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(let us be trivial, let us be intimate)

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The bathroom lamp flickers—dim warm light changing brilliance, intensity. Julian can hear the fizzle of electricity crawl along the lines, rasping and buzzing. No doubt, Garak can’t hear it. Julian has grown used to it over the past two years but, here, in the tightly enclosed space, there is something about the sound that seems to occupy the whole room, seems to crackle between them.

Garak is seated on the counter, legs pressed against Julian’s and looking down at him from under the shadow of his eye ridges. His expression is placid and Julian allows him this mask. Still the nervousness, still the doubt—well, it wouldn’t be Garak if he didn’t, somehow, suspect or fear some sort of vulnerability. Julian has never been one to make himself unassuming or small; no matter the years where he had to fumble and pretend and laugh off his silliness, as if he were like anyone else. As if he were just fortunate by chance. Sure, he made his mistakes where he had to, to keep up the façade, but he has always been unable to keep himself away from the smallest bit of pride. It’s hard to hide when your mind draws together so many details. It’s hard not to push your way into things and make your own spaces. Julian fancies it’s much the same with Garak.

Granted, Garak has never wanted him small and complacent. That they’re here now is proof enough that Garak has never taken anything without a bit of resistance. That was the game, verbal discussions a back-and-forth of gesticulation and brow raising and incredulous shakes of the head. On occasion, so rarely that Julian had sequestered those moments in the back of his mind, prodded and dissected them when safely locked in his quarters on the station, Garak would give him a particular look that would say ‘listen to what I am not saying.’ Julian would listen, and would understand. So many times, Garak gave him these secret gifts—glances into his inner self that was without ornamentation.

Long before Julian ever dreamed of this, of his fingers carefully tipping Garak’s jaw this way and that and his other hand dipping into the bowl of oil at Garak’s side, he knew Garak and exposure are things that are not compatible. He is glad, then, of the failing lightbulbs. They make everything less severe.

Julian had found him here just minutes ago, image softened with sleep. Garak stood in front of the bathroom mirror, draped in his overlarge pajamas, his hair charmingly ruffled and sticking up in the back. Julian had watched him for a few moments, the way his toe claws tapped out a quiet rhythm against the rug, the way the sleeves rolled back on his scaly forearms—folded at the elbow. Garak was meticulous. His chin was tilted up as he picked out old scales on his neck and rubbed away dead skin flakes.

It hadn’t been surprising to find him here. He’d been complaining of “an itch” for weeks. It’s always vague, and Julian knows it makes Garak feel uncomfortable in his own skin. If there’s one thing Garak detests more than anything else, even now, it’s to not know something. The vagueness of the itch never gives Garak any hint at all where there’ll be new growth. Sometimes it’s uniform, and his scales turn over gradually on his whole body. More often than not, it’s a specific area that grows in new.

When Julian paints the scales of Garak’s chin in oil with careful, soft strokes, they gleam and Garak is so utterly still. On the station, Garak tended to the flamboyant with his gestures, but when he is alone (alone with Julian), or now that he is on Cardassia, the Obsidian Order training flashes through. Julian wonders if he is capable of extraneous, unconscious, unnecessary gestures that are not completely pre-meditated.

Hands folded on his lap, supine back straight, shoulders level but relaxed, chin up and gaze steady: Garak looks more like a dancer than the remnants of an expert interrogator, and assassin. It is terrifying, that Garak looks at him from under lidded reptilian eyes, looking so harmless and disheveled with his hair sleep-mussed. It is terrifying that Julian’s fingers don’t tremble where they press, guide, stroke, worry at loose scales. Garak doesn’t hiss or grimace when Julian eases the dead skin off, revealing the lighter, tenderer skin beneath. If not for the years Julian’s known him, Julian would think there’s no reaction at all, but he sees it: the way Garak leans so subtly further into his touch, the way his lips part minutely. Julian’s gaze hardly ever strays from where he’s working—it’s not a dangerous procedure by any means, but he never wants to cause more discomfort than he must—but when he does, Garak is always watching him keenly, closely. Julian wonders if he is also so highly aware of how odd it is, Garak’s so cool skin warmed by oil, soft with moisture, looking near holographic in the failing light. How easily Julian could push him back, hands on his throat.

Julian would never, of course, but he knows Garak, and he fancies he knows some of the ways Garak thinks. Not all (impossible, that) but some, surely, consider that this is a display of confidence unlike many others. Now, on Cardassia, there are not nearly as many thrilling situations where Julian has the chance to play the hero in the middle of action. (Action that was war. Action that was losing people, and being poorly stocked with medicines, and days of shifts with no ends, Julian swaying on his feet but still in the medbay because if he doesn’t hold, clamp, suction here or there someone else is going to be lost. Action that was roughly pulling people to the ground and away from phaser fire. Action that was pressing his tired shoulder against Garak’s tired shoulder and thinking, deliriously, at least this is one other person that is not put in a pod with starfleet’s flag draped over it, with words said plainly, unceremoniously, with barely a moment to do it between cross-space combat.) Julian has trials every day with the complex diseases that target Cardassian immune systems still struggling in the wake of the Dominion attacks. But, political intrigue or life-threatening situations are a thing of the past. In those situations, vulnerability seems to mean more and, surely, Julian has saved Garak’s life before several times, but this is nothing like that. Those times had been driven by his sense of commitment as a doctor, as Garak’s friend. This, innocuous and easily done by Garak himself, falls directly out of those bounds. There is some rule broken here, something unsaid, something tenuous.

“Doctor, you look distressed,” Garak says quietly, in that sibilant way of his. With Julian’s universal translator off more often than not, he gets to hear the accented way Garak speaks his Standard. It’s all curls and hisses, as if an extension of Kardasi itself.

“Thinking, is all,” Julian says, glancing up at Garak with a small smile. “And I need to concentrate, since it’s harder to determine which scales are ready in the shadow.”

Garak looks singularly unconvinced, but Julian is relieved to see he is not the only one feeling odd. Garak’s tail swishes, unsettled, and stops the moment Julian looks at it. It’s not long until Julian’s done, having removed all the old scales to leave space for new growth and wiping his fingers clean on the towel on the counter. He’s still standing between Garak’s legs, hovering uncertainly with a crooked smile. Garak rolls his neck, closing his eyes, and Julian takes that as his cue to cap the oil and gather all the things he’s used into his arms. Garak stops him before he moves away with a hand on a wrist. Julian pauses, hesitates.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Garak says and it makes Julian’s brows raise before he feels a smile dimple his cheeks.

Elim,” Julian says, voice soft—so few times he’s allowed Garak’s first name to linger. “Of course.”

Something must show on his face because Garak seems surprised. They’re not words Julian hasn’t said before, but hasn’t Garak always told him he’s too expressive, too quick to give everything away? He is tired, though. It’s been nine years of this, this monitoring. He’s out of practice, with not having to conceal his enhancements anymore.

Instead of remarking on the obvious, on how he’s such a gullible bleeding heart all the time, Garak shakes his head and laughs. “I’d hoped, perhaps,” Garak says, “after so many years you might learn.”

Julian presses the things in his arms closer and laughs, a hollow, dull sound. Their tired joke—that Julian is naïve and oblivious and painfully honest. Hasn’t that always been his failing, in Garak’s eyes? “It seems there is always something left to learn, with you,” Julian says, and tries to keep any bitterness from his voice.

He is not naïve, he is not blinded by Starfleet ideals and false purities. He’s never been that, and he thinks that, deep down, Garak knows that. Garak has known that since the moment he found out Julian was not nearly so clumsy, so puppy-dog optimistic. Since he found out that Julian is himself, but is also something else—something or someone entirely different from the moment the doctors on Adigeon Prime dipped their impassive hands in his genetic material and resequenced, re-paired, re-organized. Julian knows Garak is aware, but Julian, also, is far quicker than he ever let on. He can’t help but think Garak is a coward. He nods, his job done and leaves the room to put everything away. Garak does not move for a long while, staying in the bathroom long after Julian’s fallen asleep.

 


 

Summer is settling upon Cardassia. It’s Julian’s second time, and he is no more prepared for it than he was the first time. How does one prepare for something like that? Nothing on Cardassia was meant for keeping cool. Most of the last summer was spent in an immobile haze in the bathtub with the water turned to its coolest. The houses, terracotta, bake like inside ovens, undeterred by Julian’s distress.

Thankfully, it is not yet so severe, but the tropical heat thickens the air with humidity. It becomes so weighted on the lungs that it feels more apt for gills than for Julian’s struggling, stuttering lungs—enhanced as they may be. He lazes in the hammock strung between two beams on Garak’s balcony. Garak’s small house, humble and easily blended with the landscape around it, sits at the top of a hillock. What’s left of the district can be seen: the lanterns and glimmering lights of the marketplace, the glow from Julian’s clinic, the school’s lights dimmed. When Julian closes his eyes, he can hear the musicians tuning their instruments. Festivities for summer equinox will begin soon. Ishtai—the week of carnival can be smelled on the air, ikiri buns cooked and sem’hal stew at a simmer in large communal cauldrons.

He must fall into a doze, lulled by the warmth, the sunset, and the light sway of the hammock, because when he wakes it is to Garak gazing down at him with a hand on his arm.

“The festivities will begin without you, Doctor,” Garak says, and his face is drawn into shadow, turned away as it is from the suns. His blue eyes flash, gaze flickering up off to the distance.

Julian groans pitifully and turns, stretching out carefully. “How long was I asleep?”

“Not long,” Garak says, attention back on Julian, face inscrutable as ever. “I woke you with enough time to get dressed.”

Julian notes that Garak has already changed, not in the typical tunic of the service class, but in a proper robe. He’s forsaken the colorful dress he’s always gravitated towards. In all black, he cuts a striking figure. The neck of his shirt draws a bit lower than usual, exposing the long line of his neck, the delicate indentations of his collarbones. The lapels of his robe are threaded with silver, and Julian can’t help but wonder if the piece was made long before he returned to Cardassia. There is not much to spare in the way of expenses. Julian knows Garak saved up from his shop on the station, but surely those funds are severely depleted now.

“You look-” Julian begins, but his words falter when Garak raises his eye ridges. He clears his throat, cheeks heating up. “This suits you.”

“I should hope so,” Garak says, mouth sloping into a teasing grin. “What use is a tailor that cannot make his own clothes?”

“Yes, but this is, well, its exquisite!” Julian says, unable to ever simply close his mouth. Unable to not let the matter lie. However, there is some reward because he sees the way Garak’s scales and neck ridges darken. It’s subtle, but there.

“Doc-tor”—and there’s that Cardassian emphasis— “we will be late if you don’t attend to your matters.”

Julian grins, quite unable to keep his eyes off of Garak as he heads inside. He nearly walks into the screen door and ends up sprawled all over Garak’s meticulously hand-woven rug. He’s still so driven to distraction that even when he gets out of the shower, he fails to notice the folded pile of clothes on his bed until he sits right next to them. When his fingers graze over them in the dark room, he frowns.

He calls for lights and his eyes widen, fingers carding through the cloth. It’s a light material, low thread-count that is cut to maximize the design, but also keep the wearer cool. Julian thinks he can’t possibly wear it, the way it drapes too lovely for him. He can’t possibly accept, it feels like too much. This was not made on the station, it couldn’t have been.

Julian feels his throat dry, blinking. He figures he should at least try it on.

It is, by far, the most comfortable thing he’s worn since coming to the planet. There is very little difference he can tell from being nude. The piece drapes and hangs, allowing for breeze to billow out the fabric in pockets. The neckline frees out his chest, cloth criss-crossing from each shoulder down to a drawn in waist of the typical Cardassian fashion. His pants are not close-cut, they drop low and loose until they wrap around his ankles. It’s all in varying shades of brass and tan, and Julian can’t avoid the comparison to dusky Cardassian terrain.

He steps outside on bare feet, quiet, and watches Garak look out on the district for a few moments before he clears his throat, fingers tangling and untangling nervously. Garak turns on his heel and there’s just something about how the purpling sky reflects off of his scales, the way he’s poised, that makes Julian ache. Garak should have been a dancer, should have been allowed to do something other than crawl through airshafts and jeffries tubes, and yet there is something of that—of the anticipation between the beating legs, the pulse high in one’s ears as they run, and then: leap. They are both still, across from each other, waiting for the leap.

“Much better than your uniform,” Garak says, crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes as he smiles. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Julian barks out a laugh, reedy and faltering. He ducks his head away from Garak’s gaze as he slips into his sandals. “It’s certainly much more forgiving of the heat.”

“It’s Denobulan silk,” Garak says, looking at Julian askance as he joins him at the balustrade. “I never had cause to use it on the station—too temperamental.”

“It’s very good work, as usual.” Julian leans forward, elbows on the rail and eyes squinting to a close when a sandy breeze passes through.

“But?” Garak says, and he shifts so that he’s facing Julian, hip against the rail.

“Did you really have it left over?” Julian turns his face up to look at him. He’s much better at reading Garak now, but he’s still largely uncertain if looking at him will clarify anything at all. There are so few moments where Garak shows genuine surprise—genuine emotion at all.

“Really, Doctor, does it matter?” Garak says, mouth sloping in that indulgent grin that both frustrates Julian and makes an unfortunate well of affection surge forward. He controls the desire to let himself smile and reaches over, fingers on Garak’s inner wrist. Garak’s gaze sharpens and his neck ridges flare. There’s a minute shift of his shoulders, a snake-like grace in it, and Julian knows he has his attention.

“My hospital commission isn’t much,” Julian murmurs. “I don’t want you spending more than is necessary. You’ve already let me overstay my welcome at your expense.”

“If I did not want to host you, trust me, my dear, you would know.” Garak bows his head briefly, acknowledging Julian’s words but dismissing them all the same. “Now, I believe the festivities are about to begin.”

Garak offers Julian his arm and, after a moment, Julian accepts. It still worries him. They have such limited rations. Garak already has lost some of his mass. Whenever Julian comments on it, Garak laughs it off and says it’s for the best, at his age. Julian worries.

 


 

Cardassian festivities are, surprisingly, a lively affair. Julian doesn’t know if this is because of the reform, or if they were always like that. If Garak’s expression is anything to go by—titivating between nostalgic and quietly delighted—they’ve always been this way. The previous year, the planet had been too devastated for anyone to celebrate. It’s not as if they’ve come a long way. Julian is still often called away to the northern continents for famine and sanitation-related illnesses. However, plant life is thriving once more and, in turn, so are the crops. The terraforming crews had worked ceaselessly during the months following the bombings. They’re only just starting to see the results now.

It’s a perfect time to celebrate, Julian supposes, First Harvest just completed.

The main road of the district has been cleaned up for the occasion, any remnants of rubble removed. Children run across the uneven cobblestones with streamers in their hands. The vendors have set up at either side of the road, light from the fire stoves throwing everything in a warm orange haze. The artisans have set up displays as well: wooden figures whittled, fabric dolls, elaborate paper kites, and other baubles.

It’s as Julian’s examining a wind chime, a story has been carved into each round clay piece, that he realizes he’s lost track of Garak. It takes Julian a bit to catch sight of him again, and he knows it is only because Garak allows him. If he wished to, Julian has no doubt that Garak could make himself invisible in the plainest and barest of rooms. There is little subtlety to the way Garak parts the crowd like a great black ship, moving easily with barely a glance around him. Julian finds it hardest to look away from Garak at all times, but especially when the more…inhuman traits show their hand. Julian sees many more of them these days, the way Garak’s allowed his claws to grow in; the way he leaves his tail uncovered. It’s the gestures, however, that capture Julian the most.

Garak tilts his snout up and scents the air the closer he gets to Julian, trying to place him and Julian has to bite back a smile. Garak has a smile of his own when he arrives, though it is sheepish rather than fond. In his hand, spilling across his fingers, is a leaking paper cup of kanar. From a pocket in his robe, he takes out two ikiri buns and passes one over. It’s warm and fresh when Julian bites into it. He can’t help the low, pleased sound he makes.

“Oh, it is good to have unreplicated food,” Julian says, leaning close to be heard over the crowd and the music. Garak accommodates him easily, guiding him by the elbow until they’re no longer in the crush of the crowd.

“The kanar is… subpar, but it is to be expected,” Garak says with a small moue of distaste. Most of the kanar left over from before the bombings is long gone. These haven’t had any time at all to age, Julian imagines.

“I, ah, rather like it,” Julian admits with a small laugh. Aged kanar, sweet and syrupy, is not his preferred drink of choice. “It’s lighter on the tongue, almost like a champagne.”

“Contrary as ever, Doctor.” Garak rolls his eyes, but the affection is there.

They find a place to sit, a promontory occupied by families and couples where they have the best view of the small district pond. Children, down by the shore, are racing their paper boats. Above, kites tangle and dive, soar high up and join the clouds. The music swells sweet, echoes out to the hills.

The lights reflect off of Garak’s face. It’s an expression that gives Julian pause. That makes him stare and linger. Garak’s turned half-away from him, looking over the marketplace and the crowd with honest, open, quiet contentment. He’s relaxed as he can be, shoulders sloping and eyes heavy-lidded. If Julian pressed closer. If he dipped his fingers under the collar of Garak’s dark and handsome suit.

 Julian knocks his knee against Garak’s and when Garak turns, it is with the softest smile Julian’s ever seen on him. Toothy, too crooked and imperfect.

“I didn’t take you for someone superstitious,” Julian says, leaning in until there’s just Garak. The odd shampoo he uses, and the wood oil on his scales. Garak frowns, mouth wrinkling in confusion.

“I am not,” he says.

“Isn’t a celebration in hopes for a good equinox a little superstitious?”

The understanding in Garak’s face is followed by an amused smile. He shakes his head slowly, strands of hair falling away from where they’ve been neatly tucked, hanging in his face so distractingly.

“Wrong again,” Garak says. “A celebration keeps morale high. Happy citizens keep a nation running.”

“Right,” Julian says. “It’s all for the sake of the State.”

“Well,” Garak says as he glances at Julian. “There are some, surely, that have more…unorthodox understandings of the purpose, but there is reason in this too.”

“You’ve got it all figured out; even your pleasures,” Julian says, slipping down to lie on his back, looking up into clear skies. How exhausting, he thinks. “All in favor of the State.”

“Some things are more clear than others.” Garak lies down next to him, his shoulder against Julian’s. It would be easy to reach over, to run his hands over Garak’s well-worn gardener’s hands. Gardener, tailor, interrogator, citizen of the state—how many tallies those hands have.

“But things have changed now?” Julian asks, and it’s so small, so stupidly open that he thinks there’s no pretending at all. It’s all in his voice, in the way his body strains toward Garak’s.

“Yes,” Garak says, quiet and musing. “Things have changed. War changes everything”

 


 

It turns out that there is little difference between newly-bottled and aged kanar, at least to Julian’s discernment. It’s not very good discernment at the moment, but he’s pretty sure he can make a good judgement on this front at least. He stumbles but catches himself at the last moment. Except. He hasn’t quite caught himself. He’s leaning, pressed against something solid and warm and—oh, Garak.

Julian grins, wide and silly, as he presses more of his weight into Garak’s side.

“My dear, this is possibly the most ineffective way for us to keep moving,” Garak says, but there’s no irritation behind the words. To be fair, Julian can’t really concentrate on the words themselves. It’s the sounds of them, the warmth of them, the gentle cadence of them.

“Hmm, thought you liked me when I’m, uhhh—complicated,” Julian says, gesticulating with big sweeps of the arm. “You think I’m too simple.”

“Being ineffective does not imply being complicated,” Garak points out. Julian waves his hand dismissively and shakes his head.

Semantics, Garak,” he drawls, leaning his head against Garak’s shoulder. From there, it’s much easier to look up, to see the way the moons gleam on Garak’s scales, the way his third eyelid—so transparent and quick—moistens Garak’s eye. “It’s. They’re kind of the same? With you, I mean. If you weren’t so complicated, you would be less ineffective.”

Garak tilts his head down, wide blue eye fixed on him. “I fail to see how I’ve been ineffective.” He has his hand under Julian’s arm, keeping him held up and close as he guides them through the front door. Julian tries his best (honest!) to help Garak. Or, well, he intends to, but it’s so much easier to simply let Garak do things like help him through the house, or push him onto the bed. The very soft bed.

Julian replies, face pressed into the duvet with a sigh.

“Didn’t catch that,” Garak says, laughter in his voice. Julian realizes Garak’s sat on the bed. That’s nice. Garak’s never done that before. Garak’s never been in Julian’s room the whole time he’s been here. Julian never wants him to leave.

“Said you’re terribly ineffective when it comes to me,” Julian says, curling closer to Garak and looking up at him through his lashes. He can be so imposing, so terrifying. Julian’s used to looking down at him, but it’s easy to see how someone might be terrified of him, the way he looks down the line of his snout. He is humanoid, but by no means human. Julian wouldn’t find him intimidating for what he is—he’s a doctor, he’s seen and treated many strange species—but Garak is a master at utilizing the things at his disposal. Garak could be frightening by simply shifting one shoulder.

Julian raises his hand, dragging the pads of his fingers over the smooth, thin and flexible new scales at the underside of Garak’s chin. He traces a line down to the hollow of Garak’s throat. It’s so frail and delicate there, the pale scales barely affording any protection at all.

“I love it when you do this,” Julian murmurs. Garak watches him wordlessly.

“What?” He says finally, indulgently.

“Go still,” Julian says. “You go so impossibly still whenever you need to… rethink. When you’re thrown off balance.”

“You like that?” Garak asks, neither confirming nor denying the fact—slippery bastard.

“It mean’s I’ve surprised you,” Julian says. “Perhaps even impressed you. I like doing that.” Julian’s fingers stumble over Garak’s jawline, over his aural ridges. He pushes the stray locks behind Garak’s ear. Garak’s hand grasps his, pulls it away before Julian can dip down and touch a single neck ridge.

“If I were still every time you surprised me, there would be few times you’d see me in motion.” Garak raises his brows and smiles down at Julian, but there is something strained in it. Julian laughs, presses his face against Garak’s thigh.

The comment makes him warm, makes him feel so restless and so uncomfortable within himself. The surge of emotion is so great, so undeniable and unignorable inside his throat, pressing down on his lungs. It’s like he can’t breathe when Garak pays him the even minimal passing compliment. He feel nauseous and light headed—perhaps because of the kanar—and like he doesn’t know whether he’ll be sick or do something impulsive. Because he doesn’t want to be sick, and he’s tired of this impasse, he does the most recklessly, painfully, heart-on-his-sleeve human thing he can do. The most disgustingly honest and naïve thing Garak would find. Julian gives in to sentiment.

“I guess you’d go so still if I kissed you one day,” Julian murmurs, words near-choked by the way his pulse trembles in his ears. He feels it beat so loud, so hard against his sternum that the bed must vibrate with it. That Garak must hear it, feel it, scent it. “I’ve thought about it. When I come home and you’re sitting at the window, just kissing the day from your teeth.”

Garak says nothing, and if Julian’s eyes were open, his face would probably betray nothing. But he doesn’t shift or move for the longest time, and before Julian fades off with the warmth and weight of alcohol, he realizes that again, there is utter stillness. 

 


 

Julian wakes when the heat of the suns starts to make him turn in his sheets. It’s mid-morning, and his mouth is dry. His head doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it should, would if he were not augmented. Still, he’s grateful for what is no doubt Garak’s foresight. There’s a glass of water on the nightstand and a hypo. He’s quick to take advantage of both, and soon he feels far less queasy and unsteady.

If it were any human counterpart, perhaps they would not remember the events of the night before, but it is Julian, so, inevitably, he does remember. He remembers everything with full, mortifying clarity. He’s not ashamed, exactly. By cardassian standards he’s been extremely overt about Garak even before their conversation last night. The thing is, though Garak would hate to hear it, Garak is predictable sometimes. In this case, Julian isn’t so sure he can predict what  Garak will do, regardless of his feelings. What little information Julian has about Garak and relationships is, frankly, not of much use in this situation.

Garak doesn’t startle when Julian shuffles into the living room, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. In fact, Garak doesn’t look in his direction at all. Not even when Julian’s standing right at the table. Garak’s looking out the window, statuesque. His hair curls around his jaw, feathery and dark against his long neck. Julian wants to kiss him. Julian wants to snag his fingers in Garak’s hair and pull him up close until he’s breathless, flushed, and they’re grappling for purchase on each other, pulling in or away from one another.

Julian curls his hands into fists. “Good morning,” he says, looking out the window resolutely. It’s shaping up to be a lovely day—bodes well for the summer and the tilling of new soil.

“Good morning, Julian,” Garak says, gaze sliding over to Julian. It’s embarrassing, really, the effect it all has on him. Garak’s voice, raspy with sleep, and the mere usage of his name. It’s so rare, and all the more effective for it. Garak turns his head fully, brows raised in that bland and affable way—the “tailor”: polite, detached, serviceable.

“Damnit, Garak,” Julian hisses, irritated. The corner of Garak’s mouth tips up into a smile of genuine amusement. It soon spreads, Garak’s gaze chiding and beguiling in equal measures. He’s handsomer than he has any right to be, under the suns’ double luminance. Julian feels mounting annoyance and futility and, small, uncertain, depressing doubt. Perhaps he’s read it wrong. For years, perhaps he’s simply been projecting, or, more cruel and devastating yet, perhaps Garak has known and simply found it amusing.

“I haven’t seen a day so fresh in weeks,” Garak says, blinking slow.

“You, speaking of the weather?” Julian gives a weak chuckle, feels his eyes go hot. That tight constriction of the throat—it takes everything for him to breathe. “You’ve never mentioned it once in two years. Didn’t think it of interest to you.”

“I think,” Garak says, slow and sharp. “You assume many things don’t interest me, just because I don’t mention them.”

Julian holds Garak’s gaze as the tense moments stretch. Julian feels himself quiver, feels the way his legs threaten to give out and he doesn’t know if he wants to run or throw himself forward into what is shaping up to be a scalding cauldron of hope. This can be nothing but an answer, right? It can be nothing but an invitation.

How am I supposed to know you have any interest if you never say?” Julian hates the way his voice is barely there. The way it scrapes against his throat, harshly puttering out in volume until the words crack. It’s terribly revealing, all of it. He doesn’t bother trying to hide the way his jaw trembles, but he can’t keep looking at Garak because what if he’s wrong. What if Garak watches this and thinks you’ve not learned anything at all.

“Julian,” Garak says.

“Julian,” Garak repeats.

“Julian, look at me,” Garak says. He grabs hold of one of Julian’s hands and gently pries it from it’s fisted grip. He presses Julian’s hand to the side of his face, cupping his jaw with it. Julian looks, slowly, haltingly. He follows the long line of his arm, his fingers pressing against the smooth scales of Garak’s face, the round slope of Garak’s nose, the blue of the spoon on his forehead.

“I’m having thoughts,” Julian says, his thumb dragging across Garak’s cheek, dipping against the fold of his chin, grazing just at the precipice of his lower lip. The words are more warning than anything else. His gaze flickers from his thumb up to meet Garak’s. “Like the ones I’ve had often. Like the one I told you of.”

Garak blinks slow, pleased and easy as his smile, cheeky and teasing. “Are you going to surprise me?”

What happens next is that there’s no surprise. Garak’s face cupped between Julians hands: sleep-soft mouth against mouth, the frenetic pulse between them, the wet slide, the tight pull, the way Garak’s hands dip under Julian’s shirt, fingers digging into his hips and pulling him down, closer, bruisingly tight. The whisper of cloth against cloth, soft, rumpled, chair scraping against the floor, Garak crowded against the wall, and the hands again, the kisses that don’t last but cannot stop: the breaking and coming together until breath goes ragged, goes high, goes reedy. Too-thin atmosphere, humid heat, Garak’s unsteady breaths against his neck—Julian is dizzy with it. Julian, wanting to melt into the heat of him. Julian leaning his head against Garak’s and breathing. It’s unrepentant, this, the way desire and elation move through them. The window filters in the light. There’s a coffee cup on the table, still warm.

Julian’s fingers card and pet through Garak’s hair, unwilling to loosen, unwilling to give just a fraction of the closeness so newly allowed. Garak’s hands on his waist are similarly firm. You and I, and something else, Julian thinks. The heat, the light, spilling on the table, spills further. Light, inside Garak, passing through Julian. Heat, across Julian’s face. Heat in the press of it against Garak’s. An incredible lightness of being, of a sudden.

See, it was not an ‘if,’ the inhabitation of space. It was a ‘when’ of carefully placed things. The when is now, Julian thinks.

“I was wrong,” Julian says, presses it against Garak’s neck. He breathes it, heavy as it is, heavy as the air is. He breathes into the space between them, willing it to stick between his teeth. He’s kissed the day from Garak’s mouth. Massive, it sits just between his own lips. He can taste the summer, he thinks. “You didn’t still.”

“You didn’t surprise me,” Garak counters with a small laugh and Julian’s stomach swings, it twists and tangles. They’ll have hours of this. Hours for surprises.

For now, the wet laugh, half-hidden behind an ear. For now, Julian coming to a stand, kissing and being kissed. Holding and being held.