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A Special Day

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Julian woke up feeling more at peace than he had in ages. His back had finally untensed, his chest was filled with something warm and fuzzy, and his face actually felt smooth; the furrows of worry had gone slack.

It was nice.

He floated in a state of mild bliss for several minutes, aware that his alarm wasn’t due to go off and unwilling to leave this sensation just yet. It wasn’t like he had anything planned today anyway.

A gentle scent wafted into his nose. It was subtle, soft and sweet, yet almost spicy, like peppered flowers. It was foreign and it wasn’t. He couldn’t put a specific name to the smell, but it seemed familiar somehow, as if he really should remember its origins.

He wiggled under his blankets and made a little “hmmph” of pleasure, and that was when he realized that something was off. Or rather, on.

There was a hand on top of his. He was lying on his side, one hand on the mattress just below the pillow, and someone was holding his hand.

He’d gone to bed alone.

Julian’s eyes snapped open.

The first thing he saw was deep red and green fabric in twisting, angular designs. It was a thick, hardy material covering someone’s chest and arms, one of which was lying on the bed next to him. 

Above that was a grey face ornamented by ridged arcs around the eyes, open almost too wide in a comical expression. “Ah! Good morning, my dear doctor. Did you sleep well?”

Julian tried to blink the sleep out of his eyes. His insides made a faint little twitch in interest at the presence of his visitor, but he was too tired to make much out of it for the time being. 

So much for peace.

“Good, uh, good morning, Garak,” he yawned. “What brings you here so early?”

“Why, I thought we could spend the day together. I happen to have a day off work, and I’ve scheduled some diverting activities that I thought you might perhaps enjoy accompanying me on.”

That caught Julian’s attention. It would probably be a good idea to sit up for this. Clear his head, help him think straight. But Garak usually kept their touches to a minimum, just a brush of the fingertips here, a slight press on the lower back there, so Julian was loath to end their connection. He always enjoyed their gentle flirtation, but he also left it strictly to his lunch companion to initiate any physical contact. He’d never so much as dared to reach out on his own, afraid that his hand might tremble or the heat in his face would give something away.

But here Garak was, sitting beside his bed and holding his hand as if it was a commonplace occurrence. His skin was cool and his palm soft, although his finger pads had an intriguing texture. It made him think of geckos.

More importantly, however, was determining what the Cardassian was playing at. There must be some new intrigue afoot. It obviously wasn’t an emergency, because he wasn’t hurrying Julian out of bed or making a fuss. It couldn’t be dangerous, or his face would be more grave. But there had to be something going on, or Garak wouldn’t have broken into his room (again) and cleared a day for the two of them.

He realized that they were still holding hands for some reason, and his body instinctively curled tighter in on itself, drawing their grip into his chest. Crooked fingers pressed into his sternum, filling him with the same calm he’d woken with. What would happen if he scooted back and tugged more, coaxing the man into the bed with him? 

“Doctor…” Garak’s voice was chiding, but it was also softer than usual, and fond. There might have been a hint of something… more. But also a touch of exasperation. 

“Mm. Sorry. Just having trouble coming around. I was up late reading medical journals.” Another yawn. “But I’ll get up. Get moving. Alright.” Julian reluctantly let go and sat up, pulling the blankets away and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Garak readjusted himself in the chair alongside, giving him space. “So. What adventure awaits?”

The tailor nodded amicably. “If you don’t mind getting dressed, I thought we could begin with breakfast. This early, the replimat is usually fairly empty.”

Julian rubbed a hand over his face and stretched. “Sounds like a plan. Meet you there?”

Garak folded his hands as if he had all the time in the quadrant. “Oh, I don’t mind waiting for you.”

“Suit yourself. Just give me 5 minutes or so.”

After a quick visit to the refresher, Julian made his way to the replicator. What was he in the mood to wear today? He paused. His wardrobe choice could be important, depending on what sort of subterfuge Garak was involved in. Would he need something sturdy? Suave? Sophisticated? “Um, Garak? What should I wear?”

A heavy hand settled on his shoulder. “My dear doctor, I thought you’d never ask.” Garak started entering commands into the replicator. “Hand-made textiles are so much more desirable, but lacking that for now…” He squinted at the readout and typed something else in. “I can access a design or two from my shop. I hope you approve.” With a sparkling shimmer, a folded shirt and trouser combo appeared. “I do believe these are both your size.”

Of course he would know, having designed several of Julian and Miles’ holosuite costumes. But it seemed kind of sweet that he had the measurements memorized. Or maybe they were just saved in a file; Julian hadn’t been able to decipher everything that Garak had done. He accepted the clothing and took it back to his room.

A maroon shirt, made of something that was like a thick silk, with a V-neck. Forest green slacks. They weren’t colors he normally wore, much less paired together, but they were so dark that they didn’t really seem to clash. Actually, now that he thought about it, they matched Garak’s tunic. Was there a reason for that? He pondered it on their walk through the habitat ring. Were they going to be impersonating diplomats or business partners? Was this some sort of uniform? Or maybe it was the symbolism of the colors that was significant. 

Ah! Red and green were the main colors on Cardassian insignia. This must have something to do with Cardassia. 

With a small twinge of distaste, he hoped they wouldn’t have to deal with Dukat again.

Garak and Julian ordered their breakfast, and the doctor was directed to a table in the back corner. Sitting on it was a small vase of Bajoran irises. 

With a surreptitious glance around, Julian noticed that none of the other tables had this particular decoration. Another clue.

They sat down and tucked into their meals. Garak worked slowly through some sort of large egg nested in a thick, seasoned bread. The egg was uncooked, and he used a fork to dip doughy balls inside. As the shell cracked, runny yellow liquid spilled out to be soaked up by the bread. It smelled very savory and much more appealing than Julian’s own unimaginative bowl of milk and cereal.

“What do you think of the flowers, Doctor?” Garak cocked his head and waited for a response.

Julian studied them. The vase was clear, the petals narrow and some sort of bluish purple. They looked vaguely familiar. “Oh! These are the same flowers from when we first met!” He gazed around with dawning realization. “And this is the same table, too, isn’t it?”

The tailor smiled proudly. “Why yes it is. I’m so glad you remember. That was such an interesting day, as I’m sure you’d agree.”

Interesting was an understatement. Believing Garak was a spy that had remained behind on Deep Space Nine to steal Federation secrets, Julian had been an exhilarated jumble of nerves at being singled out. And when it was revealed that the resident Cardassian was actually using him to covertly collaborate with Starfleet to uncover a sinister plot between rogue Klingons and the Maquis, Julian had been absolutely astounded. Not even a few months into his new post, and here he was playing the part of messenger and ambassador and maybe even detective. It was like being a secret agent!

He’d matured since then, become a little more jaded and a lot more cautious, but the pure, unadulterated fun of the memories remained. “Oh, I definitely agree. You’ve made my life into even more of an adventure, Mr. Garak. I never know what to expect. Speaking of, what’s next?”

The tailor dabbed primly at his face. “There just so happens to be a craftsperson who recently moved onto the station.” He leaned forward confidentially. “They sell very fine Vitarian scarves, and agreed to let us have the first look at them before opening up their stall. If you’re finished, we can head over right now.”

Julian had been done for several minutes already. “Lead the way.”

It was no wonder that the tradesperson was selling Vitarian scarves, for they were actually a Vitarian themself. Shiny green scales with blue freckles covered their face, chest, arms, legs and feet, all on display, as the only clothing they wore was what appeared to be a very long and thick scarf in knots and drapes around their waist and one shoulder. Large black eyes that took up a third of their face grew even rounder as the pair approached. 

“Mr. Garak! So pleasant to see you!” chirped a high cricket-like voice. The proprietor waved a finned arm over the wares. “Please, view my scarves. I have many colors, many more than you can even see with your limited simple eyes. But the texture, it cannot be rivaled, and there are many pleasing sizes and shapes. You and your companion may take all the time you need.”

Their cart was piled high with an enormous heap of gauzy, rainbow-hued scraps of fabric, a few of them woven so finely that their edges fluttered with the passing air as Garak and Julian reached out to examine them. 

Every item was unique. Some were dyed in iridescent splotches, others just a smooth fade from a dark hue to a lighter one. None of them had any sharp, delineated designs, tending more towards blends and ombre, but they were still beautiful. Julian fingered a bluish purple one that almost seemed to glow. He was willing to bet that any humanoids with ultraviolet vision would see something completely different from what he did.

Garak held up a scarf that was less translucent than the others. It shifted colors in the light: first gold and silver, then more of a brown, and suddenly copper and green. He turned to look at Julian. “It reminds me of your eyes,” he said with interest, holding it up next to the human’s face. “The same earthy tones. And yet…” He shook his head. “It’s not quite right for the shade of your skin.” He tugged something from the bottom of the pile. “Now this, yes, this will do nicely.”

It was a tropical blue-green color in the center, but became more navy around the triangular edges. Garak gestured Julian closer and wound it artistically about his neck. The material was warm and luxuriously soft, and it was difficult to hold back from stroking at the cloth. Julian carefully watched Garak for guidance as he worked, but the tailor kept his focus on the presentation. He  eyed his final product critically. “Yes,” he murmured almost to himself. “This was practically made for you.”

The Vitarian produced a round mirror for Julian to admire himself. The scarf was twisted to form a little V under his neck. It gave the impression of a partially-unbuttoned dress shirt, he thought. The color was flattering on him. Even more so than the teal Starfleet used on their science uniforms.

However, the real concern was their reason for making this particular stop. Garak hadn’t even engaged the craftsperson in conversation so far. Was Julian supposed to be doing something and hadn’t even realized it? Should he be looking for a specific scarf, or maybe watching the Vitarian for suspicious behavior? Garak usually provided more direction by now.

What if that was it? What if Garak was testing him? Letting him have a go of it on his own.

Julian stifled a groan. If that was it, he was doing abysmally. He had no idea how their red and green outfits fit in with their decorated replimat table or this stall of scarves. He studied Garak and tried to mask his dismay. Was there at least a little hint? Was he supposed to like the garment he was wearing, or hate it? He hazarded a guess.

“This scarf does seem to... look nice. I think I like these colors.” He held one end out to look at it better. There weren’t any flaws or frayed strands that he could see. “It’s very well made.”

Garak beamed. “Then we’ll take it.” Oh good, he’d made the right choice. “How much?”

The two merchants completed their transaction, and Julian tried his best to watch and listen without looking nosy. They didn’t seem to be speaking in code or to be at odds with one another. Maybe this was just a step towards something else. Maybe they just needed a scarf for Julian’s ensemble. Although Garak wasn’t getting one for himself, so he wasn’t sure what its purpose could be.

“Come, my dear doctor.” Garak steered him down the promenade. “There happens to be a concert I thought we could attend at 0900 hours,” he commented. “Seeing as we have some free time, why don’t we take a stroll through the arboretum?”

“Um, sure. Okay.” Julian’s arm was already in Garak’s, and they walked towards the turbolift. Surely this would be something of import. Was it the concert that was important, or the arboretum? Maybe they were going to meet someone. Or deactivate a device that was hidden in one of the rooms. Or possibly what they were after was plant-based. Some natural chemical or leaves that could be crushed into a narcotic powder. Not that something like that was allowed down there, but perhaps they were going to discover who planted it and expose them.

Their stroll through the storage bay that had been transformed into a small botanical garden was leisurely. To Julian’s surprise, Garak kept their arms linked and spoke not of danger or devices but quietly expounded about Klingon knife blooms and Vulcan cholla. 

The latter was a plant Julian was familiar with. “The roots can be used to make a painkiller that’s particularly effective on Vulcans and Romulans,” he added, happy to be able to contribute to the conversation. “I studied them in the Academy, and we were able to extract the relevant chemicals and synthesize a similar version for Humans. It’s not quite as strong or versatile as triptacederine, but it can be very helpful for people with impaired immune systems.” He stopped himself, worried that he was going too in-depth. Talk like this tended to bore his friends, or go over their heads. 

But Garak wasn’t put off. “We have a similar plant on Cardassia actually, the sleep-lily. Although, as I’m sure you can guess, it has soporific side effects.”

Julian tried to refrain from leaning into the tailor’s side with contentment and gratitude. Garak never made him feel like he talked too much or was anything less than interesting. Their discussions always contained a fair amount of back and forth, speaking and listening, even when they vehemently disagreed. It made their relationship stand out among his other friends, and he valued its presence to a nearly inordinate degree. Wanting to at least express some form of appreciation, he patted Garak’s arm with his free hand.

To his astonishment, the man covered his hand with his own and gave a soft squeeze. “Are you ready to attend the concert, my dear? Or would you rather remain here and find a bench to lounge among the flowers?”

Julian hadn’t been prepared to be given a choice, depending on Garak’s covert agenda to lead them throughout the day. Had he missed some vital piece of evidence somewhere in the bay?

He was entirely too distracted by the feel of the gray scaled hand still holding his to make a coherent thought. Especially when he looked down and watched a thumb brush idly over his skin.

There was no way he was going to be able to concentrate here. “Let’s go listen to some music. Who’s playing?”

Garak released him so that they were once again only linked at the elbow and aimed their path in the direction of the next destination. “Mr. O’Brien’s string quartet, accompanied by a Bajoran pianist, and playing Trill classical baroque. Although the chief will not be present, seeing as the Defiant suffered yet another cloaking malfunction that takes precedence. I believe one of his ensigns will be replacing him today.”

What would Miles have thought, seeing Julian and Garak so close? He was a little grateful his other friend wouldn’t witness whatever they were up to. The Chief Engineer still regarded the exiled Cardassian with more than a little suspicion, and it was likely he wouldn’t approve of Julian getting tangled up in what he’d automatically assume was a nefarious scheme.

The small theater they entered held no more than thirty seats, an intimate gathering. The walls were a smooth cream color and composed of material that would both amplify the sound and prevent it from disturbing any adjoining rooms, and upon closer inspection, the chairs were thick and luxurious, arranged in a semicircle. Some of the seats were actually small couches. Garak led him to one in the back center.

A jolt of giddiness swept through Julian. Not only would this be one of the best spots in the room for acoustics, but it also felt like going to the movies when he was a teenager. All that was required was a dimming of the lights, and they’d be in the perfect location for necking. But of course that wasn’t what Garak had in mind, so Julian gave himself a stern talking to about not mixing business with pleasure. Time to take stock of the other members of the audience instead.

It was an interesting gathering. The families and couples were a varied mix of races from the Alpha Quadrant, no one group more prevalent than another. There was even a trio of Klingons, long hair and beards braided, teeth polished. 

It was obvious right off that everyone was dressed in formal clothing, with a pleasing mix of suits, gowns, robes, jewelry, head wraps, and coiffures. The participants were all wrapped up in hushed conversations or silently adjusting their formalwear to prevent wrinkling. Julian began to wonder if the event had cost money to attend. 

Before he had the chance to ask, a cellist, viola player, and two violinists came out to give a bow and sit down. The crowd hushed expectantly, eyes on the piano. A squat, round Bajoran who avoided eye contact took a seat. Their fingers hovered, lingering over the keyboard until it seemed as if everyone in the room was holding their collective breath, and then settled down and began rippling over the keys in a tinkling melody. The strings joined in, and the listeners settled back into their cushions as one.

Julian nearly jumped as he reclined. Garak’s arm was behind him, across the top of the couch. The tailor smiled to him from the side and tilted his head in question. He’d no doubt picked up on the Human’s hesitation. Julian blinked a few times and then relaxed. The seat under them dipped from their weight, and it resulted in the pair being pressed together along their entire sides, from shoulder to waist, upper thigh to knee. Julian made nervous fists in his lap and dug his nails into his palms, not sure what to do with his hands. 

Garak’s hand, at least the one behind him, came to rest on his upper arm.

Garak was holding him.

They were practically snuggling.

Julian tried not to freeze up, but he couldn’t help stealing several small glances around the room, wondering if anyone saw them cozied up together in the back. What would they think? 

Of course! That must be the game. Or part of it. Garak was making them look like a couple to throw off any suspicion. No one would suspect a loving pair wrapped up in each other to be involved in anything clandestine.

Another little thrill danced through Julian. He loved roleplay. Adored it. This was something he was achingly familiar with, as Garak no doubt knew after breaking into this secret agent program. The Cardassian was clearly the designated leader in this scenario, making Julian the Bond Girl. That was familiar territory. Julian heaved a deep sigh and wiggled deeper into the sofa. His anxiety melted away into enjoyment and anticipation. 

Garak sensed the change and leaned into him more, also relaxing.

The first song ended, and the lights over the audience dimmed. Only the musicians and their music remained lit, lending the room a distinctly romantic air. Julian’s mouth curled up. He’d been in almost the same situation a dozen times before, albeit usually in the dominant position. But that was alright; he could be flexible. Affectionate and pliant, check.

“Thank you for inviting me. This is lovely,” he purred into Garak’s ear, placing his hand strategically on one firm thigh. “I hope the tickets weren’t too difficult to come by.”

The tailor twitched, although if it was in amusement, distraction, or something else, he couldn’t be sure. “Shh. We’re supposed to be enjoying the music, my dear.” But mirth quirked at his lips.

My dear again. Julian had let it go the first time, assuming Garak had left off the customary “doctor” by mistake. But two times didn’t feel like an accident. It was part of the act, though, right?

A delicate touch at the nape of his neck skittered his thoughts into oblivion. Garak was absently rubbing over the minute hairs there. Julian closed his eyes and sucked in a quiet but shaky breath. That was a little much, wasn’t it? Who would even see such a gesture? And it was having devastating effects on his nervous system (as well as other systems). How was he supposed to pay attention when tingles were racing over his scalp, and little trails of fire were coursing down his back? And they weren’t stopping, either. The heat was settling firmly between his legs and creating an uncomfortable fullness.

Well, it was quite pleasant, actually. But it could quickly become extremely uncomfortable if the effects grew visible.

Okay. Concentrate on the music. The low bars on the piano, the sweet singing of the violins, the humming of the cello. Whatever song they were on now was slow and mellow, flowing over them like humid air on a lazy summer day by a river. Breathe in, breathe out. Picture the sun. A field of tall grass and flowers. A picnic blanket. 

Garak, on the picnic blanket.

Lounging on his side, head propped up on one arm, that infuriating smirk on his face.

Garak, pulling him down on the blanket, drawing him in for the first touch of their lips…

Bugger.

That wasn’t working.

The questing touch worked upward into his hair, and Julian almost moaned. 

Of course a tailor would be skilled with his fingers. 

Separating the locks with a slow upward glide, a gentle scratch down. Twirling little circles that made a crackling sound in his skull.

Oh god, it’d been so long since someone had played with his hair.

Giving in, Julian dropped his head to rest against Garak’s temple. The ocular ridge pressed into his brow, a knobby but intriguing sensation.

The music enfolded them now, swathed them into a tight, cozy cocoon. Julian could feel Garak’s chest rise and fall against his shoulder, smell that elusive earthy floral scent, hear an almost subvocal hum of contentment. It was incredibly soothing, something he never would have expected from his enigmatic lunch partner. A tender, raw feeling surged inside him, leaving something fluttery and vulnerable behind. He mentally willed the quartet to never stop playing so that no one (especially Garak) would see just how much he’d come undone.

For the next two hours they sat in silence amid the notes and shadows, the tailor slowly combing and petting, the doctor crumbling piece by piece. By the time the set wound to a close, Julian was all but nestled in Garak’s side, the arm having dropped down to firmly encircle his waist while a thumb rubbed back and forth over his hip. It was intimate and stimulating and he didn’t want it to ever stop.

But the lights came back up, and everyone around them began stretching and gathering up their belongings. 

Julian waited to follow Garak’s lead. There may be someone in particular that he wanted to see them together.

And it was also taking a considerable amount of willpower to keep his body under control so as not to embarrass him.

A ridged chin leaned into his head. “Shall we depart, doctor?”

There was a soft rustle and brief pressure, almost like… a kiss.

Julian’s stomach clenched.

But he couldn’t think of a sufficient reason for them to remain behind after everyone else had left, no matter how much he wished otherwise. He cleared his throat and reluctantly pulled away. “I suppose we shall. Is there- was there- um. Did you enjoy the show?”

Heated eyes raked over him. “Very much so. And you?”

Was it Julian’s imagination, or did Garak look like he wanted to continue their- 

Their what?

It was beginning to feel like a date.

“I’m having a wonderful time,” Julian answered truthfully. He ran his hands over his shirt and trousers to work the wrinkles out. The room was almost empty now; all that remained was a small group who had gathered up front to speak with the musicians. No one was paying them any mind.

Which begged the question: what exactly were they doing there?

Garak nodded his head gallantly. “Excellent. We have approximately three quarters of an hour left before lunch. Is there anything that you would like to do until then?”

Julian swallowed as his mind suddenly went blank. Absolutely empty. Nothing.

The tailor stood up and offered a hand. He took it, delighting in the way it grasped his so softly and with a deft lift, helping him to his feet. “Garak, I-” 

He what, exactly? Wasn’t sure what the puzzle was that he was supposed to be solving? Wanted this to be more than a mere cooperative effort at espionage? Why the devil had he opened his mouth in the first place? 

Garak ducked his head in an uncharacteristically timid motion and shuffled uneasily. When he looked up, he allowed his mask to slip just a little. “Doctor, I do hope I’m not being too presumptuous. But if you preferred, if you wouldn’t mind, that is… You are permitted to call me Elim.”

All of Julian’s awareness returned at once, coalescing firmly back in his body. “Of course. Yes. Elim.” 

He loved the way the ‘m’ thrummed on his lips. He’d murmured the name to himself a few times, alone at night and in bed, but had hardly dared to ever be accorded the privilege from Garak himself. 

Their attention was drawn to the last of the withdrawing crowd. The room was almost empty now.

If Julian had been a teenager (or even a plucky student at university), he would have tarried longer. 

But he was a grown doctor, Chief Medical Officer, in fact, and people in his position did not hide away in empty common areas in hopes of wild and reckless frottage. 

Especially not with exiled humanoids from the opposite side of a war spanning two quadrants and of dubious morality and intentions.

They silently wove their way through the collection of seats and back out of the room. 

The corridor felt much cooler and brighter than the private room they’d just left, and Julian vowed to get Garak somewhere more pleasant as soon as possible. “Where will lunch be?” he enquired. “You made it sound as if we’re expected at a certain time. Did you make reservations?”

The tailor seemed to blink himself out of a reverie.  A sly expression stole over his face. “Of sorts. Why don’t we take a walk along the promenade until everything is ready?” He linked their arms back together.

They strolled through the mall at a leisurely pace, window-shopping and chatting with vendors along the way. Several of Garak’s frequent customers and Julian’s regular patients nodded or waved to them, none seeming to notice much less remark upon their being nearly joined at the hip. 

A glance at a nearby chrono said that they had about ten minutes left, and Julian realized Garak still hadn’t named their destination. He wasn’t especially worried, seeing as they were approaching the more restaurant-heavy end, so got easily distracted by a sign blinking next to the station’s small museum. “Ancient medical tools from the B’hala archaeological dig?” he read excitedly. “Elim, do you mind if we take just a few minutes?”

Garak checked the time. “Yes, but don’t tarry. Perhaps we can return later.”

Julian stepped up to the door, but frowned when it didn’t whoosh aside. His eye caught a smaller sign. “Darn. ‘Closed for a private party.’ I guess we’ll have to come back another day.”

But Garak merely rapped on the glass with one knuckle. “The curator and I are on friendly terms. I’m sure he’ll let us just take a peek.” Sure enough, the Bajoran appeared immediately and waved them inside. “The good doctor here would like to see your new exhibit,” Garak announced.

A curt nod and wave of the hand. “Right this way.” 

They passed between two obelisks and took a path through holovids of historical events, then dodged around a few sculptures and models to a roped off section. An epitaph shone under bright lights on the wall, and underneath was a sealed case bearing various instruments of healing. Julian avidly analyzed scalpels, tweezers, and items of undetermined use while Garak studied a few dishes and jars for the preparation and storage of herbs.

Behind them, their host lit a brazier in the center of a low stone table. “This was used for heating tisanes and tinctures,” he lectured in the professorial tone of docents across the quadrant. “As you can see, it is still functional even today, thousands of years later.” He placed four short pillars of stone around the fire and set a marble ring on top, clearly meant to hold a pot. “Would you care for a demonstration?”

Before Julian could politely decline, citing their upcoming meal, Garak replied. “If it isn’t any trouble.”

“Not at all.” He produced a modern metallic bowl to place on top, and began filling it with vials and bottles of various liquids and spices. A salty, almost meaty aroma wafted out, making Julian’s mouth water. The Bajoran pulled out two wide, flat pillows from a storage cabinet. “Have a seat, and I’ll be right back.”

Garak took one and lowered himself to the floor in front of the table. Julian frowned but mirrored him. “Elim, don’t we have to be somewhere soon? You don’t have to humor me and make us late to the restaurant.”

“When have I ever humored you?” Garak asked with an affronted look on his face and a hand to his chest. “I would never. Besides, we’re exactly where we need to be.”

It took Julian a moment to puzzle that out. “You mean… this is our reservation? You scheduled a lunch for us in the museum?” He turned towards the entrance where the sign remained. “We’re the private party?”

If the smug smile wasn’t enough of an answer, the man bearing a tray of foods and dining implements certainly was. He set it down between them, displaying several plates of bite-size morsels that ranged from breads and cheese to meats and vegetables. Forks and two pairs of skewers completed the set. As he disappeared again, Garak speared a dense green block of something onto the prongs of one skewer. “I do believe this is an old Earth tradition called ‘fondue.’ I found the concept rather novel and the execution easy enough to replicate.” He held a hand over the boiling pot as if to measure the temperature. “Please, feel free to select whatever you desire.” Satisfied, he deposited the food-laden end of his utensil inside.

Julian crossed his legs and scanned the wide selection. It wasn’t until he had a skewer of poultry cooking that he took the time to think about their surroundings.

There was no secret agent casting furtive glances while sharing confidential information.

No passing of data rods or defusing of bombs.

Not even a questionable bartender having a whispered conversation with a shady patron or a code to decipher.

Was there?

It couldn’t be the food in front of them. Not the display of artifacts. Could there be a hidden camera, a listening device under the table? Julian felt around blindly but found nothing. He jerked his hands away when the proprietor returned, toting a bottle of wine and two goblets. 

“From the Emissary’s own vineyards,” the man proclaimed proudly, pouring a red wine into each glass. He bowed to Garak. “Let me know when you’re ready for dessert.”

The tailor gave him a pleased nod. “Thank you for your hospitality, Veral.” 

At a loss, Julian grasped at straws. “First the concert and now this? You seem to have spent a fair bit of latinum on today’s activities.”

Garak waved that away. “Professor O’Brien merely gave me her tickets, seeing as her husband would not be performing. And Mr. Veral and I worked out a trade: I created the robes for his daughter’s cross-mate ceremony, and in return he allowed me to make use of this space for one afternoon. All I really had to pay for was what you see here before you.” He gestured to the food and drinks.

“You’re well-connected, I’ll give you that.” They withdrew their skewers to cool off and replaced them with the second ones, bearing new chunks of meat and vegetables. Julian watched the steam rise from his plate, wishing it would form Romulan letters or twist into a picture that could give him some bloody clue as to what was going on. He was beginning to think that he just may never understand Garak.

“Do you know the story of how this museum began?” his friend asked companionably. When he shook his head, the tailor continued. “Two years ago a Ferengi collector arrived on Deep Space Nine with the intent of making a trade with Quark. However, just after setting up the meeting place of their transaction, he made the unfortunate decision to make a disparaging remark about a Nausicaan’s footwear. And you know how much they prize their boots.” Julian didn’t, but he smiled like he did. He assumed that Garak, as a tailor, would be privy to such details. “Unfortunately, Constable Odo didn’t arrive in time to save him from the phaser blast, only to prevent him from becoming a new pair.”

“Nausicaans use humanoid skin for their clothes?” Julian asked incredulously. He wasn’t sure whether to believe that part or not.

“They’re Nausicaans, my dear. They don’t hold the same value on intelligence or life that you or I do. Anyway, the shuttle was filled to the brim with the collector’s collection , and no legers recording from where any of it had originated. There wasn’t even any information on who his closest relatives were. Without receipts or certificates of authenticity, Ferenginar didn’t want anything to do with the items, and so they became the property of Deep Space Nine. Major Kira then procured someone to oversee them and keep Quark’s grubby claws away, and the Promenade Museum of Curiosities was born.”

Julian had built up a dozen questions by the end of the story, and the rest of the meal was spent asking and answering them, then getting into a debate as to the implications of various Rules of Acquisition. Before they knew it, the meal was over and replaced with a double serving of raspberry mousse cheesecake, served on one plate with two spoons. They dug in eagerly, and the conversation was put on pause due to copious amounts of tasting, moaning in bliss, and arguing over who had the larger piece and therefore deserved a bite of the other’s.

With a full belly and a brief lull in dialogue as they digested the afternoon’s delights, Julian leaned back on his hands. He’d forgotten all about trying to solve a mystery, but with the distractions at a minimum, it returned to niggle at his brain. He couldn’t help but feel he was missing something. 

The good news was that Garak didn’t seem particularly discouraged by his lack of detective abilities. There was still half a day left after all. Maybe the picture would become clearer soon. “So. Elim.” He caught himself in time; he’d almost said Garak. “What’s in store next? A trip to the observatory? A racquetball match? A game of chess or kotra?”

Garak wiped his hands on a napkin. “Any of those sound fine, as long as you are referring to watching a match and not actually playing. What would you like?”

That was unexpected. Julian had thought everything would be planned out hour by hour. But it was possible that nothing significant would be occurring until later. Which meant that he was being put on the spot. He stalled. “Are you sure you wouldn’t want to get out on a court with me? I know you exercise regularly based on the records from your physicals. Partners is a lot more fun than solo.”

Garak actually seemed to give the idea serious thought. “I suppose we could. Although I would prefer tennis. Much more dignified.”

Julian hid a smile at the thought of the Cardassian darting all over a racquetball court, leaping and diving. “Well, if you’re sure.”

“However...I would prefer my own garments to the replicated ones they provide in the locker room. Would you mind terribly if we stop by my quarters first?”

It wasn’t like Garak to ask for permission; usually he just decided on a plan of action and that was that. “No, that’s fine. Do we, ah, need to clean up here first?”

“No, Veral will take care of that.”

Julian rose and crossed to the other side of the table to offer his hand. Garak took it gratefully. And after he rose, he didn’t let go.

They stayed joined all the way to the turbolift and through the habitat ring to the tailor’s quarters. Julian enjoyed the touch, even though he didn’t know what to make of it. Could it be that Garak was more lonely than he ever let on? Or could he-

No. He couldn’t possibly be making a move after all this time. After years of lunches and thinly-veiled flirtations that never led anywhere. Adventures together, both alone and with the crew. Excitement, tragedy, wins and losses. At least, as the Chief Medical Officer, he was positive that Garak wasn’t dying. So there was one one thing he knew for sure.

As Garak let Julian into his quarters, he stated a disclaimer. “I didn’t expect to have you here this afternoon, so…”

Apparently he hadn’t. There was a large vase of roses on the coffee table and two unlit taper candles on the dining table. As if he were planning on a romantic dinner for two.

A violent twinge of jealousy spasmed through Julian. Garak had said he planned a day for the two of them, and yet here was expecting company in the evening. He hadn’t even known his friend was seeing someone. Had begun to suspect the innuendoes and teasing were just all part of an elaborate act.

“Doctor? Have a seat, and I’ll be with you shortly.”

Julian sat down on the sofa in a stupor. 

He’d waited too long.

He’d never made a move, and Garak was interested in someone else. Elim was interested in someone else.

The man reappeared, a beige ensemble flopping over one arm. He set it over the back of a recliner and took a moment to watch Julian. “Is everything all right, my dear?”

No. But he couldn’t just say that. 

He should go.

Sulk back home and punch a few pillows. Stare at the beautiful scarf he’d just received that morning. Regret the loss of something he’d never had the guts to try for in the first place. “I’m sorry. I guess I don’t feel up to playing anymore,” he answered hollowly.

Garak sat down next to him. “We could stay here for now,” he responded quietly. “I have the holosuite booked for 1700, so there’s no rush. What about some music?”

“Music?” Was the holosuite for the two of them, or for Garak and his date? That was still a whole four hours off.

“Computer: play Terran Twentieth Century Mix, version 1.02.” Garak patted Julian’s knee. “Doctor, do you dance?”

Numbly, he let the tailor guide him off the couch and into his arms. They clasped hands on one side, and Julian clasped the other arm while Garak took his waist.

Wise men say, only fools rush in. But I can’t help falling in love with you.

They swayed slowly, Garak taking the lead. Julian wanted to pull him closer until they were chest to chest and he could taste the tailor’s breath. His heart ached. He envied whoever the lucky person was that the candle and flowers were for. How he wanted it to be him. 

Shall I stay? Would it be a sin? If I can’t help falling in love with you.

But if this was all they had, a walk in the arboretum, a concert in the dark, a private lunch, and one last dance… well, that was more than he’d ever expected to have anyway. 

As soon as the song was over, he’d excuse himself. Leave Garak to prepare for the evening while he returned to his quarters to lick his wounds.

Julian raised his eyes to Garak’s, and his resolve melted away. The look there was so tender and sweet. 

This was a dangerous man. A secret agent, an interrogator, an assassin. Possibly a spy, though for whose side was a mystery these days. Perhaps only for himself.

But he had a softer side, too. A sentimentality that he vehemently denied but was present nonetheless. Humor and a giving nature. Optimism, no matter how much he claimed it was actually realism.

Julian loved him. 

Had for some time.

Under the piercing gaze, he steeled himself. Maybe it was selfish, but he wanted just one final thing. “Elim, I told you once, after our trip to Bajor for Rugal, that you could call me Julian. You never did. Could you… could you do that for me? Once?”

Garak’s hand on his hip slid inward to his lower back and tugged him forward until they were embracing. Julian set his head down on a scaled shoulder and tried to keep the tears from his eyes. 

“Julian.” His breath hitched. “My dear Julian, I know that I haven’t always been forthcoming with you, and as such I hardly deserve honesty in return. But if you could answer me this, I’d be most grateful.” Garak stepped back to separate them, and Julian gazed into his eyes. “Has this been a good Valentines Day for you? Have I done everything right? You appeared to be enjoying yourself so much earlier, and yet now you seem ready to leave.”

Julian’s knees almost buckled. Valentines Day? It was February already? He was so used to the Bajoran calendar that he’d lost track. 

Yet Garak had kept track. Had made and executed plans for it. Had in fact-

Wait. Everything had been a date. Not a spy game or undercover operation. A date.

Which meant that this evening… there wasn’t another person coming over. It was him.

Julian’s hand clenched tighter around Garak’s as he fought to bring his mind up to speed. “You really did all this for me?” he finally managed to rasp out, sounding a bit strangled past the lump in his throat.

“Forgive my assumptions, but you struck me as the sort to appreciate a grand gesture.” Garak bowed his head slightly and lowered his voice. “And a more forward approach, as evidenced by your response to my initial overture, and then corroborated by Mistresses Melora and Leeta.”

Julian allowed his brain to follow several paths at once to catch up. Yes, he supposed Leeta had approached him first, and Melora had definitely invited him in to her quarters and initiated everything that happened within. He wondered just how much Garak was privy to regarding those two, and hoped the “corroboration” stemmed from mere observation and not actual discussions with either woman. But he didn’t want to talk about them at this juncture; he wanted to focus on the person in his arms. He recalled all too well Garak’s introduction in the replimat and the blatant proposition that followed.

“If you’ve thought that since day one, why wait until now?”

Garak led him back to the couch. They sat close, with knees touching. “It injures my pride to say so, but I wasn’t always in my right mind under the implant. And after you removed it, I was rather ashamed of my behavior. I expected you to pity me or be disgusted, and when I came to you afterwards, I was certain you’d turn me away.” He shook his head and smiled ruefully. “But you pressed on as if nothing had changed. As if you truly had forgiven my transgressions, both towards others and yourself. I’m not accustomed to being on the receiving end of grace.”

Julian brushed a hand over his back. “Everyone deserves a little grace. And you did ask for forgiveness.” He thought about how best to sound supportive. “And to be honest, I was impressed by how quickly you recovered.”

Garak shifted awkwardly. “Yes, well. I did return to abusing the triptacederine for a while afterwards. But I knew how disappointed you would be if you ever found out, and the remorse was enough for me to taper off the usage until I no longer needed it.” He placed a hand on Julian’s thigh. “Seeing you once to twice a week helped. I couldn’t bring myself to let you down again.”

Now that he knew that touch was permitted and even welcome, Julian slid closer and wrapped an arm around Garak’s shoulders. “That’s very admirable, although you could have asked for my help and I wouldn’t have judged or condemned you. I’m a doctor, not a Vedek. I understand addiction.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, my dear, but I prefer to handle things myself unless forced to do otherwise.”

A chuckle escaped. “Yes, I noticed.” Julian drew his arm back. “So, that was three years ago. Am I really so intimidating that it took you that long to work up the courage to ask me on a date?” He could feel his eyes crinkle impishly with the barb.

But Garak merely raised a brow. “You can be more intimidating than you think, Doctor. But no, that wasn’t it. By this time my feelings toward you had become… sentimental. I no longer considered you a candidate for merely a quick tumble in the sand. However, anything more was strictly out of the question. I considered myself and my past much too hazardous, my secrets too dark, my enemies too many. So I became resigned to my fate as your weekly lunch partner.”

Julian knew he should probably stay quiet, but he couldn’t help himself. “I wish you’d said something. I spent all this time thinking you only saw me as a protege at best and a naive child at the worst.”

“Julian, my dear, regardless of how others may have perceived you, I never thought of you as a child. Overeager and unpolished, yes. But I saw your credentials long before you arrived on the station. It was my impression that loss of the first-place ranking in your class was a failure on the part of Starfleet, not yourself.”

“Wait, really?”

“You were obviously much brighter and more astute than your peers. I figured you merely didn’t try as hard as you could on the final assessment because you were bored. I was guilty of such an lapse myself once or twice at that age. But I digress. We do tend to let our conversations get away from us, don’t we?” Garak smiled fondly.

Julian grinned back. “We do.”

“Anyway, it became apparent to me that there was much more to you than I’d even previously assessed. You proved yourself a survivor time and again, especially after the psychic attack with the Lethean and that unflagging spirit in the internment camp, even after solitary confinement. You’re also far more devious than I’d given you credit for; hiding your augmentation for decades, and from me of all people!”

That deserved a response. “To be fair, that was one of my reasons for not escalating things with you on my end. I was afraid that if we got too close, you might discover what I was hiding.”

Garak’s eyes widened. “I knew there was something holding you back, but I assumed it was related to your Starfleet allegiance. If only I had known. What a chase that would have been.” 

Things were on more familiar ground now. Julian was used to their reciprocal banter, and he had more than a passing acquaintance with sharing confidences on a date. He lounged back in the cushions, careful to arrange himself in a flattering position. “Well. There’s no one I’d rather chase me than you.” They were no longer touching, and he hoped Garak saw it for the challenge it was.

But the Cardassian wasn’t finished yet. “Not even the infamous Falcon or Dr. Noah?”

“Those were a poor substitute for you, my friend. One of the reasons I loved that program so much was that I wanted to hone my skills and be worthy of you.” He felt his face burn. “I may have… gotten carried away with a few things. It was fun to feel confident and suave and have people admire me. But mostly I just enjoyed that I could fiddle with the settings so that it required more challenges and precision. That was why I was so worried when you joined me. You’re not supposed to be able to knock a person out with a champagne cork, but I had calculated the precise angle and blood vessel that would do the trick.”

Garak turned to set an arm on the back of the couch, his fingertips a mere few centimeters from Julian. “That is impressive. I hardly think I could do the same. Although what impressed my the most was-”

“Let me guess. Shooting you.”

“Of course! You proved to me that not only are you capable of making difficult snap decisions, but that you understood the necessity of eschewing sentiment for the greater good. I must confess that after that, I planned on pursuing you that next day when we agreed to return for lunch.”

Julian laughed and covered his eyes. “After I shot you. Makes perfect sense.” He dropped his hand. “Why didn’t you?”

Garak lowered his gaze. “Would you believe I lost the nerve?”

“I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

“Would you believe that I no longer have any reservations about altering the nature of our relationship, due to you thoroughly dismantling each and every one of them?” Garak’s old confidence slid back in, glinting behind his eyes. “And that--to answer your original question--yes, I really did all of this for you today?”

Julian exhaled with something akin to relief. “You don’t do things by halves, do you?”

“Not if I can help it.”

He played back several scenes from the day and one suddenly caught his attention. “You broke into my room this morning!” There was no apology, just a mischievous sparkle of the eyes. “Is this going to become a regular occurrence?”

Garak tilted his head curiously. “When I read up on human courtship, especially regarding this Valentines Day tradition, it was mentioned that Humans relish the occasional surprise. Would you rather that not happen again?”

Memories of peace and contentment floated back. A hand holding his. That was an experience worth repeating. “How about I just give you my code instead?” A thrilled smile lit up Garak’s face. Julian couldn’t help wiping it off. “Although… I’d prefer waking up to you in the bed next to me, rather than sitting in a chair alongside.”

He watched Garak’s ridges darken and the crest on his forehead flush blue. “My dear doctor…”

Julian scooted forward until his bent leg was against Garak’s hip and rested his arm on top of the one still over the top of the sofa. “That is where this is headed, isn’t it?” It was thrilling to see the tailor’s jaw drop slightly, to hear the surprised intake of breath. He extended one finger tentatively and traced a single scute on Garak’s neck. It filled with a speckled black, which quickly extended up and down the ridge. “And I did say you could call me Julian.” He licked his lips, dying to find out how the gray ones across from him would taste. “Elim.”

For all his augmentations, Julian had no idea who made the move or what happened in the first few moments, only that the next thing he knew he was straddling Garak’s lap while kissing and being kissed with an enthusiastic exuberance that released years upon years of repression.  “Thank you,” he murmured fervently while cupping a cheek and stroking a hand through silky black hair. “Thank you for all this.”

Garak gripped his hips tighter and nuzzled him back. “Happy Valentines Day, Julian.”