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Julian wakes lying on his front, with a mild but insistent headache, an uncomfortably dry throat, and a dim sense that the bed he's in is not his own. He's clothed, but for an instant he wishes he weren't; wherever this is, it's hot, not quite unpleasantly so but close.

The headache is probably the remains of a hangover. Julian's optimized physiology tends to reduce his suffering in that regard somewhat. And yes, all right, if he makes himself he almost can assemble a rose-tinted memory of—kanar, he thinks, and quite a bit of it. Because Jadzia had insisted that the only reasonable thing to do with the news of Julian's miraculous non-discharge from Starfleet was to celebrate it. As if it were that easy to steamroll over the awkwardness of Julian having lied to absolutely everyone on the station for as long as he'd known them—except Jadzia obviously believed that it was. And, astoundingly, Garak had agreed with her—

Garak.

Julian had been content to lie here, relaxed, boneless; but suddenly his neck, his shoulders, are tense with foreboding. He stays still, makes himself breathe, and then cracks a cautious eye.

There's a body next to him. Positioned at a polite distance that nevertheless feels insufficient, and familiarly pale and scaly. And as fully-clothed as Julian is, which is abruptly something to be grateful for.

Julian swallows and squeezes his eyes shut, rifling with mounting dread through the rest of the scraps his half-pickled brain is offering up. Kanar, yes, and quite a bit of it; that must have been nearly all of whatever private stock Garak had tucked away. Jadzia's smiling face, and Kira's, and even Sisko's. Miles had been there, too, and Odo, Quark. He has a mercifully blurred impression of Worf belting out something dramatic and crescendoing, with Jadzia providing an equally hearty descant. And—and eventually, somehow, there had been—

Julian rolls over, quick and quiet, and sits up. Because he can feel it, now that he's paying attention, and yet surely there's still some chance that he's mistaken. Surely there's still some chance that this isn't really happening—that he'll look down at his hand, and see only his hand.

He looks down at his hand. At his hand, and at the ring on it, gleaming up at him in the low light with deceptive innocence from where it's resting comfortably at the base of his left third finger.

"Oh, god," he says, hushed, and if Garak wasn't awake already—hasn't been awake this entire time and just waiting for Julian to join him—then he certainly is now.

"Ah. Good morning."

Julian lets his eyes fall closed again. "Tell me we didn't," he says.

"I enjoy a good lie as much as anyone, my dear doctor," Garak murmurs after a moment, "but I'm afraid that this one would be so painfully transparent in its contradiction of the available evidence that it's hardly worth telling."

Julian steels himself and risks a glance, and yes, there's a matching silvery glint on one of Garak's hands. Garak is looking down at it thoughtfully, with no apparent distress—but then Julian can count the number of times he's seen Garak visibly distressed on one hand, and—

And, Julian supposes, waking up married after too much kanar at Quark's isn't dire enough to land itself a place among them. Even if right now it feels like it should be.

Which is probably melodramatic. After all, neither one of them is dead, or in imminent danger of being rendered so. Neither one of them is going through horrifically painful withdrawal thanks to a secret brain implant, or trapped in a holosuite with no safety protocols online and half the command crew's lives in the balance. Or shut inside a wall in a Dominion internment camp. It's just—

It's just not the right time for any of this, Julian thinks helplessly, rubbing his eyes until the backs of his eyelids are sparking with color. Because Garak was shut inside a wall in a Dominion internment camp, and Julian's the one who put him there and closed it up behind him. And then they'd gotten back, Julian's replacement revealed and promptly blown up, and Julian hardly had a chance to decide how to deal with that before Zimmerman arrived and blew everything else up.

Which made last night an excellent time for a lot of kanar, yes. But precisely the wrong time to go around marrying Cardassians on a whim. Especially ones Julian's been thinking about kissing for years, even if he's never had the nerve to breathe a word of it—ones who've probably known anyway all along, who could have had him for the asking and carefully never asked—

And now there's no pretending otherwise. Surely this is too much for even Garak's powers of denial to ignore. Julian's helpless preoccupation has finally managed to cause a problem with consequences to someone other than himself, and the "available evidence", as Garak has put it, can only lead Garak to one conclusion.

Julian curses under his breath and pushes himself up off the bed, because it would be inadvisable to—to do anything else, to even acknowledge the possibility that there's anything else to be done. These are Garak's quarters, of course; the particularly low light, the temperature. He should've realized it the moment he woke and gotten the hell out of here.

"I have to go," he blurts, shaking his head, as he rounds the end of Garak's bed—he slept in Garak's bed—but never mind, never mind, just get out. "I'm sorry, I know we need to—to sort this out, but I'm already late for my shift." He bites his lip, and can't help muttering, more than himself than to Garak, "What were we thinking?" Because it's only half a question: he knows perfectly well what he himself was thinking, and—

"I doubt anyone was expecting you to be on time today," Garak says mildly. "And I suppose we weren't."

Julian's barely two strides from the door. From the door, from safety; from getting somewhere without Garak's eyes on him, where he can clutch his hand and stare down at the ring without having to worry what Garak might be seeing in his face when he does it.

But he doesn't take those two strides. He stops instead.

He doesn't know why. Garak's voice had been perfectly even, when he spoke. Julian looks at him, and he's looking back attentively; his expression is—fine, blandly amiable.

I suppose we weren't. Except Julian knows perfectly well what he himself was thinking, and Garak—Garak thinks about everything. He's like Julian that way, the speed his mind works at, but in Garak's case it's earned: careful training, deliberately cultivated habit, always observing and extrapolating; constantly aware, moment to moment, of the precise and ever-changing amount of pressure required to tip the scales in any given direction.

But—surely he hadn't—there's no reason for him to have—is there?

"Yes," he says aloud, after a moment. "Yes, well. I imagine it won't surprise anyone."

Garak's expression doesn't change; but something, the angle of his head or the look in his eyes, sharpens.

"If I'm a bit tardy, I mean," Julian elaborates, and then feels his face heat; because there is an alternate interpretation, of course, that no one will be surprised because—

Because most of them were there, that's all. Julian's vague memories suggest that Quark's had been full almost to capacity. Half the station must have been through the place, during the hours leading up to the—to what happened.

"Of course," Garak murmurs. "Still, you'd best not keep your patients waiting too long," and he watches Julian closely for another long moment and then smiles. "I'm sure the paperwork will be easy enough to sort out. It needn't cause any fuss." He shrugs, admirably casual. "These things happen."

"Yes," Julian says, thinking: no. No, they don't. He's gotten drunk before, and occasionally extremely drunk; he's never woken up married to anyone else.

"And of course I'd better be off myself," Garak adds, coming to his feet. He looks down at himself with a little sigh, tugging at each of his sleeves in turn and then smoothing a hand across his chest. Because he'd slept in his clothes, and now they're—they're horribly wrinkled.

Julian almost wants to smile at the way Garak's mouth is pursing, that tiny hilarious moue of distaste; except that smiling at Garak right now feels like it would mean something it shouldn't, and he ends up clearing his throat awkwardly instead.

"Right," he makes himself say. "Time to open the shop. I'll see you later, then," and he only means that—that he'll have to, if they're going to work out what to do about all this, but his face goes hot again anyway.

"Certainly," Garak agrees slowly, carefully, and Julian turns and goes before he can so much as let himself picture giving Garak a kiss goodbye.

 

 

Garak's right, of course.

The paperwork probably would be easy enough to sort out. By which Garak presumably meant easy enough to—to toss out, retract, or annul, depending on how far along it's progressed. If it went out with this morning's databurst to Starfleet, things could get a little awkward. But it's nothing that couldn't be weathered, given time.

Julian spends half the turbolift ride telling himself this, and the other half staring absently at the ring. It isn't that it's particularly distracting: a plain silvery band, that's all, settled snugly at the base of Julian's finger. It doesn't weigh so much that he can't adjust to the sensation of it resting there, and he was wearing it all night; it's absorbed more than enough body heat to have matched the temperature of his skin.

And, he thinks distantly, he should take it off. Do it right now, alone in the turbolift. Surely no one who was at Quark's last night will be surprised that he doesn't have it on, even if they're charitable enough to assume that he lost it or wants to keep it safe on-duty. And anyone who does suspect it was all a drunken mistake will probably be polite enough not to ask.

Keeping it on his hand in public would be foolish. They didn't intend to get married, if they even did; Julian thinks he remembers applying his thumbprint to a PADD at some point, but that's hardly conclusive evidence. He and Garak haven't discussed their options, haven't decided what to do about it, and wearing the ring today won't do anything but make it more awkward a week from now when this whole thing is over and it vanishes. The only sensible thing to do is take it off.

He looks away from it and swallows, feeling the turbolift slow, and leaves it where it is.

 

 

Walking into the infirmary with the ring on makes Julian's heart trip a little, as if—as if it's anything but ridiculous and inexplicable stubbornness. God, what is he doing?

And if he could answer that question, he wouldn't need to ask it. At least he can be pretty sure nobody here is going to force him to explain himself. A good third of the infirmary staff don't give it a second glance, only passingly familiar with the significance of a ring worn there by humans belonging to specific subcultures.

And the other two-thirds congratulate him quietly and smile. Because of course they do—what other option do they have? They're hardly going to express surprise, dismay, bewilderment, at Julian managing to get himself married overnight, and especially not to his face.

And what can he tell them? That it was a mistake, that he got drunk; that to be honest he still isn't entirely sure what happened or why. And that genetic modification's not all it's cracked up to be, when for all his supposedly enhanced analytical ability, he's apparently still too impulsive to manage not to get married in the middle of a war.

Even when no one's bringing it up, Julian keeps catching himself looking down at the ring. Waiting for test results, he finds himself flexing and then flattening his hand against the console, watching it catch the light. The one on Garak's hand looked identical, except for the size. And Julian can't quite lay hands on the specifics, even his nearly-eidetic memory still reliant on interactions between biological structures that had, at the time, been soaked with kanar. But he can't shake the feeling that it was Garak who'd—bought them? Borrowed them? Somehow Julian is certain they weren't replicated on the spot. Replicated metal always feels a little strange to him, too-smooth, almost slick. When he rubs his thumb against the ring, the way he's been doing all morning, it doesn't feel like that.

It seems appropriate that they're silver. Not just because Julian feels like gold would look out of place against Garak's gray-pale skin in a way that silver doesn't, but—

But because it's very like Garak, isn't it? To prefer jewelry the same color as the blade of a knife. As if, in the abstract, the rings in and of themselves aren't only tokens of affection, but tacit warnings; as if to suggest that despite their beauty, they have teeth.

Julian pushes the ring up toward his knuckle, and then presses it back down into place.

It's exactly the right size.

If he'd thought to ask Garak about that this morning, no doubt Garak would have glanced at him and murmured something noncommittal about a tailor's eye for detail.

And if he'd chosen his moment well, Julian might even have believed it.

 

 

When his first shift ends, Julian leaves, but not to go to lunch. He spent a little while carefully shuffling through all the bits and pieces he could put together—a task that had become progressively easier as the ache in his head receded. And while he still isn't confident that he's nailed down the entire sequence of events, he has a lead that might be promising.

He finds Jadzia in the replimat, and the way she grins when she sees him coming fills him with resignation. So his memories are accurate on that count after all: she'd definitely been there.

"Julian!"

"Jadzia," Julian agrees gamely, and then discovers he has absolutely no idea how to broach the subject. "I—don't suppose you were at Quark's last night?"

She doesn't seem fooled by this casual approach. She tilts her head and makes a sympathetic little face. "Memory a little fuzzy? I can't say I'm surprised. You emptied almost a whole bottle of kanar by yourself."

"And you didn't stop me?" Julian can't help but ask.

It's possible that the barest smidgen of frustration leaks into his tone. And he shouldn't have let it, but it's just—

It's just easier than acknowledging that he probably has no one to blame for any of this except himself, whether Garak had some hidden reason for going along with it or not.

"It was a party! And you looked like you were enjoying yourself," Jadzia says, beaming at him. She reaches across the table to clasp his hand and squeezes it, and she looks so sincerely pleased that Julian simply has to smile at her. "I'm so happy for you," she adds.

"So you were there for the—" He stops, unable to pick a word, and ends up sort of helplessly brandishing the relevant ring finger at her, feeling his face heat.

She blinks. "There for it?" she says. "Oh, yes, I saw the whole thing," and he notices belatedly that her eyes are just a little too wide for real innocence, the corners of her mouth tugging up a bit too far, right before she adds, "Which makes sense, considering I'm the one who officiated."

"You—?"

"Well, naturally," Jadzia says. "Over seven lifetimes, I've gone to a lot of weddings. I've been husbands, I've been wives, and I've earned the credentials to perform valid marriage ceremonies on ... mm, at least five or six hundred planets, last I checked."

Julian swallows. He'd remembered Jadzia, that she'd been there; he'd remembered Garak's arm, his hand, warm under Julian's own, and Jadzia grinning, and that damned PADD. And now that he thinks about it—Jadzia's voice, too, warm and sincere, raised over what in retrospect is a suspicious sort of quiet. He'd thought she was just congratulating them, but—

But apparently not.

"So it's—it is valid, then," he hears himself say.

"It will be," Jadzia says.

Julian blinks and looks at her; she's looking back, and the expression on her face isn't as bright or amused as Julian might've expected. Instead it's soft, and—and sort of knowing.

She leans in and taps the corner of the PADD next to her plate, and says, "It's all here, and everything's in order. I just haven't filed it yet." She makes a rueful little face. "Got a bit of a late start this morning myself."

And it's probably true; but she's watching him a little too carefully, and suddenly he doesn't know what to think.

"You seemed pretty happy about it, last night," she adds, gentle.

Julian bites down on a sigh and rubs a hand across his face. "Well, of course I was," he snaps, and then winces. He just meant—because he'd been drunk, and clearly his judgment had been less than trustworthy. That's all. "I just—it's not really the right time for this sort of thing. With the—" and he waves a hand helplessly, "—Dominion, and that Changeling impersonating me; and then I almost lost my commission and my father went to prison, and now we've gone and—at Quark's—"

And there's no way Jadzia can argue with that whole stack of objections. She'll agree with him, and delete the paperwork, and it'll be done with.

Except that doesn't happen. She sits there and gazes across the table at him, and then reaches over to touch three fingertips gently to the back of his hand. "Maybe that's what makes it exactly the right time," she says.

"That's—what? That's ridiculous," Julian says.

Jadzia puts on a considering sort of expression, eyebrow raised, and then shrugs. "Makes sense to me," she tells him. "After everything you've both been through, who knows what might happen next? And I don't know about you, but Garak's never struck me as the sort of person to let an opportunity pass him by."

Julian stares at her.

"But then you know him better than I do," she adds, blithe.

"Yes," Julian says slowly. "Yes, well."

Any other time he'd already be flushing over the double entendre, all the ways he could be assumed to know Garak better the day after the night of their wedding. But—

Surely it's just wishful thinking. The size of the ring—well, Julian's hands are neither exceptionally large nor exceptionally small; that the ring happens to fit him as well as it does is hardly conclusive. Garak hadn't seemed particularly upset this morning, but then if he were there's no reason to think he'd let on. He hadn't touched Julian, hadn't—hadn't kissed him, or done anything else out of the ordinary that suggested that he meant to—that he thought that they were going to—

Julian bites his lip, absent. Garak had observed that their impromptu marriage would be easy to unravel, and Julian hadn't disagreed or raised any objection to the idea; presumably Garak thinks that constitutes a willingness to act on that premise, and that if handed the opportunity to simplify matters, Julian will take it.

But, exactly like this morning, I suppose we weren't, so mild and conversational that Julian had suddenly had an overwhelming sense that it was somehow important—what Jadzia just said has caught at him, is making him feel abruptly like there's something he's missed.

For a moment, he's torn between competing impulses. Old habits die hard: he's been thoughtful, sensible Julian Bashir for so long, never quite drawing too much attention; salutatorian, a single carefully-chosen question missed. Nominated for the Carrington, such an honor, deeply humbled—and silently grateful, even if it tasted a bit bitter going down, not to have won. He should ask Jadzia to delete the files, and work his second shift, and then go tell Garak they're not married after all, that it's all taken care of. That's what's expected of him.

And yet there's also a part of him that's fiercely aware that all of that, even without his intending it, has started to change. He survived the Dominion, against all odds, and they hadn't broken him; he'd discovered, during all those long hours in solitary confinement, the true depth and breadth of his own unwillingness to make things easy for them. These days, when he plays darts with Miles, he stands fifteen feet further back, and everyone knows why. And right now, he finds himself in the grip of a strange and willful—contrariness, almost defiance. The same sort of unexpected recklessness that had seized him in the turbolift this morning, looking down at the ring and deciding for no good reason whatsoever that he wasn't going to take it off. Because if there is something behind this, if it isn't just down to Julian's pent-up longing drunkenly slipping its leash, then—

Then he isn't going to get answers out of Garak by doing what's expected of him, is he?

He meets Jadzia's eyes, and wonders distantly whether his heart's going to keep pounding this hard every time he does something stupid today. "I'd like a copy, if you would," he hears himself say. "When you do forward the license and certification along for processing, I mean."

"Are you sure?" Jadzia says gently, and Julian's aware that she's not asking whether he's sure he'd like that copy.

"Yes," he says. "Yes, thank you."

Which might be a lie; but if it is, Jadzia doesn't call him on it. She watches him a moment longer and then smiles at him, sweet and bright. "All right," she says. "I'll do it right now," and he watches her hand moving over the PADD and doesn't stop her, and hopes he hasn't just made a huge mistake.

 

 

His second shift passes in a blur. Luckily for him, the handful of medical emergencies that do crop up are minor and none of them require surgery, so he can afford to spend a little while in a fog of low-level panic.

Because whatever it was that had taken hold of him, had let him tell Jadzia yes without wavering, it's begun to drain away, and in its place he's found nothing but a sinking uncertainty.

Even if there is something afoot—is this really the time to make a fuss about it? For all Julian knows, whatever Garak might be after somehow requires the paperwork unfiled or delayed, and Julian's just made a hash of it for him. Every half-baked reckless decision Julian's made about this today affects both of them, not just him, and it's not only careless but selfish of him, to try to—what? Force their accidental marriage to mean something it doesn't? Drag the whole thing out just a few days longer, as if that will make a difference; as if they haven't already had five years, as if suddenly now they're going to—Garak will—

Julian sighs and closes his eyes. His head's still aching a little, but it feels like coddling he wouldn't deserve, giving himself a hypo for it.

He's going to have to figure out some way to explain himself, that's all there is to it. Explain himself, apologize, and get the whole thing sorted out properly. It's the only responsible way to handle the matter.

And yet the moment he thinks the word to himself, responsible, that same willful rebellious feeling he keeps wrestling with is rearing its head again, as if it had never gone. And when his second shift ends, he doesn't go back to Garak's quarters to talk everything through like the adult he supposedly is. He goes to Quark's instead.

 

 

He's morbidly curious, that's all. There's a chance that revisiting the scene of the crime, so to speak, will jog his memory a bit.

And if he manages to avoid looking Garak in the face for a little while longer by doing it, well, that's just a bonus.

He ducks in through the door behind a couple of Tarkaleans, and steers clear of the bar; the last thing he wants right now is Quark greeting him loudly and asking about his wedding night, thanks all the same. He works his way round the lower level and behind the stairs, safely shielded by them—and right next to the dartboard, so he has no excuse for being as surprised as he is when Miles's voice says, "Julian!"

"Miles, you—what are you doing here?"

"Off-shift," Miles says with a shrug, leaning forward across his table. "I'm not allowed to go back to our quarters until Keiko's given the all-clear that naptime's over; otherwise the sound of the door wakes Yoshi up. What about you?" He cracks a sly little grin all of a sudden. "Would've thought you'd be busy—"

"Miles," Julian snaps, which is a mistake, and not just because he sounds like someone's outraged conservative great-aunt: it makes Miles startle and then look at him more closely.

"What, not even twenty-four hours and you're already in the doghouse?"

Julian sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose.

"Well, I'll tell you this," Miles is adding already, looking sage, "avoiding Garak won't do you any good. Never does."

"Yes, well, it doesn't matter," Julian says. "We aren't staying married."

"You aren't?"

"No! We were—we were drunk. Or at least I was," Julian amends, because it's always hard to be sure of that sort of thing with Garak. "It was a mistake. It should never have happened."

And he wants to mean it, except he doesn't; it's like practice, saying it to Miles first, trying it on for size before he has to submit it to examination by Garak's tailor's eye. He doesn't like the way the words taste on his tongue, the bitterness of his own paltry half-hearted insistence, and he grimaces at himself and then looks up.

Miles doesn't look convinced either. "You know," he says slowly after a moment, "I realize we—we never talked all that much about Garak. Him and me, we don't, um. We don't see eye-to-eye on things, and I know you try not to bring him up with me if you can help it. And I'm sorry about that. Really, I am."

Oh, god. "Miles—"

"And I want you to know I support you," Miles adds, terrifyingly earnest. "It didn't surprise me, really. I mean, it was fast and all, but—that you'd take the opportunity, after all this time. That you'd want to."

And that's so unexpected Julian can't help but stare at him. Opportunity: Jadzia had called it that, too. Why does everyone keep saying that? "That hardly makes it a good idea," he hears himself say.

Miles raises an eyebrow. "Well, you definitely shouldn't get married if you don't want to," he says. "So I wouldn't call it a bad one. You did, didn't you? Want to, I mean."

Julian swallows and looks away—down, which he realizes a moment later was maybe not the best choice, because at some point he started wringing his hands a bit and the ring is right there, tipping back and forth in the light, gleaming silver. "I was drunk," he says feebly, at last; and then, with a sigh, giving in—because if he won't be able to make himself say it to Garak, at least he can tell Miles—"I, I. I suppose I didn't not want to."

He risks a glance, and finds that Miles looks incongruously pleased. "Figured," Miles says.

"You—"

"Well, you did it, didn't you?" Miles huffs out half a laugh. "In my experience, Julian, it's almost impossible to get you to do anything you don't already want to do, and it definitely takes more than a half-dozen glasses of kanar. Plus—" He stops and motions to Julian's hand. "You're still wearing that thing. You have been all day."

"How do you know that?" Julian says, unthinking, and then makes a face at himself. "Because I just told you."

"Considering you've got it on now," Miles tells him, "I couldn't see why you'd've taken it off and then put it back on just to come in here. But yeah, you as good as saying it doesn't hurt."

Julian closes his eyes, leans back against the pylon beneath the staircase, and rubs his thumb against the curve of the ring. "I should have," he admits. "It was—it was a mistake. We're going to get it reversed."

"Are you?"

Miles sounds a little surprised, a little dismayed; Julian makes himself look, and of all the nerve, Miles is frowning at him a bit.

"I—suppose we haven't really talked about it properly," Julian allows. "But there's no way we can—I mean, we can't just—"

He makes a wordless but eloquent gesture toward the sheer hopeless impossibility of the whole thing, the idea that he and Garak might just get married out of nowhere and then stay that way. But Miles doesn't look like he follows.

"Why not?"

"Because," Julian says. Because it's mad. Because it's ridiculous. Because after five years of making his way a step at a time through the minefield that is Garak, stumbling the wrong direction almost as often as he's ever set his feet right, surely there's no way this can end with Julian actually—actually making it through; actually getting to keep him.

Miles stares at him for a second, and then tilts his head. "You know, the other Julian didn't have these kinds of problems."

"Thanks," Julian mutters acidly. As if what he needs right now is a reminder of the Changeling who'd taken his place, how simple it had been; that no one had known until it was almost too late.

"No, no, I'm not saying it was better that way," Miles says. "It was—it was too easy. You know? He was so pleasant all the time. Didn't need my help with anything. And he certainly didn't go around not getting along with his parents, or turning out to be genetically enhanced, or getting drunk and marrying Cardassian spies." He shakes his head. "He was just—fine, all the time. Should've known there was something wrong."

Julian looks at him. Miles is teasing, a little; but only a little. And Julian could take offense, except he thinks he might know what Miles is getting at, why he brought it up.

Because taking a mistake and making it work anyway won't be easy; hanging onto Garak, through whatever it was that put all this in motion, whatever was really going on last night, won't be easy. But then being a doctor isn't easy. Working on DS9 isn't easy. Learning how to get on with Garak, and starting to understand him, and discovering over the years exactly how deep it all went—none of that was easy, either. But in its own way that's only made it all more precious to Julian, and he wouldn't give up the things those struggles have earned him for anything.

 

 

In the end, he's hardly terrified at all, when he reaches Garak's quarters at last.

It's as though spending the whole day worrying and fretting and making objectively foolish decisions he can't possibly justify has worn him out; he's used up all his allotment of dismay and self-castigation, and there isn't any left. He feels almost calm, standing there in the corridor waiting for Garak to let him in, and when the door does swish open, he steps in and looks at Garak and finds he wants to smile.

So he does.

"Honey, I'm home," he murmurs, and Garak shoots him a wry sharp look and shifts one brow ridge sort of skeptically.

"Ah, yes. I believe the traditional ceremonial response among your people is—how was your day at the office?"

He pronounces each word with care and precision, as if it were a bit of liturgy he'd genuinely felt it necessary to memorize; and Julian feels a dreadful surge of fondness, sweetly overpowering, sweeping all the way to the high-water mark.

"Oh, fine, fine," he manages to say, and he thinks it comes out mild, even, sounding not at all as though his hopeless affection for Garak is squeezing all the air from his chest. Well done, he tells himself. Good show. "I spoke to Dax at lunch."

"Did you," Garak murmurs, so blandly that Julian's immediately certain he already knew.

"Yes," Julian says anyway. "She still had our certification paperwork with her. It hadn't been sent yet."

"Ah," Garak says, looking away. "So it's all sorted out then, I suppose."

Julian swallows helplessly, and has to concentrate hard to keep still, to avoid shifting his weight like a nervous student during an oral exam. "In a manner of speaking," he makes himself say, because if he's only oblique enough, if he only makes it a bit of a puzzle, then perhaps Garak will look at him again—and yes, Garak's gaze flicks back to him, steady and piercing.

"Oh?"

"It should be registered with Starfleet and processed within seventy-two hours," Julian says, and is distantly surprised that his voice doesn't shake.

There's a moment of silence, Julian doing his best to bear up against Garak's unwavering stare. Which drops belatedly down to Julian's hand—to the ring—and then leaps back to Julian's face. And then, at last, Garak takes a breath and lets it out, wets his lips, and speaks. "Forgive me, my dear," he says slowly, "but I must confess to some confusion. This morning, you seemed entirely prepared to make your decision very differently."

And Julian had had—something, a shambles of half-constructed explanations and apologies he isn't sure he could have delivered in any case; but instead he stops and frowns a little. "My decision. Is that what it was?"

"My decision," Garak says quietly after a moment, "was made approximately twenty-one hours ago."

The math would take Julian the blink of an eye—less—but he finds he doesn't need to do it. "I was going to apologize, you know," he murmurs. "Or at least I'd have tried to work up to it somehow. I should have told her to get rid of it, or even just to hold onto it until I could talk to you about it properly. But I didn't. And the trouble is that I—I'm not sorry. Not really."

"You aren't," Garak repeats, still watching him far too carefully.

Julian hesitates. It's just that it's difficult to explain, that's all. Five years of his own idiocy, a long slow decaying orbit he hadn't had the sense to pull out of even though it surely couldn't end in anything but a crash—tangled up with the simple truth that acting on your stupidest, most reckless impulse is sometimes required, Julian has learned, in order to handle Garak: that every now and then the only way to outthink him is not to think at all. To just let the world end, one press of a button in a madman's laboratory, and see what happens next.

My decision was made—and just what exactly is that supposed to mean?

"Garak," Julian says, and then stops short. "Elim," he amends, more gently, and is rewarded by the minute lift of Garak's chin, the barest widening of the eyes. It's always so damned satisfying to startle Garak, even just a little. "Why did we get married?"

"You were there for the whole thing, if I remember right," Garak says after a moment, light.

"I was drunk for the whole thing," Julian corrects, "and I imagine I'm remembering wrong. Depending on how you look at it we've been dating for at least three or four years, I grant you, but unless Cardassians handle these things very differently than I'd understood—"

"Oh, come now, my dear doctor, why does anyone get married overnight?" Garak interrupts, in a tone so pleasant it's a struggle to keep in mind that it is, in fact, an interruption. "Because they decide to and somehow no one stops them. Because they've lost their minds," and this option is presented with a rueful little slant of Garak's mouth. "In order to seize the moment. In order," Garak adds more slowly, "to prevent something precious they've recently been made aware could be all too easily lost from slipping from their grasp." As he'd spoken, his gaze had wandered a little—over the room, the view out into space; the bed, though now it's neatly made—but after a moment it snaps belatedly back to Julian. "One imagines."

"Does one," Julian murmurs, tilting his head.

"Really," Garak says, almost snappish now, biting the words out, "it's hardly much of a mystery. The subject came up, it was discussed; tragically-impaired judgment carried the day. Dax was, in retrospect, perhaps a little bit too helpful. But then she's in love with that Klingon of hers, and of course people in love are predisposed to attribute the same emotion to everyone around them, no matter how little sense it makes—"

Oh. Julian sucks in a startled breath, and ignores the desperate hammering of his heart, because—oh. Oh, of course. How stupid of him not to see it before.

"You think you tricked me."

And again, all at once, Garak's eyes are on him: settled as steadily as if Garak had never looked away, sharp as a dart hitting the bullseye. "Didn't I?" he says, very softly.

"Oh, certainly," Julian agrees. "Why, you're a master manipulator—a Cardassian spy, former Obsidian Order, the protégé of Enabran Tain himself. And me, well, I'm only a doctor, and I'd had at least half a bottle of kanar. I'm sure I was entirely defenseless against your subtle machinations. I must have had no choice but to marry you in a bar in front of everyone I know!"

He takes a step closer; and Garak is watching him warily, tipping his chin up, but doesn't move away.

"Very public. Not really your style. Perhaps you weren't thinking quite as clearly as you should have been. Perhaps you were a bit impulsive yourself. But never mind—that hardly matters. Because all you had to do was wait for me to wake up; I'd come to my senses then, surely, and I'd make my excuses and run off to clear up the whole foolish mistake, and that would be the end of it.

"My decision," Julian adds slowly, and takes another step. "My decision, because the wedding wasn't, and it was the least you could do to make it up to me. Except you thought you knew what I'd pick; you'd already planned for that, too."

He's close enough now to touch—to settle one hand along the line of Garak's shoulder, following one neck ridge, and to watch Garak's eyes darken in response.

"But it seems there are still a few things you don't know about me," he murmurs, and leans in.

This, he remembers. Because they'd kissed last night—in Quark's, yes, quick and hard and promising, to embarrassingly loud cheers; but then again, Julian is pretty sure, back at their table, wet with kanar and accepting everyone's congratulations. And later still: Julian can drag back the sensation of tumbling into Garak's bed at last, Garak's hands light and steady and so terribly precise against his waist, across his chest, skimming the delicate skin beneath his jaw, behind his ear. Garak's mouth, the warmth of it; the shivery prickle of the delicate scales on his face against Julian's cheek, his lips, his tongue—

But this is better. To have Garak here in front of him, to hold onto him and kiss him, awake and aware and not the least bit tired: indelible, deliberate.

And better still than that, that after a moment's cautious stillness, Garak should reach for him, too, and kiss back.

And then Garak eases away; and Julian's ready to argue with him about that, too, except when he opens his eyes, he sees the self-satisfied angle of Garak's mouth.

"Well," Garak murmurs, very low, "there are still a few things you don't know about me, either, my dear. But then what a wonderful foundation for a marriage that is, that there should remain some unexplored frontier."

He sounds warmly, smugly pleased, and Julian laughs in a huff against his cheek and shakes his head a little. "I suppose you consider that dirty talk, do you? I've got secrets, and I won't tell you what they are—you'll just have to dig them up yourself," and he's only teasing, but Garak shivers a little under his hands. Teasing back? Or perhaps Julian's right on the money.

He supposes he'll find out. Cardassians, Julian thinks fondly, and tugs Garak in to kiss him again.