stare fixedly at the untouched beverage.

On the first floor of the noisy establishment another person sits and drinks alone. Capable, human hands abstractedly tilt a half-empty glass of beer back and forth. Morose eyes follow the slow slopping of the dark amber liquid in the tall vessel.

Miles O'Brien sighed deeply.

Damn you! Why can't you see that what I did was right? You may be my superior officer, but sometimes you're still wrong. I've been around the block a few times, but you...? You're just too bloody trusting and naive for your own good sometimes! I was right.

Ah, shit! So why am I the one feeling guilty? You should have just brought me up on charges and got it over with. Anything would be better than this bloody cold shoulder routine.

With a decisive twist of his wrist the chief of operations lifted his glass and downed the rest of his beer.

"I need another drink!" he muttered. Angrily O'Brien pushed back his chair and got to his feet. He stomped down the narrow, spiral staircase and headed in the direction of the bar. He was still concentrating more on his black thoughts than on where he was going. As a result he stumbled into another table as he passed.

"Sorry," mumbled O'Brien reflexively. He was about to continue on his way when he realised that the figure sitting at the table hadn't even looked up. This in spite of the fact that the accident had spilled a good measure of his drink. O'Brien paused, curious. The unmoving figure was Garak, the station's sole resident Cardassian.

"You look like I feel," observed the engineer in a louder voice. The tailor blinked, finally noticing that he was being addressed. He also registered the spilled kanaar for the first time and pushed the glass away from him.

"Mr O'Brien," said the Cardassian with a slight inclination of his head. "Pardon me for not noticing you before."

"No need to apologise, I was away in my own world too. That's why I wasn't looking where I was going," replied O'Brien with a rueful half-smile. "You must know what it's like when you have something on your mind."

"I do indeed," agreed Garak. He eyed the engineer shrewdly. "And it's even possible that the cause of our introspection may be the same." O'Brien looked startled. How did Garak...?

"You mean - Julian?" he blurted out, before he could think better of it. After all, the doctor and the tailor were friends. They had been for years. Garak smiled sadly and nodded.

"Won't you sit and join me, Mr O'Brien," he offered, gesturing to the empty seat opposite him. After a moment's hesitation O'Brien accepted the invitation. Garak regarded the human face steadily for several seconds before dropping his gaze and continuing.

"It is no secret that since your recent mission to the Gamma Quadrant relations between the good doctor and yourself have been - strained."

"You could say that," agreed O'Brien with a harsh laugh. "But you said Julian was the cause of your mood too. I thought you and he got on fine."

"Oh, we did," said the tailor, stressing the past tense. "However, for the past few weeks I fear that the doctor has been quite deliberately avoiding me." Garak looked up and the pain this knowledge caused him was clearly evident in his expression.

"Mr O'Brien, at least you know the reason for your difficulties with Doctor Bashir. I, on the other hand, have no idea as to the cause of our estrangement."

"Hasn't he said anything to you?" asked the engineer, surprised. That didn't sound like Julian. He usually gave one chapter and verse - whether one wanted it or not.

Garak gave a slow shake of his head. He eyed O'Brien measuringly, wondering just how far he could trust him. Not far, probably, but at this stage of the game what did he really have to lose? Julian was already ignoring him so what further sanction could he take? The Cardassian took a deep breath.

"You did know - that Julian and I had become lovers, did you not?" he enquired quickly. O'Brien flushed, looking down at his empty glass in embarrassment.

"Well... Yeah, there have been some rumours," he admitted. "Not that I'd paid them any mind you understand. What Julian does when he's off duty is no business of mine, but..." Garak's eyes widened questioningly, silently encouraging the human to elaborate further.

"Ah, you know - you've been seen coming out of one another's quarters at all kinds of odd hours, that sort of thing. And, well, people talk..." finished O'Brien lamely.

"I'm sure they do," agreed Garak with a faintly ironic smile. The engineer's head jerked up and his gaze suddenly took on a strange intensity.

"At least you know what it's like - to be with him, I mean," said O'Brien abruptly. "I don't even have that." Garak sat back in his seat, plainly startled by the human's unexpected outburst.

"I thought you and Julian were only friends," he managed at last.

"We were - more's the pity," muttered O'Brien morosely.

"But, Mrs O'Brien..." said the tailor with a frown.

"Isn't here," snapped the human flatly.

Silence descended between the two men for a long moment. At length O'Brien looked across at the Cardassian and opened his mouth as if to speak. Garak shook his head emphatically.

"Say nothing, Mr O'Brien," he said, rising from his seat, "but if you wish - come with me now."

Without a word the chief of operations also got to his feet. Garak had already turned and headed for the door. He did not look behind him, but his instincts told him that O'Brien was following.

What in all the hells are you doing? the Cardassian asked himself as he led the way to his quarters. He hates your kind and you feel nothing for him. So how does this help either of you? Glancing at the stocky figure of the human, Garak still had no answer to that question even as the door of his room closed behind them.

O'Brien looked around the stark, sparsely furnished quarters curiously. With a twinge of jealousy he wondered how many times Garak had entertained Julian here. How often had they...? The engineer pushed away the unwanted images that rose to his mind of Julian and Garak making love on the narrow Cardassian bed on the far side of the room. Instead he returned his gaze to the tailor who stood motionless just a few feet from him, his face completely unreadable. Was he seriously going to do this? With Garak?

"Mr O'Brien, if you don't want..." Garak began in a surprisingly soft voice.

"I do," interrupted O'Brien bluntly. The Cardassian inclined his head in acquiescence. For a brief moment an expression that might have been pity, or perhaps regret, passed over his features before he schooled them to their previous impassivity.

Garak stepped closer to the human. It was evident that he would have to initiate whatever happened here; so he reached for the unfamiliar body with his broad, grey hands. It felt so different. With Julian the tailor had always harboured the irrational fear that he might snap the willowy figure in two if he clasped it too tightly. In contrast O'Brien felt solid - like another Cardassian would. So Garak pulled the engineer against him, hard. Leaning closer he drew in a long breath. O'Brien might be the same species as Julian, but he didn't even smell the same...

Hesitantly, O'Brien brought his arms up around the thickset Cardassian body. How unlike the one he had dreamed of holding, thought the engineer ironically. But as the tailor's hands moved over his back the warmth and the proximity seemed to serve. Slowly O'Brien felt his cock stirring, stiffening. He wasn't sure whether to view it as a triumph or a betrayal.

Since when did you get turned on by a bloody Cardassian, Miles Edward O'Brien? You spent your time trying to kill them... It wasn't a reassuring thought. Neither was the knowledge that Garak was also becoming aroused. O'Brien could feel the hardness pressing against his thigh.

Garak sighed. He had no more idea why he was really doing this than he suspected the human did. Why had he even offered? Misplaced pity? He certainly hadn't been motivated by desire. O'Brien held no attraction for him whatsoever. And yet he was undeniably getting hard. Was a warm body really all he needed? With Julian it had always been so different. He had known such joy at their joining. Now he was simply going through the motions to dull the ache he felt at his groin.

Wordlessly the Cardassian pulled O'Brien towards the bed. Better to get this over with as soon as possible. Knowledgeable fingers found the fastenings of the human's gold and black coverall, stripping it from him effortlessly. Garak had, after all, divested Julian of his enough times to become adept at it. The engineer had more of a struggle as he tried to get Garak out of his clothes though.

Damned Cardassian! How many bloody layers does this thing have anyway? cursed O'Brien silently.

Finally, however, both men were naked in one another's arms. They writhed against one another frantically, thrusting their groins together and seeking a quick release. With a growl of frustration Garak used his weight to topple O'Brien onto the bed. He covered the pale, heavy body with his own, still moving constantly. He was slowly becoming caught up in the sensations in spite of himself.

The engineer allowed the Cardassian the upper hand - the first sparkles of pleasure were after all beginning to resonate along his nerves - until Garak bent his head and began to bite the human's thick neck. Evenly matched with the tailor in both size and weight, O'Brien took advantage of that fact to roll them over until he was on top.

Do you let him bite you, Julian? Does he feast on that long, slender, golden neck of yours? Do you lay down for him and let him do whatever he wants to you? Why him? Why not me? At least I'm your own kind... Well, even if you do I'm damned if I will!

Garak smiled faintly to himself as he saw the changing expressions that passed over O'Brien's face in quick succession.

Do you fondly imagine I don't know that you're thinking of him? Wishing it was him pinned beneath you? Well, in case you hadn't noticed I wish it was Julian's body covering mine! He is velvet and silk where you are sackcloth and the coarsest linen. Still, I'll allow you your hollow victory, Mr O'Brien. I'll take what you offer and pretend to be glad of it, but frankly my own hand would be more pleasurable than what you're doing right now.

Sweating and grunting with effort O'Brien thrust himself mindlessly over and over against the unresisting form beneath him. He didn't even notice that Garak was no longer responding. It was long enough since he had last had sex that his climb to the peak was quick. The ridges and scales of the Cardassian body offered unexpected sensations and the spicy scent rising from Garak's skin was both pleasant and stimulating.

Almost before he was even aware that he was on the brink O'Brien felt himself falling over it. His climax rolled over him and he froze abruptly in place. His seed spilled across the grey, leathery skin of Garak's stomach.

"Julian..." The name slipped past O'Brien's lips before he could call it back. Embarrassed and exhausted the engineer slumped across the tailor's chest. "Shit!" he added, with feeling. Unexpectedly a rough laugh escaped the Cardassian.

"It's quite all right, Mr O'Brien. I do understand the sentiment," he muttered wryly. O'Brien pushed himself upright, looking down at the supine form of the tailor. The bright blue eyes looked back at him sardonically. Slowly the direction of their gaze shifted and the human counterparts followed the same, downward path. O'Brien realised abruptly what Garak had been trying, wordlessly, to tell him.

The ridged Cardassian cock still strained upwards from Garak's groin. Intent on reaching his own peak O'Brien hadn't thought to check if the tailor had also been satisfied. Studiously avoiding Garak's eyes O'Brien reached out and tentatively wrapped his hand around the impressive erection. Now that his own passion was spent only the embarrassment remained. The engineer pumped the thick cock hard, determined to bring Garak his release as quickly as possible.

The Cardassian closed his eyes. O'Brien's technique could use some work, but the tailor doubted he would appreciate being told so. Still, if he concentrated on directing his mind to certain more pleasurable occasions it would serve. Eventually Garak felt the familiar warmth building in the pit of his stomach, slowly spreading along his limbs. His hips thrust up off the bed as he came, spilling hot fluid over O'Brien's hand.

If Garak also wished that it had been Julian who was responsible for his pleasure, he at least retained enough control to keep his thoughts to himself.

O'Brien released the now limp Cardassian cock gratefully and looked down at the inscrutable face below him. What did Julian see in Garak anyway? Even by Cardassian standards the tailor's features were unremarkable at best. He sighed loudly and Garak opened his eyes.

"Thank you," he said, without irony. O'Brien shook his head.

"It was nothing," he muttered dismissively.

"I know," observed Garak without inflection. The engineer cleared his throat self-consciously.

"Well, I suppose I should be going..."

"Yes, I think you should."

"Garak?"

"Yes?"

"You won't - tell anyone about this, will you?" Garak shook his head firmly.

"It would serve no purpose for anyone else to know," he said, not unkindly.

"Thanks," muttered O'Brien awkwardly as he scrambled off the bed and hurriedly began dragging on his clothes.

"I have heard," began Garak thoughtfully, "that Doctor Bashir has recently taken delivery of a new holosuite program. He's been terribly secretive about it so far. My curiosity is definitely piqued. And perhaps he would like some company after all, don't you think?"

"Yeah, and I hear the Jerries are crossing the Channel again," put in O'Brien. "Maybe Julian would like to help put a stop to that."

"I'm sure he would," agreed the Cardassian.

"I'll, er, be seeing you around then, Garak," said the engineer, plastering a manifestly insincere smile on his face.

"Of course," said Garak politely as he watched the stocky human beat a hasty retreat. "Of course," he repeated, for the benefit of the empty room.

THE END

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