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Altering Course

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Nobody on DS9 was surprised when Julian signed up for a six-month stint on Cardassia Prime. In fact, he’d even overheard a comment that there had been a betting pool on when he would leave since the end of the war, a disconcerting discovery since Julian had only determined to go two weeks prior. The Federation relief effort was extremely short on medical personnel, and he did have more experience with Cardassian physiology than most. With so many Cardassian doctors and nurses killed after being conscripted for military service, Cardassia was looking at many years before it had enough medical professionals. It was natural for Julian to go assist once he and Ezri parted ways.

Ezri and Kira both came to see him off. Two and a half weeks after their split he was finally thinking that he and Ezri might actually be able to manage the ‘let’s be friends’ plan. God, he’d wanted their relationship to work. He did love her, and he believed that she loved him, but he hadn’t really been able to argue when she called it off.

You can’t say how much of this is because of Jadzia, can you? Neither can I. And we both deserve better than that. He knew even at the time that she was right, loathe though he was to admit it. But leaving – even if only for half a year – made the breakup seem very final.

“Take care of yourself, Julian.” She gave him a chaste hug, and Julian had to swallow hard because he would miss her hugs along with everything else.

“I will.”

“The Cardassians are very lucky that you like frontiers,” said Kira.

Julian shook his head slightly, amazed at how naïve he’d been when he first arrived on DS9. “Not a frontier. Their home.” He knew now that he’d initially ignored the scope of Bajor’s tragedy, blinded by his romantic views of practicing heroic frontier medicine. He’d never really apologized for that, but his remark got him a genuinely pleased Kira Nerys smile, so he figured she understood.


 

It was a good start, Julian thought, that the Cardassian sent to meet him wasn’t dripping with hostility. Avrek, as he introduced himself, collected Julian’s cargo and completed the necessary paperwork with great efficiency. It wasn’t long before they were in a ground transport and Julian could see the heartbreaking extent of the damage. They were heading through the city, or rather what was left of it, and he’d never seen so much rubble in all his life. The three months since war’s end might not have passed at all.

“If you would, Doctor, please look the other way.”

He did, turning his attention to Avrek just as he realized that a body was being removed from rubble. He suspected that at some point, he was going to start seeing dead Cardassian bodies.

For the present he wondered where they were headed. “Where am I going to be working?”

“You have been assigned to the Elgin’kor District.” After a pause, he continued, “The district hospital will be delighted with the additional supplies you brought, I’m certain.”

Julian was really hoping that the district hospital would appreciate him as a doctor, and not just for his supplies.

“As you are undoubtedly aware, housing is in short supply.”

“Yes. I was told to expect a communal living arrangement.”

“The Relief Coordination Office found a volunteer who has a spare room in his house. I would caution you, Doctor, that on Cardassia it is not wise to pry into your host’s past.”

“I understand.” Judging by the look Avrek gave him, Julian seriously doubted the Cardassian believed him. No matter. He was used to secretive Cardassians, or at least a secretive Cardassian, and he wasn’t particularly worried about his safety. Much as it galled some of them, the Cardassians needed Federation aid to avoid the deaths of millions more. The Relief Coordination Office wasn’t about to imperil that aid by placing a Federation volunteer in a truly dangerous living situation.

“Your host is the district pur-nim.”

“I’m sorry, the translator didn’t catch the last word. Pur-nim?”

“An ancient word that we have recently taken to using. The pur-nim is responsible for the equitable distribution of relief supplies, maximizing the resources of the district, and keeping order.”

“I thank you for expanding my Cardassi vocabulary.”

“You are learning our language?” Avrek sounded almost impressed.

“I’m afraid that at this point my knowledge is mostly limited to medical terminology.” That seemed a sensible place to start. He wasn’t terribly concerned about picking up basic Cardassi vocabulary, but so much of the language was based on context that he felt it would take far longer than six months to be truly fluent, even for him.

“Naturally.” A pause, and then, “I will deliver your supplies to the hospital. Your host will escort you in the morning.”

“Thank you.”

If the size of the houses was anything to go by, this was previously a wealthy neighborhood. Some houses seemed more or less intact, but everything was covered in the dust which had lately been settling out of the atmosphere.

Amid this bleak setting, though, he saw signs of hope: a small garden here or there; a group of children playing some kind of game with two large balls; a house under construction; groups clearing away rubble. But it was going to take a long time, that much was plain to see. Suddenly, his six months seemed like no time at all to really help Cardassia.

Avrek stopped the transport in front of a barely damaged house, set back on one of the more expansive lots in a stretch where the destruction seemed less pervasive. “I trust you have been given the contact information for the Relief Coordination Office.”

“Yes.”

“Should you require assistance, the office is staffed twenty-three hours a day.”

Right. He had to remember that Cardassian days were only twenty-three hours.

When they opened the rear of the transport, he pulled out his personal medkit and two bags. “The rest is for the hospital.”

“Cardassia thanks you, Doctor. Ah, here is your host.”

To Julian’s great shock his host was none other than Garak, who was wearing one of the smiles which Julian had at length realized was vaguely self-satisfied. “Really, Doctor, I would have expected a letter informing me that you were coming to Cardassia.”

“I was planning to show up on your doorstep one day and surprise you for once.” But with Garak, Julian supposed, he ought to have suspected something like this.

Avrek nodded his farewell and left Julian wondering if he should be flattered or annoyed that Garak had arranged this, because there was no way in hell it was a coincidence.

“You have surprised me before.”

“Name once.”

“Your fascination with Second Renaissance Bolian prose-poems. But I am neglecting my duties as your host. Do come in.”

It was warm and dark inside, as opposed to warm and sunny outside, but without the acidic smell of the dust. Julian stood for a moment while his vision adjusted, waiting to look at the place. When he could see, he realized that he was in a small entryway which branched off left and right, with a staircase in the middle. It was undecorated except for the geometric glass lights set into the wall.

“The guest room is this way.” Garak led him down the left hall. “Here is the washroom. We only have water for four hours a day, I’m afraid, and it’s rather strictly rationed, but there’s a sonic shower powered by the solar panels.”

The guest bedroom was spacious, with a bed easily large enough for two adult Cardassians, and Julian was starting to wonder about the lack of others. “Garak, I thought housing space was at a premium.”

He didn’t need to elaborate. One rarely did with Garak. “It is indeed. However, nobody wants to live in Tain’s house.”

“I hadn’t thought Cardassians believed in ghosts.”

“Nothing so foolish as ghosts, Doctor. They were worried about the booby traps, to use your peculiar human phrase.”

“There were booby traps?”

“There still are. No need to be alarmed. I have not had the time to enter Tain’s suite. I assure you, Doctor, the rest of the house is perfectly safe. Simply avoid the right wing upstairs.”

“I’ll do that.” He paused for a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. “You came back to this house.”

“It would have been quite selfish to take up space in other housing.”

Garak was probably also protecting Tain’s secrets, but Julian knew better to than to ask. Besides, he was busy asking himself why he was relatively unbothered about living the next six months in a booby trapped house.

Chapter Text

Two months on Cardassia and his coworkers still treated him with such stiff politeness that Julian expected the masks to crack at any time, but they never did. Was it because he seemed comfortable with Garak? That had been his initial theory – after all, the neighbors were still wary of Tain’s protégé. Julian had learned enough Cardassian body language to figure that out.

Now he wasn’t so sure. Slowly, people seemed to be warming a bit to Garak. Maybe that was because he was consulting for the government regarding the Federation, in addition to his duties as pur-nim and the community garden he oversaw. Maybe it was because they’d noticed how Garak chose smaller oktar for his own rations and gave the larger specimens of root vegetable to the children across the street. With Cardassians, it could be for any number of reasons of which Julian was ignorant, but he was certain that the district – or at least the immediate sub-district – was ever so slowly taking to Garak.

This, though, still left the problem of his overly polite colleagues. Since they weren’t going to tell him anything, he was determined to pry the information out of Garak. But that was best approached sideways.

“I get the distinct impression that Federation medical workers are not all welcomed,” he announced while cutting oktar. He was terrible at cooking with Cardassian ingredients, so his contribution to dinner preparation tended towards chopping and peeling. As usual, there was only barely enough food. Julian hadn’t been truly full since he arrived.

“Really? You should ask Dr. Peldar about that.”

“She won’t say a bad word about the Federation around me. I only know because two of the nurses underestimated human hearing again.”

“I assure you, Doctor, you are quite welcome.”

“But many Federation aid workers aren’t, are they?”

“This is truly a conversation you ought to have with Peldar. If you begin the conversation, I believe you will find her willing enough to speak on the topic.”

“My experiences so far have all featured Dr. Peldar with an unconvincing mask of complete politeness.”

“Did you think all civilians would have my acting ability?”

“No, but I did expect that she might’ve let it slip by now.”

Garak made a little tutting noise and added a touch of some dried herb to the soup he was making. “You should give her more credit. That’s impressive for one so uninitiated in the art of dissembling.”

“You’re deliberately missing the point.”

“Surely you are aware of our social hierarchy, Doctor.”

“I’m aware of it. If someone ever sat down and explained it to me, I might even start to understand it.”

“Dr. Peldar will not mention any… unpleasant thoughts she might have about the Federation because you are her superior in that regard.”

That he hadn’t expected. “It’s her hospital. I work for her.”

“And that, dear doctor, is precisely why you have endeared yourself far more than most Federation personnel. Nevertheless, my point remains. Peldar is dependent upon your goodwill and the goodwill of the Federation for your continuing services. She is in your debt, and therefore will not speak badly of the Federation unless you give her permission.”

“Which I give how, exactly?”

“Acknowledging that you are aware of such sentiments will do nicely.”

Julian finished with the oktar and moved on to the bevran, which looked rather like a yellow cabbage but had an odd, spicy aftertaste. Just the thing to pair with bland oktar, Garak had said, delighted to have a fresh vegetable for a change.

“Why doesn’t anyone ever explain these things until I ask?”

“How else would anyone know what you wish to understand?”

Not for the first time, Julian reflected that the Cardassian mindset could be extremely frustrating.


 

He found Dr. Peldar in her office, typing with even strokes. “Good morning, Dr. Bashir,” she greeted without looking up from her monitor.

“Good morning. Do you have a moment? There’s something I wanted to speak about.”

That got her attention, and she stopped typing to look at him. “Yes.”

“It’s come to my attention that not everyone is thrilled with Federation medical personnel. I’m not sure why… anyway, my point is, if there’s anything I can do to be more agreeable to Cardassian sensibilities, I’d appreciate you letting me know.”

This earned him a smile which seemed more genuine than her usual. “Someone has forgotten about your human hearing, am I correct?”

“Yes. I’m not offended, really, just curious.”

She eyed him for a minute, probably deciding what to say, before she informed him, “We are a proud people, Dr. Bashir. It is not easy for us to accept assistance. You do not come as a conqueror to a vanquished people; instead you try to learn our ways.” Another small smile here. “I will admit that you are nowhere near understanding us, but it is the effort that counts.”

“I might understand better if anyone could just come out and explain things,” he said with a trace of annoyance.

“Without your questions, how would we know what aspects of our culture you want to understand?”

“That’s what Garak said.” The words had barely left his mouth before Julian realized the significance of that. “Oh. I see. Everyone is going to assume I don’t care enough to learn, unless I explicitly state that I do.”

“Precisely.”

“And here I was trying not to appear rude by asking so many questions.” Obviously, he’d wrongly applied Garak’s reluctance to answer direct questions to Cardassian society as a whole. “If I wasn’t asking enough questions, how did you realize that I want to understand?”

“You are learning Cardassi. No other Federation aid workers are applying themselves to learning our language.”

“Because they are the conquerors?”

“That is the obvious conclusion, yes.”

He was clearly going to have to compose a message to the Federation Relief Office about this situation. The last thing anyone wanted was increasingly resentful Cardassians. He once again mused that interspecies affairs were damnably complicated.


 

Julian had received nothing more than a standard acknowledgement from the Federation Relief Office, which irked him, but then the coastal region had been flooded by a small tsunami, and he immediately lost himself in work. Their sub-district wasn’t directly impacted by the tsunami, but the hospital served all three sub-districts of the Elgin’kor District and one of them was coastal.

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami were believed to be a result of the planet resettling after the Dominion bombardment, he’d heard, but he didn’t have time to think about the planet when he was overwhelmed with the people. Three weeks had flown by with his world consisting of nothing more than treating patients and the occasional short stint of sleep. It was generous to even call his place of work a hospital; really it was a clinic, with a grand total of two doctors (himself included) and five nurses. All of them had worked far past the point of exhaustion in the aftermath of the tsunami. First, of course, there had been the immediate injuries, and then the infections, pneumonia, and viruses had set in.

Julian vaguely recalled dashing off two lines to reassure Miles, Kira, and Ezri that he was unhurt, and retyping the same lines a few days (hours? Time had rather lost its meaning) later when he received an anxious message from his mother. He supposed he ought to write something slightly longer, but on his first day off in three weeks he was going to do nothing but relax.

Twelve hours of sleep and a sonic shower had done him considerable good. He really wanted pancakes, but that was out of the question. If he could program the replicator in the first place, energy rations were in effect and personal replicators required far too much energy. Even the hospital only had enough energy to replicate a meager amount of supplies every few days. If Garak hadn’t been able to secure extra antibiotics… well, it didn’t bear thinking about.

He found Garak in the kitchen stirring something. The Cardassian never looked up when greeting, “Good morning, Doctor.”

“Hello Garak.”

“I’m pleased to report that the impa crop will soon be ready to harvest, and the sub-district will have fresh greens.”

“Lovely. I do have a question, though.”

“Ah, now I know you are truly feeling better.”

He chose to ignore that. “If you’re the pur-nim for the district, isn’t this favoring your own sub-district?”

“Not at all. The other two sub-districts already have someone overseeing their community gardens. Would you care for some porridge?”

“Please.”

Breakfast was bland but edible, and he made sure to take his vitamin/mineral supplement. He’d brought a year’s supply, just in case he decided to extend his service on Cardassia, because he could hardly do his best work if he was himself suffering from nutritional deficiencies.

“What is this named?” he asked in Cardassi. His conversations with Garak these days contained a fair number of Cardassi words, which seemed to please Garak despite the man’s grumbling that he wanted to keep his Federation Standard sharp.

“Dasku.”

“Is dasku usual breakfast?” he tried, but Garak’s amused smirk was immediate proof he hadn’t spoken Cardassi correctly. Again.

“You placed emphasis on the verb, Doctor.”

“Not on purpose.”

“Nevertheless, you did, and by doing so you have indicated extreme disbelief.”

One of these days, Julian promised himself, he would actually manage two proper Cardassi sentences in a row.


 

“I suppose you’re going to tell me it was obvious that Ald’Nu was hacking into the government computers,” said Bashir when Garak had explained the clues which revealed all other crimes in The Stairs of Lenkar.

“No. Her crime is the most difficult to determine.”

Bashir’s appreciation of enigma tales had improved slightly during his time on Cardassia, though he was still perplexed and unimpressed to a degree which demonstrated how differently humans tended to think. Garak found it instructive to note which aspects of Cardassian society were the easiest for his friend to comprehend, and which he overlooked altogether.

“We agree on that, at least.”

“If we agreed on every point, Doctor, our literature discussions would be rather dull, don’t you think?”

“In that vein I really think that the criminals’ motivations are woefully under explored.”

Garak himself agreed with that assessment for a single character – really, killing one’s own sister deserved more explanation than your average crime – but overall he felt that Bashir was missing the point. “Why would their motivations matter? They committed a crime.”

“Motivation matters a great deal. It might even make the reader sympathize… oh, I suppose you can’t have Cardassian readers sympathizing with criminals, can you?”

“Certainly not.” Except in some highly illegal works which Garak would not admit to having read.

“Even so,” continued Bashir, undaunted as usual, “it makes the characters very one-dimensional.”

“Enigma tales are not written for the purpose of creating compelling characters. They are written to present the reader with a puzzle to solve.”

“Seventeen different puzzles, most of which have nothing to do with each other.”

That was what made enigma tales so delightful. “If all the crimes were related, that would be a conspiracy.”

“Conspiracies are a great favorite of human writers, or haven’t I given you enough examples over the years?”

The doctor missed the point again. Once Garak learned of the genetic enhancements, he had briefly wondered if Bashir actually understood but deliberately feigned ignorance. This line of thought, while intriguing, made very little sense in light of Bashir’s post-revelation period of showing off at every available opportunity. Really, he could only be thankful that the doctor had eventually become comfortable enough with his abilities that he neither hid nor flaunted them. It made his company much more enjoyable.

“A conspiracy, Doctor, is simply unacceptable. It is truly the mark of lazy writing,” over the beginning of Bashir’s predictable protest, he continued, “and have you considered the implications of a conspiracy?”

“There’s a chance that the conspirators might have a valid point, no matter how reprehensible their actions.”

“Try again.”

Bashir considered the idea and Garak banished the stray thought that in three months the doctor would return to Deep Space Nine, leaving Garak once again bereft of lively discussion. It was not so easy to find a good conversation partner in Cardassia City anymore.

“I suppose you could argue that the conspiracy is a failure of the systematic indoctrination of loyalty to the state, although I daresay that’s eroded significantly in the last few years.”

His assessment of recent events was correct, which both distressed and satisfied Garak, but that was not the salient point. “You are making this too complicated. The conspiracy exists.”

“It wouldn’t be much of a conspiracy story other - oh.” Garak could tell from Bashir’s expression that he finally comprehended, or at least thought he did. “The very existence of the conspiracy undermines the state.”

“Exactly. No author would dare suggest that a widespread conspiracy would go unnoticed by the state.” Or rather, the Obsidian Order, but he didn’t need to elaborate on that. “Unless, of course, the work in question was set well in the past, when it might be permissible in certain cases.”

Bashir shook his head slightly. “Even when I feel as though I understand enigma tales, I don’t find myself particularly fond of them.”

“Perhaps they’re an acquired taste.”

“Perhaps they’re a Cardassian taste.” The doctor stifled a yawn. “As fascinated as I am, I do owe it to my patients to be well-rested tomorrow.”

“Then I shall bid you goodnight, Doctor.”

“Goodnight, Garak.”

Alone in the common room, Garak spent several minutes looking at the chair Bashir had occupied. When Bashir left he would miss the doctor more than he cared to admit.


 

“How charming,” noted Garak, apropos of nothing so far as Julian could see. “The couple to our left has just begun courting.”

Julian risked a glance to the left as he and Garak walked around Kelvan’ar Park (or rather, the section of Kelvan’ar Park which had survived the Dominion assault, as Garak had pointed out three times that the most spectacular landscaping had been destroyed). He didn’t see what Garak did, which was not altogether surprising. In truth, he’d been enjoying the simple fact that it was late autumn and finally a more or less comfortable temperature for humans.

“Would you care to share how you know that?”

Naturally, Garak couldn’t just come out with a straightforward answer. “Observe for a moment, Doctor. What do you see?”

They walked past the couple in question, Julian enjoying the slight breeze. Although the way he felt it stir his hair reminded him that he’d have to ask Gentach, the barber, for a haircut. “They were sitting quite close. It appeared that their knees were touching.”

“Very good.”

“But I’ve seen plenty of couples with their knees touching.”

“True, but we have established that they are, indeed, a couple, have we not?”

“Yes.” He’d figured that much out about the complexities of Cardassian physical contact, at least. Couples tended to sit touching knees and stand touching shoulders.

“Very well. Continue.”

“Her hand was on his knee. But I’ve seen that before as well.”

“Perhaps it was before you observed them, but she had just placed her hand on his knee. Now, did you note the expression on his face?”

“No,” confessed Julian. “I was enjoying the breeze.”

Garak made an exaggerated sigh. “And you’d been doing so well. He was a picture of barely restrained delight.”

“Have we reached the part of this conversation where you explain the cultural context I’m so clearly missing?”

“A traditional Cardassian courtship consists of three phases prior to betrothal. The suitor will indicate a desire to court by contact of the knee or shoulder, as you have seen. The person in whom he has expressed interest will accept the suit by placing his or her hand on the suitor’s knee or shoulder.”

This was interesting. Julian found Cardassian body language much more difficult to learn than the language, even with the ridiculous number of ways a Cardassian verb could be conjugated. It didn’t help that he was receiving far more assistance with verbal language than the subtle body movements. If he was lucky, he might yet coax some further information from Garak.

“And when I see a couple with their fingers intertwined?” From what he’d seen Cardassians didn’t hold hands the same way humans did; instead they linked only their fingers.

“That is permissible once the suit has been accepted, so it really says very little about the relationship.”

“So instead of asking for a date, a Cardassian will make sure he’s touching knees or shoulders with the object of his affections?”

“His or her. Gender plays no role, as it does for many species. But yes, you are correct – among other signs.”

“Such as?”

“A slight decrease in the amount of space between their bodies will generally precede the actual contact.”

This was more information on Cardassian body language or relationships than he’d ever received at once, and Julian was so intrigued he nearly walked into a bush when the walking path turned, to Garak’s obvious amusement. “If placing a hand on the suitor’s knee or shoulder is a yes, what signifies no?”

“A lack of response within eight meetings is quite final.”

“You mean he could’ve been waiting weeks for her answer?” This was further proof that Cardassians could never be rushed.

“Patience and persistence are desirable traits in a spouse,” replied Garak. “If you are interested, Doctor, I will send you a short instructional piece written for suitors from other parts of the Union, which explains courtship in detail. Unfortunately some of the outer colonies lost much of the nuance of courtship.”

“Of course I’m interested.” Moreover, he felt like he’d passed some kind of test, to be given that information without asking for it. Cardassian social mores were so complicated that it wouldn’t surprise Julian in the least if he’d somehow passed a test without knowing he was being tested. Nor was this the first time he’d had that idea since arriving on Cardassia.

He really should have been insulted, or at the very least annoyed, but each time he was rather pleased to think he’d passed some kind of unknown test.


 

Having read the ‘how to properly court on Cardassia Prime’ guide Garak provided, Julian was now ready to discuss the concept further. While chopping oktar (and wasn’t everyone sick of oktar by now), he hoped Garak was once again in a mood to provide actual information. “The couple we saw, where the woman gave the man permission to court her.”

“I trust you have read the information I provided?”

“Yes. I understand the first phase – the suitor is essentially proving his or her potential as a partner.” Along with a short list of permissible physical contact, the first phase of courtship seemed to consist of gifts from the suitor to the courted, and dates in public places.

“An accurate, if somewhat simplistic, analysis.”

“Then the suitor is given permission to use the courted’s first name…”

“‘Courted?’ What an inelegant translation.”

Julian refused to be sidetracked by Garak’s linguistic complaint. He could take that up with the UT program that had translated the text. “… which brings us to the second phase. Your courtship is full of rigid delineations. I hadn’t expected that from a culture with such ambiguous language.”

“Cardassi is not ambiguous, it’s rooted in context,” huffed Garak.

“Which makes it ambiguous. But I digress. The second phase, again, makes sense. The couple is considering their lives and ensuring that they are compatible.” Here the dates could take place in the suitor’s home, as well as public places, and the couple asked each other the kind of questions that humans tended to raise over time. Serving the state came up more than it did for human couples, but the idea remained more or less the same. Also, the list of permissible physical contact got longer.

“That’s quite crucial, since we Cardassians are loathe to dissolve marriages.”

“The guide said that the courted will end the relationship upon deciding they’re not a compatible couple.”

“Naturally.”

“What if the suitor decides that?”

“It’s very rare and suggests the suitor did not approach the courtship with due consideration.”

“So the suitor is already nearly certain that they want to marry this person before they even ask permission to begin courtship?”

“Correct.”

“Okay." Nothing like a little pressure. "Back to the phases, it’s the third phase that I’m not clear on.”

“Once the ‘courted,’” Garak said the word with clear distaste, “invites the suitor to their home, physical contact is unlimited. How is that unclear?”

“What’s the purpose of this phase?”

Garak briefly looked up from his attempt to make protein bars more palatable. “Courtship is a serious matter, leading to marriage. The third phase ensures that the couple is truly compatible – in every sense.”

“I see. Making certain that their lifestyles and desires align?” And sexual proclivities, if he’d interpreted correctly.

“Precisely.” With a final sprinkle of salt, Garak seemed satisfied with his protein bar creation. He dumped the chopped oktar on top, then slipped the whole dish into the oven.

“Alright. That brings me to another question. Courtship is a serious matter for lifelong commitment. What about lack of commitment? Do Cardassians have casual sex?”

Garak was startled enough that his head jolted up with decidedly less grace than usual. He looked at Julian for a moment before answering, “Yes, of course, but we don’t talk about it.”

“Casual sex, or sex in general?”

“Either, unless we know the conversation partner extremely well. You might not have realized, since the military men are uncouth enough to brag of their sexual conquests, but it’s not done in polite society.”

“So I shouldn’t ask my colleagues.”

“I wouldn’t recommend it.”


 

Inda Rokul had impressed Garak from the moment he realized what she managed to accomplish at such a young age. She had arrived in their sub-district with two younger siblings and a cousin and, finding only the half-ruined house across from his own for shelter, she settled there and cared for the three children. It was some weeks before the youngest child revealed that his sister was only sixteen years old – far too young to be a head of household.

Age notwithstanding, Garak continued to refer to her by her family name, as she had earned the respect of being addressed as an adult. He had also begun a discreet campaign of assistance, slipping a bundle of nutritious dried seaweed from Mila’s kitchen into her rations and ‘finding’ new shirts for the children which he fashioned from a bedsheet.

Bashir had noticed Garak’s aid immediately – Garak liked to believe that he could give himself some credit for honing the doctor’s observational skills – and when the opportunity arose, aided Rokul as well. The first opportunity presented itself when his ‘care package’ arrived from Deep Space Nine. Bashir had characteristically insisted on sharing the contents of his package. Consequently Garak had been given no choice but to partake of the fish soup Bashir called ‘chowder’ followed by the great luxury of fresh strawberries, sent in a small stasis box by Lieutenant Dax. Garak had very sensibly pointed out that Bashir could enjoy two meals himself, but the doctor considered that unacceptable and Garak had to admit he enjoyed the meal greatly.

It was the first time he had been full since his return to Cardassia, and he was savoring the sensation when Bashir remarked, “That was delicious, but I do feel guilty being full when so many people are hungry.”

“You are here by choice, Doctor. That entitles you to enjoy the contents of your ‘care package’ without guilt.” Eyeing the box again, he added, “If Lieutenant Dax was Cardassian, this would be an indicator that she wants to renew your romantic relationship.”

“She isn’t and she doesn’t. It’s impossible to have a healthy relationship between two people and a ghost.” At Garak’s raised eyeridges, the doctor clarified, “Metaphorically speaking. Anyway, the package isn’t just from Ezri. Didn’t you hear the vid messages playing?”

Garak had indeed, but he’d wanted to ascertain for certain the state of Bashir’s relationship with Dax. “From a certain distance, doctor, most female voices sound the same to me.” That was a biological fact of Cardassian hearing, although the required distance was somewhat further than Garak had been while Bashir was watching the messages in question. Garak had clearly heard that the Tarkalean tea infusers were from Kira. ‘Disgustingly sweet, so you should like it,’ had been the colonel’s precise description.

“As I was saying, though, so many people are hungry. I think the least I can do is give what I would have had for dinner to Rokul and the children.”

“A fine idea, if unsubtle. I shall contribute as well.”

“She already knows you’re helping her.”

“Does she?” Clever girl.

Bashir nodded. “Oh yes. She informed me emphatically that, no matter what others might say about you, you are a good man. And that you gave her some of your own seaweed.”

In his lifetime Garak had been called many things, but to his knowledge ‘a good man’ had never been on the list until now. He found it unsettlingly pleasing. “Alright, Doctor, we will bring Rokul the additional food in the morning.”

“Let’s include some poldor flour. The trace minerals are important for growing Cardassians.”

Poldor flour had a slightly tart aftertaste which was not entirely appealing to the Cardassian palate, but Dr. Bashir was delighted with the trace minerals of this Vulcan staple and moreover nobody on Cardassia Prime was in any position to refuse food aid, no matter how foreign.

“We will. Now, Doctor, what is this that people have been telling you about me?” He suspected, of course, but suspicions were never as good as earwitness accounts.

“Several individuals warned me about the booby traps.”

“Surely that’s not all.”

Bashir’s eyes shifted, indicating his discomfort at even repeating the allegations against Garak. It was really quite charming. “There may have been mentions of the Obsidian Order.”

“I would have been disappointed if there weren’t. Really, Doctor, you needn’t worry about protecting my feelings. I am not that fragile, I assure you.”


 

Not only had the infirmary staff on DS9 sent the latest medical journals plus a large enough slab of peanut butter fudge for Julian to share with Dr. Peldar and the nurses, they’d also included a generous supply of selenium supplements in pill form. Obviously someone had checked the medical aid requests before contributing to his care package, for which Julian was grateful. Adequate selenium was crucial for proper fetal development in Cardassians and with the current food situation being low in selenium pregnant women desperately needed supplementation.

Volag, the senior nurse, walked over while Julian was putting the supplements in a storage closet. She’d learned to recognize Federation Standard labels for key medical supplies in the far too infrequent cases when some arrived at the hospital.

“Is that selenium, Doctor?”

“Yes. The infirmary staff on Deep Space Nine included some in my care package.”

“What is this ‘boxed care?’”

He made a mental note to ask Garak for a more accurate Cardassi translation of ‘care package.’ “It’s a centuries-old tradition on Earth that when someone is away from home, their friends or family will send a box with items that person might miss.”

“And your associates think you are missing selenium?”

“They know that I’m woefully short on supplies, so they included the selenium along with other gifts.”

Volag still looked a bit confused, but eyeing the selenium she concluded, “I am grateful for the kindness of your associates, Doctor. Please convey my gratitude on behalf of the district.”

“I will. There’s also peanut butter fudge in Dr. Peldar’s office, if you’d like to try a dessert from Earth.”

“Legume spread sweet?” She pursed her lips, unimpressed.

“I’ll admit the translation doesn’t sound appealing, but it’s really quite good.”

“Since you are generous enough to share your boxed care with us, I look forward to trying this dessert. I have never sampled human sweets.”

Julian liked Volag. She was a highly competent and experienced nurse with a grandmotherly manner which never failed to reassure patients, and she never treated Julian’s questions about Cardassian culture as an inconvenience even though he was certain they sometimes were (the problem being he could never be quite sure when). It was a pleasant change to introduce her to part of his culture.

“Doctor Bashir.”

He turned to see their main night nurse with a half-eaten piece of fudge. “Hello Borin. How do you like the fudge?”

“It is a delightful sweet. Dr. Peldar said you received it from friends on your station?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you for sharing with us.”

“My pleasure.”

“I am saving the remainder for my daughter to enjoy. Volag, you must try this sweet. Zynhar says she will gift most of her portion to the man she is courting, but I suspect she may not have any left by the end of her shift.”

Volag was now more interested in the fudge. “I will sample this sweet shortly. As for Zynhar, she would do well to restrain herself. You men love your sweets.”

Borin bowed his head slightly. “That I cannot deny. Good day to you both.”

“Good day.”

“Zynhar is courting someone?” Julian asked, as this was news to him.

“For several days now. Are you familiar with our courtship practices, Doctor?”

“Garak gave me some basic information, yes.”

“Zynhar is young to be courting, but so many of our men were killed during the war. I believe she wants to make sure no other woman takes her man away. They grew up as neighbors, I’m told.”

Before Julian could reply, the alarm sounded to call everyone for an emergency. He had a sinking feeling that this was related to a particular stretch of rubble which had been scheduled for removal and which struck him as unstable.

As soon as he reached the front room, he could see he’d been correct. Nearly an entire removal crew needed attention, so he grabbed a tricorder and got to work.

Chapter Text

Having just completed his latest reading material, Julian asked, “Do you want to borrow Shalava?”

“That depends entirely on what it is,” replied Garak without looking up from his own worn book.

“It’s a fairly recent Betazoid novel, highly acclaimed.”

“Do the characters always know what everyone else is thinking? If they do I’m not interested.”

Instead of answering Julian held out the padd. “Read it and find out.”

After a moment Garak accepted. “Very well.”

In fact the main character had no telepathic abilities at all, but there really was no telling if Garak would like Shalava. Julian had given up trying to predict Garak’s literary preferences years ago due to constant failure.

He himself had enjoyed Shalava, which was a welcome distraction from the sadness of his shift at the hospital. One of his patients from the rubble collapse had died after a few agonizing days for the family. The worst of it was that Julian felt he might have saved the woman if only he had access to adequate medical equipment. He knew that he was doing good work on Cardassia – that very afternoon he’d also snatched an arm from the jaws of amputation – but it rankled that he could have done more if properly equipped.

Garak recognized Julian’s glum mood and set aside his own reading. “Your study of Cardassi is progressing nicely, Doctor.”

“My reading comprehension is considerably better than my attempts to speak.”

“Follow me.”

Julian knew better than to ask where they were going; he simply trailed Garak up to the second floor, which he hadn’t yet visited. If Garak went upstairs, Julian never saw it. That meant the booby traps in Tain’s suite were probably still in place. It was odd, he mused, how one could get used to living in a booby-trapped house.

“I believe you are now able to appreciate the library.” With that Garak opened the door and revealed the room.

This was easily the largest room in the house, packed with row after row of bookshelves. Not a single datarod in sight, only bound volumes. Julian did a quick calculation based on the number of books in the nearest shelf and estimated a total of seven and a half thousand books. “Garak, this is amazing!”

“I thought you would approve.”

“May I have a tour?”

“Certainly.” Pride was evident in Garak’s voice. If this collection had been Tain’s – Julian supposed it had – Garak could be proud of this part of his father’s legacy.

Though with Garak, it was entirely possible he was proud of Tain’s entire legacy.

“The first three rows are poetry. Here are the complete works of Iloja of Prim. Or rather, the complete pre-exile works. I hope to add the poems he composed on Vulcan to the collection, now that there is no Literature Review Board to disallow it.”

One of the few possessions Julian had taken to Cardassia was a volume of Iloja’s poems composed in exile, in both the original Cardassi and Federation Standard, which had belonged to Jadzia. Worf had solemnly presented it to him after they destroyed the Monac IV shipyard, and Julian treasured the book because he’d treasured Jadzia.

“Jadzia was very fond of Iloja’s poetry.”

“Commander Dax had excellent taste in poetry, though I prefer prose myself.”

Garak allowed him a moment to remember Jadzia before continuing. It was easier to remember her now, less painful and more joyful although it still ached a bit. Over the previous few months Julian had realized Ezri’s arrival on DS9 had interrupted his mourning for Jadzia, and it wasn’t until he was working in the ruins of Cardassia that he was able, finally, to finish grieving the loss of his friend.

Garak held out a book of Iloja’s poems. “Perhaps you would like to read this.”

“Yes. Thank you.” The book was heavy in his hand and looked old enough to have been printed in Iloja’s lifetime.

“I also recommend Printoc the Younger, one of Iloja’s lesser-known contemporaries. Printoc the Elder, his great-great uncle, is more challenging as the language is quite archaic. Even by the standards of his own time, in fact, and the antiquated language is part of his charm.”

“I doubt my Cardassi is ready for Printoc the Elder just yet.”

“Should you change your mind, Doctor, the entire library is at your disposal.” There was something in Garak’s expression that Julian couldn’t define, but he felt certain that the offer wouldn’t have been made to anyone else though he could not explain why.

“I thank you,” he replied in Cardassi.

“None are required.” Switching to Standard, Garak added, “The joy of literature lies in the sharing.”

There was some undercurrent here that Julian didn’t understand, some part of Cardassian culture of which he remained ignorant that he felt certain would explain everything. He had plenty of practice with ignorance where Garak was concerned, so as was his custom in these circumstances he focused on what he did understand, namely, Garak’s tour of the library.


 

A male Cardassian in second-stage cardiac arrest had a 41.27% chance of survival if quadricyalopine-B was administered within ten minutes. Quadricyalopine-B dosages had to be calculated based on six different factors and their current patient was at least sixteen minutes into second-stage cardiac arrest, which meant his chance of survival was already down to 29.48% and Dr. Peldar was just beginning her calculation.

“Twenty-two cc’s,” Julian announced.

“Doctor, it’s a very precise…”

“I know.” He dialed the hypospray to twenty-two cc’s and waited for Dr. Peldar’s nod before administering. The drug took effect within seconds, and the patient’s heartrate moved toward normality.

“I thought you’d never a treated a Cardassian in second-stage cardiac arrest.” There was a hint of accusation in her voice.

“I haven’t, though I read about the procedure.”

Now she was downright suspicious, which wasn’t unusual for a Cardassian. “You read about the procedure and that allowed you to instantly know the correct dosage of quadricyalopine-B? I was under the impression that human memory is not sufficient for such a feat.”

It wasn’t instant, per se, but that wasn’t really the point, was it? He forced himself not to mutter when explaining, “I was genetically enhanced as a child.” Good. That didn’t come out sounding like he was ashamed. “I ran the calculation twice.”

Dr. Peldar was thankfully curious, not upset. “I thought the Federation outlawed genetic enhancements.”

“It does.”

“An odd thing to ban. See how useful it was just now. Un’Sil is recovering well, although we’ll have to take him off the work crew. Stubborn man will keep moving the heaviest rubble and send himself right back into arrest.”

“You know him?”

“He’s my cousin’s cousin and a neighbor.” She looked at the patient’s vital signs. “I’ll send Volag in for him, because I need to see to that compound broken ulna in the waiting room.”

It was more like a crushed ulna, the result of another rubble clearing accident. Julian had a more cheerful appointment: he was monitoring a woman pregnant with twins. Multiple births were something of a rarity among Cardassians and needed close attention.

He found Dr. Peldar’s reaction to his genetic status refreshing. No need to explain, no confusion, no shame. She simply accepted the information and moved on. It was a response he could get used to.


 

Dr. Bashir was by nature cheerful and outgoing, so Garak knew that all was not well when the doctor spent three days in near silence and short of temper. A discreet inquiry on Garak’s part had revealed nothing occurred at the hospital to have caused this uncharacteristic behavior, and moreover it coincided with the arrival of the doctor’s latest interplanetary message. These letters from his friends usually pleased Bashir, so Garak was quite at a loss for an explanation.

Regrettably etiquette prohibited the simple solution: entering the guest room while Bashir was out and retrieving the datarod which contained the message. Garak had never been one to allow etiquette to interfere with information gathering and the idea was tempting, but after some consideration he rejected it as his first attempt. Bashir would not appreciate the breach of privacy if he discovered it, and he was far better at figuring out these sorts of things than he ought to be. He was, after all, Garak’s best student, even if the doctor himself did not realize that fact.

No, he would attempt a discussion first and hold message-reading in reserve. To that end, after Bashir scowled his way through another dinner, Garak shared his observation. “Tell me, Doctor, do you broadcast your displeasure to your patients as well, or am I the only one so honored?”

“I try not to be so obvious at the hospital.”

“One wonders about your rate of success.” Not very high unless he was faced with a medical emergency, Garak guessed.

“If you want to know what the problem is, you could try asking.”

“I just did.”

“Asking generally requires a question.”

“Only for those with extremely limited mental faculties, a group to which you certainly do not belong. Would you care to join me for a glass of kanar in the common room?”

“Bringing out the liquor? You are worried about me.” He seemed slightly cheered by this prospect for some unfathomable reason and followed Garak to the common room without further comment.

Garak had retrieved a bottle of excellent kanar from Tain’s cellar. He delighted in the prospect of sharing it with a man who would not appreciate the rarity or value of the vintage, because it would have so appalled Tain.

Bashir was not entirely without taste. “I assumed this would be better than Quark’s kanar, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this much better.”

“It is one of the least viscous varieties of kanar. I thought you would appreciate that.”

“Thank you. I do.” He swirled the kanar in his glass, a very human custom which even Garak could not abide.

“Doctor, such motion has a detrimental effect on this type of kanar.”

“Oh.” Bashir stopped at once. “I didn’t know.”

He couldn’t have, of course. “Naturally. Quark did not stock this variety.”

After another sip, the doctor finally explained himself. “I suppose it was absurd to think that I would never again have any problems because of the genetic resequencing.”

The Federation’s stance on genetic resequencing confounded Garak, to whose knowledge no Cardassian had ever suggested prohibiting the procedure. Genetic enhancements were rarely performed on Cardassians, true, but that was because of the risks. It was not uncommon for the enhanced individuals to be highly intelligent but unable to function in society or in other ways unstable; Cardassia’s notorious serial killer Hagorn had been genetically enhanced as a child. Even so, the choice was strictly a matter for the family, not the state. Some individuals were a great credit to their families and Cardassia after the procedure.

“Starfleet just discovered a crewman who was genetically resequenced. Not as extensively as I was, actually, which is somewhat ironic because my father does everything else in half measures.” Another sip of kanar, and Bashir curled his feet under himself. “Her father is Trill and her mother Andorian, which is genetically such a difficult combination that she’s the first child to survive from such disparate parentage.”

“Not without some problems, I gather.”

“No. Hence the resequencing.”

“I simply do not understand this prejudice against genetic engineering. It is properly a decision for the family, not the state.”

Bashir looked amused. “I thought the state was all-important.”

“All the more reason to keep it separate from family decisions. How else could anyone ensure that their family lives would not be subject to interference from enemies?”

“A living, breathing enemy would be easier to fight than this.” The doctor looked at his glass, and in fact was making a concerted effort not to look at Garak. Peculiar. Garak, somewhat at a loss for a reply, was relieved when the doctor continued, “She’s already resigned from Starfleet, but this has stirred up more anti-genetic resequencing feeling. Miles promised to keep me updated.”

“I find this attitude hypocritical coming from people who profess diversity and tolerance.”

“True. I’ve no desire to be Khan.”

“An individual who I suspect may have been tragically misunderstood in his own time.” Earth histories from that time period dripped with the kind of righteous indignation that suggested they were overcompensating.

Bashir waved the comment aside. “It hardly matters. The only thing Khan and I have in common is that someone else decided to play God with our genes. And yet that commonality is going to follow me the rest of my life.

“I’ve come to the unpleasant realization that I’ll never truly be able to escape my genetic status. Captain Sisko hinted that promotions might be more difficult, but I see now he was being gentle. That in itself isn’t so bad, really. The larger problem is that at any given time I could lose not only my Starfleet commission but my medical license.” And by extension his identity, thought Garak. How very foolish of the Federation.

“This sounds like a case of what Chief O’Brien called removing one’s nose to spite one’s face.”

The remark brought a brief smile to his friend’s face. “That’s one way to put it.”

“I know this is not what you wish, Doctor, but I will point out that there are other places in the galaxy without this prejudice where your expertise would be welcomed.”

“Like Cardassia?”

“Among others, yes.” When Bashir didn’t respond, he added, “I believe that experienced surgeons can command a great deal of latinum in the Ferengi Alliance.”

“Your kanar is better than your career advice.”

“In that case I shall return to my always excellent recommendations for reading. I suggest a biography of Baratu Naa’van, the first of my people to achieve warp travel.” A justly famous woman who also happened to be genetically enhanced. It would prove his point that Bashir would be welcomed in many places. It was not the same as being welcomed in his home, a fact which Garak understood all too well, but if the Federation was going to persist in its folly the doctor needed to be aware that he had other options.

Garak quite liked the idea of Bashir remaining on Cardassia indefinitely. Cardassia City was in dire need of medical personnel and would be for the foreseeable future; for his personal amusement Garak also found himself in need of pleasant company such as the doctor provided.

He nevertheless considered it likely that the Federation would bend its principles, as any organization devoted to lofty ideals inevitably did to survive and flourish. The entire existence of Section 31 demonstrated – oh, now there was an interesting twist. What if the discovery of another genetically enhanced member of Starfleet and subsequent public outrage was orchestrated by Section 31 as their revenge on Bashir? This bore closer examination.

“Do you have one in the library?” asked Bashir.

“There are three biographies of Barata Naa’van in the library. I suggest Intero’s.”

The doctor nodded and finished his two hundred twenty year old kanar.


 

Garak was right, of course, in that there were ample opportunities for Julian to practice medicine outside the Federation. It wasn’t his preference. After thinking the matter over for a few days more Julian hadn’t made peace with the tenuous nature of his career but he had grudgingly accepting some responsibility in the matter. The resequencing had been his parents’ decision; applying to Starfleet and pursuing medicine was his. Whatever else, he had made his career choice knowing that it was forbidden to him.

Julian, I don’t think you’ve fully dealt with your feelings about the genetic enhancements.

Ezri was a very perceptive counselor.

You keep pushing, waiting to reach the point where you drive people away. Is it really so hard to accept that people don’t mind?

He ought to have realized the relationship was doomed when she started psychoanalyzing him.

Has it occurred to you that other people aren’t nearly as bothered by your genetic status as you are?

That was where she was wrong. Some people mightn’t be bothered, but there were plenty of people in the Federation who objected to him on principle. There always would be and they would always threaten his career, his life. Whatever Bennett had agreed to with his father, enough public outrage would result in a thinly-veiled request for his resignation.

Julian asked himself what he would do if that request came tomorrow. He would offer his resignation quietly to preserve as much dignity as he could. Then he supposed it would not be difficult to remain on Cardassia for the immediate future even if he was no longer officially part of the Federation relief effort. It would require a sponsor; Dr. Peldar or Garak would sponsor him by virtue of his medical contributions, he felt certain.

He had no more time to muse on his own problems once he reached the hospital. Their waiting room was packed with Cardassians in varying degrees of misery and no small number of crying toddlers.

“Doctor, it’s another round of w’li,” said Zynhar, “and we have little antibiotic. Dr. Peldar says we can only administer it to the children.”

Damn. W’li was a nasty intestinal bacteria which thrived in Cardassians forced to subsist on a carbohydrate-heavy diet and lacking in vegetables. Nearly everyone in the district was at risk to some degree or another, but the more tightly packed communal living arrangements seemed to foster the most rampant bouts. It led to abdominal cramping and diarrhea. Untreated w’li killed 11.2 percent of the time, particularly children, but most of the deaths could be prevented with antibiotics or intravenous hydration.

Not only were they short on antibiotics, Julian doubted they had enough IV fluids for a serious outbreak and it would be at least another day before they could replicate even a few items. Once the immediate crisis was dealt with he was going to investigate the communal housing and see what could be done to prevent the bacteria from spreading.

Even as he began to triage the newest arrivals he reflected that if his situation came to it, he would be able to do necessary work on Cardassia for some time yet.


 

It was three days before he was able to visit the communal housing and realize the appalling lack of sanitation. At this rate they would soon be facing more than w’li and a lot of people would die. Predictably the situation was most dire in subdistrict 3, which had been the poorest before the war. Julian had known that subdistrict 2, where he stayed with Garak, was better off, but he hadn’t realized just how much better.

He returned from the communal housing to find Garak at the kitchen table tinkering with some kind of device. “The water purification system for the emergency housing bloc in subdistrict 3 hasn’t worked for a month.” Nearly a thousand people living without clean water – it was no wonder they had an outbreak of w’li.

“I submitted my fifth request for the necessary components yesterday,” remarked Garak without looking up from his device.

“It’s quite literally a breeding ground for w’li.”

“I am pursuing all available options.”

“I’m not blaming you, Garak, I’m just frustrated.” He ran a hand through his hair, which had been wildly windblown. “There isn’t a person in the district who would accuse you of doing less than your utmost.”

Even those who remained personally wary of Garak admitted that he was a good pur-nim, with the exception of the Zarhon family who hated him for reasons Garak had not explained. From time to time Julian heard of scandals in neighboring districts where the pur-nims displayed varying degrees of corruption or who wanted the title without putting in sufficient effort. Hearing about these had done a great deal to raise Garak’s standing in the eyes of the district, giving people a new appreciation for their pur-nim who was inclined to give himself less rations rather than more and who worked tirelessly for the Elgin’kor District.

“The same can be said of you, Doctor.”

He wished he could do more, a sentiment that he knew was shared by other Federation doctors. On the transport from DS9 he’d made the acquaintance of Dr. Grud and maintained a correspondence with the Tellarite. Grud was on the other side of the planet but he suffered the same shortages.

“I had a patient who came in half-dead. Her neighbors brought her in despite her protests that we should let her die, that since she has no family left we shouldn’t waste our resources on her. She refused intravenous fluids because we were almost out.”

“She died?”

“Yes.” He got up to retrieve a glass of water from the bottle they carefully filled when the water was flowing. “I know you Cardassians love your noble self-sacrifice, but it makes my job difficult.”

“Did her sacrifice save someone with a family?”

“Yes. Well, probably. It’s hard to say exactly who won’t survive.” A thought occurred to him. “Garak, would you do the same thing?”

“I cannot take the risk that this district would fall into the hands of someone as unsuitable as Zarhon.”

“I see. Sacrifice is only noble if it serves the greater good.” Except he didn’t see, not really. Cardassians viewed self-sacrifice in a way that he would never truly grasp because it was as alien as neckridges.

“You begin to understand.”

Maybe. Or maybe he was just running mental circles trying to understand. In any event it reminded him of a book he’d downloaded to a padd specifically for Garak. “This reminds me of I book I think you might appreciate.”

“The last book you thought I would appreciate was painfully unsubtle and stretched credulity.”

“Yes, I know, you didn’t appreciate 2+2=5.”

“Saying that I didn’t appreciate it implies that the concept has merit. It doesn’t.”

“Right. Nowhere near nuanced enough.”

“Doctor, no sane government would try to impose a mathematically impossible concept on people if it wished to present itself as omniscient.”

He thought that Garak was missing the entire point of 1984 but didn’t particularly feel like rehashing the argument. “I promise there’s noble self-sacrifice in A Tale of Two Cities.”

Garak was marginally intrigued. “This isn’t by Shakespeare, is it?”

“No. Dickens.”

“Very well. I expect the self-sacrifice to be proper.”

Julian was about to point out that he wasn’t entirely sure what would constitute ‘proper’ self-sacrifice when the device beeped. “What is that?”

“An outdated battery.” With a satisfied half-smile, Garak scooped up the battery and headed to the common room. He then proceeded to hook it up to the replicator.

“I don’t suppose you can replicate the parts to fix the water purification system.”

“That would require an industrial replicator and significantly more power.”

“It was worth asking.”

Garak called up a pattern in Cardassi, a phrase Julian didn’t recognize, and three coils appeared in succession. “One of the emergency housing blocs in subdistrict 1 has no working ovens. I was able to acquire the replicator pattern for the heat coils four days ago.”

“Three heat coils broke at once?”

“The third coil is a spare, though I hope these are of better construction than the originals.”

"So do I."

“One pair jivo’d’s shoes, yakat four,” commanded Garak in Cardassi. A pair of children’s shoes shimmered into existence.

“Yakat means size?” guessed Julian.

“Yes. Jivo’d’s is leather. I believe there is enough power remaining for one or two more items. Have you any requests?”

“You probably don’t have the pattern for strong antibiotics.” The best antibiotics couldn’t be replicated anyway, but he wasn’t in a position to be choosy.

“Access to medical patterns is restricted.”

“That’s never stopped you before.”

“I suggest you decide before the battery runs out.”

“Magnesium supplements in pill form, 500 milligrams.”

At Garak’s request a bottle appeared. The replicator managed to produce four 100-count bottles before the battery was too low. Even then Garak managed to produce several berries before the battery died altogether.

“Thank you. This will speed the recovery of w’li patients.”

“Fokyi berries, Doctor?”

He eyed the berries for a moment. With his own vitamin/mineral supplement, there were plenty of people who needed the berries more. On the other hand… “I’ll eat them if you do.”

“Bargaining for my health?”

“Technically, everyone in the district is my patient.”

Garak looked at him for a moment before nodding. “Very well. I concede to your irritatingly endearing concern for my health. This time.”

He ignored that strange criticism-compliment. “Mmm, citrusy. These are good.” There were only ten berries, roughly the size of cranberries, but in Cardassia City fresh fruit was a rare treat. It truly was amazing how much they’d all taken for granted before the war.


 

“Matron Gihxa was shocked that I wanted to give these to the orphans,” Julian said with a glance at the bag of lollipops. He hadn’t been to the orphanage, though he’d treated some of its residents at the hospital. It still surprised him sometimes how little Cardassians concerned themselves with orphans.

“Of course. This way, Doctor.” Garak led them down a side street. “Most Cardassians would take advantage of the situation to gain favor influential people through judicious sharing with their progeny.”

“Those are the children who need lollipops the least.”

“Strictly speaking I doubt any child needs your lollipops, though I grant they may be an enjoyable diversion.”

“That’s just it, Garak. The orphans are most in need of enjoyable diversions.”

The lollipops in question were courtesy of Molly, included in his care package from Miles and Keiko. Her parents were justifiably pleased that their daughter’s response to an explanation of the situation on Cardassia was to send something to cheer up Cardassian children. It took the better part of three months for the gift to arrive so Julian could make good on Molly’s intention and he’d immediately thought of the orphanage.

“I’m sure they will be delighted with Miss O’Brien’s gift. The orphanage is the smaller of the buildings directly ahead.”

Julian mentally rehearsed what he planned to say to the children a final time. Garak had helped him practice Cardassi until he his inflections, stresses, and verb conjugations were correct, amused at Julian’s insistence on doing this without the UT.

The orphanage was one of several post-war constructions before them, the others being emergency housing. Most of the rubble had been cleared away, and there must have been a great deal of it as there were no pre-war buildings standing in the vicinity. Aside from the orphanage and emergency housing it was a barren landscape, crater-marked and reeking of desolation. Julian wished he had a lollipop for every child in the neighborhood.

Garak indicated an area to the left. “There was a renowned statue garden here.” He made comments like this once in a while, and Julian never quite knew why. Trying to remember Cardassia as it had been, perhaps. One could never be sure with Garak. He wasn’t sure how to best respond, either. How do you react when someone points out how much of their world was destroyed? Garak wasn’t the type to appreciate a trite reply, so often Julian settled for saying nothing at all. It seemed to be acceptable.

He eyed the land in question, trying to imagine it filled with statues and appreciative Cardassians, but since he didn’t have any idea what the statues might have looked like, his mental image didn’t hold. “You are clearly not among the Cardassian majority.”

“Whatever makes you believe that, Doctor?”

“The children’s books you’re about to waste on orphans.” Garak had returned from one of his resource-assessing walks with these, delighted with the discovery. If there was one thing beyond survival that Garak wanted for his people, it was literature.

“All part of my responsibilities as pur-nim.”

“Of course.” He allowed his voice to drip disbelief.

The conversation was cut short when they arrived at the orphanage. “Dr. Bashir?” asked an elderly Cardassian woman.

“Hello.”

“I am Matron Gihxa.” She gave a respectful nod, and then another when she recognized Garak. By now Julian was able to distinguish the subtle body language of a Cardassian declaring that they were in a subservient position. It was all in the minute details: the set of the mouth, the angle of the chin, and of course the eyes. Cardassians conveyed a great deal of information with their eyes.

“The children are inside. We are honored that you share with them, Doctor.”

“My friend’s daughter sent the lollipops to help cheer up Cardassian children, and I believe your wards would benefit.”

“They are excited for” – some Cardassi he didn’t understand – “visitors,” Matron Gihxa replied with genuine fondness reflected in her body language.

She led them into a large room which Julian took for a play area, although there was very little by way of toys. Garak looked disapprovingly at the bookshelf – a single shelf with six books. Here fifty-one Cardassian children looked at Julian curiously and had no idea that he could hear their whispers remarking on how odd he looked. He couldn’t understand every word but definitely got the main points: his skin was brown and smooth, with some kind of comparison to… toast?

“What’s wrong with his ears?”

“It is fur where eyeridges should be, I saw at the hospital.”

When Matron Gihxa raised a hand the children grew silent. “Children, this is Dr. Bashir and Mr. Garak, our pur-nim. Dr. Bashir has brought a gift for you today.”

“Hello,” he began. It might have been a mistake to attempt this in Cardassi, but it was too late to turn on his UT unless he wanted to make a complete fool of himself. “I have a candy for you that comes from Earth, my homeworld.” At the mention of candy, fifty-one children moved their eyes to the bag of lollipops. He pulled one out. “This is called a lollipop. My friend’s daughter sent them for me to share with you.”

Matron Gihxa instructed the children, and he didn’t understand the entire sentence but it had to involve lining up because the children formed a neat line in front of him. Each child dutifully thanked Julian upon receiving their lollipop and gave Garak a deferential nod. It did not escape anyone’s notice that there were plenty more lollipops in the bag.

He hadn’t planned on instructing the children on how to eat lollipops, or were they waiting for permission? Garak stepped in, unwrapping the lollipop of the nearest child. That apparently served as both instruction and permission, because within seconds every child was happily licking their lollipop. Off to the side, one of the staff workers snapped pictures.

“Lol-ee-pop?” asked one of the older girls.

“Yes. Lollipop.”

A small boy asked something about colors and taste. “Did he ask if each color has a unique flavor?” Julian asked Garak in Standard.

“Yes.”

Alright, a yes or no question. He could handle that. “Yes.”

To nobody’s surprise this led to an immediate spate of lollipop-swapping. It wasn’t ideal, but Julian supposed fifty-one children living together were bound to share all of their bacteria and viruses regardless.

He handed the remainder of the lollipops to Matron Gihxa while the children were sampling flavors. “Thank you, Doctor. It was kind of you to think of our children. Ahnro brought her” – oh hell, he really should have left his UT on – “so we may send images to daughter of your friend in thanks, if you will” – yet another word he didn’t know.

Okay, Ahnro was probably the woman taking pictures… which he was supposed to send to Molly in thanks, if he interpreted correctly.“I will send them to her.”

Good. He’d gotten that more or less right. The matron smiled and thankfully turned her attention to Garak when he presented her with the books. Julian followed some of their conversation – her thanks, his polite acknowledgement – but contented himself with watching the children enjoy their lollipops.


 

“Starfleet is allowing volunteers up to one year on Cardassia. I’ve put in for a second six-month term,” Julian mentioned over a game of 3D chess, the only human game Garak professed to enjoy. Miles had sent the collapsible board along with the glazed almonds they’d just finished.

“Colonel Kira will undoubtedly be disappointed.”

That could well be true, but Julian had to do what he felt was best. He was doing good work here and there was no guarantee that another Federation doctor would take his place at the hospital. With so many Federation member worlds suffering from the impact of the war, Cardassia came in dead last on the relief effort list.

There was also the added benefit of having another six months to figure out where his life was going and what he would do if he was forced to leave Starfleet. Not to mention the minor detail that Julian was no longer certain that returning to DS9 was best. He wanted to, certainly, but he was afraid that he would spend too much time there trying to relive the past. Maybe it was time for him to move on to another assignment – if he had the option.

“At the risk of being terribly rude, may I intrude on your hospitality for an additional six months?”

“It’s no intrusion, Doctor. The district appreciates your medical expertise, and I enjoy our stimulating conversations.”

Garak seemed to mean that, thank God. “Speaking of which, how are you finding A Tale of Two Cities?”

“Verbose.”

“Some people believe Dickens was verbose because he was getting paid by the word. Whether or not that’s true I can’t say.”

Garak looked up from the chess board, horrified. “Paid… according to word count?”

“That’s the theory, yes.”

Grey nostrils flared in indignation. “Have you considered the possibility that your world was infiltrated by the Ferengi?”

“I’m afraid we have only our ancestors to blame for the excesses of capitalism. But back to Dickens.”

“And his potentially mercenary tendency to use twice as many words as necessary. Check.”

Julian easily evaded Garak’s attempt at a trap. He usually won their chess games, but Garak improved every time they played. “Consider the first sentence,” instructed Garak.

“One of the most famous in human literature, or the beginning of it at least. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…’”

“You needn’t pretend for my sake that you can’t quote the passage in its entirety.”

He shrugged slightly. “Old habits. Checkmate.”

Garak evidently hadn’t seen his knight advancing forward in the trap. “What an unusual strategy. I will remember that.”

“You always do.”

Julian collapsed the board and put it away while Garak returned to his critique of Dickens. “The first sentence starts with promise; one can easily see why it is so famous. And yet Dickens was not content to end the sentence when he had crafted a fine one. Instead he insisted on adding more clauses until the sentence collapses under the weight of excessive words.”

“Excessively long sentences are rather a hallmark of the era.”

“I will refrain from further comment until I have finished the book.” A pause, and Garak gave one of his inscrutable half-smiles. “I am pleased that you have extended your period of service on Cardassia, Doctor.”

“You were right, you know.”

“I am frequently right. To which instance are you referring?”

Smug bastard. “There are other places I could practice medicine, if it comes to it. There’s a lifetime of work here.”

He’d managed to surprise Garak with this, as his friend looked very intent when asking, “Would you seriously consider remaining permanently?”

“There are days where I think it would be worth it just to get out of a situation where I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Garak frowned slightly. “I fail to see what relevance footwear has to this topic.”

“It means I’m going to spend the rest of my Starfleet career with the knowledge that at any time I could be ‘asked’ for my resignation.” Nobody on Cardassia would care about his genes, and he would really have the freedom that he’d naively thought he could have in Starfleet. “If I thought my life could be complete here, I’d be very tempted to stay.” God knew he was tired of worrying, of hiding.

Garak raised an eyeridge but made no further comment, and Julian excused himself because he was too emotionally exhausted to continue the conversation.


 

Garak may have turned into a fool, but he wasn’t so far gone that he lacked awareness of this distressing fact. He arrived at the conclusion as being a fool was the only explanation for his plan, and he mused on that at length in keeping with his strict policy of being honest with himself.

He’d come to the realization that he would like to court Bashir three years prior, when incarceration had given him entirely too much time with nothing to do but think. Of course at the time he knew no relationship would come of it. He was only too aware that he had nothing to offer except a handful of dangerous enemies, and while the doctor might possibly have been inclined to sexual liaisons, that was not at all what Garak desired. Being used to not having what he wanted, Garak therefore enjoyed Bashir’s friendship and never considered the possibility of more.

The situation would have remained the same but that he learned the doctor would consider making Cardassia his home. “If I thought my life could be complete,” he’d said. Garak reminded himself that Bashir most likely had no idea that to Cardassians that was an invitation for courtship. He further reminded himself that the vast majority of his friend’s romantic and sexual partners were female, that he himself still had relatively little to offer the human, and, most frighteningly, that if by remote chance Bashir accepted the courtship, that would make Garak obligated to share his truths and make himself vulnerable, a state of being he thoroughly detested.

His claim to Tain’s estate had been accepted and the property was now his. Tain had no acknowledged family members, thus the property had passed to Mila once Tain was presumed dead. As Mila’s son Garak’s claim was irrefutable. While nobody wished to live in Tain’s house, possessing a valuable parcel of land made him a respectable suitor – or at least a more respectable suitor than he had been previously.

He was under no delusions of his courting prospects. His association with Tain and career with the Obsidian Order would immediately deter most Cardassians in the current political climate. His family name, while not dishonorable, was not one of which to be particularly proud, and he was at least a decade too old for a first marriage. In short, few would consider him a desirable suitor.

Whatever else he may have been – a long list to be sure - Elim Garak was a Cardassian, and as such he wanted a family, a place in an intricate network of belonging. The simple truth of the matter rested on his self-admission that there was nobody he would rather belong together with than Dr. Julian Bashir.

It was nearly preposterous. Even if the doctor did relocate to Cardassia permanently, he could do far better than Garak. And yet when Garak nearly decided not to embarrass himself, he remembered Mila telling him in his youth, “Without risk there is little reward, Elim.”

Well, this would hardly be the first time he devoted himself to a hopeless cause.

Chapter Text

It was early winter and from a human perspective winter was unquestionably the best season in Cardassia City. Julian was enjoying a pleasant walk around Kelvan’ar Park in a shirt and trousers, to the clear astonishment of the other park-goers in their coats, gloves, and close-fitting hats. It was still a touch more humid than he preferred, but on the whole he found the weather a delightful change.

“Really, Doctor, aren’t you the slightest bit cold?” inquired Garak, whose coat was fastened up to his chin.

“The slightest bit, and it’s quite refreshing.” This earned him Garak’s long-perfected ‘I will never understand humans’ look.

“Doctor Bashir!” Iliana Gentach raced over, her grandfather trailing behind. “Did you lose your coat and gloves?”

He knelt down to her level. “I’m human, remember?”

“I know! Your skin is brown and your ears stick out.”

“Iliana!” admonished Gentach.

“They do, Grandfather.”

Julian chuckled. “Yes, but that’s just one difference between me and you.” He held out his hand, palm up. “Here, feel my hand.”

After receiving a permissive nod from her grandfather Iliana put her hand on top of Julian’s. “It’s not cold.”

“That’s right. I like colder weather than you do.”

She thought about this for a moment. “So you don’t like summer?”

“It will be very hot for me.”

“Now, Ana-kchi, you’ve bothered Dr. Bashir enough,” said Gentach.

“Oh, it’s no bother.”

Iliana was a precocious and charming girl who had a talent for making others smile. She certainly made her grandfather smile. Julian suspected that Iliana kept Gentach going after the devastation of the war, which had cost the barber his wife, both his sons, and his daughter-in-law. Little Iliana, who he often referred to by the diminutive ‘Ana-kchi,’ was his reason for living.

Gentach patted her back. “Besides, don’t you want me to push you on the swings?”

“Yes!” With that Iliana was racing off to the swings.

“Good evening,” Gentach wished them.

“You as well.”

They continued on their walk past the stylized statue of a riding hound which Garak said was ‘mildly renowned’ and which did not make riding hounds look comfortable in the least. Julian hoped that the angle of the scales was artistic license or else hound riding would be painful for Cardassian and hound alike.

Garak said, “I finished reading A Tale of Two Cities. It is not entirely without merit.”

By Garak’s standards that was praise for a non-Cardassian author. “Did the sacrifice measure up to your standards?”

“To my great surprise, yes.”

Julian was no less surprised and wondered if Garak was being less than truthful, always a possibility although his friend tended to honesty in his discussions of literature more than any other subject. “Even though it wasn’t for the state?”

“Carton gave his life for the happiness of the one he loved and took the place of a man who had dependents. I cannot fault such sacrifice.”

This was unprecedented. “The last line is nearly as famous as the first.”

“And Dickens managed not to drag the final sentence out so torturously.”

“I’m glad you approve.”

“It’s a shame he didn’t show such restraint throughout the entire book.”

“What did you think of Lucie?” Julian thought the character was too perfect to be realistic.

“Extremely idealized, a bit unnecessarily perhaps, but that only serves to make her a more universal representation of a love worth dying for.”

“You don’t think it could mean that Carton is in love with the idea of Lucie as opposed to the real, flawed woman?”

“I must say, Doctor, your perspective has changed since we began our literary discussions. The naïve, idealistic young man I first dined with would have insisted that Carton’s love for Lucie is so great that her flaws are insignificant to him.”

He didn’t know how to respond to that because it was true. “Yes, well, I suppose everyone has to grow up sometime,” he said after a long moment.

“If one is not subtly altered by experiences, then one stagnates, which is undesirable. Might we turn back? I believe I’ve had ample exposure to the cold.”

“Yes, of course.”

When turning they bumped shoulders, which Julian would have thought nothing of except that somehow Garak’s shoulder stayed just brushing his own, and while of course Garak’s expression gave nothing away Julian knew this was deliberate, because Garak was always deliberate, and that could only mean one thing: Garak wanted to court him.

It took all of his self-control to keep walking and not react. Garak wouldn’t be expecting a reaction, other than the shock that was no doubt written on Julian’s face.

“Dickens was unfair to Madame Defarge, don’t you think, Doctor?”

Dickens was the furthest thing from Julian’s mind, but he managed to ask, “Why do you say that?”

He half listened to Garak’s defense of Madame Defarge, which was generously long, but wasn’t really able to counter beyond, “But Darnay and Lucie hadn’t done anything to deserve such treatment.” He was far too occupied with trying to process the idea of Garak wanting to court him.

A Cardassian courtship, from his understanding, was about as serious as such matters could get. This wasn’t about sex or a casual relationship for the duration of Julian’s time on Cardassia. Garak had indicated that he wanted a chance to prove he was worth marrying. Moreover, that having given the matter careful consideration Garak had already come to the conclusion that he wanted to marry Julian.

He wondered if Garak had been interested for years or if it was a recent development. Julian had thought about Garak sexually a time or two, but it never seemed worth pursuing when it would damage their friendship. At the time, he’d known there was no chance for them to have a real relationship. Now, though, they had both changed a great deal from those early days. Julian had learned that the universe was an ambiguous place, not the simple matter of good vs. evil he’d so naively let himself believe. At the same time, Garak had grown beyond his father’s shadow.

They were equals, now, and Julian realized that a relationship between he and Garak could actually work. It would certainly not be easy, and he had a great deal to consider, but he was more than a bit intrigued. He grudgingly admitted to himself that a great deal of the appeal was his certainty that a relationship with Garak would never be boring.

In that instant Julian felt a pang of guilt. Perhaps he’d never been honest with himself but there was no avoiding it now: most of his experiences with relationships had soon grown dull, notwithstanding love. He needed a bit of excitement, a challenge, and he’d never acknowledged it because it smacked of the superiority complex that so frightened the Federation about his genetic enhancements.

He’d always cared for Garak. Could he love the man romantically? Cardassians took courtship and marriage seriously, and Julian would do no less. He had a great deal to think about.


 

Garak had timed his advance well, since he was leaving the following morning for a three-day Federation aid conference. Not that three days was much time to consider what – and who – Julian wanted out of life.

A lack of response within eight meetings is quite final.

How were meetings calculated when the individuals in question lived in the same house? Julian supposed he would just have to count the number of times Garak ensured that their shoulders or knees touched.

He went beyond his usual workout and thoroughly exhausted his body, but his mind was still racing, considering a possible relationship with Garak. Arms shaking from his last set of pushups, he was forced to admit that exercise had failed to provide a sufficient distraction, as had everything else he’d tried to get his mind off Garak for a little while. Even his research on inhibiting conjugation in w’li bacteria so as to increase the efficacy of antibiotics – important research that had never been done because w’li didn’t pose a threat to Cardassians with proper diet and sanitation – couldn’t hold his attention, and when he was distracted from fascinating medical research the situation was serious indeed.

He considered going to the hospital, but it was probably wiser to use his day off working through some of the thoughts racing around his head. Garak would be home later that night and Julian was no closer to a decision on the courtship than he’d been when their shoulders first touched.

Points in favor of accepting: he truly enjoyed Garak’s company and a relationship with him would never be dull. In fact it would have plenty of the mentally stimulating conversations that they both so enjoyed and which made living at Garak’s house enjoyable. In fact he would go as far as to say that he was quite content to share his evenings with the man. Garak was physically attractive, certainly. Also, Julian had already entertained the notion of staying on Cardassia, though nowhere near this seriously.

Points against accepting: Garak had never proven himself capable of the kind of honesty a romantic relationship would require. Of course it was entirely possible that he would be more honest in such a relationship, but that was still a significant concern. There was the Obsidian Order, of course, but when it came down to it Julian was less bothered by Garak’s past than he thought he should have been. Maybe it was a result of knowing that he was capable of luring Sloan to DS9, acquiring an illegal mind probe, and delving into a man’s mind without permission. In any event, Garak’s past was a more minor issue than his relationship with truth.

There were plenty of perfectly good reasons why Julian shouldn’t accept the courtship that had nothing to do with Garak personally, such as Starfleet’s certain disapproval (only a problem if the courtship wasn’t a success), but despite all of them he found himself more inclined to accept than not.

Fortunately he had some time to mull the idea over, but despite all of the valid reasons why a relationship with Garak was problematic at best, Julian found himself thinking that he if he passed on the opportunity he might just spend a very long time regretting it.


 

The news in his latest interplanetary messages was good. He got a message from proud brother Jake with a picture of Nahlel Adrianne Sisko. Kasidy had selected an old Bajoran name deriving from the word ‘gift’ for her daughter; Julian hoped that Captain Sisko would return to the linear plane sooner rather than later for his family’s sake.

Additionally, Starfleet approved his request to extend his service on Cardassia, though he hadn’t really been concerned that they wouldn’t. It was a busy day at the hospital and he didn’t catch up with Dr. Peldar to share the good news until they were leaving.

“Good evening, Dr. Bashir.”

He nodded his acknowledgment in the Cardassian fashion, or at least his best approximation. “Good evening. I’ve received approval from Starfleet to remain on Cardassia an additional six months.”

“Do you plan to stay here?”

“I’d like to, if I’m welcome.”

“You most certainly are,” she said. “You are an asset to this district.”

“Thank you.”

“It is I who must thank you. Among numerous benefits to the patients, I get a day off on occasion.”

“And the days off are very well-deserved.”

“As are yours.”

They parted ways outside the hospital and Julian began his walk back to Garak’s house. It was a pleasant enough walk in winter, a kilometer and a half through streets that rarely saw vehicles. Even those public transportation trains which had survived the Dominion assault sat unused due to lack of power. Anyone traveling inland to the center of Cardassia City traveled by barge up the river, a trip Julian meant to make but hadn’t yet found time for. His work at the hospital took up most of his waking hours.

A few blocks from the hospital a modest school was being rebuilt, to the delight of the entire community. Each subdistrict was getting a school and Garak was doing his best to ensure the teachers had adequate resources. Theirs would open very soon.

Everything circled back to Garak in Julian’s head. His friend was careful to make sure that their shoulders or knees touched only four times in the last two weeks, and every time Julian found himself a bit more thrilled.

That really spoke volumes when he realized it.

On his walk he tried to imagine himself staying in Cardassia City for the foreseeable future, living on Cardassia for the rest of his life. The idea was more appealing than he’d expected… particularly if he was with Garak. For all the reasons that accepting Garak’s courtship was a terrible idea, Julian found himself certain that it might just be brilliant.


 

The doctor still had an expressive face, particularly when surprised, but had learned to school his features somewhat. Garak had deemed that encouraging progress until he wished to court Bashir, when the human’s impassive face failed to give him any clues as to the chances Bashir would accept. Chances which were admittedly quite low. Garak noted that when he first proposed the courtship Bashir had been shocked but not repulsed, and considered this as promising a sign as he could hope for.

In fact Bashir had given no outward indication on the matter whatsoever after the initial shock, which Garak would have applauded in any other circumstance. The process of proposing courtship was more unnerving than he had previously assumed.

He had chosen the present evening for his sixth attempt. By now he was certain that Bashir would expect the advance, as they were in an appropriately public location. One of the doctor’s patients had mentioned the Kapoken meteor shower, which Bashir had recognized from Iloja of Prim’s poetry, so he and Garak walked down to the riverfront lawn in the evening to witness the phenomenon.

They were not alone in this viewing, which hadn’t happened in Cardassia City in some generations due to an excess of ambient lighting which the Dominion had so thoughtfully removed to better facilitate meteor watching. Some individuals were seeing the meteors for the first time in their lives, particularly the children. Bashir’s sensitive hearing picked out parents giving science lessons related to meteors.

Like the others they lay on a blanket, facing up to enjoy the meteors. Garak had seen the Kapoken shower previously on two occasions, but he had never before lay under a pile of blankets for extended viewing. Bashir was so enthusiastic that Garak agreed to put up with the chill, no small matter after seven years of being cold, and if that didn’t indicate how much he wanted the man he didn’t know what would.

Likely his desire would not matter. He was nearly certain that Bashir had no interested in the courtship, an attitude for which Garak could not fault the man. Nevertheless, there was protocol to be followed. Therefore he feigned movement to adjust his blankets and resettled so that his shoulder was against Bashir’s. There were four layers of blanket in between them – one Bashir’s, the rest his own – but the gesture was clear. Only two more attempts remained and he could cease this pointless exercise.

A few lines from Iloja’s poetry came to mind as he observed a pair of meteors flare opposite each other. The meteors were admittedly enjoyable to watch, particularly when one appreciated how they had inspired art and literature through the generations, but Garak would have enjoyed the shower much more if only it occurred at a warmer time of year. Winter nights, particularly those without cloud cover to keep in some heat, were entirely too cold for his taste. They had been out for an hour, now. He started to consider polite ways to suggest to Bashir that he wanted to return home before he lost sensation in his eyeridges.

Pressure on his shoulder was so unexpected that it took a moment to register. How embarrassing. But yes, that was definitely Bashir’s hand on his shoulder. Garak looked over to find the doctor smiling at him.

“Yes,” said Bashir. One word that changed everything.

Garak couldn’t remember the last time he’d smiled with so much genuine happiness. “You honor me, my dear doctor.”

“I’m rather flattered myself.”

Bashir didn’t understand, but that was quite alright for the moment. There would be time later for him to learn that Garak was not the most desirable suitor he could hope for. Although, Garak conceded to himself, it was just possible that Bashir did understand and didn’t care – that would be so very like Bashir, so human.

“When is your next day off?” he enquired.

“Bwhul.” Four days away.

Bashir’s pronunciation had improved considerably since he began learning Cardassi and he was easier to understand. The remaining accent Garak found charming and he hoped it did not fade.

“The City Art Museum has reopened with what remains of their collection. Would you care to visit with me Bwhul?” It was an ideal location for first-stage courtship, as it was public and allowed for plenty of conversation; it was additionally suited to Garak’s purposes because he could thus introduce Bashir to more Cardassian culture.

“That would be lovely.”

The doctor moved his hand from Garak’s shoulder, which Garak considered unfortunate until he found that Bashir had repositioned so their hands were together. Not content to entwine their fingers, he grasped Garak’s hand to hold palm-to-palm in the human fashion, which Garak decided was very agreeable. He was no longer in any hurry to leave even if it was cold, because it was delightful to hold Bashir’s warm human hand.

This was only the beginning, of course. The second and third stages of courtship were likely to be more problematic in some respects and Garak was far too realistic to assume that the courtship would be successful, but Bashir had granted him a chance and that filled him with a peculiar feeling which he identified as hope.


 

Julian sat in his office – a converted closet he was fairly certain, but he wasn’t about to quibble over details amidst all the ruins – working on a report to the Federation Relief Office detailing the present medical situation in the district, and occasionally sneaking glances over to look at the book on his desk. The real, printed volume had been his first gift from Garak, arriving anonymously at the hospital that morning. He wasn’t familiar with the author, but he looked forward to reading it that very evening. It even had that new-book smell; where Garak managed to find a new book he had not the slightest idea.

“Dr. Bashir, are you aware that a rumor… hangleshg, it’s true!”

He was always interested in words that failed to translate, but didn’t get a chance to ask because Dr. Peldar rushed on, “You truly are being courted!”

“Is it that obvious?” He was missing something again if the entire hospital knew before their first date.

“A printed book is considered the choicest first gift when courting, and Volag said the gift arrived with a courting bow. My, my.” She sat down across from him. “You are aware that courtship is a very serious matter for us, yes?”

“As I understand it, a successful courtship ends in marriage, and the courtship is to be ended at once if either party determines it will not be successful.”

“Yes. And we are not in the habit of dissolving our marriages except in the most extreme cases.” Both of them looked at the book for a moment before Dr. Peldar continued, “This is a great surprise.”

“It’s just as well you know, as I’d intended to ask if, presuming the courtship goes as well as I want it to, a more… permanent position might be available for me here.”

Her eyeridges wiggled slightly, a movement Julian had learned was a sign of delight in Cardassian women. “Certainly. There would be some administrative work involved in your formal certification, but I have no doubt that you would pass the tests with ease, and it would be my pleasure to sponsor you.”

“Thank you.”

She looked at him carefully for a moment before declaring, “You are a most unusual human, Dr. Bashir. This courtship is unprecedented, and to even consider committing yourself to one of us and our world when you have only been here a few months… I confess I am astonished.”

“Well, Garak and I have known each other for years so I already have a fair idea…” he trailed off at her open surprise. “Was I not supposed to say who’s courting me?”

“Our pur-nim is courting you?”

Heaven help him, he couldn’t entirely prevent what was no doubt a ridiculously besotted smile by Cardassian standards. “Yes.”

When she looked uncomfortable, Julian decided to be honest. “If you’re worried that I’m ignorant of who Garak was and is, you needn’t be. I may not know everything, but I know more about him than anyone else alive and I accepted his courtship knowing full well what he’s capable of – good and bad.”

And the bad was relative, really. Garak wasn’t evil, didn’t revel in malevolence; rather he took whatever action was necessary for the good of Cardassia without any moral judgment. Julian understood that now. Even his attempted genocide – well, it was hard to argue that preventing the Dominion War wouldn’t have been to Cardassia’s benefit.

Dr. Peldar accepted his words after a moment of consideration, in the manner that he’d come to expect. Cardassians rarely tried to talk each other out of a course of action. “Your face shouts your happiness.”

He’d not heard that expression before but quite liked it. “I am very pleased. However, there are a few minor points of courtship protocol I have questions about. The information I read was provided more for the suitor.”

“I will of course explain.”

“Thank you. Firstly, is there any expectation that each phase will last a certain length of time or number of dates?”

“It depends on the circumstances of the couple in question.”

Of course it did. Nearly everything Cardassian depended on circumstances and context. “What circumstances, exactly?”

“Length of time the individuals have known each other is the primary factor.”

“Over seven years in our case.”

“Seven years?” Her expression was a bit difficult to place – surprise, yes, but there was something else Julian couldn’t quite identify. “That is…”

“Let me guess: unusual.”

Dr. Peldar laughed. “That is becoming a theme with you, Dr. Bashir.”

“About that. Please feel free to refer to me without my title.” A first name basis would be somewhat scandalously informal at this point, but using last names would be appropriate for a friendly, respectful working relationship, he’d recently learned. Context again.

“So long as you do the same.”

“With pleasure.”

“Now, considering the length of time you and Mr. Garak have known each other, and the lack of physical distance to impede courtship, a first phase of four to five weeks is appropriate. Unless you wish to indicate extreme skepticism over his suitability, in which event you should wait an additional two weeks.”

“I don’t. The crucial issues will all arise in the second phase.”

“As they should. Second phase courtship is the longest, and the length is determined by the number of questions to be asked and how quickly the couple choses to ask them. I would not recommend any less than three months. Longer than a year is unusual for persons who reside in the same city. Third phase is shorter, rarely longer than six weeks.”

Satisfied on that point, he moved to his next. “How do I indicate that I’m pleased with how the first phase is progressing?”

“Initiating any of the appropriate physical contact – do you know what contact is permitted at each phase?”

“That was covered extensively in my reading.”

“Additionally, you might make mention of his gifts.”

He could’ve talked far longer on the subject but they both had work to accomplish. “This is immensely helpful. I know you have physical therapy sessions soon, so I won’t keep you any longer.”

“You are welcome to ask further questions as necessary.”

“Thank you, Peldar.”

With a nod she left his office and Julian, after a moment of smiling to himself, forced his attention back to the report he was supposed to be writing.


 

Federation relief personnel were numerous enough in Cardassia City that Julian wouldn’t have been a remarkable sight but for the fact that his fingers were twined with Garak’s, which garnered a considerable number of double takes and stares too long to be polite. Garak ignored them and Julian resolved to do the same; such reactions were to be expected. Of course they could have simply let go, but Julian didn’t want to and Garak showed no inclination to either.

“The main museum and all its contents were destroyed,” explained Garak as they approached the City Art Museum, gesturing to a pile of stone which had once been a large building. “Fortunately the rear annex escape the bombardment.”

“I’m glad some of the collection survived.”

“Never enough,” Garak replied with a hint of wistfulness. “But we must appreciate what we have.” He ended with a meaningful glance at their hands.

The interior of the museum was drier than most Cardassians preferred their buildings, and of course the lights were dimmed to a level that would be a challenge for most human eyesight but Julian didn’t find problematic. “You will appreciate the lesser humidity, Doctor. It is required for the preservation of paintings.”

“I do appreciate it. Very pleasant.” After a moment of savoring the air, he announced, “I’m going to turn my UT off and attempt to stick with Cardassi.”

Garak said nothing but his expression conveyed approval. Julian heard a girl some meters away asking her mother if that was truly a human using couple-presentation with a Cardassian, and the mother in turn chiding the girl because humans were said to have superior hearing.

In the manner of museums on numerous worlds this one was designed with each room leading into another. He followed Garak’s lead to begin on the left side of the room, which featured a geometric painting in shades of green that was well over three meters across.

There was a small screen beside the painting with information he took to be the name, artist, and date of the work. It was titled ‘Green’ something – oh, lovely, the second word since he switched to Cardassi and he didn’t recognize it. Pointing at the word, he asked Garak, “Translate?”

“Symphony,” was the Standard answer, followed by the Cardassi pronunciation, “Vaslinn.”

Julian took a moment to step back so as to take in the whole painting. It created such an illusion of being three-dimensional that some of the shapes seemed to be pushing off the canvas. ‘Green Symphony’ was an appropriate name, suggesting that the geometric shapes were arranged so they could be played as music.

“I like it,” he declared. “Looks alive, nearly.” That was the best his Cardassi could express his impression of the painting.

“It was painted by Entak of Toshls, friend of Iloja of Prim. ‘Blue Symphony’ was his most famous work, but that was psantui Lakarian City.”

“Psantui?” He knew the –ui meant ‘on’ or ‘in’ past tense but didn’t recognize the root verb. Probably ‘shown’ or a similar word, considering the conversation.

“Displayed in,” translated Garak.

They moved on to the next painting, a much smaller piece by Entak of Toshls entitled ‘Study of Cubes.’ Julian wasn’t sure he’d ever seen brown and yellow used in quite that way before and didn’t particularly like it. “Interesting, but I don’t like the yellow and brown.”

“I do.”

Julian expressed his disapproval with a face which greatly amused Garak.

They ended up conversing in a hybrid of Cardassi and Federation Standard which probably earned them as many odd looks as their joined fingers, but worked admirably for their purpose of practicing Julian’s Cardassi while also allowing a broad range of discussion.

“This reminds me of the Mona Lisa,” he said in front of a portrait they’d interpreted differently. “That’s one of Earth’s most famous paintings, though to be honest I always found it overrated.”

“If you’re implying this portrait is overrated, I would have to agree.”

“Actually, I was referring to the expression. You can say that he’s smiling but just as easily counter that he’s not.”

“Ah. There I disagree. His expression is clearly one of smug superiority, not a simple smile. There is no ambiguity.”

It was obvious to Julian that Garak’s view of the portrait was colored by his low opinion of the legate it memorialized. “You’re letting your opinion of Pa’Nok interfere with your objectivity.”

“I am doing no such thing. Pa’Nok’s ego was well known in his own time. It’s obvious that Menil set out to capture that self-importance.”

“If you say so.” He emphasized the verb in order to convey his skepticism. Garak’s expression was fond exasperation.

Julian honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d enjoyed himself so much on a simple date. The relationship was off to a promising start.

Chapter Text

Halfway through dinner (or in Garak’s case, about a sixth of the way through dinner) there was a rather frantic knocking on the door. It was Hasleny Rokul, the second-youngest of the children across the street. “Azoon is hurt. Inda sent me to ask for Dr. Bashir,” said the girl, agitated and badly mispronouncing ‘Bashir.’

Julian fetched his medkit, which he kept stocked with the basics at all times, and followed her across the street with Garak. “What happened?”

“Inda told us not to go into the north wing but Azoon went anyway and now he has a bad cut on his arm. He’s bleeding a lot.”

Hasleny led them into a kitchen with the other three Rokuls: the youngest, Azoon, bleeding from a nasty gash in his bicep; Inda trying to stauch the blood flow, and Dyrum hovering uncertainly in the background.

“Let me see,” instructed Julian.

Azoon whimpered. “It hurts!”

“I know it hurts, but I’m here to make it better.”

The cut was deep but even and didn’t slice into any vital nerves or blood vessels. So long as all the pieces of debris were removed and the wound was properly disinfected, it would heal on its own. Julian would speed up the healing with a dermal regenerator, although the one in his medkit wouldn’t be able to completely restore Azoon’s arm to an uninjured state. Cardassian skin was rather thick for that. “This isn’t so bad, Azoon. I’m going to give you something so it doesn’t hurt so much. Inda, please keep just enough pressure on his arm to staunch the bleeding. Thank you.”

He prepared a hyprospray and administered a children’s dose of analgesic, because he was going to have to remove the particulates by hand and that could be painful. After washing his hands and arms he put on gloves and sprayed his smallest forceps with sterilizer. “Inda, I need you to stay here with the cloths to absorb any blood. I can’t seal the wound until I’ve removed all the debris.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Azoon, how do you feel?”

“It doesn’t hurt so much now,” he said in clear astonishment.

Part of Julian’s brain registered Garak leaving the room with Hasleny and Dyrum, but he focused remained on his task. “I have to take out the pieces of wood in your cut. It’s not going to hurt, but it might feel a bit strange. Can you hold very still?”

Once he wasn’t in pain Azoon was intrigued. “Okay.”

Azoon’s fascination was helpful. Julian had certainly dealt with injured children who were far less cooperative, and he encouraged the boy’s interest in the number and relative size of debris fragments in the wound. As gently as possible he removed all the fragments, pausing only to wipe away blood when necessary. Finally his tricorder confirmed that all traces of foreign objects were gone.

“You were very brave,” he told Azoon. “Now I’m going to use the laser sterilizer so your cut doesn’t get infected. I need you to keep holding still.”

“It tickles!”

Cardassians were sensitive to the laser sterilizer that way, unlike humans or indeed most species he’d encountered. “I know it does. Almost done.” He ran it over the wound an extra time for good measure, then reached for the dermal regenerator.

“What’s that one do?”

“This is going to heal some of your skin so you’ll stop bleeding.” Not to mention keep the wound sterile and speed recovery.

“That’s good. I don’t like bleeding.”

“Keep holding still. See how your skin is healing?”

Azoon looked down to where a thin layer of grey skin reformed. Julian moved the regenerator up the wound; he always preferred to regenerate minimally to cover maximum volume and then return for another layer.

“Are you going to put all my skin back?”

“No. It will take some time for the rest of your skin to heal, and you need to be gentle with your arm while it does.” The dermal regenerator couldn’t repair all the delicate systems of nerves and blood vessels, so it was a stopgap measure until the body healed itself, but it prevented infection and that alone was immensely valuable. “There. Much better.”

Now that the crisis was over Inda looked her age, young and frightened. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help.”

While Azoon stared in wonder at his arm, Inda sighed. “We’re going to have a talk tomorrow about the importance of listening to me.”

“I will return tomorrow,” announced Garak as he reentered the kitchen. “It will be a simple matter to seal off the north wing to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate incident. The south wing is stable.” So that was what he’d gone off for.

“That’s very kind of you, Mr. Garak.”

Garak nodded, his standard response to a compliment. Julian was starting to suspect that he didn’t know any other way to accept a compliment. Garak looked down at Azoon and said gently, “Your sister knows things that you do not, Azoon. When she tells you not to do something, she is not being arbitrary.”

“What’s arbitrary?”

“It means ‘with no reason.’ Your sister had a very good reason why you should not play in the north wing, even if you didn’t understand.”

“Because I could get hurt.”

“Yes.”

“She wasn’t just being a kzratsov.”

“No.”

Whatever that meant, it satisfied Azoon.

Julian told Inda, “I’ll come over tomorrow evening for a follow up, but I expect he’ll make a full recovery so long as he is gentle with his arm for a few days.”

“He’ll be gentle if I have to tie his arm to his chest.”

“No! I’ll be good!”

They left to additional thanks from Inda.

“Kzratsov?” inquired Julian as he and Garak left the Rokul home.

“One who prevents others from enjoying themselves. A term mostly used by children.”

“Spoilsport.”

“So there is a Standard equivalent.”

“I’m not sure that’s made it into the official Standard dictionary, but it’s definitely the English equivalent.”

“The exact differences between Federation Standard and English elude me,” confessed Garak.

“Probably because they’re subtle. A lot of it has to do with slang, really.”

“Slang?”

“Colloquial language, less official. The kind teenagers like to use.”

“Cardassian teenagers do not use notably different language.”

They returned to their now-cold dinner. Tellarite sausage wasn’t particularly tasty to begin with and going cold hadn’t helped, but it was good protein and tolerable with rice. It was a nice change from protein bars anyway.

“It’s very common among human teenagers as a way of differentiating themselves.”

“From adults?”

“Their parents mostly.”

This puzzled Garak. “Our teenagers want to be treated as adults, so they strive to emulate their parents. Do your teenagers not wish to be seen as adults?”

“Oh yes. Though they tend to want more of the rights and less of the responsibilities.”

Garak frowned. “Responsibilities are far more important.”

“Try telling that to a sixteen year old human.”

“Including yourself?”

“Yes and no.” He sliced the sausage, trying to find the words to explain. “I was fifteen when I found out about the genetic enhancements, which made my adolescence… unusual. At sixteen I wasn’t in the frame of mind to consider responsibilities, really.” His focus had been elsewhere, including but not limited to: convincingly feigning near incomprehension of Advanced Vulcan; obsessively reviewing his every action to see if he might give himself away; learning everything he could about the treatments he’d been subjected to; and Clara Ridgeway’s magnificent breasts.

“And yet you now take the responsibilities of your profession seriously.”

“I think of it more as a calling than a profession, but yes. That’s not unusual among humans.”

Evidently it was among Cardassians, because Garak mulled the concept over for the rest of the evening.


 

Peldar insisted that Julian give her lessons on his physiology whenever the time could be found, reasoning that if he stayed in Cardassia City she would need to be ready for any medical treatment he might require. She then brought Nuran, one of the nurses, into the lessons as well. They often ended up getting a bit sidetracked into the nuances of comparative physiology, but Julian learned many fascinating facts this way.

“So the dosset’s sensitivity is vestigial? I’d wondered what purpose it served.” The dosset, what most other races called a ‘spoon,’ had no real biological function and he’d always thought that peculiar.

“My great-grandfather said that his great-grandfather’s dosset could sense changes in atmospheric pressure,” said Nuran.

“That’s unlikely,” Peldar replied. “He would have lived three centuries after the last functional dossets were recorded.”

“Great-Grandfather never let the truth interfere with a good story.”

Julian wondered what it would be like to sense atmospheric pressure. Few species had the ability, Andorians being the most adept of those who did. A classmate at the Academy tried to explain it, but he found it difficult to put into words. (“How would you explain sight to one who has never seen?” he’d said.)

Nuran looked at Julian’s neck and noted, “The lack of protection on your face I can understand somewhat, but such an exposed and vulnerable neck! Forgive me, Doctor, but it seems like a design flaw.”

“We actually have various idioms which refer to that.”

“Such as?” It came was surprise that Peldar was curious. She’d developed an interest in Julian’s phrases, particularly those which failed to translate well.

“Risking one’s neck refers to putting one’s self in danger, though it isn’t always mortal physical danger. It’s often used when discussing an action which could damage a career.”

“Do you have similar references to the vulnerability of male reproductive organs?” asked Peldar.

Oh, not this again. Julian had plenty of experience discussing all body parts with clinical detachment, but that particular conversation with Peldar had been uncomfortable nevertheless because she was so damn curious. There was no possible medical reason Peldar needed to ask so many questions about his testicles. He could only be thankful Nuran hadn’t been present… but it was time to redirect their current talk.

“No. There’s another expression you might be interested in, though. When wishing someone good luck, it’s common to say, ‘break a leg.’”

Speaking of good luck, Julian had some because his attempted conversational diversion couldn’t have gone better. He now had two confused Cardassian women looking at him.

“Why would you hope for a broken leg?”

“Is there some bizarre cultural importance to broken bones?”

“No cultural importance. It comes from an old superstition, I believe among actors, that wishing somebody good luck was actually bad luck.”

“So, using this logic, wishing for something negative to happen would produce positive results?” Peldar guessed.

“That was the idea, and it spread into general usage.”

Nuran frowned slightly. “I don’t understand why anyone would believe that good wishes would cause anything undesirable.”

“Wishes, positive or negative, have no influence on outcomes,” dismissed Peldar.

Julian shook his head, enjoying himself immensely. “Nuran, it’s a superstition. You can’t apply logic. Even something that may have made sense to the uneducated a thousand years ago will more often than not seem foolish from our perspective. However, there have actually been numerous studies showing that positive wishes, prayers, meditation and the like can be quite beneficial for humans.”

“Really?”

“Patients who have supportive family or friends fare much better than those without.”

“What about the will to survive?”

“I suppose it’s about having a reason to survive. In the absence of serving the state, that is,” he added as an afterthought.

“That is reason enough.” Peldar was firm on this point.

They’d once again strayed from Julian’s physiology, but this was a very useful insight into Cardassian psychology – and moreover not another round of “Twenty Questions about Human Male Genitals” so Julian couldn’t be sorry.


 

Once Bashir left for the hospital Garak went to drop off his gift. He’d given the doctor the larger of the two guest bedrooms and, as usual, the door was open in an utterly human display of trust. A closed door would not have stopped Garak from entering if he wanted to, of course, but the open door was so very unlike what any Cardassian would have considered appropriate.

Courtship gifts were supposed to stand as a witness to the suitor’s talents. Garak had numerous talents but few which he cared to showcase in such a manner. He was a very good tailor, a suitable ability for courtship gifts, and therefore made a shirt for Bashir. It took some effort to obtain the material, a light fabric which was well-suited to clothing a human during Cardassia City’s summer in a becoming shade of emerald green, and the whole process would have been easier with better equipment (he’d never imagined wishing for his shop on the station), but he was pleased with the final product. It would be both useful and fetching on the doctor.

The courtship was proceeding well from Garak’s perspective. Their two outings had been highly enjoyable and when others understood that they were a courting couple he was filled with a distinct pride that Bashir had accepted his suit. While the population at large still tended to look on interspecies relationships with disfavor, the district’s inhabitants had grown fond of Bashir and most approved. Gentach had gone so far as to offer some suggestions from his own courtship experience, and though Garak doubted the advice would apply in his case he appreciated the sentiment.

He folded the shirt and laid it on the bed before leaving for his own work. There was a City Council meeting he was obligated to attend, which meant an interminable morning of accomplishing next to nothing with Cardassia City’s other pur-nims. After he would speak privately with Madin, pur-nim of the neighboring Szmara’kor district. Madin was one of the most competent of Garak’s peers, and discussion with her could produce useful strategies to maximize meager resources.

Rokul appeared to be in the early stages of planting a garden, and since he had modest abilities in that area he paused his journey to assess her work.

“Hello, Mr. Garak!” greeted Azoon, ebullient. “We’re going to grow our very own nor’sed. Did you know the worms will help us?” This he punctuated by waving one such worm in a manner the invertebrate could hardly have appreciated.

“Is that so?”

“Azoon, stop flinging dirt, you’re going to get it on Mr. Garak,” said Dyrum.

“I found this in the cellar.” Rokul showed Garak a seed bag marked ‘Nor’sed.’ It says to plant in very early spring, so I’m getting the ground ready now.”

“I would wait another four weeks before sowing.” If nor’sed was planted too early the melons were stunted and bitter.

“Your advice is appreciated.”

Worm forgotten, Azoon bounded over to Garak. “Are you going to marry Dr. Bashir?”

“Azoon!” scolded Rokul. “We have discussed the importance of respect for your elders, have we not?” To Garak she said, “I apologize. He fell into himself so deeply after the battle, I fear I have been too lenient now that he is returning to high spirits.”

“You do an admirable job as head of household.” Considering her age this was true. Perhaps Rokul did not instill quite as much discipline in the children as could be desired, but she had barely entered womanhood herself and the children were undoubtedly better off in her care than in the orphanage.

A small part of Garak deemed it possible that allowing a bit of impertinence might in fact be good for Cardassia. If it had been a world where a youth of five years could question an adult about romantic intentions, perhaps Cardassians would have questioned their leaders’ decisions and never allied with the Dominion… but no, he must think only of the present and the future. The past was ashes.

“But then Dr. Bashir could stay and take care of us forever,” pointed out Azoon.

“Or Mr. Garak will leave with him.” That was Dyrum, as surly a twelve-year-old as Garak had ever encountered.

“I am going nowhere.” He could reassure them on that count. As to marrying Bashir, he wished to but it was very much the doctor’s decision. “I must take my leave.”

Rokul nodded. “Good day.”

As he walked away Garak heard Azoon once again exclaiming over the worm population. The future of Cardassia, he thought to himself, and smiled.


 

They were enjoying a quiet evening of reading when the door chime rang. Garak returned from answering the door and announced, “Doctor, Liket would like to speak with you.”

“I don’t believe I’ve met Liket.” He followed Garak back to the front door.

“He is the subdistrict’s head schoolteacher.”

“Ah.”

Liket was a short, grey-haired man who greeted Julian with the deferential nod he’d come to expect when he first met someone. “Thank you for speaking with me, Doctor. I am Liket, head teacher.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

It was strange not to invite him in, but it wasn’t the Cardassian way to automatically invite a visitor into your home, and Julian was still learning how the various factors combined to yield an invitation but he knew enough that it wasn’t called for in this situation. Not when he’d never met Liket and the man came to see him.

“The children have many questions about the Federation, Doctor, questions to which I too often lack answers. If you would allow me to impose a few questions on you, I would be most grateful.”

“Certainly. Although I’m happy to visit the school and speak with the children.”

“You are?”

“Yes.” He considered his schedule briefly. “Would first thing Tinul morning work for you?”

“Of course, of course. You are most gracious, Doctor.”

“I’ll plan to be there for the first bell.”

“Splendid. The children will enjoy your visit tremendously. I will not take any more of your time this evening.”

“You know,” Julian told Garak as they returned to the common room, “I believe I’m developing a secondary role as an ambassador.”

“One which you perform admirably.”

“Thank you, Garak.”

Since Julian had accepted his courtship Garak looked at him with undisguised fondness. The pleasure these looks gave him, not to mention his own warm feelings for Garak, made Julian increasingly confident that the relationship was a good idea.

“Do you have any plans for Tinul afternoon?” asked Garak.

“No.”

“It is the first day of the annual kite festival, Pan Retok. Would you like to attend with me?”

“Yes. How many days is Pan Retok?’

“It lasts two, though I understand the entire celebration will be simpler than usual this year.”

“That’s not surprising.”

“No. However, we can still expect some excellent examples of kite fighting. The best kite fighters are skilled with even the simplest of kites.”

“Kite fighting? I’ve never seen that.”

“I suppose you don’t have such a violent use of kites on Earth.”

“I’ve heard of it, actually.”

Garak was impressed. “I believe many worlds have kites, although I have never seen such skilled kite fighting as the Cardassian style.”

“Pan Retok.” He didn’t know either word. “Is that Kite Festival?”

“Yes. Pan is festival, retok is kite in adjective form.”

Nouns in adjective form were one of the more confusing aspects of Cardassi, not least because only some nouns could be thus used but there was no rhyme or reason to the list of approved nouns. Peldar had even taken to informing Julian, “You are inventing words again.”

“Do you kite fight?” he asked Garak.

“Not since childhood.”

“I suppose you excelled at it.”

“On the contrary, I was routinely bested by my peers.”

Julian had no idea if that was truth or a lie, and it really didn’t matter. There would be cases where it mattered – they would get to that in the second phase of courtship – but in times like this, he didn’t care at all.


 

Tunil seemed an ideal day for a kite festival, with a moderate breeze, but Julian didn’t quite understand the timing. “Incidentally, why is an outdoor festival scheduled during the winter? Pleasant as I find it, this seems an odd choice.”

“The winds are most conducive in winter, and the lower humidity allows for a greater range of advanced kite movement. Are you ready to leave?”

“Yes.”

He took Garak’s proffered arm, one of the few kids of physical contact allowed in first-stage courtship. He preferred holding hands – especially as Garak made no complaint on the occasions he did it human style – but Garak had tucked his hands in his pockets for warmth. After seven years of being chilled on DS9, he was particularly sensitive to being cold now. In retrospect, Julian realized how much it meant that Garak stayed outside meteor-watching for two hours on a winter night.

“The riverfront will offer excellent views,” said Garak as they walked. “How was your discussion with the schoolchildren?”

“I think it went very well. They’re curious about the people who’ve come to their planet, mostly. I got a lot of questions about Earth and Vulcan.” That made sense, as most Federation volunteers were human or Vulcan. “One little girl was particularly fascinated by Andoria.” The idea of living on an ice world seemed impossible to the children.

“There are reactionaries in the government who fear the Federation will expect Cardassia to apply for membership.”

“I doubt it. Something like the Khitomer Accords is more likely, so there’s no need to start teaching Standard in the schools.” Certain people would no doubt like to see Cardassia join the Federation, but realistically Julian didn’t see it happening. “I’m not privy to any insider knowledge, of course, so that’s just my opinion.”

“You present an acceptable scenario.”

“It’s good that the children are curious, anyway.” That they were for the most part inquisitive, engaging, and trying to make sense of their new world spoke well for their ability to adjust and eventually thrive. “They requested a story from Earth.”

Garak was always interested in stories. “And what did you tell them?”

“Robin Hood. My repertoire of children’s stories is rather limited, and I didn’t think Cinderella would translate very well.”

“I’m unfortunately familiar with Cinderella and her single glass slipper which for no apparent reason failed to disappear along with the rest of her magical wardrobe. As though anyone with an ounce of sense would create footwear out of glass.”

“It’s magic glass.”

“How convenient. And a prince who can’t recognize the face of a woman he claims to love is hardly fit to rule.” Garak shook his head ruefully. “It’s a wonder you humans achieved space travel.”

“It’s called suspension of disbelief.” Not to mention that a good percentage of princes were manifestly unfit to rule – arguably monarchy’s greatest flaw.

“I call it exceedingly poor plot development.”

“It’s not about a flawless plot, it’s about teaching children that virtue is rewarded.”

“I see your world has a long tradition of indoctrinating children with a naïve and dangerously false worldview.”

Julian decided to agree just for the pleasure of throwing Garak. “Yes, actually.” He was rewarded with a momentary look of surprise before Garak recovered his equilibrium. “Have you heard of Robin Hood?”

“No.”

“I think you’ll like his story better than Cinderella.”

“That’s not difficult. He doesn’t have glass slippers, does he?”

“No. I think he wears leather shoes.”

“Is there magic?”

“Not that I recall.”

“I like this story better already.”

“He’s also killed by his cousin. Or his cousin’s lover. There are multiple variations.”

“He doesn’t live happily ever after?” Garak seemed inordinately pleased.

“He dies in his prime. I didn’t get into that with the children. We focused on his fight against a corrupt sheriff.” He’d have to see about getting a Robin Hood story to share with Garak. Miles would probably send one if he asked. “Also, there’s some moral ambiguity to the story. He’s technically an outlaw, but he steals from the greedy and corrupt rich to give to the poor. What he’s doing is illegal, but only because the people in power have used their authority to tax the poor into destitution.”

“Suggesting that illegal activities are morally responsible? I do hope you didn’t teach the schoolchildren that lesson.”

He only half recalled the story and it had enough variations that Julian had no qualms about a few minor modifications. “I had the sheriff demanding taxes beyond what the law called for. Don’t you appreciate the idea that sometimes the law isn’t right?”

“That’s a simplistic way to phrase a complex matter, but I agree with the general principle. It is not, however, a lesson for young children.”

They turned a corner and several kites came into view. None appeared to be fighting; rather the operators were showing off some complex moves. As they approached the riverfront Julian was surprised to see that the kites were being flown from small boats in the river.

“Do they fight from the boats as well?”

Garak nodded. “It provides increased maneuverability. The best flyers and oarsmen are able to anticipate each other’s moves.”

The largest kite was shaped like a riding hound, complete with scales that flapped in the wind. “That one actually looks like it’s running.”

“That is not a fighting kite. The more elaborate designs are typically reserved to display other talents. I once saw a set which enacted a child chasing a vole.”

He’d never seen kites like this, though admittedly his kite experience was limited. There was another which spun spiral ribbons as it rose and fell which he quite liked. Two other kites were flying in tandem, mirroring each other’s moves.

A new kite joined the others, and as it rose it took the form of a bird. A raptor, perhaps, or similar bird of prey. Although… he shouldn’t rule out the idea that Cardassian songbirds looked that menacing.

“It’s a kantrok,” said Garak. “A bird much beloved for hunting juvenile voles. There’s at least one every Pan Retok.”

Not a songbird after all. Good.

He and Garak weren’t the only ones on a date. Julian saw Zynhar with her partner; from their close contact he deduced that they were in the second stage of courtship. There were people on the riverbank as far as he could see upstream, though not many downstream. Most likely the tide interfered with the boats downstream. Many of the children and teenagers had kites of their own, more than a few of which looked homemade.

It was good to see people out enjoying themselves. The war had left immense psychological devastation for survivors, even as mentally tough a race as Cardassians. Some wounds would heal only with time, some not at all, but Julian saw progress in the population at large and in individuals.

“This is lovely,” He meant far more than just the festival, and from the pleasure on Garak’s face he knew the message was understood.

Chapter Text

After four weeks of courtship Julian took a couple days to reflect on the relationship and concluded that he was happy with it thus far, but there was nothing to be gained from prolonging the first phase. Everything that would determine their success or failure as a couple lay ahead of them.

They were sitting in the park watching a game of bakoons’re, which consisted of three teams of six players who were all attempting to get a ball into a bin at the center and/or three smaller bins around the edges of the playing field. The center bin earned points for the scoring team while getting the ball into one of the outer bins allowed the scoring team to deduct points from one of their opponents. For a friendly neighborhood game, the whole thing was quite competitive. Usually Julian was interested in exploring these aspects of Cardassian culture, but he was entirely too preoccupied for the nuances of the game.

“There are two main schools of thought regarding bakoons’re strategy,” explained Garak, “which are offensive and defensive.” A pause. “Doctor, this explanation is entirely for your benefit.”

Apparently his lack of attention was obvious, but it gave him an ideal opening. “Please call me Julian.”

Garak looked at him with open delight for a moment before sliding his arm around Julian’s shoulders, a contact now permitted in the second stage of courting. “Julian, my dear, call me Elim.”

He put his own arm around Garak’s waist, a gesture which he belatedly realized he hadn’t seen among Cardassians but which Garak didn’t seem to mind. Most of their fellow spectators had ceased watching the game and though they were careful not to speak loudly enough to be understood, it was clear that Julian and Garak were the topic at hand. That couldn’t really be helped, since first phase courtship took place only in public and Garak had stuck to that, keeping more distance when they were alone in the house.

“The entire district is going to know by tomorrow.”

“As they should,” said Garak. “The community has interest vested in courtships.”

“I can understand that. It’s just so different – rather, you are different. You always valued your privacy so much on DS9 that I never would have imagined being this… open.”

“I value my privacy as ever, but I am part of a community now, which brings responsibilities to the community.”

“I’m not complaining.” Absently Julian noted that somebody scored, but his attention was not on bakoons’re and he didn’t even know which was the scoring team.

Garak continued, “A courtship conducted in secrecy is influenced heavily by shame. I would not make such a request of you, nor would I agree if you requested it of me.”

“I wouldn’t, of course.” And he was happy with the openness, very pleased to watch the game with their arms around each other, neighborhood talk and all. He was so used to Garak’s secrecy that he’d been slightly concerned how it would play out in a relationship, and while he knew that would eventually come up, it was clear that Garak was proud for everyone to know about their courtship.

The game continued until sunset, when it got too cold to continue. Julian did eventually turn his attention back to bakoons’re, though he remained acutely aware of the intimate position they sat in.

When they arrived home – he’d grown to think of Garak’s house as ‘home’ recently – he brought up a matter of great importance. “These questions we’re going to be asking each other. They aren’t circumstances where a lie will do, are they?”

“Certainly not. The whole phase would be pointless without truth.”

That was what he’d hoped, but then again…“And yet you don’t believe the truth exists.”

“Oh, did you believe that?”

“I’m serious. This is important.”

“Truth is chimeric, and my conception of it is complex. Let us speak of my truths, a category which most certainly exists.”

“Alright, I can work with that.”

Garak looked at him for a moment, somewhat guarded, before he continued, “You are entitled to some of my truths, Julian, but that does not mean that I will change my nature.”

He thought he knew where this was going. “I don’t expect you to be an open book from now on. Actually, I’d be worried if you were. I’m not asking for you to tell me everything about your past. What I do expect is your truth on matters that seriously impact us for the present and the future.”

“Then we are in agreement.”

He smiled at that, because he knew how carefully Garak guarded his secrets and his truths. It wasn’t easy to promise Julian truths, and it spoke volumes about his partner’s feelings. Yes, they’d have to discuss the issue more, but he found Garak’s attitude promising.

Julian had a list of questions that he wanted to ask, but those could wait for the time being. Second phase courtship wasn’t supposed to be over in one evening anyway. For the time being he had just one further question.

“Do you think we can add kissing to the permissible contact? I’ve noticed that kissing isn’t a standard means of expressing affection between Cardassian adults, but it is for me.” He’d seen adults kiss children’s foreheads, but a gesture of parental affection was not at all what he had in mind.

“We do not consider lips an erogenous zone.” Right. Julian had figured that out himself. “However, as a means of expressing affection, I am quite willing to indulge you. In the past, touching lips was practiced between couples.”

Julian leaned forward and pressed a quick kiss to Garak’s lips. It was highly enjoyable despite the brevity, and he resolved to explore further possibilities in regards to kissing. All in due time. For the moment, he was content.


 

Bashir’s first courtship question came as no surprise. After managing to best Garak at kotra he asked, “If the Obsidian Order is resurrected, would you join?”

Garak had considered this at length before he initiated the courtship. He was well aware that the doctor would not share his life with a current member of the Order. It was a surprise that he was even willing to consider sharing his life with a former member of the Order.

He had known ever since he was unable to dispassionately torture Odo that he could never again be the operative he once was. For some time that had bothered him, but he grew to accept the fact. After his return he began to believe this was for the better. Cardassia no longer needed a top-notch operative, but it did need leaders who were strong without corruption, individuals who could guide Cardassia into a new and stable future. At minimum the Elgin’kor District needed a competent pur-nim, not that imbecile Zarhon who only wanted to bring his own family to prominence, and Garak was content to thus serve Cardassia.

“I very much doubt that we will see the Order again,” he began, though he knew Bashir would demand a far more complete answer.

“Hypothetically. I need honesty here, Elim.”

The delight of hearing Bashir use his first name was a pleasant distraction from the daunting task of being so honest and, ancestors help him, vulnerable.

“Operatives need to be unattached and anonymous. I am neither, so I would make a very poor operative.” Bashir simply waited for more information, unsurprisingly. He had learned well. Garak continued, “Even if I could be anonymous, in this hypothetical scenario where the Order is both reborn and required, I could not be an agent. During my exile I allowed myself to form attachments.” Inexcusable for an operative, but entirely unavoidable. And not without its own eventual rewards, if one could learn to accept one’s own weakness.

“Does this mean that you couldn’t be an agent because I would be a liability?”

“Not precisely, though that isn’t incorrect. As you may be aware, we Cardassians are naturally social creatures. In the absence of any real purpose, I found myself more influenced by those natural instincts. Quite unacceptable in an operative, but I am, shall we say, disinclined to return to my previous ways.”

Well. He was particularly disinclined to return to his previous ways if Bashir would have him. It was probable that with complete immersion and some effort he could detach himself again, but he could not have both detachment and Bashir. Even by deliberating the courtship he’d chosen Bashir.

His father would have called him weak, but then, his father had been weak enough to let Garak live, so Tain’s voice in his head was decidedly hypocritical.

Perhaps he was weak. Perhaps he was merely mortal. In either case Garak had decided he could live with himself.

After a moment’s consideration, Bashir nodded. “You couldn’t be an operative because you’ve changed.”

“Just so.”

That, at last, satisfied his companion. “You could’ve just said so.”

“Please. This much honesty is giving me a headache.”

Bashir grinned. “Alright then, my turn to be honest.”

Garak doubted that he had even half the number of questions Bashir did. Nevertheless there were certain matters that needed to be addressed. “I understand that human marriages have very little by way of defined expectations. I am curious as to what you desire.”

“A very reasonable question.” He paused. “Love, for one thing. Not that I need reams of sentimental poetry or declarations of undying love thrice daily, but I couldn’t seriously consider marriage without being in love.”

“If your literature is any indication, humans experience love differently than Cardassians. You certainly have enough comparisons to a burning flame.”

“That’s one kind of love.”

“We speak more of devotion, which is of course a kind of love.” It was crucial that Bashir understand the point. Garak loved him, but he loved as the Cardassian he was, and to expect otherwise would invite discord. “To consider another’s life as an extension of one’s own is the essence of Cardassian love.”

The doctor considered the point for a moment before nodding. “That’s a lovely way to put it.”

So they were in agreement. “What else, Julian?”

“Exclusivity. I’m not inclined to share my partner.”

“Nor I.”

“I want a relationship of equals. I want my partner and I to support each other, challenge each other, and look after each other.”

Garak had suspected as much, and he wanted the same. There were some who wanted to establish a certain degree of dominance, such as the late unlamentable Dukat, but Garak did not see the appeal. He would soon grow bored with a subordinate spouse. “Life would be rather dull with any other approach, I suspect.”

“Yes.”

There remained a point still. “It is also my understanding that humans are more inclined to dissolve marriages than we are.”

“On the whole, yes. Personally I think at least a third of those are marriages which were ill-considered in the first place.”

“And the remainder?”

“A variety of factors. Certainly I don’t recommend anyone remain in an abusive relationship, and while some couples can work through infidelity I understand how it could destroy a marriage. In the absence of a compelling reason, though… a relationship takes effort. It isn’t always easy, and anyone who gets married just based on emotion without expecting to compromise, to work at it, is bound to be disappointed. It’s a commitment.”

The answer pleased Garak enormously. He’d always considered the human focus on passionate love short-sighted, as the concept failed to emphasis commitment. To hear Bashir speak of commitment was reassuring.

“I know Cardassians don’t divorce except in extenuating circumstances, but what exactly constitutes an extenuating circumstance? Besides recognizing one’s child with a Bajoran mistress.”

“An affair is considered reasonable grounds to terminate a marriage, as is abuse, or one party ceasing all sexual relations. And treason, of course.”

“Naturally.” Bashir rose and stepped in for a kiss. “I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

He went off for his exercise routine. Garak allowed himself to be relieved that their first courtship questions had gone well, but only slightly so. After all, being on the same page meant very little unless both individuals were reading the same line.


 

Ezri was the first of his friends to reply when Julian informed them of his relationship with Garak. (He was still working on thinking of Garak as ‘Elim.’) This was no surprise; the transmission lag time to Earth was such that Miles probably hadn’t received the message yet, and Kira was likely trying to think of a polite way to respond without insinuating that he’d lost his mind. She may have grown beyond hating all Cardassians, but she could hardly be expected to be thrilled over Julian’s news.

Since secrecy implied shame Julian had decided it was important that he inform his friends. He would get around to telling his parents - eventually.

“Hello, Julian,” said Ezri in her vid message. “I have to admit I’m not entirely surprised. I always thought there was a spark between you and Garak.”

He wondered if that was ‘I, Ezri’ or ‘I, Dax.’

“We’ll miss you here. Nerys is more upset that she’ll admit that you aren’t planning to come back. I think it’s wonderfully romantic. I am the most sentimental Dax since Emony, you know.”

He saw now that going to Cardassia was the best thing he could’ve done to save his friendship with Ezri, since distance allowed them to move on without seeing each other every day. It felt good that she could be happy for his happiness. He wanted the same for her.

“Ah, so we have Lieutenant Dax’s blessing,” remarked Garak, who had as usual entered the common room silently and snuck up on Julian. He looked far more pleased than Ezri’s approval could account for, suggesting that Julian had been right about the importance of telling his friends.

“How’s the garden?” he asked. Garak had been busy the last few days planting early season crops with a few teenagers he’d recruited as assistants. The plan was to expand the area of land under cultivation by adding gardens in abandoned lots.

“Progressing satisfactorily. We planted loqwhen this afternoon.”

The name was familiar. “The vaguely triangular orange vegetable?”

“Yes.”

“I won’t be having any of that. It induces vomiting in humans.” And diarrhea in Denobulans, though Vulcans were fine and apparently found loqwhen agreeably nutritious.

“I hadn’t heard.”

“I keep in touch with a few of my Federation colleagues here.”

“Naturally. It’s unfortunate, since loqwhen is very good, but it’s difficult to argue with biology.

“There’s always oktar.”

“Oktar is a late season crop.”

That wasn’t really the point, but before Julian could make his observation Garak stepped in close. “May I anshwar?”

“Of course,” he replied, smiling. Anshwar was the intimate gesture of resting foreheads together, a definition that Garak had happily introduced with thorough demonstration. They were apparently in a restrained, Cardassian version of the ‘can’t keep our hands off each other’ stage. Julian was quite looking forward to the unrestrained, human-Cardassian version, though that was a way in the future. For now he enjoyed the closer contact that they did have, particularly anshwar and kissing.


 

Julian had enjoyed a peaceful day off where he slept an hour later than usual, took a long and leisurely walk, browsed the library for a while, and finally settled in the common room after lunch with a cup of tea and a historical fiction novel. It was an eminently restful day until his boyfriend returned.

“Are you familiar with Oyrad Five?” asked Elim as soon as he got home. (Julian had finally gotten in the habit of mentally using his first name, which gave a whole new level of intimacy to their relationship.)

“The Betazoid agricultural colony or the Fah-N’Ree scientific outpost?”

“The agricultural colony. Its crops have been declared unsafe for consumption due to radiation which resulted, I am told, from the interaction of Dominion weapons with certain elements in the planet’s atmosphere.”

“Is this going to be a long-term problem?”

“The most optimistic estimates say it will be twenty years before the colony can produce safe crops. Meanwhile, due to a series of solar flares and storms, it was a very poor year for crops on Denobula.”

Julian felt his stomach clench as he realized where this conversation was going. “They’re cutting food aid to Cardassia.”

“The Federation’s primary obligation is to its member worlds.” This was a statement of fact, and Elim didn’t seem half as outraged as Julian.

“We’re going to have a famine.” Cardassia City was going to fare very badly, as would most of the major Cardassian cities. He supposed that rural areas would not suffer as much. The most productive agricultural colonies had also suffered from battles at the end of the war and wouldn’t be much help.

“Yes. Only two of the outer colonies expect to send food. We have been reassured that Federation volunteers will receive adequate food to continue their work, so you won’t starve.”

“Good. I can share with you.”

“Julian, I will not allow you to starve yourself on my behalf.”

“So you expect me to eat three meals a day while you starve? That’s unacceptable. I know I can’t feed everyone, but I can share with you.”

“I suppose you’re going to insist.”

“Damn right I am.”

Elim acquiesced for the time being, but Julian felt the discussion was going to recur. He just knew Elim would try to get by on only a fraction of the rations.

“In light of this new information, there are several sites I wish to salvage which I had previously deemed too risky. There is enough daylight to begin immediately.”

“I’ll get my medkit.”

“I would appreciate your company, although I will enter the unstable areas alone. No, don’t protest. Who will rescue me if we are both trapped?”

Unable to counter that point, Julian retrieved his medkit and made a quick trip to the restroom. He found Elim outside with a large wheelbarrow.

“We will begin with the remains of the Lekat residence, directly behind my own,” announced Elim. They headed off through a lightly wooded area which separated the properties.

“Are we looking for anything other than food?”

“The means to produce food, and any other useful objects we are fortunate enough to encounter.”

“I’ve seen patients who could use new shoes.” Walking being the main form of transportation meant a lot of wear and tear on shoes. He was glad he’d brought an extra pair.

“The Lekat garden shed survived, but I have already emptied it. The contents continue to be of great use in the community garden.”

Past the shed and over a small rise what was left of the house came into view. A crater on the lawn, into which part of the house spilled, suggested one of the Dominion’s smaller bombs had landed.

Elim explained, “Like many residents of the immediate area, the Lekats fled seeking safety and were never seen again. I suspect that the Dominion continually changed their targets to the most densely populated neighborhoods as residents sought safety.”

“I’m glad your house wasn’t badly damaged. It would’ve been a shame to lose the library.” A trivial thing next to the loss of life, perhaps, but he’d learned to take the good news where he could get it.

“Indeed it would. Though I suspect the community would not have objected to seeing the house levelled.”

“They haven’t been in the library.”

The second floor of the former Lekat home was in some places completely missing and in others collapsing into the first or the basement. It was easy to see why Elim had previously deemed the house unsafe. Julian wasn’t thrilled to think of him entering, but there’d be no talking him out of it.

They began in a stable enough area where the second floor had been blown away but the first was intact. Their arrival disturbed a pair of voles who expressed displeasure by hissing as they ran past.

“I suppose we could always eat voles,” mused Elim.

“I wouldn’t recommend it. There are three different ways that eating voles can make you sick.” Peldar had shared those reports with him – oh, damn, he’d have to tell her about the coming famine in the morning.

“That will not stop someone who is hungry enough.”

He was right. Julian would have to request anti-parasitic treatments, among other supplies that he was unlikely to receive.

Elim was barely able to squeeze past a beam to descend the stairs into the cellar. “Be careful,” warned Julian.

“I’m always careful.”

Julian occupied himself for several minutes making a thorough investigation of the first floor (or what remained of it). Unfortunately the kitchen was altogether missing. He shifted a piece of plaster and was rewarded with a nearly full container of red leaf tea.

Elim’s voice came up from where the cellar was exposed. “I do hope you’re taking your own advice and being careful.”

“Yes, and I’ve found red leaf tea.”

“Very good.”

He picked up another, much smaller container. “And possibly some kind of spice.”

“Would you meet me by the stairs? I’ve made a delightful discovery.”

It took two of them to maneuver said discovery up the blocked stairs. “Some kind of light?” asked Julian. It was about a meter long and a third as wide.

“The most useful kind – a gardening light. It appears that Lekat liked to grow his own herbs year round.” Elim said as he loaded his treasure into the wheelbarrow. “I also retrieved several seed packets, though I would prefer to grow something other than herbs.”

Julian added his tea to the wheelbarrow and held out the smaller container he’d found. “Is this a spice?”

“Ta’mun. A very potent spice blend used with meat.”

“We’re doing marvelously in the seasoning department,” he remarked as they returned to the house.

“The cellar has been exposed to rain, so I doubt that I will find much more. There is a trowel I’d like. We’re fortunate that the light is undamaged.”

“No thriving plants down there?”

“Thriving, no. There are approximately fifty dead plants.”

While Elim checked the cellar again, Julian conducted a thorough sweep of the more stable areas of the first floor. Under a layer of salt granules he found an unopened package of seaweed. The seaweed came in sheets, and they had rice from the latest aid shipment, so Julian thought he’d attempt protein bar sushi. Probably a travesty to fans of the real thing, but anything to improve protein bars was worth a try.

The floor under his feet sank a few centimeters. “Elim?”

“Yes?”

“You’d better come up before the floor collapses.”

Exposure to rain had rotted sections of the floor, but they were out of danger when part of it fell into the cellar. After a moment the stairs followed.

“There’s still -”

Julian interrupted when he heard a serious of ominous creaks. “Leave. Now.”

Elim followed without question, and just in time. They watched the rest of the structure fold in, waver, and then crash down.

“We shouldn’t have caused that,” said Elim. “Though voles can cause significant structural damage. Did you hear something I didn’t?”

“Yes.”

“And you found seaweed. Perhaps you’ll accompany me on a few more salvage expeditions?”

“I think it would be prudent.”

The war, he reflected on the walk home, cast a very long shadow.


 

Bashir was a great asset in Garak’s riskier scavenging ventures, not least because of his superb hearing. Word had gotten out that food shortages were imminent and most of the district had commenced rechecking ruins for anything edible. Most of the food had been discovered in the first months after the battle, and safe locations had long since been relieved of their assets. Unsafe locations suddenly held more appeal.

Their latest expedition had been a triumph. After careful scouting they entered the wreckage of a restaurant and discovered a sack of dried palt beans. Garak would take the precaution of personally supervising their planting to ensure that none were removed as a private food source. He had a responsibility to see his district through the famine and he exercised it with diligence.

The restaurant also yielded a moderate supply of dashku, which Garak planned to split between himself and Rokul. He could tell there was more food but couldn’t access it. “Would you pass me a board?” he asked.

Bashir found a suitable board. “What’ve you got?”

“I don’t know.”

Scavenging excursions were hardly ideal courtship outings, but one of the many wonderful aspects of Bashir’s personality was that he didn’t mind in the least. In fact he was pleased to be of assistance. The longer their courtship went on, the more convinced Garak became that he would never find a spouse half as desirable as Julian Bashir.

After painstakingly maneuvering the board, he was able to move a canister within reach. “Frod jat,” he informed his companion. “Jat is similar to your Terran olives, though much smaller. Frod is the most popular variety. This canister is unopened.”

“Excellent.”

“I believe there’s another.” He was right, and with some difficulty retrieved more jat. This canister was covered in a sticky mixture which probably resulted when the other foodstuffs were crushed. Garak could see no more intact containers of food.

Since it wasn’t wise to stay in the building any longer than necessary, they took their prizes out in due haste. Others were returning to their own homes as the twilight faded and it was unsafe to continue scavenging. Garak noted several envious looks when people saw his sack of palt beans.

Twilight came later now as Cardassia City slowly moved into spring. The spring rains would arrive soon and then the temperature would at last begin to rise. That would disappoint Bashir, no doubt.

The moon rose as they walked, nearly full and a brighter shade of pink than it would be once it ascended higher into the sky. Seeing it, Julian asked, “Do you have any myths about your moon?”

“It was purportedly used as a secret base by the Kar-Dree rebels three hundred and fifty years ago.” That was probably closer to fact than myth, though previous governments hadn’t wanted to admit the possibility.

“That wasn’t quite what I meant.”

“Then I suggest you be more specific.”

“For example, the craters on the side of Earth’s moon which faces the planet looks a bit like a face, so you sometimes hear people speak of ‘the man in the moon.’ There’s an old legend about the moon being made of cheese, though I’m not sure if anyone ever truly believed that.”

“I sincerely hope not.” He knew humans were fond of their dairy products, but really, an entire moon made of cheese?

“And of course there are the religious myths, like the Greek goddess Artemis and her Roman counterpart, Diana.”

“Dare I ask what they did? Transport cheese from the moon for human consumption?” That would be no more ridiculous than the naked child deity who shot unsuspecting individuals with love arrows. It boggled the mind. Garak would concede that the ancient Hebitian pantheon had its peculiarities, but nothing so absurd as Cupid.

“No. I’m not actually sure what they supposedly did that involved the moon, but I believe they were each also goddess of the hunt and childbirth.”

“The moon, hunting, and childbirth? What an odd combination.”

“There were probably a few other attributes as well. I can’t say it was ever a topic of great interest to me.”

“I’m happy to say that we don’t have any myths about the moon being made of food, nor any moon goddesses. There is a classic series of children’s books about an imagined race of tiny people who live underground on the moon.” Entirely fanciful, but charmingly so and the series was beloved by generations of Cardassians. Garak was no exception.

“I’d like to read them.”

“There’s a complete set in the library.”

“Perfect.”

The doctor stopped to converse with one of his patients in Cardassi. His vocabulary was impressive, and his grammar was improving to the point where he was nearly always able to make himself understood, if not eloquently. In particular he had a habit of turning into adjectives those nouns which ought not be subjected to such treatment, though he almost never repeated the mistake with the same noun.

At some point, Garak allowed himself to hope, if the courtship was successful, perhaps they would speak Standard in their home – he was a firm believer in practicing one’s skills – and Cardassi outside. Of course, he was presuming much there. He really shouldn’t permit himself to hope so much.

Nevertheless, having taken root, hope remained. Perhaps in the devastation that was post-war Cardassia hope had become necessary. Garak was unnerved by the entire experience, which was such a departure from his past ways. Those ways, however, had not brought him anything by way of personal satisfaction. He’d come to realize that there was a reason his people loved both state and family: because the state was fulfilling in many ways, but not all ways. His father would never have accepted the proposition, but his father had died mourned only by a son who hated more than loved him, and for all Tain’s sacrifice he hadn’t been able to save Cardassia from its greatest enemy.

So Garak permitted himself hope, unnerving though it was, that his courtship would end in marriage.


 

Julian had to sign for his official Federation Relief shipment, which was inconveniently scheduled when he was due to be at the hospital. He had to fill out two forms just to give Elim permission to sign for the food. Naturally when he returned from the hospital that evening he was curious to see what he’d been allotted for three months’ worth of food.

“I applaud the Federation Relief Office’s effort to protect your food supply,” said Elim. “They were appropriately suspicious of allowing me to accept it.”

He had three cases, all labelled ‘BASHIR, DR. JULIAN: Terran food supply.’ “Let’s see what we’ve got. Ration bars. What a surprise.” Really, he should be more appreciative. Yes, ration bars were monotonous, but they were formulated to provide sufficient calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients, so with a famine coming Julian had nothing to complain about.

“How many ration bars are recommended for a meal?” asked Elim.

“Generally six a day is an appropriate caloric and nutritional intake, and I have three hundred here for three months. That’s one and a half a day for each of us, with thirty extra, so we share another every third day.”

“Julian, I cannot eat half of your food.”

“You can and you will.”

“The district will require to you be functioning at your best, which means that you need adequate food.”

He’d known this discussion was coming. “The district also needs you at your best.”

“It’s not the same. You don’t -”

“This better not be another line about me not having to be here.”

“It’s a valid point.”

“No, it’s not.” Julian abandoned his boxes for the moment. “The fact is that I’m here, Elim, I’m not going anywhere, and I can no more eat while you’re going hungry than you could do the reverse. You know you would insist on sharing with me if our situations were reversed.” He was fully prepared to out-stubborn Elim on this issue.

“You are not replaceable.”

“Neither are you.”

“You won’t be able to save everyone.”

“I’m aware.”

He would have to steel himself for that. It would be impossible to feed everyone with his rations. On occasion they might be able to slip something extra to the Rokul children, but people were going to starve while he wasn’t and there was nothing Julian could do about it. Rationally he understood that below a certain threshold of food consumption he would not be able to best serve his patients, but it still felt selfish.

He couldn’t save everyone, but he could save Elim, and the matter was not up for debate.

Elim sighed. “You’re not going to be sensibly selfish, are you?”

“No.”

“Fine. Under protest, I will agree to share your food on the condition that you do not further reduce your portion by sharing with anyone else.”

“And you will be sensibly selfish and do the same?”

“Yes.”

“Then we have agreement. Now, what else will we be eating?”

The second box contained what might be termed luxury food items: half a dozen chocolate bars, instant coffee (disgusting stuff), green tea (much better), trail mix, dried cherries, granola bars, pecans, dates, a box of crackers, olive oil, sauerkraut, canned green beans, and two packages which claimed to produce lentil soup when mixed with water. Finally in the bottom was a two-kilo bag of corn flour, with helpful instructions for making tortillas. Someone had thoughtfully included a measuring cup.

The third box contained one hundred protein bars (fifty each of lamb and chicken), ten pouches of tuna, three kilos of rice, two of oatmeal, eight cans of salmon and six of corned beef hash. It was a reasonable amount to feed one person for three months, and it would be enough to keep two from starvation.

“I’ll be getting care packages as well. My mother sent something out a few days ago.” She was apparently following the news out of Cardassia very closely, and no sooner had the cut in food aid been announced that she wrote to inform him he had two boxes on the way.

“How kind of her.”

“We’ll get by.”

“I daresay we will be considerably better fed than most.”

That was all too true. The hospital was bracing for an influx of cases relating to insufficient food and everyone was stashing away as much food as they could find. Anyone who managed to get their hands on seeds had a garden. But none of it was going to be enough to stop the coming famine.

Chapter Text

Julian walked around the subdistrict twice to give himself time to calm down. When he was able to admit that he’d been a touch hasty in assuming that Elim didn’t trust him, he made his way back home. He still didn’t understand why Elim got so defensive over being asked what his favorite childhood memory was, but it was time to find out.

Elim was home, unless he’d gone out barefoot, but nowhere to be found. Julian sadly concluded that Elim was in his bedroom and purposefully ignoring his requests to come in. He was heading back to his own bedroom when the other man came down the stairs, body language wary but not overtly defensive.

“Julian. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“I looked for you.”

“Not in Tain’s suite, I imagine.”

Definitely not. “Did you disable the booby traps?”

“Some of them.”

He tentatively placed a hand on Elim’s shoulder, relieved when the touch was permitted. “We should have a rational, adult conversation.”

“Not in the entranceway.”

“Couch?”

This, he knew, was extremely important. Not just for working through the issue at hand, but because they needed to be able to disagree, work it out, and move forward. Julian was therefore highly motivated to listen and compromise, so long as Elim would do the same.

“I shouldn’t have assumed you don’t trust me,” he said after a moment of tense silence on the couch. “I’m not happy, but I should’ve kept my temper in check, and for that I am sorry.”

“You weren’t entirely wrong.” Elim looked at him carefully. “Although I don’t think you understand.”

“I’m hoping you’ll explain so I do.”

“I trust you, Julian, in a way that I have never in my adult life trusted anyone. I doubt you can imagine just how significant that is for me.”

That was a promising start, at least.

Elim reached out and gently put his hand on Julian’s knee. “After some consideration, I believe the problem is that while you equate trust with a willingness to make myself vulnerable, the concepts are not so closely entwined for me.”

Julian struggled to see how anyone could have trust without opening themselves up to vulnerability. “That could definitely be part of the problem. I see trust and a willingness to be vulnerable as very closely related, yes.”

“I was taught from a very young age to avoid vulnerability at all costs. Even with those I trust – not recommended, by the way, trusting anyone – vulnerability can be exploited by others.”

This began to explain why Elim had been in Tain’s suite, as the situation was part of Tain’s legacy. Julian found himself thinking very little of Mila’s mothering skills. He wasn’t certain whether she was Elim’s biological or adoptive mother, but that was a minor detail as she was definitely his mother. Perhaps he was being unfair – how much could she have done to mitigate Tain’s influence, when he was not only head of the Obsidian Order but her employer? – but Julian was unimpressed with her parenting nevertheless.

“You once told me that sentiment is the greatest weakness of all,” he said.

“I’ve reached the point in my life where I can accept that certain weaknesses have their own rewards.”

“Even sentiment?”

“Especially sentiment.”

Alright, he could work with that too. If Garak thought their relationship was worth the perceived weakness… well, it would require more consideration, but it was promising.

Another idea occurred to him. “You’ve let yourself be vulnerable around me before.”

“Rarely when I had a choice.”

“In the internment camp, as Tain was dying.”

“I recall.”

“Why did you allow me to witness that? To spite him?” That would be rather hard to take if it were the case.

“No, though I will admit that I did derive some small pleasure from exposing his own sentiment. It was my belief that revealing my parentage was the only way you would ever begin to understand me.”

“I thought you didn’t want me to understand… wait.” His thoughts raced furiously. “You were interested in me romantically then?”

Elim nodded, the motion barely perceptible. “I was well aware that I had nothing to offer you, but as I said, sentiment is the greatest weakness of all.”

“Nothing to offer me? You didn’t think I might’ve liked to make that decision for myself?”

“All I could offer you then was a list of enemies who would happily have seen you dead on my account. I would not expose you to them. Perhaps we could return to the original point of contention?”

That was a reasonable suggestion. Reassessing past interactions could happen later, Julian reminded himself. “Alright. Would it help from now on if I just don’t ask anything about your past? I thought pleasant childhood memories would be innocent enough.” He truly hadn’t intended to stir up such trouble.

Could part of the problem be Elim’s lack of pleasant childhood memories? Possibly. Julian wasn’t going to ask.

“I would appreciate it greatly. I am making a considerable effort, but one doesn’t simply disregard a lifetime of conditioning in a matter of weeks.” Looking a touch self-protective, he added, “I will understand if you don’t wish to continue the courtship.”

Julian grabbed the grey hand on his knee and clasped it. “I’m still here, Elim. I knew going into this that we’d have issues to work out.”

Elim allowed himself to look relieved, and Julian smiled. “You know, you’re much better at allowing yourself to be open with your facial expressions.”

“I told you I am making a considerable effort.”

“Yes.” He leaned forward to anshwar, resting his forehead against Elim’s cooler one. They hadn’t solved everything, but they’d communicated reasonably well and he felt much better. “I’d like for us to get to the point where you aren’t so worried about being vulnerable with me, but I understand it’s difficult for you. So I’ll try not to push.”

Julian knew that Elim was never going to be completely transparent and he was fine with that. However, he didn’t think they could have real intimacy without some vulnerability. That wasn’t going to happen overnight and he obviously couldn’t push it. The situation required time.

Elim repositioned their heads to slowly move in for a kiss, the first time he’d initiated one. Julian grabbed a second while they were at it.

“You are very dear to me, Julian. Therefore I will redouble my efforts to give you what you need.” The honesty and emotion in the statement were breathtakingly clear.

“For tonight,” he replied, “you just did.”

Elim positively beamed.


 

It was obvious from Julian’s body language that he had a courtship question to ask. Garak noted that he had begun to think of the man as ‘Julian’ instead of ‘Bashir,’ an indication the courtship was going well. They had, after all, managed to work out their first major disagreement.

It was exceedingly difficult to present some vulnerability after spending his entire life avoiding it at any cost, but he knew that Julian would never be happy without some vulnerability because he considered it so linked to trust. And as much as Garak disliked being vulnerable, he liked the idea of losing Julian even less. Therefore, so long as Julian could truly accept that Garak would never be an ‘open book’ as he’d indicated, Garak would diligently endeavor to unlearn the habits of a lifetime.

Julian made himself comfortable in his preferred chair. “Do you want a child or children? Truthfully, Elim.”

He had only recently allowed himself to consider the possibility, and his conclusions were mixed. “It is uncommon for two men to raise children.”

“Uncommon, but not unheard of.”

“No.” He gave in to Julian’s expectant gaze, knowing he owed the man his truth. “The prospect has appeal.”

“You don’t seem particularly enthusiastic.”

“I have doubts about my aptitude for fatherhood.” One learned such a role best by example, and Garak was sorely lacking in that area. What he wanted was of little consequence if he was unfit to raise a child.

“Everyone does.”

Humans lived in such a state of self-doubt it was a wonder they ever managed to leave their own solar system. “Not on Cardassia.”

“Have you considered the possibility that they are simply not sharing their doubts?”

Without adequate information to make a determination, he was forced to concede the point. “Should I take that to mean that you believe in my childrearing abilities?”

“I’ve seen you interact with children in your shop and in the district. You’re very good with them.”

“That’s hardly the same as raising my own. And what about you, Julian? Do you want children?”

“I’m certainly not averse to fatherhood, although I’m not insistent upon it. That’s a rather recent development. For a long time I wasn’t interested in having children of my own, but the idea has grown on me. I suppose I’m finally ready to settle down.”

Intriguing. The conversation suggested that Julian would be happy to have children with him, but Garak thought it best to clarify. “You would be open to the idea of children.”

“Absolutely. Biological or adopted, I don’t care which.”

Garak had the traditional Cardassian preference for a biological child, but he supposed the requisite medical equipment might not be available for some time, in which case he would consider adoption. “Even with me?”

That fascinating blush colored Julian’s cheeks. “Yes.”

What was the human phrase? Ah, yes, ‘a vote of confidence.’ Perhaps one day he would explain to Julian that much the rehabilitation of Elim Garak into society was directly due to Julian himself. Not just on Deep Space Nine, though it had begun there; the entire sub-district, having decided they liked this human doctor who enjoyed his company, had started to reconsider their opinion of Garak.

There was little more he could want for his personal life than children with Julian. Terrifying though it was, the idea filled him with a kind of strange warmth. He’d long ago dismissed the possibility of children, because serving Cardassia in the Order was incompatible with family life. Like all of the best agents he learned to suppress his natural desire for family until it ceased to exist, but he’d recently learned that the familial instinct was resilient.

Though he would still have to consider whether or not he was truly fit to bring a child into the world.

Julian smiled and leaned in for one of the kisses he so enjoyed. “I want at least two children if we do, though. Being an only child is lonely.”

He didn’t disagree with Julian’s assessment, as his own childhood had been lonely indeed. “Dare I ask your maximum number?”

“More than three might be a bit much.”

“So we have narrowed down our potential number of offspring to zero, two, or three.”

“Yes. There is one other thing, though.”

He suspected, but asked, “Which is?”

“It’s extremely important to me that if we do have children, we accept and love them exactly as they are.”

Just as he’d guessed. “Of course. I can hardly disagree with the point. There is another I wish you to be aware of: if we are to have children, I would prefer not to wait more than three years. I am not getting any younger.”

“Which brings me to the obvious question of your age.”

He’d expected that question to arise at some point, and reluctantly admitted, “Fifty Cardassian years, which I believe is approximately forty-nine Terran years.”

“With your life expectancy at roughly one hundred to one hundred ten years, that’s plenty of time to raise children if we choose. Honestly, the way you’ve always talked I assumed you were older, Elim.”

“It increases others’ perceptions of my wisdom while lulling them into underestimating my physical prowess. A very useful deception.”

Julian flashed his amused smile. “I never would’ve thought of that.”

“The best lies are nearly always the simplest, and rarely stated outright.”

“I thought the best lies were the true ones.”

“And I thought you didn’t believe in true lies.”

“I’m starting to reconsider. Maybe something can be a literal lie, but the sentiment behind it is the truth.”

That was only one way in which a lie could be true, but Garak commended Julian’s comprehension. “Of course. Sometimes the lie is in the details.”

“Only sometimes.”

“Sometimes the truth is in the details. It wouldn’t do to set a predictable pattern.”

“Of course not,” said Julian, and Garak wasn’t certain if the other man was serious or facetious. Interesting.

He did so love an equal match.


 

One of Garak’s responsibilities as pur-nim was to oversee the distribution of relief supplies weekly, every ninth day. Whatever supplies the district had been allocated, the quantity and quality of which varied widely, were equitably dispersed among the households. On these occasions any interplanetary packages and messages were also given to the intended recipients. These were particularly prized.

Garak had neither expected nor received any such interplanetary deliveries since Julian arrived. He was therefore surprised to find a box addressed to him, sent from Lieutenant Dax. Intriguing indeed. He brought it home along with a larger package and datarod message, both for Julian.

He wasted no time in opening the box. On top lay a piece of paper with a message written in Federation Standard.

Hi Garak,

We’ve heard about the food shortage on Cardassia. Nerys and I are sending Julian some food to supplement his rations because we know he’ll be splitting them with you, but I thought you could use a few treats as well.

Ezri

Well. He hardly knew what to make of that. Mustn’t underestimate Lieutenant Dax; she might not be as formidable as her predecessor, but she was still a Dax. Perhaps in her own way she was just as fearless as the late Commander Dax. Garak didn’t know what he’d done to merit this gift, but he would happily accept any food Julian’s friends wished to send. He’d make certain to send Dax his thanks.

He heard Julian returning home as he unpacked the box. One of Dax’s treats was a box of hulto nuts, a Trill food he’d never tasted, and that was followed by two bottles of rokassa juice.

“Good evening,” announced Julian as he entered the common room. “Oh, someone sent you rokassa juice?”

“Most unexpectedly, Lieutenant Dax. I hope it’s not out of pity.”

“Doubtful. She respects you, you know.”

After the utterly humiliating discussions he had with her regarding his claustrophobia – truly one of the lowest points of his life – he failed to see why Dax would respect him. “I would prefer respect to pity.”

“Then I think you’re in luck. What else did she send?”

“Trill hulto nuts, dried icoberries, five cans of,” he read the label, “lump crab meat, and a box of ration bars.” An extra 100 ration bars was a great boon indeed.

“How much did we get for official supplies?”

“Enough dasku for a small meal each day, plus nine protein bars and two cans of fedrok each.” Fedrok, like most vegetables, was not so enjoyable canned as it was fresh, but at least they had received a small amount of vegetables.

Julian sighed. “Less than last week.”

“More than I expect next week.”

“I know. Are you going to give the protein bars to Inda Rokul?”

“I am giving her my share.” He would add one of Dax’s rokassa juice bottles to the food for Rokul as well. She was an admirable young woman and Garak would help provide for her family where he was able.

“Give her mine as well. We’ll have enough.”

Garak agreed, but felt it prudent to warn, “Remember that we cannot feed the entire district from our own food supply.”

“Unfortunately no. I figure we’ll help the Rokul children where we can.” He reached for his own box. “Let’s see what I have.”

Garak eyed the datarod. “Likely a distressed message from Chief O’Brien.” The chief wouldn’t approve that Julian had accepted Garak’s courtship.

“I’m not looking for his approval, though I’m hoping for acceptance.”

Garak wasn’t counting on even that much, but he thought it wiser not to mention. Instead he watched Julian unpack his box.

“Letters from Ezri and Kira,” proclaimed Julian. “I’ll read them after.”

Colonel Kira, another person who likely doubted Julian’s sanity. Garak really couldn’t fault Julian’s friends for failing to understand the courtship. There was no way for them to know the depths of Garak’s feelings, because he’d always kept them very private. They knew him as a man who placed Cardassia and his own survival above all else, so they couldn’t be expected to comprehend how integral Julian’s life was to his own. In truth Garak had not fully understood himself until he saw Julian’s name listed among the Federation volunteers en route to Cardassia.

Julian removed two boxes of red leaf tea, promising, “I’ll share with you.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

Four varieties of cured meats, rice, and a large bag of Bajoran legumes followed. “This will mix up our diet a bit,” remarked Julian happily as he removed a jar of something an unusual shade of magenta. “I haven’t had pickled beets in ages.”

“Beets?”

“A root vegetable.”

“I caution you that in Cardassi, it is a curse word used to refer to vile pests. It’s quite commonly used to describe voles.”

“I’ll remember not to use it in polite company. Korma sauce, lovely. Dried apricots, and six jars of lamb stew.” He pushed two aside. “Let’s give these to the Rokuls. Do we have a smaller bag around? We’ll share some of the rice as well.”

Garak kept an eye to ensure that Julian kept enough food for his own consumption and was pleased to see his companion restrain himself. They were in a much more fortunate position than most Cardassians in respect to food, but not such a position that they could share overly much.

Some pur-nims were concerned that theft of food would become a problem as rations diminished. It was possible, and in that case Garak and Julian would be tempting targets if they displayed their bounty. He’d have to get a locks for the cupboards, just to be safe.


 

“It’s definitely lench-zi flu,” said Peldar, confirming Julian’s self-diagnosis. “To my knowledge you are the first human to contract it.”

“That’s a distinction I could have done without.”

Lench-zi flu was only deadly to Cardassians with previously compromised immune systems, but there was no way to tell how it would affect Julian. So far he was nauseous, achy, and slightly feverish. Nothing alarming, just very unpleasant.

“I suppose I’ll be staying here for a couple of days then.” He’d much rather recover at home, but since they had no idea how the virus might interact with his body that would be inadvisable.

“Yes.”

“Will someone let Garak know?”

“I’ll see to it. Try to sleep, Bashir.”

That was good advice and he followed it. Some indeterminate amount of time later he woke up to find Elim sitting in the tiny hospital room beside his bed.

“I don’t want to get you sick,” he said. Elim offered him water, which he sipped carefully.

“I contracted lench-zi flu as a child, so there’s no need for concern. I’m now immune.”

“That’s good.”

“Dr. Peldar believes you are the first human infected with it. As much as you enjoy medical research, my dear, I ask that in the future you refrain from using yourself as a subject.”

“I’ll consider it.”

He felt slightly better after his nap because his nausea level had dropped, though his aches had gotten worse. Aches were preferable to nausea at least. Fever remained more or less the same, nothing dangerous. At least he didn’t have to worry about the characteristic swollen ridges, which patients reported was quite uncomfortable.

Volag entered the room and scanned him. “How do you feel, Doctor?”

“Achy, but otherwise not too badly.”

“At this point I suspect you either have a mild case or lench-zi flu is not so serious for human physiology.”

“Does that mean he can come home?” asked Elim.

Volag looked at him, then back to Julian, clearly uncertain if she was allowed to make the determination. Julian solved the problem for her. “Much as I’d like to, it’s not a very good idea since we don’t know what to expect. I really ought to at least stay overnight.”

“Dr. Peldar will be in shortly,” said Volag. “Is there anything I can get for you, Doctor?”

“Not at the moment, thank you.”

Once she left he made his way to the restroom. Upon his return Elim announced, “I brought the novellas of Torjeen, should you feel like a bit of light reading.”

“I don’t suppose I can convince you to read to me?”

Elim smiled, indulgent. “Of course you can. Shall I read in Cardassi or attempt to translate as I go?”

“Cardassi. I’ll let you know what I don’t understand.” He found his translator and thumbed it off.

“Very well. Shall I begin with The Falls of Rakurnta? It’s his most famous work.”

“Yes, please.”

Elim had a lovely reading voice, perfectly paced and the right combination of soothing and engaging. In fact Julian hated to interrupt, but, “Ivi’lud?”

“An invasive plant in the tropical regions, noted for its hooked thorns. Prone to catching on clothing.”

“Sounds unpleasant.”

“Yes, but good business for tailors, one imagines.”

“Don’t make me laugh. It hurts.”


 

Peldar insisted he stay two nights at the hospital, by which time Julian was plenty ready to return home. She also forbade him to return to work for another three days, which he considered a day too many. The lench-zi flu wasn’t terrible for him. He was still a touch achy and tired, but clearly on the mend.

The whole flu experience had one benefit in that it showed him a new side of Elim, who couldn’t have been more concerned and attentive. Whenever Julian tried to point out that he wasn’t seriously ill, Elim made it clear that his status as the first human with lench-zi flu was a solemn matter. It was touching, if irritating. Julian was a doctor and knew what was and wasn’t a cause for real concern. On the other hand he appreciated that Elim could be nurturing when the situation called for it.

Convalescence gave him plenty of time to write a long letter to Miles, who was predictably unsettled at the thought of Julian’s relationship with Garak. Miles’s letter had also contained reasonable questions about the relationship (“just so you think this through. God knows you’ll go ahead with it no matter what I say”) which he answered in detail.

His expectations from Miles had been reasonable – he got acceptance (grudging, probably) but not approval. That was alright. It was his life, not Miles’s, and he was happy with Elim’s courtship. He knew that he would never be able to explain it to Miles’s satisfaction, but he made an effort anyway. He certainly had the time.

No, I haven’t forgotten what he’s capable of. If there’s anything I learned from the war, it’s that the universe isn’t as black and white as we might prefer.

Best not to mention the Romulan mind probe incident, but Miles would probably understand that reference.

Do you have any idea how much good he’s capable of? If you’d seen him while I was in the hospital you wouldn’t have thought he was the same Elim Garak. And I am perfectly happy with him just as he is, knowing more than anyone about the darkness and the light.

I know you don’t understand why I’m even considering marrying Elim, but you do understand love. There, I said it. I’m in love with him.

That letter done, Julian settled outside in a chair much more comfortable than it looked to he could enjoy the fresh air. Jabara had sent two medical journals in his last care package, the sun was warm on his face, and for the moment life was quite good.


 

Julian was gnawing on a protein bar, watching the rain fall out his miniscule window. Those rains were much needed to nourish early season crops, and everyone hoped for a good harvest.

He’d taken to eating lunch in his office since nobody else in the hospital had much by way of lunch anymore. It made him feel slightly less guilty.

“Come in,” he called out in reply to a knock on his door.

Peldar breezed into the office. “I trust you are completely recovered?”

“One hundred percent.”

“Very good. May I interrupt your meal?”

“Certainly. Dried apricot?”

“Thank you.” She nibbled delicately. Probably trying to make it last longer so he didn’t feel obligated to offer her another of his four. Julian wasn’t worried. Anyway, he’d promised Elim not to share any more of his official Federation Relief rations; no promises were made about gifts from his friends.

“Pleasant. Is this a Terran food?”

“Yes. The fruit also makes a very good jam.”

Peldar obviously had something on her mind, and Julian knew enough about Cardassian etiquette not to push the conversation. After a moment she began, “I confess that I was skeptical when you told me that you accepted Mr. Garak’s courtship. After seeing him here when you were ill, I’ve revised my opinion.”

“I did tell you I’ve known him for years.”

She nodded. “Most of us thought you were oblivious to the danger of living in his house, when you first arrived, but now I understand that you were never in any danger. He cares for you very much, Bashir.”

That brought a contented smile, not least because he realized that Peldar had stopped by to express her approval of the courtship. “It’s mutual. May I ask you something?”

“Of course.” She took another tiny bite of apricot.

“If nobody trusted – trusts – Garak, how did he get elected pur-nim?” Somehow he couldn’t get in the habit of using Elim’s first name at the hospital, but nobody seemed to find that odd.

“I believe the district has come to trust him, at least in his role as pur-nim. To answer your question, it was him or Zarhon. Tain’s protégé or a reckless, spoiled child in a man’s body. We opted for the one who at least possesses a sense of duty.”

“Oh yes, he’s very strong on duty.”

“We made the right choice. As have you, Bashir. His devotion to you is quite obvious.”

Julian had a flash of insight: Elim had allowed himself to be vulnerable again by showing his devotion, by letting other people see how much Julian meant to him. His partner would never want to be seen as weak, and Julian needed to step back and look at the big picture. Elim trusted him, was devoted to him. Julian had been in danger of making the vulnerability issue into a much bigger deal than it needed to be. When it mattered, Elim chose Julian over perceived invulnerability. He’d done it as soon as he requested the courtship, had done it again in the hospital.

“Perhaps we’re an odd pair, but we’re very happy together.”

“I am glad, and not only because that means you plan to remain in Cardassia City.” At last she finished her apricot and stood up. “Thank you for the apricot. I will not intrude any longer.”

“It’s no intrusion. Actually I’m glad we talked.”

While eating the remaining apricots he mulled over his new understanding. This was important. He’d been so concerned over Elim’s hesitance to show weakness that he began to seek vulnerability for its own sake, which was never what mattered. Elim was committed to their relationship which in itself was, to use his own words, the greatest weakness of all.

Julian did love the man.

Chapter Text

Julian returned from his live communication with Starfleet in a predictably poor mood which he displayed by shutting the door with considerably more force than required, an action which he claimed had a long and venerable history on Earth, and stomping loudly around the house. Garak failed to understand how the creation of noise was supposed to improve one’s mood. It certainly did nothing to improve his.

“That was even worse than I expected,” announced Julian when he finally sat down in the common room. As soon as Julian was ordered to report for a live communication, they both suspected that Starfleet Command had learned of their courtship and disapproved.

“Would you care to elaborate?”

“Admiral Ross hopes this relationship works out, because he can’t promise I’ll have a Starfleet career to go back to if it doesn’t.”

Garak also hoped the courtship was successful, though for entirely different reasons.

“When I told him that if certain people have their way I won’t have a Starfleet career regardless, he said I’m giving them more ammunition.”

“He’s not wrong,” observed Garak.

“That’s not the point. I did think this through, and I decided that I wasn’t going to decline your courtship out of fear of the consequences if it didn’t work out for us. And decline for what, a career which could end at any time? Nor do I have any intention of letting some mealy-mouthed bureaucrats intimidate me into breaking up with you just because they don’t approve.”

Garak had no idea what ‘mealy-mouthed’ meant but decided that wasn’t particularly important. Then Julian joined him on the couch with far more physical contact than was traditionally allowed in second stage courtship. To be precise, Julian leaned in on his left side, partially draped across Garak’s chest, and wrapped Garak’s arm around himself, which drove all thoughts of curious adjectives from Garak’s mind.

“Mmm, better,” his warm human declared.

Surely interspecies relationships required certain… liberal interpretations of courtship rules, Garak decided. He much preferred this arrangement to Julian stomping around the house making noise.

Apparently content, Julian continued, “Ross also hinted that I have a determined enemy.”

“Section 31 is renowned for its determination.” It was not, however, noted for its great successes.

“You would know about that, wouldn’t you?”

“Not as much as you might think. I was rather busy at the time, you understand. However, when I learned that one of Section 31’s best agents went missing around the time you cured the Founder’s disease the connection was apparent.” And of course, Julian himself had just confirmed that he had a history with the section.

“Because you don’t trust coincidences.”

“Nobody of intelligence does. I can speculate further. You knew of Section 31’s existence and enough about its operations to successfully best them. That suggests that you had prior experience with the organization. I can only theorize that they approached you to join the section after your unique abilities were revealed. Being a man of principle, you refused.”

“When do we get to the part you don’t know about?”

“That is all I have been able to learn or theorize. I do not begrudge you your own mysteries, my dear.”

Julian wore guilt on his face. Clearly there was more to his interactions with Section 31, which Garak found highly intriguing. “I won’t let them bully me. Moreover, I think our courtship is going very well.”

“I’m very pleased to hear that,” he said with complete honesty.

Julian shifted so Garak found himself looking at his companion. “I love you, Elim.”

He’d never until that moment experienced pure joy. More proof that despite its inherent dangers, sentiment wasn’t without merit. “And I you, Julian.”

Julian smiled, kissed him, and settled back into his position on half of Garak’s chest. Garak had never experienced someone so content merely because of his own physical presence, and decided he liked it.

“I noticed that Starfleet has decided that this relationship is bound to fail,” said Julian. “I don’t agree.”

“Do you think,” Garak dared ask, “it is possible your life could be complete here?”

“Absolutely. I think that moving to the third phase of courtship now might be a bit hasty, and I’d rather not rush if it’s alright with you, but I’m very happy.”

“There’s no need to hurry,” he agreed, though he hardly thought they were rushing after seven years of friendship.

“I am curious. Is this why you got me assigned to your district?”

“I knew the district would benefit from your expertise.” A glance from Julian prompted him to continue, “I missed your company, and I saw an opportunity to enjoy it for an additional six months while helping the district. I had no hope for anything further until you considered making Cardassia your home.” In fact he had not held hope for anything further until Julian accepting his courtship, but he saw no need to share that information.

“Peldar approves.”

“Does she?”

“Evidently your devotion when I was in the hospital has convinced her that you’re a worthy suitor for me.”

This pleased Garak. Peldar hadn’t been the only one who disapproved; some in the district thought Julian could do better, while many in the general population were opposed to Cardassians courting any other race. And yet Julian remained, which only increased Garak’s devotion.

He would look into Section 31 later. For the moment, he was quite content to sit on the couch with Julian in this unorthodox manner.


 

It was immediately clear to Julian that he would be amputating Gentach’s hand and forearm, but he considered it important to explain. “Even if we can remove these stones safely, by that time I’m afraid the damage to your arm will be beyond what I’m able to treat. Amputation is the only option.” An arm crushed under that much weight for a few hours was beyond even the best medical technology.

“Do it,” said Gentach without hesitation.

“I’m going to give you anesthetic now. Don’t be alarmed when half your torso goes numb.”

“Whatever you have to do, Doctor.” He never looked at Julian but kept his eyes glued on the pile of food he’d salvaged. It was a good haul by scavenging standards, with enough palt beans to feed him and Iliana for weeks plus a respectable amount of canned goods.

Julian had never seen the phrase ‘worth an arm and a leg’ used so literally and it depressed him.

After close examination he decided where to amputate, just above the elbow, and got to work. It was one of his least favorite procedures, particularly on Cardassia without access to even the most basic prosthetics, but this was the only way Gentach was going to survive. The conditions were less than ideal, but he managed a clean amputation.

“I’ve still got my best hand, but my barbering technique will have to change,” remarked Gentach when Julian was finished.

“Let’s get you out of here before any more walls collapse. I want to get you back to the hospital.”

Gentach grabbed his bag of palt with his remaining arm. “I can’t carry the cans.”

“I’ll get them.” He repacked his medical supplies and swung them over his shoulder, leaving his arms free to carry the box of cans.

“There was more in that restaurant’s storeroom,” Gentach said unhappily. “Quite a bit more.”

Whatever food there was couldn’t be accessed now, not after the heavy stone wall had come down. Julian couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t seem trite.

Collapsing buildings had been a danger since the end of the war, of course, but as desperation increased they were seeing a rise in the number of patients injured trying to salvage food from unstable structures. Julian knew it was only a matter of time before someone was killed this way.

“We are fortunate to have you, Doctor Bashir.”

“Thank you.” As difficult as the situation on Cardassia could be, he knew that in some small way he was making a positive impact.

“I thank you for making the operation quick and painless.”

“Of course. Once we get to the hospital I’ll do my best to ensure that, if and when a prosthetic becomes available, it should be able to integrate with your arm.” Honestly he was more worried about Gentach’s mental state, though Julian had no illusions that he could treat emotional wounds so adeptly.

“We will have food, at least. I would give it all to Iliana, but if I died she would be an orphan. So I must survive to take care of her. You have received some food, have you not, Doctor?”

“Yes. Not enough to share with anyone besides Garak, unfortunately, and even that is a stretch.”

“I did not mean to suggest you should share. I fear we will need you well-nourished so you can take care of the rest of us. Though I’m glad to hear Mr. Garak is eating. He’s been sharing food with the Rokul children, which is generous of him, but we can’t afford to lose our pur-nim. He’s a very good one, you know. Much better than other, less fortunate districts have.”

If Gentach needed to talk to distract himself from the amputation, Julian would oblige. He wanted to get his patient to the hospital as soon as possible. It would have been preferable to leave the food behind, but he knew that was never going to happen.

“Garak feels very strongly about his duty to his people.”

“It shows. His garden project looks promising.”

A straight week of rain had done wonders for the early season crops, and Elim was happy with the gardens’ progress thus far. “I’m hopeful that the gardens will improve the nutritional profile of everyone’s diet.”

“At this point I’ll settle for more food.”

Julian was just as concerned about the quality of food as quantity, but he doubted that Gentach wanted a lecture on the importance of proper nutrition when none of them could do anything about it. “That’s also good,” he said instead.

Gentach and Iliana, like a good percentage of the subdistrict’s residents, had wandered around in the wreckage of Cardassia City until they found suitable shelter. In their case it was six houses down from Elim’s property, a place which once must have been a stately home. Less stately with the second story missing and layered tarps for a roof, it was nevertheless a good place to live by current standards. The less fortunate lived in cramped temporary housing blocs.

Once at the hospital Julian set to work again. The nerve endings were always trickiest, and he did hope that a prosthetic could be obtained at some point, if Gentach wished. Not all amputation patients wanted a prosthetic, though most did, especially if good ones were an option. At the moment, lacking a prosthetic, the most he could do was ensure that Gentach’s arm would be able to adapt to one in the future.

When he was at last satisfied, he announced, “There. You need to be easy on that arm for the next several days.” When Gentach didn’t look up, he continued, “I am very sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Doctor, and I do thank you for all you’ve done.”

“I’ll drop your food off on my way home.”

“That’s kind of you.”

There were other patients in the waiting room, so he left Gentach to deal with his loss in private, not for the first time wishing the district had a qualified psychologist.


 

“I got a letter from Jake,” Julian announced after reading his latest mail.

Elim didn’t look up from the trousers he was repairing. “And how is young Sisko?”

“He’s well, and he wants to come to Cardassia.”

“A rare sentiment of late. Might I inquire as to his motivation?”

“He’d like to write a piece on conditions here in the hope of encouraging additional aid.”

“Does he expect that a single work of journalism will change government policy?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

At that Elim gave an alarmed glance. “Have I mentioned lately that some aspects of your culture are truly terrifying?”

“Yes, actually. However, even if Jake’s article has no impact on official Federation aid it might increase private donations.” Half the hospital’s current supplies were courtesy of the Healthy Quadrant Coalition and Julian knew of another organization which brought food, though never enough.

“You believe this could be of benefit.”

“I do. Don’t forget that Jake has name recognition.”

“Very well. I imagine he is seeking a sponsor?”

“That and a place to stay. He promised to bring his own food. With the shipping schedule he’d be here a week.”

“I will file the necessary form and contact young Sisko.”

That had never really been in question. It was a simple enough action which might bring much-needed food – of course Garak would sponsor Jake.

Julian planned to purchase several items from station vendors so long as Jake didn’t mind additional luggage. Underwear topped the list of desired objects. As Cardassian style underwear was designed for men with retracted genitals it simply wouldn’t work for him even if he could find some. An extra pair of shoes for both himself and Elim would be very useful as well.

“Did he say when he intends to arrive?” asked Elim.

“He’d like to get here as soon as possible. Is there anything you want me to order from the station?”

“I assume you mean other than several tons of foodstuffs.”

“Yes.”

“A toothbrush. Even your hideous human design would be an improvement at this point. And I would welcome a bottle of fish juice.”

“I’ll add it to the list.”

Fish juice. There was something Elim never needed to worry about sharing with him.


 

Garak brought the majority of their food rations, in the form of poldor flour and six oktar, to Rokul. It wasn’t enough, but it was all they could spare. Rokul was unfailingly grateful for the additional food.

“You and Dr. Bashir are very kind to us,” she said. “I’m able to feed us two small meals each day.”

Not enough, but not so little they were in imminent danger of starvation. It would have to do.

“I’m certain I can speak for Dr. Bashir as well when I say that we are pleased to be of assistance.”

He could see that she didn’t understand why they’d chosen to help her family, nor how remarkable a young woman she was for raising three children when she still had one foot in childhood herself. It was this kind of dedication to family that gave Garak hope for the future of Cardassia.

“I cannot tell you how much your assistance is appreciated. Doctor!”

Julian was returning from work and headed to the Rokul property instead of Garak’s. “Good evening.”

“I wish to thank you for contributing your food rations. It is of immense value.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Doctor Bashir?” Hasleny emerged from the house. “We’re learning about bones in school but Teacher Dedra couldn’t answer all my questions. Can I ask you something?”

“Of course you may.”

Rokul smiled at her sister. “She wants to be a doctor.”

“A noble career choice.”

“Hasleny and Azoon are doing well, I think. I’m more concerned about Dyrum. He is very angry.”

Dyrum wouldn’t be the only Cardassian with a lot of anger, but Garak knew nothing that would help. He’d speak with Julian about the young man. “At you?” he asked.

“At the entire universe. I understand that; I was angry myself. Sometimes I still am, but I can’t let anger control me. There’s too much to be done. Dyrum, though… he wallows in anger like it’s a sauna.”

This really wasn’t Garak’s area of expertise. It was unfortunate that Julian was busy discussing the skeletal system with Hasleny.

“I feel my cousin is gone, and I don’t know this stranger in his body.”

“I have little to offer by way of assistance in such a matter,” he admitted. “We go on because we must.” It felt rather hypocritical to speak thus when Garak was himself so absurdly happy, but he did have plenty of experience with going on because it was the only option.

“We do,” she agreed. “Dyrum does not.”

“I will ask Dr. Bashir for his recommendation on the matter.”

“Thank you.” Rokul was about to say more, but a timer went off within the house. “Excuse me, I need to go or dinner will burn.”

“We can’t have that.”

He observed for a few minutes more as Julian explained the Cardassian skeletal system to Hasleny, complete with a rough sketch in the dirt of major bones. Whatever doubts Garak had about his aptitude for fatherhood, he had none about Julian’s. Hasleny was enthralled and only went inside when Rokul caller her in for dinner.

“They’re good kids,” commented Julian as they walked home.

“Yes. Rokul is worried about Dyrum, though. Apparently he’s wallowing in anger like it’s a sauna.”

“Understandably.” Julian frowned. “We could really use trained counselors. There’s so much trauma, and we’ve already had too many suicides. God, I hate those.”

“Do you have any advice regarding Dyrum?”

“Speak with Volag, the senior nurse. She has a wealth of experience working with children.”

“I’ll recommend it to Rokul tomorrow.”

Once they were inside he leaned in to anshwar. It was remarkable how, in the middle of this hungry and devastated Cardassia, he could be so very pleased with his life, but Julian had been brightening Garak’s life for years.


 

Samilid Ventur gave a final, desperate push and her second baby came screaming into the world. She’d been in labor for twenty-five hours and was utterly exhausted, but she had healthy twin boys. They were a bit small, not alarmingly so for twins, and neither appreciated leaving the comfort of their mother’s womb.

“Definitely good lung development,” Nuran muttered as she cleaned the crying infant. Julian guessed he wasn’t supposed to hear that.

“You did amazingly,” he told Ventur, “and you have two healthy sons. Congratulations.”

The proud father, already holding the firstborn twin, gave Ventur a smile. “You are indeed amazing, dear wife.”

“I want to hold him.”

Julian helped prop Ventur up on a stack of pillows. She’d need sleep soon, but naturally holding her son came first. Nuran placed the newly-cleaned infant in Ventur’s arms and the two of them withdrew to allow family bonding.

Ventur wasn’t the only one who needed to sleep. Nuran had been working for over eleven hours, while Julian had been supervising the entire labor but for a three-hour nap which Peldar covered. He was looking forward to a shower, a meal, and a good long sleep.

“It is a difficult time to have two more mouths to feed,” said Nuran.

“Yes. Ventur will need sufficient nutrition to nurse.” He’d discussed it with both wife and husband, and he was aware the proud grandparents intended to give up some of their rations to ensure Ventur and the boys were fed. Which reminded him… “I’ll be back in a moment.”

He made a quick trip to his office and returned with small gifts for the new parents, which he placed on an empty chair. After a moment Ventur noticed them. “Doctor?”

“To help give your children a healthy start.” It wasn’t much, but every bit of food was appreciated. He’d planned for this special pregnancy, stashing a bag of pepperoni from his latest care package. “This is pepperoni, a cured meat from Earth. The ration bars are from Garak.” Who’d taken six from the case Ezri sent as a gift for the family. The district’s childbirth rate was low and about to become lower due to malnutrition. Twins being a rare delight even in good times, the boys’ birth was a cause for celebration.

“Thank you, Doctor. And please convey our thanks to Mr. Garak as well,” said Ventur the husband (in Cardassi, inflection made it clear if a person was male or female, but Julian thought in Standard which made things slightly odd sometimes).

Zynhar entered to relieve Nuran. Since his work was done for the time being, Julian decided that it was a good time to go home and sleep.

Fatigued but pleased and enjoying the reward of having helped two new lives into the universe, he walked home in the state of disconnectedness which brought him to the doorstep without conscious thought. He pressed his palm on the sensor, and after a quiet click the door opened to admit him.

Elim wasn’t home, but Julian was really too tired for company anyway. He ate a ration bar, staring at the wrapper while he chewed. If they were fortunate, Jake’s upcoming arrival might improve the food situation a bit.

Julian really, desperately didn’t want to be treating the twins for malnutrition.

There was nothing to be done at the moment, so he headed for a sonic shower with the intention of falling into bed immediately after. One upside to absolute physical exhaustion: he fell asleep without any worries to keep him awake.


 

Jake arrived with a great deal of luggage. He also had the foresight to have some food easily accessible, which made it easy to hire a truck driver; when all his luggage was delivered to Elim’s front lawn Jake paid the driver eight cans of tuna, five chocolate bars, and a kilo each dried icoberries and peanuts. The woman was dazed at her good fortune, because any driver in the city would’ve taken the job for half that now that the food shortage was becoming acute.

Julian was delighted to see the number of boxes Jake brought, considering all the possible items which might help the district, and he could tell Elim felt the same way.

“The Bajorans have decided that Dad told them not to join the Federation, and that stands until he returns to tell them otherwise. The Vedek Assembly convinced the Council of Ministers, but from what I hear the Council didn’t need much persuasion.” Jake, having finished filling them in on the latest from DS9, now got down to business and handed over a heavy box. “Okay, this one is from Vedek Ceilu on behalf of his, uh, congregation.”

Elim, surprised, asked, “The Bajorans sent aid?”

“I am the Emissary’s son.” Jake shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s mael nuts. He said to give it to those who are least among men.”

That was a lot of mael nuts. Even if Jake’s article didn’t increase aid for Cardassia, his trip was already making a difference. A small difference in the grand scheme of things, but everyone on Cardassia these days was grateful for whatever they could eat.

And Julian still felt guilty every day that he had almost enough food.

“The orphanage,” he suggested.

Elim nodded his agreement. “Matron Gihxa will be most appreciative.”

“How is Ceilu?” asked Julian. The vedek had been on DS9 only a few days before he left for Cardassia.

“He’s fine. The Bajorans seem to like him, but he’s a vedek. Kasidy and I talked with him a couple of times and he doesn’t understand that to us Dad was kidnapped by aliens.” Jake clearly didn’t want to say more on the topic, moving unsubtly to, “These two boxes are from the infirmary. Dr. T’Rev said they have basic medications.”

A well-chosen collection of medications, Julian discovered when he read the contents list, which included some much-needed Vitamin A boosters. He’d make sure to send his deep appreciation to T’Rev and the infirmary staff.

“I don’t know who talked Starfleet into it, but at the last minute I got an official donation of a thousand ration bars and a case of nutrient drink powder. This box is for you from Ezri,” Jake told Julian, “and here’s one from Kira; she wants you to be selfish with it.”

“I don’t have much choice. We do give our regular rations to the children across the street, but I’m not allowed to give away my Federation Relief rations or much of what I get from my friends.”

“It is in the district’s interest for him to remain healthy,” explained Elim.

“Right.” Jake nodded. “These seven large boxes are full of food. Nog set up an account for people to donate replicator credits. Food distribution is part of your job, right Garak?”

“Yes.” Elim was moved by the generosity. “On behalf of the Elgin’kor District, please convey my sincere gratitude upon your return.”

“I will. I hope Cardassians like Andorian plakel fish, because that gave us the most protein per replicator credit.”

“We like food,” replied Elim.

“Let me see, these three are from Kasidy. She got stuck with a shipment of Tellarite cotton pants that nobody wanted after all, and she thought you could use them.”

“We can indeed.”

Jake grabbed one of the three remaining boxes. “Those two are my food, and here are the things you ordered, Dr. Bashir.”

Living on Cardassia had taught Julian a thing or two about the importance of how people addressed each other. Oh, the norms were certainly different in human culture, but terms of address still indicated a great deal. Looking at the man before him, he came to the obvious conclusion. “It’s Julian.”

Jake smiled at that. “Do you like jambalaya?”

“Yes.”

“Garak?”

“I’ve never had the pleasure.”

“I brought ingredients to make jambalaya with my homemade andouille sausage. I packed a lot of ration bars because they’re easy to ship, but I thought a nice meal was the least I could do for you.”

“Quite unnecessary, I assure you, but appreciated nevertheless,” said Elim. He was probably thinking the same thing Julian was, namely that they would be able to share a little extra food with the Rokul children.

They hauled the boxes inside and showed Jake to the second guest room. “I haven’t been able to replace the windows,” said Elim, “but the plastic will prevent any pests from entering.”

“No problem. Thanks again for sponsoring and hosting me.”

“My pleasure. I’m happy to try anything to help feed my people.”

If any journalist could help them, Julian suspected it would be Jake. His stories about life on DS9 under the Dominion had attracted considerable attention, besides his status as Captain Sisko’s son. Whatever resulted, he was impressed that Jake was doing his best to help Cardassians. It might not be official Federation policy, but the general feeling was that Cardassia deserved what it got, hence the low priority for relief supplies and volunteers.

Julian thought Captain Sisko would be very proud of his son.


 

Garak had rarely interacted with young Sisko prior to the human’s arrival in his home and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, personally or professionally. Reporters not controlled by the state were unknown on Cardassia. Perhaps in time they would be, but at present most people were too concerned with survival.

The young man was clearly moved by the plight of Cardassia City’s population, to the point that he surreptitiously wiped away a tear on three occasions. He asked insightful questions about how the Federation and its citizens could assist, going so far as to inform Garak, “I want my article to shock people so that everyone who reads it pictures themselves and their loved ones in this situation.”

Sisko had refrained from asking Garak any personal questions, which was a surprise because Garak had expected to be interviewed regarding his courtship of Julian. Instead Sisko had promised that he would make no mention of their relationship, “Not because you have anything to hide, but because it’s your business.” Garak was, in fact, beginning to reassess his previously low opinion of reporters. If Sisko was an example, perhaps they were not entirely useless.

He allowed Sisko to join him for the distribution of supplies, most of which had arrived with Sisko himself. While Garak’s distribution aids divided food under his instruction, Sisko made notes on his ever-present padd.

“That’s it?” he exclaimed when seeing what the Relief Coordination Office had allocated to the district. “For three thousand people?”

“Three thousand and eleven.” Though the number was going to drop considerably in the famine.

“What are these and how many are there?”

“Nine thousand protein bars.” A discouragingly small amount of food to be sure, but the donations Sisko brought – and which Garak’s aides were unpacking with unashamed pleasure – would provide many more meals.

He left Sisko to his padd and set to work dividing the food. Three of Sisko’s crates contained individual-serving packages of plakel fish, enough for each person in the district to receive two.

“What are these?” asked his aide Re’Dan.

Garak examined the contents of the crate. “Terran potatoes. They are similar to oktar and can be cooked the same way. Give them to subdistrict 1.”

“And these?”

A good question. “Sisko.”

The young human made his way to Garak. “Yes?”

“How is this ‘nutrient drink powder’ consumed?”

“Mix one packet with a liter of water. You want to mix it really well, because clumps are disgusting. Trust me.”

Re’Dan picked up one of the packets and examined it. “Does the water temperature matter?”

“Not really. Each packet has enough calories and nutrients to be a liquid meal. Well, these are recipe A, which is the acceptable standard for the majority of Federation species who join Starfleet so I don’t know exactly how it fits Cardassian nutritional requirements…”

“It will be more than sufficient,” Garak informed him. There were some differences, upon which Julian could speak at length, but Federation rations would not be harmful. Though certain foods were problematic - Vulcan plomeek tended to cause digestive distress and nothing Bolian could be safely consumed – Federation rations at worst contained a less-than-ideal ratio of vitamins and minerals, nothing of concern when food was scarce.

The crate had ‘2000 Count’ stamped on in Standard. “Half to Subdistrict 2, the remainder to the orphanage and the hospital,” he told Re’Dan. The orphanage received rations separately from the rest of the district, but not in sufficient quantity of late. “And the Starfleet ration bars to subdistrict 3.”

Sisko was quiet while Garak assigned the rest of the provisions: a variety of nuts, an unpronounceable Triaxian grain, Terran rice, and three kinds of dried fruit. When all this was combined with the protein bars, Garak was satisfied that each inhabitant of the Elgin’kor District would be able to eat a meal every day for the following week.

Garak followed the news broadcasts, as well as read the reports made available to pur-nims and several other reports which, strictly speaking, he was not supposed to, and had concluded that the next five months were critical. In six months, Cardassian agricultural output should be up significantly, and the planet’s two largest power plants were scheduled to be operational. It would be longer before there was an abundance of anything, but those who survived the next five months would likely find life much easier afterwards.

He had plans and contingency plans, of course. Should order break down, he was fully prepared to ensure that he and Julian survived, provided Julian stayed. If necessary he would reactivate some of Tain’s defenses. He was growing mushrooms in the cellar where he could be certain they wouldn’t be stolen, and he had hidden a large sack of dasku as well.

His preference was that the district remained in order and he could help his people, but Elim Garak was not a man to take chances. If Sisko was able to call attention to their plight and food aid increased, so much the better, but Garak wouldn’t rely upon it.


 

Peldar allowed Jake an afternoon at the hospital observing and speaking with patients and staff. She even granted him a short interview when Julian explained that Jake hoped to raise awareness and thus increase aid sent to Cardassia. Jake was very quiet on the walk home.

“It’s a very compassionate thing you’re doing here,” said Julian.

“I just hope it helps.”

“As do I. But even if it doesn’t, you’ll know that you saw people in need and used your skills to the best of your ability to make a difference, and at the end of the day that’s the most you can ask of yourself.”

“Is that how you can do this and not despair?”

“I’ll grant I have my moments of despair, but yes, on the whole that’s my approach.”

“I’m getting on a transport in two days going back to having everything I need, and people will be here going hungry because we want to punish Cardassians for picking the wrong side. And they’re not even angry about it.”

Cardassians were on the whole a pragmatic and somewhat fatalistic lot. Julian was much angrier about the paltry aid than the Cardassian population. “People here don’t feel that the Federation owes them anything.”

“I thought I’d understand more if I came here,” admitted Jake, “but I can’t really understand because I’m not living it. I don’t have to worry about starving to death or dying from something that could be cured with better medical facilities.”

“I know that feeling.”

“You do?”

“Between my Federation Relief supplies and what I’ve received from friends, there’s enough for Garak and I to eat. Ideally we would have a bit more, but the point is we’re not going to starve, and I know that if I were seriously ill the Federation would see to it that I got the best care.”

“But you go into unstable buildings to take care of patients.”

“Well, yes.”

“And weren’t you the first human to come down with, what was that flu called?”

“I see Peldar was very talkative.”

“My point is, this isn’t exactly the safest job you could have.”

“True, but I’m in a better position than most of my patients, and they don’t resent that. It’s perfectly normal and proper, from a Cardassian perspective.”

Jake considered this for a moment. “This is becoming a pattern. I follow you looking for a good story and learn some uncomfortable truths about myself.”

“Uncomfortable?”

“How good I have it. What I take for granted.”

“You’re using the knowledge of how fortunate you are to help others who aren’t so lucky. You’re a good man, Jake.”

“I’m trying. When I met Inda Rokul, I realized how that could be me with Nahlel. I love her, and if it came to it I’d take care of her, but I’m not ready for a child of my own, you know?”

“You have plenty of time for fatherhood later.”

“Right. It’s just eye-opening.”

They walked in comfortable silence for a bit. Julian admitted to himself that at twenty-two he hadn’t been nearly as mature and self-aware as Jake. He wondered what Captain Sisko was doing, and if he knew that Jake was visiting Cardassia.

“I’ve heard that Cardassians aren’t welcoming of outsiders,” said Jake, “but everyone seems to like you, and I think that translated into accepting me. Or maybe it was the food I brought.”

“It’s easier to dislike outsiders before you ever interact with any personally. There are plenty of the classic xenophobes, and I’ve been told I’m unusually welcome because I’ve adapted to many Cardassian ways.”

“Including dating one?”

“I suppose.” He knew Jake was curious and the topic of his relationship would arise eventually. Honestly he was surprised it had taken so long. “It started earlier, though. Peldar didn’t think Garak was worthy of me for a while.”

“You’ll really stay here permanently?”

“That’s my plan.”

“It’s strange to think of you not being Starfleet. I guess I always imagined you’d end up in charge of Starfleet Medical one day.”

“Unlikely.” With his genetic status he’d be lucky to make full commander and heading Starfleet Medical was out of the question.

“Kira thinks you’re crazy.”

“What do you think?”

“That you’re the only one who can know what’s right for you.”

“You’re wise beyond your years, Jake.”

“I’ll try to remember that next I’m debating doing something stupid.”

Chapter Text

After Jake left, Julian decided it was time he kept his translator off. He’d been turning it off more and more, so this was a natural progression, though he kept it with him just in case he needed. It was good to hear the people around him unfiltered, and Cardassi really was a lovely language.

His first day speaking only Cardassi at the hospital went well, and he returned from a fairly uneventful shift to find Elim and Inda Rokul outside the house, deep in conversation.

“Julian. Gentach has just informed us that Zarhon is causing trouble again,” said Elim, who usually brushed off Zarhon as too incompetent to be of real significance.

“I must pack.” With that Inda rushed off.

“Pack?”

“Zarhon has taken it upon himself to inform the authorities, bypassing me I might add, that Rokul is not of age to care for her siblings and cousin. At sixteen she herself won’t be placed in an orphanage, but the children will.”

“And she’s packing because she’s going to leave before they break up her family,” Julian concluded.

“Precisely.”

“Is there anything you can do?”

“I can try to convince the authorities that she is an able head of household, but there is no guarantee of success. You would think they’d rather keep a family together, but Zarhon has found someone willing to investigate his claims, so we can’t be certain.”

“And Cardassians love rules. But you’re thinking of something else.”

“I could simply adopt her as my niece.”

“You can adopt someone as a niece?” This was news to Julian.

“We can adopt as any blood relative.”

“And that would solve the problem immediately? Why niece, may I ask?”

“Because it would solve the problem by allowing me to protect her and the children without dishonoring the parents who raised her nearly to adulthood.”

“What’s the matter, then?” It was perhaps an extreme solution, but not unreasonable.

Elim gave him a steady look. “No Cardassian will wish to be related to me.” Oh. He clearly thought that was obvious.

“Perhaps you should let her decide for herself.”

“You approve, then?”

“Of course.” He knew how much family meant in Cardassian society, and he knew how much Elim cared for the children. Not to mention that the children would fare much better under Elim’s protection than in the orphanages. “I suppose we could arrange another bed in the second guest room… what?”

Elim shook his head slightly. “They would not live here. In this circumstance, it would indicate that Rokul has failed as head of household.”

Julian was thoroughly confused. “So she’ll still be head of household across the street?”

“Technically I would be head of household, but we are in close enough proximity for Rokul and the children to remain where they are.” He concluded, “I will offer, but do not be surprised when she declines.”

“Always a pessimist.”

“Thus never disappointed.”

Julian followed his partner across the street, asking, “Wait. She’s not old enough to be a head of household, but she’s old enough to consent to this adoption?” He thought nineteen was the age of majority.

“Fifteen is the age of consent for adoptions of this type.”

Hasleny let them into the house, where Inda was tossing clothes in a battered suitcase. “We must leave very soon,” she said.

“There is an alternative. I speak, of course, of the plo’nar-un.” Inda turned around, eyes widened in hope as Elim continued, “I would gladly take you as my niece, but I doubt very much that you wish to join the family of Enabran Tain’s protégé.”

“I would be honored to join your family,” she said, eyes never leaving his face.

“I am also Tain’s son,” he admitted, and Julian knew how much that cost him, “a fact which I would thank you not to share with anyone.”

She nodded. (Cardassians loved their nods.) “My answer stands.”

Elim blinked in surprise, then smiled. “I will gather witnesses and meet you at the intersection.” With that he was gone.

Inda set down her suitcase. “How unexpected.”

“He didn’t think you’d accept,” said Julian.

“The past is in ruins, Doctor. I am concerned only with the present and the future, and for those I know Mr. Garak to be a good man. Excuse me while I get the children.”

This was good for Elim. He needed to have people see him as more than just Tain’s protégé, to be appreciated for the person he was now. He would always be more dangerous, not to mention secretive, than your average Cardassian, but he was so much more than a former Obsidian Order agent.

Once Inda had rounded up the younger children, all of them walked to the intersection. Dyrum explained what was going on to Hasleny and Azoon, both of whom were excited about the whole idea. Even Dyrum seemed – well, he wasn’t scowling, anyway.

“Do you approve, Doctor?” asked Inda.

“Yes. I take it my approval matters?”

“It does. You are in second stage courtship, are you not?”

“We are, yes.” That was not at all a secret. Most of Cardassia City probably knew.

“Therefore your approval is important, as any decision regarding family is likely to impact you as well.”

“I think this is beneficial for all involved.”

“I’m glad you feel that way.”

“How many witnesses are required?”

“Four adults, as all family ceremonies. Including weddings, of course,” she added, for a brief moment looking very much the teenager she was.

Gentach was waiting at the intersection with Iliana, who ran over to play with Azoon and Hasleny. They were soon joined by Re’Dan, one of Elim’s distribution aides whom Julian had met only in passing, and Borin the night nurse.

“Will Mr. Garak be our uncle too?” Azoon asked Dyrum. That was a very good question, so Julian listened for the answer.

“No, but he will have certain obligations to us as head of household.”

“Does that mean he can tell us what to do?”

“He’s the pur-nim. He can already tell us what to do.”

By the time Liket followed Elim out of the school a few others had joined their little crowd, curious to see what was going on. Everyone fell silent and watched as Inda and Elim stepped forward, facing each other.

Elim pulled a knife out of his pocket and made a cut in his right thumb. He’d conveniently neglected to mention that this plo’nar-un involved bloodshed. Julian knew that sharing blood was significant in many cultures. As a physician he didn’t approve, of course, but there was nothing to be done about that now.

It was fortunate that Julian had turned off his translator, because the ritual was lyrical and moving in a way that simply wouldn’t have translated.

“I offer you my blood,” said Elim, holding out his cut thumb.

Inda made a small slice in her own thumb and held it against Elim’s, a sanitation nightmare. “I accept your blood and offer you mine in return.”

“From this day forward you are my niece. All who would strike against you will defend themselves from me. I will protect, guide, and champion you.”

“From this day forward you are my uncle. My life and honor are tied to yours. I will defer to your wisdom and strive always to make you proud.”

“No distance, no time shall erode our kinship.”

“Nor will it be subject to the whims of lesser ties.”

“Until I am an echo in the memory of my descendants, I bind myself to you as your uncle. This responsibility and privilege I take willingly.”

“Until I am an echo in the memory of my descendants, I bind myself to you as your niece. This responsibility and privilege I take willingly.”

“It has been witnessed,” declared Gentach.

Liket and Borin echoed, “It has been witnessed.”

“It has been witnessed.”

Elim and Inda dropped their hands, smiling. Judging by the expressions of their neighbors – a good twenty of whom had accumulated – this adoption had community approval.

“You might have warned me to bring my medkit,” Julian informed his partner in a tone that was half teasing, half serious.

“The scars are important.”

“I’ll use the dermal regenerator sparingly.” Cardassian skin scarred easily, so it wouldn’t be a problem. “The last thing either of you needs is an infection.”

“If you insist.”

“You know I do.”

In a short time Julian had treated both Elim and Inda to his satisfaction and was listening to them explain the finer points of the ceremony. “So you memorize that as a teenager?”

“We do.”

Hasleny asked, “Does this mean we go to Mr. Garak if we have a problem?”

“No,” Inda said, “You will still come to me. If I need assistance, I will ask Mr. Garak.”

“Quite right,” agreed Elim. “Ah, here is our charming neighbor Zarhon.”

“Those are the children,” Zarhon informed the woman with him, smug.

“Inda Rokul?”

“Yes.”

“I am here to investigate a claim that you are a minor head of household.”

Elim gave the woman his least sincere smile. “I’m afraid your information is out of date. Inda is my niece.”

Zarhon was aghast but the investigator didn’t seem very upset. “This was witnessed?”

“It was a proper plo’nar-un in every way, with more than four witnesses.” He and Inda both held up their thumbs, which as Julian promised were barely healed and would retain scars.

She pulled out a padd. “And your name?”

“Elim Garak, pur-nim for Elgin’kor District.”

She shifted her posture ever so slightly to reflect his authority. “I thank you for your time and assistance in this matter, Mr. Garak.”

“My pleasure.” He dismissed her with a nod. Zarhon, silently fuming, trailed off in the investigator’s wake. They’d have to keep an eye on that man.

Now, though, was a time for celebration. Julian decided to bring out the peanut brittle Kira had sent, which he’d been saving for a special occasion. It was a very special occasion indeed.

A Cardassian without family, Peldar had told him some weeks before, was only half a Cardassian. Julian hadn’t entirely understood until he saw how very pleased Elim was, sitting with his niece and the younger children to whom he was also tied, but now it made sense and he was delighted for his partner.


 

“What’s your long-term plan?” Julian asked after they finished a dinner of rice and ration bars.

“Could you be more specific?”

“In ten years, what do you imagine your life looking like? Will you still be pur-nim?”

“I do not know how long the position will exist, but I will serve as long as I am needed,” said Elim.

“Do you see yourself going into politics?”

“No. At least not in anything more than a local capacity, if that. My past will disqualify me from anything more.” He didn’t seem sorry about it, but perhaps it was that Cardassian mix of pragmatism and fatalism.

“You never know.”

“Always the optimist.”

“One of us needs to be.”

“Humans are noted for the trait.”

“I strive to live up to your stereotypes, but might we get back to the question at hand?”

“Where we were? Oh yes, discussing my potential careers. You know, I think I would make a very fine lecturer on Cardassian literature.”

“I’m sure you would. Is that something you’d like?”

“If the opportunity presented itself, but my desire is of much less import than what Cardassia needs.” Of course. Julian expected nothing less. He just wanted to have an idea what Elim was considering for his future. “I believe the district will need my contributions for the immediate future, certainly the next two or three years. After that, I cannot say. Perhaps I will become a lecturer. Perhaps your optimism will be borne out and I will enter government, though I doubt it. Perhaps I will return to tailoring.”

“You are a very good tailor.”

Elim got to the heart of the matter. “You will have a say in my future career path, if that’s what is troubling you.”

“Not troubling. I’m just curious.” This earned him a skeptical glance, but it was true. Almost entirely true, at least. (Julian had learned from the best.) He knew that Elim had made a deliberate choice to reject even the chance of working in covert operations or intelligence, but once in a while the prospect still haunted Julian. “I’d always thought that you wanted to come back to Cardassia and the Order.”

“I did, at first. Exile changes a man. Nor do I believe that the Order is what Cardassia needs at present.”

“But if it was?”

“Then someone else would have to do the job, because I will be unsuitable. I told you that I am disinclined to return to my previous ways.”

The situation clearly called for full disclosure of the kind that made both of them uncomfortable but Julian knew was important. “I don’t want you to regret it,” he said at last.

At this Elim stood up and pulled him in to anshwar. “I will never regret anything that means you are in my life, Julian. That is my truth.”

“All the literature, the sacrifice for the sake of the state…”

“I will always serve the state, but it need not be in the same manner as my youth.” Julian accepted this. There was always risk, he knew, but he believed that Elim was being honest. He wasn’t going to throw away their relationship based on a fear of what might happen, he’d just needed a bit of reassurance. “Of course, I can only hope you won’t regret your own choice to remain here.”

Startled, he pulled his head back to look Elim in the eye. “I won’t.”

“You won’t miss Starfleet and the Federation? Can I and Cardassia be enough?”

“A Starfleet career that will always be in jeopardy because of something I had no say in, a Federation that’s afraid of me. And you, you’re…” lacking sufficient words, he kissed the man. “You and Cardassia are more than enough.”

He understood, now. They both had their insecurities and chose to move forward nonetheless. For all that it was difficult and uncomfortable, these relationship discussions really were quite valuable.


 

If Peldar was nervous about being in Tain’s old house for dinner, she didn’t show it. She was his closest friend on Cardassia now that Elim was emphatically more than a friend, therefore Julian decided to invite her for a meal with some of the gifts he’d received from Ezri and Kira. His culinary skills weren’t anything special, but it was fairly difficult to ruin fettuccini with marinara sauce, and moreover the point of the evening wasn’t a five star dinner.

“We generally eat this with a small salad,” he explained, “but lacking fresh vegetables we have ginger carrots. They’re,” turning to Elim, he asked in Standard, “Pickled?”

“Inkeltan.”

“I am happy to see a vegetable on my plate,” said Peldar.

“And this is fettuccini with marinara sauce. These,” he picked up a noodle from his own plate, “are fettuccini, and the meat is shrimp. A shellfish.” Canned shrimp wasn’t as good as fresh, of course, but he made do with what he had.

She chewed a small bite slowly in the Cardassian custom. Julian forced himself to take only half a forkful. “This is excellent, my friend. Thank you.”

“I’m glad you like it,” he said, although food was appreciated regardless of taste these days. The meal had more carbohydrates than were strictly ideal, but carbohydrates shipped well.

“I’ve always thought shellfish are among the better Terran foods,” noted Elim.

“Is there a Cardassi word for noodle?” Julian asked his partner.

Elim considered. “Would you say these are bedran’fal, Peldar?” Apparently while Julian was in the kitchen they’d decided to forgo the formality of ‘Doctor Peldar’ and ‘Mister Garak.’

“Possibly. They might also be dvorka.”

“I will show you pictures later, Julian,” promised Elim.

“What did you call them?” asked Peldar between bites.

“They’re noodles, but that’s a fairly broad category covering dough which is formed into a variety of shapes. This particular shape is fettuccini.”

“And this is from Earth?”

“Yes. Everything we’re eating is of Earth origin.”

“Humans have a baffling number of noodles, some of them in very strange shapes,” noted Elim. “I never understood the need for so many different forms.”

“It keeps things interesting,” said Julian.

Peldar watched Julian spin fettuccini around his fork and attempted to copy the movement. “Is this the correct technique?”

“You’re getting it.”

“It’s certainly neater.” She turned to Elim. “Bashir is a great asset to the district, and an enjoyable peer. I’m grateful to you for giving him reason to remain here.”

“I am grateful that he considers me among his reasons.”

This typically Cardassian conversation made Julian slightly uncomfortable since they were talking about him as though he wasn’t there. He injected himself back into the discussion. “Yes, it’s worked out well that you conspired to have me assigned here.”

“I didn’t conspire. I simply pointed out that the Elgin’kor District was in need of another doctor.”

That couldn’t be the entire story, but Julian didn’t have high hopes for ever getting the truth there. “I’m leaning towards the theory that you hacked the Relief Coordination Office’s computers to make sure I was assigned to your district.”

“You overestimate my technical abilities. I’m flattered.”

That was a flat out lie. Elim was an expert at computer hacking and Julian knew it. “Or perhaps you bribed someone.”

“You shouldn’t suggest that our esteemed public servants are so easily corrupted.”

Peldar gave them both an amused smile. “Did you two flirt this much before your courtship?”

“Yes,” replied Elim easily.

“Of course, I didn’t know it was flirting because he never saw fit to mention that aspect of Cardassian culture.”

“You might have realized when you read Contemplations of Perfection.”

“I didn’t know De’Kasa was a love interest. He died before they did anything other than argue.”

“And such passionate arguments they were.”

Peldar, evidently having a splendid evening, chose this moment to defend Julian. “I’ve heard other species don’t appreciate the desire behind a passionate argument.”

“We usually assume it’s a desire to be right.”

Elim was always ready for a good argument. “If a person does not matter to you, why should it matter if you convince them or not?”

“I can think of at least twenty reasons offhand. Give me a minute and I’ll make it thirty.”

“I’m not talking about practical matters, of course. There are certainly occasions when being right is important, but literature is not one of them. We debated literature for seven years,” Elim explained to Peldar.

“It’s not just being correct,” she added. “It’s demonstrating your intellect.”

“I understand that now.”

The heart of the matter was that Elim hadn’t wanted Julian to know that they were flirting for years, and maybe he’d been right about that. In the early years of their friendship at least, a romantic relationship never would have worked.

“You did have him at a disadvantage,” Peldar noted.

Elim didn’t deny it. “But see how well it all worked out.”

Julian couldn’t argue with that.


 

Garak managed to procure two tickets for this, only the second theater performance in Cardassia City since the war. He did not belong in the realms of the very rich and powerful, but he was not entirely unacquainted with them either. If one had the right connections, which he did, and was willing to part with a bottle of particularly rare vintage kanar, which he was, such luxuries as an evening of theater were once again possible.

Tain’s collection of valuable kanar was proving very useful.

Julian was the only alien in a theater full of Cardassians, which caused some whispered talk, but it didn’t appear to bother him. He was capable of admirable stoicism when the situation demanded. Since his hearing was better even than average humans’ he was no doubt able to hear many of the whispers it was assumed he wouldn’t. Garak would make a casual inquiry later.

“Renkor of Toth seems to be almost equivalent to Shakespeare,” mused Julian.

“Please, don’t insult our great author.” Renkor would never have written characters so naïve as Caesar or pathetic as Hamlet. And surely Romeo and Juliet was meant to be a farce.

Julian smirked in a way which suggested he made the comparison purely to goad Garak. How delightfully flirtatious. “I’ll grant that Shakespeare’s sonnets wouldn’t be appreciated here, but I think the Machiavellian reading of Richard III is appropriate for Cardassian sensibilities.”

Garak hadn’t read Richard III. He refused to read any more Shakespeare years ago once Julian insisted that Hamlet was supposed to be a sympathetic character. Having no comment on the play in question, he instead remarked, “I’m sure you’ll enjoy the performance more if you leave aside comparisons to inferior works.”

Julian’s retort was unfortunately cut off when the curtains opened and the performance began. It was a play Garak had seen several times, so he watched Julian’s reactions as much as the performance.

During the intermission they joined a line for the water fountains. “It’s interesting and well-acted,” Julian pronounced, “but I don’t like the main character.”

“You aren’t supposed to like him. Kurintam is a character to be feared and obeyed.” At the curious glances of other theater-goers, Garak placed his hand on Julian’s lower back to clearly establish their relationship. He doubted that anyone else would fully appreciate Julian, but lest someone did he wanted there to be no question of the man’s availability.

“So the point isn’t for me to cheer his opponents?” Julian asked with feigned innocence.

“Certainly not. He brought stability to a chaotic region in time of great turmoil. That is an accomplishment to be respected.”

“He brought tyranny.” Julian used the Federation Standard word ‘tyranny,’ which sounded strange amid all the Cardassi. “I can’t respect that.”

By this time several people were unsubtly watching the conversation and Julian’s use of a foreign word clearly confused them. Their puzzlement amused Garak, who didn’t enjoy their blatant gawking, and inspired him to further befuddle them. “Just as you failed to respect Hamlet’s unfortunate uncle, what was his name?”

“Claudius, and nobody is supposed to respect a man who killed his own brother.”

“I disagree. Hamlet was clearly inept and unfit to be king. Claudius killed his brother to spare the kingdom from the disaster which his nephew’s rule undoubtedly would have been.”

That was not precisely how Garak interpreted the play, Hamlet’s obvious failings notwithstanding, but it made for a much more entertaining conversation, not least because their audience was at a loss and eavesdropping shamelessly.

“Endorsing fratricide now?” Julian had caught on to the game, using Standard ‘fratricide.’ Cardassi had no special words for the killing of certain relatives. Odd, how humans, who considered themselves so peaceful and Cardassians so barbaric, were the race which felt it necessary to have separate words for different kinds of murder.

“A means to an end, nothing more.”

They took their turns at the water fountain and made their way back to their seats. “That should give them something to puzzle over,” remarked Julian.

“I should hope so. Such open interest in a private conversation is unbecoming.”

“I get the impression a lot of Cardassians don’t think the rules of polite society apply to me.”

He was very likely correct, unfortunately. “You are a delight, Julian. ‘Fratricide’ was a perfectly incomprehensible word choice.”

“I thought about making the ‘very small pig’ joke, but I wasn’t sure you’d get it.”

He didn’t. “Very small pig?”

“Hamlet. Ham is meat from a pig, and –let is a suffix to indicate something is small.”

“Aren’t jokes supposed to be funny?”

“It’s mildly amusing.”

It really wasn’t.


 

Julian returned from the hospital in low spirits due to the abortion he’d performed. It was never a joyful procedure, though he firmly believed in a woman’s right to choose if she wished to carry a child, but this child had been very much wanted by both parents. Unfortunately it had congenital defects which the hospital wasn’t remotely equipped to treat, so the heartbroken parents elected to terminate. The mother was so distraught she had required a sedative.

He therefore went home looking for something pleasant to redirect his attention, like a rousing debate on literature. He found Elim in the side yard weeding around his pepper plants. Jake’s cooking his first night with them included a fresh red bell pepper, and Elim had taken the seeds to attempt his own pepper patch. Seeds, like anything related to food, were in short supply. Of the twenty seeds planted, Elim had sixteen seedlings which he was carefully nurturing as best he could according to Jake’s very basic instructions.

“They look happy,” said Julian, who knew precious little about gardening. Continued growth had to be good, at least.

“So far, yes, but I’ve never tried to grow any plants native to Earth. It’s very much an experiment.” He pulled up a final weed and rose. “Young Sisko did Cardassia a great favor with his journalism.”

“Is the Federation Council increasing food aid?”

“No, but many member worlds are increasing their contributions. With characteristic efficiency, the Vulcans are launching two ships of food today, and they’re favoring us with top-speed vessels instead of the slower cargo ships.”

Julian’s mood improved with the news. He couldn’t wait to read the article, which he expected to receive in the next batch of interplanetary messages, and he was incredibly proud of what Jake had accomplished. “That’s excellent news.”

“The Federation is also sending equipment and technicians with the stated goal of generating enough power to replicate more rations. I have already written thanking Sisko, and I look forward to reading his work when you receive it.”

“Jake is an extraordinary young man.”

“Councilor Ma’Don requested to speak with me while I was in the city center for the City Council meeting.” Ma’Don was on the Detapa Council, and he was responsible for Elim’s status as an occasional advisor. “He wanted clarification as to how a single piece of journalism could have such an impact.”

“And the many potential ramifications thereof, no doubt.”

“Naturally.” Elim leaned in close to ensure only Julian could hear him explain, “He is of only moderate intelligence, but does well within the limits of his abilities. While I wouldn’t like to see him Chairman, he serves with diligence. We could do worse.”

“Were you able to explain to his satisfaction?”

“I believe so. However, there is another point on which I would appreciate your insight. As would Councilor Ma’Don.”

“Who is shamelessly taking advantage of his advisor’s relationship,” remarked Julian without malice as they ambled to the house.

“He is a Cardassian, my dear, and reasonably competent. Of course he’s taking advantage of our courtship.”

“It doesn’t really bother me.”

When the door was shut behind them, Elim explained. “The Federation has requested an exchange of ambassadors. Before I bias you with any further details, what advantages does this suggest for the Federation?”

Julian considered. “Besides the political triumph ahead of the upcoming Federation Council elections…”

“Political triumph?”

“The Federation has never had an exchange of ambassadors with the Cardassian Union, so establishing that kind of diplomatic relationship would look very good for the incumbents seeking re-election.”

“Until now, diplomatic relationships were viewed as a political disaster for Cardassian politicians,” said Elim. That wasn’t a surprise. Cardassians had preferred conquest for a good five centuries. “Please continue.”

“It will also be reassuring to the average citizen, I suppose.”

“How?”

“Cardassia will seem less threatening.”

Elim half-laughed in disbelief. “Cardassia is no threat to the Federation and will not be in the foreseeable future. We threaten only ourselves.”

“Consider the perspective of an average Federation citizen who’s lived through two wars against Cardassians. If there are diplomatic relations, that suggests that a third war is unlikely.”

“A third war is extremely unlikely, unless we plan to weaponize rubble.”

“I’m sure there are plenty of people who assume Cardassians can’t wait to rebuild the military for revenge.”

“I’ll admit there are a few who feel that way, but most have sensibly concluded that we are better served avoiding wars, which have proven to be costly endeavors. We want to rebuild, yes. Revenge? No. Not against the Federation. The Dominion, perhaps.”

Julian had to agree, on the whole. The majority of Cardassians he’d interacted with wanted to rebuild the Union and find a way to maintain their standard of living without constant wars. It had surprised him at first to realize that until the Dominion War, most Cardassians really didn’t have a clue about the scope of Central Command’s violence. Having lost over a billion lives to the Dominion assault, they’d concluded that war and conquest was too risky a way of living.

“So prove it. That, I suspect, will be the predominant Federation response.”

“And we prove our disinclination to resume fighting the Alpha Quadrant powers by exchanging ambassadors?”

“It’s a good start.”

“We are a proud people, as you know, and we want to regain a position of some influence to be sure.”

“Some people are afraid that Cardassia will be expected to join the Federation.”

Elim nodded. “A fear which will be fueled by exchanging ambassadors.”

“This is just my personal opinion, but I see something more like what we have with the Klingon Empire, as I’ve mentioned. Nobody will ever expect the Klingons to join the Federation. They’re too different. But that doesn’t mean we have to fight war after war.”

“And you can even join together against a common enemy. That prospect is not without appeal. After all, the quadrant is getting more crowded, and we’ve learned that conquest is not the easy path we had believed.” Satisfied on this point, Elim asked, “What would Cardassia gain from an exchange of ambassadors?”

“Someone who can advocate for more aid,” replied Julian automatically.

“We will not beg the Federation. If nothing else we still have our pride.”

He should’ve realized that. “Alright. You can interpret it as a demonstration that Cardassia is still a power to be contended with.”

“We aren’t.”

“It’s all about appearances.”

Elim was intrigued. “I’m beginning to think diplomacy is more interesting than I’d assumed.”

“It’s quite complex, actually. My point is, the Federation is exchanging ambassadors in part to make Cardassia seem less threatening. That has to be good for your pride.”

“I thank you for your insights.”

“You can tell Councilor Ma’Don he’s welcome.”

“Julian! One does not say something so impertinent to a member of the Detapa Council.”

Impertinence hadn’t been his intention. “That’s impertinent?”

“Ma’Don is entitled to the information.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’ve held nothing back.”

“He is entitled to it, therefore the art of incomplete disclosure requires great delicacy.”

That Julian could believe. “I’m sure you’re up for the challenge.”

“I enjoy a challenge. It stimulates the brain and makes life interesting, don’t you think?”

“Yes, though dealing with politicians isn’t the kind of challenge I prefer.”

“Would the advanced kotra rules be more to your liking?”

“I didn’t know there were any.”

“Oh yes, and historically even more variations, though I don’t know them all myself.” He paused to consider that. “I must look for those rules.”

Julian hadn’t been home long and already Elim had him feeling much better.


 

Few individuals in the district received as many packages as Julian. His latest was from the O’Briens, sent before Julian had informed Chief O’Brien of their courtship and containing a video letter with reference to Cardassia Prime as ‘that godforsaken planet.’ Garak didn’t believe in deities, but he supposed if one did, it would be easy to believe such divinities had indeed forsaken Cardassia.

Molly O’Brien included more candy for the orphanage. Garak didn’t recognize the variety. “What are these?”

“Gummy bears,” replied Julian.

“I’ve seen pictures of Earth bears. They did not look like these.”

“These are really based more on teddy bears.”

“Like Kukalaka?” He’d given up all hope of understanding Julian’s attachment to the toy, which now served as a curious decoration in his room.

“Yes.”

“Your human predilection for food shaped like animals is very peculiar. It’s rather bloodthirsty for a species that prides itself on peacefulness, don’t you think?” He didn’t know of any other species which made sweets shaped like bears, or fish, or worms, and then there was the Replimat’s inexplicable annual tradition of ‘monkey cupcakes.’

“And you haven’t even seen anyone bite the head off a chocolate bunny.”

Garak had anticipated a defense from Julian, not this bold proclamation. Startling. “You decapitate chocolate what?”

“Bunnies.”

“Dare I ask what a bunny is?”

“A rabbit.”

“I tried rabbit stew once in the Replimat.” It hadn’t been worth ordering a second time.

“It’s a small mammal.” Julian demonstrated the size with his hands. “Hops a lot. Soft and furry.”

“Of course it’s furry. Humans love furry creatures.” Often referring to them as ‘cute’ or ‘adorable,’ particularly juvenile animals.

“We do.”

“Now, let me make certain I understand. You create these rabbits – or should I say bunnies? – out of chocolate in order to bite the heads off?”

“The terms are interchangeable, and they’re actually made for Easter. Another holiday which started out religious in nature and isn’t any longer for the majority of the population.”

“Like Christmas?”

“Exactly.”

Every Christmas on Deep Space Nine Garak had been baffled. Just when he thought he understood the general principle of the holiday something happened to prove him wrong. If it wasn’t mistletoe (which was undoubtedly the work of Commander Dax) or someone who wanted an ‘authentic year 1 BCE Middle Eastern outfit’ for a religious holosuite program (as if Garak knew what such clothes looked like), it was an obese man who travelled via chimney. Julian had never been able to explain this satisfactorily.

“And you celebrate Easter by decapitating chocolate bunnies?”

“By eating candy supposedly left by the Easter bunny, actually. Not something my family ever did, it’s not exactly my heritage. Anyway, when you want to eat a chocolate bunny, the ears and head are the easiest place to start.”

“Switch it for a live bunny and this could be a Klingon ritual.”

Julian gave him a perturbed look. “I’m sorry I ever mentioned it.”

“I think this could be a promising field for ethnographic research.”

“Alright, I get it, you’re appalled.”

“Oh no, I’m fascinated. Are the bunnies crafted with an expression of terror?”

“That’s enough about chocolate bunnies.” Julian looked so endearing when he was annoyed.

“You claim to be such a peaceful race, but all that latent aggression is just under the surface, exposed in moments such as when you violently decapitate the representation of a helpless animal with your own teeth.”

“Let’s invite Inda and the children for dinner. This is enough spaghetti for six. We’ll add protein bars to the sauce.”

“I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. Do you think Chief O’Brien would send you a chocolate bunny? I think a demonstration is in order."

“Very, very sorry I mentioned it.”

Chapter Text

As the only non-Cardassian in the district, Julian was the only one who was sorry to see the warmer spring days replace winter weather. Spring wasn’t bad itself – he actually didn’t mind the heat as much as the irksome humidity – but he wasn’t looking forward to summer.

“I wouldn’t have minded a bit more rain, but we received enough for a respectable harvest of early season crops,” said Elim as he showed Julian the subdistrict’s gardens.

“Much needed.” They were due to start receiving more ration bars since the Federation helped increase energy output, but it still wasn’t going to be enough for the population to really thrive. A single Cardassian-made ration bar per day was the starting allocation and that was barely enough to bode off starvation.

“I believe the situation will improve by the end of summer. The agricultural colonies should be able to harvest some crops, we will grow some of our own, and more ration bars will be replicated. The latest reports say that Earth has sent another shipment of food, and Trill is preparing one as well.”

“It’s still going to be a long road back to full stomachs.”

“Yes.”

They’d lost seven patients at the hospital due to lack of food, people who were already weakened and couldn’t manage on a starvation diet. The arrival of aid from Vulcan and Earth had forestalled crisis for another week, and Julian saw some reasons to hope that the worst was behind them, but food wouldn’t be plentiful for some time.

“The palt crop is thriving,” said Elim, gesturing to a large plot on what had once been a front lawn. Thirty neat rows of plants reached toward the evening sun. “Though the loqwhen is not. I suspect the seeds may have been old.”

“You’re a man of many talents. The district is lucky to have you.” So was Julian, for that matter.

“I am gratified to be of use.”

“It’s good to see this. The new life growing and thriving.”

“It certainly is.”

“Reminds me of Vulcan poem. ‘Then in the shadows of our destruction, once again green life emerged from the soil, and we were twice renewed, for we had planted hope with each seed.’”

Elim gave him a quizzical look. “That doesn’t sound Vulcan.”

“It’s pre-Surak.”

“Ah. It is appropriate. Do you speak Vulcan? As I recall I asked you once, but it was early in our acquaintance.”

“At a time when I wasn’t about to admit that I’m moderately fluent.” This despite the poor grades he’d earned in Advanced Vulcan. He’d put a lot of thought into nearly failing, after all. “Though I’m not good with ancient High Vulcan.”

“Any other linguistic talents?”

“I can speak Arabic flawlessly.”

“Is that one of your Earth languages?”

“Yes. And I picked up a bit of Bajoran on DS9, enough to hold a basic conversation, but I’m far from fluent and apparently my accent is atrocious.”

“Your Cardassi is impressive.”

“Thank you.”

“I must admit that it pleases me to hear you speak my language.”

He gave Elim’s hand a squeeze. “It’s a beautiful language.”

“I’ve always thought so. We must use some Standard at home, however. I need to practice.”

“We always have Earth literature.”

“Yes. I’m halfway through The Sorrows of Young Werther.

“What’s your opinion so far?”

“It’s very indulgent.”

“That’s the point.” Werther wasn’t a favorite of his, but it was the only Sturm und Drang literature he’d loaded on his padd, back when he planned to be on Cardassia only six months. He mentioned his own current reading. “I started Death among Allies yesterday. The style is quite different from what I’m used to.”

“It is noted for its paradoxical style. I believe you’ll like it. Konrod argues through his text that a life of sacrifice means nothing without family. It’s been banned on and off throughout the last two hundred years.”

Julian realized he could envision them doing this for the rest of his life, and idea which filled him with warm contentment and happiness.


 

“We haven’t asked each other any questions in nearly two weeks,” observed Julian, sitting down on his favorite chair. This one was marginally the softest in the common room, and Elim hadn’t used it in months, leaving it for Julian.

“I am quite aware,” said Elim, setting down his book.

Of course he was. “Does that mean you’ve asked all of your questions?”

“Yes.”

His move, then. “I have one more. We’ve talked about the future if I stay here. But what if the political climate changes and I’m not allowed to stay any longer?”

“In that unfortunate circumstance, we would be forced to depend on the celebrated diversity and open-mindedness of your Federation.” The idea clearly held little appeal for Elim.

“We?”

A pause, and then he received one of his partner’s intense gazes. “If Cardassia is so foolish as to deprive itself of your talents, it will have to make do without my humble contributions.”

All the lonely years of his exile Elim had longed for his homeworld, and now he was willing to give it up for Julian. Cardassians weren’t in the habit of declaring their love the way many humans did, and Elim even less than most, but this was an open promise of undying devotion, starkly obvious and heartfelt.

In a second he was on Elim’s lap, kissing the man with more intensity than he’d ever dared previously. But there was something yet to be said, which unfortunately meant tearing himself away and resting their foreheads together. “In that case, I have one further question: will you come to my bed?”

Elim’s whole face lit up and his dosset turned slightly blue. “With utmost pleasure.”

In that moment, Julian knew without a doubt that he was going to marry Elim Garak.

Later, enjoying the glow of post-coital satisfaction, he murmured, “I can’t believe you’d never had oral sex before.”

“I never allowed myself to be so vulnerable,” said Elim. Of course. Vulnerability again. “That was highly enjoyable.”

“I’d have been worried if it wasn’t.”

Elim looked at him through half-closed eyes. “I’d never particularly enjoyed the entire process of sexual activity before.”

The admission shocked more brain cells into gear. “Never? You never enjoyed sex?” The concept was frankly hard for Julian to grasp. Intellectually he understood, but he couldn’t relate.

“Not beyond an occasional means of physical release. I was taught from a young age that it is the most dangerous of weaknesses.”

That could easily ruin sex, he imagined. “I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m fairly certain that qualifies as projecting onto you.”

“Possibly.”

He had a lot of questions – he was reeling from the implication that Elim knew Julian would want to have sex frequently and planned to, what, suffer through? – but it wasn’t the time, so he settled for remarking, “I’m very glad you enjoyed it now, with me.” It was probably the most profound display of trust Elim could give, since it wasn’t all at the conscious level.

“As am I, for multiple reasons. I do hope we can repeat the experience soon.”

“Soon as in tonight?”

“Is that an offer?”

“Yes.”

“Delightful.”

Julian didn’t want to ruin the mood, but he had to ask, “What’s your stance on penetrative intercourse?”

“That is considered an act of claiming between two men.” Elim paused as was his habit when weighing the truth of his next words. “I would like you to claim me, Julian. Then in the very near future I would like to claim you, if you’re willing.”

“I don’t think willing accurately conveys my enthusiasm for both propositions.” Sexual compatibility wasn’t looking to be a problem at all. “But this time, I want to explore every centimeter of your body.”

“So long as I get to return the favor.”

“I’d expect nothing less.”


 

Garak wasn’t used to being happy. He now had plenty of reason to be: Julian had decided it was time for the third phase of courtship, indicating that he didn’t have significant concerns and truly believed the relationship would last. Moreover, the sexual aspect of their relationship turned out to be far more pleasurable than Garak had anticipated. It was astounding how much he enjoyed sex when he wasn’t worried about his partner making any attempts to kill or otherwise compromise him.

He also had a niece of whom anyone would be proud, who had chosen to be his niece. All things considered, he’d never been so happy in his adult life. It was a bit disconcerting.

He remained as keenly aware of his responsibilities as ever. His young gardeners needed supervision, and he was keeping a close watch on Dyrum in particular. It was his hope that giving Dyrum useful work would both distract the youth from his anger and show him that there was still plenty of life in Cardassia.

As for his responsibilities to Inda – he referred to her by first name now as was appropriate for their familial relationship – he had persuaded her to finish her primary schooling. She’d nearly completed it before the Dominion assault, and as an intelligent young woman she had much potential. If necessary Garak would assist in some aspects of running her household to ensure that his niece had all possible advantages.

No one could complain that he was neglecting any of his duties to the district, Inda, or Julian. Tain said happiness dulled one’s sense of duty, but Garak began to suspect this was another aspect of life his father misunderstood. He was compelled to excellence in all of his efforts, not despite happiness, but because he had so much more to protect and serve.

Having faithfully spent his day working for the good of the district, he returned home to find that it was one of the rare evenings when Julian managed to leave the hospital on time. This was one of the perils of loving a doctor, particularly such a dedicated doctor as Julian.

“I hadn’t expected you to be home yet.”

Julian grinned. “No emergencies, and we have a lot of time to make up for in your sex life.”

“You aren’t responsible for single-handedly…” he began, only to find himself kissed silent. Garak had recently been introduced to the very odd concept of including tongues when kissing. He would need more experience to determine if he enjoyed it.

“I know,” said Julian when he pulled away, “but it’s so much fun.”

“True.” This would be the fourth evening in a row of sexual activity and Garak suspected Julian would continue to surprise him for some time yet.

“And I still can’t believe you were planning to…”

He used Julian’s own tactic against him, and promptly kissed his lover to quiet him. Garak knew very well Julian’s opinion on his original plan to engage in sexual activity primarily for his lover’s benefit, without the expectation of any great enjoyment on his own part. It would have been worth it to marry Julian, but of course the man couldn’t let this go without insisting that Garak communicate something so important in the future. (Completely disregarding that it was inappropriate to discuss before the third phase of courtship.)

“As I am enjoying our physical intimacy immensely, perhaps we can agree that all is more than satisfactory and move to the bedroom.”

Julian already knew several excellent ways to touch Garak’s neck ridges which he proceeded to demonstrate. “I want you to promise me you’ll tell me what you like and don’t like.”

“I like this.”

“I’m serious, Elim.”

“So am I. Slightly more pressure there - yes, that’s perfect.”

“Promise me.”

“If it’s that important to you, I will keep you appraised of my preferences.”

“Thank you.”

“In fact, I have a preference for tonight. I don’t want you to hold yourself back in any way.” He wanted to see Julian uninhibited, not trying to act as an average human but fully using his physical abilities. His strength was no threat to Garak.

Julian worked his hands under Garak’s shirt to continue down the ridges. “I’ve never done that.”

“So much the better. I want you as you are, not as you believe you need to be.”

“That’s… actually quite romantic.”

“And arousing, I hope.”

Julian’s response was to mouth his left neck ridge, and Garak took this as agreement.


 

Julian was half expecting Admiral Ross to demand his resignation, so he was surprised to see the admiral joined onscreen by an unknown woman, not in uniform, who appeared to be of mixed heritage- part Denobulan and part human or Betazoid.

“Doctor.”

“Admiral.”

“This is Phalzara Stein from the Diplomatic Service.”

Julian nodded his head respectfully. “Good afternoon, Ms. Stein.”

“Doctor Bashir. The Cardassians speak highly of you,” she said with a very Denobulan smile. “The Cardassians have agreed to an exchange of ambassadors, on the condition that you represent the Federation.”

“Me? I’m not a diplomat, and there aren’t enough doctors as it is, I couldn’t possibly leave the hospital.”

“They want you to remain at the hospital. Apparently your work there is considered a befitting testament to the benefits of interspecies cooperation. Traditional diplomatic work would take up only a small fraction of your time. Less than ten percent, the Cardassians are quite insistent on that point.”

“I’m flattered.”

“They’re quite insistent on having you as well. In fact, they didn’t ask if you would be interested.” She was clearly perplexed by that.

“They wouldn’t,” sighed Julian. “Cardassians emphasize the family and the state. What an individual wants is of relatively little importance.”

“Doctor, you’ve just proven their point that you’re well-suited to the job.”

“This is going to make a lot of people unhappy,” noted Julian. Anyone who thought he shouldn’t be allowed to practice medicine or remain in the service surely wouldn’t want him to be a Federation ambassador, and his relationship with Garak was going to get a lot of negative attention as well.

“And many other people very happy,” countered Stein.

“It’s an unconventional exchange of ambassadors, isn’t it?”

“Yes. The proposed Cardassian ambassador is an archaeologist. It is still diplomatic progress.”

Ross added, “Official diplomatic relations with Cardassia have been a goal since the end of the war. Longer, really. I don’t suppose I have to tell you how much we want this.”

“No, sir.”

“I can’t order you to leave Starfleet take this position.” Except he really was doing just that, wasn’t he?

“May I have time to think about it?”

“Yes. Report back in forty-eight hours. And Doctor?”

“Yes?”

“I’ve come to an agreement with my peers which would allow you the option to be reinstated in Starfleet should you so desire, after you have served as ambassador to Cardassia.”

“Thank you, Admiral.” That was an unexpected concession, and it made him feel more appreciated than his last conversation with Ross.

“See you in forty-eight hours. Ross out.”

Elim was loitering around the halls of Federation Relief office, which raised Julian’s suspicions. Instead of vacating the communications room, Julian pulled his partner in for a private conversation. “Did you know about this?”

“Know about what?”

“That Cardassia has agreed to an exchange of ambassadors, so long as I’m the Federation ambassador.”

“I didn’t know. I suspected, but not until after you began speaking with the admiral.”

“They want me to spend most of my time at the hospital.”

“This is, I believe, what you call ‘the best of both worlds,’ is it not?”

“Not exactly. I’ve never had any desire to be a diplomat.” He sank down into a nearby chair, overwhelmed. “Apparently the Cardassian government is insistent.”

“Will you accept the position?”

“Do I have a choice?”

Elim perched on a chair. “This is a great honor, Julian, but I will support whatever decision you make.”

“Not much of a decision. Ross was fairly clear on that. He can’t order me, officially.”

“Unofficially?”

“He stressed how much the Federation wants diplomatic relations with Cardassia.”

“I see.”

He knew what he had to do, and it wouldn’t be that terrible, really. After all, he’d fully intended to tender his resignation from Starfleet and stay on Cardassia. Funny how that resignation, which three years ago had so dreadfully threatened to ruin his life, now promised a new beginning.

And if for some reason everything went horribly south and they had to leave Cardassia, he would (at least in theory) have a Starfleet career to return to. Of course, he really didn’t want Federation-Cardassian relations to sour that badly, nevermind while he was ambassador. Oh joy, a whole new kind of pressure.

“It’s obvious that I need to accept. I can only hope they mean it when they say I won’t be spending more than ten percent of my time on diplomatic functions.”

“You have impressed even more people of influence than I realized,” remarked Elim. “Such individuals are not easily won over.”

“You’re really alright with this? It’s going to change our lives a great deal.” In ways that he couldn’t begin to imagine at the moment, no doubt.

“How could I possibly object? I am prouder of you than I can say, my dear. As to changes, you know I am always willing to adapt to serve the good of the state.”

Elim thought this was good for Cardassia. That was reassuring.

“It seems I’m about to get a part-time job, then.”


 

Elim had said he’d be home late, but Julian had started to wonder if ‘late’ meant ‘all night’ before his partner finally returned and came into the bedroom.

“I wondered if you were planning to come home tonight.”

“You know how easy it is to lose track of time in the midst of work.”

That was true – Julian often lost track of time when researching – but Elim’s watering red eyes indicated that something else was going on. Julian went to his medkit and pulled out the tricorder.

“That’s not necessary,” said Elim while trying to evade the scan.

“Like hell it isn’t. You have traces of potassium chlorobaniprate in your eyes. You’re lucky it’s not more or you’d be blind.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it.”

That was hardly the salient point. “Follow me.”

Elim did but couldn’t resist the urge to mutter, “For the record I am complying under duress.”

Julian assembled water, a clean cloth, and a funnel. Elim was already sitting, which made the task easier. “Head back and eyes open.”

“I already rinsed my eyes.”

Head back.” He pushed Elim’s forehead to emphasize the point. “I am not taking any chances with your sight.”

Having one’s eyes washed out wasn’t a pleasant experience for any humanoid species to the best of his knowledge, but Elim remained customarily stoic, only indicating his discomfort by the increased frequency of his blinking. Julian took care to be thorough. A bit of discomfort was vastly preferable to permanent damage to sensitive ocular tissue. Once he was satisfied that his partner’s vision was in no danger, he pulled out a ration bar for him. “Your eyes may sting for a day or so, but there’s no longer a risk of permanent damage. Now, what happened to you?”

“You already know I experienced a minor exposure to potassium chlorobaniprate.”

“And you already know that’s not what I meant.”

“Very well. Has it occurred to you that Section 31 is going to be unhappy with your pending elevation to ambassador?”

“Of course.” They’d wanted to discredit him. Naturally they wouldn’t want to see him as an ambassador.

“Enough to eliminate you?”

“The thought crossed my mind.” He’d planned to talk to Elim about that, in fact.

“I’m pleased that my lessons have had some impact. You need not worry about the threat anymore.”

That could only mean that he’d once again taken matters into his own hands. “Elim, what did you do?”

“Nothing to trouble your conscience, my dear. I retrieved evidence which quite definitively proves the existence of Section 31 as well as the involvement of several important Federation figures and communicated to an operative that I will release this information should you come to harm. I made sure to inform them that I am not the only one in possession of this information, lest they believe that they could simply eliminate me first.”

“Why don’t you just release the information now?”

“That would be ill-advised. It is hardly enough to destroy the organization, but in that circumstance they would have every reason to kill you and no reason to stay their hand. No, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement.” He finished his ration bar and sat back in the chair, pleased with himself. “There is an old saying, ‘You can judge a man by the quality of his enemies.’ You fare very well in that regard.”

Not sure what to make of that comment, Julian focused on his larger concern. “What if something happened to you? I wouldn’t have known where to go or how to help.”

“I told you that I wouldn’t change my nature.”

Julian had accepted Elim’s lone wolf tendencies before he’d even agreed to the courtship, but sometimes they still aggravated him. “I know. I just… don’t like thinking of you getting hurt because of me.”

“Surely you are aware that I will do anything in my power to protect you.”

He was aware, but he didn’t want to lose his partner, either. “I know. I assume you’ll want to oversee the security precautions for the official residence I’ll be getting, then.”

“I won’t trust anyone else. Do you know where the residence will be located?”

“It’s going to be built next door. They want me to stay close to the hospital, and the lot next to yours is unclaimed.” The entire house had been destroyed, so Julian didn’t have to feel badly about displacing anyone.

“I trust they’ll provide a secure vehicle so you don’t have to walk to the hospital.”

He didn’t much like the thought of needing so much protection for a kilometer and a half commute. “Yes, and a garage at the hospital as well.”

“This troubles you.”

“I don’t like that it’s all necessary.”

Elim reached for his hand. “Are you reconsidering your acceptance?”

“No. I never really had a choice, did I?”

“You did. Lack of agreeable choices is not the same as lack of choice.”

“Somehow it feels the same.”

“That’s because you possess a commendable sense of duty.”

Julian yawned. It was late and they weren’t going to solve anything. “I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.”

“An excellent suggestion.”

“Your bed or mine?”

That surprised his partner. “It’s not an ideal time for sexual activities.”

“I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about sleeping in the same bed.” And reassuring himself that whatever Elim had done to nearly blind himself, he was home without serious harm.

“Mine.”

Once in Elim’s bedroom, Julian pushed back the blanket on his side of the bed. Soon he’d be using his fan, one of the items he’d ordered from the station when Jake visited. That would probably mean more blankets for Elim, but they’d work it out.

“Thank you. I do appreciate that you removed the threat from Section 31, though I wish you’d told me first.”

Elim just said, “You’re welcome,” and anshwared him goodnight.


 

The arrival of his mother’s food shipment put Julian in the enviable position of having more food than he and Elim needed, an imbalance which he immediately rectified by bringing some over to Inda and the kids.

Azoon stopped bouncing around the front yard to ask, “Is that food?”

“Yes.”

“I’m glad. I don’t like being hungry.”

The honest statement was heartbreaking in its simplicity. No child ought to know this kind of aching hunger. In a few months Julian would be the Federation ambassador (news which wasn’t yet common knowledge) and would, he hoped, have the resources to ensure the Rokuls at least didn’t go hungry, but it wasn’t enough. There were far too many others just as much in need of food.

Hasleny went into the house saying, “Inda, Dr. Bashir and Mr. Garak have food. Lots of it!”

Eight years old and she was excited at the sight of a five-kilo bag of couscous. Even the many curse words Julian knew weren’t enough for the Dominion.

When Inda came out her eye ridges danced in delight. “All for us?”

“My mother sent more than enough,” answered Julian, setting down the couscous (one of two bags his mother sent; she always had loved the stuff) and handing Inda a piece of paper. “This is called couscous. I translated the cooking instructions.”

Hasleny picked a package out of the box Elim had carried. “What’s this?”

“It’s dehydrated meat we call jerky.”

“That’s a funny word,” remarked Azoon.

Inda said, “Thank you, Doctor, and please convey my gratitude to your mother as well.”

“I will.” He’d include that in the letter he was drafting where he informed them he was going to be an ambassador, and finally told them about Elim.

He spent a couple of minutes explaining the foodstuffs, a discussion in which even Dyrum was interested. When all their questions had been answered Inda allowed the younger children each four banana chips.

“Uthri-rlak food!” exclaimed Hasleny.

“There is a resemblance,” admitted Elim. To Julian he explained, “Mythical creatures of ancient lore, similar to your elves. Or fairies. I’m never quite certain of the distinctions between the two.”

“Elves can’t fly, for one thing.”

“Uthri-rlak fly in the stories,” said Hasleny. “They aren’t real, but sometimes we pretend they are.”

“And they eat magic food so nobody can see them.” Azoon took a bite of banana chip. “Can you see me?”

“Of course we can,” said Dyrum. His tone was fonder than Julian was used to hearing.

Inda added, “Uthri-rlak food has the advantage of filling the stomach with three bites.”

Hasleny examined a banana chip. “I used to have a storybook about Uthri-rlak, and the pictures of their food looked like this. Only with more dots.”

“Those are seeds.” Julian had never known anyone who found banana chips so remarkable. He’d be sure to share this with his mother.

“Can we plant them?”

“No, these seeds won’t grow.”

“In the stories, if real people eat Uthri-rak food, they can see Uthri-rlak for a month, and then for the rest of their lives they’re always sad because the Uthri-rlak are so beautiful and they can’t see them anymore,” said Hasleny.

That was a bit depressing, but no more so than a lot of human fairy tales, Julian figured.

By the time they left Hasleny was pretending to be an Uthri-rlak and Azoon was back to bounding around the front yard seeing how far he could jump. Elim had ascertained that Inda made time for her studies, which he was adamant she complete.

“Dyrum’s mood seemed a bit better today,” noted Julian.

“He is very fond of Azoon.”

“Good. It’s important for him to have emotional connections. Couscous for dinner?”

“Yes to this couscous, and I agree regarding Dyrum.”

Julian picked out a small jar of sundried tomatoes in olive oil, which he thought would go well with couscous, and a package of salmon for protein. “You once told me Cardassians don’t have fairy tales.”

“We don’t,” insisted Elim. “We have Uthri-rlak tales, which are quite different.”

“Really.”

“There is no such thing as an Uthri-rlak godmother, nor is there a single story where Uthri-rlak turn humans into household objects.”

“Household… oh, Beauty and the Beast, right.”

“A disturbing celebration of a vulnerable young woman falling in love with her captor. Not a romance that ought to be celebrated.”

“Stockholm syndrome. That’s the human term for capture-bonding, and I have to agree that it’s not a good reason to get married and expect happily ever after.”

“I’m relieved you didn’t defend that relationship.”

Julian had enough defending his own (healthy, thank you very much) relationship. He wasn’t about to take on fictional lost causes.

 

Chapter Text

The Sociological Society’s archive servers were destroyed by the Dominion assault, and very few of its members survived because their annual meeting had been bombed. This left Garak short of information, a situation he strongly disliked both in general and in this particular case.

Garak intended to ask Julian to be his husband, and he supposed Julian would expect some incorporation of human tradition into the request. His knowledge on the topic was sorely lacking, and for want of other options Garak had sent a request to Lieutenant Dax. Surely, he reasoned, Deep Space Nine’s databases had plenty of information on the topic. It was perhaps odd to rely on Julian’s former lover, but Dax approved of their courtship so he doubted that she would object.

She obligingly sent encouragement and three files on human proposal customs. He immediately dismissed the concept of an engagement ring, a tradition from before replicators were widely available which seemed to have some relationship to archaic human gender roles. He doubted Julian would want such a piece of jewelry, which was fortunate because Garak had already decided what to present as a gift at the time of his proposal.

It was Cardassian tradition for a suitor to offer a family heirloom when requesting marriage. Garak had carefully considered objects he might give Julian, rejecting any of Tain’s and combing through Mila’s possessions. She had few that might be deemed an heirloom, but he found a small carving by her grandfather which would serve his purposes.

What other human customs might he include? There were several examples in Dax’s files of how one might propose marriage, including any number of peculiar ways to write out ‘Will you marry me?’ The phrase appeared on cakes and shirts, in holographic displays of the night sky, spelled with flower petals, and even on a sign worn by a dog. Garak didn’t think any of those would serve his purposes, so was relieved to read that some humans preferred a quiet, intimate setting. Yes. That was a vast improvement.

Finally he found a human custom he could use: a ritual position one took while requesting matrimony. He studied the images carefully, but the pose wasn’t complex and would present no difficulty. It suited his needs exactly.

He heard Julian enter the house and closed Dax’s helpful files. Julian therefore found Garak pretending to study a report which he’d read earlier in the day.

“Good evening.”

“Hello Julian. You’ll be pleased to hear that the Koltoya Islands shellfish industry is recommencing small harvests.”

“That is good news. We had some at the hospital, too.”

“Oh?”

“The Saldoks adopted a girl from the orphanage. They brought her in for a checkup; she’s in good health, all things considered.”

“Excellent.”

“It occurred to me that couples here always have the same surname.”

Garak hoped this meant that Julian was considering what name they would use, as it meant he was considering that they would marry. “Not always. There are cases where both spouses retain their family name. However, it is most common for the couple to decide to use one of their names.”

“How do they decide that?”

“There are a number of factors, the relative social position of both families being most significant. Others include which family name is already being carried on by siblings, which family the couple intends to reside with, and lastly personal preference.”

As Julian would be the Federation ambassador, his family name would take precedence over Garak’s. That would take some getting used to, but Garak was nothing if not adaptable.


 

Julian stretched his legs and basked in contentment. “This is lovely.”

“It is quite pleasant,” agreed Elim. He’d found a large hammock in a closet somewhere and proceeded to arrange it on the lawn. They both fit comfortably on it and were enjoying a warm spring morning.

“You’re very proud of yourself.”

“No. I am proud that we are displaying our third phase courtship for anyone to see.”

Right, the full body contact was an indication of third phase courtship, and Elim was very fond of showing Julian off. According to Peldar, suitors were expected to show their partners off and one who didn’t should be looked upon with suspicion.

“Is that why we’re on the front lawn instead of the back?”

“Hmm, that’s one theory.”

It was Julian’s day off and he wasn’t inclined to waste it overthinking Elim’s motives. Not when he was comfortable, somewhat lazily reading Singh el Bashir’s poetry, which he hadn’t revisited in some years, and altogether too content to worry about the whys and wherefores.

Elim was by all appearances engrossed in his reading. He’d gotten his hands on digital copies of some previously banned short stories and was enjoying them immensely, but Julian knew full well that Elim’s attention was never solely devoted to any one thing. The man was always keeping an eye on his surroundings. That was regrettably going to be important once Julian was an ambassador.

No. He was not going to dwell on things he couldn’t change and he was going to enjoy his day off. He’d always liked reading his ancestor’s work in the original Arabic (it lost a great deal in translation) and he certainly relished lying in the oversize hammock with Elim.

Nearby a bird sang out, a distinctive clicking call he’d recognized several times recently. “Do you know what kind of bird that is?”

“Gorkalest,” replied Elim. “You may have seen then, the small brown birds with green beaks.”

“I don’t believe I have.”

“You will soon, I’m sure.”

He read another poem. It was strange to read a celebration of the desert while outside in the humidity of a Cardassian spring. By now Julian preferred to be indoors during the warmest hours of the day, as he got uncomfortably hot. Mornings and evenings were cool enough to spend outside for the time being.

“I think you’ll like this story,” declared Elim. “The protagonist celebrates her personal liberties over responsibilities to an admittedly problematic family.”

“Problematic?”

“You would no doubt call it abusive, though as you are aware we do not recognize your ‘emotional abuse.’” Cardassian society was very much against physical abuse and neglect, but Julian felt they could stand improvements in their awareness of emotional abuse.

“Speaking of family, will you adopt the younger Rokul children as a niece and nephews when they turn fifteen?”

“If they wish, yes.”

“Just curious.”

Elim paused his reading. “You’re fond of them, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I’m glad.”

“They’re good kids, and I can tell they’re good for you.”

“I do consider myself fortunate in that regard,” said Elim.

“I think we’re both fortunate in many regards.”

That earned him a fond look. “We are indeed, my dear.”


 

Julian arrived at the hospital early and waylaid Peldar on her way in. “May I have a word with you in private?”

“Certainly.”

Once her office door was closed, he said, “The official announcement will be forthcoming soon, I’m told, but you deserve to hear this from me. Cardassia and the Federation will be exchanging ambassadors, and at the insistence of the Cardassian government I’m going to be the Federation ambassador. They still want me here most of the time, but I will have some unavoidable diplomatic responsibilities.”

She sat down hard in her chair. “Such news!”

“I know. That’s what I thought,” he agreed, sitting across from her.

“Congratulations, Bashir. This is a great honor.”

“Not one I was looking for, to be honest, but in the name of good interspecies relations I don’t have much choice.”

Peldar nodded her comprehension. “It is your duty to your state.”

“Apparently. I really don’t want anything around here to change more than absolutely necessary.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to switch offices?”

“I don’t have any intention of stealing your office.”

“That’s what a Cardassian would do.”

“I’m fairly certain the lack of ridges already gave me away.”

She laughed. “The smooth visage is hard to miss. I’m glad that you will be here most of the time. I would miss you.”

“I would miss the hospital, and you as well. It’s more than just my profession. Being a doctor defines me. I couldn’t give that up.”

“Nor should anyone ask it of you. Does this mean you won’t need a Cardassian medical license?”

“That’s what I’ve been told.”

“It will save you some hassle.”

“Good. I’ve a feeling I’ll have plenty of hassle coming my way as it is.”

“So when shall we begin to call you Ambassador Bashir?”

“That’s not necessary. Doctor is just fine for the others, although this doesn’t change our friendship.”

“Ah. It would for many Cardassians, but as we discussed, you are definitely not Cardassian. I appreciate your telling me personally.”

“I hope it doesn’t cause too much trouble here.”

“Far less trouble than losing you entirely, I’m sure.”

“But in reference to when, the official date hasn’t been settled on yet. I’ll let you know when I have it.”

“Thank you. I’d really thought this was going to be about your courtship, since I’m told you in the third phase now.”

“Gossip moves at warp speed around here. Yes, we are. I’ve got to go scrub up now, though.” He had a patient who had been unable to get a fractured leg treated in the immediate aftermath of the Dominion assault and now required surgical intervention. “I’ll keep you updated.”

Peldar nodded and he left to scrub for surgery. This was what he did well, it was his contribution to making the universe a bit better. Julian would accept his diplomatic role because it was for the greater good, but it would never be as satisfying as medicine.


 

“My mother wants a picture of us together,” said Julian when he finished reading his latest letter. “And she asked no less than seventeen questions about you.”

“Does this mean that your parents approve of our relationship?”

“I don’t think it’s exactly approval or disapproval.”

There was something else going on, that much was obvious from Julian’s body language. Garak waited.

“They’re so proud about the ambassadorship,” continued Julian.

“Naturally.”

Something about this bothered Julian, though Garak couldn’t fathom what.

“They say they’re proud of me, but they really aren’t. They’re… vindicated, I suppose. Pleased with their creation. Happy with the return on their investment.”

Oh dear. Garak disliked speaking about Julian’s genetic resequencing, not because it bothered him but because he never knew how to respond. He was utterly out of his depth, couldn’t understand why Julian resented his parents, and desperately disliked the feeling of being so ill able to respond.

“Or perhaps they’re proud of how you have combined raw intelligence with many other qualities which can’t be given in a lab to create a successful career,” he suggested, but the way Julian’s eyes tightened informed him this had not been a good sentiment to share.

“You don’t understand.”

That they could agree on. “No, I don’t. I am proud of you; is that also problematic?”

“No, because you’ve never known and rejected me any other way.”

Julian claimed his relationship with his parents had improved once his father went to prison, but Garak had his doubts. If this was an improvement, he could scarcely imagine what the state of affairs had been previously.

“I hope you no longer consider yourself a fraud.” They had that conversation on the station after Dr. Zimmerman’s departure and Julian had indulged in Andorian ale for the occasion. Garak hadn’t understood then and his comprehension had not much improved in the intervening years.

“I’m not pretending anymore, so I don’t. This is different. My parents decided I was a failure when I was six years old.”

That explained much. Even Tain had allowed Garak to reach adulthood before deeming him a failure. “So they are not allowed to be proud of you?” he clarified.

“No! Don’t you see, Elim? They’re not proud of their son; they’re proud of their upgraded model Julian Bashir. They aren’t really even my parents, they’re my architects.”

“If you are so displeased with them, why do you allow them any part in your life?”

“They’re still the closest thing I have to parents, and the parental relationship isn’t an easy one to dismiss. You should know.”

“That, I understand.” Garak allowed Julian to pull him down on the couch so they were half-lying on each other. It was fortunate the couch was so wide, or the position would have been dreadfully uncomfortable.

Julian continued, “My father is the strong personality. Adigeon Prime was his idea, and while I appreciate that he took responsibility to protect my career, that doesn’t change the fact that he deemed me unacceptable at age six.”

“Your feelings toward your mother are warmer?” he guessed.

“Yes, though not uncomplicated.” That cleared up some confusion at least. “I don’t imagine I’ll ever be close to my parents, and I’ve accepted that, but I can’t entirely write them out of my life either.”

“I’m certain Inda will take the photograph your mother requested.”

“Mother will appreciate it.”

Garak didn’t expect he would ever understand Julian’s relationship with his parents, but no doubt Julian could say the same about Garak’s own parental ties. Not an easy relationship to dismiss, indeed.

That Julian found his physical presence a source of comfort was still an enchanting novelty to Garak. He was therefore content to lie on the couch in comfortable silence and enjoy this new reality.


 

Julian sat in the common room reviewing how he’d managed to lose their latest kotra game so spectacularly. The advanced rules brought a new level of challenge to an already complex game, but he couldn’t pinpoint any one particular move where it had all gone wrong this time. A series of bad decisions, then.

He looked around to ask Elim’s opinion. What was Elim doing on the floor? It almost looked as though – no, that couldn’t – yes, yes it could. Elim knelt on one knee and produced a small figurine from… somewhere.

“Julian Bashir, would you do me the honor of becoming my husband?”

As if his answer was ever in doubt. He’d already decided when he moved them to the third stage of courtship. Julian had never been so happy in a relationship, nor so content in a way that didn’t depend on emotional highs and sex. What he had with Elim would last.

“Yes.”

Elim smiled broadly and Julian was sure that made two of them. He took the figurine carefully. It stood perhaps ten centimeters tall, a tree carved out of blue-tinted stone. “It’s lovely, but I want to kiss you now.”

After setting the tree safely on the table, he pulled Elim onto the couch and claimed his kiss. Followed for good measure by several more kisses. The tree was significant, though, so with some reluctance he stopped kissing and said, “Tell me about this.”

“My maternal great-grandfather carved it as a courtship gift for my great-grandmother.”

“He was talented.” The workmanship was excellent. The tree seemed lifelike from the leaves to a small bird perched on one limb. “I appreciate how you combined human and Cardassian proposal traditions.” Elim had thoughtfully offered a family heirloom, as Cardassians favored, in the classic human one-knee position. Julian was also pleased that the heirloom was from Elim’s maternal line as opposed to Tain.

“I hope you weren’t expecting a diamond ring.”

“Not my style. How did you learn so much about human proposals anyway?”

“I have my ways.”

“Of course you do.” He looked at the carved tree again. “We’ll have to find this a place of honor.”

“Julian, I find myself without words to express how very overjoyed I am that you’ve agreed to marry me.”

“I’m quite thrilled myself.” More kissing. “Ecstatic, really.”

The kissing turned into lovemaking, and they even made it to bed for the second round. Julian was physically worn out and entirely satisfied in the aftermath.

A thought occurred to him. “I think we should both keep our surnames,” he said.

“By rights I should take your family name due to your status as an ambassador.”

“If you really want to that’s fine, but you don’t need to for my sake.”

Elim pulled up the blanket, leaving Julian uncovered. They had a system worked out now for the temperature difference: Julian had his fan pointed at just the right angle, and Elim had extra blankets. “You would not consider it a slight?”

He deduced from this that Elim would prefer to keep his own surname but thought it was expected of him to take Julian’s. “Not in the least.”

“I’ll give the matter some thought.” Elim reached out to caress Julian’s cheek. “Ss’avi.”

Julian translated the unfamiliar compound word. “‘Part of myself?’”

“That’s the literal translation. It’s a term of endearment.”

He traced his fiancé’s dosset with the requisite light touch. It was an intimate gesture, not meant to arouse but rather to demonstrate closeness. “I like it.” He’d never been one to use endearments, but Elim might like it (he liked using them anyway) so he’d ponder appropriate candidates.

Pleasantly tired from the sex, he had to drag himself out of bed to complete his evening ablutions, considering endearments all the while. Not one who cared for insipid endearments along the lines of ‘baby’ or ‘honey,’ he felt certain his partner would feel the same.

When Elim returned to bed after his own routine, Julian slid over for a kiss goodnight which then segued to an anshwar. Neither of them could sleep when entwined together; as he moved back to his own side of the bed, he said, “Goodnight, love.”

Elim liked that very much, so Julian resolved to use it more than his usual wont.


 

They had the children over for a simple dinner to share the good news. “Dr. Bashir has agreed to marry me,” Elim said, his body language radiating pride.

Inda was the first to respond. “Congratulations! This is wonderful.”

“Yay! That means you’re going to stay here and take care of us, right?” asked Azoon. He’d grown attached since Julian treated his arm injury.

“Yes. Yes, it does,” agreed Julian.

“Good.”

“A wedding! Will we be there?” That was Hasleny.

“Of course.” Elim, who continued to thrive on having a family, was clearly pleased that the kids were happy about their upcoming marriage. Only Dyrum, to no one’s surprise, remained indifferent.

“Have you decided when?” asked Inda.

“Late summer, most likely. It depends when Julian’s guests can be here.”

“More aliens?”

“Azoon,” Inda chided, “That was rude.” The word for ‘alien’ was considered a slur, though Azoon had used it innocently enough.

“More people with smooth faces?” he tried.

Julian gulped down a laugh. “Yes, Azoon, more otherworlders, who happen to have smooth faces.”

“Otherworlders,” repeated the boy. The word was much more polite than ‘aliens,’ a fact Julian had learned the embarrassing way. At least the nurses were used to his flawed Cardassi.

“How do you decide you want to get married?” asked Hasleny. “I’ve heard about courtship, but how do you know?”

Julian would’ve been hard pressed to express an answer to an adult, much less an eight year old. Elim attempted, “Dr. Bashir and I have been friends for years, so we knew that we liked each other.”

“But liking someone and wanting to be with them forever are different,” she quite rightly pointed out.

“Yes, of course. That’s why we have courtship.”

“It’s not something I can explain,” Julian said. “It’s feeling in your soul that this is what you want, and deciding that you’ll do whatever is necessary for this person.” Cardassians didn’t have any idealized ideas of the heart as humans did, and the closest concept was the soul.

Inda suggested, “I imagine it makes more sense when you’re ready for the commitment of marriage.”

“Yes.”

“So you have plenty of time to figure it out, Hasleny,” said Dyrum.

“It really is excellent news.” Inda smiled. “I never expected this when you arrived, Doctor.”

“Neither did I,” he admitted.

Azoon thought of another question. “Does this mean you’ll be Inda’s uncle too?”

“It does. Happily, I might add.”

“Then I shall be doubly fortunate,” she said. “We must celebrate in as much style as we can manage.”

They hadn’t really gotten to the wedding planning stage yet. Julian could practically see Inda thinking about how grand the affair could possibly be, whereas he had a strong preference for a small and intimate affair. Come to think of it, he really needed to find out what Cardassian weddings consisted of.


 

Reaction to news of their impending marriage was, on the whole, positive. Garak received more well-intentioned advice of questionable relevance from Gentach, who had after all wed a Cardassian woman where Garak was going to marry a human male. His fellow pur-nim Madin more helpfully suggested a source who might have fabric from which to create suitable wedding clothes.

Naturally Zarhon voiced his horror that the district considered it acceptable for the pur-nim to marry an alien, but he found few willing to listen because Julian was well-liked. There were some traditionalists who agreed with Zarhon, but not so many as Garak had anticipated. Julian likewise reported that the Federation Diplomatic Service was “not exactly jumping for joy,” but they couldn’t forbid the marriage.

Garak doubted that Chief O’Brien would be ‘jumping for joy’ either, but Julian hadn’t received a reply from any of his friends yet as interplanetary mail took time.

Re’Dan looked up from her distribution list when he arrived in the park. “Mr. Garak, congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“Much news today. First I learn that you and Dr. Bashir will marry, and then the bulletins tell us that we are getting a Federation ambassador.”

Their rations for the week hadn’t yet arrived, therefore Garak had time to converse. “So I read.”

“Do you think that’s why the lot next to yours is being cleared?”

“The City Council isn’t privy to such information.” Misdirection always served him well. “Though I am biased enough to think it would be a very fine location for the ambassador’s residence.”

“It would indeed. May I ask your opinion of the ambassador exchange?”

“I think it’s vastly better than what the Klingons would have preferred.” A suitably vague answer to which no one could object. Garak didn’t know exactly what the Klingons would have preferred, but he was certain he wouldn’t like it.

“Undoubtedly.”

The arrival of their rations brought the conversation to a halt. Garak observed with relief that the rations were, if not entirely sufficient, not nearly so insufficient as they had been. Cardassia City faced many problems and food would not be plentiful for some time, but mass starvation was no longer an imminent threat. Thanks in no small part to young Sisko.

It didn’t take long to allocate their aid, as the food consisted entirely of ration bars. The district had been given a small box of medication which Garak recognized as an antiviral and another of mineral supplements. Julian would be pleased. Finally, he discovered a bag of seed dasku, which they would plant in the summer. It was one of the better weeks’ shipments, though Garak had twice requested several dozen pairs of shoes and didn’t know if he would ever receive them.

Residents of the district began to arrive for their rations, and many congratulated Garak on his betrothal. The more he thought about it, the more Garak liked the idea of keeping his own family name, as it was so much of his identity. Truly, he spent far more of his life as Garak than Elim, and as Julian was not opposed, he thought perhaps they could dispense with convention in this case.

Garak was, after all, a Cardassian family name, and while he wanted nothing more than to marry Julian, he didn’t think a human family name would fit him very well. No more than a Cardassian family name would suit Julian, really.

Peldar approached him after claiming her rations. “I want to offer my congratulations in person on your forthcoming marriage to Bashir.”

“Thank you.” Julian had already relayed Peldar’s enthusiasm, but Garak had no objections to hearing it again.

“I trust you will share a fruitful and enjoyable life.”

“I have no doubt.”

“Not the easiest life, perhaps.”

“Ah, but a bit of challenge is invigorating, don’t you think?”

The answer pleased her, because she smiled and agreed, “I do, and I believe you and Bashir are well-matched.”

“I’m pleased to hear it.” He handed her the box of antiviral medication. “I will deliver the mineral supplements later.” That box was larger and too unwieldy to add to her current burden.

“Thank you.”

Garak was beginning to get used to the sudden influx of happiness into his life.

Chapter Text

Julian returned from a long shift at the hospital to find Elim in the common room examining four colors of fabric. “What’s this?”

“We need clothes. Not least something appropriate for our wedding.”

“I was planning to wear my dress uniform.” He’d still technically be in Starfleet at the time they were looking to get married, and his dress uniform was among the items in storage on DS9 he would ask Ezri to bring.

“You can’t wear your dress uniform in the summer. A case of heatstroke would not improve our wedding.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Dress uniforms were too warm for the Cardassian summer.

“Fortunately I did, and I got the last available inventory.” Elim indicated the maroon fabric with his hand. “That one is too heavy for summer wear for you, but will do nicely to make my own suit. Now, which color do you want for the more formal wedding clothes?”

Julian eyed his options without real preference. “I suppose you have an opinion.”

“The ivory.”

“Alright, but I don’t want something that’s entirely Cardassian. Can you make a shirt that’s human style?”

“I can, but if you want traditional Terran buttons you’re going to have to ask Lieutenant Dax to send them.”

“Consider it done.”

“Very well. Now, there should be enough material for a second outfit each with enough left over to give the children new trousers, if I’m careful.”

“And you’re always careful.”

“Care keeps one alive.”

“And clothed, apparently.”

“Among many other benefits.”

They wanted a small and simple wedding and there was little to worry about other than a date and the guest list (and apparently clothing). Julian wasn’t sure Miles would be able to make it, but he was fairly certain Ezri would attend. Kira – who knew?

“While we’re discussing our wedding, I’d like to invite my parents,” he told Elim. He’d put considerable thought into the matter. “I’m fairly certain I can get them passage on a relief cargo ship.”

“You didn’t expect me to object, did you?” asked Elim.

“I know you don’t really understand my relationship with my parents, though to be fair I don’t either.” He wasn’t sure he ever would, but he’d come to terms with that uncertainty. He didn’t expect that he’d ever be close with his parents. And yet his mother, at least, he believed had agreed to Adigeon Prime out of love and his father, well, his father had voluntarily spent two years in prison in exchange for Julian’s career. It didn’t erase decades of hurt or their rejection of him as he’d been born, but it was something. He didn’t want to look back in the future with regret for not having invited them to his wedding.

“No more than you understand my own, but that does not prevent me from accepting your parents’ role in your life. Besides, you read the wedding-planning information, did you not?”

“I did.”

“May I presume that you wish for your mother to participate?”

“Yes.” That had been a factor in his decision: in a typical Cardassian marriage ceremony, each partner was welcomed into their spouse’s family by the closest female relative. “I imagine you’ll ask Inda.”

“I already have and she is delighted to welcome you, my dear.”

“About the wedding-planning information. You were right, the actual marriage ceremony sounds lovely. Very different from what I’m used to, what with the lack of officiant.”

“The state has no place sanctioning marriage. That is a matter for families.”

“Yes, well, there are a few traditions I’d like to incorporate, but on the whole I like the Cardassian ceremony.”

“Don’t tell me. You want to add kissing.”

“Have you been researching human wedding customs?”

“That wasn’t necessary. You use a kiss for so many purposes, I could hardly see a human marriage ceremony without at least one.”

“I’ll have you know that there are Earth cultures which have completely kiss-free weddings.”

“But that isn’t what you want.”

“Not particularly, no.” When Elim didn’t comment, he continued, “I don’t care much for the elaborate formal celebration that follows the ceremony.”

“It would hardly be appropriate even if it were possible,” agreed Elim.

“Though I’m hoping someone can bring a cake.” Mostly because he liked cake and hadn’t been able to eat any since he arrived on Cardassia.

“I wouldn’t object to cake. In fact I would welcome it.”

Good. They were in agreement here.


 

Ahead of the official announcement, they decided to tell Inda that Julian would soon be the Federation ambassador.

It was outside homework time for the older children when they arrived; while Inda and Dyrum attended to schoolwork, Hasleny was reading to Azoon from one of the children’s books Elim had found for them.

“… but he couldn’t hide there, because a family of voles was already inside,” read Hasleny.

“Uncle, Doctor,” greeted Inda.

“Might we interrupt to speak with you?” asked Elim.

“Of course. Dyrum, make sure that Hasleny and Azoon don’t wander off.”

Hasleny objected. “I know better than that!”

“How are your studies?” inquired Elim.

“My teachers are entirely satisfied and I have managed to balance study with my household responsibilities.”

She worked hard and Julian thought she deserved a break. “You do realize that if you want to go out with the other teenagers, we’re right here.”

“Dyrum is nearly thirteen,” she said thoughtfully, “old enough to watch Hasleny and Azoon, particularly while you are so near.”

“You should take time to socialize with your peers and enjoy yourself.” That was important for her emotional growth, not to mention wellbeing.

Inda nodded. “Some of my peers are planning a trip to the beach next week. Perhaps I’ll join them.”

“That, however, is not why we have taken you from your studies. You’ve heard that we will soon have a Federation ambassador, yes?” began Elim.

“Yes. Rumors suggest that the official residence will be here,” she said with a glance to the newly rubble-free lot next to Elim’s.

Elim warned, “What we are about to tell you is not public knowledge and must remain that way.”

“I understand.”

“I’m going to be the Federation ambassador,” said Julian.

That caught Inda by surprise. “Oh!”

“I’ll still be spending most of my time at the hospital, but this was at the request of the Cardassian government.”

“What an honor for you.”

“Since this will naturally impact you, we felt it important that you have advance knowledge,” said Elim. “In fact the official residence will be built next to mine so Julian remains near the hospital, which means that we will still be close enough that you may remain here if you wish. However, given Julian’s status and the disrepair of your current arrangement, it would be appropriate for you and the children to live with us.”

“You don’t have to,” added Julian, “but there will be enough room, and you’re welcome to.”

He and Elim had discussed this at length when they learned that the plans called for a five bedroom residence, which was to him excessive. A fine official residence for the Federation ambassador was a point of Cardassian pride and there was no arguing that. Besides, once Julian was officially an ambassador and Inda was his niece by marriage, it would be somewhat unseemly for her to live in a half-destroyed home. Cardassians had strong feelings on how one demonstrated respect for authority and those extended to housing.

Then Elim had pointed out that it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that someone could target the children if they couldn’t get to Julian, and having the kids safely under their roof seemed even more important.

“That is a very kind offer, but I am aware that it is not so common for humans to live in extended family groups as we do. You needn’t move us in because you feel obligated to adhere to Cardassian custom.”

Julian shook his head. “Inda, I thought you’d be moving in when Elim adopted you as his niece.”

“You did?”

“So you needn’t worry,” reassured Elim.

“Besides, what else are we going to do with five bedrooms?”

She smiled at them. “In that case, I am pleased to accept. I found out yesterday that a cousin of the family who owned this property has registered his claim.”

“I do hope you intended to tell me that regardless,” reproached Elim.

“I did, but not with the children around. I didn’t want to worry them.” She glanced over to where her siblings and cousin were reading. “Thank you.”

Julian didn’t feel so badly about having a spacious new home anymore.


 

Garak had barely entered the house when Julian pounced on him for one of those human kisses of which he was so fond and which Garak still found confusing. Sometimes they were a prelude to sexual activities while other times they weren’t and he could never entirely predict what would ensue when the kiss was finished. Even a brief, light kiss could lead to sexual congress sooner rather than later but a deep, passionate kiss might not. Or then again it might. This was entirely too perplexing a manner of contact. So very human.

Nor did Garak find kisses particularly arousing, though he would grant that he took a certain amount of pleasure in the intimate contact with Julian. But truly there were gestures meant to demonstrate and reinforce affection, there were gestures meant to stimulate arousal, and the two should properly remain distinct to avoid confusion. No Cardassian would disagree with this assessment. Julian, however, was human and Garak could not expect him to conform entirely to Cardassian expectations. Thus he accepted the needless complexities of kissing because it pleased his ss’avi.

“Thank you, Elim.”

“For what?”

Julian favored him with a besotted grin. “I don’t know.”

“Then how can you possibly thank me?” He presented his most sincerely puzzled face despite knowing what had so pleased Julian.

“I’ve just learned that the Federation has decided my new, ultra-encrypted computer and subspace comm channel is going to be personally installed by Miles O’Brien.”

“He does have considerable experience combining Federation and Cardassian technology.”

“So this has nothing to do with allowing him to be at our wedding?”

“Certainly not. You are prone to flights of fancy, my dear.”

That was a complete lie, of course. Councilor Ma’Don owed Garak a small favor and was pleased to relieve himself of the debt with a simple suggestion to the Federation that it would be seen as a sign of goodwill if Julian had friends present for the wedding, particularly concerning the tradition of a ‘best man’ (a tradition Ma’Don found privately amusing).

“He’s happy for me and glad he can be here for our wedding, even if he does think I’m crazy.”

Garak didn’t understand how someone could hold those views simultaneously, but he’d long ago given up hope of understanding O’Brien. The man’s presence would not improve the wedding from Garak’s perspective but it was significant to Julian. “I suppose it would be unforgivably rude to disinvite him now.”

“Hideously.”

He sighed theatrically. “Very well. I shall do my utmost to pretend he is absent.”

Another, briefer kiss. “You can always talk plants with Keiko.”

“Professor O’Brien will be joining her husband?” That he had not foreseen.

“Something about meeting with experts to discuss how the war impacted Cardassian ecosystems. If you ask me it’s just an excuse to come out with Miles so they can bring the kids to DS9. Kira’s going to be over the moon to see Yoshi.”

“Professor O’Brien is much more agreeable than her husband.”

“If nothing else the two of you can discuss gardening.”

“Perhaps she can explain why half my bell pepper plants failed to thrive.”

“I’ll ask her to bring some information on growing peppers. I’m sure she won’t mind.”

If she was so inclined he would appreciate it. He had reserved seeds from young Sisko’s cooking that he hoped would grow more fruitfully, as he did not anticipate wide availability of fresh vegetables for some time. They received more ration bars and protein bars now, which was an improvement if not entirely enough to ward off all hunger, but vegetables were desirable.

“You realize, of course, that for a legally binding marriage all four witnesses must be adult Cardassians,” he informed Julian.

“Yes. I’m going to ask Peldar. Possibly a few others, but it gets complicated inviting only some of the nurses, and I can’t invite them all because the hospital will need to be staffed. I imagine you’ll be inviting Gentach.”

“Yes, along with Madin and Re’Dan.”

Another kiss, this one on his dosset. “I don’t care much about formalities, you realize. I just want to get married, but it will be even better to celebrate with our friends.”

“I agree completely.” Not that O’Brien’s presence would enhance the experience for Garak, but marriage should most definitely be celebrated with friends and family. If that meant O’Brien, so be it.

“Now, come here.” Julian led the way to the bedroom. “It’s been too long since we last had sex.”

“Due entirely to your schedule,” pointed out Garak.

“I know. I’m considering sending out a memo requesting that patients confine their emergency surgery needs to standard business hours to accommodate my sex life. Now, we’re overdressed.”

Garak happily set to work rectifying the problem.


 

Construction began on the new ambassadorial residence, and the latest news bulletin had confirmed the building’s purpose though Julian hadn’t yet been named due to bureaucratic requirements on both sides.

“What are you going to do with this house once we move?” he asked.

“Demolish it,” replied Elim with a certain amount of pleasure. Noting Julian’s surprise he explained, “This can never be our home.”

That seemed extreme, but if Elim needed so decisive a break from Tain there would be no point in arguing. Besides, the district was still wary of Tain’s former abode. Julian had lost count of how many times people warned him about the booby traps. “I hope you’re going to save the library.”

“Of course. The books will move with us. The painting I’ve never liked, so I believe I’ll donate it to the art museum. Have I ever told you it’s an original Dapin?”

“You know perfectly well you haven’t.” Come to think of it, Julian had never paid the painting much attention because he was far more interested in the books. It was a pleasant enough moonscape but had never struck him as anything extraordinary.

“Now I have.”

“You might take it a bit further and explain who Dapin is.”

“The most prominent landscape painter from two centuries ago, and in his time there were a great many landscape painters. It was then considered a fashionable form of art for reasons I have never understood.”

“The museum will be pleased, then.”

“Undoubtedly. If I’m fortunate the acquisitions department will make an announcement naming me as the donor.”

Somehow he doubted fortune would have much to do with it. “To what end?”

“Once the house has been demolished I will need good soil for the garden I intend to plant. I have it on your medical authority that the district would benefit from increased vegetable consumption.”

“You’re hoping that news of the donation will help you get the soil.” Julian could hardly argue with this plan. The museum would be pleased, the public would get to see what was apparently a culturally significant painting, and the district’s diet would improve.

“I’ve already identified several youths who I believe would manage the garden well.”

“I take it you’re envisioning a large garden.”

“Yes, although I will leave space near the road for the modest dwelling we will eventually need.”

“Once I’m no longer the ambassador.” It was so strange to think of himself as an ambassador.

“Yes. On that subject, I was amused by Zarhon today. He’s decided that it will be his duty to demonstrate ‘pure’ Cardassian culture to the Federation ambassador and is already plotting how he can use the ambassador to advance his own family’s interests.”

“He’s going to be sorely disappointed to find I’m not interested in advancing his family’s interests. Though you’ve never told me why he dislikes you so much.”

“Zarhon is a traditionalist from a distinguished family. He objects to me because he believes I have risen above my rightful station in life.” Elim stated this matter-of-factly, but Julian suspected his fiancé had strong feelings on the matter.

“So you two have a history?”

“I wouldn’t say that. He’s several years younger than I, and never took any notice of me until I returned and was put forth as a candidate for pur-nim.”

“A position he thought should be his because of his lineage, I’m guessing.” Julian knew the type.

“Precisely. Zarhon made the mistake, early in life, of deciding that since he came from a wealthy and distinguished family he need not cultivate any skills. His father was the same, so their fortunes have been in decline.”

“Which outrages him, and maybe he even knows that he could’ve done better but he doesn’t want to admit it, so he blames everyone else.”

“You’re familiar with men like Zarhon.”

“My grandfather fit the description.”

“So you understand why I simply do not engage with him. There’s no use.”

Zarhon had made his own bed and now would have to lie in it, because Julian had nothing against the man until he tried to break up the Rokul children purely to spite Elim. That had in fact worked out very well for the kids, Elim, and Julian himself, but it spoke volumes about Zarhon’s character. To make the younger children go to the orphanage and lose much of their hope when they were being well cared for was unconscionable.

“It will incense him that being your spouse will raise my status even further,” said Elim in a warning tone. “I will of course watch for any further attempts at vengeance.”

“You’ll be watching for many things.”

“Yes.”

Julian had to accept that there were inherent dangers with his new role; traditionalists like Zarhon were of the greatest concern because they objected to exchanging ambassadors on principle. Both the Cardassian government and Federation had promised him any number of security measures, but he was far more reassured by Elim’s quiet promise to protect him.


 

Elim and Inda were happily discussing Cardassian history, a conversation Julian gave up on following. Azoon found a colony of kzranti, vaguely ant-like insects, and was amusing himself by making kzranti obstacle courses out of anything he could find in the yard. It was Hasleny’s turn to have their hammock to herself and she was softly singing.

Finally he had an opportunity to speak with Dyrum. Julian sat down on the porch beside the young man. “Azoon is doing very well, isn’t he?”

Dyrum eyed him for a moment, then nodded.

“Inda says he still has nightmares.” A very common affliction in Cardassia City, though through a quirk of psychology and mental discipline Cardassian adults weren’t bothered by nightmares. They remained unattached to their own dreams in a way Julian didn’t understand.

“Less than he used to,” said Dyrum.

“It’s a perfectly normal response to trauma.”

“If you say so.”

“There are many responses to trauma, and there’s no shame in that. Nightmares, depression, anger – that’s just a few of the most common.” Damn, he hoped he got this right. He wasn’t a qualified psychologist, but he had to try something because Dyrum was floundering.

“And you would know.” Definitely some resentment of authority there.

“I was in a Dominion internment camp,” he revealed.

That got a faint glimmer of interest, as Julian had hoped. “You were?”

“Yes. When we escaped I was relieved, but by the time we got home I was just… numb.” And probably would’ve been for longer if his parents hadn’t showed up and shocked him out of it, but Dyrum didn’t need to know that. “Later I tried to just forget, but that didn’t work either.”

“Were you angry?”

“Oh yes.” At the Dominion, at everyone on DS9 for not realizing he’d been impersonated by a Changeling, at Dr. Zimmerman and his parents… yes, he’d gone through anger alright. “As I said, it’s a perfectly normal response.”

“Lots of people are angry.”

“Yes. And they have every reason to be angry.”

Dyrum considered this. “So you think it’s okay?”

“To be angry? Yes. It’s okay to feel however you feel, after everything that’s happened.”

“Inda says I’m too angry.”

“She can’t help you the way she can help Azoon and Hasleny, and that’s very difficult for her.”

“Why am I different? Because I’m older?”

“Maybe. Maybe it’s just because you’re a different person.”

“She says anger will eat me up.”

Here Julian knew he had to tread very carefully. “Sometimes it’s easier to be angry than to be sad and confused.”

Dyrum kicked a small rock off the porch. “Angry is angry, and you even said we have a reason.”

“That’s true.” He didn’t want to push the young man into a confrontation. “Sometimes, even when you’re angry, you need to let yourself be happy about good things.”

“Is that what you did?”

“Yes.” Eventually.

“Dyrum!” called Azoon. “Come see the kzranti try to hold on when I twirl this stick!”

Julian remained on the porch after Dyrum left, hoping that he’d been able to make a difference. Physical wounds he could heal, but emotional wounds were a different beast altogether. He could only try.


 

Their wedding plans were quite modest and this suited Garak very well. He had no desire for an elaborate event; he only wished to marry Julian, who was similarly content to have a simple wedding. Due to his guests’ current residences, Julian had the most complex task of their preparations: finding a workable schedule.

Garak had suggested it would be easier if Julian’s parents simply joined the others aboard the Defiant, but at that suggestion Julian had gone very quiet and said, “My father has a criminal record. He’s not allowed aboard a ship with so much classified technology.”

At that, Garak had immediately resolved to exercise even more caution when bringing up Julian’s parents.

“Finally!”

He looked up from his as-yet unsuccessful attempt to fix a stasis unit. “You’re triumphant.” It was a very good look on his ss’avi.

Julian handed over a padd displaying a calendar. “Please tell me this works for you.”

“I already told you that I am delighted to marry you on any date you find convenient.”

“Then we have a plan. Everyone said yes, by the way.”

“Even Colonel Kira?” He’d seriously doubted that Kira would grace their marriage ceremony with her presence, but then the colonel had always been unpredictable. She seemed to even revel in her unpredictability.

“Yes. Possibly because she gets to spend more time with Yoshi that way,” admitted Julian. “In any case, my parents will arrive early morning the day before our wedding. Actually they’ll arrive in the middle of the night, so we’ll see them in the morning. Miles, Keiko and the children, Kira, Ezri, and Jake will arrive the morning of our wedding. My parents will leave that evening, and everyone else will be around for another three days.”

“During which time Chief O’Brien will install your computer and communication system.”

“And Keiko will be meeting with scientists and visiting various sites, yes.”

Presumably Colonel Kira would then avail herself of the opportunity to spend time with the O’Brien children. Garak also thought that Julian’s parents were making a very long journey for only two days, but cargo ships didn’t tend to remain long and it was possible that Julian was content with only a two-day visit from his parents, so he said nothing on the matter.

“I am greatly looking forward to this day.” How could he not? This magnificent, intelligent, compassionate, handsome human was going to become his husband.

Julian kissed him. “So am I.”

“I must confess that I didn’t really expect you to accept my courtship.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t think you would find me a desirable spouse. I am well aware that I’m difficult, Julian.”

Quite aside from his former occupation, he had a lifetime of habits which were not conducive to maintaining relationships. From a young age Garak was taught many things so he could be an exceptional Order operative. He was never meant for any deep connections to anyone and raised accordingly, thus even most Cardassians would not have deemed him a desirable suitor.

There was also the matter of his attempt to destroy a planet while Julian was on it. That action Cardassians would understand, but he hadn’t expected Julian to grasp. Yet he did, and if the incident had dampened their friendship temporarily, Julian confessed after the Dominion War that maybe it would have been preferable for Garak to have succeeded. He never failed to astonish.

Garak knew that his courtship was not entirely without its points in his favor. He offered no small measure of protection in addition to stimulating companionship and true devotion. Nevertheless, their relationship surprised him.

“It just makes you more interesting,” said Julian. “Don’t sell yourself short, it’s my future husband you’re talking about.”

“I never expected to have a spouse or a family. It was my sacrifice.”

“Was. Past tense.”

“Yes.”

Julian used two fingers to caress his eyeridges. “You know I want this marriage.”

“I do. What I don’t understand is why.” This insecurity vexed him. Garak wasn’t used to such a feeling and disliked it intensely. He disliked voicing it as well, but he’d promised Julian that he would try his utmost to present vulnerability.

A kiss on his dosset. “Because I love you, and you make me happy. Not just happy; content as well, so I know this will last because it’s not based on a quick emotional high.”

“I suppose love remains a mystery to us all, in many ways.”

“If we could understand it, we’d lose it.”

Garak wasn’t sure he agreed with that, but when Julian leaned forward to anshwar he wasn’t inclined to argue.

 

Chapter Text

On the morning his ambassadorship was announced Julian was too busy to give the matter any thought. He started the day with two young brothers who decided to climb a tree and perch on the same branch, a choice which proved ill-advised when the branch collapse under their combined weight. The boys came to the hospital with a collection of cuts, contusions, and fractured bones. Repairing abraded ridges was more complicated than smooth skin as it involved cartilage, and Julian spent a good part of his morning patching up the brothers before rushing to a punctured lung emergency.

Peldar had convinced him that it was more socially acceptable to eat in the break room than his office now that the food shortages weren’t quite so dire. Julian was mentally comparing lung punctures across species as he ambled in – it really was interesting how despite many differences, ridges among the most noticeable, Cardassians and Bajorans shared similar internal physiology. That was what allowed them to reproduce together without any medical intervention, though of course without medical intervention nearly all of those children were sterile. Cardassian and Bajoran lungs even shared unique pleura which was remarkable as no other known species…

He suddenly realized Volag and Nuran were staring at him, which he followed immediately with the recollection that the news had been proclaimed that morning.

“Doctor Bashir,” said Volag with a nod more deferential than he’d yet received. “I offer my respects on your new position.”

“As do I,” echoed Nuran.

Julian sat down at the table with them. “I’ll be here most of the time.”

“We are honored at your continued presence,” said Nuran.

He’d known this conversation was coming. “While I appreciate the Cardassian respect for authority and social hierarchy, I hope I can convince you to set it aside in this case.”

Two very astonished Cardassians looked at him as though he was no longer speaking their language. These were the two nurses he worked with the most and understood him best, so if he couldn’t convince them there was no hope for the others.

“It will be one thing at official diplomatic functions,” he conceded, “but not here. Here I’ll still be the same Dr. Bashir I’ve been since I arrived.”

“You will be Ambassador Bashir,” stated Nuran.

“Not here, please.”

Eyeridges rose. “You do not wish to be accorded the respect due your position?” clarified Volag.

“As I said, here I’ll still be Dr. Bashir. The respect afforded that position is sufficient.”

The concept didn’t translate well, obviously. “How unusual,” said Nuran.

“It’s necessary.” Not least for his sanity, though he didn’t intend to go into that aspect. When they gave him disbelieving looks, he explained, “We have a team that works well together, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes.”

“Then why interfere with that?” he asked before biting a date in half.

“Because it will be your due,” Volag said. “Perhaps you don’t understand how important that is to us.”

He swallowed. “Perhaps. Or perhaps I do understand and am asking for something different anyway. You speak of my due, but that’s nowhere near as important as the health of this district.”

Nuran, at least, finally seemed to comprehend. “You deem your responsibilities as a doctor to take priority over all else, even the honors that will be due to you as an ambassador.”

“Exactly.” He popped the other half of the date into his mouth and waited while they mulled this idea over.

It was best for the hospital and their patients to avoid excessive deference, Julian truly believed that. He also thought it would maintain a much more pleasant work environment for him.

“Very well,” concluded Nuran.

Volag agreed after a moment. “I will attempt this as you wish, but I’m old and set in my ways.”

“And we appreciate your wisdom.” Always the correct answer when a Cardassian brought up age in such a manner.

“I don’t know if it’s wisdom. I agree that the health of our patients needs to come above all else.”

“Thank you. Now while you’re both here, I’d like to invite you to our wedding.” Julian had discussed this with Peldar and decided that, since he was closer to Volag and Nuran than the other nurses, it wouldn’t be a breach of etiquette to invite them and not the others. Peldar herself was thrilled to attend, no surprise there.

“It will be an honor and a pleasure,” Volag said.

“Indeed. Thank you, Doctor.”

He could do this. As long as he could convince people not to treat him with kid gloves all the time, this ambassadorship could work. After all, he didn’t really have much choice.


 

On his way home Julian noticed a crowd gathered around a ruined building which seemed more ruined than he remembered. “What’s happening?” he asked the nearest person.

“The Dopral girls went inside for some reason and part of the wall collapsed,” explained a gentleman who Julian hadn’t previously met. “Mr. Garak and Proxlin went to get them, and the rest of the building came down. That storm last night must’ve destabilized the place.”

His heart leapt in fear. “Garak? Someone should’ve told me.”

“I thought someone did. They might be safe in the north end of the cellar.” The man pointed to an area where the rubble was piled slightly higher. “Protected by beams.”

Bad enough as it was. With Elim’s claustrophobia this was going to be more horrific still, and that was assuming they were relatively safe. Julian didn’t let himself think otherwise.

“Until they run out of air,” suggested Re’Dan, and why the hell hadn’t someone come to tell Julian about this?

“How long have they been down there?”

“Nearly two hours.”

Julian stepped closed and inspected the structure. It looked very well sealed despite the work being done to move debris. “I suppose going any faster would risk another cave-in.”

“Yes. If only we had a disruptor, this would…”

“I’ll be right back.”

“Doctor?”

For the first time in twenty years he ran as fast as he was able. Once home he made for the clock in the common room. Elim had shown him two or three of the house’s secrets, including the location of a disruptor should Julian need to defend himself. This was no doubt illegal, but if it saved four lives including Elim's Julian would deal with those consequences later.

There. He found the latch, pressed twice in succession and then held it down. Come on, come on… the clock swung open, a door behind which a small cavity had been built into the wall. He grabbed the disruptor, stopped for his medkit, and took off sprinting again.

As he raced back, he wondered if Elim planned to customize the ambassadorial residence and the new house he’d eventually have built with such features. Odds were good.

When he got back to the site of the collapse he didn’t have to pretend to be physically drained, not with his all-out speed and the humidity. While recovering his breath enough to aim properly he examined the rubble pile.

Re’Dan eyed the disruptor. “I assumed he had one somewhere.”

Surely there were at least two more disruptors hidden in the house, but Julian focused on the bigger problem. “I could’ve gotten this two hours ago.”

“We sent Ornivud Larenak to inform you. When you didn’t arrive we assumed your duties prevented it.”

“Please don’t assume that in the future. I would’ve come.”

Ornivud Larenak was prone to losing memory of hours at a time due to a head injury sustained during the Dominion assault, and how the teen’s family managed to keep it a secret this long Julian didn’t know, but he certainly couldn’t betray confidentiality.

He forced himself to focus on the pile of rubble and found his target, a large slab of cement covered with smaller pieces of debris. This spot wasn’t accessible at the moment, but it should let in air, which had to be their first priority.

“Step back,” he yelled out, and it seemed like ages before everyone did.

The first blast went halfway through the cement. The second broke through, to appreciative murmurs from the crowd. Getting as close as he dared, balanced rather precariously on a roofing tile, he called out, “Anybody down there?”

Elim’s peevish voice was the best sound in the world. “Finally! It took you long enough.”

“I’ll explain later. Is everyone alright?”

“Minor injuries, nothing you can’t repair.”

Julian relayed this to the relieved crowd, then turned his attention back to Elim. “We have to clear the rubble without causing a cave in.”

“That would be much appreciated.”

“Do you have cover? I’ll expand the hole.” Seeing the sky could only help Elim’s claustrophobia.

“We’re not under it.”

When Julian finished the hole was roughly a meter across and half as tall. He didn’t dare make it any larger for fear of collapsing the beams which protected Elim and the others, but his partner sounded a bit calmer already.

“Does someone have water to give them?” he asked the crowd.

Re’Dan peered over the other side of the hole. “Mr. Garak?”

“Yes?”

“Dopral is inquiring after his daughters.”

“Mr. Garak saved us!” came a young voice.

“My foot hurts. I’m never chasing a kolrat again.”

“Ryla’s ankle is sprained, I suspect, and they have minor cuts and bruises. Nothing life-threatening. Proxlin’s arm is broken.”

A fourth voice added, “In two places, I’m certain.”

Liket caught Julian’s attention with an armful of rope. “Doctor, might a rope ladder help?”

Oh. To Cardassians, Julian had unequivocally taken over this rescue operation and they now deferred to him when all he’d really intended to do was make sure Elim was breathing and as comfortable as possible. Well, too late now.

“Re’Dan?”

“If we can secure it and build a path. Let me examine.”

“Can you climb a rope ladder?” he asked Elim.

“Yes, of course. I can carry Ryla.”

“I’ll go first to test it,” said Proxlin.

Nuran made her way through the crowd to Julian. “Dr. Bashir, may I be of assistance?”

“Hopefully in a few minutes we’ll have patients climbing out of here. A broken arm, likely sprained ankle, cuts and bruises.” He paused. “And whatever Garak isn’t admitting to.”

“I heard that,” remarked Elim from the cellar.

“I intended it.”

Nuran failed to hide her smile.

A crude bridge was hastily built with large wooden boards. Not the most desirable, but sufficient to affect the rescue. Re’Dan returned to the hole and tossed down the rope ladder. “We tied the ladder down. Ventur and Mudrav are holding it for extra support. Whenever you’re ready,” she yelled down the hole.

The ladder wobbled but held as Proxlin made her way up the ladder, grimacing in pain. Nuran immediately set to work with their first patient.

“Tibrin is going up now,” said Elim.

A girl of about six ran straight from the ladder to her father’s arms. “I was so scared, Father!”

Julian gave her a quick scan. No serious cause for concern; she had some scratches which would benefit from dermal regeneration, but he suspected the comfort of her father’s arms was a more pressing need.

“She’s clear.”

He heard Elim get ready with Ryla. “Alright, up you go. Hold on very tightly, just like that.”

He was relieved to see Elim’s head come over the top, but not nearly so relieved as when his partner was finally standing and moving to solid ground, the younger Dopral sister on his back.

“Ryla!” exclaimed the girl’s father. Her torso was smeared with a troubling amount of blood.

“Oh, don’t worry. That’s not hers,” said Elim.

Julian wasn’t surprised. At least it wasn’t quite such a troubling amount of blood for an adult as a child. “I knew you neglected to mention something. Let me take care of you before you faint from blood loss.”

Elim first held his palm up, and Julian completed the gesture by pressing his own palm against his partner’s. “I am grateful to see you.”

“And I’m grateful to see you, but I’ll be more grateful once you’re no longer bleeding.” Carrying Ryla had obviously reopened the wound. He was glad to see Peldar had joined them and was tending to their youngest patient, freeing him to look at Elim.

“Come on.”

“Wouldn’t this be best done at home?”

“You can’t bleed all the way home.”

“It’s not that far.”

“Let me stop the bleeding and we’ll renegotiate.”

“You drive a difficult bargain.”

“Says the man with a thirty-centimeter gash in his back.”


 

Lying about his injury to Julian was a challenge. Garak tried and received a disbelieving stare in return – three times. After that he was forced to tell something like the truth.

“It’s a touch uncomfortable.” Extremely uncomfortable, actually. Dermal regenerators couldn’t repair ridge cartilage very well. Parts of his wound Julian had healed nicely, but in the absence of medical equipment the district lacked, the section of the wound which cut through his spinal ridge would require time.

“It’s a good thing you don’t move around in your sleep,” remarked Julian, speaking loudly to be heard over the construction next door. “That would probably aggravate it even more.”

“I’ve never understood how you get any rest when you move in your sleep.”

“Many humanoid species move while asleep. There are problems when one moves while dreaming, such as sleepwalking, but some motion is perfectly normal.”

This was new information. “Walking while asleep? That sounds potentially dangerous.”

“It is. People have been known to fall down stairs and trip over objects.”

“And here I thought the worst hazard of your sleep habits was me getting kneed.”

“I wouldn’t knee you if you stayed on your own side of the bed,” retorted Julian.

“May I remind you that I am not used to being confined to a single side of the bed?”

“Well, yes. Consider it motivation.”

As motivations to remain on his designated half of the bed went, Garak felt his betrothed provided him with a strong one.

“I don’t sleepwalk,” added Julian.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Garak didn’t need more to worry about.

“I’m curious. Do you plan to add things like hidden disruptors to the new residence?”

“Naturally.” That was simply common sense. “And the home we will eventually build here as well. You can’t be too careful.”

“So you’ve said. The disruptor certainly came in handy.”

Garak was still irked that Julian hadn’t gotten the message and retrieved the disruptor earlier for reasons he wouldn’t explain due to ‘doctor patient confidentiality,’ a concept he took far more seriously than any Cardassian physician. Something prevented Ornivud Larenak from relaying the news to the hospital and Garak yet to uncover what. He would, of course. It was only a matter of time.

“I’m glad that nobody is making a fuss over the illegality,” added Julian.

“Hardly a matter to worry about, my dear. Nobody was going to quibble over such a minor detail in those circumstances.”

“Zarhon might have.”

“True. Which is why nobody told him. Besides, it’s entirely possible he wouldn’t protest anyway. He might yet hold out some hope of befriending you.”

“That ship has sailed.”

A curious human metaphor, but he understood. “A man of Zarhon’s low intelligence may not have realized this.”

Standing up for tea stretched his back. Garak didn’t enjoy the feel of mostly healed skin over much less healed ridges.

“If you’d like, I can give you more… pleasant sensations to focus on.” Julian accompanied the offer with a suggestive swipe of tongue around lips.

What a novel approach to patient care. Garak lost all interest in tea.


 

After reading his latest mail Julian found Elim outside watering his pepper plants, which at last were producing little peppers. “Miles and Keiko asked if we want wedding rings.”

“Do you?”

Somehow he hadn’t imagined Elim having any interest, so he’d never considered it. “There is something to be said for the tradition, I suppose,” he hedged.

“Shall I take that as a yes? You should’ve informed me.”

“I didn’t think you’d be interested, and it’s not a dealbreaker.” It would be nice, though, to incorporate a human tradition.

Elim straightened carefully, still minding his injured back.

“Julian, I am more than willing to wear wedding rings if you so desire. I assumed you wouldn’t because you said an engagement ring wasn’t your style.”

“A wedding ring is different.”

“A fact I had no way of knowing.”

“You really don’t mind?”

“I may not have a wealth of relationship experience, but I’m fairly certain expecting you to conform to all things Cardassian without ever adopting aspects of your culture is a very bad idea, and a wedding ring is in no way disagreeable.”

“Miles and Keiko will replicate them for us, I just need to measure our fingers. And Keiko wants to know if we prefer white or yellow gold. I don’t have a preference.”

“Hmm, yellow.”

Julian kissed his fiancé. “Thank you, ss’avi.” Going by the look on his face, Elim liked the endearment. He had some insecurities that Julian couldn’t expect to disappear overnight, but somehow “ss’avi” and “love” seemed to help.

“It’s my pleasure.”

“You’re very good to me,” he said, giving another kiss on Elim’s dosset.

“I try, since you are good to me as well.”

The evening had cooled off enough that Julian didn’t need to stay inside. “Join me on the hammock?”

“Certainly.”

“This moves with us.”

“Yes. We’ll have to ensure we occasionally pry the children out of it.”

He flopped on the hammock, resting on his side. “It will be very different to suddenly live with four children.”

“You’re not having regrets, are you?” asked Elim as he settled in.

“No. It’s just going to be an adjustment. I’m going to be married, share responsibility for four children, and become an ambassador: three major life changes within less than a week.”

“Life will be quite different. You’ll have to restrain yourself from talking about sex in the common room.”

“You like it when I do that.”

Elim couldn’t deny that. Julian had come home the previous evening with a particular idea in mind, and by the time he finished describing the scenario he found himself being dragged off to the bedroom to live it out. An extremely enjoyable time was had by both of them.

“It’s an erotic habit of yours,” admitted Elim. “Very human.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep at it.”

“I’m glad.” Elim looked over to where the official residence stood, still under construction. “I hope you aren’t unhappy with these life changes.”

“You know I’m thrilled to marry you, and while I’m a bit apprehensive about the responsibility of the kids I’m not unhappy.”

“I did explain that the younger children will still remain primarily Inda’s responsibility.”

“Yes, but I’ll have some responsibility as well. It’s not a bad thing because I’m very fond of them, just slightly daunting. As for the ambassadorship, I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that being ambassador will give me more opportunities to help people, even if it’s not necessarily how I’d envisioned my life.”

“You are a doctor, Julian. Whatever else you may become, you will always be a doctor.”

“I’m determined to keep it that way.”

“I’ve discussed this with multiple people. All agree that Cardassia doesn’t need more endless, unproductive meetings of the type one usually associates with diplomacy. Remember that this manner of diplomacy is foreign to us, my dear. Your directness, and your focus on putting your patients first, is an asset.”

Julian certainly hoped so because he would never be a diplomat of the conventional variety. It was still a bit surreal. His life was well on its way to being unrecognizable. And yet, lying in the hammock with his fiancé, he was undoubtedly very happy.

Chapter Text

“I do hope they’ll make it a priority to add proper landscaping to your residence,” Peldar told Julian.

“It’s not a concern of mine.”

“That may be, but you’ve been here long enough to realize that it’s a concern of ours. It reflects badly on Cardassia if we fail to provide suitable accommodation for the Federation ambassador.”

For people not used to ambassadors they’d decided very quickly where he ought to be placed in the social order. Julian hoped that the Diplomatic Service took his strongly worded recommendation to heart and provided a spacious, elegant home for the Cardassian ambassador.

“I’m just grateful they’re installing a cooling system.” He wouldn’t keep the place as cool as he would prefer because Elim and the children would be too cold, but he would definitely need the cooling system because the bedrooms, according to the blueprints, were going to be on the second floor. The second floor in summer would be hot even for Cardassians.

Elim was also insistent that Julian not overheat, protesting that it was easier for him to add layers. Since he’d spent years being cold on DS9 this made Julian feel badly, but he had a point.

“Are the Rokul children going to move with you?”

“Yes. It will be better all around, I think.”

“They are very fortunate to have Garak and yourself. In truth they couldn’t have done better.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you think so.”

The beeping of the computer turned their attention back to work. “As we suspected,” said Peldar. “A different strain of w’li.”

“It’s a new strain.”

“At least since the database was updated.” Which meant before the Dominion assault. “I’ll send the information out and ask if anyone else has seen this.”

Julian studied the computer screen. “We need to stop this from spreading. So far all the patients have been from subdistrict 3, correct?”

“They have, and I’m beginning to suspect the water supply for the emergency housing bloc is tainted.”

If she was correct – a distinct possibility – they had a serious problem on their hands, one he had no idea how they would be able to fix short of denying the entire bloc water. That was not an ideal solution.

“Why don’t you go investigate? Your Starfleet tricorder is better for the job.”

“I’ll start with the water supply.”

“I fright to think what you’ll find,” said Peldar.

Julian agreed. He wasn’t sure he’d ever want to play a ‘glorious’ holographic battle again, because now he would think past the valiant warriors to the devastation which remained after the fighting stopped.


 

Garak insisted on the installation of security systems as soon as they could be integrated into the official residence, ignoring the construction team’s protests that the interior wasn’t finished. It didn’t need to be finished. The Detapa Council aide who was coordinating the construction had the good sense to agree with Garak and procured three double-redundant solar panels to power the security system.

“Handprint and alphanumeric code for entry. We’ll delete the construction worker’s profiles once their work is complete,” he said. Of course, he’d have to thoroughly sweep the place once the construction workers were done.

“Yes. Excuse me, I must speak with the foreman.” With that the aide left Garak to his own inspection.

At least he could do something here. There were far too many instances where Garak was unable to affect necessary change and he despised it. The business of subdistrict 3’s emergency housing bloc was another such situation. According to Julian, who was very reliably correct about such matters, the water supply was contaminated and the entire system needed to be replaced. Evidently some foolish planner had decided to drill a well instead of connect to the already overstretched city water system. There was a spring to feed the well, but as it turned out seawater occasionally got in and the end result was w’li cases.

Garak had immediately notified the Sanitation Department but didn’t expect a swift response. In the meantime residents of the bloc were advised to boil all their water. Julian expected that some cases of w’li would continue to develop and there wasn’t a thing Garak could do to prevent the illnesses.

He could, however, keep Julian as safe as possible. While he didn’t expect a high level of threat, there were some discontented traditionalists who objected to diplomacy, and Garak was naturally suspicious even by Cardassian standards. It had kept him alive thus far.

His tour of the outside was interrupted by Iliana Gentach, who skipped ahead of her grandfather. “Hello, Mr. Garak!”

“Hello, Iliana.”

“Azoon says he’s going to live here with you once you and Dr. Bashir get married.”

“That’s right.”

“And he’ll have a real bed again.”

“He will.”

“That’s good. I would be sad if I didn’t have a real bed.”

Gentach ambled over holding a small basket in his remaining arm. “Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon,” replied Garak.

“We picked marshberries!” said Iliana.

Garak hadn’t considered the marshberries a potential food source for the district. Perhaps that had been an error.

“All forty-seven that could be found,” said Gentach. Not an error, then. “I came to see if this is considered a resource that must be shared equally.”

“Not in such a quantity.”

“I thought so, but it’s always wise to make certain. We will not detain you further. Come, Iliana.”

She skipped off again, leaving Garak to reflect that life would be quite different with the youthful energy of four children in their home. He was not entirely prepared for that, but did not believe that complete preparation was in fact possible. His life had changed dramatically in the past year, but in this he was far from alone.

Compared to most Garak’s life had changed considerably for the better. He was no longer an exile and instead served a useful purpose among his people once more, he would soon marry a remarkable man, and he had a niece and a role in the lives of three younger children. If they were strange days in which to find his happiness, it could honestly be said that Garak had led an unusual life since the day of his birth.


 

There weren’t many potential gifts for Dyrum’s birthday, but they managed all the same. Elim made a new pair of trousers, much needed since Dyrum had grown at least five centimeters in the last months. Julian looked through his care packages and opted to share a 3-pack of Betazoid cloud truffles.

“It’s not as much fun without wrapping the gifts,” he said as they walked across the street.

“A wrapped gift could be anything.”

“That’s what makes it fun.”

“To you,” said Elim. “To the Cardassian mind, that makes it potentially dangerous.”

“Is there an infamous case where somebody was killed by a wrapped gift?”

“No, and it’s generally accepted that this state of affairs should continue indefinitely. Though anyone who died in such a manner would perish due to their own stupidity.”

“Of course. Blame the victim.”

“When it’s called for, yes.”

“Dare I ask how you determine when it’s called for?”

“When applying even a minimal amount of common sense could have prevented the problem from occurring at all. Suppose someone went to the bazaars of Chlovun VI wearing expensive clothing and jewelry, and with a large amount of latinum in their pockets or an easily removed pouch, and is robbed. Is the thief at fault? Certainly, but our foolish wealthy victim shares some of the blame for lack of precautions.”

It would be foolish indeed, but Julian thought this mentality could lead down dangerous roads. “By which logic a murder victim can be blamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and an assault victim can be blamed for provoking attack.”

“It depends on the circumstances. We can continue the discussion later.”

Obviously Julian’s counterargument had to wait; Azoon came over to ask, “Are those presents for Dyrum?”

“They are,” said Elim.

Hasleny joined them. “Inda’s birthday is soon too, did she tell you?”

“She didn’t.”

“It’s the third day of Kivantur.”

Shortly after their wedding, then. Julian would have to put aside a treat for her birthday gift.

Dyrum and Inda rose from where they were sitting on the lawn. Like most Cardassians, they enjoyed spending summer evenings outside.

“Happy birthday, Dyrum,” said Julian.

“Thank you. It has been good so far. Inda made a special berry sauce for our poldor pancakes.”

The gardens were beginning to yield more produce, even if the quantities weren’t great, and along with providing a treat for Dyrum’s birthday dinner this improved the district’s mood considerably.

Elim handed the young man his gift. “I believe these should be a more appropriate length. For now, at least.”

Dyrum held the pants up. “Yes, thank you.”

“Oh good,” said Inda. “He’s growing like a toka weed.”

“I want to grow like a toka weed,” pouted Azoon.

“You will, little brother.”

Julian gave Dyrum the truffles, and since the writing was in Betazoid and Standard, he explained. “A sweet from Betazed.” There was no Cardassian equivalent to ‘truffle,’ so he had to improvise.

Desserts and sweets were rare enough now that Dyrum was exceptionally pleased. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“You’re welcome.”

Hasleny eyed the box unsubtly. “Sweets?”

“There are three. I’ll cut one in thirds for the three of you,” offered Dyrum.

“That’s generous of you, Dyrum, but I don’t need any,” said Inda. “Give it to Hasleny and Azoon.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I am,” she asserted to no argument from Hasleny and Azoon.

It was good that Hasleny had made them aware of Inda’s birthday. Such a self-sacrificing young woman as she deserved her own birthday gift to enjoy. For the time being, though, Julian was content to have brought some happiness to Dyrum.


 

For the third evening in a row Julian returned home late and was no help to Elim who was relocating the library. While eating his ration bar he apologized. “I’m sorry. I meant to help you with the books.”

“You have patients who rightly command your attention. There is no need to apologize.”

He did have patients taking up most of his waking hours. In addition to the new strain of w’li, which they were managing to minimize but not eradicate, an electrical fire started by lightning strike had put seven burn patients in the hospital. One hadn’t survived the first night but Julian expected the others to pull through.

“I’d planned to help.”

“And your patients forced a change of plans. Don’t trouble yourself over it.”

Julian was exhausted enough to accept that without further debate.

“We will be able to move by Svhul at the latest,” said Elim. Svhul was five days away.

“That should give us a couple days to settle in before the children move.”

“Yes. Once I finish the library we won’t have any difficulty moving our remaining possessions.”

“Excellent.”

“Also, I finished concealing a knife in the headboard of our bed. I’ll show it to you tomorrow.”

“Is that really necessary?” He knew Elim was concerned about security, but a knife in the headboard seemed excessive.

“It’s traditional to keep a weapon in the bedroom of a married couple. Well, not necessarily for an alliance marriage, but for a courtship marriage certainly.”

He thought about that for a moment. “As a gesture of trust?”

“Precisely.”

Julian was no longer concerned about Elim’s willingness to be vulnerable or trust in him, which he’d demonstrated on multiple occasions and again every time he enjoyed sex. All the same he didn’t have a problem with the tradition. “Alright.”

“I haven’t yet had the opportunity to conceal a disruptor behind the clock in the common room. That, of course, is purely a matter of practicality.”

“It’s good to know I’ll be able to blast through rubble again if necessary.” Though he hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.

“Among other uses which will ideally not come to pass.”

His reply was a yawn.

“Perhaps we should go to bed,” suggested Elim.

“Let me just brush my teeth,” he said, glad he’d showered immediately upon returning home so that now he could crawl into bed.

Once his teeth were clean he was unable to resist the lure of bed any longer. “I’ll try to get out on time tomorrow.”

“Julian, I insist that you stop worry about the library. I am perfectly capable of moving it myself. I am not, however, so able to tend to patients in the hospital.”

“Alright, point taken.”

“I should hope so.”

Julian turned on his fan; Elim arranged his blanket. Comfortable, they pressed foreheads in a moderately lengthy anshwar. It was peaceful. Julian had quickly grown attached to the simple pleasure of going to bed together every night.


 

Garak emptied Tain’s house of everything he desired, which was little aside from the library. He took two valuable paintings to donate to the museum, Tain’s extensive kanar collection which was useful in trade, and a few personal items of Mila’s, chiefly her favorite bracelets which, if he and Julian should have a daughter, Garak would pass to her.

There were practical items which remained but few people wanted anything which had belonged to Tain or his house. Matron Gihxa accepted several pieces of furniture and blankets.

Julian didn’t understand why the house needed to be demolished when Cardassia City had altogether too many demolished houses, but he accepted Garak’s decision without argument. He well understood a complex parental relationship.

Cardassians were known for being practical people, but when they chose a sentiment they clung to it fiercely. The house would never be Garak’s, in his mind or the mind of the district. It would forever be Tain’s. It was often the case that progress required destruction, and while Garak would never say that his father’s life was without merit it was not to be his own any longer. He had chosen a different path, one which better aligned with the needs of the present, and admittedly his own desires as well.

Having packed the remainder of his belongings Garak made his way to the kitchen where Julian was boxing their food supplies.

“This is it, then?” Julian asked.

“Yes.” That was fortunate. Garak’s arms were sore from days of moving heavy boxes of books.

“I’m nearly finished.”

Garak loaded his garden cart and in a few minutes they proceeded to complete their move. He pushed the cart; Julian carried his medkit and a box of food.

The Federation ambassador’s residence was built in the First Republic style, a triangular building with rounded corners two floors high. While not as grand as any home of such status would have been before the war, it was nevertheless made of fine lunar granite which proclaimed the importance of its inhabitant.

He pressed his hand to the scanner and entered his eleven digit code. The house was a secure as Garak could make it without guard traps, which Julian refused to consider and even Garak admitted would make a less than ideal environment for the children. He’d insisted upon a separate fifteen digit code for entrance to the master suite. While he didn’t mistrust Inda, and to betray them would be her own peril, she was young and might with good intent do something very foolish, so he didn’t entirely trust her either. Garak was far too wary to trust Dyrum, and in fact Dyrum was the main reason he’d installed the separate security checkpoint for the master suite. The younger children were not of an age for Garak to either trust or mistrust; they were simply children. Well-meaning, doubtless, but children were easily led astray.

“Home sweet home,” declared Julian. “For however long I’m an ambassador, anyway.”

“Several years at least, I imagine.” He would still work to have Tain’s house demolished and a new one built as soon as it could be arranged, though he suspected that would take half a year at the very least.

Garak followed Julian to the common room where they sat on a fine couch. It pleased him enormously that in a few short days Julian would be his husband. Certainly he approved of his ss’avi becoming the Federation ambassador, but their marriage was of greater personal significance.

The station’s infirmary staff had sent Julian a package to congratulate him on his new position which included a collection of framed images that now hung on the wall. Fourteen distinctive animals from Federation member worlds (plus a Bajoran hara cat which didn’t fit thematically) were thus displayed. Garak was familiar with some of the creatures: an Earth koala, Vulcan sehlat, and the purple-toned fliska parrot so beloved by Betazoids. Others were not known to him.

“What is that peculiar six-legged animal?”

“Tellarite bo-grlokxh’a.”

“And the marine creature on ice?”

“Andorian equatorial seal.”

Ice at the equator. No wonder Andorians were so difficult, coming from a wretched icy world.

Julian sprawled on the couch, head on Garak’s thigh, and made a soft noise of contentment. This made the fourth time Julian had chosen the odd position, but since it satisfied him Garak made no comment. It was entirely possible that human couples routinely lounged thus.

“What’s been going on outside our move and the hospital?” asked Julian. Of late he’d been too busy for such concerns.

“The first of the palt is harvested. It is a respectable amount.”

“That’s good news.”

“Zarhon continues to express his outrage at our marriage, the diplomatic relationship with the Federation in general and your appointment in particular, and the proliferation of several previously banned works of literature. There are few willing to listen, and those only because they already hold a similar belief but are not so eloquent in the expression. For all his failings, Zarhon is a well-spoken man.” That in fact was his chief danger and Garak monitored the situation carefully.

“Nothing new there.”

“No.” He paused to consider his next words with care. “I received a message from a contact on Risa who obliged me with a bit of intelligence work.” In return for three maps of Romulan space for which Garak had to make another visit to the old Order database backups, safely underground. Likely he was the only living person who knew of their existence. Certainly he was the only living person who would be able to enter without being killed by the guard traps, and this time he’d known about the potassium chlorobaniprate in order to avoid it and ensure Julian knew nothing of the visit.

“Oh?”

“He assures me that Section 31 has no designs on you at present, and sent another useful piece of information for my collection.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to elaborate.”

“There’s no need.”

Julian accepted that. “You’re satisfied that we’re not in immediate danger?”

“You know that I am never completely satisfied, my dear. But insofar as I will allow, yes, I am.” His contact had provided evidence of Section 31’s biological warfare research going back thirty years. All the more reason, along with his previous information from the Order archives, for the section to leave Julian in peace in exchange for Garak’s silence.

“Alright. I can live with that.”

“Indeed. Living is the entire point.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“And yet I’m not wrong.”

“No,” conceded Julian.

Over the years Julian had learned that he did not require all the answers. He still asked questions – this night was unusually low in questions, but he was very tired – but as much for the fun as the answers.

“You’re obviously tired. We should go to bed.”

“Just give me a minute to work up the energy.”

Garak was content to remain sitting, marveling at the path his life had taken.


 

His parents materialized on the front lawn along with three boxes and a cooler. “Julian!”

He hugged his mother and clapped his father’s back. “Welcome to Cardassia. Mother, Father, this is Elim. Elim, my parents, Amsha and Richard.”

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Elim.”

“I am pleased to meet you as well,” he said with a deferential nod, “and glad you are able to join us for the happy occasion of our wedding.”

“I don’t know how Julian managed it, but we’re so happy to be here.”

“Would you like to come inside?” offered Elim. “It’s cooler. No, don’t worry about the boxes.”

Elim and Julian each took a box, while his father insisted on taking the third, noting, “That sun is very strong.”

“That’s why we’re having the wedding inside.” In the summer heat outside wouldn’t be a good idea for many of their guests, nor Julian himself. A short time outside was fine; several hours was asking for trouble.

“Captain Mackenzie offered to beam us up again if we want to sleep on the ship.”

“We have a guest room you’re welcome to, but it might be rather warm,” Julian told them.

“What do you do about that?” asked his father.

“I have a solar-powered fan pointing at me all night.”

“So this is your official residence, huh?” His father looked around the spacious entertaining room. “Posher than I expected, considering.”

“Cardassia is eager to demonstrate that they respect the Federation ambassador,” explained Elim.

“Do you have somewhere to keep lunch?” asked his mother.

“The kitchen is this way.”

His father asked. “Do we get a tour?”

“Certainly.”

They led his parents through the kitchen, dining room, bathroom and common room before heading upstairs to the bedrooms and office space. “Would you believe I’ve received apologizes for the simplicity of this place?”

“This is simple?”

“Respect is important to Cardassian culture,” he explained, “and among the numerous ways of showing respect is proper accommodation. That’s why they put so much effort into this house. It’s a matter of pride, really.”

“It’s lovely,” declared his mother. As they entered the library her eyes widened. “What a collection.”

“That’s Elim’s. It goes when we do.”

“Back to where?”

“I inherited my mother’s home next to this residence.” Elim neglected to mention that he planned on demolishing it at his convenience because it had really been Tain’s.

“I hope you’ll be able to take time away to come visit us.” His mother was wistful.

Elim reassured her, “Family is very important to Cardassians, so I can’t imagine any objections.”

“This is the master bedroom,” announced Julian. “I’m sure I get some leave from my official duties.”

His father was impressed. “Fancy paint job.”

“Apparently someone found out that blue is a calming color for humans.” Therefore, the master bedroom was painting in three different tones of blue, hand-layered with sponges of varying sizes. The final effect was quite nice, though Julian wouldn’t have cared if a simpler paint job had been substituted.

“You’re going to be sworn in after the wedding?”

“Yes.” Since that was slated to take place aboard the Defiant his father couldn’t have attended even if they were still around. “It was agreed that we should move in early for security reasons.”

That of course worried his mother. “Are you in any danger?”

“The least possible,” insisted Elim. “I see to it personally.”

His father gave Elim an assessing look. “You have experience in this sort of thing?”

It was all Julian could do to keep a straight face while Elim promised that he had an extensive background in security. While his fiancé spun true lies, his mother took the opportunity to lead Julian aside.

“I must ask,” she said. “Do you intend to have children?”

He’d expected the question. “It’s a possibility, but we haven’t decided either way. We do have the Rokul children – you’ll meet them later, I mentioned Elim’s niece, didn’t I?”

“Inda?”

“Yes. Inda, and her younger siblings and cousin. They’re going to take the suite on the far end.”

“You should’ve told me, I would have brought toys. Wait. Wouldn’t those be Elim’s nieces and nephews? Or are they half-siblings?”

“Technically not his nieces and nephew, though he has some obligations to them. He adopted Inda as his niece.”

“I see.” She thought for a moment. “You two would have such precious babies.”

His mother wanted grandchildren. No surprise there. He was saved from continuing the conversation when his father and Elim rejoined them and they all made their way back downstairs.

“Nice place,” his father decided.

“Very,” agreed his mother. Before they sat down in the common room, she suggested, “We brought a few things I thought would be useful.”

His father offered, “I’ll get the boxes.”

Julian and Elim helped and they were soon all sitting in the common room. “Not that box, Richard, that’s the gifts. The other two can be set aside.”

“She’s got a three year supply of toothpaste in there.”

“No need to open them now,” said his mother.

Julian could only imagine what his mother had deemed useful. “Thank you. The food situation has improved somewhat, but there are a lot of things I always took for granted for which I’ve developed a new appreciation.”

“Including toothpaste,” said Elim.

“I suppose it’s as good a time as any to give you your wedding gifts.” His mother opened the remaining box, handing him a silver-wrapped package. “This one’s from Aunt Olivia.”

He’d never been close to his father’s sister and was moved that she sent a gift. It was a set of kitchen knives with sharpener and cutting board. His mother explained, “She heard there isn’t power for replicators here, so she decided you need to be able to cook properly.”

“That’s quite thoughtful. I’ll be sure to write and thank her.”

Elim inspected the gift. “This will make preparing meals easier. The knives we have aren’t very sharp.”

She handed Julian the next package. “From us.”

It was a quilt. “She made it, too,” pointed out his father.

“Thank you. It’s lovely, Mother.”

“I need extra blankets when Julian has his fan on,” said Elim. “It will get much use.”

Elim handled the wrapped gifts with good grace and unwrapped the final gift, a large wooden bowl and spoon which, according to the sticker, were hand-carved. “I thought it might be useful if you’re entertaining,” explained his mother.

“I’m sure it will be,” said Julian. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now you must tell us more about your life here. And the wedding, I want to go over my part again.”

However messy his relationship with his parents was, inviting them had been the right choice. Julian could see how much it meant to his mother and decided yes, he would have regretted not inviting them.

But they were definitely not having children solely to please his mother.

Chapter Text

As a rule Cardassians liked to hold their ceremonies outside, quite out of the question in the case of their wedding. Therefore everyone gathered in the entertaining room which was more than spacious enough for twenty people. Introductions were made. Apologies too, by Keiko when Yoshi asked why so many people had funny looking faces; fortunately Peldar was amused, not offended.

It struck Julian as slightly surreal that he was about to get married. Miles made his way over to ask, “Nervous?”

“Perhaps a touch.”

Miles nodded. “I’d be worried if you weren’t. Anyone who isn’t at least little nervous before their wedding isn’t taking it seriously.”

“That’s oddly reassuring.”

“Nothing odd about it.” After an assessing look, he ventured, “You really do love him, don’t you?”

“I truly do.”

“As best man it’s my job to make sure you’re certain about this.”

“I’m certain.”

“Alright, it’s a good thing we brought cake then.”

It was the job of the eldest person present to determine when the ceremony should begin, a task which fell to Gentach (Julian hadn’t complicated matters by explaining how Ezri was also Dax). He signaled the commencement by ringing a small silver bell.

“Okay. Time to marry your man, Julian.” Miles gave him a clap on the back and went over to stand beside Keiko.

Elim meanwhile came to Julian’s side. Everyone then stood in a circle around them, save Yoshi who sat between his parents with toy dragons. Clearly Julian’s guests had all read the information he sent (written by Inda) about Cardassian weddings. Molly had a camera and began taking pictures.

Unlike adoption ceremonies, there were multiple variations of wedding vows. They’d decided to further personalize the wedding by including both of their languages, for which purpose Elim had somehow obtained translators as the witnesses had to understand both of them. Therefore Julian would speak Cardassi and Elim would speak Standard.

As the courted party it was Julian’s role to start. He held both hands up, pressing them against Elim’s. His nervous excitement faded to joy as he began, “Elim Garak, I take you as my husband, from this moment until my last.”

Elim was equally elated. “Julian Subatoi Bashir, I take you as my husband, from this moment until my last.”

“I take your family as my own, I tie myself to you in all ways.”

“I take your family as my own, I tie myself to you in all ways.”

“I will protect you, care for you, support you, and challenge you.”

“I will protect you, care for you, support you, and challenge you.”

“I promise you, Elim, my love and devotion, for all the days of my life.”

“I promise you, Julian, my love and devotion, for all the days of my life.”

Now came another of their additions as Julian withdrew a ring from his pocket. They’d been replicated with the date (Keiko’s suggestion) engraved inside using traditional Earth and Cardassi formats (Julian’s twist to the idea). He slid the ring on Elim’s finger. “In token and pledge of our constant love, with this ring I thee wed.”

Elim placed the matching ring on Julian’s finger. “In token and pledge of our constant love, with this ring I thee wed.”

Inda stepped forward and took Julian’s right hand. Using a green marker she wrote ‘Garak’ on the back of his hand in neat Cardassi script. The marker was refreshingly cool as she printed evidence of his marriage. It lasted about a month on Cardassian skin; nobody was quite sure how long it would remain visible on his.

She completed the ritual by holding her little finger up and hooking it around his own. Smiling, she said, “Welcome to the family, Uncle.”

“Thank you.”

She returned to the circle and it was his mother’s turn. Radiant with maternal pride, she carefully took Elim’s hand. In her flowing English letters she wrote ‘Bashir.’

Wrapping her small finger around Elim’s, she pronounced, “Welcome to the family, Elim.”

“I am honored.”

When his mother stepped back to the circle, the ceremony was complete. Gentach announced, “It has been witnessed.”

“It has been witnessed,” echoed Peldar.

Nuran, Volag, Re’Dan, and Madin said, “It has been witnessed.”

And with that Julian was a married man. Naturally, the first thing he did was kiss his husband.


 

Garak was unsurprised when Chief O’Brien sought him out in the post-marriage celebration, an event much enlivened by the generous amount of food Julian’s friends provided. All the guests were quite delighted at the quantity and variety of fare. Dyrum had eaten a slightly larger portion of cocktail shrimp than propriety allowed, so much that Inda forbade him to eat any more. Both Iliana Gentach and Hasleny were very enamored with icoberries. For his own part Garak was fond of the pear spears wrapped in something called prosciutto and was enjoying one when Chief O’Brien joined him.

“It was a nice ceremony,” began the chief.

Garak wasn’t in the mood for a torturous conversation with his husband’s friend (though it pleased him greatly to think of Julian as his husband), so he stated, “And yet you are skeptical.”

“What am I supposed to believe? That you regret your past and have settled into life as a family man?”

“You may believe whatever you like, Chief, though I have never claimed to regret my past.” Garak had no use for regret, nor did he believe that he had anything to rue as O’Brien wished. “That does not preclude changing my path in life.”

“A leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s unsporting to use references I don’t understand,” said Garak, who knew perfectly well what a leopard was and the meaning of the colloquialism.

His retort served its purpose of slightly flustering O’Brien. “I just…”

He decided to finish the sentence in order to move the conversation along. “Want reassurance that your friend has not made a poor life choice, correct?”

“That’s right.”

“I can’t give you that. You have decided not to believe me, even when I am being entirely truthful.”

“Because nobody can ever tell if you’ve decided to be truthful!”

“Julian does.” At least, he recognized three broad categories: when Garak was being truthful, when he was lying, and when it really didn’t matter. O’Brien had no response, so Garak continued, “Family is all, Chief. Whether you believe it or not, I have chosen to prioritize Julian above all else. There is nothing I would not do for him.”

“I almost believe that.” He paused. “I actually want to believe that, for Julian’s sake.”

“And for Julian’s sake, I’m glad you are here. It means a great deal to him, and I also appreciate the catering.”

“You can’t have a wedding without food,” asserted O’Brien.

Though that was patently false Garak didn’t care enough about the chief’s opinion to argue the point.

Julian chose that moment to join them. “Shall we have the cake? I’m not sure how much longer we can keep Azoon away from it.” In fact that reprieve had been extended beyond Garak’s expectation while Azoon and Kirayoshi O’Brien played with the latter’s collection of toy monsters.

“Yes. Are there any customs surrounding this cake?”

“Consumption is the only one I’m concerned with,” replied Julian.

“What,” asked O’Brien, “you aren’t going to smash it in each other’s faces?”

Julian shook his head while Garak was still trying to make sense of the comment. “Does anyone really do that?”

“Not us, that’s for sure,” said O’Brien.

“Nor will we.” Garak, while uncertain precisely what this smashing entailed, was not interested in a firsthand demonstration.

Thankfully his husband agreed, “Of course not.”

Julian may not have cared about human wedding cake etiquette, but his mother did. Amsha wanted them to cut their own pieces together, and neither Julian nor Garak were inclined to begrudge her that concession.

Molly O’Brien came near in her role as photographer. Whether she did this of her own accord or was asked to Garak didn’t know, but Amsha was delighted. She’d already been promised a copy of each photograph, certain to be a large number. No doubt Julian would receive the images as well, and while Garak wasn’t one for overmuch sentiment he had no objection to Julian displaying images in their house if he so chose.

He watched Julian carefully so as not to inadvertently do something offensive. While Julian wouldn’t care, Garak thought it best not to upset his recently acquired spouse-mother. He therefore accepted a bite of cake from Julian’s fork and fed his husband a bite of his own piece. Another odd tradition, but he couldn’t complain about the inclusion of cake. It was a very good cake.

After they began to eat Amsha offered to slice the rest of the cake.

“I will serve,” said Inda. She gave the first piece to Gentach, which properly should have gone to Lieutenant Dax as the eldest of their guests, but Garak couldn’t in fairness fault her for that mistake. In any event Lieutenant Dax was not offended and was thus spared answering questions about her life as a joined Trill. Doubtless Hasleny would’ve had a great many questions. She was an inquisitive child.

As the cake was a gift from Professor O’Brien, Julian made a point to thank her, a sentiment Garak echoed.

“I replicated it myself,” she replied.

Volag’s eyes widened in pleasure as she tasted the cake. “I see why humans include this in their marriage customs.”

That was the general consensus among their guests, and a very excited Azoon who somehow managed to get frosting in his neck ridges.

“Well, the cake is a hit,” remarked Julian.

“Rightly so.”

“The whole wedding is excellent, my favorite part being that we’re married.”

“I agree entirely, ss’avi.” He could hardly believe that Julian was now his husband, and he hoped that the guests didn’t stay particularly late. Garak wanted time alone with his new husband.


 

Keiko planned a brunch the morning after their wedding, and Julian was delighted to have another occasion to visit with his friends. The fact that he wouldn’t be hot was also a pleasant change, though Elim grumbled while dressing in layers

Lieutenant Commander Kamakeoaina was waiting beside Miles in the transporter room. “Good morning, Doctor, Garak. I wanted to congratulate you.”

“Thank you.”

“Your access codes are still active, Doctor, so replicate anything you’d like to take with you before you leave. We’ll beam the items down with the other supplies we have for you. I’ll have to deactivate the access codes before you come back to be sworn in, so best replicate today.”

“Of course.” In a few days he would no longer be a member of Starfleet, which gave Julian a slight pang of regret.

“Enjoy,” Kamakeoaina said before leaving the transporter room.

“Molly has all the pictures on a padd for you,” said Miles. “And we sent them to your mother as well.”

“I’m pleased to have them, and I’m sure Mother is ecstatic.” She’d made sure Molly took a photo of Elim and Julian with both his parents, which she intended to display in the living room.

Defiant’s forward lounge had been repurposed for the occasion, with a large oval table holding multiple gifts. Keiko was in a corner settling Yoshi in with a variety of toys.

“Must so many species wrap gifts?” asked Elim quietly when Miles went to replicate coffee.

“None of my friends are going to give us gift-wrapped bombs.”

“It’s unlikely, yes, but still I object on principle.”

Further discussion of the topic was cut off when Keiko neared them, greeting, “Good morning!”

“Good morning, and thank you for arranging this,” said Julian.

“My pleasure. Besides, we have to give you your wedding presents.”

“None are required, but it’s kind of you,” said Elim, glossing over his deep mistrust of gift wrap.

Ezri walked in in time to hear that and insist, “Of course wedding presents are required. Trill give more gifts for weddings than all other occasions combined.” She added several more to the pile. “Worf and Martok asked me to make sure you received their gifts.”

“I didn’t realize Klingons gave wedding gifts,” said Julian.

“They generally don’t, but you joined Worf’s kal'Hyah and he couldn’t reciprocate so… it’s an honor thing. Martok just likes you.”

Kira and Molly joined them with matching purple fingernails, of which Molly was proud. She thrust her hands out to Keiko. “Nerys and I match!”

While Keiko appreciated the painted nails Jake entered. “Last again,” he muttered.

“But not late,” said Keiko.

As the guests of honor Julian and Elim were given first run at the replicator. After all his time on Cardassia Julian spent a moment paralyzed for so many choices. The things one took for granted until they were suddenly no longer available. He opted for scones with jam, tea, seven-berry salad, and bacon. Elim settled for an omelet and fruit salad.

“Start opening gifts, if you like,” suggested Keiko.

“Open this one!” said Molly, pushing a gold-wrapped package forward. “It’s from us.”

Julian unwrapped a forty-centimeter high machine unfamiliar to him.

Miles explained, “It throws heat in one direction and cool air in the other. Keiko’s idea.”

“Miles made it.”

“And I wrapped it!” added Molly. “Yoshi put on the bow.”

Elim was genuinely pleased. “How thoughtful.”

“Thank you,” said Julian. “You’ve been very generous, bringing the rings and food as well.”

“This one’s from us too.” Molly handed him a smaller package, which proved to be Delavian chocolate.

“Always welcome, thank you.”

Between bites of breakfast they opened their other gifts. Ezri gave them a five-volume set of short stories from around the Federation “for your debating pleasure,” a specialty wine imported from Trill, and a selection of sauces to liven up their meals. Jake’s gifts were three varieties of tea and his own homemade salsa. Kasidy sent a kal-toh set, plus a full spice rack which she thought Captain Sisko might have picked out if he were around. From Worf they received a d'k tahg which particularly fascinated Elim, and from Chancellor Martok a pair of targ horn drinking flasks carved from the tusks of a targ he personally killed. That one Julian put firmly in the ‘it’s the thought that counts’ category.

The final gift was Kira’s, placed in a green gift bag. Julian removed the tissue paper on top and reached into the bag, pulling out an oval mirror with a sleek black frame. “It’s a traditional Bajoran wedding gift,” explained Kira. “We hang them so you can see your reflections to remind you that whatever comes, you stand together.”

Kira could be hard to read when she so chose, and this moment definitely qualified. Nevertheless Julian felt reasonably certain that this was a gesture of honest support and/or celebration. “Thank you,” he said, looking her directly in the eye.

“You’ve all been very generous,” said Elim.

“It’s your wedding,” said Ezri. “Gifts are important.”

Yoshi, bored with his toys, wandered over to the table. “Look, Aunt Rys!” He gave Kira a crayon drawing, of what Julian couldn’t be sure. “I drew you a picture.”

She picked him up and put her on her lap. “Thank you, Yoshi.”

“It’s a dragon.”

Oh. A dragon. Julian wouldn’t have guessed that.

“It’s a very nice dragon.”

“No, a mean dragon. There’s fire!”

“Of course, but it’s a very nice picture of a dragon.”

Molly turned to Julian. “Dad says we can go to the orphanage tomorrow. My school sent four big boxes of presents.”

“That’s wonderful. It’s kind of you to organize, Molly.”

“I just asked my friends if they wanted to send anything, and soon everyone wanted to. There’s clothes, food, and toys.”

“Everything will be greatly appreciated,” said Elim. “The children in the orphanage are not nearly as fortunate as you and your brother.”

It pleased Julian that the occasion of their wedding was also bringing much-needed supplies for the orphanage, and he knew Elim felt the same. Finishing his last bite of scone, he looked around the table at his husband and friends, feeling very fortunate indeed.


 

Miles was none too happy that Keiko was on Cardassia without him even though she brought a two-ensign security escort to her appointments. He was able, at least, to be with Molly when she beamed down again to deliver the orphanage’s gifts. (And he didn’t have to worry about Yoshi, who was spending time on the ship with a very happy Kira.) Julian and Elim had arranged to meet them at the orphanage.

“I suspect this is the most fortunate orphanage on Cardassia,” said Elim as they neared the orphanage.

“It’s about to be.”

As they walked the final meters Miles, Molly, and Ezri beamed down. Jake probably would have come if he’d not had a reception with Councilor Ma’Don, who insisted on personally thanking Jake for his story which increased aid and saved many Cardassian lives.

“It’s hot,” said Molly.

“And it’s early in the morning,” added Miles. “How do you stand noon, Julian?”

“Inside, preferably with a fan or a cooling system. It does get a touch uncomfortable even for Cardassians in the summer.”

“Not dangerously so, however,” added Elim, who fretted about Julian’s health in the summer heat. “Not in the temperate zones.”

“I’d hate to imagine the equatorial zones,” said Miles.

Julian led the way to the orphanage. “There’s room to beam the crates inside. It will still be hot, but it helps to be out of the sun.”

“Do Cardassians use sunscreen?” Molly asked.

“We do not need it,” answered Elim.

“What about sunglasses?”

“Those we do have.”

Matron Gihxa met them at the door. “Dr. Bashir, Mr. Garak.”

“Good morning Matron. This is Molly O’Brien, who organized the donations, and her father, Chief O’Brien. And this is Lieutenant Dax.”

The matron gave both O’Briens a deferential nod. “I thank you.”

“I thought Defiant could transport the crates directly inside,” Julian suggested.

“Yes. The children are assembled, and there will be room to transport the supplies as well. Please, follow me.”

When they reached the gathered residents, Matron Gihxa announced, “Children, you remember Dr. Bashir and Mr. Garak. This is Molly O’Brien, who sent the sweets for you twice before, along with her father, Chief O’Brien, and Lieutenant Dax.”

Molly turned to Julian. “They remember the candy I sent!”

“They don’t get many treats.”

“That’s sad. Isn’t it sad, Dad?”

“Yes.” Miles, for all his distrust of Cardassians, was a good man and a father; he clearly was saddened by the plight of these unfortunate orphans. “Ready, Matron?”

“Whenever you are.”

“O’Brien to Defiant. Beam down the crates five meters to our left.”

“Initiating now, Chief.”

Four crates, generally large but of slightly varied sizes, materialized beside them, to murmurs of excitement from the children. Molly pointed to the labels, written in Standard and Cardassi. “Clothes in the first one, we got shirts with wide necks for ridges, shoes in that smaller one, food in this one. Julian said Cardassians like fish, so there’s a lot of fish.”

“We’re happy to have fish.”

“The biggest box is toys and games.”

“Perhaps you’ll show us how your human toys are used?” asked Matron Gihxa.

“Dad, will you open it?”

Miles took out a spanner, popped off the lid, and started taking out toys. In a matter of minutes Molly was comparing jump rope technique with some of the children (thus Julian learned that Cardassian kids also played jump rope, which upon reflection wasn’t surprising); several children, having opened a package of toy dinosaurs, were asking Miles about the creatures; and Ezri had been recruited to read the captions and explain what images the jigsaw puzzles showed. Elim meanwhile conversed quietly with Matron Gihxa.

“Doctor?”

“Yes?”

It was a member of the orphanage staff whose name he didn’t know. “What is this?”

“Play dough. It’s a kind of… ” Unfortunately he didn’t know the Cardassi word for clay, so he tried a different tack. “You can shape it into anything, see, the photos give some examples. So long as it’s stored in the containers it should last a long time.”

“Children’s draoft,” she stated. “They will enjoy this greatly.”

A little boy, perhaps four or five, held out a toy and asked, “Doctor, what’s this animal?”

“It’s called a horse.”

“Horse,” tried the boy, rolling the unfamiliar word off his tongue. “Horse.”

“Humans ride horses sometimes, like riding hounds.”

“How big are they?”

“Some are bigger than others, but I’d say they’re about as tall as I am or perhaps a little taller,” guessed Julian, who really knew next to nothing about horses.

A girl came over with a stuffed giraffe two-thirds of a meter high. “What’s this one? Do you ride these too?”

“This is a giraffe, and we don’t ride them.”

Julian became animal identification central after that. Meanwhile Elim and Matron Gihxa assessed the shoes (and looked pleased); Molly demonstrated how to best use a hula hoop; Miles set up a bean bag toss; and Ezri instructed a group on catching a baseball in their new baseball gloves.

He was shown a coloring book with a kangaroo on the cover. “Doctor, why is there a small one coming out of its stomach?”

The most fortunate orphanage on Cardassia, Julian thought to himself, and went back to his zoological explanations.


 

Miles finished installing the computer and subspace comm system, all highly encrypted, as well as the replicator which Julian had been allocated by the Federation. That had come as a pleasant surprise, though he’d have to rely on the batteries to power it.

“Now remember, the batteries are only good for about fifty replications each.”

“Batteries have improved in the last few years, haven’t they?”

“Yes, but that’s still only a hundred and fifty replications. You’d better pace yourself.”

“It’s a good thing I went on a replicating spree aboard the Defiant, then.”

Miles reached into his kit and pulled out a small bag. “Now we celebrate. I brought a couple bottles of this new ale I found. Cold, too.”

Julian reached for one. “Cheers.”

“Cheers.” After a drink, Miles said, “I can still barely believe you’re married to Garak.”

“This is a good ale.” He took another drink. “You once told me that marriage is the greatest adventure of them all.”

“It is.” He took a swig of his ale. “I’m happy for you, Julian. I don’t get it, but you’re clearly in love with him.”

“I am.”

“So I don’t really need to get it. I’ve always known we’re very different people.”

“That we are. I’m glad you’re happy for me.”

“Does he tell you the truth?”

“More often than not, and always if I ask.”

“So you know why he was on DS9?”

“No. That was related to a mission and he won’t speak about it any more than I would share classified information.”

Miles considered that for a moment. “I guess that’s fair, but he could tell you something, couldn’t he?”

“I know the important information. What factors shaped him into the man he is, and most of all that he loves me enough to let himself be vulnerable around me.”

“Huh,” said Miles, taking another swig of ale. “He’s proud of you. Whenever anyone mentions you becoming an ambassador it’s… unusually obvious emotion, for Garak.”

“Yes. I had to convince him I really am happy for him to keep his name.”

That surprised Miles. “He was going to take your name?”

“According to Cardassian etiquette, I’ll have the higher social rank so he’s expected to, but it didn’t really fit. We’ve decided this particular Cardassian tradition doesn’t work for us.”

“So what, Cardassians keep switching last names if they’re close in social rank?”

“Not generally, though it happens. Usually it’s decided at the time of marriage based on the spouse with the best current and future prospects.”

Miles pondered that. “I wouldn’t have expected him to offer.”

“I know.” Miles had never been remotely interested in getting to know Elim, a feeling which was mutual. And yet in the last couple of days, they’d both made an effort to be at the very least civil. Elim had gone so far as to be genuinely civil, not his special brand of wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing faux civility.

“Like I said, we’re very different people, but you’re happy and that’s what counts. Hopefully the Federation ambassador gets leave sometimes.”

“I will.”

“Good. You’d better come visit.” Another sip of ale. “Just for you, I’ll even let Garak sleep in our guest room. But no hidden weapons.”

“I’ll book a hotel room. Elim can’t sleep without a weapon nearby. Ever since we found out about the ambassadorship he’s taken it upon himself to protect me.”

“Is it really that dangerous?”

“Not overly. There’s always a small risk, the die-hard traditionalists aren’t particularly thrilled, but on the whole it’s not very perilous. Besides, they’re very short on doctors. Killing me wouldn’t win much sympathy since I’ll still be at the hospital most of the time.”

“I get the impression Garak would be damned good at keeping you safe.”

“He takes vigilance to a new level.”

“You know,” remarked Miles, clearly surprising himself, “I’m actually glad.”

“As am I.”

They finished their ale in silent comradery.


 

Garak was invited to witness Julian’s swearing in ceremony on the Defiant’s bridge, which pleased him greatly though the entire concept of a swearing in ceremony was very odd to him. Why should anyone be required to take an oath before assuming duties? To the Cardassian mindset, if one was appointed by the state it went without saying that one would execute their responsibilities faithfully. If not one could expect to find one’s self executed.

He knew that the Federation personnel, while used to oaths of office, found the entire arrangement for Julian’s ambassadorship peculiar because he would still spend most of his time as a doctor. This Garak found eminently sensible. There was no use in endless bureaucratic meetings; when Julian could accomplish something in his role as an ambassador he would, and at other times he was of much greater service tending to the health of the district’s residents.

Lieutenant Commander Kamakeoaina, a sturdy human with an unusually large number of syllables in his family name, came forward as the communication channel was being established. He held a slim printed volume. “What is that?” inquired Garak.

“The Federation Charter.”

“It’s for Julian to swear on,” said Dax, who probably considered that an explanation. This ritual got stranger the more Garak learned.

“Relax, Julian,” said O’Brien. “This is just a formality.”

“A life-changing formality.”

Garak, in an attempt to reassure his husband, told him with complete honesty, “You will serve admirably.”

The Vice-President of the United Federation of Planets, an elderly Bolian woman, appeared onscreen. “Hello, ma’am,” greeted Kamakeoaina.

“Hello. I trust everything is ready?”

“Yes.”

“Very well. I don’t imagine that anyone wants to hear a long speech, so I didn’t prepare one. It will suffice to say that, Dr. Bashir, the Cardassian government was impressed enough to request you specifically. That speaks volumes about the work you’ve already begun at representing the Federation on Cardassia. I have no doubt that you will continue this service with distinction. In the aftermath of war we have an opportunity to forge a lasting peace, and I look forward to your ongoing contributions.”

“Thank you, Vice President.”

“I will now administer the oath of office. Commander, are you ready?”

“Yes ma’am.” Kamakeoaina stepped forward and held out the Federation Charter. Julian placed his right hand on it and raised his left. Very odd indeed, Garak mused.

“Repeat after me,” said the vice president, “I,”

“I, Julian Subatoi Bashir,”

“Do solemnly swear,”

Garak wondered if there had ever been occasion where such an oath was frivolously sworn, to require the addition of the adjective ‘solemnly.’

“Do solemnly swear,” echoed Julian.

“That I will support and defend the Charter of the United Federation of Planets,”

“That I will support and defend the Charter of the United Federation of Planets,”

“Against all enemies foreign and domestic,”

“Against all enemies foreign and domestic,” said Julian.

Julian considered Section 31 a domestic enemy of the Federation; Garak wondered if the vice president felt similarly.

“That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,”

Garak was well aware that some in the Federation considered Julian unfit to remain true to the Federation since he’d married a Cardassian. Those people had, of course, never met him. Regardless, the Detapa Council had concluded that if they were to have a Federation ambassador it would be Julian, so the decision was made.

And if there were murmurs of Julian ‘going native,’ well, Garak could only do his best to ensure that Julian never had cause to regret their marriage.

“That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,”

“That I take this obligation freely,”

“That I take this obligation freely,”

Well. That wasn’t entirely true, was it? Julian had been given very little choice in the matter. Downright Cardassian, really.

“Without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,”

If the Federation had to make their ambassador swear against any purpose of evasion, their vetting process left much to be desired.

“Without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,”

“And that I will well and faithfully discharge,”

“And that I will well and faithfully discharge,”

“The duties of the office in which I am about to enter.”

“The duties of the office in which I am about to enter.”

“Congratulations, Ambassador Bashir. I trust you will represent the Federation with distinction.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Julian removed his hand from the Federation Charter. At that everyone on the bridge began to clap. Garak joined in, amused by the oath taking but immensely proud of his husband.


 

Thanks to his prior insistence, Peldar and the nursing staff didn’t treat him any differently when he returned an ambassador. This was a great relief to Julian.

Everyone was furthermore very pleased because, in addition to replicating two crates of supplies which he’d beamed straight to the hospital, he’d included a few treats for all his coworkers in part of his replicating spree. Treats in this case being cans of shrimp and tuna, fresh peaches and blueberries, and candied walnuts.

Peldar applied her usual curiosity to the swearing-in process. “Why were you required to swear this oath?”

“It’s tradition. Elim didn’t understand it either, in fact he found it all rather amusing. The format is Earth-derived, but many Federation worlds have a similar custom. Excluding telepathic species such as Betazoids.”

“It doesn’t go without saying that you will fulfill your duties to the maximum extent of your capabilities?” Nuran asked.

“The oath is really just a formality.”

“A very odd one,” said Peldar, “at least to the Cardassian mindset. Formalities and traditions, however… these things we understand.”

“While we’re discussing otherworld traditions,” said Nuran, “I’m curious about your rings.”

Julian glanced down at his wedding ring. “Wedding rings are a very old tradition on Earth, going back thousands of years in various forms.” He was fairly certain that at one point they were used to demonstrate a man’s claim over his wife, but he didn’t know any details and declined to go into that aspect. It was ancient history anyway, irrelevant to their reasons for wearing rings. “Circles never end, which is part of why it’s used to symbol lasting love. It’s also a convenient way to make clear that you’re romantically unavailable, though there are married couples who forego rings as a matter of personal preference.”

“If you take the view that circles have no end, then they don’t have a beginning,” pointed out Nuran. Julian was actually quite happy about this as it meant she was treating him normally and not with the great deference due an ambassador.

“We tend not to focus on that aspect.”

“It is good that you and Garak use some human traditions as well,” said Peldar. “Are there other customs surrounding these rings?”

“It’s common to engrave something on the insides, such as the spouses’ names or wedding date. Ours have the date of our wedding in traditional Earth and Cardassi formats.”

Peldar, a widow like so many others due to the war, failed to entirely mask her own sadness for a moment. Julian knew better than to mention it.

Their curious gazes finally landed on the case at his feet. He explained, “I ordered a prosthetic for Gentach.” He’d spoken with the neighbor to determine that yes, Gentach was indeed still interested in a prosthetic arm.

“It’s fairly basic, but I was able to get it a more appropriate skin tone at least, and the neural impulses will allow him to operate this more or less like a biological arm.” Nothing as custom or advanced as Nog’s leg, but it would allow Gentach to once again have two useable arms and hands which was a significant improvement.

“This is wonderful, Bashir,” Peldar remarked as she examined it. “Gentach is fortunate to be in our district. I certainly couldn’t find him a prosthetic.” It hadn’t been for lack of trying, though.

“He’s coming in this afternoon for a preliminary fitting, so I can make sure his nerves align.”

Nuran said, “The skin tone is actually quite well done. It’s not a lifeless grey.”

Further discussion was preempted by the alarm which signified an influx of patients. Shortly Julian was at work reattaching a severed toe, feeling once more that he was doing his part to make the universe a better place.


 

It was a pleasant evening in their newly expanded household. While given the opportunity Julian had replicated a great deal on the Defiant, including among many practical items some entertainment for the children. Azoon was the proud owner of toy dragons similar to Yoshi’s, and presently he had two fighting over a particularly desirable stretch of carpet. Hasleny, who it turned out was a good artist, hummed while she drew. The Rubik’s cube captured Dyrum’s attention and Inda was concentrating on an Ipsithian brainteaser.

Inda was, as always, cognizant of her responsibilities. She glanced at the clock and announced, “Azoon, ten minutes until bedtime.”

“But I don’t want to go to bed soon.”

“It’s not a choice.”

“It never is,” said Hasleny.

“Inda lets you stay up later,” shot back Azoon.

“Only half an hour.”

Meanwhile Julian and Elim were settling in to discuss a story from the collection Ezri gave them. “The Lethusian offering hardly merits the term ‘story,’” began Elim.

“It didn’t have much of a plot.”

“That’s generous. It didn’t have even a semblance of a plot.”

“It was about leaves.”

“It was a seventeen-page description of leaves.”

Julian noted, “The language was evocative.”

“Seventeen pages of evocative language does not constitute a story. A story requires a plot.”

“The life cycle of a leaf was the plot.” Which was not, in all honestly, really enough to fill seventeen pages, but it was a plot. Sort of.

“The life cycle of a leaf is for biology texts, not short stories.”

“It’s a plot, of a kind.”

“You cannot seriously tell me you found this engrossing reading.”

“I did appreciate the language.”

“But you concede the plot is weak to nonexistent?”

“Not entirely. Weak on its own, perhaps, but if you look at this as a microcosm of life as a whole, it’s a powerful statement.”

Elim suddenly smiled. “My dear, that is surely the redeeming factor of the entire work.”

“So you didn’t hate it?”

“No.”

“And your point just now was?”

“A bit of enjoyable flirtation. What else could it be?”

Oh, two could play this game. A game which Julian had always enjoyed, now more than ever because he got to take his husband to bed and bring flirtation to its natural conclusion. He enjoyed the sexual aspect of their relationship, of course; all the more because it was made meaningful by everything else.

“I don’t know, Elim. Using the story as a microcosm might not be the author’s intention.”

His husband smiled briefly, enjoying their exchange, before schooling his features to serious concern. “Whatever makes you think that? It’s quite obvious that was the intention. Otherwise it’s a collection of overly poetic paragraphs on leaves.”

“Lethusians love their flora.”

“Obviously. Nobody would devote seventeen pages to leaves if they didn’t. That does not alter my opinion.”

“You’re not considering the cultural mindset for which the story was written. How could you make such a mistake? I’m afraid you’re not at your best tonight.”

Elim leaned in closely to whisper, “Azoon’s sound effects are very distracting, I’m afraid.”

“Uh-huh. Blame it on the child.”

At normal volume he continued, “If, for the sake of argument, I were to grant your theory that the story serves as a microcosm…”

“Which you are.”

“Purely for the sake of the discussion.”

“Of course.”

“Then I would wonder at the exclusion of all other life forms. The story featured only leaves.”

That was actually a good point, and one that was eminently sensible for the Cardassian mindset where people were not isolated individuals. Julian considered for a moment. “By excluding other life forms, the author demonstrates our inherent selfishness,” he decided.

“Obviously not written for Cardassians.”

“It was written for Lethusians. We already covered that.”

Julian noticed that his husband’s dosset was now slightly blue, so he leaned in for a kiss and tried something new. They were newlyweds, after all, which meant they were supposed to be unable to keep their hands off each other. Very gently, he blew a puff of air along Elim’s left neck ridge.

“Julian!” Elim hissed quietly, dosset turning bluer. “Not in front of the children.”

He hadn’t thought it unseemly for the children to see, but for all Julian knew he’d stumbled across some kind of mild kink. More pleased with himself than chagrined, he set the book aside. “I think we’ll have a much more productive literature discussion when you’re less distracted.”

“You may have a point.” Instead of getting up promptly, Elim rested his forehead against Julian’s. “I delight in you, ss’avi.”

“It’s entirely mutual, love.”

Julian was happy to sit there enjoying possibly the longest anshwar in history. He never expected any of this when he arrived for a six-month volunteer tour, and yet he was happy, content, at peace, and in love. If his life had become unrecognizable over the last year, he was more than pleased because life was very, very good.