It had been a spur of the moment decision when Elim and Julian had moved to the Tolvon province. Stepping off the hover transport after a mere week-long flurry of packing and paperwork, the new air hit Julian in a wave. It smelled sweeter here than in Cardassia City, the cool breeze perfumed with petrichor.
“Welcome to the Tolvon province,” Garak said, stepping off of the transport behind his husband.
“I can’t believe this is our home now,” Julian said softly, taking Elim's hand as he absorbed the rolling, grassy plains that stretched ahead of them.
“Our house should only be a couple minutes north from here,” Garak confirmed, squinting into the distance.
“Our house,” Julian grinned. He had never imagined that his life would lead him here, settling down in a remote corner of Cardassia. Then again, was a rural town recovering from a war not the very edge of frontier medicine?
As he and Garak walked hand in hand up the wet dirt road, Julian pondered how he had ended up here. When he had resigned his Starfleet commission to chase Garak to Cardsssia, he hadn’t had a shred of a plan.
The first few months in Cardassia City had been chaotic, as he adjusted to the culture, the language, and the effects of the war, but eventually he had settled into a steady residency at the East Torr hospital, retraining himself for Cardassian medicine. Coming home late from work each day, exhausted, but more satisfied than he had been in years, he would greet Garak by the door of the apartment.
At first, the arrangement had been temporary, with Julian crashing on the couch. By the time he started looking for a place to live, he had made the smaller, but no less significant move to Garak’s bed during the night. The question of moving out was rendered obsolete. They were married within a month. Julian’s colleagues found the brevity of the courtship astounding, but he and Garak had been together, in another sense of the word, for years.
“I believe that’s it up ahead,” Elim said. Cresting a small hill, Julian saw the place. Surrounded by a thicket of wildflowers, made of real wooden boards, a tiny cottage stood proudly. It couldn’t have been more than two or three rooms, but it had a wraparound porch, and a small attic, judging by the window.
“Oh, Elim, it’s beautiful,” Julian gasped. It wasn’t really. It was rough, dirty, and could use some repair, but it was theirs.
“No, but we will make it into something beautiful,” Garak promised. His smile was warm, the unguarded one he reserved for Julian.
Two months later, the cool rainy season had melted into a proper spring, blossoming with heat. The major leaks had been fixed, the rusty sonic shower had been restored to a mostly operational state, and Garak had set up his tailor’s shop in the town proper.
Julian awoke to soft kisses being pressed to his shoulder, and the early sun streaming through the small window.
“Good morning,” he mumbled sleepily, rolling over for a proper kiss.
“I’m going to start the garden today,” Garak said as he slipped out from under the covers.
Julian sat up. “Oh, excellent, I can help!” The plot of land behind the house was overgrown now, but the outline of a fence denoted where the soil had once been cultivated.
“Are you sure? It’s going to be quite hot out.”
“Enhancements. I can handle it,” Julian grinned. He could think of no better way to spend his day off.
“Really, some of these early spring days get even hotter than the peak of summer in this area,” Garak frowned.
“I’ll make breakfast while you worry,” Julian teased, rolling out of bed. He padded to the small kitchen in his pyjamas, and rifled around in the small solar powered refrigerator for the oldest vegetables. A couple of the regova eggs he had bought at the market on the way home from work yesterday would go well with the slightly shriveled isca roots.
“Elim, would you fetch the water?” Julian asked as his husband emerged, dressed in a light shirt and trousers.
Living in the city had necessitated warmer, more formal dress, not very different from what Garak had worn all those years on Deep Space Nine. Here in the countryside, Julian was treated almost daily to exposed forearms, and looser cuts. Garak was more comfortable like this, too. Julian could see it in the way he moved. With a soft smile, he imagined the two of them, years in the future, sitting on the wraparound porch, greying happily in comfortable clothes.
“What is it?” Garak asked, taking pause under Julian’s scrutiny as he grabbed the bucket by the back door.
“Nothing. I just love you.”
Elim softened with a fond, surprised smile. He didn’t return the statement in words, but it was in his eyes for the moment he waited before slipping out the back door.
Julian was still smiling as he sliced vegetables.
“Anything else you need, dearest?” Elim asked, setting the water bucket down a couple minutes later.
“I know you’re itching to get to the garden,” he said with a smirk, bumping Garak with his shoulder. “Go ahead, I’ll have breakfast ready in a bit.”
It was cool and quiet in the kitchen, Julian’s only companion being the sizzling sound of the meal on the propane stove. He didn’t know he would ever feel like this, a persistent background happiness, even when things got tough at the hospital, or prickly with Elim. Of all the places in the universe, this was one where he belonged.
Sliding a spatula under the sizzling eggs, he flipped them onto the red earthenware plates. In a couple minutes, the vegetables followed. He called for Elim as he stepped out onto the back porch.
Garak’s head popped out from behind the shed door, and he strode over to Julian.
Julian sat on the wooden steps, and his husband joined him. There was already a sprinkling of dust in Elim’s hair, and a smudge of dirt across his brow. It suited him.
“I’ve been working on the rototiller, and once I install the solar converter you bought for me, it should be sufficient for our needs,” Garak explained as he dug into his breakfast.
“If nothing breaks the second we turn it on,” Julian frowned. “How long has it been sitting?”
“Only as long as the cottage had been empty.”
“That’s at least five years, and the shed had a leak.”
“Even fixing a broken machine is more resource efficient than buying a new one,” Garak pointed out. “We are more than lucky that the previous owners left this much behind.”
Julian grinned, and stole a slice of isca root from his husband’s plate. “You’re right. I never thought about that when I was in the Federation.”
He finished his plate long before Garak, as usual, and looked out over the rippling grasses. Resting his head on Elim’s shoulder, he appraised the plot which would become the garden.
Lighter grasses had grown in, and some serious weed pulling was in need, but with any luck, they would be planting by tomorrow.
“I’ll get dressed and then come out and help you,” Julian said, unfolding his legs and picking his plate up from beside him.
“I was beginning to wonder if you planned to garden in your pyjamas,” Garak teased.
Julian laughed, heading inside.
“Please wear a hat, dear. I wouldn’t want your human skin to burn in the sun,” Elim called over his shoulder as Julian retreated.
“I’ll do it for you,” he replied, with a smile that Garak didn’t see.
The large wardrobe he and Garak shared was tucked into a corner of the bedroom, the location most definitely not chosen to hide an unsightly stain on the floor.
Rifling through his drawer, Julian pulled out his sturdiest work pants, and a light, long sleeved shirt. Although short sleeves would have been cooler, Garak’s comment on sunburn was warranted. Even his darker skin wasn’t immune to the hot Carsassian rays.
If he recalled correctly, which he always did, there was a straw sunhat under the bed. Kneeling on the floor, and peering into the dusty abyss, he spotted it.
Before long, all Julian’s clothing was in suitable order, and he was tying the laces of his old trainers. At this stage in their life, a little dirt wouldn’t hurt them.
When he stepped back outside, Garak was already hard at work, half hidden among the tall weeds he was uprooting.
Julian settled down beside him, and reached for a weed. Without looking up, Garak stopped him with an arm.
“Gloves are in the shed.”
“Right, safety first,” Julian said sheepishly. His federation upbringing hadn’t offered him much experience with manual labour.
Respectably gloved, he returned to the garden plot and began pulling up the leafy growth.
“In a couple months this should make good compost,” Garak said, throwing a plant into the large paper bag at the corner of the garden.
“You know,” Julian grinned, tugging at the base of a particularly stubborn weed. “I’m starting to believe that you really were a gardener once.”
“Would I lie to you?” Elim asked, all innocence. Julian merely snorted.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, the conversation turned, as it often did, to literature. The day’s heat was making itself known, and sweat trickled down the back of Julian’s neck.
“That would be a good point,” Julian grunted as the weed he pulled on popped out of the ground. “But Thessal showed no previous indication of will to betray Kavis.”
“Incorrect,” Garak retorted, lugging the now overfull bag of greens towards the shed. “It was perfectly clear in his attitudes towards Kavis’s sister,” he explained, unfolding a fresh paper sack.
“And I suppose this would have been perfectly clear to any Cardassian,” Julian groaned, wiping the sweat from his brow as he rested, squatting, for a moment.
“Quite,” Garak smirked.
After what Julian calculated to be forty five more minutes, the garden plot was cleared of the major weeds. Hands and back surprisingly sore, Julian straightened, stretching his arms up to the sky. His spine gave a few satisfying pops. There was something to be said for manual labour. He felt well worked but satisfied, the same as when he finished a good shift at the hospital.
“I do hope you’re not too tired,” Garak said lightly, brushing off his gloves. “There’s more to be done.”
Julian grinned. “I’m not tired, just sweaty.”
“The heat isn’t getting to you, is it?”
Garak spent an extra moment appraising Julian. “Very well. If you would join me in the shed.”
Stepping into the wooden enclosure, Julian found the air even warmer, akin to a sauna. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but after a couple more minutes of passing Garak tools from the shelves, he found himself sweating more profusely.
“Adjustable wrench?” Elim asked, kneeling by the rototiller. Julian passed it to him, and moved to stand behind him.
His supplementary engineering courses at the Academy had prepared him more so on theory than maintenance of machines, especially not one this old. He did recognize the connectors surrounding the worn out solar converter, and was sure he could replace it, given time to analyze the beast. Nonetheless, Garak had more experience with this archaic technology than he did. The cohabitant division of labour was something Julian was still getting used to, as pleasant as it was.
“Would you help me carry this outside?” Elim asked, crouched by the front of the machine.
“You’re already done?”
“More efficient than you were expecting?” Garak said with a coy smile.
“It would have taken me longer.” Julian admitted, grasping the rototiller’s handles. When he and Garak lifted together, it was heavier than he expected, the old metal’s density different from the modern alloys Julian had known his whole life.
With a soft thud, he and Garak dropped the machine onto the denuded soil.
“Would you like to do the honours, dear?” Garak asked.
“Alright,” Julian grinned. He had never used a rototiller before. After a quick analysis of the machine, he determined that blade and wheel speed were controlled by two separate levers, and a simple mechanical button turned it on.
Press, flip… Perfect. The blades churned merrily, grinding the earth where the machine sat.
“I’ll be picking up rocks while you till,” Garak called over the scrape and rumble.
Julian offered him a thumbs up, and set the wheels to forward. Instead of churning the dirt, the machine began to skip across the surface, pulling him along with more force than he had expected.
“You have to hold it back!” Garak said, already clutching a couple dusty rocks.
Julian grunted in response, hauling the rototiller back to the spot where he started. With the right application of pressure and pull, the machine now moved more slowly, breaking the earth.
“I think I’ve got it!” he hollered, gripping the handles as he frowned in concentration. The rototiller was a half wild beast, only temporarily under his control. He grinned. He was getting the hang of this.
Taking his time tearing the ground apart was therapeutic. Beneath the cracked grey surface, a richer brown was bubbling up. Garak orbited him, collecting the stones he churned up.
Once Julian figured out how to turn at the end of the plot, he fell into a rhythm. The sun beat down on him, pulling sweat from his skin. With a grimace, Julian awkwardly dipped his head, wiping the salt from his brow on his forearm, still holding the rototiller.
After what could have been another quarter hour of gruelling tilling he stood triumphant at the end of the plot. Flipping the power switch, he grinned, shaking out his arms.
Garak slid up beside him. “Not done yet. Would you like to switch roles for the next pass?”
“No,” Julian said cheerfully. “This rototiller won’t get the best of me.”
“Whatever you say dear,” Garak replied. He stretched his arms above his head, back crackling.
Julian started again. The second pass was more rewarding. With better technique, the stubborn patches of ground he had been unable to break crumbled beneath him, and the chunks of churned soil grew smoother. It also seemed even hotter, but that could just be that he was stopping less.
When he finished his second pass, he paused for a moment, blinking against the sunlight. His hair was glued to the back of his neck now, and he was grateful for the hat.
Third pass. He was breathing harder now, and his shirt clung uncomfortably. He was focused on the ground in front of him, vision filled with nothing but soil.
Fourth pass. He was one with the earth. He kept going. Restrain, haul, turn, push. He was part of the task now, like the late hours of a long surgery. Nothing else mattered right now. Complete focus.
Fifth pa— A startlingly cool hand landed on his shoulder. Julian looked up, yanked back to the larger world.
“My turn,” Garak said. “Sit for a moment.”
“I’m fine!” Julian protested. Yes, he had a headache, but he was getting used to the temperature. He blinked a couple times. The ground looked funny now that he wasn’t moving, almost as if it were moving and he were not.
“It is nearly fifty degrees outside. Sit in the shade.”
“Okay, okay,” Julian laughed, swallowing. His throat really was dry. He would have to get a drink soon, but the tilling was almost done. He walked back to the porch, hardly feeling his legs. He wiped at his brow, but it was dry.
Taking a seat on the worn wooden planks, Julian let out a sigh. He could feel the air’s heat on every inhale. The shade provided no relief. He hung his head between his legs, elbows on his knees. Eyes closed, he could pretend it was a little cooler. His heartbeat was slowing a little now that he wasn’t moving. Just a couple minutes then he could go back to work. It felt oddly good, similar to being wrung out after hours of racquetball practice, alone where he could exercise to his full ability.
The garden called. Straightening his spine, Julian stood.
He couldn't move. The bright sun dimmed. Blackness.
“Ow,” Julian croaked, blinking. He was lying down. Why was he lying down? His head ached. For some reason, he was on the worn brown couch instead of outside.
“Julian?” Elim murmured. Julian looked down. On the floor in front of him, his husband sat, worry creasing his brow.
“You passed out.” Garak’s voice had a strain to it that Julian couldn’t interpret. He didn’t meet Julian’s gaze. “Drink.” He handed him a glass of water, refreshingly cool.
Propping himself up sent shooting pains through his skull, and Julian winced. He took a small sip of water, and before he knew it, he had downed the entire glass.
“The heat, obviously,” Garak said flatly, refilling Julian’s glass.
“Oh.” Julian’s heart sank. How had he not known better?
“Don’t do that to me again,” Elim said, voice tight. He finally looked at Julian, and Julian understood.
“I scared you. I’m sorry.”
“You are not invincible.”
“I was so excited to start the garden that I got ahead of myself,” Julian sighed. Hubris had ensnared him once more. He reached out a hand, which Elim took, still frowning. “With my augmentations I never experienced the symptoms of hyperthermia before, so I suppose I didn’t recognize them in myself.”
“You worry me, dear.” Garak replied. He was still tense, but his thumb stroked over the back of Julian’s knuckles.
“I wanted to grow something with you,” Julian said simply.
“I know.” Garak had forgiven him.
“I wanted to start growing old with you.”
“There will be no ‘growing old together’ if you don’t take care of yourself,” Elim admonished.
Julian laughed, though it still hurt his head a little.
When the garden did grow, it was beautiful. Some years it crisped and dried in the sun and some years it rotted in the floods. Each year it was replanted, and grew again, stronger.
Elim and Julian sat on the back porch, happy and grey in comfortable clothes. They watched the sun set over their garden.