Actions

Work Header

Impact

Chapter Text

There wasn't ever any decision to make. It had already made itself.

That DS9 had ceased to be 'home' in his mind had been a more gradual realization.

After the end of the war, nearly everyone had scattered off into the nine winds. Odo had left to rejoin the Great Link followed soon after by Worf, whom had departed to take the position of Federation Ambassador to Qo'nos. Then, Miles had returned to Earth with Keiko and Molly after accepting a teaching position at the Academy, Captain Sisko had left for the Celestial Temple to resume his education from the wormhole aliens—( the 'prophets', that is ), and Kassidy had relocated to Bajor to wait for him.

For awhile, Julian had clung to Ezri, desperate to retain that last remnant of belonging to something bigger and better than himself—desperate to believe that by being together they could heal each other by some kind of symbiotic osmosis—that this would shield them against those lingering ghosts of their pasts and the ache of being left behind—that if he could only convince her he could be enough for her, she would be content to stay, and that in return, he could eventually convince himself that she would be enough for him. But, the more he tried to grasp for her, the further she slipped from his reach; and ultimately, her lust for life subsumed her love for him, and when Starfleet offered her a command of her own, she took it.

Julian had wanted to be devastated—he'd wanted to feel like the earth had split open to swallow him down—but instead of a broken heart, he'd only felt the same relief he'd known she was feeling in their final farewell. This was his pardon. He would no longer have to suffer that chronic, underlying feeling of guilt for having tethered his friend from the stars she belonged to under false pretenses.

There was no mention of 'breaking up' or 'trying for something long-distance', it would've been redundant to spell out the obvious. An insult to both their intelligence and friendship. Because, this was the excuse he'd needed but feared and the excuse Ezri needed and longed for—because they both knew that this thing between them; sprung from the mutually shared greed and grief of longing for something impossible and held together by his delusion and her kindness had been doomed for the start.

Kindness is so often just another word for pity, isn't it?

But, in those days that followed her departure, kindness of any kind other than in the bottom of a glass would have been welcomed. However, it was in the bottom of a glass that he experienced two very significant realizations. First of all, he had no real ties left here anymore. DS9 was no more to him now than a cold shell of its former self; a place to work and sleep, rinse and repeat—and if he'd been truly honest with himself in the first place, he would have acknowledged that from the very moment Garak had stepped foot off the station. Secondly, he was a damned fine doctor, and DS9 no longer needed a damned fine doctor, they just needed a doctor. He was essentially being wasted here. What good was it to have his near boundless mental and physical abilities if all he was needed for these days was little more than patching the occasional scraped elbow or tending the occasional head-cold? Surely there was some higher calling for the calling he'd been called to.

Briefly, he considered there was always an option to apply for a transfer. Something less stationary would likely be more fulfilling, but now, as an outed augment, Starfleet would be reticent to approve such a request. Frankly, had this revelation never surfaced, he was quite certain he would've been promoted ages ago, but for the sake of preemptively negating any potential issues, he suspected they were of the opinion that the lower they kept his visibility the better.

He knew he ought to be thankful to even still have his job, but feeling so unfulfilled and underchallenged was slowly eating away at him. He needed to be needed. And frankly, who needed him more than Cardassia? Unfortunately, she hadn't opened her doors to Starfleet's aid, at least, not in any official capacity. Fortunately, private citizens, regardless of their affiliations, were being sought desperately and Julian had accrued ample leave over the past seven years to volunteer his services.

Making the arrangements went smoothly. After receiving his letter of acceptance into the intergalactic Neutral Emergency Relief Volunteer Corps—or NERV-C (an acronym universally accepted for its efficiency), all he had left to do was pack his bags and figure out how the hell he was going to get there from DS9. The radiometric interference in the upper atmosphere post-bombing meant beaming down was a no-go. Julian didn't exactly prefer the idea of risking arriving on the transporter pad on the other side atomically rearranged. Anatomically speaking, that didn't typically make too attractive a sight—nor often a survivable one, for that matter. Thus, he booked passage aboard a freighter and arrived on Cardassia Prime a week later, a bit stiff-limbed but happily intact.

As Julian debarked onto the Setkor station platform, emerging out of the cool, clean, recycled air of the cabin into the arid heat and hazy curtain of dust settling over the landscape, three things became immediately apparent: one, as soon as he could get through registration, he would have to change into something lighter, two, if his fragile human lungs were going to sustain him for any reasonable length of time here, he would have to inquire after a pleural reinforcement, and three, his feet were now on the same ground as Garak—wherever he was.

Julian's heart raced with excitement as he impatiently waited to register in the exhaustively long customs cue. After half-an-hour, he finally reached the station desk to provide his thumbprint on the ID verification scanner. After being approved for documentation and added to the roster, he was handed a numbered ticket and herded into a roped-off section with the rest of his fellow offworlders where they stood like cattle awaiting 'non-citizen identity evaluation'. Whatever that meant.

For another half-hour, Julian roasted outside, the small yurt providing only the merest relief from the direct rays of the late afternoon sun. His thoughts meandered aimlessly for awhile, picking out snippets of conversation here and there about keeping a siphon on hand “in case you run low on fuel” and avoiding Kurab— “the flayers come out at dusk and so do the bandits—”

After what seemed like a decade, shirt sticking to his back and stomach beginning to growl, he finally heard his number and was ushered into a make-shift stall where he quickly learned the meaning of this 'evaluation'. First, he was unceremoniously doused in some kind of aerosol decontaminate, then he was subjected to both an interrogation to determine the purpose of his visit and a stern lecture on adhering to 'etiquette' for the preservation of public and personal safety. (This entailed abiding by the curfew and only leaving camp in the escort of a Cardassian citizen). When this was finished, he was supplied with directions to the tram heading for Culat.

The grim and rather desolate landscape whizzed past in a blur of orange smog, rubble, ramshackle garrisons and rows of tent-towns. Aboard the transport, with a heavy heart, Julian took note of his fellow passengers. Those who were Cardassian looked haggard and dead-eyed and those who weren't looked demoralized and just as haggard.

Half-past noon, he arrived at the NERV-C campus. At the gate, he was immediately greeted by a young man who introduced himself as the liaison between this chapter of NERV-C and the local administration.

As they walked together into the base, the Cardassian explained he'd studied here at the University before it had been demolished in the blitz—all but the heavy concrete, brutalist-style union hall, which stood as a “testament to its construction during the 'Kell' movement,” apparently a much lauded era among architects, Julian gathered from his somewhat pedantic companion). Recently, it had been requisitioned by the provisional government for use by the relief organizations, and in this case, it had been repurposed as the NERV-C main pavilion—partially designated for use as a hospital as well as a research facility.

After checking into the medical unit, his section supervisor, Dr. T'Vala took him on a cursory tour of the grounds, introduced him to his fellow volunteers and showed him to the staff tenement housing.

Once he'd been deposited at the canteen and provided with a portable fusion generator and a stamp clip for fuel, food and water rations, Julian lugged his bags and armful of generator up the stairs to his new temporary lodgings. The quarters were sparse and he could tell he could see he would be sharing with another volunteer. Dumping his belongings down beside the unoccupied cot, he tore off his sweat-soaked shirt and collapsed on his cot with a groan. He felt like he'd accumulated a cake of sediment over his skin and wondered if he'd ever get to use a real shower again. Even a sonic one would be lovely if he could spare the fuel credits to run it.

“You are Dr. Bashir of Starfleet.”

Julian started, not having heard anyone enter, defensively springing off the bed to his feet, taking quick visual inventory of the man standing in the open doorway.

“I did not intend to startle you,” he apologized stiffly, appraisingly eyeing Julian as if sizing him up. “I am Radak.”

“Dr. Bashir,” Julian replied a bit redundantly, holding his hand up in the ta'al. “Na'shaya, Radak.”

The Vulcan's expression relaxed minutely, returning the formal greeting before his eyes flicked down briefly to Julian's bare chest. His lips pursed in disapproval. “There are Cardassians that reside among us in these barracks. It would be advisable for you to remain clothed if you should leave our quarters.”

Julian flushed a little indignantly. “Yes, I'm aware of intercultural etiquette.”

“As a Starfleet officer, I acknowledge that you would be apprised of such protocols,” Radak replied. “Which is why I intended to inform you of the resident population, as I presumed, by your current state of dress, you were unaware of. It is a matter of propriety. A commonality shared with Vulcans,” he added a bit pointedly.

“Unfortunately, I'm not quite acclimated to the heat, and I wasn't aware I would have company,” Julian explained a touch defensively, grabbing his bag to search for a clean shirt.

“I was informed of your arrival,” Radak provided by way of explanation. “As we are to be sharing accommodations, it seemed logical to introduce myself.”

“Ah,” Julian replied, locating a light-knit top. “Well, I will endeavor to remain more appropriately attired in your presence in the future.”

“You have taken offense where none was intended,” Radak remarked. Once Julian was dressed again he turned back around to find the Vulcan, now seated on his cot across the small room, staring at him intently with very poorly disguised curiosity. “You are an augment.”

“You've heard of me,” Julian grinned, taking a seat on his own cot and leaning against the back wall.

“I reviewed your file. It is interesting that Starfleet permitted you to retain your post,” Radak mused. “I have never met an augment. There are none on Vulcan. I assumed you would look...different.”

Julian raised an eyebrow. It was a little surreal having his appearance remarked on by a Vulcan.

“One would have thought your physique would bear a closer resemblance to Khan Noonien Singh. It does not. You are...lean, like a Vulcan,” Radak observed. “However, at one-point-four G, my biological strength would be three times that of a Terran. I presume you are an exception to this? There was no record of your isokinetic measurement on file.”

The question was surprisingly personal for having just met, but then, Vulcans were notoriously straight-forward. Still, since Radak had taken the initiative to remind him of cultural sensitivity, Julian decided to repay the favor. “I presume your interest is purely academic?” He teased lightly.

Surprisingly, the Vulcan's cheeks colored a faint, greenish-hue. “I am being intrusive,” Radak said, ducking his chin in slight embarrassment. “Again, I intended no offense.”

Julian was amused. His new roommate was certainly unlike any Vulcan he’d ever heard of.

<~>

As he settled in over the next couple of weeks, he fell into an easy groove and had even managed to make a few friends. They were all every bit as unique as Radak--in their own respective way of course, and Julian privately wondered if NERV-C wasn't a bit of a misfit magnet. He fit right in, after all.

Dr. T'vala was a superb supervisor who led her team with Vulcan-like effeciency. However, there was a soft, compassionate side to her Julian hadn't expected.

She was not the only outlier. There was also Dr. Hall, a jovial, older man and fellow human Julian had learned resided on Pentath III, a Cardassian colony on the border of the Bajoran sector with his Bajoran wife, Kala Lusai who worked in the canteen. Then there was Dr. Tolun, a Cardassian volunteering from one of the outlying colonies, whom had admitted some relief to find himself among peers whom for once were neither surprised nor skeptical of his vocation; an atypical one among Cardassian males. He was a handsome, congenial man who had a way of making everyone in his company feel at ease and Julian suspected if his heart wasn't already spoken for, he'd very likely find himself falling for the kind doctor.

Finally, as for his Vulcan roommate, Julian found the man much more of a challenge to warm up to. He was oddly temperamental for his kind and quite cagey. But not in the normal way most Vulcans preferred their privacy. It was as if he was hiding something—which was also neither a logical nor typical thing for a Vulcan. He kept mostly to himself, with the notable exception of Dr. Tolun, whom he occasionally shared a meal with. Though, whenever Julian would attempt to subtly ply the Cardassian for information on the subject he proved annoyingly vague.

Perhaps prevarication was a generally shared trait among Cardassians, Julian figured.

Always intrigued by a good mystery, one morning, after scanning the national news and discreetly dropping a few more feelers out along the message boards for any sign of Garak, he decided to do a bit of snooping in the campus files. He didn’t find much, but what he did find was...interesting.

Later that evening after they had both retired to their shared quarters, Julian finally worked up the nerve to confront the Vulcan.

“Why did you volunteer at NERV-C?”

Radak cocked his head at him curiously. “I could inquire the same of you.”

Julian considered he had a point.

Radak set down his padd. “Your enlistment was independent of your affiliation with Starfleet, an organization you are still employed by. A fact which suggests you have used personal leave to serve here, which in turn implies your motivations are of a personal nature,” he pointed out with as much unabashed presumption as he'd had on the day they'd first met.

“I am a Doctor,” Julian countered. “Cardassia is in dire need of aid. I made the logical decision to provide my services where they were most needed.”

“That is a sound pretext,” Radak replied, unconvinced. “Arjun mentioned you were acquainted with a Cardassian aboard Terok—aboard Deep Space Nine. It would be reasonable to surmise this familiarity bred sympathy for the plight of this individual's homeworld.”

“You're on a first name basis with Dr. Tolun,” Julian remarked, watching with interest as a brief flash of embarrassed frustration crossed the Vulcan's expression. He recovered his control quickly, but it was enough for Julian to know the other man had not meant to volunteer this fact.

“You have a remarkable bedside manner, Dr. Bashir,” Radak pointed out somewhat resentfully. “A skill set carried over into your interrogation technique.”

Julian gave the Vulcan a placating smile. “This isn't an interrogation.”

The Vulcan stared at him skeptically. “If this is not an interrogation, then this would be a fair exchange of information, and if this were the case, it would be reasonable for you to supply a response to my supposition.”

Julian deliberated for a moment, wondering if providing a few of his own truths wouldn't loosen up his quarry. “You could say there was a component of sympathy involved in my decision,” he conceded. “Perhaps you were similarly compelled?”

Radak's expression struggled to retain its objectivity. “My reasons are my own.”

“Then this exchange has not been a fair one,” Julian pointed out.

“I did not consent to it in the first place,” the Vulcan defended.

Julian pretended to relent, giving a nonchalant shrug. “Very well, Radzhek , I'll let you return to your reading.”

At the use of his real name, the Vulcan gave up any pretense of dispassion. “I should not have admitted that I had looked at your file. I should have known you would be vindictive enough to do the same to me,” he ruefully exclaimed, his shoulders sagging in defeat. “ Radak is an epithet. An name that was applied to me by my school peers. You are fluent in Vulcan, I assume you can dissect its roots to discern its meaning.”

“It means 'outcast',” Julian provided without hesitation.

Radak sighed dismally, far past any attempt to conceal his emotions. “I am prone to emotional displays and have always struggled to adhere to Surak's principles. As a child, I failed my kahs-wan. My weak nature has long been a source of deep shame.”

“Then why would you choose to assume such a moniker?”

“As you would know from my files, I am an expatriot,” Radak stated with a small, bitter smile. “It is a relevant and befitting alias.”

Julian studied him curiously. “Why would you need an alias?”

“I don't need an alias. I wanted one. To disassociate myself from my family. I did not wish to bring further shame on them.”

Julian pieced together what he knew of the Vulcan and wondered...

“After graduation, I accepted a position with the Science Academy as a xenohydrologist. On a field study on Torros III three years ago, I learned I..preferred the company of my host. He convinced me to emigrate. I do not regret my decision.”

“So, when Cardassia Prime recruited her backwater citizens, you came along with Dr. Tolun,” Julian deduced.

“Naturally,” the Vulcan sniffed.

“Although you don't share accommodations,” Julian mused. “I assume due to rather obvious reasons,” he added a second after reminding himself as to what those obvious reasons were.

Radak's flush of frustration deepened into one of misery. “If by 'obvious reasons' you are referring to Cardassia's historically uncharitable disposition toward less conventional arrangements, then you would be mistaken on both accounts.”

Julian's face screwed into a frown of confusion and Radak clarified. “For many years, even before the war, the general sentiment among private citizens was far more tolerant than Cardassia's political propaganda would suggest to the rest of the galaxy. As for Arjun, he does not know of my regard.”

Julian couldn't help but feel a commiserating pang of sadness for the other man.

“You moved to the Doctor's homeworld. You followed him here,” Julian pointed out. “One would think that unto itself, would be suggestive enough.”

Radak closed his eyes and sagged back against the wall behind him. Julian smiled a bit wryly to himself. The Vulcan's body language was indeed expressive.

“One would think that,” Radak replied somewhat dejectedly, “But not Arjun.”

“Then wouldn't it be logical to tell him?” Julian asked, tamping down the sudden emergence of his own past hypocrisies.

“I surmise the reason you are here, Doctor, and not with your friend, is for likely the same reason I am here and not with mine,” Radak shrewdly remarked.

Julian sighed. Caught red-handed. Feeling sympathetically defeated, he too leaned back against the wall.

“You're observant,” he admitted. “But, it's not precisely the same situation. I'm trying to mend a vestige of a possibility that once existed during a different time and the fact is, I neither know quite where to start nor do I even know where he is. The latter of which, is clearly the exigent priority.”

Radak scooted toward the edge of his cot, propped his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers under his chin. It was a very Cardassian-like affectation.

“I do not mention this to boast,” Radak prefaced, “But, suffice it to say, I am both extremely skilled at sifting through large quantities of data to extract the information I require, and having lived in the Cardassian world for some time, I have a passing familiarity with its databasing systems. Thus, I would be willing to provide you some assistance in this pursuit of yours if you will decline any mention to anyone of mine.”

“What makes you think I wouldn't respect your wishes regardless?”

“You are what I have heard referred to as a 'busybody'. I suspect if you thought you could help, you would interfere. I would prefer to prevent that potential,” Radak replied with a thin, knowing smile.

Julian grinned to himself. He wasn't wrong.

“Alright,” he conceded. “We have a deal.”

<~>

"Mila, you said, was Garak's mother, correct?” Radak asked, taking a seat across from Julian in the mess hall.

Julian paused, setting down his fork. “Yes. Why? What have you learned?”

“Considering his past with the Obsidian Order, one might suspect your friend's interest in politics would lure him to the site most fomenting in its activity, from the very epicenter of the imperial plaza there's turmoil that's going by the name of 'Mila'.” Radak pushed his padd across the table to show Julian a post on an obscure message board.

Mila's got those ambitious Guls from their backwater colonies scampering off back home left and right.”

“I'm not interrupting anything am I?” Dr. Tolun asked coming over with his meal tray.

Radak colored slightly and moved down a seat to make room for his friend at their table.

Julian had noticed the way their Cardassian patients opened up more naturally to their fellow Cardassian doctor than they ever had with him and briefly shared a look with Radak. The Vulcan caught on.

“Arjun, in any of your discussions with your patients, have you ever come across mention of the name 'Mila'?”

“I've met a Mila or two, it’s an older name,” Dr. Tolun replied. “Or do you mean in reference to the acronym being thrown around that underground dissident movement? The Militia...no. Mobilized Insurg— ah. The Mobilized Intersection Liberation Army. That's it. Although, from what I've heard, it's less of a political movement than it is a political dissolvent.”

“That sounds more like an operation than a group,” Julian suggested, sharing another look with Arjun.

“What makes you say that, Doctor?”

Tolun shrugged. “Well, the rebels in the capitol are intent on restoring the civilian led Detapa council, MILA on the other hand, seems more interested in upsetting the restructuring efforts—which is something of a copacetic cause, but one can't help but notice the recent elevated statuses of those Glinns propagating talk of forming a democracy.”

“An unusual point to consider is that the acronym is Standard,” Radak remarked. “It suggests those involved are not of native origin.”

Tolun shook his head. “They have to be,” he argued. “Outworlders are not allowed in Lakarian City without extreme vetting.”

“They could be mods,” Julian pointed out.

“'Mods'?” Radak asked.

“Slang for epistructural surface remodification, to make one look like another race,” Tolun explained to the Vulcan before returning his attention to Julian. “It's not a common procedure among civilians. Unless you're implying MILA is a Federation implant.”

“No,” Julian sighed. “I suppose that wouldn't be too likely. It’s not their M.O.”

“Regardless,” Tolun continued, “The Dominion made everyone quite paranoid about infiltration. Blood tests, print-matching... ID verification has become something of an obsession here.”

“Then MILA is a Cardassian,” Radak concluded, shooting a pointed look at Julian.

Kira had told Julian about Mila—not the movement, the woman—Garak's mother whom had been killed in the bombing, and how Garak had sworn to return to Cardassia for more than just to help, but for revenge. How fitting would it be to take to achieve this revenge by dismantling the already fragile government from the inside out? It reeked of Garak. This was his bag of tricks! And to cozen off suspicion, the solo saboteur would call himself an army—a little self-stroking of the ego there, but surely enough of a sufficient enough deception! Clever, Garak, Julian thought proudly.

The only thing standing in his way now, was the fact that in order to get access into Lakarian City proper, he needed permission. And to acquire permission, he needed sponsorship from a Lakarian resident. Considering he had no personal relationship with anyone outside of Garak that actually lived on Cardassia Prime, let alone Lakarian City, this posed something of a conundrum.

Which was why Julian couldn't help but feel a little suspicious when only a week later he received a frankly jarring, unexpected memo from NERV-C central stating that the Lakarian City interim counsel had granted their approval of Entrance, accepting him into the city as independent service volunteer, and he would be sponsored and hosted by one Dr. Palim throughout his stay.

How? More importantly, who was Dr. Palim and how did she know of him or his desire for sponsorship?

Although, the answer did seem fairly obvious. If Garak were truly up to what Julian suspected he was up to in the Capitol, he'd hardly be in position to sponsor Julian himself.

All he had left to do was find a guide to help him cross Kurab.

Oh, and say his farewells, of course.

“I believe they still barter in Leks,” Dr. Tolun mentioned, taking out his wallet. He handed Julian several brass coins.

Radak stepped forward as well. “I think I will miss you, Julian Bashir,” the Vulcan said in an uncharacteristic display of public emotion. “Live long and Prosper.”

“Peace and long life,” Julian replied, unable to help catching from the corner of his eye, the soft, terribly fond way Tolun was regarding his friend when the Vulcan wasn't looking.

“I think we'll all miss you,” Dr. Tolun agreed. “Perhaps you'll come back for a visit sometime after your reunion?”

“I think you can count on it. By the way,” Julian said grinning a little deviously staring over the Cardassian's shoulder at a wary looking Radak, before returning his focus on the Doctor. “You should look up the word 't'hy'la' or better yet, ask Radak to explain it to you,” he suggested before hopping in the skimmer to head out the gates,

Radak might be fuming at his betrayal, but Julian figured he’d get over it.

<~>

A soft sun-infused breeze stirred through the plains, lifting thin sheets of sand from the tops of the dunes as Julian, braced over the neck of his riding hound, road down the seemingly endless, winding path. The gust, however, served little respite here in this godforsaken desert that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase: 'hot as hell'.

When he’d first set off, he’d been an intrepid adventurer; Lawrence of Arabia!

Now?

“I'm a disgrace to my ancestors,” Julian muttered to himself, not without some self-reproach as he reflected on millenia's-worth of those desert-fairing progenitors of his whom would surely have left him for dead in the valleys along with the scattered, desiccated husks of regnars and tumbleweeds.

All their blood running through his veins could not fortify him against the relentless, permeating rays of the scorching desert sun because, despite his augmented physiology, he'd been groomed to complacency by a lifetime cosseted within artificially controlled environments.

It had effectively bred out of him the stamina of his birthright.

Thus, fraught by the dizzying syncope of heat and sheer exhaustion, he swayed on his saddle, keenly aware of various muscle groups atrophied from general disuse, screaming for attention under his sun-charred skin. The reality of riding was very little like the almost effortless sport he'd engaged in in the holosuites. He winced against the fire searing through the muscle fibers of inner groin. His adductors, clenched around the wide girth of the beast's back, seized with cramps he could barely breathe through as the air grew thinner the further upward he climbed.

At this elevation, the relentless sun beat down only more oppressively and the meager .0245 differential in this alien planet's gravity was felt in every atom of his every cell.

He endured onward because, somewhere beyond his misery and the soundless susurrus of prayer for a single miracle— for a single, merciful cloud; a refrain chanted in a perpetual loop inside his skull, was the galvanizing promise of shelter that lay just beyond the horizon.

Upon at long last reaching the summit, Julian pulled back the reigns, steadying the beast for dismount. Sliding off onto wobbly, bowlegged legs, his weak fingers fumbled over the cap of his canteen and the second the deluge of water dribbled down his chin and hit the back of his parched throat, he groaned with relief.

With a hand held over his eyes he gazed across the ravine, his eyes measuring the length of the road that stretched down the canyon. He could almost make out the hazy, rippling outline of civilization, dotting the furthest out-most edge of the sweeping, barren vista. The refraction of light warped by the sweltering heat rising off the sun-seared earth formed a mirage-like effect that had Julian questioning his eyes, and were it not for his keener instincts, he'd likely discount its credibility altogether.

But then, after sucking in a deep breath, inhaling the air; beyond the salty taste of his own sweat and the ensconcing smell of creosote and realgar, he picked up a faint, xerophytic note of something sage-like— an encouraging auger. Vegetation of any sort suggested life nearby.

The riding hound gave a disgruntled whinny as Julian pulled himself back into mount, canting as he dug his heels into its ribs before galloping down the cliff face.

He wasn't sure how long he rode for, but the gates to the city gradually grew closer until finally— finally he was there.

Julian dismounted, staggering on legs that could barely hold him.

“Welcome to Lakarian City,” Garak greeted, grinning widely.

Julian fainted.



Chapter Text

Upon first opening his eyes, blinking away the blur and adjusting to the dimness of his surroundings, Julian felt a small jolt of panic and bolted upright, which had the unfortunate result of sending the room spinning. Punched with a wave of nausea, he scrunched his eyes back shut and ducked his head between his knees to level his blood-pressure. Breathe, breathe, he reminded himself, count backward from ten.

Regaining some semblance of equilibrium, he inhaled slowly and reopened his eyes to take inventory of this altogether disorienting situation. First off, he investigated the throbbing above his eyes, hissing as he brushed over a somewhat sizable goose-egg. His hairline felt damp, which he realized a second later was likely due to the moist rolled up cloth lying in his lap, which he figured had probably fallen off his forehead when he’d sat up. His palms were slick with some kind of clear, faintly pleasant, herbal scented liniment which had been applied over a few superficial abrasions, easily repaired once he had access to a dermal regenerator again. Ah, that’s right. He’d passed out hadn’t he? Hence the injuries…

Aside from some bone-deep fatigue from heat-exhaustion and mild dehydration and a bit of whiplash and muscle-strain from the fall he’d taken that he figured he’d likely be feeling for a few days, he was little worse for the wear, all things considered. Whomever had rescued him had cleaned and tended to his injuries, but had left him otherwise clothed and unwashed. Julian grimaced as he looked down at the film of dried sweat, dust and sand, tinting his skin a grayish hue that rather resembled that of a Cardassian’s. The thought had him grinning a little in spite of the fact that he was rather unpleasantly ripe.

On that topic, it was with some relief he noticed the tap running in the corner of the small room, filling a wooden cask that looked a bit more like a repurposed trough, clearly meant to serve as a bath, and since the water was running, this implied his mystery attendant would likely be coming through the door any time now to check on it.

Where was he though?  This was clearly no hospital.

Pinching shut his eyes, he tried to reassemble those last fragmented pieces of memory before he'd woken. Unfortunately, even his enhanced mind and eidetic memory couldn’t quite supply a clear recollection. What he could recall felt unreliable; hazy...he'd arrived on the outskirts of Lakarian city, hadn't he? He'd dismounted, staggered a few step forward and his blurry, sun-strained eyes had landed on a figure roughly a dozen yards in front of him, strolling toward him— Garak— his brain suddenly supplied—it had been Garak, hadn't it? Coming to welcome him; chimeric and mirage-like, his smile wide and effusive as ever and his eyes had been so warm; so pleased to see him—and then Julian's vision had suddenly tunneled—

But, obviously that couldn’t have been real—surely this desperately longed for visage had been nothing more than a marauding delirium of heat-stroke—an apparition materializing from those last, rapid-firing of synapses before he'd lost consciousness—a not uncommon phenomena, he reasoned.

Then again, he sighed, it would be just like Garak to show up like that. He knew the man had likely been responsible for pulling the strings to secure his sponsorship, but why would he risk his neck and break away from his carefully crafted cloak of shadows merely for Julian's sake?

Julian sucked in a breath as he heard a soft approaching footfall outside, freezing as the door opened to admit the devil himself. Over Garak's shoulders were several freshly pressed linens and towels. Balanced over his forearm was a plate stacked with sandwiches and in the crook of his elbow were two mugs and a hot-plate. He didn't spare his gaping patient any notice as he unloaded his armful of items onto the table and Julian took the moment to examine him. His clothes, somewhat duller than those Julian had once been accustomed to seeing, hung off his frame a bit loosely, suggesting whatever stress from the work he'd been doing combined with their ration-controlled diet had stripped him of a few of those extra pounds he'd kept on during his exile and the concerned doctor in Julian frowned at the fact that those sandwiches he'd brought back for them both were likely on the man's credit—a sacrifice that wasn't lost on him.

You've finally decided to join us I see,” Garak remarked, his back still turned to him as he occupied himself with the kettle and hotplate. “I expect you'll be interested in some supper soon.”

Julian's heart beat hard in his chest as he attempted and failed to figure out how to reply, his stomach tied in knots. “Your capacity for speech has abandoned you,” Garak observed, turning around with a wry grin. “What a remarkably uncommon occurrence for you, Doctor.”

“You—” Julian attempted, his voice catching hoarsely over the grit of his parched throat.

“Try taking a sip of some water,” Garak suggested and Julian glanced at his bedside, noticing a cup perched beside a pitcher on the nightstand. He gratefully took the advice, swallowing down the entire cupful, gasping in relief when he’d finished.

“Better?”

You ,” Julian accused.

“Yes we've established that I am in fact, me,” Garak replied, quirking an amused, tolerant grin.

“You’re a damned sight for sore eyes,” Julian finally managed.

So I've gathered. Had I any idea, I would've come prepared to greet you with smelling salts,” Garak teased. “I was hoping I'd collect you and we'd hop off for a bite of lunch together, perhaps catch up, since it has, after all, been some time since we last talked. Unfortunately, your little fainting spell called for a slight detour in those plans.” Garak paused, distractedly pretending to wipe off some invisible smear from the rim of one of the mugs. “Although, I should chastise you for the irresponsible decision you made to venture into the desert by yourself in the first place—”

It's not my fault the Kurabian guides don't seem to care much for humans. It was a challenge in of itself just to bribe them into selling me one of their hounds,” Julian defended.

Speaking of which, I took the liberty of reselling for you,” Garak provided. “I used the proceeds to purchase you a skimmer, which I'm sure you'll agree will serve you much better use in the city.” Again, he stalled, still loitering by the table as if looking for some other excuse to remain there. “At any rate, it is certainly a relief you made it to the gates before nightfall. I can't imagine you'd find yourself too keen to serve yourself up as a midnight snack for the flayers,” he pointed out.

“Where are we?”

“I’m afraid we’re still on the outskirts of Lakarian. Quite a ways from either of our destinations. With respect to your apparently...delicate constitution—” he explained, stopping to smirk at Julian's nonplussed frown, “—I decided it would be prudent to book a room for the night. Unfortunately there are few inns left standing and as you can imagine, even fewer vacancies, therefore, I hope you'll forgive me the imposition of remaining here with you for the night. It will at least allow me to ensure your continuing health, as it would be quite thoughtless of me to send you on to your esteemed hosts in such an unfortunate condition.”

Garak,” Julian huffed, “Really. There is no imposition. I'm just happy to see you. I'm surprised you're here.”

A sentiment I return, Doctor,” Garak replied, checking on the kettle. “I admit, I was somewhat surprised, albeit, in truth, quite touched when I'd learned you'd chosen to use your own time to volunteer your efforts here. In case no one else has had the presence of mind to do so, let me say that on behalf of Cardassia, we are deeply humbled by your service and eternally in your debt,” he commended. “After all these years, you continue to impress me.”

It's nothing,” Julian demurred uncomfortably. Both fearing and hoping Garak's remark was somewhat disingenuous—that he had seen through the pretense of Julian's nobility to his underlying motive—because honestly, why else would he have left the rescue corp to venture into Lakarian City? Garak had to know.

For you it might be, but for many others, those you've helped and saved, those families who've been spared yet another tragedy, it means everything. You disservice their gratitude by diminishing yourself,” Garak chided. “Speaking of which, I've been eager to hear about your work in Culat. I'd heard word along the grapevine all was well for you there...”

You really have to ask why I wanted to transfer here?” Julian asked a little incredulously.

Garak, whom had only implied the question, looked a bit unsettled to find Julian attacking it in such a straightforward manner—clearly less than eager to hear his actual answer.

Julian pushed himself off the pallet onto somewhat unsteady legs and leaned a hand against the wall for support as he took a second to recover his balance.

“I would really feel much better if you didn't try to get up just yet—” Garak cautioned uneasily, as if debating whether to hold his position or rush over to assist him.

Julian realized that he almost looked wary. As if he’d suddenly realized he ought to guard himself against Julian doing anything too brash or presumptuous—an intention Julian had every intention of, if only he wasn't so goddamned dizzy.

Garak. It's been seven months— ” he argued, his voice hoarse and chest tight, “— six days, ” he continued, his eyes burning as he stalked forward, “—and whatever time it is right now, which—” Julian explained, sparing a glance out the window, “—by the elevation of Letau infers is somewhere past nine-hundred—that’s four hours , Garak, at least , and I can fathom some odd amount of a frankly intolerable quantity of minutes and seconds since you left.”

'You've kept count,” Garak remarked, mildly amazed and grimacing a little as Julian committed the brash and presumptuous crime he was afraid of, pulling him into a tight hug. He stood there stiffly, in some obvious discomfort for a few seconds before finally reluctantly bringing his arms up around Julian's back. “Of course, you have,” he sighed. “You've always been such a sentimental thing, haven't you?”

You could've visited,” Julian admonished, squeezing shut his eyes threatening to loose their tears, “Or at least sent a note to say 'hi', I wouldn't have minded.”

I'm sorry to say I am without a defense,” Garak whispered, holding him carefully as Julian burrowed his face into his shoulder. “Any that I imagine would be credible or worthy of you,” he admitted against Julian's curls.

I missed you,” Julian confessed, the admission sounding a little too raw for either of them to know what to do with and Garak released a small, somewhat frustrated sigh.

“And I you, my dear,” he replied in a way that hinted that telling him so was against his better judgment and to some extent, an indulgence.

But was this an indulgence for Julian's benefit? A small gesture of kindness?

Or was it a weakness—something Garak could've resisted under any other circumstance, but had, for just this brief moment decided to permit himself?

Regardless, Julian selfishly soaked up the contact until finally he heard the other man gently clear his throat. Garak gave his back a slightly patronizing little pat, unwrapped his arms and gripped him just firmly enough below the shoulders to peel him off.

Holding him at an arm's length away, Garak examined him with a small, wry expression. “I don't say this to offend, my dear, but you truly do need a bath.”

Julian huffed a slightly shaky laugh. “I'm aware.”

Then if you're aware, perhaps we ought to explore the idea,” Garak suggested, releasing him to go check on the cask and turn off the faucet.

Julian peered over his shoulder. “That's more clean water than I've seen in weeks.”

I would imagine as much. It is a rather rare commodity these days,” Garak sighed. “And thus, I'm loathe to say, something of a small extravagance to the pocket book. That being said, I would be immensely grateful if you would be so kind as to make use of the sponge and basin beforehand and rinse off the worst of your grime, as I wouldn't mind a good wash myself. When you're finished of course,” Garak tacked on at the end, just for the sake of clarity Julian supposed, hiding a somewhat amused smile as he leaned over the cask, dipping in a few fingers to test the water.

I hope it's a suitable temperature for you,” Garak added, helping himself into Julian’s duffel until he located the small tote with his shampoo and soap. He dragged a chair over beside the cask and loaded it up with the items he’d collected, including both mugs, the kettle and the plate of sandwiches.  

It should be,” Julian replied, shooting Garak a sideways look. “I'll try not to tarry too long, however, considering your euthermic average is three point seven degrees lower than mine, I imagine the water might be a touch too cool for your liking by the time I get out. Since I need to scrub down still, wouldn't it make sense for you to get in first?”

Garak's masked expression clued Julian in on the fact that he wasn't keen on the idea but he couldn't quite fault his logic. “Ah, but it wouldn't be polite of me to deprive you of the warmth I'm sure your muscles need after such an arduous journey, Doctor.”

Then why not share? That's the only solution that makes sense,” Julian pointed out, attempting to imbue his tone with as much confidence and objectivity as he could muster; hoping to convince the other man there was nothing untoward about the offer—something which he suspected had he phrased any less delicately would be certain to send Garak fleeing out the door.

Garak's eyes narrowed at him speculatively, searching for the ulterior motive, and Julian smiled blandly, giving him none.

Share,” he parroted in a skeptical deadpan.

Yes. Share , Garak,” Julian smirked. “Surely the concept isn't a new one. There's certainly enough room for both of us—” (Well, perhaps if they both sat with their knees bent.) Or back against each other, Julian supposed, but that was a mental image he couldn't afford to humor if he wanted to play his cards right. “I don't mind if you don't,” he shrugged; an utter picture of nonchalance. “Besides, considering the state of my hands—” Julian added, holding up his scraped palms as a reminder, “I could use some assistance.”

One hopes not too much assistance,” Garak replied guardedly.

Just with my hair,” Julian revised with what he hoped was a believably reassuring grin. “I've got at least half-a-desert still in my scalp.”

Very well, Doctor,” Garak sighed, acquiescing reluctantly. “Then I'll turn away to lend you some privacy while you prepare yourself...or I suppose, if you'd prefer, I could wait outside in the hall.”

Julian cracked a small grin. “I truly couldn't care less either way, but neither is necessary. I'm not exactly shy—” he replied, shrugging out of his shirt and catching the tail-end of an eye-roll.

Yes, I'm unfortunately well acquainted with your lack of modesty.”

Oh, for god's sake, Garak, give it a rest,” Julian huffed with some exasperation. “Unless you bathe fully clothed, we're about to share the same tub and I, for one, have nothing to hide,” —a point demonstrated as he started to remove his pants in a fit of daring that hedged on initiating a game of chicken. “I know how desperately you wish to preserve your oh-so-sacred privacy, so I'll try to extend you the courtesy of pretending I'm blind. But...let's be honest. There is a tangible, inevitable certainty some things will be seen and thus, I will kindly remind you that I’m a doctor, and therefore, as you can imagine, there's very little I haven’t seen. Also? The water is getting cold.”

Julian kicked off his pants the rest of the way, adding them to the heap with his shirt before tucking his thumbs into the waistband of his briefs. Garak’s eyes widened as he realized the last article of Julian’s clothing was about to be discarded and quickly faced away.

Julian snorted. “Really, Garak, if it’s your virtue you're worried about, I vow it will remain intact. Scout’s honor,” he pledged.

“I wouldn’t flatter myself to harbor such fears,” Garak drawled.

Their argument dancing on that precarious, suggestive ledge had Julian somewhat less than fully quiescent; something which, considering the present state of their newly renewed, awkwardly ambiguous and tentative friendship would have made Julian grateful for Garak’s currently averted gaze--if only the man hadn’t muttered that last remark. Because honestly, they were both adults. There was no reason to be so goddamned coy! Garak could lie to him all he wanted, but their enduring mutual attraction (in spite of their yo-yoing relationship over the years) was not a very well kept secret between them. To pretend ignorance of its existence was frankly insulting to Julian’s intelligence.

“I would draw attention to the rather obvious fact that you’re mistaken not to,” Julian coolly scoffed, “But to put your mind at ease, I’ll point out that I’m not exactly in prime condition to humor such endeavors at the moment and I’m well aware my performance would be found quite notably lacking. I know you belabor under this skewed impression that my pride is grossly over-inflated, I assure you, however, it does have its limits, and frankly, for that matter, so do I,” he added, scrubbing himself down by his basin a bit angrily. “So, Garak, By all means, persist standing there, demurring like some kind of blushing maiden. Or...drop the act, strip down and get in the damned bath.”

Garak turned back toward him, his face pulling into a wide, amused grin and Julian, both cross and flushing with a small amount of frustration, suddenly felt himself flushing a little more deeply for other reasons as the other man’s eyes dragged over him leisurely.

My, wasn’t that the tirade!” he exclaimed, “Quite the backbone you’ve grown of late, Doctor. I’ll have to defer to your logic. One wouldn’t want to waste the warm water after all.”

Julian just barely remembered to clamp shut his jaw as Garak casually, and without any of his prior reservation began to undress, effortlessly lifting his tunic over his head.   

Truly, Doctor, I do wonder where you get this idea that I'm in any way blushing , yours is by no means the first figure I've seen unclothed either and I'm certain in a second I'll successfully disabuse you of the notion that I'm in any way a maiden, ” he smirked. “Although, I will say, I am somewhat bewildered by your temerity. Excoriating me for both daring to afford you some modicum of privacy and daring to consider any for myself, suggests a few voyeuristic and frankly exhibitionist tendencies I find somewhat… unseemly.”

Unseemly,”Julian drawled. “That's a new one.”

Is it, Doctor?” Garak challenged, untying his loose linen trousers, “What is it they say about ‘taking a picture’?”

Julian snorted a soft laugh and shook his head, making a show of looking away to allow his companion to finish getting undressed in privacy. He heard the water slosh a little, signaling Garak had climbed in.

“Is it safe to turn back around yet?”

“Be my guest,” Garak chuckled. His smile was unaffectedly pleasant as he sipped his tea. “Join me whenever you’re ready. ”

Feeling suddenly shy in spite of himself, Julian covered his genitals with his hand and stood up to step in. He lowered himself down carefully so as not to displace the water too fast. Even still, it nearly hit his shoulders, cascading over the rim of the cask with a small splash.

“I’d imagined the inns in Lakarian would be a little more...up to date than this,” Julian mentioned curiously, sweeping a glance around their somewhat decrepit room.  

“Ah, I believe our humble dwelling was fashioned out of an old chattel house,” Garak provided, passing Julian one of the sandwiches. “A bit of a tragic irony that so much of Lakarian’s proudest architecture was leveled only to leave behind the historic landmarks of its shame. You’ll see servant dachas like this scattered throughout the city. Their modest earthen-built framework likely absorbed the reverberations from the blasts that cracked the concrete of many of the sturdier surrounding foundations. Speaking of which, we’re fortunate to still have some rudimentary plumbing here. Mind, we’ll still have to pail out the water into the drain tomorrow.”

Julian wiped a few crumbs from his mouth and grabbed his own mug to wash down his meal. “So what’s the progress look like here?”

“Paltry in comparison to Culat. Lakarian saw the brunt of the attacks. As you know, there were almost no survivors. All the current residents here have poured in from other cities and backwater colonies throughout the sector. There were weeks where the air was so polluted from the sulfuric fumes of leftover fires and explosions and mass cremations, one couldn’t know his friend from his enemy under the gasmasks. Those of us who repopulated were forced to live in containment chambers underground for nearly a month. It’s a good thing that panoptic iodonic-radiosynthesis has come such a long way or we’d all be in quite a sorry state I’m afraid,” Garak shifted a little, his knee bumping into Julian’s. “The government is in shambles obviously. There are hopeful politicians peeking up out of the woodwork all the time.”

“And you have your fingers poking around in a few of those jars I imagine,” Julian mused.    

“Oh, you know, as much as one can from the limited capacity of a mere restoration archivist.”

“Is that what you’re doing?”

Garak shrugged. “Unofficially,” he supplied, hiding a small, devious grin behind his mug. “Let’s put it this way, after elections roll around, I think Cardassia will find herself awaking to a new dawn.”

“One she’s ready for?”

“One she’s more than past-due for. Perduring centuries of subjugation tend to provoke that effect. ”

“Not to sound flippant,” Julian prefaced, “But so does near genocide.”

“Ah, and from out of the slaughter riseth the revolution,” Garak retorted a little bitterly. “Well, I’ll give you that it’s certainly paved the path. What you’re witnessing first hand, this recent radicalized transformation manifesting itself among the population is not new, it’s only bolder. There is no new revelation. No spate of sudden enlightenment to applaud us for, Doctor, Cardassia has long been well apprised of her flaws. It’s only that now her wounds can be cauterized.”

“I in no way meant to come off as patronizing,” Julian defended, quickly bulldozing into an explanation before Garak could draw the wrong conclusion. “In fact, I think it’s all very encouraging. I’m particularly amazed by you, Garak. The collective spirit must be contagious. Look at you, covertly propping up these reformation candidates, supporting these platforms denouncing the hierarchy, intent on dismantling both the creed and physical remnants of the Empire. You’ve turned over quite a new leaf.”

“Your impression of me has always erred in this regard,” Garak sighed. “I was never the blind sycophant you took me for. My exile should’ve recused me of the notion.”

Pff,” Julian scoffed. “ Please, ‘the State is sovereign to which one’s duty is first owed before all else’ is an ideology you sang the praises of for years, Garak.”

“Perhaps you failed to discern what I meant by ‘State’,” Garak suggested. “Something that I suspect might be blamed on the failings of the Universal Translator. Had we been speaking in Kardasi, you would’ve spotted this. There is an inflection on the word that differentiates it between ‘Government’ and ‘People’, the latter of which is where my loyalty lie, not the former, as you’ve mistakenly assumed in the past. Considering what you know of me, one would’ve thought you would have arrived at that conclusion yourself. ”

“Honestly, I have given pause to wonder about it,” Julian admitted.

“What deference could I ever owe a world that would deny me…” Garak trailed off, abandoning his remark before it could too obviously incriminate him.

Julian couldn’t help but supply the rest for him. “...Love?”

“More or less,” Garak relented.

“An issue that’s somewhat less of one than it used to be,” Julian submitted.

“In many ways, yes.”

“And increasingly, as Cardassia looks to relax some it’s xenophobic leanings...” Julian added, the remark left dangling with the somewhat oblique suggestion of: Look at me, I’m here. You can have me. We can have this.

To Garak’s credit, he didn’t immediately deflect onto another, safer topic. Instead, he cocked his head to the side and studied Julian with a strange look of dawning realization. “Have you...somehow been under the impression that this was the sole condition for... oh,  my dear,” he uttered softly, his expression anguished.

Julian frowned in confusion.

“You fool, ” Garak chuckled, shaking his head, and for a second, Julian wasn’t sure which one of them he was referring to. “After your genetic status was discovered, in those nerve-wracking hours while you were hastily scrounging together some kind of contingency plan for yourself, you never factored anyone else into the equation. You were so very determined—so utterly convinced you had to go it alone, nothing anyone said to you had any bearing—and at the time, you can imagine how one might have interpreted that.”

Wait... did  Garak just say he wouldn't have had to go it alone!?

Julian gaped at him indignantly.“Of course, because that was so clear to me after that night in the prison camp when I’d asked you, point blank, if, all other things aside, you would’ve stayed on Cardassia.”

Garak rolled his eyes skyward with a put-upon sigh. “Of course I always intended to return here, god willing I was ever given the opportunity, but had the war never happened—had this very specific set of circumstances previously mentioned never come to pass, and , most importantly, had certain other situations developed, I never would’ve stayed. You really should have known that. Honestly, one does pause to wonder whether those enhancements to your brain actually did you any good at all.”

“It’s always groping in the dark with you, Garak,” Julian argued.

“You might have given me the benefit of the doubt.”

“How can I when you give me nothing to work with?” Julian scowled, angrily slamming his mug back down on the chair. The water slopped over the edge and Garak raised an eyeridge.

“Very well. I’ll lay it out for you more clearly, Doctor. Had I your consent, I would have followed you anywhere. If it’s what you’d have wished.”

Gah! A ll this time, we’ve been no better than two ships passing in the night.

Julian groaned to himself angrily.  You barely functional idiot, why didn’t you know?!

Garak gave him a fond smile that touched the edge of condescending: you poor sod, it said, look at all these years you’ve cost us.

“Why don’t you turn around and I’ll help you with your hair?” he suggested, and frankly, Julian was glad to be out of his companion’s direct line of sight, sorely needing a moment to recover his pride. There was barely enough clearance to rearrange himself, and somewhat clumsily, he waded back against the other man, his bottom landing half over one of Garak’s thighs.

“Sorry,” he muttered, feeling his ears flush a bit hotly as his companion softly chuckled while assisting him into place between his knees.

“Duck your head under the water,” Garak instructed.

Julian complied, and sucking in a breath, he thoroughly submerged himself. What can I say? What is there to say? he wondered, idly considering drowning himself as he remained under the water a little longer than necessary before feeling Garak’s hand cup his chin to draw him back up.

I would have followed you anywhere’. The words replayed in Julian’s head as it was gently massaged into a lather.

Well, he considered, if that didn’t foster some hope, what would? He shivered a little as Garak’s fingers combed through his curls, catching on an occasional tangle, the slight tug of which sent flares of heat downward as he his companion considerately untangled each one, careful not to cause any undue discomfort.

Julian stifled a small groan as he felt Garak’s nails scrape light across his scalp, loosening away the grains of sand.

“Douse yourself once more, if you please,” Garak directed, his arm braced around his chest this time to bring him back to the surface himself.

His fingers combed through his hair to rinse out the soap, remaining there to be rejoined by his other after aiding him back up.

Julian luxuriated in the feeling of those dextrous, artist’s hands as they dragged back down along his neck, settling loosely at his nape. He felt a gentle application of pressure against his levator scapulae; hesitating there for a brief moment as if asking if this was okay and Julian eagerly granted his nonverbal consent, melting back into his touch with a small, happy sigh.

Garak’s thumbs deftly kneaded their way down to his trapezius, working out the tension between his scapulae in small, even circles before stroking back up to his shoulders. Christ, was he also a masseuse in his former life?

Julian shuddered a little as those magnificent hands smoothed their way back up to just below his ears, before gliding down the sides of his neck. He shifted a little, relieved his companion couldn’t see how very arousing he was finding his skillful ministrations--and then, Garak’s fingers grazed down his throat, finding that place just behind his tendons that succeeded in pulling from Julian an unbidden moan—

He froze for a moment, praying Garak wouldn’t get the wrong—well, the right idea and cease his massage—because, as long as they could both carry on with the farce that this was merely a friendly, comforting gesture; as long as neither acknowledged any enjoyment from the act, surely it could continue, right? But really, Julian realized, frowning down between his legs where his erection nudged persistently against his belly, to what practical end?

Julian held in a breath in anticipation of Garak ordering him back to the other side of the tub and grimaced... oh, God! What if he made him get out?

He wasn’t sure he could endure the humiliation—cock bouncing out obscenely in front of him as he was forced to vacate in this unfortunate, shameful, display...

Julian cringed as he heard Garak chuckling softly behind him; the sound of it a rich warm thing that rolled from his chest in a way he could almost feel vibrating through the water between them.

“It's perfectly all right to enjoy yourself, my dear,” Garak reassured him and Julian could almost feel his smile in his words. “You have my permission.”

He couldn’t quite regain his composure enough to supply either a clever excuse or retort, but since he was apparently discharged of any necessity for either, Julian let out a soft, breathy, shaky sounding laugh, and relaxed. Dropping his arms over the sides of the cask to use as a makeshift armrest, he slid forward a little so he could lean back against Garak’s chest—testing his limits with what he could get away with. He braced himself for a smart remark about taking undeserved liberties, but Garak refrained from making any comment at all, shifting a few inches down himself to relax against the back of the cask.

Julian allowed himself a blissful, contented sigh. “I could probably fall asleep here,” he admitted, nuzzling back a little until his head tucked snugly under his companion’s chin.

Garak hummed in concurrence.

“You know, typically about now I'd be suggesting we get out with the pretext of sparing ourselves from pruning up any more—which would hopefully lead us into bed together, but since that's our destination regardless, I don't suppose I have to give any pretext.”

“I could always disappoint you and sleep on the floor,” Garak pointed out. “Wouldn’t that make for a scuff on your record,” he teased lightly, nuzzling his nose down into Julian’s curls before finding his ear. “Or...I could make you sleep on the floor,” he whispered, chuckling a little, “Which I will be certain to if you intend to do anything other than sleep.”

Julian feigned an indignant huff. “I can’t begin to fathom what would compel you to suspect me of such nefarious motives.”

Garak outright laughed, his hand slipping down under the water, gliding down his chest--and Julian gasped as his companion narrowly averted brushing against his erection before finding his hip. He gave the flesh a small, playful pinch. “Oh, I’m sure I can’t either,” he replied, his tone infused with good-natured mirth. “Now budge forward and let me out.”

Julian grinned a little vengefully and shuffled back, effectively trapping the other man between himself and the back of the cask--his grin widening with triumph as he felt the evidence of Garak’s own arousal pressed against his lower back.

Vindictive,” Garak groaned, sounding both amused and frustrated by Julian’s audacious reprisal. Taking mercy on him, Julian scooted forward to release him and Garak quickly stood, grabbed the nearest towel and wrapped it around himself before Julian’s greedy eyes could steal a glance between his legs. He shot him a half-amused, half-exasperated, knowing glance.

“What?” Julian demanded innocently, grinning so hard his cheeks hurt.

Garak shook his head fondly. “I always knew you’d be a handful.”

Feeling a bit drunk on their easy banter, Julian pushed himself out the tub, not bothering to hide anything as he unfolded a towel for himself. “At least two,” he smirked, shooting a teasing leer at the other man.  

Garak eyed him down, and gave an unimpressed shrug. “Quite the confident assessment.”

“I’ve never heard any complaints,” Julian retorted, drying himself off and catching an eyeful of Garak’s admirably sculpted backside as he pulled back on his trousers. “So do you normally not wear any undergarments?”

Garak glanced at him comically and bent down to pick up the article in question, dangling it from his finger tips with an amused grin. “I typically find it somewhat unhygienic to put on the same ones after bathing, and unlike you, I don’t have any back ups on hand.”

“I suppose if you had, it would’ve seemed a tad presumptuous.”

“I certainly hadn’t anticipated spending the entire evening with you, no,” Garak agreed, laying them back by his tunic on the table as he retrieved the fresh bed-linens. Once Julian pulled on a fresh pair of briefs for himself, he helped Garak strip down the pallet and lay on the new sheet, which he was grateful the other man had the foresight to acquire considering Julian could almost see a faintly gray, sand-covered outline from where he’d been laid up during his recovery.      

Once the corners were tucked under the mattress, he flopped down, splaying out across the narrow surface and caught a glimpse of Garak’s wry grin from the corner of his eye. “A selfish little starfish aren’t we?” he remarked.

Julian rolled over, scooting over to the side to give his companion room to join him. “I suppose we will be rather packed like sardines won't we?” he agreed, happy to add his own oceanographical metaphor as Garak climbed in beside him. “Sorry there’s not more space.”

“Far be it for me to complain about having to share a bed with you. Truly, I can think of worse fates, but I'm not terribly keen on how cramped this will be,” Garak grumbled, shuffling around some as he attempted to find a comfortable position.  

Julian eyed the gap of space his companion  had pointedly left between them and blinked myopically across at Garak with a small frown. “I swear I don’t bite.”

Garak looked back at him flatly.

“What? I’m trying to be accommodating,” Julian defended holding up his hands earnestly.

“My dear, you and I both know self-control isn’t a limitless thing.”  

“You’re always tossing up these ridiculous boundaries, Garak,” Julian muttered sourly, feeling a little dejected. He kicked the top sheet off of himself in a small fit of petulance and Garak patiently pulled it back up.  

“Why must you always test me?” Garak sighed. “Isn’t it enough that I’m here?”

Julian frowned. “Isn’t it enough that I’m here?”

“To be honest, I don’t know why you're here.”

Julian gaped. “You can’t possibly be serious.”

The flatness of Garak’s expression conveyed that he was. Utterly.

Julian let out a long sigh. “I just see it like this. Life doesn’t just hand out second chances. Or third...or even fourth ones, for that matter. There’s a chance, right here and right now to finally get this right, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not so willing to just let it slip on by without at least trying.”

“What, pray tell, are you trying for?” Garak suddenly demanded, sitting up.

Julian frowned.

"You?

Garak looked...unimpressed.

"Us?" Julian tried again. 

"What do you want from me?"

Julian worried at the hem of the sheets a bit anxiously.

"Anything you're willing to give, I guess."

Garak, if anything, looked even more put out. 

“I could give you everything and it would still not be enough for you," he argued. "At this point, I’m afraid that I don’t know if what you’re asking for is even within my capacity to give, Julian."

"Okay, but, could you explain why?" Julian insisted, his stomach sinking as he waited for the pin to drop. 

"Why?" Garak laughed, "Because I have given you my time, my thoughts, my consideration, you wanted more, I catered after you, slavishly and much to my detriment. Against my better judgment I offered you more of me because you demanded it and I’ve never been very good at denying you anything, have I?” he pointed out with a dark, self-deprecating chuckle. “For years I scrimped after every scrap of attention you ever deigned to toss my way, been a friend to you when I could barely manage to even choke out the word to call you one. With all due respect, my dear, I’ve afforded you far more lenience than anyone should ever have to and frankly, I can’t afford you much more."

Julian felt himself slowly unraveling in a combination of heartache and self-righteous indignation.  

“It’s not exactly been a cakewalk with you either, Garak. You may call me a machine, but I could be as wired as the most quick and optimal of any in known design and still falter over what to make of you. You are unquantifiable. Not to mention mercurial. I can’t predict you. I can’t anticipate you. Half the time with you, I don’t know which way is up or down which is really, very much intrinsic to your charm, but, I'm sorry to say, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t find it particularly easy to work with--and yet you expect a great deal from me regardless. I may know how to throw together a few numbers, Garak, but I can’t solve this one alone.”

“You’re always seeking to solve and fix,” Garak remarked. “Not everything can be.”

“So you’re telling me to give up?”

Garak pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m telling you to go to sleep. You’re giving me a headache,” he replied, pointedly lying back down as if to set an example he hoped his companion might emulate.

Julian remained upright. “Look. If you’ve given up on me that easily, then fine, maybe you’re right and I should too. If you don’t want me, that’s one thing. And I hate it, and it hurts, and it’s going to take me a long time to get over it, and well, honestly? It’s going to be damned awkward to sleep here next to you. But, if there is even the remotest chance that’s not the case, then please. Garak— Elim, you need to tell me.”

“Would you kindly lay back down first?”

“Why?”

Garak frowned. “First of all, appealing to your doctorly sensibilities, you did receive an injury to your head only this afternoon, which I’m not entirely sure isn’t a minor concussion and I’ve been worried sick about you all day, and since you won’t allow this conversation to be shelved for the time being, it would really ease my mind. Secondly, I’m sick of craning my neck up to talk to you.”

For a short, rebellious second, Julian considered remaining put, but the other man’s request rang with enough genuine concern he decided to concede.

“It’s seems to be no more than a contusion. It should clear up in a day or two,” he reassured. “But here I am. Head on...pillow. If that’s what you can call this sliver of a straw bag...so? Talk.”

“Julian” Garak sighed, taking his hand and threading together their fingers.  “You’re looking at this from entirely the wrong angle. There’s nothing broken to fix. No problem in the first place to solve…not unless you’re looking at the rather mangled thing we last left of our friendship. You’re right. That does need to be addressed.”

“Can it be?” Julian asked a little fearfully.

“I will certainly endeavor to,” Garak replied. “The sole fact that you’re here, that you’ve come all this way to Cardassia to care for her people, demonstrates the quality of your character. You are a nobler and far better man than almost anyone I could hope to know and I have the deepest respect for you.  That your reason for coming here was in any part influenced by me, let alone your interest in mending things between us, moves me beyond measure. I would have to be the most severely hardened of men to deny you my uttermost regard and thus, I will say this to you.”

Garak released a tired sounding sigh. “To my eternal chagrin, defiant of any common sense and against all reason, as you know far too well, I admire you profoundly. You are brilliant and beautiful and you are far dearer to me than you could possibly know and I am unequivocally yours to do with as you see fit. Which at the moment, is apparently to torture," he chuckled softly, “And if that’s not good enough for you, then by all means, I’ll slather you with all the affection you’ve made quite evident you require, so long as you shut up and go to sleep.”  

Julian stared at his companion, rendered momentarily speechless.

“That is the single most lovely thing anyone has ever said to me,” he admitted, feeling the tears welling up behind his eyes. He blinked them back and grinned. “I mean, God, I always knew you had a way with words, but I think you just broke me.”

“I’ll repair you in the morning,” Garak yawned, lifting an arm to invite Julian to curl in beside him.  

He tucked in close, folding an arm under his head and wrapping the other around his companion’s waist and Garak did the same, smoothing a hand down his back before settling into place. 

“You have no idea how much I adore you,” Julian sighed against his neckridge.

“I have some idea,” Garak replied, brushing the lightest of kisses on the top of his head. “And I would expect nothing less considering.”

“Considering what?”

“Fishing again, how like you,” Garak chuckled.

“I would still like to hear it,” Julian grinned sleepily.

“Considering how much I...tolerate you.”

Julian snickered. “ God, you’re such a sap.”

“Let the sap sleep.”

“I ‘tolerate’ you, too,” Julian whispered back, closing his eyes.

His last thought before drifting off to sleep was how perfectly right this felt, and how funny it was that this was really the first time he'd ever truly felt that way. 








Chapter Text

By necessity, Garak had always been a light sleeper and by habit, an early riser. However, as the first light of morning filtered in through the shutters, for once, he felt gripped by no such compulsion to wake. Instead, he nestled closer into the warmth curled against him, tightening his arms around the source of such splendid heat and nuzzled his nose down into a nest of soft curls with a contented sigh... 

...Wait!

Garak's eyes flew open and he froze in alarm as his sleep-addled brain stumbled over itself flailing to parse together this wholly unfamiliar situation. Dark hair, tan skin: Julian. 

A torrent of memories from the night before suddenly came crashing back to him and Garak sucked in a breath, oh! A ripple of elation washed through him and his heart clenched— was he allowed this?

Garak's eyes fluttered shut, overcome by a flood of rare bliss.

What merciful kismet had given him this beautiful man to hold in his arms? It hardly seemed real. After so many years of dreaming this—dreams that had turned into torment, reminding him of the one thing he most longed for, long denied him— how could this finally be?

 Still fast asleep, Julian turned over with a small sigh and Garak nearly succumbed to the impulse to kiss him awake, only refraining because, for one, he'd rather their first kiss was entirely conscious and consenting and two, because this lent him the chance to look—to look openly without any pretense of a reason—to look without any need to conceal the overwhelming out-pour of unfettered adoration he felt.

Garak carefully unwrapped his arm and propped himself up on one elbow to gaze down at his sleeping companion.

Julian's face in repose was just as the poet's implied; smoothed of its years back into the sweetness of youth...Garak felt his lips curl into a small self-deprecating smile. How easily he was moved to the cliché of tender, lyrical comparisons...how easily Julian evoked such sentiment, laying here beside him. 

This should have been forbidden to Garak. To even imagine it had been an an exercise in masochism.

Of course, there had been a time, he'd thought: maybe, finally, perhaps... but like all impossible, too-good-to-be-true things, it had never come to fruition.

After the debacle with the changeling and the prison camp, when everything should have come together for them, it hadn't. For whatever reason, Julian had stepped back. And then, after the young man's enhancements had been exposed he'd stepped back further and Garak, unable to make sense of it, had coped the only way he'd known how: by removing himself from the equation altogether. Of course, the war had thrown them back together, but it hadn't quite repaired the damage and obviously it wound up consuming the lion's share of both his time and attention and before he could have prevented it from happening, Julian had once more slipped from his reach.

It hadn't come as much of a surprise to learn of the young man's relationship with Dax. The two had been naturally progressing in that direction for sometime and Garak had steeled himself for its inevitability,  unable to do a thing to stop it. It wasn't his place and really, he'd reasoned, it was all for the best in the end—Cardassia had needed him more and who was he not to answer her call? In a way, in a very selfish way only , he was almost glad he had a reason to run away.

Something to give himself unto completely, to strip him of the anguish of watching the last scrap of hope burn. He’d thrown himself fully into the arms of the cause and in return, she was in such need, she kept his mind from constantly crawling back to the station, from meandering back down its halls and haunting after that far-distant, long-gone dream he knew would be long past haunting after him in return.

Oh, he'd certainly envied Ezri, but he couldn't begrudge Julian the chance for happiness.

Give him everything I never had the chance to, he'd wished.

Now forget him. Move on, he'd told himself...only, sad fool he was, he'd kept tabs anyway and then naturally he’d learned that Dax had actually taken the damned commission! She would be leaving him! How dare she--oh, thank heavens!

Lost somewhere between fury and utter relief he settled on sympathy. But it wasn’t platitudinal sympathy, it was pure and unadulterated as his thoughts crept to Julian in the middle of the night, imagining how very, utterly alone he must have been feeling--abandoned by nearly everyone as he was…

He tried to tell himself to stop thinking of him. He told himself no. It’s futile. Hopeless. Idiotic. Keep your nose out of his business and down to the grindstone where it belongs.  

Not that he was good at taking his own advice.

Unbidden strategies and schemes whirled around in his skull for days of how he could arrange a series of events or manipulate this or that factor to bring Julian here...but then, he hadn’t needed to, because Julian was already on his way to Culat.

He’d stared down at the intercepted transmission from Starfleet to NERV-C in shock. It had been as if someone had stolen the air out of his lungs—or worse, stolen his lungs from out of his chest! He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think—

Don't. Don't be a fool, Garak, he's not here for you. Even if he is, so what? You can’t afford the distraction, you have more important things to focus on.

Obviously he’d been unable to ignore the man for long, as Julian’s rather careless attempts to excavate him from the shadows had required some after-maintenance; a particular vexing inconvenience considering elections were just around the corner. Still, although Garak was a trifle irritated, he couldn’t help but feel flattered. The young man’s search was tireless and very sincere and that proved encouraging of things that ought not to have been encouraged. Still, after the clever lad had narrowed down his search to the City, Garak had decided to lend him a helping hand the rest of the way.

They could talk, he’d reasoned to himself, perhaps find some closure and Garak would warn him against seeking him out again.

But...things rarely go according to plan, do they?

And now...here they were and for the life of him, Garak couldn’t find it in himself to regret it. (Oh, he knew he would eventually...down the road, but life here in the post-apocalypse had taught him a thing or two about taking happiness where he could find it and so for now, he’d resolved to live in the present.)

Julian grumbled something incoherent and furrowed his brows in an endearing manner that conveyed he'd half-consciously registered the loss of the body he'd been so comfortably curled against and Garak smiled softly, permitting himself the small indulgence of threading a finger through a loose ringlet beside his ear. Humanoid ears were such flappy, silly looking things, although on Julian they were decidedly adorable, Garak grinned, tracing delicately over the cartilaginous whorl—

Julian released a small, contented sounding sigh, reflexively drifting after his touch and before Garak could react to prevent him, his companion rolled over, slinging an arm over his waist and a leg over Garak's which resulted in flattening him back down to the bed with a soft 'oomph'.

Julian proceeded to burrow his face into his neckridge while insinuating a smooth, unclad thigh between his knees, and Garak let out a strangled hiss, heat flooding down to his groin as the young man nuzzled his nose against several of his more sensitive scales.

He didn't dare breathe, clenching his eyes shut and his fists in the sheets as he felt his companion's warm hand glide across the exposed flesh of his belly. Julian found purchase on the opposite side of his waist and tugged himself closer.

Garak's eyes shot open as Julian suddenly rocked his hips forward, clamping down on a groan as he felt the nudge of the young man's morning wood pressed against him.

He attempted to shuffle minutely away only for Julian's fingers to dig into his side, chasing after more contact and heard him release another small sigh—more of a soft moan really—a needy sounding thing that did terrible things to Garak's self-control; particularly as his companion's hand snaked back up to his chest to cup just under his jaw.

Garak could swear he could feel a soft application of pressure of two fingers against his carotid; as if the Doctor were discreetly measuring his heart-rate—which, being as accelerated as it was, would certainly betray his condition if Julian was in fact awake. At a somewhat inconvenient angle to see his face, he couldn't quite be certain this was the case, but he was beginning to feel a little suspicious.

Another sinuous wiggle had the young man more than half-way on top of him and Garak felt himself partially everting as a pair of warm, moist lips grazed along his scales and from the corner of his eye he caught the tail of a small, devious grin. Garak momentarily debated calling his bluff, but decided to wait, curious to see just how bold Julian happened to be feeling this morning. 

He got his answer a little more quickly than expected as his companion's hand slid from his neck southbound with no sign of stopping as it traversed over his belly. Garak seized his wayward hand by the wrist before it managed to arrive at its very obviously intended destination and Julian started with sharp gasp. His eyes flicked up to Garak's wide with surprise and a smidgen of guilt, but the guilt was quickly replaced by a trace of amusement matching his own.

“Well,” Julian smirked. “Good morning?”

“Indeed,” Garak replied, loosening his grip and deftly smoothing their palms together—lightly so as not to cause discomfort to the abrasions there. He raised their interlocked fingers up toward his lips, pressing a brief, chaste kiss over his knuckles before releasing him. “And how long have you been awake?” He asked, squinting down at him reproachfully.

Julian gave a small, evasive shrug. “Not long,” he fluidly lied, betraying himself with far too wide of a grin.

Garak softly snorted his disbelief. “I'm sure,” he affirmed wryly, combing his fingers back through the unruly tangle of his companion's hair, grateful for how easy this suddenly was; how lovely it felt to be able to so freely show his affection.

He heard a small rumble from the other man's stomach. “I take it you're hungry?”

“Ah, a little. Nothing that must be seen to immediately,” he waived. “It's still early, isn't it? I'd rather not move just yet if you don't mind.”

“How are you feeling?”

“A little bruised, actually,” Julian admitted, cringing with some embarrassment. “But you know. Not quite as bruised as my ego. I keep replaying what it must have looked like: you, standing there...me, falling on my face...”

Garak smoothed a hand down his back consolingly. “Trust me, I wasn't exactly laughing,” he replied, “...At the time.”

Julian's face scrunched up in a pout. “Oh, and now you are?”

“It's not everyday my mere presence can make a man faint.”

“I was hot,” Julian whined, burying his face down into Garak's chest. “Don't make fun of me.”

“Your skin is surprisingly red today,” Garak commented, frowning down at the younger man's shoulders.

“Ah, I've suffered worse sunburns over the past few months,” Julian airily dismissed before suddenly looking struck by an idea. His grin turned a little devious again. “Although...perhaps I could use an application of that liniment you have, if there's any leftover.”

Tut-tut, Doctor, do you really expect me to fall into such an easy trap?

“Help yourself, it's over on the table.”

Julian gave him a coy look. “I might need a little help.”

Garak played dumb, smiling nonchalantly. “I'll be happy to grab it for you if you're not quite prepared to get up yet,” he offered, making to do so.

Julian groaned and wrestled him back down. “Obviously that's not what I meant,” he replied, slinging a leg over both of Garak's, effectively trapping him. The man was in quite rare form, Garak laughed to himself, a little taken aback by his nerve as he climbed on top of him.

“This seems somewhat counterproductive,” he remarked blandly, peering up at his companion.

“I beg to differ,” Julian retorted, leering confidently back down at him. “In fact, in case you've failed to notice, I'm already up, and there are most certainly better things to grab than bottles of liniment...unless of course, you can think up some more creative use for it.”

My goodness aren't we forward today!

“I don't suppose I know of any,” Garak denied, his quip not quite as clever as usual, which he supposed was forgivable considering the current direction of his blood flow.

“Don't you?”

Garak drew in a breath, blinking back at the handsome young man perched on his thighs and it took some determination to avoid gaping at his very glaringly obvious interest tenting his briefs. Not that it made much of a difference as his own interest was willfully demonstrative for him. “You're not subtle, are you?” he noted, somewhat dryly.

Julian's eyes flicked down at their mutually shared plight before returning back to Garak with an ironic smirk. “I'd say neither of us could

claim much success in that regard,” he replied just as dryly, raising to his knees to drop down his hands on the mattress over each of Garak's shoulders, scaffolding him.

“Do you seduce all your lovers so bluntly?”

“Depends,” he replied smoothly. “Are you feeling sufficiently seduced?”

Garak raised an unimpressed eyeridge. “Your delivery wants for some finesse but I suppose it gets the job done.”

Julian rolled his eyes and straddled his hips, lowering his groin against his own just enough for their trapped erections to brush. “Oh? Shall I lavish you in flowery prose? Spout some syrupy and sentimental tripe until you're adequately a-quiver?” Julian scoffed. “I'd rather thought we'd covered that stage well enough years ago.”

“Ah, and you contend this is long overdue?” Garak inquired.

“You disagree?” Julian countered, hovering over him in a tantalizing, tormenting way that took Garak every last inch of control to resist bucking upward against.

“Well, if you're truly of the mind that we simply ought to pick up where we left off...”

Julian stared down at him with an expression crossing between exasperation, frustration and reservation.

“You want to go slower?”

This time Garak scoffed. “I don't require quite such delicacy,” he corrected.

Julian seemed to take this as a green-light and pushed his straining erection against Garak's—much to both their mutual relief. Garak arched back reflexively, groaning as sparks of pleasure ignited ablaze his nerve-endings.

“Then—then why demur in the first place? Aren't you a bit too...I don't know... seasoned to play 'hard-to-get'?” Julian submitted, wincing a little as if he anticipated Garak taking offense at the assertion. “Or...male?” he tacked on trying to save face and wincing harder after realizing he'd only dug his hole deeper. “Ah. Foot in mouth there. Both feet. God, ” he groaned looking a little mortified.

Garak chuckled fondly. “I'm not saying no, my dear,” he explained gently gripping his companion's hips to push him off his lap a little. Julian looked about to protest and thought better of it.

“Okay, Garak, then what are you saying?”

“Merely that we give this a few days.”

“You can't possibly think I might reconsider,” Julian huffed. “What...are you reconsidering? Do you need a few days?” he demanded, suddenly paling under his aroused flush.

“Of course not,” Garak rushed to reassure, “Only that after yesterday I doubt you're in sufficient shape for...”

“Sex,” Julian supplied, looking increasingly put-out. “ Christ . You can say the word, can't you?”

“Trust me, I can't think of much else I'd rather do. Or anyone else, for that matter,” Garak chuckled,“However, I hasten to remind you of your injuries and frankly, darling, I'm reticent to cause you further damage.”

“Oh, that's very considerate of you ,” Julian drawled, emphatically sarcastic as he crawled off of Garak and collapsed back on the mattress beside him.

Garak rolled to his side, cupping his chin.

“Understand, Julian, this is by no means a rejection,” Garak assuaged. “Only a postponement.”

“Fair. But I think you ought to still kiss me,” he argued.

“I'm flattered you think I have that much control over myself but I assure you I don't,” Garak sighed, brushing back a few of the younger man's stray curls. “You are far too lovely, and I'm quite sure if I kiss you now I won't be able to stop.”

Julian gazed back at him, eyes burning brightly. “Fairly certain you won't hear me complain about that,” he whispered, their mouths hovering far too close. Garak could feel his warm breath gust against his lips and heaved a frustrated groan pulling back.

“I'm fairly certain you'll be the death of me,” he chuckled.

Julian side-eyed him irritably. “Likewise. Never should've fallen for such a damned tease,” he half-heartedly smirked, palming his erection once through the fabric of his underwear with a disconsolate, frustrated sigh before grabbing a handful of sheet and dragging it over himself. Garak watched, slightly bemused as he tucked it around his neck so only his head was exposed. The rest of him reminded Garak of a picture he’d seen in one of Earth’s history annals of a long, awkward snow bank with a particularly teepee-shaped igloo in the center.

It was a gloomy igloo that seemed to be melting as Julian glowered down at it.

“You are the saddest creature I've ever seen,” Garak remarked, half sympathetically and half scornfully, easing over to provide his lap for the sad creature's head.

Julian sighed as Garak pet the messy mop on the top of his head and turned to look up at him with wide, doey eyes. “What's for breakfast?”

<~>

After grabbing a bite to eat, Garak took him outside to the shed behind the inn to inspect his new skimmer.

“This is far nicer than the ones they loaned us in Culat,” Julian remarked incredulously.

“Diamide-beridium chassis? Is this...new?” he asked peeking inside the cabin.

“New enough.”

Julian stared at him suspiciously. “Either your bartering game is top notch or this is hot.”

“I don't make a habit of theft,” Garak shrugged dismissively.

“Riding hounds aren't exactly a dime a dozen, but—” Julian stopped mid-sentence and a soft expression came over his face. “This must have cost you a fortune.”

“I only supplied the portion your trade-in couldn't quite meet.”

“Garak,” Julian reproached, taking him by the sleeve. “That would be at the very least quadruple the amount.”

“Much is sadly in short supply, but my finances are not,” Garak reasoned impatiently. “Not anymore.”

Julian worried at his lips for a second looking anxious. “I will see you soon, right?”

“With any luck,” Garak reassured.

“You'll keep in touch?”

“Unfortunately, I'm not quite in the position to do so very readily. However, I certainly intend to if you have nothing against old-fashioned methods.”

“Ink and paper?” Julian asked, quirking a grin. “Romantic.”

“Necessary,” Garak edified. “Your host will have my address.”

“But it's not your address.”

Garak raised a wry eyeridge: obviously.

“Now off with you before you worry the good doctor.”

“Some favor she owed you,” Julian smirked, attempting once again to slyly ply him for an explanation.

“Who's to say she's not simply a very old friend?”

Julian looked at him skeptically for a moment before shaking his head. “I appreciate everything you've done for me. I...I don't even know how to thank you.”

“Really, I owe you, my dear. Cardassia owes you.”

Julian looked at him sternly. “It'll only be a few days, right? You promise?”

“You know I can't make any promises but I certainly will try.”

Julian slipped into his arms, embracing him tightly. “I wish I could stay with you.” The admission caught Garak through the heart. He shared the wish but couldn't utter it back.

If only you meant that more than temporarily.

“Maybe after all this political drama has settled down? After the elections?” Julian suggested with a note of hope in his tone.

“Perhaps.”

It was a noncommittal 'perhaps' but Garak imbued it with as much positivity as he could muster, careful to disguise any hint of his own cynicism and Julian studied him quietly for a second before finally deciding his answer was acceptable.

“Alright,” he conceded looking a bit glum. “Then I suppose I had better take off.”

“Stay out of trouble,” Garak grinned.

“I should be telling you that,” Julian grinned back. Then, he grabbed Garak by both shoulders and quickly leaned in to press a brief peck of a kiss on his lips, though, considering the unrehearsed and unexpected nature of the gesture it landed a bit crookedly on the corner of his mouth instead.

Iloveyou ,” Julian confessed all in one breath, flush-faced and dear before leaping into the skimmer and immediately zipping out the door, leaving with the last word and Garak stunned and aching behind him.

Oh, I'm a fool, Garak sighed miserably—hopelessly, stupidly, desperately in love as he stood, sagging against the door frame, watching the skimmer disappear down the street.

 

Chapter Text

Dear Garak,

I know it's been less than a day, but I thought you might want to hear that I've arrived both safely and on schedule. Fortunately, my host has courteously seen to provide me with a set of pens and stationary—something I've learned has become quite the booming trade item here alongside a flourishing new courier industry.

I suppose it makes sense considering the general shoddiness of the generators and expense of the fuel to run them—which altogether renders most recreational tech obsolete for the time being. It's a minor inconvenience to adapt to, but on the plus side, it really does make one stop to smell the proverbial roses—or more literally, the pereks .

You were right. They are particularly fragrant this time of the year.

(Perhaps you'll get a chance to take me to the Uzantine festival after all?)

I must admit, although my hand is already starting to cramp, there is something to be said for this fashion of correspondence. I feel rather quaint sitting here writing to you as if I'm the upton wife of yesteryear writing to her beloved in the trenches—not the most inapt comparison if you think about it. Although I presume my penmanship leaves something to be desired. I'm afraid I'm a bit out of practice in that regard.

On my way here, I noticed that although West Lakat clearly suffered a great deal of damage, I'm pleased to report the village of Rejvad appears to have been mostly spared the same fate. I was greeted very kindly by my hosts and welcomed with a lovely supper—and let me tell you, Garak, it was a practical feast fit for a king after months of subsisting off of those bland ration packets and vile nutrient cakes.

I mean, honestly, I would've sold my soul for even a small bowl of thinned down tefla broth, so you can imagine my utter gratitude when the doctor's thoughtful wife provided me with a hearty home-cooked meal of sem'hal stew using roots from their very own garden. I don't want to make you too jealous, but she even made k'aatch for desert!

Additionally, I must say, my new accommodations are an immense improvement. My hosts keep a charming house and have generously spared me the use of their guest wing for the time being.

Dr. Palik is eager to introduce me to her staff at the clinic and get me squared away in my new position. I can tell she's one of those 'no-nonsense' types, if you take my meaning. But then again, she's hardly more brusque than any other surgeon I've ever met. Still, she seems quite relieved I'm here to help out and she's even challenged me to a round of Kotra later. (Should I be worried? I think I am. She told me she taught you everything you know about the game, and regardless of my enhancements, you've often given me quite a run for my money!)

Aside from being a marvelous cook, Dr. Palik's wife, Kalis, has also turned out to be quite the charming conversationalist. She seems quite enthusiastic about sharing her home with an offworlder, but then again, as a professor of xenoanthropology, that's not an enormous surprise.

Really, Garak, thank you for arranging this. I think I'll be quite content here!

Still, as excellent a reception as I've received thus far, I think you know who my first choice would have been to stay with.

I miss you terribly already. It seems awfully unfair. I mean, we were only just reunited only to be forced apart again so soon! I really do hope you'll be able to visit me in a day or two.

Will you come here? Shall I come to you? Please write me as soon as possible to let me know.

Counting the seconds,

Julian 

To: J. Bashir -- From: Radak -- Subject: Breach of contract

Dr. Bashir,

By now I expect you will have arrived in Lakarian City.

Your conduct upon departure was unacceptable. We had an agreement which I diligently adhered to and as you had appeared sympathetic to my situation, I had expected you would uphold your end. You did not, and as you anticipated, Dr. Tolun heeded your advice.

While obligated to satisfy his query I was compelled to explain that your motives, while one might presume were well-intended, were misguided. Your attempt to intervene has proven disruptive to my friendship with the doctor, as he is now displeased with me; an issue I find myself unequipped to properly rectify.  

Due to the fact that this unsatisfactory outcome is of your manufacture, I demand immediate remediation. As you are human and therefore practiced in non-Vulcan communication, I request advisement post-haste.

Radak

To: J. Bashir -- From: A. Tolun -- Subject: Greetings!

Dear Julian,

I hope your travels have gone without a hitch and you’ve arrived at your destination in good health. Have you found your friend yet? I do hope so!  

It was a pleasure to work alongside you for the past few months and I very much hope it won't be the last! In any case, I would be interested in staying in touch, if only to at least follow your progress on your new adventures!

To fill you in on mine, I have done as you’ve suggested and asked Radak what 'T'hy'la' meant.

What a superb term! Friend, brother and lover !

I can’t recall if you’re fluent in Kardasi, but while we have no exact equivalent for the word, we have a very similar term, ‘K’hshlim’, or in Standard: ‘beloved’. While it may be imprecise, to me it encompasses all these designations quite effectively, especially in reference to my dear Radak.   

Although we can both agree Radak deviates from the Vulcan norm to some degree, he is still yet consummately Vulcan in very many ways (particularly the more difficult ones), and therefore, to my enduring frustration, has long remained a difficult study for me. It’s for this reason I’ve hesitated to make both the nature and extent of my regard known to him; a matter which although I’ve never explicitly revealed, I’ve also never bothered to disguise too carefully either. Hence, why I’m not terribly surprised you divined as much. That being said, I do find it intriguing that you managed to divine as much from Radak.

I remain in suspense of this insight that led you to make the suggestion you made to me, but know that I am eternally in your debt for enlightening me to the heretofore unbeknownst potential. The mere notion that Radak may indeed return my feelings after all these years brings me great comfort. Unfortunately, although I’ve expressly conveyed my interest in exploring the topic, our mutual friend persists evading any attempt I make to further indulge the conversation. I’ve arrived at the opinion that I’ll have to remain patient and allow him to come around in his own time. Perhaps he’ll be sensible enough to put us both out of our misery soon. (Here’s to hoping anyway!)  

Anyhow, keep well and stay cool, my friend! Especially now that summer is just around the corner.

Fondly,

Arjun

To: Radak -- From: J. Bashir -- RE: Breach of Contract

Radak,

For god's sake, man! Tolun is in love with you . The last letter he sent to me all but stated as much explicitly. You want my advice: tell him how you feel.

At this point, I can't think of anything more logical than that.

J.B.

To: J. Bashir -- From: Radak -- RE: Breach of Contract

Dr. Bashir.

I followed your advice. I am sure you will be satisfied to learn that you were correct.

Your breach is sufficiently redressed.

Radak

To: A. Tolun -- From: J. Bashir -- RE: Greetings!

Dear Arjun,

Congrats! (I heard our illogical Vulcan may have finally found some logic!)

Warmly,

Julian

PS: The LC clinic in Rejvad is hectic. We're the only fully functioning medical facility for miles and we're currently critically understaffed. Dr. Palik has directed me to assure you that you have a position here if Culat can spare you. I've checked into things at the waterworks dept. as well. I think Radak wouldn't have any issue finding work with them.

No pressure of course, but either way, it's good to hear from you.

To: J. Bashir -- From: E. Dax -- Subject: Good decisions

Julian!

I thought I'd drop you a line and say hi! It's been awhile hasn’t it?

My new crew is great and I couldn't be happier, I think I made a good decision and I think you made a good decision too. I heard from Kira you took some vacation leave and joined the reconstruction efforts on Cardassia.

I'm glad you finally found the courage to follow your heart, Julian. (You know what I'm talking about.)

See? Everything has a way of working out the way it's meant to I think. Say 'hi' to Garak for me.

Love always,

Ezri

To: J. Bashir -- From: M. O’Brien -- Subject: no subject

Julian,

Hope life on Cardassia's all well.

Life back on Earth is something of an adjustment after the last 7 years, but I'm actually enjoying teaching at the Academy. Can you believe it? Me? A teacher? I know. Boggles the mind. Didn't ever think I'd have the patience for it.

Keiko is currently putting up a greenhouse in our backyard and making a damn mess of it. With any hope, she'll give up soon and let me finish it for her. She's a hell of a botanist but she sure can't seem to get the hang of how to hammer a nail right. Don't tell her I told you that. Molly is doing well at her new school and wants me to tell you she misses you.

Look. The volunteer work you're doing is good and all, but that's not the real reason you're there, is it?

I mean, maybe it's part of the reason, but it's not the only one and I think we both know what that it.

I don't want to be an ass or anything, but really, Julian, Garak ?? I say this as your friend, but I really think you could do better. I don't get it, but I guess I don't have to. It's your life.

Well, as long as you're happy, I suppose that's all that matters, right? If it all works out, I'm guessing you'll be staying. Just know, if it doesn't work out, don't say I didn't tell you so, and know you'll always have a couch here to crash on.

Either way, don't be a stranger, eh?

Miles

Dear Garak,

Such excitement here! Everyone is all in a tizzy about Gul Dargin dropping off the ballot!

Now if only something can be done about his incumbent. Talk about a bad apple! If Felgar gets into office, he'll be a worse setback for Cardassia than Krim! Well, perhaps I'm exaggerating. After all, I doubt anyone could top Dukat on that list.

Who knows? Maybe he'll have a change of heart like Dargin. He must have a skeleton or two stashed away somewhere in his closet. (Perhaps someone will feel up to a little archaeological expedition?) Still, with Dargin out of the running, at least it's allowed a few less regressive nominees to make some headway in the polls and that's always promising! Gil Toran's numbers are up. I mean, it wouldn't be the worst thing to reinstate the Detapa council, but his overall platform doesn't inspire much hope for change. At the end of the day, he's just another cog in the machine.

On a brighter note, I've caught wind from the gossip mill that Makort may still hop on the ticket! Imagine, a democratic republic on Cardassia! (Aren't you shaking your head at me right now! Yes, Garak, I know where I should stick my 'Federation optimism'.) Ah, but we're gearing up toward the end here, aren't we? Regardless of what happens, at least that means I might see you soon, right?

I check the post every day, but still no word from you. You really must be busy. It's been nearly two weeks! I trust you haven't forgotten me, have you?

Eagerly awaiting your reply,

Julian

Dear Garak,

I realize my entire last letter was little more than politics and reprimands. I'll endeavor to remedy this, as you're probably wondering how everything is going for me here.

So, as you know, the LC Institute of Science and Industry is being rebuilt, which means professor Kalis has had to pursue other means of occupying her time. Thus, she's spent the last few months traveling around the neighboring townships teaching in the refugee settlements.

On my day off yesterday, I accompanied her out to one of the orphanages where I assisted her in a science lesson. Afterward, we packed our lunches and stopped by to view the progress on the memorial gardens in the central plaza. It's all coming along quite brilliantly! The beds for the flowers have already been laid and now all we're waiting on is the monument to be finished and installed.

The efforts of the landscapers have really paid off. I think the site will be an admirable tribute when it's complete; a true testament to the combined ingenuity, perseverance and strength of your people.

Summer is just around the corner and we're still without power in Rejvad. Do you have any insight into when that might be restored? I think we can both safely say I'll be unlikely to survive the season if I run out of fuel credits. It's not even solstice yet! How can it be this hot? Due to the fact, you'll be amused to learn that the top you made me—the one I claimed was 'dull' has fast become my favorite article of clothing. It's the only garment in my possession with light enough fabric and I suspect people are beginning to think it's the only shirt I own. I can just see you now, shaking your head at me with that disapproving frown. 'Variety is the spice of life, Julian! Go into town and buy yourself some damned clothes for goodness sake! What kind of impression are you making on your patients? A poor doctor can't be a good one, can he?' I know! I'm busy, I'll get around to it!

See? I'm having conversations for us, Garak. I know you're busy. I do. But surely you could scribble out something for me, right? A few words would suffice.

I don't have much downtime, but that which I have is mostly spent thinking about you. What you're doing, if you're alright...if you ever think about me too.

I find myself dwelling over the last morning we spent together—particularly right before I left. I keep berating myself for racing away like that. Not exactly a shining moment for me, was it?

It's awful, I'm cringing even now as I write this. I keep thinking I should have been braver. I should have waited. I keep wondering what your response would have been...I know you prefer to dance around these things, couch them in metaphors and substitutions...

Perhaps the sentiment was a touch precipitous? I mean, I rather thought it would be obvious, but then again, we have gone about all of this rather non-sequentially.

(For god's sake, we haven't even kissed yet!) I hope to remedy that very soon.

Very impatiently yours,

Julian

To: J. Bashir -- From: A. Tolun -- Subject: Update

Dear Julian,

I write to you bearing good news!

NERV-C is now overflowing with incoming volunteers so Radak and I have decided to move on to where the need is greater. The LC waterworks dept. has offered Radak a position and I've been in touch with Dr. Palik. It looks like Dr. T’Vala’s reference has secured me a job at your clinic!

I'll look forward to seeing you at work at the beginning of next week!

Until then,

Arjun

To: A. Tolun -- From: J. Bashir -- RE: Update

Arjun,

That is good news! Looking forward to see you soon! Word of warning: Palik runs the same kind of tight ship as T’Vala so appreciate your off days when you get them!    

Fondly,

Julian 

Dear Garak,

Voles!

They're everywhere! I spent my entire day off two days ago with Kalis out in the garden building a wire enclosure around the garden to protect the crops. We had to replant several rows, which means we're back to ration packets for the foreseeable future!

At least one good thing came out of kneeling in the dirt all day. As I finished tacking down the wire, a regnar crawled across my hand. It was clearly a sign.

His name is Kukalaka Junior. He's very handsome and he lives with me now. We're very happy together, I'll have you know. (Jealous?)

Look, that's all the news I have. I just needed another excuse to figure out what's going on with you.

It's been three weeks, Garak. I'm beginning to think something's wrong. I know you're in the thick of things but you're not in any trouble, are you? I can't think that's the case as I've seen the courier's receipts, so I know you're getting my letters.

So that leaves me to wonder if it's something else.

Have I done something wrong?

My dear, if I have, please tell me. I'm going mad here.

Anxiously awaiting your reply and still very much yours,

Julian

Dear Julian,

I feel I must begin by first addressing how remarkably patient you've been.

I've indeed been egregiously neglectful. You're absolutely right. I should have spared the time to reply to you and it was terribly inconsiderate of me to keep you waiting so long. As you can imagine, I've been tremendously busy, but I won't bore you with the details as I'm hardly at liberty to reveal much as it is and frankly, I'm vastly more invested in discussing what you've been up to.

It sounds like you've had quite an exciting month. I'm incredibly pleased to hear how comfortable you are with your hosts and I'm not at all surprised you've found the indomitable Dr. Palik's exceptional Kotra skills to your disadvantage. In fact, I'll confess, there were many times I rued the day I ever taught her the game!

Your description of Kalis's talents in the kitchen has my mouth watering. I do hope your garden will find itself replenishing quickly, as I concur, the ration packets are an utterly deplorable excuse for sustenance.

The power grid should be up in working order by month's end. In the meantime, you should find your fuel credits restored to full balance. It's the least I could do. After all, it wouldn't do to have you perish before the summer has even truly started! Brace yourself. I'm sad to say it will only get worse. The atmospheric conditions are still leveling out after the ionization flush, thus, I fear it won't be long before we'll be encountering a rather lengthy drought. However, from what I understand, we should re-stabilize before autumn.

It does delight me to learn you're finally getting some use of that very 'dull' top. I suspect it looks quite becoming on you regardless of your opinion, but indeed, it would be wise to expand your wardrobe. Had I on hand either the tools or time I'd simply whip you up something myself, however in lieu of this, I'll sadly have to pass you off into the hands of your local haberdashery.

You should find I've wired your measurements along with a small sum to cover the fee for a few new items at Gott's and Levet. I would suggest you take advantage of their napinthe muslin. This material is a synthetic blend of select-grade wicking technology which should, I trust, aid to ease some of your discomfort.

Knowing you as well I do, I suspect you're already balking at my presumption, however, rest assured, it's really the least I could do in recompense for my atrocious inattention. Please consider it as thus, as well as the smallest token of my esteem for the admirable work you're doing.

Returning to lighter matters, I must remark on what an incredible coincidence it is that you’ve decided to adopt a regnar! As a child I kept one myself for many years. I expect you'll find your new pet a very fine companion indeed, however, I will admit to some curiosity as to where you came up with such a creative appellation.

Kukalaka 'Junior'? Does that infer there is a 'Senior'? (Should I be jealous?)

Alas, I fear there shall be no forthcoming duels issued. Considering the tenuousness of my present position, I am sorry to say it appears I'll be fated to concede defeat to this conjectural contender of peculiar sobriquet!

The elections are, as you're aware creating an unstable situation here and thus, it will be unlikely I'll be able to extract myself anytime soon. I truly regret whatever distress this further delay in our plans inflicts. Believe me when I say, I too resent the impediment and feel positively dreadful about it.

With sincerest regards,

Garak

Dear Garak,

What can I say, better late than never! I confess, I was so stunned to finally receive your letter I couldn't immediately formulate a reply. I’ve been trying to convince myself to be understanding, but truthfully, I have been just a touch cross with you.

Regardless, I’m relieved to know you’re alright. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, and I suppose, if it helps some to know, I do forgive you, (with the obvious proviso that you don’t simply drop off the radar again sans explanation. Good grief! If you were trying to give me an ulcer, you’ve nearly succeeded!)

I went to Gott's and Levet as you instructed and followed your advice. These tops do help tremendously, but you better be careful, Garak, or you really just might spoil me!

All in all, this week has been a good one. A dear friend of mine from NERV-C, Dr. Tolun, has started working here at the clinic with me. His partner Radak now works at the local dept. dealing with the water purification issues. Incidentally, the latter was my roommate in the tenements. Of course, you’re probably wondering, how could that be if the two are partners? To explain, their relationship is a very recent development. Why is any of this of note?

Well, if you’ll excuse the chance for me to boast for a minute, I may have had a little something to do with it… (I know, I’m a terrible busybody!) But, I just had to get involved. The two have been enamored with each other for years and perhaps I felt like living a little vicariously. I mean, it’s not as if their situation was entirely without some personal relevance.   

You would be fascinated by them, Garak. The doctor is Cardassian, which in of itself is unusual for a male (which you know I find tastelessly sexist) and the other happens to be a Vulcan; although, not a very good one as he’s rather prone to displays of emotion. Thus, I assume you can see the parallels.

Since the happy couple has decided to make their move to Rejvad a permanent one, Kalis and I joined them (for moral support) to scout out some the real estate. The new developments in the neighboring suburb of Pogar look to be quite promising. Once the roads are cleared and repaved, the commute should be less than half-an-hour. Dr. Palik has very slyly intimated that it was a smart thing that I joined them to see what’s on the market. I haven’t quite decided whether she’s hinting at something or not. Perhaps she’s beginning to feel like she’s the third wheel these days. After all, Kalis and I may as well be glued to the hip. From an outsider’s perspective, with all these picnics and public outings we take together, it likely resembles something of a courtship. Honestly, if we weren’t both already spoken for, I can see the idea having some merit. Then again, am I spoken for? Your last missive suggests otherwise for how readily you relinquish your claim of my affections to the first challenger to come along.

I’m not sure of the question is if you should be jealous or if I should be offended. Although, I suppose if I’ve failed to make you stew with jealousy, I’ve at least piqued your curiosity. So tell me, Garak, shall I be merciful or keep you in suspense?

Enigmatically yours,

Julian

My dear, enigmatic Doctor,

How fascinating! A Cardassian and a Vulcan! Will wonders never cease? What a volatile combination! I admit, I’m not the least bit surprised you took it upon yourself to meddle!

Truly, aren't you ever the advocate for crossing heretofore unheard of racial lines! No wonder you and Dax got on so famously. As for the question of real estate, I’m of the opinion that the two lovebirds ought best to find a house with very thick walls or they’ll likely find themselves confronted by one or two quite agitated neighbors come time for pon farr.

On the subject of agitation, I can see you’ve found yourself making a sport of it. Are you amused? I hope you are, as I’m unable to ascertain whatever else it might be you’re hoping to achieve, my dear. You are positively vexing!

Charmed,

Garak

Dear Garak,

Before you resign yourself to the sidelines, I think it’s key to note that although the love Kukalaka and I share is true, it’s truly and strictly platonic. It’s all really rather juvenile and terribly sentimental, but he’s actually a stuffed toy I’ve kept since I was a very young child and has accompanied me for many years. Currently, he sits beside Junior’s herpetarium.  

Go ahead and laugh. I won’t begrudge it of you. I’m sure you probably could use a good chuckle these days.  

What I wouldn’t give to hear you laugh, even if it is at my expense!

Oh, I miss you!

Chewing at the bit to hear back from you,

Julian

PS: The second the elections are over, you better come visit!

To: J. Bashir -- From: Hogur and Co.  -- Subject: Ink supply subscription renewal

Dear Julian,

I’m relieved to inform you that I’ve finally devised a more expedient method for further correspondence. This is indeed a secure channel but for the sake of precaution, my messages will now appear in your inbox as an advert.

It looks as though our friend Felgar has eschewed his loftier civic ambitions! Archaeology isn’t exactly my chief forte, but I do seem to be gaining a knack for it. Gil Toran’s ascension should be stalling soon, as Makort has at last come to his senses. Should he happen to be appointed Legat under some minor duress, I think we can sleep comfortably knowing his vice-chair will serve an effective proxy.

Cheerfully,

Garak

PS: Is that an ultimatum? You neglected the 'or else'.

To: Hogur & Co. -- From: J. Bashir -- RE: Ink supply subscription renewal

Dearest Ink supplier,

I must say, it’s a relief to my cramping hand to type this!

I applaud you on your successful archaeological endeavors, although, while I can’t quite condone whatever shady methods have been implemented to encourage Makort, I suppose the ends justify the means. Let’s hope so anyway. Felgar might be out but there will always be a Dukat to take his place won’t there? I don’t love Toran, but I’d rather see Toran than Glinn Jirom. I dread to think what will happen if he wins chair.

On the subject of things I dread, the day I despise most is fast approaching. I’ve tried to be chipper, but Kalis saw through my act and dragged it out of me. She’s utterly convinced she can convert my dismal outlook into a positive one. I mean, I thought Jadzia was bad! There’s a small, petty part of me that can’t but think her motive is somewhat rooted in her obsession with experiencing offworld traditions. It’s not as if I believe she think my feelings are incidental, I just think she’s getting a bit carried away is all. It’s like nothing can sway her enthusiasm. It looks as though even Palik’s been roped in. I tried to appeal to her but she told me flat out she knows when to pick her battles with Kalis, and this one's decidedly not hers.

I don't want to be a spoilsport and dash the fun so I suppose I'll be forced to go along with it.

Finally, if I may return to an earlier subject, I told you the truth about certain inanimate rivals. I put you out of your misery, now I expect you to return the favor and put me out of mine. I asked you before but you evaded reply.

Am I spoken for ?

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear, I am exclusively and unreservedly yours,

Julian

PS:: I guess there's no 'or else'. You either want to see me or you don't.

PPS: As pertaining to my question, I suspect you’ll respond with something along the lines of, ‘If the answer isn’t obvious, my dear, then clearly you haven’t been paying attention’, to which I’ll argue that I have, Garak. I do pay attention. Look. I’m chuffed by the fact that my efforts to keep in touch with you are no longer one-sided, but I feel like I’ve been having to cherrypick through your letters just to find some glimmer of what you’re thinking. Should I give you a taste of your own medicine, Garak? Should I mirror the chaste restraint of your tone? Or would you prefer if I should simply ‘forget’ to reply for a few weeks?

To: J. Bashir -- From: Hogur and Co. -- Subject: Letter construction   

My dear,

When most of one's grievances are tacked onto a postscript, it rather defeats the purpose of a letter body. Of course, one can understand it provides a certain illusion of safety, but I think in this case, it has become a rather frivolous exercise.

I'm grateful you chose not to 'give me a taste of my own medicine'. In earnest, your letters and messages have been something of a balm to me; a small spot of sunlight through many dreary days. I take very little pleasure out of what I must continue to do, but I currently lack the benefit of leaving the task in anyone else’s hands. Your compassion has meant more to me in these past few weeks than you can know, and it’s more than I deserve.

However, before I spiral into further maudlin declarations, allow me to rescue you from your own fit of gloom. Look on the bright side, you have friends who care a great deal for you. You've always been fortunate in that regard. You both invite and give kindness so naturally, Julian.

It's a gift, and one you shouldn't be too hasty to forget.

On the topic of gifts, I'd appreciate a hint or two about what you might like this year, and don't protest and tell me I've already done too much, because you'll only be setting yourself up for a futile argument.

Keep your chin up,

Garak

To: Hogur & Co. -- From: J. Bashir -- RE: Letter construction

 

Maudlin declarations? Good grief, Garak!

Your lachrymosity overwhelms! I wouldn't want you to strain yourself on my account!

Very well, I won’t hide behind postscript if you’ll stop being so damned evasive! Seriously. Dispense with the act, Garak, it’s getting old.

What do I want for my birthday? Make an educated guess and DON’T tell me where to keep my chin,

Julian

To: J. Bashir -- From: Hogur and Co. -- Subject: no subject  

My dear,

Perhaps for the sake of peace we ought to put a temporary moratorium on this discussion. Would you be amenable to that?

If nothing else, I still remain your friend,

Garak

 

To: Hogur & Co. -- From: J. Bashir -- RE: no subject

Dear Garak,

What kind of closing is that? If nothing else ?

Try again.

I can't claim I'll ever understand you, and you seem to insist on keeping it that way.

Crossly (but still yours), 

Julian

My very dear Julian,

I thought I would reply to your latest message with a handwritten letter (however brief it may be), because I find there is a personal touch to this method that conveys a certain element of intimacy I fear has suffered some deficit from my end.

I care very deeply for you, and as you so eloquently put it, if that isn’t obvious, my dear, then you have indeed, not been paying attention. It’s for this very reason that I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. I have a very good idea of what you would like for your birthday, however, I regret I will very likely not be able to make it.

Yours always,

Garak

PS: Tonight is the night. Elections at last, and here we are on the Eve of the Unknown. Are you on the edge of your seat as the rest of the Empire? Perhaps come morning we’ll no longer be calling it that.

PPS: I’m sure you’re narrowing your eyes at the hypocrisy of returning to postscripts, but alas, I find myself in dire need of them for once. The truth is, I am yours , darling, yet, I fret tethering you to me for a very good many reasons I expect someone of your intellect should be able to grasp.

Dear Garak ,

It’s happened! Cardassia is at last a Democracy! If I hadn’t born witness to the chaos of cheer packing the streets I’d hesitate to believe it! In fact, I even heard news the Federation has been invited to attend the inauguration banquet. This beckons the question: do you think there will be any talk of forming an alliance?

Speaking of things to celebrate: the power has finally been restored all across all districts! AC and democracy!

And yet, here I am struggling to find myself in a very festive spirit.

My birthday is only four days away now and I admit, I’d fostered some hope that you might be able to make it. There’s nothing stopping you but yourself and damn my ‘intellect’, Garak Elim , I can’t form one reason that makes any sense to me why you aren’t here. I love you .

I think that you love me, too.

This should literally be the easiest thing in the world and yet for some reason you’re so goddamned determined to make it complicated. It doesn’t have to be.

Darling, give us a chance.

Unconditionally yours,

Julian

 

<~>

 

Everyone had come. His hosts (obviously), his work colleagues and their respective spouses and significant others, Arjun, Radak, Dr. Hall and his wife Lusai and even Dr. T’Vala. There was fish and Zabu stew and cake and even a few dishes that attempted to emulate some kind of Terran cuisine (which honestly had strayed so far from resemblance, Julian decided to simply appreciate the gesture).

There was an assortment of wines and liquors and Kanars. There were games and good gossip and all around good cheer.

The whole thing was ridiculous and Julian was touched and the smile he kept on his face the whole time had been mostly genuine.

Mostly.  

After dessert, as everyone congregated in the living room for cocktails, the doorbell rang. Julian didn’t think much of it as he settled himself down into an armchair with a glass and a sigh. He was only half-paying attention to the conversations around him when he felt a gentle hand curl over his shoulder.

Julian, ” Garak announced softly, “ Happy Birthday .”  

 

Chapter Text

Garak! ” Julian exclaimed, whipping around in astonishment, nearly spilling his drink in his lap.

In an incautious (and fairly tipsy) frenzy, he hastily abandoned his glass on the nearest table, heedless of the fact that nearly half of its contents had sloshed over the rim in the process, catapulted out of his seat over the arm of his chair in a rather impressive display of acrobatics (particularly considering his notably elevated blood alcohol level) and very nearly managed to topple them both over as he unceremoniously launched himself into the other man's arms—

Well, actually , it was Julian's arms that exuberantly snaked around Garak, as Garak's were—or had been rather inconveniently occupied with a few miscellaneous items (which Julian had neglected to consider) and which a quick-thinking Kalis had slipped deftly over to rescue.

Garak, unprepared for the expeditious and clumsy assault, let out a startled 'oomph' upon impact and for a precarious second they stumbled ungracefully backward before Garak had the wherewithal to brace an arm around his back, restoring their balance with an amused and surprised sounding chuckle that came out in a bit of a wheeze thanks to Julian's near rib-crushing embrace.

Utterly ambivalent of the sudden hushed curiosity of their spectators—(the majority of which he surmised were more or less supportive of the happy reunion they'd found themselves captive witnesses to, if not mildly bemused by Julian's sheer fit of dramatics)—he buried his face into the crook of Garak's neck, too overwhelmed to make sense of this impossible, miraculous, unexpected godsend and sucked in a few shallow, shaky breaths—inhaling the wonderful, familiar scent of his dearest friend as he clutched him tightly, his hands bunching frantically into the fabric of the other man's shirt.

Although one of Garak's arms was still steadied behind Julian after having stabilized their footing, the other was held out mid-air a bit lost for purpose before Garak finally seemed to register the fact that his captor showed no sign of releasing him anytime too soon. Thus, forced to acknowledge an obligation to reciprocate in some coordinating fashion, he released a small, somewhat exasperated sigh and brought around his other arm to join the first. There was a brief moment where the execution of this felt a little stilted, as if Garak were only humoring this absurdly sentimental human, but then, as Julian felt his companion's chin rest against his shoulder; perceived the ardency in the way his hands pressed into the small of his back, it became abundantly clear there was nothing disingenuous about his response.

Julian gulped hard against the lump in his throat and clenched shut his eyes in a futile effort to hold back the swell of tears, but all was for naught as one or two rebelliously slipped out regardless. Feeling faintly ashamed of the fact, he hid his face in the collar of Garak's shirt and Garak, sensing his sudden, ill-timed loss of composure, smoothed a tentative, consoling hand down his back—and oh , how blissfully welcome the gesture was, however awkwardly executed.

Hold it together, man! Julian berated himself, smothering a small, self-deprecating laugh against Garak's shoulder. Somewhere beneath the sound of his own ragged breathing and the din of dizzying elation humming in his ears, he processed the faintest murmuring of a few amused remarks around them which, in combination with the way his companion seemed to stiffen slightly in his arms—betraying some degree of minor discomfort, it somewhat belatedly occurred to Julian that he might be embarrassing the other man. Al though they were, he reasoned, for the most part among friends, most of the guests present would be little more than strangers to Garak and within this particularly restrained culture, such open displays of affection weren’t exactly fit for polite company.  

It’s not that Cardassians were by any means as dedicated to adhering to the strict emotional austerity of Vulcans, however, Julian had come to learn that they did seem to nonsensically pride themselves on reserving unambiguous (to other races, anyway) exposure of those softer feelings—as if to do so would be an admission of vulnerability...and well, vulnerability equated with weakness: an unforgivable trespass for such a proud, militaristic people. It was only behind closed doors that such physical expressions were permissible. There were always exceptions, of course, (there usually are), but Julian knew better than to assign anyone as rigidly self-disciplined as Garak into that category.

Inwardly cringing at having so haplessly blundered into such a tactless and utterly witless faux-pas, he realized it would be prudent to draw the blinds so-to-speak, and thus, making use of his companion's shirt, he discreetly blotted away the dampness from his cheeks, composed himself as best as he was able (under the circumstances), clapped an amicable hand on Garak's back and took a step back. Gripping his companion just above the elbows, he feigned the widest, most easy-going grin he could muster that said to all onlookers: Everything is right as rain! Nothing to see here!

However, Garak, whom had physically bore first-hand his momentary bout of hysterics, didn't quite buy the act and returned to him a small skeptical smile.

“Quite an enthusiastic reception, my dear,” he remarked a bit drolly.  “One would think you were happy to see me.”

Happy to see you!? Julian's eyes widened comically: of all the understatements!  

“Now I wouldn't go that far,” he teased, his grin aching in his cheeks as he gazed back at his beloved knight-errant.

“Very well then, in that case, perhaps I should see myself back out,” Garak casually suggested. “I certainly had no intention of crashing the party.”

Julian's grip reflexively tightened on Garak's arms at the playful threat. “Oh, I don't know Garak. I suppose now that you're here, you might as well stay,” he sighed as if exasperated by the inconvenience.

“Why, with such a courteous invitation, how ever could I decline?” Garak replied lightly, bringing his palms up just beneath Julian's elbows and grasping him fondly—a distinctly Cardassian gesture which Julian had come to recognize as a demonstration of both favor and affiliation. It didn't quite signify familiarity beyond that of a filial nature; not quite anyway—that is, until Garak's thumbs brushed the inward crooks, implying to all who cared to observe, a claim of unmistakable intimacy. Julian gasped a little and Garak's eyes glinted with a shrewdness to match his smirk: so the student has been taught a thing or two.

“I'm afraid there isn't any cake left, considering you decided to arrive at the eleventh-hour,” Julian remarked, his reproach failing to sound as convincing as he’d intended.   

“Indeed, that is a shame. Although...” Garak hummed, gazing back at him speculatively for a second or two, “Perhaps I may yet find something or another of comparable delight this evening to satisfy,” he confided with a discreetly suggestive lift of the corner of his mouth.   

“You and your incurable sweet tooth,” Julian chided, trying his best not to blush (but failing rather miserably at this as well). God, he was obvious.  

Garak released him and gave an insouciant shrug. “We all have our vices.”

Julian dropped his arms back to his sides, wishing he had pockets or a drink—or really, anything to occupy his suddenly fidgety hands. “You said you couldn't make it,” he accused, trying for stern while his nervous fingers worried rather lamely at an imaginary thread on his sleeve.

Garak's lips twitched with a smirk. “Come now, my dear, one mustn't believe everything one reads,” he smoothly admonished before catching Kalis's attention—(not exactly a challenge considering how blatantly she'd been watching their exchange)—which, much to his dismay, Julian had only just noticed, coloring further. At least the rest of their guests had seen fit to return to their own conversations. “Kalis darling, would you be a love and fetch me those little tokens you so helpfully collected from me a few minutes ago?”

Kalis's eyes widened, slightly abashed to be caught staring and gave a small nod, quickly proceeding to do as instructed. She returned a moment later, items in tow and stared at Garak with a hesitant, questioning expression. She didn't say anything to either of them but she shot Julian an odd look he couldn't quite decipher, looked pointedly between the two of them, bit her lip a bit anxiously and handed off the parcels to Garak as requested. They exchanged a polite bow and Kalis, oddly shy all of the sudden, excused herself with a deep curtsy and scampered off to rejoin the crowd—likely, he suspected with sudden dismay, to gossip like the madwoman she was. It would stand to reason considering the fact that he hadn’t exactly seen fit to divulge much regarding the exact nature of his confusing and complicated relationship with their mutual friend (since said nature of the thing had remained rather inconclusive over the past month.)

Regardless, in light of their present circumstances, Julian stared after the direction she’d darted off to, wondering if it wouldn’t be prudent to temporarily excuse himself and tag after her to nip the thing in the bud before Garak and their respective relationship would become subject to any further speculation. However, before he could do so, Garak laid a hand on his shoulder in a surprisingly forward manner; a gesture that would’ve been otherwise lost in translation and dismissed as merely a way to retrieve his attention, were it not for the fact that Julian had been living on Cardassia for long enough now to know better. (Something which, to his rather grave embarrassment he’d learned by error, earning himself quite a scandalized look by one of his patients a few months back).

“Shall we take a seat with the rest of your friends?” Garak suggested, darting a glance toward the sitting area where the rest of the party had congregated. Julian followed his gaze noticing both Arjun, Radak and their colleague Ronika already watching them curiously; all three having clearly observed the proprietary placement of Garak's hand. Ronika wore a somewhat disapproving frown but Arjun's eyes danced with merriment. Radak on the other hand, Julian observed, looked vaguely amused at his expense, not failing to note his flustered expression, (especially as Garak's hand smoothed up to the nape of his neck, delivering a direct, affirming squeeze.)

Catching a glimpse of his companion's self-satisfied expression from the corner of his eye, he inwardly groaned, realizing this little display of his was likely in partial retaliation for the rather inglorious spectacle Julian had made of them both only minutes ago when he’d rather impetuously thrown himself at Garak upon greeting. Still...he couldn’t help but feel a small bubbling of excitement building in his chest.

After all, the precise placement of his hand was an assertion of claim, and the tightening of his fingers, an unspoken announcement rather explicitly advertising to all in attendance that their relationship was more than platonically intimate in case anyone had mind to incorrectly assume otherwise.     

He rather fervently hoped Garak actually meant it, but since the man staunchly refused to meet his eyes afterward, Julian sucked in a breath and steeled himself with more confidence than he currently felt, ducking into the circle in preparation for making the requisite introductions.    

Aside from his closest friends, most of the guests, particularly those of Prime origin, looked a bit wary at the prospect of actually meeting the notorious ex-Obsidian Order operative and exile and on Garak’s behalf, Julian felt a little crestfallen by their overall cool reception. Here he was, still forced to endure prejudice after working so tirelessly day-after-day for these people; none-the-wiser of his many sacrifices.

Garak couldn’t have missed the furtive whispers and looks of poorly veiled suspicion either, but for all the world he couldn’t have appeared less troubled by the fact, his smile beaming with unaffected, unoffended congeniality; his ducked posture conveying a humble harmlessness that reminded Julian of how he’d always carried himself on the station: just ‘plain, simple, Garak’. No one to be intimidated by. No one to be afraid of.   

After Palik had courteously provided them each with a drink, Julian took a seat, squeezing over to allow Garak some room to join him. His companion may have made a convincing show of nonchalance, but there was something in the slightly stiff way he was holding himself that betrayed he wasn’t quite as at ease as he outwardly appeared, and Julian discreetly pressed a little closer to his side in silent support. In response, he felt Garak minutely relax and couldn’t help but feel warmed by the fact that he’d achieved the effect he’d hoped for. It spoke volumes for the trust he’d worked to cultivate over the years with this man whom had always proven so exceptionally reticent to give such a thing. Additionally, he couldn’t help but secretly (and a little selfishly) delight in their proximity and the easy and almost intimate familiarity of their contact.

The evening proceeded onward surprisingly well after overcoming the initial collective hesitancy and after a while Julian dropped back in participation, preferring instead to passively observe the natural ebb and flow of the various conversations around him and his dear companion’s impressive success gaining inclusion in this. He found himself taking particular note of how he not only made a sort of special emphasis to engage those he knew to be the closer of Julian’s friends, but the manner in which he managed to garner their respect: debating urban development endeavors with Arjun, laughing over jokes with Palik Julian didn’t quite have reference for, inquiring after the progress of Kalis’s students with such genuine interest and even talking shop with Radak about the water projects.      

Julian watched each respective interaction, glowing in quiet admiration.

From a somewhat more objective angle, studying Garak like this provided a fascinating insight into his broad armory of talents and knowledge.

This was the man in his element—the consummate charmer, the consummate performer : a virtuoso of eloquence and wit as he entertained his audience. A maestro orator and hypnotist; conducting the choir. Whichever direction he led, the herd would follow. If one paid close enough attention, it was easy to pinpoint the master spy in Garak’s effusive, flawlessly manufactured and indefatigable smile. Julian supposed Garak could probably keep weaving tales and spinning those animated anecdotes of his all night long if need be, but he also knew that somewhere hidden behind the extroverted polymath, beneath the intrepid spirit that chased after adventure and forged fearlessly into danger, existed a man whom had, on more than one occasion espoused a passion for the tranquility of more solitary pursuits: a quiet tailor, a quiet gardener, a quiet scholar longing for quiet —he'd heard it often enough in the plaintive subtext of his letters and countless conversations they'd shared over the years.

The thing was, after spending well over half-a-year entrenched in the trenches, manipulating Cardassia into this effulgent new age, Julian knew he had to be tired. He could see it in the haggard bow of his shoulders, the mean leanness of his frame, the heavy shadows drawn under his eyes, yet here he was, momentum unflagging as he entertained Julian’s friends. Aside from their hosts, Garak didn’t know these people from adam, but he did know one rather vital thing about them: these were people Julian cared about, and thus by extension, people Garak sought to impress, to prove something to.

Julian’s heart welled with warmth and suddenly it took a good deal of effort to resist the impulse to grab Garak’s hand...to muss his fingers through his impeccably slicked back hair...to see him rumpled and genuinely relaxed for once, to see the other side of this immaculate front he so carefully crafted for himself. What would he look like, he idly wondered, splayed out across the sheets beneath him—guard down, smile unreserved and solely for Julian's benefit?

His patience was wearing thin. Not just in this particular instance, but overall, and here Garak finally was after all this time which had to mean something, right?

Julian noticed the low dip of the sun settling on the edge of the horizon with a sudden twinge of anxiety. Soon enough the rest of the party would also register the fact and it would present an altogether too convenient excuse for Garak to make up some lame, if not irksomely polite apology about the lateness of the hour and slip away with the rest of the guests, something which Julian couldn’t put past the man. Not after all the other evasive stunts he’d pulled over the years.

He nudged him slightly to draw his attention and Garak spared him a brief look, easily intuiting his tacit message, but to his immense irritation, brushed him off, returning to some discussion on macrobiotic farming... or something along those line that Julian frankly couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about.

Julian leaned toward him feigning the suppression of a yawn behind his hand. “ Garak, I’m confident we’ve sufficiently satisfied etiquette by now. I think we’ll be forgiven if we excuse ourselves off for somewhere a little... quieter .”

Garak had clearly heard him, but just as determinedly pretended he hadn’t and Julian found himself having to suppress an urge to clap a hand to his forehead in frustration.

Did the man take some kind of perverse pleasure in tormenting him? Honestly, sometimes he felt like whacking the bastard across the back of his neatly coiffed head to knock a little sense into there. Fortunately, Kalis, bless her conveniently timed clairvoyance , (or more likely the fact her eyes had been trained on them all evening with avid curiosity), picked up his presently fruitless endeavor and swooped into provide her assistance.

“Julian! My goodness, but you look awfully exhausted!” She exclaimed, pressing a hand over her heart for dramatic emphasis. “Had a bit too much to drink I’d expect,” she accused, tittering lightly.

Ah ,” Julian replied, playing along by returning a loopy, snockered grin, “Now that you mention it, perhaps you’ve hit the mark on that account,” he agreed waving a lazy, three-sheets-to-the-wind hand in the air in self-admission.

Vulcans don’t have this problem ,” Radak muttered under his breath, in case anyone cared to know.

Arjun stared at Julian skeptically. “But you’ve only had a glass or two,” he pointed out, “Surely, you have a higher tolerance than that, my friend!”

“Clearly humans suffer an inferior metabolism,” Radak rather scornfully remarked, unwittingly helping Julian’s case.

Palik looked at him consideringly. “Perhaps it would be for the best if you’d turn in early this evening, Doctor,” she suggested, perceptively complicit after sharing a brief glance with her wife. “I’ll be sure to prepare you an electrolyte-restorative for tomorrow.”

Julian couldn’t help grinning. His hosts were proving to be quite adept wing-men (or wing- women , rather).   

“How very thoughtful of you,” Garak replied rather dryly on his behalf, clearly having picked up on the ruse. He glanced over at Julian with a mildly amused, vaguely exasperated expression that conveyed that while he was by no means chuffed, he was perhaps, marginally impressed by Julian’s smooth feat of manipulation.

“Garak love, why don’t you help the poor dear off to bed?” she suggested cheerfully, giving Garak one of her pointed, patented ‘don’t even think of arguing with me’ looks. Garak chuckled in soft amazement, rising from his seat to chivalrously assist Julian from his and Julian couldn’t quite help but play up the act for all it was worth, draping a clumsy arm around his companion’s neck and sagging heavily against him with a sloppy grin. Kalis shot him a discreet little wink that Arjun seemed to catch, his eyes widening in amused realization before aiming at Julian a wry, encouraging grin, identifiable enough as a fairly obvious euphemistic ‘thumbs-up’ which Garak hadn’t failed to notice judging by the rather pinched look on his face. Supporting Julian in one arm and his parcels in the other, he gave a short, polite bow to their audience and turned them around to escort them off.  

“Think you can manage to walk or will I have to carry you?” he dryly asked once they were out of earshot.

My blushes, Garak! ” Julian exclaimed, clutching at his proverbial pearls. “What a notion! Carrying me across the threshold to bed? What will the neighbors say?”

“I sincerely doubt they would say much,” Garak replied blandly, releasing him after they'd turned the corner and were well out of sight of the rest of the party. “Considering it shouldn't come as much of a surprise.”

“Ah, was I meant to be your little secret?” Julian teased, shooting his companion a wry grin as he let them both into the guest-suite.

“I think it's safe to say no one's been left in the dark, my dear, particularly considering the rather undignified manner in which you've comported yourself this evening,” Garak remarked, setting down his packages on the coffee table.

Excuse me? A hug can be discounted as a lapse in judgment. Human error. I wasn't the one broadcasting my claim on you to everyone within visual range, Garak,” Julian defended a touch indignantly.

Garak seemed to find something interesting about the remark and leaned against the arm of the settee, studying him thoughtfully.

“Is that what you thought I was doing?”

Julian’s deadpan spoke for itself.

“Does it bother you?”

Julian blinked at the unexpected tone-shift.

On its surface, Garak’s question was framed carefully, devoid of judgment, but he couldn’t help but detect the faintest note of something fragile there. Either Garak’s shields were uncharacteristically slipping or for once he was permitting Julian a glance behind the curtain.

“You mean that my friends know we're involved? Or—might be involved?” he tacked on to the end, correcting himself, feeling a faint heat rising to his cheeks.

Garak turned up a hand as if to infer that yes, that is what he'd meant, and Julian stared at him quizzically.

“Well, I suppose it raises the question, Garak, are we?”

“Humor the theoretical,” Garak persisted, his answer a vexing non-answer.

“Alright,” Julian ceded, “Supposing we are involved, then no. It wouldn't bother me. In fact, it never really has. It's you I've been concerned about in that regard. Up until tonight, the last time you've put a hand on my shoulder in public was when we first met.”

Garak barked out a sharp, surprised laugh. “Ah, you remember that.”

He looked slightly abashed by the reminder, and Julian spared remark on the fact.

“Yes, well, ” he continued after clearing his throat with something approaching discomfort. “That was perhaps a small lapse in judgment...a minor self-indulgence in a moment of weakness. My only initial intent was to spook you a little. You were after all, such a reactive, naive little thing. Although I suspect I had rather accomplished that goal prior to marking my interest in such an unforgivably overt fashion.”

“We could chalk it up to your old implant.”

Garak responded to this with a soft, humorless laugh that faded into a dark, bitter smile. “Thank you, Doctor for supplying me with such a convenient excuse.”

“Should I hand you another to cover for today?”

Garak shrewdly gleaned the spiteful bite in his tone and held up his hands in gentle placation. “I shouldn’t think there will be any need for that,” he admitted. “Unless, of course, you’d find comfort in one.

“But, for the sake of clarity, this...whatever this is,” Julian replied, gesturing a hand between the two of them, “Hasn’t exactly been something you’ve been too eager to leap up on any tables to shout about.”

“Perhaps not,” Garak conceded, “But please rest assured knowing, my dear, that in no way does any reluctance on my part reflect negatively on you. I would have to suspend a good deal of belief to imagine anyone in their right mind would be ashamed by the prospect of being seen as your partner. But, yes, I have been concerned in that regard. Insofar as how you might be negatively impacted by being seen as mine .”

Garak’s smile softened into something a bit brittle and reflective. “You must understand. I was an exile. An outcast. Very much mistrusted and not for altogether insufficient reason, and as you can see well enough for yourself, even now my reputation proceeds me wherever I go.”

Julian stared back at him flatly. “Would you mind doing me a favor, Garak?”

Garak hesitated, lifting a curious eyeridge before giving a very small bow of cooperation.

“Please recall something for me,” Julian prefaced. “On this exact day, three years ago, you and I were sitting in the replimat together. Do you remember?”

Vaguely, ” Garak replied guardedly.

“Do you remember how I said I could kiss you?”

I suppose ,” Garak conceded noncommittally.

Julian pressed on. “You asked, 'here?' and I replied in the affirmative,” he pointed out. “For your edification, I'll repeat what I said. Verbatim: 'I couldn't give a lick for what anyone else thinks'.

Garak hesitated to reply and Julian looked at him meaningfully.

“I meant it then and I mean it now.”

“I don't mean to draw your attention to the fact that you did not, in fact, do so.”

“Only because you didn't seem particularly keen on the idea,” Julian countered. “Actually, it’s something I should’ve done in the airlock before I left,” he added, strolling toward his companion with some obvious manner of intent. “I regret the oversight.”

“Do you,” Garak replied, both emotionless and motionless. (At least he didn't look as if he were about to jump out the window). “If you recall a month back, I believe you've already managed to address the issue,” he demurred, both figuratively and literally sidestepping around him.

Julian remained put, having a little more pride thank you , than to pursue after the man whom, at the moment had apparently decided it was safer across the room by the window and safer yet, to take a sudden deep interest in the wood grain of the windowsill.

Dear lord, had Garak actually been referring to that utter failure of thing that would surely be an insult to the even call a kiss? That clumsy, careless, fly-by-night disaster that hadn’t even landed on its target back in the shed before he’d hopped in the skimmer and fled the scene like a complete and utter ass?

If so, then Garak sorely needed some re-education on the matter... if only he’d allow such a thing.

“You truly do make an art form of coquetry,” Julian dryly observed, glaring at the slippery bastard as he made himself at home against the desk.

“I find your attempt to flirt with me immensely flattering,” Garak remarked.

“There sounds like there's a per contra there,” Julian

Garak smiled back at him blandly. “There’s no exclusionary, my dear. It was a stand-alone remark, I assure you,” he defended before switching gears by nodding down at the herpetarium on the desk. “Should I be offended you've yet to introduce me to your friend?”

“I’d had some intention to originally,” Julian drawled a bit irritably, coming over to join him.

“'Senior', I take it?” Garak smirked, eyeing the stuffed bear propped against the glass. “He appears to be a very valiant guardian.”

Julian felt his mouth twitch up at the corners, unable to begrudge a small grin.

“And this I presume is 'Junior'?” Garak asked peering in at the little regnar basking happily under his heat lamp. “ My, what a handsome fellow .”

“I rather think so,” Julian agreed, beaming with fatherly pride.

Garak gave him a considering once over. “I suppose you're not half bad yourself.”

Julian's heart leaped along with his grin. “I'm relieved to hear we meet with your approval.”

“It would be a travesty if you persisted under any other impression,” Garak admitted, his eyes flicking up to meet Julian’s with a wealth of warmth he longed to wrap himself in, realizing with a small flutter of excitement how very very close they were standing.

It would be nothing to close the gap, crowd him against the window and kiss him senseless and he very nearly surrendered to the impulse before Garak deterred him with a stern, playful grin. “ Now now , Doctor! Not in front of the children!” he scolded, abandoning Julian over by the enclosure as he made his way back to the settee.    

Tease!

Julian momentarily pondered the merits of concussing himself against the wall.

Apparently psychic, Garak glanced across at him with a small, concerned frown. “Why don’t you come join me and see about finally unwrapping these presents,” he suggested, patting the seat beside him. Julian didn’t hesitate to take him up on the invitation, although he thought better of informing the man of what he’d much rather unwrap.

“I'm guessing this is a bottle,” Julian stated ironically, holding up the unambiguously bottle-shaped item.

“Clever guess,” Garak chuckled. “If you aren't too inebriated, perhaps we might share a glass,” he suggested, smirking.

Julian shot him an irritated look. “You know damn well why I pulled that stunt,” he pointed out before getting up to fetch them each a glass from the cabinet.

Garak hummed breezily, neither confirming nor denying the accusation.

“Honestly Garak, if your plan all along was to ply me into bed with a bit of booze, you needn't have gone to so much trouble,” Julian teased as he reseated himself.

“One could say you’ve done an admirable job to convince me of the fact,” Garak dryly retorted as Julian stripped the paper off the bottle. Once the label was exposed, he tried not to look too disappointed,

“I know you don't typically prefer Kanar, but I think you'll appreciate this particular varietal,” Garak quickly defended. “I thought it might suitably mark the occasion considering you both share the same year,” he explained, popping the cork and pouring them both a finger. “Due to its vintage, I believe you might find it to your liking. As all finer things, it improves quite remarkably over time.”

Garak noted his hesitation. “Perhaps you might like to see what else you've gotten,” he suggested, passing him the second parcel. Julian made quick work of the wrappings and felt his lips curve into a grin.

A Comprehensive Guide to Cardassian Anatomy and Physiology. Another 'vintage', Garak? If I didn't know any better, I'd say you're making sport of my age.”

Garak's eyes sparkled with warmth and good humor as he raised his glass for a toast. “My dear, age cannot wither nor custom stale your infinite variety.”

“Coming from anyone else I’d take that as a compliment,” Julian remarked.

“It was only intended to be taken as such,” Garak chuckled as Julian tried a sip of his drink. His eyes widened in surprise. Where he'd expected to be accosted with the typical syrupy sourness, instead, much to his delight he discovered  a thinner, crisp and faintly sweet taste that lingered aromatically between his tongue and soft palate.

“This is surprisingly tolerable,” he admitted before returning his attention to the tome in his lap. “So, Garak, I notice you've finally retired your attempts at political indoctrination. Should I interpret this to mean you wish to expand my horizons in more...applicable topics? If so, then perhaps the more effective approach may require a more physical demonstration,” Julian smirked. “After all, one might say I’m more of a…’hand’s on’ learner.”

Garak's browridge nearly shot up to his hairline. “Truly, my dear, I sincerely doubt after spending almost half-a-year practicing medicine here your education requires much further supplementation,” he defended, evasively maneuvering around the rather overt proposition. “And anything else I imagine you could possibly want to know I’m certain is already at your disposal in the local medical database.”

“Then what purpose does this lovely old brick serve?”

“That ‘lovely old brick’ is one of last surviving encyclopedias of its kind and over three-centuries old. I don't believe you'll find such outdated material very informative,” Garak conceded, “However I had thought some of the more antiquated terminology and illustrations might provide a bit of amusement.”

Julian finished his drink and set his glass off to the side before flipping through the pages, careful to neither bend or tear the brittle vellum as he skimmed through the daguerreotyp es.

'Krilătbre-yezul’? ” Julian read aloud, squinting down in confusion at the label for the Cardassian spoon-shaped protrusion in the middle of the forehead that literally translated into ' hunter's eye'. “I've never heard that term.”

Garak's expression slipped into one of his indulgent, professorial smiles. “It's an outmoded colloquialism that has long since fallen out of use in our modern lexicon. The chufa is, as you know, no more than a vestigial feature leftover from ancient times. Superfluously cosmetic these days, obviously. Research indicates it was once capable of sensing bioelectric fields, which would have served our ancestors while hunting by picking up the subtle vibrations of nearby prey.”

Studying the diagram, Julian noted with interest the intricately captured scaling of the neckridges. He glanced back up at his companion with a faintly curious look. “The cartilaginous structuring of your trapezius is another vestigial trait,” he added, keeping his tone as strictly clinical as possible.

Garak acknowledged his comment just as innocuously. “Indeed. Our progenitor's 'frill' once was capable of being flared at will as a diematic display. An intimidation tactic. The greater its expanse—the more influential its effect. An excess denoted the apex predator of the herd, which you can imagine gave some measure of reproductive advantage.”

“Hence such testosterone fueled size-conceit,” Julian remarked, grinning.

Garak snorted. “As if your own culture lacks any comparable preoccupation,” he replied ironically.

“Regardless, the particular adaptation of this sociobiological favoritism does support one of the more plausible theories in current circulation,” Julian pointed out.

“How so?”

“According to the experts, the prevailing thought on the matter is that it was this specific enduring quirk that influenced the evolutionary development of such closely networked subcutaneous mechanoreceptors in the region,” Julian supplied, providing an explanation bloated with enough pedantic jargon to sail over even Garak's clever head in some hopes it might spur further inquiry.

“I'm afraid you've touched on territory a bit beyond my depth, Doctor,” Garak apologized with a small, humble bow of his head, playing into his hands brilliantly.

“Ah, you'll have to forgive me, Garak. I've had so little diversity in my social circle of late, I find myself forgetting to use layman terms,” he grinned apologetically. “Perhaps it would be easier to demonstrate.”

Without awaiting permission, Julian reached forward and Garak's fist instantly shot up to intercept, arresting his wrist mid-air.

“I'll thank you to return my hand,” Julian requested, looking pointedly between his captive hand and its captor. Garak's eyes narrowed but he released him and Julian smiled as if to convey all was forgiven, once more reaching forward. The other man was a picture of perfect stoicism as his palm hovered just over his neckridge. “May I?” Julian asked, coolly professional.

Garak consented with a small nod, expression guarded.

“Just beneath your trapezius at the juncture of your deltoid is your suprispinatus. There's a nerve cluster there which connects up to your semispinalis capitis,” Julian explained without any preamble as he lightly traversed the scaling from Garak's shoulder to just beneath his skull, surprised to find how soft Garak's hair felt against the back of his hand. “This specific neural circuit is directly wired to your autonomic and endocrine systems, thus, with the application of what one might perceive as—” Julian's mouth felt dry all of the sudden and he paused, swallowing before he continued, his voice sounding ever so slightly deeper than it had, “—'pleasurable' stimuli, triggers the reticular activation system in your brain stem, releasing a flood of serotonin and dopamine, thus resulting in an elevation of heart-rate and blood pressure...”

Garak's pupil's had notably dilated, and Julian fought to suppress a blush. Summoning the courage to proceed, he allowed his fingertips to travel back down the plain of his neck, tracing the U-curve of several scales which had begun to darken and swell. “Among other things...” Julian added before trailing off, observing the faint acceleration of Garak's pulse; the increase in the rise and fall of his chest and his small, shallow breaths—all conveying the man was far from unaffected by his little performance. Julian determinedly avoided the way those gleaming eyes were regarding him, radiating with such sheer intensity and cleared his throat, which, by the way his companion's lips were curling up at the corners proved he'd noticed Julian's own slipping composure.

However, to his good fortune, it appeared as though (for the time being, at least), Garak seemed willing to continue to indulge him. “This, of course, leads to a vasodilation of the tissue connected beneath the keratin sheath,” Julian continued, unable to resist admiring the almost artistic articulation of his companion's scaling. “This allows the plates to swell with blood which in turn heightens the...er...”

He trailed off, feeling terribly hot under the collar and very distracted by the heat of Garak's gaze.

“...Sensitivity?” Garak supplied, mildly amused. “Thank you, Doctor, for this... enlightening description of my... physiology . One can see you're fast becoming quite the dedicated student on the subject.”

“I wouldn't mind making a more dedicated study of it,” Julian replied, smiling suggestively.

Is that so?

Julian couldn't help but hear how deep the silken timbre of Garak's voice had dropped, nor could he fail to notice just how hungrily he was looking at him from beneath the hooded lids of those striking blue eyes—and unable to resist, Julian found himself suddenly commenting on the fact.

“You have remarkably gorgeous eyes.”

Said eyes widened, and suddenly Garak was pitched over in a fit of actual, genuine laughter which proved to quite effectively extinguish any prior stirrings of arousal Julian might have been feeling.

Oh, my dear!” Garak exclaimed, wiping away a tear of mirth, “Your seduction techniques truly do want for help.”

“Well, if you're only going to mock me, perhaps I ought to retract the compliment,” he sulked.

“So you don't think my eyes are worthy of praise?” Garak asked, playfully batting his eyelashes.

Julian sulked harder and his companion sighed, shaking his head fondly.  

“Oh, come now, my dear. Spare me the long face. Surely all you require is a little tutelage,” Garak suggested, slipping his palm beneath Julian’s to raise his hand to his lips. “To your good fortune,” he smirked, “I think I’ll offer the first lesson free of charge.”

Julian drew in a gasp as Garak pressed a kiss between his knuckles, wondering how such a chaste thing could feel so utterly erotic. Really, since when were his ulnar nerves so directly connected to his groin? It was honestly a little embarrassing how hard he suddenly was.

“Ah, is that how it's done?” he replied a bit breathlessly as Garak peered up at him through lowered lashes.

“That, my dear, is only the prelude.”

... And there went whatever was left of his higher brain function.

“Is there an option to skip to the part where you take me to bed?” Julian asked hopefully.

Garak gave him a short, pained look. “After spending all these years in my acquaintance, how have you failed to learn so very little from me?”

Julian gave a small, frustrated groan. “Really, you are too wise to woo peaceably, aren’t you, Garak?”

“If you call such direct propositions ‘wooing’,” Garak remarked wryly. “Have you no finesse? Truly it doesn’t speak very highly of your former paramours, does it!”

“You want more finesse? I mean, frankly Garak, I mean no disrespect, but I’ve patiently and painstakingly pandered to you pretentious poetic proclivities for years with no payout!”

“Bravo, Doctor! Splendid bit of alliteration!” Garak applauded, chuckling delightedly.

“Look, I don’t know what else you want from me. I could appeal to you bellatristically until I’m blue in the face,” Julian exclaimed a little desperately. “I could certainly, and quite easily I might add, even dichotomize the way you make me feel by explaining the effect you have on my paraventricular hypothalamic nuclei, or regale you with the way you make the trace amines shoot through my mesolimbic dopamine pathways, but…” he paused, taking Garak’s hand and placing it over his chest, “I think for once I’ll alter my approach entirely and simply ask you to feel the way you make my heart race.”

Julian glanced across at Garak with a slow, sultry smile. “My heart isn’t the only part of me that aches for you,” he confided. “So I’m left with one question, Garak, what do you intend to do about it?

Chapter Text

The restraint in Garak’s posture did not match the flash of hunger suddenly smoldering in his eyes. “What do I intend to do?” he asked, his lips curling into a dangerous, teasing smile. “Well, first my dear, I believe I ought to begin by asking you to forgive my deplorably derelict manners.”

Julian raised a baffled eyebrow.

“You see, your little demonstration just now has reminded me of what you’re wearing.”

“Oh? This old thing?” Julian asked, darting a grin down at the tunic the other man had given him only a few years back.

Garak smoothed a reverent hand down the fabric over his chest. “I regret neglecting until now to remark on the fact. It is very handsome on you,” he observed, peering up at Julian coyly from beneath lowered lashes. “However, I think it would look far more stunning off of you.”

“Ah, well I wouldn’t want to detract from its appeal,” Julian replied, quirking a wry grin as he quickly fingered open the clasps and pulled it off over his head. “There, is that better?”

Garak took the discarded garment, folded it neatly and laid it off to the side.

“I believe so,” he replied smoothly. “Now, as for the matter of your cardiovascular health, you do indeed appear to be experiencing a troubling elevation in your heart rate,” Garak remarked, taking Julian’s pulse as if he were in fact the doctor.   

“Indeed? Well in that case, perhaps I ought to lay down.”

“Perhaps that would be for the best.”

“Would you be so kind as to assist me to bed?” Julian asked, smirking.

“Of course, my dear,” Garak replied, pushing himself off the settee before offering Julian help up.

Julian’s heart fluttered as he took his companion’s hand, allowing Garak to pull him up to his feet.

“You know,” Julian remarked, as Garak escorted him into the bedroom, “It has gotten awfully late. Perhaps you ought to stay the night.”

“I wouldn’t want to be of any inconvenience,” Garak demurred.

“I fear the only inconvenience is that I happen to hold current claim of the only spare guest room,” Julian supplied. “Oh well. I suppose we’ll just have to share.”  

“I’m not sure that would be wise if you’re unwell,” Garak cautioned. “Surely you could use a good night’s rest without the imposition.”

They were literally a foot away from the bed. A foot. Rather done playing make-believe, Julian debated just shoving him onto it.

“Take me to bed, Garak,” he ordered.

“I thought I had done,” Garak countered.

Julian smirked. “Then take me.

Whatever chains holding Garak back suddenly snapped.

Oh, for pity’s sake, you beautiful, brazen boy,” Garak all but growled, and before Julian could so much as register surprise, Garak had lunged forward, capturing him in a brilliant, dizzying, knee-buckling kiss that quite literally buckled his knees as he stumbled back into the edge of the bed. This resulted in a sudden loss of balance that sent Julian falling rather inelegantly backward, pulling Garak, whose arms were already inextricably wrapped around him, down for the ride. They landed onto the mattress in a clumsy heap of tangled limbs and startled laughter.

“That was certainly unexpected!” Julian exclaimed, grinning up at his companion a bit breathlessly.

“I’ll say,” Garak chuckled. “I hadn’t expected you to topple over like that.”

“I hadn’t expected you to respond with such...enthusiasm?” Julian laughed. “Mind, not that I’m complaining.”

“Forgive me if I have a pulse,” Garak harrumphed. “It isn’t everyday such an exceptionally handsome young man whom by the way I also happen to be utterly smitten with demands that I ‘take him’.”   

“Well don’t resist on my account,” Julian replied. Garak took his suggestion at face-value and dived down to steal another kiss, (which wasn’t really stolen considering it was quite freely his to take.)

Julian gasped, sucking down air by the lungful after Garak broke away to venture off in an eager quest to learn how else he might render Julian into a trembling, vibrating wreck of moaning desire--and moan Julian did—in a rather embarrassingly audible fashion as Garak’s lips traipsed down his neck in a scorching trail of nips and kisses.  

Julian’s hands scrounged frantically for purchase as Garak straddled him in a way that mirrored how Julian had teased him nearly a month ago, and oh god, if the way he was grinding down against him was meant to be a vengeful reminder of that, Julian really couldn’t be buggered to take much offense—and then, another sensuous roll of his hips pulled from his lips a string of colorful invectives Garak swiftly swooped down to devour.  

Garak pulled back and in a bit of a daze Julian watched him make quick work of stripping them both down to their respective undergarments. Attempting to be helpful, he shuffled down his pants the rest of the way over his ankles just in time for Garak to resettle himself between his legs to resume his exploration.  

Ohgodohgod, oh—” Julian groaned as Garak’s hands and mouth mapped down the length of his body, just barely careening away from the one part of his anatomy most desperate for his attention. Garak paused for a second, gazing up at him from just over his belly with a wry, amused smirk.

“You are really quite vocal,” he noted.

Julian blinked down at him querulously.  

“Of course, considering how usually loquacious you are, I’m not particularly surprised...although I am beginning to wonder if you’re attempting to test the thickness of the walls.”

“Oh... god, ” Julian blushed hotly, suddenly recalling the fact that they weren’t exactly the house’s sole occupants. “ Oh god, ” he sputtered out again as Garak’s tongue dipped down playfully into his navel.

“While I’m flattered by the deification, it’s really not necessary,” Garak remarked, perilously close to Julian’s quite impatiently neglected erection. “I believe my name should suffice well enough.”

Elim?

“Ah, I think just ‘Garak’ will do,” Garak corrected—

—“Plain, simple, Garak,” they both said in unison, grinning a bit madly at each other.

Garak resumed his ministrations, ducking a kiss into the valley between the jut of his hip and his groin. He hovered for a moment just over his cock, trapped beneath his briefs—

Julian gasped as his nose grazed up from root to tip and then back down again before he buried his face against him, greedily sucking in deep breaths of air, inhaling in the scent of his arousal as if he were starving and couldn’t get enough of him and stunned by the frankly salacious display, Julian tore away his eyes, unable to watch any further if he intended to last any longer. Collapsing backward, he clutched the sheets at his sides as Garak lapped and mouthed at him through the fabric, reducing him into a whimpering, writhing, mindless mess of mere nerve-endings.  

Finally, growling with something that sounded half-feral, Garak yanked down the offending barrier to his hips and suddenly Julian was engulfed in wet, velvet heat.

“—yes, holy christ,  you're so fucking good— ” Julian rambled incoherently, only catching the tail end of the brainless words tumbling out of his mouth before Garak was glancing up at him and releasing him with a soft ‘pop’.  Oh no no no, don’t stop—

“My goodness, aren’t we full of profanities,” he remarked in mild, partially amused reproach. 

“Garak, please, ” Julian whined unhappily, utterly dispensing with any last shred of his dignity as he bemoaned the sudden loss of contact. However, a second or two later after no further contact appeared to be immediately forthcoming, he grudgingly wrapped a fist around himself, pumping a few times in consolation before craning down to impart his less than congenial opinion on the matter, but the words died on his tongue in astonishment as he saw the way Garak had fallen back between his knees, observing Julian with an abandoned and unabashed expression of lust while palming his own erection, trapped and sopping behind the fabric of his undergarments. 

Oh...

Oh God, that was hot!   

Julian's brain stuttered over the picture in front of him: Garak coiled into a crouch, hair disheveled, mouth dropped open, eyes glazed and aflame as they devoured the sight of him.  

He'd never considered how being objectified in such a manner could be such a turn-on. None of his prior lovers had ever made him feel quite so desired as he felt in this moment, watching Garak watching him while touching himself...good lord!

Julian splayed his legs open a little more just for effect, stroking himself leisurely in way that wouldn't stave off completion for very long, but long enough to present what he imagined would be a nice visual for his unexpectedly voyeuristic lover. For extra emphasis, he tossed back his head and let out a soft, wanton moan.

He heard Garak growl a curse and suddenly he was surging forward, claiming Julian in a fierce, demanding kiss that spoke of years of pent of lust and sexual frustration before slowing and softening into something that confessed the raw ache of those same years spent in hopeless longing and unrequited love...

Love that is requited, Julian countered in the kiss he returned.

Garak finally broke away to help maneuver Julian the rest of the way out of his briefs. Then after propping his knees over his shoulders he ducked back down between his legs, biting a bruise on the meat of his inner thigh. Julian yelped out in objection and Garak swiftly atoned, soothing the sting with a kiss, then a moment later, all was really quite forgiven as he took Julian back into his mouth.

Julian sighed as he felt the luxurious drag of his companion's tongue lap up along his length, collecting the dribble of preejaculate weeping from his slit before once more sucking him down, teasing the backs of his teeth along his sensitive glans.   

Then, without warning, Garak hoisted up his hips and dipped down, swiping his tongue over Julian's entrance, pulling out of him a sharp, surprised gasp.

Julian's cock twitched with interest as he watched Garak suck several of his fingers into his mouth before proceeding to circle a spit-slicked fingertip around him. The ring of muscle fluttered involuntarily at his touch; so soft it almost tickled and Julian had to restrain himself from curling away, which would definitely give the wrong message.

Intuiting the issue, Garak applied a little more pressure, dipping in only slightly enough as to ask for permission which Julian was rather helpless to grant, bearing down in semi-reflexive, half-conscious consent to accept him inside.  

God, how long had it been since a more daring lover had touched him like this? 

A wet tongue followed the entry, dipping inward after to provide ample slip and Julian drew in a sharp, ragged breath as the first finger was followed shortly thereafter by an intrepid second.  

Screwing shut his eyes, he lost himself to the glorious sensory amalgam of Garak deftly, steadily working him in one hand while gently prying him open with the other—and then, three knuckles deep, those clever fingers curled inside him, expertly nudging against his prostate and Julian whimpered, arching upward while Garak's fist tightened around the base of his throbbing cock, denying him release.

Julian keened a heartfelt cry of protest and Garak laughed softly, looking over at him from between his legs. “Such a needy thing, aren’t you, my love?"

My love! 

The endearment stuck in his mind's ear in a looping refrain as Garak continued to prime him for entry...and oh, shit!

This was really happening wasn't it? Julian spared a discreet glance at the other man's rather ample endowment, paling. Oh god,   would he even be able to accommodate him? Granted, this wasn’t his first rodeo, but it had been near on a decade since he’d last had a male partner, and in those rare, exceptional circumstances, he’d usually been the one topping…

Garak, well-attuned to him at this point, or rather, feeling the anxious clench of Julian around his fingers, glanced up at him hesitantly.

“We don’t have to—”

N-no, ” Julian interjected before he honestly knew what he was going to say. “I—want this. That is to say...I want you.

Garak’s eyes sparked with hope.

“It’s just,” Julian winced sparing a pointed glance between his companion’s legs. “You’re...um. Quite... nobly proportioned-" This received a look of: oh, surely you flatter, Doctor!  "And it’s...been quite some years.” Not the most eloquently delivered of explanations but Garak appeared to have gotten the message.

“My only interest, my love, is to give you only pleasure. If you’d rather, we can switch places. Although I’m afraid it’s been some years since I’ve last engaged in such acts myself,” Garak admitted. “If you’d rather, I can simply aid you the rest of the way by hand. Or...I suppose we can call it a night and simply go to sleep.” 

Julian snorted. “We can nix the last option, Garak,” he replied, sparing his companion a small grin. “Not that I won’t happily take you up on the first, but let’s save that for another time. I won’t repeat myself again. I want you.

“Very well, my bossy little bottom, I’ll see what I can do,” Garak chirped back, swiftly discarding himself of his undergarments before lining himself up at Julian’s entrance. For a second, Julian thought to warn him that he wasn’t exactly self-lubricating before he remembered that a fully everted Garak was.    

Furrowing his brow in concentration, Garak pushed in slowly, allowing Julian to catch his breath as he stretched around his not insignificant girth. Although his lover employed every measure of care and self-control, Julian found himself sweating and shaking as he tried to relax himself enough to take him in, but once Garak was in up to the hilt, he held himself still, wrapped a hand around Julian’s flagging erection and worked Julian back to firmness as he awaited his cue to continue.  

Julian bit his lip as he shifted his hips a little, accustoming himself to the intense feeling of being so thoroughly filled and Garak pinched shut his eyes for a second, releasing a long, shuddering breath; clearly beginning to unravel.

"Darling, must you wiggle about so?" 

Julian huffed a small laugh. "I rather thought that was the point."

"Shall I take this as a sign you wish for me to proceed?"

Julian glanced up at him a bit shyly, (ridiculous considering!), and nodded.

"Please."

"Are you certain?"

Julian quirked a grin. "I think you just want to hear me say 'please' again."

"I wouldn't find it terribly objectionable." 

"Alright then," Julian humored, smirking. "Please, Garak. Do get on with it." 

Gripping his thighs for support, Garak obeyed, giving a tentative, experimental roll of his hips. Without receipt of any complaint, he realigned his angle and pushed in again, and this time, Julian nearly bucked off the bed as he felt his lover cuff against that spectacular cluster of nerves inside of him.

Thus, in this manner Garak progressed, making painstakingly slow, gentle love to him until Julian, brimming over with frustration, momentarily considered reaching up to throttle him.

"Garak.

Garak smiled back at him primly— primly! The man’s cock was literally shoved up inside of him and he had the gall to smile at him primly?

“Garak,” Julian voiced more directly this time.

“What can I do for you, my dear?” Garak finally replied in his best customer-service voice. 

“Well for one, you could pick up the pace.”  

“I’m sorry, are you bored?" Garak grinned. "And here I thought you were seeking a considerate lover."

“I think you’ve been…’considerate’ enough,” Julian bit out, sweating rather profusely. "You don't have to hold back."

"Need I remind you of our biologically disparate strength?"

"Need I remind you of my biological reengineering?" Julian pointed out. "You're not going to break me."

"And what would you have me do?"

Julian gazed up at him flatly. 

“Fuck me like you mean it.”

Happily, ” Garak replied, complying by snapping forward his hips with heretofore unseen gusto. 

What was the inverse of space? Those bright stars glittering against the infinite curtain of black?

Tiny dark specks flaring against a vast expanse of white, apparently, and that's all Julian could suddenly see as his lover proceeded to quite energetically shag him into the mattress.  

A very short few seconds later, orgasm mounting with astonishing alacrity, Garak reached forward, took him in hand and with two last strokes, a final, exuberant, well-aimed thrust, Julian was sobbing out his release, followed very shortly thereafter by Garak, who clamored out a ragged shout as he rode the kinetic back of Julian's aftershocks, unloading himself inside of him.    

After the haze of diametrically reversed stars gradually subsided, Julian vaguely registered the fact that Garak has considerately collapsed beside him rather than on top of him.   

“That was exquisite,” he half-heard him declare, unable to quite articulate a coherent response beyond that of a rather troglodytic grunt of concordance.  

“I think I’ll take your current verbal impairment as a compliment,” Garak mused, propping himself on his side before affectionately combing his fingers back through the damp tangle of Julian’s curls. “Although, I’ll admit, I’m somewhat disappointed. I’ve always been rather fond of your more talkative tendencies.”  

Garak’s remark snapped Julian back a bit from his boneless daze and he peered over at him wryly.  

“I...enjoy a bit of post-coital ‘palaver’ every bit as the next man, Garak, but I could, you know, use a second to gather my wits back about me.” 

Garak’s hand stilled for a moment before coming down to cup his chin. “When your wits are restored, allow me to tell you how utterly magnificent you are.”

“I think you’ve just done,” Julian pointed out, with a bit of a soppy, besotted grin. “May I kiss you again?”

“You don’t have to ask,” Garak replied, meeting Julian’s lips. 

Shifting partially on top of him, Julian lost himself in his lover’s arms, feeling incandescently happy.

“Up for another round?” he asked, feeling Garak swell a little against his thigh.

“Unfortunately, my dear, I think I’m quite past the age where such things are readily accomplishable.”   

“Liar,” Julian remarked, chuckling. “I’m read up on the voracious sexual appetite of Cardassian men in their prime, Garak. And in any case, it’s not like you have a refractory period to worry about.”

“Everting at will isn’t quite the same as everting from arousal,” Garak chided.

Julian grinned, stroking a hand down to his lover’s groin and lifted an eyebrow.

“That doesn’t appear to be a problem.”

Garak smirked. “Evidently I can’t keep any secrets from you, k’hshim,” he chuckled, retrieving Julian’s hand and threading together their fingers.

K’hshlim!

Julian radiated with joy. Garak hadn’t referred to him by that term in years.

"At the moment, I would imagine those endorphins pumping through your veins, are providing you a nice buffer against much discomfort, which I suspect, you'll no doubt be feeling come morning."

“We could do other things,” Julian pointed out unable to stifle a sudden yawn. “I mean, could still get you off if you wanted me to,” he added, waggling an eyebrow as he made a rather lewd gesture with his fist. 

“Aren’t you a treasure,” Garak drawled. “While I appreciate your enthusiasm, I think we would both be served better by sleep.”

“I suppose so,” Julian conceded, flopping an admittedly exhausted arm around his companion as he snuggled up beside him. 

Garak laid a soft kiss on the top of his head, smoothing a hand down his arm as Julian traced a distracted finger along his scales.  

“Besides,” Julian added, “There’s always tomorrow.”

“Mm,” Garak loosely replied.

“And the next day…” Julian continued sleepily, cushioned by the dozy comfort of prolactin and oxytocin still coursing through his system. “And the day after that…”

Nestled against his beloved, Julian drifted off easily, lulled to sleep by the soft susurrus of Garak’s heartbeat and the lovely thought of sharing the rest of his night’s like this in the future.

How blissfully unaware he was of the way his last waking words of the night stirred awake the temporarily quieted agony buried deep inside of his companion. 

'And the day after that...' Julian had said, and how many more days would it be now?

How many days were left? 

How many days until Starfleet calls you back home? 28...27? 

Stricken by a wave of deep regret, Garak peered down resentfully at his companion; sleeping peacefully as though he had not a thought in the world for reality. 

How nice it must be! Garak mused, berating himself for the fool he was. 

For the fool Julian made of him. 

Garak sighed as he gazed down at this gentle, lovely, loving man in his arms whom he very much loved and felt a pang of guilt. Perhaps he was being a little unfair.

But then, he reasoned, how unfair was it that Julian could so readily hand him his heart, only to take it back again in less than a month? 

He couldn't believe Julian meant to be unkind, but in his thoughtlessness; his incomprehensible defiance of the cold, hard, impending truth, he was irrefutably cruel. 

Oh, he hadn't meant for this to happen!  

For this evening to result in this outcome, however pleasant it might've been, because it only made it worse.  

Julian's dear, and very sweet letters had resonated with such devastating sincerity, and he'd felt he owed it to the young man to pay him a visit. He'd only meant to share with him a few laughs and a little conversation (for old time's sake!). Reestablish a friendship of sorts, even if it were only to be a short-lived long-distance thing that would be certain to fade over the light-years.

Garak could do the bittersweet ending. He could handle the fond, occasional memory, bury the regret for what never could be; plant it in the garden somewhere and watch it grow, bloom, wither and die.   

But this? This was a dreadful mistake that only promised the bitterest of endings. 

How had this happened? He'd steeled himself against this!

But then Julian had thrown himself in his arms, pursued him with such dogged persistence, and...perhaps time had weathered his walls, Garak considered. Perhaps Julian's admittedly compelling charms had chipped away at him for too many years, and at some point in the night he couldn't quite pin-point, he'd snuffed out that nagging reminder to be mindful...to not get carried away...

And very irresponsibly, he'd surrendered, swept up in the fantasy, one more hapless victim (oh, he was sure he'd hardly been the first!) of this callow young man's vexing obsession with 'happily ever after' stories. 

'Happily ever after's', Garak knew, were never real.

At least, not for him. 

Very carefully, so as not to wake his dearest friend and beloved (while the young man still thought of himself that way), Garak leaned down, very softly kissed his smooth brow and slipped out from beneath him. Quietly, he gathered together the various articles of his clothing strewn across the floor, dressed himself with expediency and slipped out the door. (Well, several doors.) But at least he managed to sneak out without notice. 

Something wet smacked against his face and Garak stared up at the sky in disbelief. 

Rain?

Rain!

It was raining! It never rained! 

"How very poetic!" Garak reported back to the cosmos, laughing as he stood beneath the perfectly timed cloudburst.

He closed his eyes, smiling, and let the rain obscure his decimation.  

 

Chapter Text

Occasionally, daring to have expectations can set us up for disappointment.

Julian was no stranger to the latter, but it didn't make it easier to wake to find the spot beside him empty, and long vacated at that , he determined, pricked by a twinge of anxiety as he swept a palm over the sheets in search of any remaining trace of body heat—but, the only evidence he could find to prove last night had been more than just another one of those many, far too frequent , marvelous and frustrating dreams was the coat of dried ejaculate between his thighs that had leaked out from inside of him as he'd slept. ( A bit gross, he mused distractedly, frowning down at the mess— and yet somehow arousing? Julian made a mental note to review that new bit of knowledge about himself some other time.)

Picking up on a note of ozone; thick with a pungent zing of petrichor he could nearly taste, he peered out the window at the gray, overcast sky...had it rained? 

Also, what time was it?

Rolling out of bed a bit stiffly, he glanced around the room in hopes of spotting some scribble of a note; experiencing a small, sinking feeling in his chest as no such courtesy made itself apparent.

Of course, Julian reasoned Garak might have had the mind to send him a message instead.

'Didn't want to wake you, had to run', 'errands to do, will stop back later', etc.

Something like that would have been perfectly acceptable, Julian frowned to himself as he found no such reassurance in his inbox either. With hope fast beginning to wane, he pondered the slim possibility his companion might have risen early to join Kalis and Palik for breakfast. Surely he hadn't simply cut and run sans explanation, sans apology!

Still, the fear nagged, and after quickly showering and hastily tossing on a rather haphazardly assembled outfit, heart in throat, Julian strode out to the kitchen, only for both heart and stomach to drop the moment he saw only his hosts sitting together, sharing a pot of tea.

Stricken, he stood silently in the doorway as his friends glanced up, finally noticing him hovering in the doorway.

“Good morning, Jul-” Kalis began, her cheery greeting faltering the second she gathered his crestfallen frown and the rather obvious fact that he was standing there sans company.

Julian winced a little, silently praying he wouldn't have to endure listening to any cloying, sympathetic placations and useless, well-intended platitudes his frankly depressing situation would be likely to solicit, but to his host's enduring credit, both politely refrained from making any remark on the subject. Instead, Kalis quietly gestured for him to join them, pouring him a cup of tea while Palik refocused on her padd.

“The storm broke an hour ago,” Palik reported, sliding a finger over her screen. “Although we should see light precipitation continuing throughout the afternoon. It's going to be mess out in the garden with all that top soil you just laid.”

“But on the bright side, it should be good for the neemuks we planted last week,” Kalis countered, tucking a stray strand of hair back into her bun.

Palik flashed a small wry smile up at her wife. “A sunny outlook even on a dreary day.”

“That's why you married me, you old crab apple,” Kalis teased.

Palik's browride furrowed in confusion “What exactly is a 'crab apple'?”

“A deciduous perennial of Terran origin,” Julian supplied, blowing the steam off the surface of his tea before taking a careful sip and feeling Garak's absence more keenly than ever as he watched his friend's sweetly domestic little exchange with a tug of envy. “The fruits serve more of an ornamental purpose than a comestible one. They're rather...tart.”

Kalis snorted a quiet laugh she hid behind her teacup and Palik shot her a long-suffering look.

“I assume you'll be off soon to the clinic?” Julian asked.

“After breakfast,” Palik confirmed. “I imagine we could use an extra hand today. Perhaps I should call in Hadun.”

Julian picked up on what she was doing instantly.

“Let her spend the day with her family, I can fill in,” Julian offered, even though it was his day off— especially because it was his day off.

Heavens only knew he could use the distraction. Launching himself into work would serve a far more productive alternative to languishing alone with his thoughts all day.

Palik nodded, accepting this solution without argument and he shot her a small, grateful smile.

 

<~>

 

“Well, that was a properly busy morning, and I, for one, am positively famished!” Tolun exclaimed, dropping down across from Julian at their table in the break room. “I can't believe how many mud-related injuries we've had today.”

“With everyone and their mother running about out in the rain, it's to be expected.”

“Getting a freak storm the midst of this typical seasonal drought, I get the hype, but personally, I don't mind the arid climate here. The rainfall on Torros III could give Ferenginar a run for its money.”

Julian tried for a pleasant smile. “So how are you and Radak settling into your new place?”

“It has its ups and downs,” Tolun sighed. “Radak has decided to take up redesigning our plumbing from the ground up. Which means the walls are torn asunder, there are piles of pipes and valves cluttering every surface and I've been reduced to fetching pails of water from the outside well like a Kurabian. Our neighbors are probably convinced I'm some kind of eccentric.”

“I think it's fairly likely they've already pegged you for one, considering your choice in mate,” Julian pointed out.

“Fair enough,” Tolun conceded, grinning. “Speaking of, wasn't today your day off? Shouldn't you be off gallivanting about with certain... significant others ?”

Julian's appetite for his lunch suddenly vanished. The gnawing ache in his chest returned and he set down his fork with a sigh.

“So?” Tolun pressed on, “You have to fill me in on what happened last night—obviously I don't expect all the tawdry details, but I wouldn't object to a summary.”

“Actually, Arjun, if you don't mind, I'd rather not go into it,” Julian replied, wincing a little.

The doctor's prior enthusiasm fizzled into a small frown of concern.

“I see. Well, I won't pry, but I can be discreet. If you need advice, or even just a friendly ear, you can count on me,” Tolun assured. “ Oralius only knows , Julian, you've been there for me.”

 

<~>

 

After giving Garak the benefit of the doubt by waiting a couple days for him to reach out, finally having heard no word from the infuriating bastard, Julian decided he'd had enough, poured himself a drink (from the bottle he'd filched from Tolun's 'secret' stash) and took a seat at his office desk to compose a letter.

Dear Garak,

It's been two days since you rushed out -

Shit. Julian frowned, scratched through the beginning and started over.

Last night meant a great deal to me. I thought it meant something to you, too.  This morning you left me in some doubt of that. If-

Julian released a long frustrated sigh.

If there was some errand or another that couldn't wait, I would've understood, you could've at least woken me up to tell

I never took you for the 'love them and leave them' type, but-

Scowling, Julian tore the letter off the pad, crumpled it angrily and tossed it in the bin.

Dear Garak,

I was delighted to see you could make it to my party. Thank you for the lovely gifts, the encyclopedia will be a source of great entertainm-

No. This wasn’t going to work either, Julian sighed, turning over to a fresh leaf and starting again.

Dear Garak,

I was pleased you could make it yesterday. It meant a great deal to me. You mean a great deal to me.

What happened between us What happened last night meant a great deal to me.

I was looking forward to spending the day with you today and I was quite upset rather dismayed to wake up this morning to find you'd decided to ghost on me slipped off while I was sleeping. After everything that happened how could you just bolt off like that and leave me without so much as an explana -

I expect you had some pressing business to attend to. What unfortunate timing to be called away in the middle of the night! If you weren't going to wake me up to let me know you could have at least had the decency to leave me a note!

Damn it. Maybe he was still too angry to be writing this. Julian downed the last of his drink and drew in a long breath, calming himself.

I sincerely hope I haven't misinterpreted things. Surely you didn't purposefully intend to make me think you regretted -

Please reply asap.

Hoping this letter finds you well,

Yours, Julian

After re-copying the draft over to a clean piece of paper, he tucked it in an envelope and dropped it off at the courier's on his way home.

 

<~>

 

Julian spent the next several days practically biting his fingernails down to the quick as he waited for Garak to reply, and finally, out of patience and between patients, Julian stole into his office to shoot out an electronic message.

To: Hogur & Co. -- CC: E. Garak –- From: J. Bashir -- Subject: Reply ASAP

Garak,

Since both of your accounts are still active, I decided to use both. I know you received my last letter. The courier's are always happy to provide me with their receipts, so I know damn well you're perfectly fine. So that means you're avoiding me again !

I demand to know why. I demand to know what I've done—or haven't done to warrant this treatment. Who simply ups and vanishes like this? This is unworthy of you, Garak. Unworthy of the man I thought I knew, and more to the point: of the man I love . I'm not sure I can even begin to convey how utterly frustrated and disappointed I am with you!

I've been running through all the possible scenarios to explain why you're doing this, and I can't figure it out. Have you had a change of heart? Are you pushing me away out of some misplaced sense of duty to protect me? From whom? Yourself?

For God's sake, Garak. Man up and tell me what's going on in that confounded brain of yours!

If I'm completely wrongheaded here and there's some other reason you're MIA, then please find a way to tell me so ASAP, because as everything stands at present, I'm inclined to think the worst.

For the life of me, I sincerely doubt I'll ever understand you, but I'd like to try. Even if it's merely to understand why you're rejecting this. Why you're rejecting me .

I love you and can't stand this.

Julian

 

<~>

 

“Julian, I can't believe you're still here, we don't even work this shift together,” Tolun pointed out, joining Julian for their dinner break.

“I'm not liking the consistency of this coffee today. Does this look right to you?” Julian asked, holding out his mug.

“It looks fine to me,” Tolun decided. “But then again, I'm not terribly familiar with the beverage.”

“I bet that new replicator is back on the fritz again. This might as well be water! Where the hell is Miles when I need him?” Julian grumbled irritably.

Tolun looked at him apprehensively. “Perhaps you should consider switching over to a nice, calming glass of Rokassa juice?”

“I don't need anything to calm me,” Julian snapped. “I am calm.”

“Oh, of course you are, ” Tolun pacified dryly. “You've only been working double shifts everyday this week. Everyone can tell how calm you are. I mean, I imagine Palik is impressed by your dedication, but I think you've already more than admirably proven yourself and frankly, you're making the rest of us look bad.”

“Well, that's not my problem.”

“Then what is?” Tolun demanded. “You're working yourself into the ground, and with all due respect, you look like hell.”

Thanks ,” Julian snorted.

“You can't keep burning the candle at both ends or you'll run out of wax. Be honest with me, Doctor, when was the last time you even got a full night's sleep?”

Julian deflated. “I don't know,” he replied honestly— miserably. “It's been a rough week.”

“I can see that. But you don't seem to be interested in availing yourself of anyone's help.”

“Because there's nothing anyone can do, believe me. I've tried,” Julian sighed, defeated.

“I gather things didn't go well.”

Julian let out a short, humorless laugh. “No. Everything went marvelously .

Tolun didn’t look quite convinced.

“Actually, everything did go well, believe it or not,” Julian edified. “I couldn't have imagined a better night.”

“Then...what exactly went wrong?” Tolun asked, face screwed into a frown of confusion.

“The morning,” Julian replied flatly. 

“Was there some kind of...disagreement?”

“A disagreeable absence, one might say.”

“Ah. That is troubling.”

“Indeed.”

Tolun sat back in his chair looking thoughtful for a minute. “I know very little of the... complexities of your particular relationship, but I would hesitate to write this off as a lost cause. For whatever it’s worth, I saw the way your friend looked at you the other night, and if you're not the center of that man's world, then I can't imagine what is.”

“If that's so, then he must be fine with the idea of his world scattering out of orbit.”

“I think you're wrong,” Tolun argued. “Garak is a man in love if ever I've seen one, and I like to think that I have. Julian, trust me, I would stake my bank account on it.”

“In that case, I hope Radak makes a decent living or you'll be out on the streets.”

Tolun put up a hand. “Believe what you will, but you'd be a fool to think otherwise. On a slightly unrelated note, on the subject of bank accounts and living arrangements, I believe a few weeks ago you mentioned Palik had offered you a permanent position here. When we'd discussed it you seemed to be leaning toward accepting.”

“Well, I can't volunteer forever. Nor do I expect Palik will be happy to provide me room and board indefinitely.”

“So you're thinking of staying then?”

Julian shrugged. “I was considering it. Regardless of Garak. Hell, maybe even to spite him,” he chuckled a bit darkly. Wouldn't that really stick in the bastard's craw. 'Hallo, Garak! Fancy running into you! Why, yes, Garak, I live just on the other side of town—oh, were you hoping I'd just crawl off back to DS9 and you'd be rid of me?

“If my opinion counts for anything, I think you have better reasons to stay than for spite's sake,” Tolun argued. “You've made a life here. A good one. You have an important job and a promising career at your fingertips, just waiting for you to sign the dotted line. You have patients who need you. Friends who care about you. And whether or not you realize it just yet, I think you already know where you belong and it isn't back on some cold station out in the middle of space. Regardless of the reason that brought you here, Julian, this is your home now. Just as it's mine. I never expected it to be, but here I am.”

Tolun pushed his tray out of the way, and leaned forward with adamance. “Look, Julian, if I were you, I would tender my resignation with Starfleet, march myself into Palik's office and thank her for waiting so patiently for my reply! This is a fantastic opportunity you have here. But don't stay because I told you to and forget what Garak's opinion might be on the matter. Don't pin your decision on anyone else's opinion other than your own. Stay because it's what's right for you.

Spirits rallied by Tolun's rather impassioned speech, Julian grinned.

“You're right.”

Tolun blinked. “I...am?”

“One-hundred percent.”

“Then you're staying?”

“Why not. It’s not as if I’ve much to lose. My career with Starfleet was pretty much over after central command caught wind of my enhancements, I know they’ll never reassign me, all my friends I’d made on the station have long dispersed, and at least here I have friends and a purpose. ”

“Well, Doctor? Then what are you waiting for? March yourself into Palik's office and tell her the good news!”

“And exactly what news would that be?”

Both men’s heads whipped up, startled by the subject in question's sudden unexpected appearance. Palik peered down at them expectantly, fingers drumming impatiently on her crossed arms.

“I...think I'll be staying,” Julian explained, standing up from his seat. “Which means, I accept your offer, Doctor. If it still stands, that is.”

“It stands,” Palik confirmed. “Wise decision, Dr. Bashir. Although I'm afraid Kalis might be tempted to throw you another party to celebrate.” 

Julian cringed a little. “I hadn't considered that.”

Palik smiled. “Perhaps I’ll talk her down this time to a small dinner instead.”

“I'll bring the K'hava,” Tolun chimed in, clapping them both on their backs with an ear-splitting grin.

 

<~>

To: Hogur & Co. -- CC: E. Garak –- From: J. Bashir -- Subject: Still hoping for a reply

Garak,

This is the last time I'll attempt to write you. I won't bother you again after this, you have my word. So before I vanish from your life (as you've vanished from mine), there are a few matters I still feel a need to address.

In the interest of full disclosure, however much I want to pretend I had some nobler intent, I came to Cardassia for you. (Obviously, I’ve found my service here to procure its own rewards. It’s been an educational experience for me in more ways than one.) But, before I spin off on a tangent, allow me to clarify: mindful of how we left things in the end, (tenuously cordial at best ) , I hadn’t any intention of backing you into a corner and demanding any kind of a relationship. I knew better than to have any expectations in that regard.

However, I can’t say I was completely without agenda. Naturally, I had nurtured some small hope we might find something to salvage of our friendship, but in lieu of that, at the very least, I’d hoped to find some closure and see for myself that you were well.

That being said, what’s evolved of matters since, has lead me to believe we were always destined for something more, because, whatever this is that exists between us has never been simple or straightforward, and although I suspect you may accuse me of speaking out of arrogance, regardless of what exactly it is we’re meant to mean to each other, Garak, I’m convinced we’re meant to mean something .

But perhaps you never wanted this. Perhaps for whatever reason this development intimidates you.  Who am I to say? I can’t pretend to know your mind, Garak, after all, you’ve always kept it quite jealously guarded from me.

On the other hand, actions do tend to speak louder than words, and your actions, (although admittedly contradictory), imply that what we both want aren’t exactly in opposition, so if we’re on the same page, then why are you nowhere to be found? What exactly is it you’re so afraid of?

I think you can imagine why I might be feeling just a touch perplexed here. After everything that’s occurred between us over the years, and in particular of late, I’m having a tough time convincing myself I’ve wholly misread you.  

You’ve called me your beloved , and in my language, that’s interpreted rather literally. Perhaps you only meant this as some kind of fond, loosely felt endearment, (don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt you feel some form of affection for me), but surely you must have known I would read further into it. You’re always going on about how cringingly sentimental we humans are, and you know damn well in that respect I’m no exception. Considering how painstakingly direct I’ve been with you, Garak, if you didn’t feel the same way, you could’ve quite easily dissuaded me from harboring any illusions on the matter.

But then again, why bother? Maybe all you wanted from me you’ve already took, and now that you’re satisfied, you’re content to skip along your merry way without any consideration for the devastation left in your wake. For heaven’s sake, if all you wanted was a mere roll in the sheets, you could’ve had me years ago. Need I remind you, Garak, you were the one keeping me at bay.

Look, if I have interpreted your silence here correctly (which I earnestly pray I haven’t), then, even though you left me feeling used and abandoned, utterly humiliated and frankly stumped to know why, I will do the honorable thing and accept my share of the blame. I suppose I wouldn’t be in the shape I’m in had I not hounded after you as I’d done. I regret trying to force you into something you apparently had no interest in. I only wish you’d spoken up to spare us both from the trouble. But maybe you should’ve known better than to come by. You should’ve known it would give me the wrong idea.  

Beyond anything else, my greatest regret is losing your friendship. It’s meant far more to me than any other ever has.

I can’t pretend I’ve always agreed with you, or approved of everything you’ve done, but I accept you for who you are regardless and ultimately, I forgive you. You likely don’t realize it, but I’m not the same man you first met. The time we spent together over the years was fundamentally transformative for me. You stormed into my life smashing through everything I thought I knew. You pushed against every boundary, broke me of my obstinacy and challenged me to open my eyes to whole new schools of thought beyond my narrow scope.

I flatter myself to think I managed in some small way to return the favor.  

The thing is, I don’t know what you saw in me, but whatever it was, you believed in it. You believed in me , and for that I can’t begin to express my gratitude. Where everyone else only saw some silly, young and arrogant, feckless doctor—or worse, the freak; the calculating, untrustworthy mutant; the sleeping landmine laying in wait to be tripped, somehow you still only saw me.

You can’t imagine how much that’s meant to me.

I am sorry, Garak, if my feelings for you are unwelcome, but I'm not sorry for having them.

I love you without apology and likely always will,

Julian

To: J. Bashir –- From: E. Garak -- Subject: With apologies

Julian,

I should not be responding, but yet again, you’ve baited me into it. It’s become painfully evident you’ve failed to grasp anything and it devastates me to hear you harboring such doubt. Thus, allow me to correct this ghastly misapprehension you belabor under and preface by saying this very simply: I love you.      

I love you more than I know how to. It incapacitates me.

I never expected to, I never meant to and you're right, I did not   want to.

For men such as I, love is costly. At best, an inconvenience. At worst? A liability.  Frankly, my dear, until you happened along, I was quite content to be unburdened by the affliction.

I admit, I often despise of ever having met you, although, I do suspect I may be a better man for it— for having been given the chance to get to know you, to talk to you, to laugh and learn with you, and lastly, to love and be loved by you. The latter of which I could never have dreamt possible. You are exquisite, beautiful and brilliant (a dangerous combination, indeed!) and to me, darling, you may as well be a miracle. You are a far kinder, gentler and better man than I either deserve or can aptly describe. Words only limit me in this regard.

I have tried in vain to recuse myself of you, but being miserably and helplessly yours regardless, the only option I have left is to put physical distance between us. Can’t you see? I crave you. I can’t be in the same room with you without longing to touch you; to pour out everything in my heart I feel for you. You are absolutely correct on one account: what exists between us is far from simple. As much I value you as a friend, I’ve never had the strength for mere friendship alone.  

Julian, Julian! You made such a dreadful mistake ever coming here. You merciless, relentless thing! Why couldn’t you leave me be?

I have always known I could never keep you; that anything we might share would have an expiry date. At one time, that was an inevitability acceptable to me, but now, my dear, as that date looms ever nearer—what, but just under three weeks away now? I find I’m no longer capable of such charity of spirit.

I have no doubt you're furious with me, but your fury is misdirected, my love. I have said many kind things of you, now permit me to say one thing that's less so. You are selfish . Depressingly so, and what’s worse is you don’t even seem to realize it.

What did you expect, that you would offer yourself up to me and I'd be pathetic enough to be grateful for whatever I could get? That we would spend this last month together and you would make me fall even more desperately, hopelessly in love with you and wish for hopeless, impossible things like getting to spend the rest of my life with you? Surely you can't be serious. I may be accused of a great many faults and misdeeds, but I don’t happen to be a masochist.

Truly, never has your bard’s 57th sonnet earned such incisive relevance!

Being your slave, what should I do but tend upon the hours and times of your desire? I have no precious time at all to spend, nor services to do, till you require! Nor dare I chide the world without end hour, whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you, nor think the bitterness of absence sour!

Honestly! What would you have me do? Wait here? Devotedly pining away after you, day after day, month after month, year after year, wondering always when or if you would ever come back? And then if you did, for how long would you stay? You ask me what I'm afraid of? Must I humor the question? Can you really not see it for yourself?

You're good with numbers, so tell me, my love, how many times do you calculate it would take to break my heart before you rendered it unmendable? I can't imagine it would take any tremendous length of time.

Is this spiteful of me to point out? Does it tarnish the romance?

Beloved, don't mistake me. I will always be grateful for the time I spent in your company, and while I doubt I will ever truly be able to stop loving you, allow me the mercy of a graceful retreat. Please don’t resent me too much for it. Call it self preservation. Call it what you will, but it is what it is because it has to be.

I don't fear for you. You may feel a little sore about everything right now, but I’m sure you’ll get over it. You’re resilient and I have no doubt you will move on and likely find someone someday far better suited for you than myself. I won’t deny the fact that at one time, I would’ve been too dreadfully jealous to say so, but now? It’s the only thought that comforts me.

As for myself, I suppose I’ll find some pursuit to find some distraction in. Perhaps I’ll open another clothiers’ shop. The possibilities are many, even if they hold little thrill for me at present. I expect no matter what I do over the course of my remaining days in this life, I won’t be likely to ever forget you.

I wish you only the best.

Yours, if only in spirit,

Elim Garak

To: E. Garak –- From: J. Bashir -- Subject: Stuff your apologies!

My poor, daft dearest,

For all of your heart mending needs, I'll happily remind you that I do happen to be a Doctor, and if you're in need of repair, feel free to stop by my clinic. You'll be likely to find me there until I retire. Which I should think, considering my good health, will be a good many decades to come.

(Although I would appreciate if you'd drop by sometime before I'm too long in the tooth!)

Yours in perpetual exasperation,

Julian

PS: Good grief, Garak, we could've had this sorted ages ago! See the attached file below for my work schedule.

 

<~>

 

“The swelling should subside in just a few days, but try not to do any heavy lifting with that shoulder for the next two weeks,” Julian sternly advised his patient as he finished his last exam of the morning.

“Thanks, Doctor,” the older man replied, gingerly testing the newly regenerated joint’s mobility. “Feels better already,” he exclaimed happily. The receptionist caught the door on his way out.

“Dr. Bashir, I know you’re about to go on lunch, but there’s a patient out in the waiting area who absolutely insists on seeing you. He requested you specifically.”

Julian frowned a little irritably. “And I expect you already informed this patient of Dr. Tolun’s open noon slot?”

“I have. He contends you’re the only one with the specific qualifications required to treat his problem.”

Julian’s face furrowed in confusion. “He’s aware I’m a general practitioner, right?”

“I explained that,” she supplied, looking a bit harried. “And I suggested he consider booking an appointment for this afternoon but he claims his issue is more urgent than that, although he wouldn’t go into details. He said to tell you a ‘friend’ specifically referred him to you, if that means anything.”

“Ah, I see,” Julian replied steadily, despite the way his heart was suddenly fluttering with excitement. “Well, in that case, you best show him in.”

The receptionist raised an eyeridge skeptically. “Are you sure, Doctor? I can always show him the door and tell him to come back some other time,” she offered, looking a bit miffed about the whole situation. 

“That’s alright,” Julian waived, “I can make an exception this once, show him into my consulting room please and let him know I’ll be with him in a minute.”

“Very well,” she sniffed before heading back to the waiting area to fetch this unnamed, apparently demanding patient.   

As soon as Julian was alone again he drew in several deep breaths, composing himself.

Heading out of the examining room he grabbed his stethoscope and tricorder and made his way over.

Alright, Julian, he told himself. It might not be him, don’t get your hopes up too high. But honestly, he couldn’t really help it. It had been almost a week since he’d sent his last message and Garak had neither replied nor come around the clinic yet and Julian was beginning to feel a touch anxious about it. Steeling himself, he rapped lightly on the door to alert the patient to his presence before easing inside.

“Ah, Doctor!” Garak buoyantly greeted, his eyes lighting up. 

“Hi,” Julian replied a bit shyly, closing the door behind him.

Garak beamed at him with a warm, playful grin.

“I must say, I do appreciate you slotting me in on such short notice.”

Julian returned an even, clinical smile. “Well, I was informed of the urgent nature of your request,” he demurred. “What’s brought you in today?” 

“A bit of heart trouble I suspect,” Garak replied. “A dear friend of mine referred me to your care, assuring me of you particular expertise in cardiological matters.”

“Hm, well, I can’t claim any official accreditation in the field.”

“Indeed, however, it’s your unofficial proficiency I’m most interested in.”

“Well, I’ll certainly see what I can do,” Julian shrugged, taking a seat on his stool. “Now...what seems to be the problem?”

“I believe I’m suffering some kind of...cardiovascular malfunction. You see, I’ve been noticing a heaviness in my chest recently, a rather acute ache I can’t quite describe. My appetite has also appeared to wane and I can’t say I’ve been sleeping very well.”

“Ah,” Julian acknowledged, feigning a small, sympathetic frown as he rubbed the chestpiece of his stethoscope against his pants to warm it. "That does sound troubling. May I?" He asked, holding up the instrument in question after rolling his stool over toward the examining table.  

“Of course,” Garak permitted, pushing aside the opened flap of his tunic. Julian’s eyes fluttered shut as he leaned in to listen to Garak’s heartbeat, knowing he’d have a tough time keeping up the pretense of professionalism in such close proximity to the man if he didn’t. He felt a small gust of warm breath against his face and had to steady the sudden tremor in his hand holding up the chestpiece. 

After a couple counts, Julian withdrew, pulling the headset back down around his neck.

“Tell me Doctor, do you think there’s anything that can be done?”

Julian pretended to ruminate very seriously over this.

“Well...potentially,” he eventually decided. “ Can you recall when you first began experiencing these symptoms?”

Garak heaved a somber sigh. “Oh...I’ve been experiencing them for years, I suppose, but the issue has become more acute of late. I’m of the mind it may be due to a recent, rather dreadful misunderstanding I've had with a very dear friend.”

“Ah,” Julian replied carefully, willing the other man to continue.

“And now that certain concerns of mine have been resolved, I’m afraid I owe him an apology,” Garak continued, ducking his chin with a small, sincerely shamed frown.  “I’d precipitously drawn a rather unfair assumption which turned out to be incorrect and made a colossal ass of myself in the process. I treated him quite regrettably.”

“None of us are exempt from error.”  

“That’s generous of you to point out,” Garak replied.  

“That being said, perhaps you could’ve avoided this by being a little more open about your concerns in the first place,” Julian gently reproached.

“I’ll concede there’s merit to that, and it’s nothing I hadn’t considered, however, I’ll confess my pride prevented me from asking the right questions,” Garak admitted. “I was under the impression this friend of mine would be leaving soon, as he’d only come to visit and his home is of some distance away. I couldn’t bear the thought of continuing our.. .friendship under those conditions.”

“You might have told him as much,” Julian argued. “Don’t you think he might’ve been interested in knowing your thoughts on the matter? You should have told him you wanted him to stay...if that’s how you felt.”

“Perhaps...although, our friendship..."

"Hasn't been on the most stable ground?" Julian provided.

"Precisely," Garak sighed. "Thus,  I suppose I was reticent to impose my wishes where I couldn’t be sure they’d be welcome. I didn’t know if he’d be amenable to the idea.”

“You never know if you don’t ask,” Julian chided softly.

“Naturally. But...in my defense, my friend never mentioned anything regarding the subject. It was only logical to conclude he’d meant to return home at the end of his stay—as was originally intended. I hadn’t anticipated he be as flexible on the matter.”

“Unless your friend happens to be psychic, I think you did him a rather grave disservice by avoiding the discussion."

“As I’ve said, I didn’t think he’d be amenable to the idea,” Garak coolly pointed out. “He’s always been quite defensive about his…’home’.”

Julian snorted a little incredulously. “Oh, I’m sure to a lesser degree than you are,” he countered. “Honestly, your defense is a little weak. If you imagined this friend of yours would object to hearing your opinion on the matter, what did you stand to lose by being open with him? Especially if you suspected he’d likely be leaving soon anyway.”

“It all paints me as quite the fool when you put in those terms,” Garak conceded.

“Regardless, you said the matter was resolved, so I take it your friend is staying?”

“From what I’ve gathered...it would seem so,” Garak replied, faltering a little. “Although...I admit, I can’t quite put a finger on why.”

Julian drew in a long breath and sighed. “Now...I can’t speak for your friend, but what I would posit, is that, in spite of your discord, perhaps he still held out some hope for eventual resolution with you...and failing that, perhaps he decided he otherwise preferred his life here. Home isn’t always about one’s origin, or about some kind of loyalty to a place one's resided. Sometimes it’s about the life one sees they can make for one's self and the people around them they’ve come to care for.” 

Garak looked thoughtful for a moment as he considered this. “You are a wiser man than I would’ve given you credit for, Doctor. Do you believe my friend will be happy here?” 

“I suspect so,” Julian confirmed, smiling softly. “Especially if he can find somewhere to hang his hat.”

“I’m not sure my friend is much for wearing ‘hats’,” Garak smirked. “But if he is indeed in search of a more permanent address, I would be more than happy to provide him one...provided he hasn't any particular objection to sharing accommodations…”

“I don’t believe he would object too vehemently to such an arrangement.”

“So, Doctor, should I take that to mean you think there’s still hope for me?”

“Oh, I think you might pull through, although...I suppose that largely depends...”

“I’ll follow whatever orders you recommend,” Garak vowed, with a small humble bow of his head. "So, what do you prescribe, Doctor?”

“I believe a kiss would suffice,” Julian suggested, grinning. 

Garak lifted an amused eyeridge. “A trifle unorthodox,” he remarked. “But who am I to argue with the expert?” 

Julian rose from the stool, kicking it back with his heel and closed the distance between them, crowding between Garak’s knees to provide his patient with said recommendation. Garak’s arms snaked around him, dragging Julian onto his lap as he eagerly responded to the kiss with equal fervor.  

Finally, he broke away a bit breathlessly, brilliant blue eyes shining back at him with unabashed adoration.

“K’hshlim, my own and my one, I swear to you I will never leave your side for the rest of my days.”

“I swear the same, Garak—”

Elim. 

“Oh, now it’s Elim?” Julian grinned, head-spinning and heart pounding excitedly.

“Now it’s Elim,” he   confirmed, not bothering to explain himself. “Julian Subatoi Bashir, you mean the world to me. I love you with everything that I am and I intend to remind you of the fact for as long as you’ll let me.”

“Then that’ll be a very long time, indeed, Elim,” Julian replied, soaring on air as he leaned in once more to kiss this man he loved with all his heart and more.

 

<Epilogue>

 

“Kalis, would you mind making another tray of ice,” Julian asked, pushing the last of the cubes out of their container into the pitcher of tea he’d freshly brewed.

“Not at all,” his friend chirped back merrily, sweeping around him to fetch said tray between stirring the large pot of yamok sauce. “Julian, would you mind sending in my daughter to set the table.”

“Oh, don’t be such a spoilsport, Kal,” Tolun chided, peering over at the two from the living room where he sat watching Palik’s game of Kotra with Miles. “I’ll set the table just as soon as the game’s done, which I’m guessing will be soon. Looks like Palik’s just about got old Miles here in a corner.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” the engineer (and recently tenured professor on holiday to visit his old friend) grumbled, cringing as he analyzed his admittedly minimal options on the board.

“Alright,” Kalis sighed, turning to favor Julian with a pleading frown, “But I would at least like it if you could check on Lotti and make sure she isn’t getting into too much trouble with little Kirayoshi. She’s always roughhousing about like some kind of wild Brangwa pup and I’ll feel awful if Garak has to mend yet another of her dresses.”

“Ah, kids will be kids,” Miles excused. “You should’ve seen my Molly at her age, boy was she a handful. Ask Keiko about it, she could sure tell you some stories!”

Amsha Bashir smiled up from the table where she was chopping vegetables for Kalis’s stew, her eyes sparkling with mirth. “You should’ve seen Jules! He used to get into all kinds of mischief.”

“Alright mother, let’s not bore anyone with old tales of my wayward youth,” Julian scolded, chuckling.

“Your father, Allah rest his soul, almost sent you away to boarding school that one year after you repainted the neighbor’s fence in pictures of—”

“Okay, thank you, mum,” Julian quickly interrupted, blushing up to his ears. Kalis shot him an amused, slightly scandalized glance.

“Pictures of what?

“Oh, don’t worry, love, I’ll tell you all about it when Jules goes outside,” Amsha reassured.    

“Indeed! Now I want to know!” Tolun chimed in, grinning toothily.

“So, Miles!” Julian interjected, eager to change the subject as he finishing stirring in a heaping spoonful of sugar into the tea. “How’s Molly doing in school?”

“Top scores!” Miles reported, beaming proudly. “I think she’s hoping to apply for Starfleet in a year or two.”

“I don’t doubt she’ll get in,” Julian pronounced on his way out the backdoor, pitcher and glasses in hand.

Beneath the bright sun and crystal clear sky, he stood for a moment, looking out over the scene before him. Surely enough, there was his friends’ adopted daughter giggling and screaming wildly as she and the youngest O’Brien chased each other around the corner grove.  

Radak, he spotted off in the distance, muttering to himself in deep concentration as he paced the length of the property, measuring the tract of lawn he intended to excavate for Garak’s irrigation system. This plan had been in the works for months as Garak had acquired additional land with the intention of broadening his tillage.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Farmer! Julian chuckled as he glanced over at the garden where said man-of-many-talents was knelt between the cabbages alongside Keiko, planting deka bulbs and engaged in what sounded to be an enthusiastic conversation about some new kind of shrubbery recently discovered on some distant, delta-quadrant planet.

Julian watched the way his mate’s eyes creased in the corners as he laughed, falling in love all over again.

He wasn’t sure exactly how it was possible—(the measure of it surely defied science!) But over the years, Julian had been perpetually amazed by the way he seemed to fall just a little more in love with Garak everyday.

His heart suddenly felt warmer than even the summer air as took in this idyllic picture around him; how blessed he was to be here, surrounded by the company and love of his dearest family and friends.

Garak caught Julian’s quiet gaze, marveling at the sweet, soft look on his beloved’s face. Pushing himself up to his feet, Garak stripped off his gardening gloves and excused himself from the lovely Mrs. O’Brien to help unburden his mate of his armful of refreshments.

K’hshlim, ” he purred, greeting Julian with a soft peck of a kiss as he took the precarious stack of glasses out from the crook of his arm along with the little tray of sandwiches. “Look at these treats you’ve brought out! How lovely of you,” he praised as they walked over to the patio table.

“So how’s everything going out here?” Julian asked, taking a seat beside him.

“I should say quite well indeed. And I trust you haven’t had to much trouble holding down the fort inside?

“Well, let’s see. The Kotra board has been pulled out again and poor Miles is getting his posterior handed to him by Palik, my dear sweet mother is entertaining Kalis and Arjun with embarrassing stories about my childhood, and I suspect supper should be ready in roughly an hour.”

“Ah, so you’ve come out here merely to hide! And here I’d flattered myself to think you missed my company!” Garak sniffed, feigning a hurt little pout.

“Well, with my only other option out there prowling the lawn like some kind of deranged redrat...” Julian smirked, nodding a glance over at the frustrated Vulcan gesticulating irritably between the turf and the outcropping of rocks as if they were put there to personally insult him. “I suppose I’ll just have to make do.”

“Look what I have to put up with!” Garak exclaimed, holding up his palms beseechingly at the sky. “What on earth did I do to deserve you,” he grumbled, chuckling.

“Ironically, Elim, I find myself asking that very same question,” Julian grinned. “Would you care for some of this Tarkalean tea?” he asked, pointing a look at the pitcher.

“Ah. What a thoughtful young man,” Garak chuckled, his eyes sparkling with mirth “ How nice that we’ve met.

“I could swear I’ve heard that line before somewhere...” Julian mused, quirking a wry grin at his lover.

Garak’s expression softened.  

“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard this line once or twice before as well,” he prefaced, threading together their fingers. “Happy Birthday, my love.” 

“It is happy, isn’t it?” Julian mused.

“I’ve tried my best to make you believe it over the years,” Garak replied. “If it isn’t a happy day for you, it’s always one for me. I can’t think of anything I’d rather celebrate than your existence, k’hshlim, and I’m both profoundly humbled and honored you continue to share it with me.”  

“And I always will,” Julian smiled, radiating with happiness as he sat there, sharing both tea and his life with his very dearest, most beloved friend and husband.

 

-Fin.