Julian looked up from the report he'd been reading, smiling when he saw that it was Benjamin. "Captain, what a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?"
Ben inclined his head, hands clasped at the small of his back. "Just came by to drop something off." He stepped forward, extending his right arm to reveal what he'd been holding out of sight.
Julian set down the report, half-rising from his seat to take the small white rectangle. "What is it?"
Ben's teeth flashed white. "Open it and see."
Julian's expression was intensely curious as he fingered the material. He tilted his head to the side as he considered. "This feels distinctly like plant fiber. The type that pre-computerized societies use for writing, if I'm not mistaken."
"You are not."
"Where in the quadrant did you get this?" Julian said, looking at it a little wonderingly.
"Replicated fresh this morning."
Julian still looked baffled. "But why?"
"Because, Doctor," Ben said, his smile growing a little wider in a way that implied he was enjoying a wonderfully extended joke, "when I do things, I like to do them right. I'll leave you to it."
Ben turned on his heel before Julian could respond, yelling out "open it and see!" when Julian was about to call after him asking once more what it was.
"How mysterious," Julian said, tearing open the seal carefully.
"Dinner?" Miles repeated, as if he said it again the universe would be obligated to make some sense of it.
"Dinner," Julian said, waving the invitation. "In his quarters. What the hell could it mean?"
"That he wants to have dinner with you?"
"Oh, well, if it were that simple I wouldn't need to come to you for advice, now would I!" Julian said, throwing the invitation down with exasperation. "I mean, surely if it were some professional matter, he'd just tell me to come to his office while I'm on duty, right?"
Miles nodded. "Generally what he does with me."
"Precisely. And prior to this, the Captain has made almost no efforts to socialize with me in an informal context."
"What about the rafting trip in the holosuite?"
Julian shook his head. "That doesn't count. That was my suggestion and there's no telling why he agreed to it."
"He wanted to go rafting?" Miles hazarded.
"But don't you see? The fact of the matter is, Miles, that even if the Captain secretly hated me, he's far too skilled a leader to ever let on, and while there are no Starfleet regulations dictating our off-hours interpersonal interactions per se, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that in his position he feels a certain pressure to maintain amicable relationships with his senior staff for the sake of command-level cohesion."
Miles blinked, grunted, and took a large, prolonged sip of his beer. "Julian, look. Best of times? You're hard to follow, but I make do. Right now? I've got to tell you, you've gone right off into the deep end." He refilled Julian's beer with a meaningful look.
"Perhaps you're right," Julian said, laughing a little and taking a sip of his beer.
"That's the spirit," Miles said, clapping him on the shoulder, looking relieved.
They drank companionably for a few moments.
"But has he ever invited you to his quarters for a private dinner?" Julian said, and Miles heaved a sigh, signaling Quark for another round.
"I ceased listening to you long ago, Doctor." Worf said, deadpan. "As this situation neither concerns me nor can I see any problem other than your irrational mental fixation, I see no reason to waste my energy continuing to counsel you when my earlier efforts appeared to have no effect whatsoever."
"Well," Julian said, miffed. "If that's how you feel."
"That is how I feel."
"Do you suppose Jadzia would mind wasting her time bestowing her precious counsel upon my poor, irrationally-affixed mind?"
Worf considered. "I see no reason why not."
Julian smiled insincerely. "You have been such a help."
Worf nodded. "You're welcome."
"Why don't you just ask him?" Nerys said, sliding her tray out the of the replicator and shooting him a puzzled look.
"Ask him? You must be joking." To the replicator, he said, "Andorian tea, hot, and three Ghennilian pastries, sweet."
"Why not? He's really not that bad, once you get to know him." Once Julian had his order, they walked over to a table and sat down across from each other.
"And how do you propose that I phrase the question? 'May I ask what your ulterior motive is for generously offering to share a home cooked meal with me?'"
Nerys smiled. "You do have a way with words, Doctor."
Julian sighed, pulling the invitation out of his pocket and opening it. He pondered it for a few seconds, and then held it out to Nerys. "Here. Maybe you can make sense of it."
Sipping her tea with one hand, she made a "why not?" expression and took it with the other, reading as she drank.
"Hmmm," she concluded.
"Hmmm?" Julian said, leaning forward.
"I have no idea," she told him, smiling wryly. "Like I said, if it's really bothering you that much, you should just ask the Captain yourself."
Julian dropped his forehead onto his hands, groaning.
"But," Nerys continued, almost sounding a little reluctant to encourage him.
His head perked up instantly. "What? You know something I don't, don't you?"
"No," she said firmly, fixing him with a look until he subsided. "But -- and this is just a feeling, and I've never had dinner alone with the Captain, so don't make too much of this -- maybe it's Emissary business."
Julian's entire forehead wrinkled. "Emissary business?"
"Maybe he had a vision about you."
Julian blinked. "About me?"
She shrugged. "The Prophets don't just touch those who follow them. We're all living in their shadow, being here."
Julian's eyes were wide, and his mind racing behind them was almost visible behind them. "That would explain why he didn't simply request me in his office."
"It would be a much more personal matter than that, yes."
Julian's tone was musing now, warming to the idea. "And that might also explain the formality of the invitation -- and the intentional ambiguity of his wording!"
"Now, don't get too excited, I could be --"
"No, no, don't you see, Nerys? This must be it! There's no other possible explanation!" Julian was already getting out of his seat, his pastries untouched on his plate, turning and starting to walk in the direction of his quarters.
"I could be wrong!" Nerys called after him, but her tone implied she knew the futility of it even as she did so.
"No need to be modest, Nerys! You're a genius!" He said, waving and smiling reassuringly.
"Wish I could say the same for you," she muttered to herself, watching him go with a shake of her head.
"Julian! Where's the fire?" Jadzia asked, stopped him in the hall.
"Fire? There's no -- oh, I see. I need to get dressed for my dinner with the Captain tonight, no time to waste."
"You're having dinner with Sisko?" She said, eyebrows shooting up in surprise.
"Worf didn't tell you? I thought he -- well, probably best he didn't, anyway, I'm sure he would have made me sound in dire need of psychological evaluation." Julian laughed. "Can you imagine? Me, in need of psychological evaluation?"
Jadzia tried not to smile. "Of course not."
"Right, well, would love to stay and chat, but as I said, I need to --"
"Hang on." Jadzia kept her hand on Julian's shoulder, stopping him from disappearing. She spoke slowly, as if every word had great significance. "You're having dinner with Sisko."
Julian nodded, equally slowly, though he clearly wasn't picking up any of the subtext. "Yes."
"He's cooking you dinner? From scratch?"
"Didn't I just say that?"
Jadzia worked a little harder at suppressing her smile. "Just double checking."
"I can only imagine what sort of vision the Prophets might have sent him about me," Julian said, his eyes already a million miles away. "Well, best not to speculate. I'll find out firsthand in four hours."
"You'll -- you think -- that he..." Jadzia trailed off, her jaw closing with a distinctive click.
"What will I wear?" Julian mused to himself, tapping a finger against his lips. He wandered off, muttering about a shirt he'd bought on Risa last year, how it might go with the Bajoran pants Nerys had given him for the mid-year festival.
"Wow," Jadzia said, watching him go, her smile the very personification of amused.
"My God," Julian said, dropping his napkin on the table. "That was the most incredible meal I've ever eaten."
"You're too kind," Ben said.
"Truly," Julian said, his hand coming to rest on his slightly distended stomach. "I think my tastebuds all simultaneously expired from rapture."
Ben laughed, warm and rich. "In my kitchen, flattery will get you everywhere."
"Wonderful," Julian said, smiling, his eyes crinkling at the corner, "there's plenty more where that came from."
"Once that settles, there's pecan rum pie in the warmer. I also brought some '68 Brandy back from Earth last visit that I've just been looking for an excuse to crack open."
"Well, Cap --" Julian hesitated, and Ben inclined his head, a yes, you may, so Julian soldiered on, "Well, Benjamin. If your plan is to murder me by means of palatial overstimulation, I would say that you very well may succeed."
"Mmm, killing with kindness," Ben said, thoughtfully. "I do like the sound of it. Though it'd be pesky to have to find another Chief Medical Officer after all this time we've spent breaking you in."
"From what I hear, the holographic ones do come highly recommended," Julian said. "But I like to think I come with my benefits, as well."
Ben smiled slowly. "That you do."
Julian blinked at him.
"Time to kick off our shoes," Ben transitioned smoothly, gesturing them towards the couch. Julian followed, looking relieved, on more sure footing. Ben poured them tumblers of brandy and they sat side by side, Julian folding one of his legs up under him, Ben leaning back against the armrest, facing Julian.
"You said you've been working on a more effective vaccine for the Hysnval colonists?" Ben said.
"Oh, yes, I've made some incredible progress since I discovered that their gene sequence responded well to the retrovirus therapy..." Julian said, going on to detail the last few months of work, and Ben listened attentively, nodding and refilling their tumblers when they went empty.
"I take it this wasn't about the Prophets," Julian said, tipping his glass towards Ben. He was nicely flushed, limbs splayed out on the couch, relaxed and loose.
"The Prophets?" Ben said.
"Well, you see, I was trying to figure out what the, well, what the purpose of all this was. Social? Professional? Somewhere in between? And Nerys suggested that it might be Emissary related."
Ben threw his head back, laughing.
Julian rolled his head along the backrest of the couch until he was facing Ben, who was above him, still sitting upright. "Then you didn't have a vision about me?"
Ben looked at him for a moment. When Julian didn't look away, he raised his hand, fingertips skimming the side of Julian's neck, right along his racing pulse point. "Oh, I've had some visions of you."
Julian swallowed, his muscles jumping under Ben's touch. "Have you?"
Ben's smile was full of promise. He leaned in, fingertips grazing upwards until they notched against the hollow of Julian's cheek and the edge of his jaw. "I could tell you about them, some time."
"I'd like that," Julian whispered, angling up, and their lips met halfway, infused with the spice of their meal and the slight sting of brandy.
"You're a culinary murderer," Julian accused, as he ate bits of sweet pecan off of Ben's fingers, nipping at Ben's knuckle with a slight growl.
Ben, straddling the prone and naked Julian's hips, grinned unrepetently. "Oh, I'm going to like cooking for you."
He set the plate down on the sheets, leaning down and kissing Julian, mingling the taste between them.