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Every now and then Garak paid him exquisite little compliments that compared some feature of his to the landscapes of Cardassia. The color of his skin, warm as the Shiroka Mountains during sunrise. His limbs long and lithe like the proud central towers of the capitol city. The shine of his eyes a rival to the dark Reflective Waters of Tketh. Garak spun allusions with deceptively careless ease, weaving them into conversations with such subtle grace that there were times when Julian felt the lingering pleasure of the words long before he’d even processed what exactly had been said.

Sometimes the comparisons were more than a direct likening to the scenery -- sometimes they were bound up in Garak’s memories and tactile remembrances of his world. Like an offhand remark about the wave of Julian's hair, looking as though it had been ruffled by the hot winds of the Nirallen Great Plains. A gentle aside during dinner about the expression on his face, serene as an evening spent away from the city, watching the stars. Or a throaty murmur after sex, likening his scent to the woodsy nighttime musk of a summer garden he’d once known.

Julian never really knew what to make of these compliments. The words were sweet and the tone often wistful, so he usually chalked them up to Garak’s homesickness, an exile’s own little way of sharing his distant homeland with his Human lover.

One evening Julian had taken a little more wine than was his habit and was feeling uncharacteristically poetic. And so he sprawled out beside Garak on the couch and waxed rhapsodic about the skies on Earth, comparing the color of his lover’s eyes to midday over the Pacific Ocean, when water and sky merge seamlessly into a clear endless blue.

Garak just stared at him, his expression opaque.

Unfazed by the non-response, the smoky tang of Syrah on his tongue making him bold, Julian started in talking about ravens: their black glossy feathers and the complex system of symbolic meaning they’d developed in Earth’s folklore and literature – tricksters, emblems of wisdom, harbingers of death – and did he know that collectively they weren’t called a flock, but a conspiracy? And that invoking the raven was a darkly lyric way of describing the hair of a beloved? His beloved being a clever sort he didn’t bother to verbalize the connection, but he did twist a few strands of Garak’s black hair in his fingers for emphasis.

Really warmed up now, he plucked at Garak’s coat and observed that the warm hues in the fabric of were complimentary to the Cardassian’s cool grey skin in a way that reminded him of autumn at Starfleet Academy, of strolling through the tree-lined Presidio and crunching golden leaves under his feet while watching the late afternoon fog slowly cover the San Francisco Bay in a pale blanket of silver.

When he’d finished and gone quiet, he was met with silence like an abyss and remembered there was a reason he’d become a doctor and not a poet. But just before he could begin to regret his words, Garak blinked quickly and breathed in sharply, reaching out a hand to stroke his cheek.

"My dear," he whispered.

What followed was a night of the simplest, most tender lovemaking that Julian had ever known. For once, Garak was so poignantly unguarded with both his body and his spirit, silently offering of himself with an openness and pliancy that was nearly heartbreaking. Julian felt as though he’d been given a profound gift, but he had to admit he wasn’t entirely sure why.

When he woke the next morning Garak had already gone, but an old leather-bound book lay open on the table. His lover was never careless with his belongings, and Julian recognized at once that he’d been left a message. The page was open to a poem in high Kardasi, a language which he didn't read well at all, but he noted the author and opus number and told himself he would get back to it soon.

But a lot happened after that. The Dominion invasion. Fleeing the station. His helpless anger over the grisly realities of war; distancing himself from his friends, from Garak. Regaining the station. Poor Ziyal, gone too soon. And later, Jadzia -- dear Jadzia, dead. Losing himself in other, less complicated relationships as Garak grew more and more impatient with him, their quiet affair unraveling. Section 31, Odo’s illness, Garak flying off to help liberate his people. Sweet, befuddled Ezri and the possibility of a stable life amid the chaos and loss. And finally the war was over and Garak departed for his ruined home, Julian left feeling more than a little bewildered by the bitter depth of his former lover’s disappointment with him.

Ezri became less and less befuddled as each month went by, every step she made toward self-assuredness taking her farther away from him, and at last the day came when her confidence outstripped his and she asked him when he was going to try and understand himself. When he asked what she meant, she gently smiled and told him she was leaving, and that she hoped he would figure out what he really wanted in time to find real happiness.

And so some time after that he found himself sprawled out alone on his couch, having taken more wine than was his habit, and remembering a poem he’d been given that he'd never made the time to revisit.

It took him nearly a week to translate it and another two to think about the meaning, but only because he was ashamed to face what it implied. Then late one evening Jake Sisko joined him on the Promenade for a drink and they gazed out at the wormhole, their conversation settling on the topic of words. Jake was struggling with his current piece and in a blaze of artistic pique he argued that the act of writing words down was a commitment stronger and more binding than speaking them aloud, and Julian found himself thinking that he couldn’t possibly disagree more.

He called the O'Briens the next day. Miles was sitting outside with Molly and Yoshi, who greeted him with glee before going back to their noisy play in the merciful cool of Cardassia’s early evening. Julian politely asked after Keiko’s efforts in the reconstruction but he really couldn't get the pleasantries out of the way fast enough. Coming right to the point, he asked whether he could come and stay with them for a while. Miles readily agreed and asked for how long.

Julian took a moment and looked past his friend’s shoulder. The Cardassian sun was setting, and twilight brushed the brown sky with dusky gray. A constellation curved around a silver-blue moon and spiraled its serpentine fall to the horizon, touching the bare tawny hills.

He smiled. "As long as it takes."