Really, it was very nearly a perfect night.
The little breeze that whispered in from the tiny window near the ceiling was warm, last-gasp-of-summer warm on this early September night. It carried with it a hint of the city outside, of the little border of flowers around the apartment building, of car exhaust, of humidity and heat and all the things a summer night was. Remember, it whispered, and it slipped lazily around the two of them sitting there, it teased their hair and tickled their necks, it wrapped itself around their words…
…no matter how prosaic those words might be.
Julian blinked, the can half-way to his lips. “What’s wrong with beer?” He quirked his brows at the man across the table.
Said man looked vaguely disappointed in a mildly amused sort of way, which would no doubt be hard to do if he wasn’t Elim Garak. “It simply isn’t the sort of thing one should pair with this dish.”
“Oh? Do tell.” And meanwhile he could take a sip of his actually very delicious and extremely well-earned beer, ahhh…
Elim steepled his fingers and rested them against his lips, frowning at him. “I somehow can’t imagine you’re particularly interested.”
“Oh, no, I’m all ears. Educate me, do.”
“Very well.” A tolerant blink. “With kemprel, especially roasted with tomatoes, one wants something lighter, sweeter.”
“I feel more educated already.” More beer. “And what, exactly, would you suggest?”
“Well, there’s certainly a place for a light kanar—”
That netted him a less tolerant blink. “Really, Julian.”
He shrugged. “All I’m saying is that I, myself, would probably not pair kemprel with fish.”
Elim’s mouth pulled tight in amused exasperation. “Fish.”
“That’s what it tastes like.”
“I see. Tell me: would you also say that Idanian spice pudding tastes like vanilla?”
Damn. A teachable moment. All right, point. “Okay. Only mostly fish, then. Fish with layers.”
“I despair of your ever appreciating subtlety in any form, my dear.” Elim cast his gaze downward, mockingly despondent, the ass, and he had to suppress an urge to stick out his tongue.
“I can’t help it if I don’t like kanar.”
Elim sighed. “I suppose not. Very well, then.” He paused, thoughtful, tapping one finger on the table. “What about a light red wine? Perhaps a Pinot?”
Oh, God, something he knew even less about. “I think I’ll stick to beer.”
“Come now, what could you have against wine?” Now Elim sounded a trifle scandalized.
“Sour grapes aren’t really my thing.”
“Sour grapes—!” Definitely scandalized. “My dear, what kind of wine have you been drinking?”
The bubbles tickled his tongue as he swallowed. “I don’t know… white? Red? The stuff one gets at weddings—”
“Oh, no, no. That’s hardly wine at all.” Elim frowned and shook his head. “Forgive me; I jumped to conclusions.”
“I’m not sure you did—I mean, I don’t like wine—”
“No, my dear, you don’t like bad wine. No more so do I. But this, this you’ll like…” and as he spoke Elim pushed himself back from the table and let his fork fall next to his still-untasted kemprel.
Oh, this wasn’t what he wanted to do, he just wanted to eat and relax… “Don’t waste good wine on me, Garak, I’m really very happy with my Mudd’s—”
“Nonsense.” Elim was already pulling a bottle out from—oh, God, was that…?
“Have you really got a little wine rack in the broom closet?”
Elim tutted absently. “Really, there is so little space in these apartments…” Now he held the bottle up to the light. “Ah, yes. Yes, you’ll like this.”
On pain of death. Or at least embarrassment. “You know, you really don’t have to—”
“Oh, no, my dear, I want to.” Now Elim was rummaging through a drawer. He unearthed a corkscrew with a triumphant ha! and twisted it into the bottle’s mouth with vigour, and Julian watched in mild dismay as he tugged the cork free. Bottle dangling from one hand, he reached up into a cupboard and came down with two awfully delicate-looking glasses, which were set down on the table with a pleased flourish.
Julian eyed his glass with deep mistrust. “The second I touch that, I’m going to break it.”
“Oh, come now,” and Elim’s voice was abstracted as he examined the bottle, “where are your surgeon’s hands?” Now he poured, and light red wine danced into Julian’s glass, swirling as the level rose. It was pretty, at least. Elim poured himself a glass as well, sat back down, and set the bottle gently down on the table between them. Cherta’nook, said the label. That meant… “pretty water.” Probably. His Bajoran was spotty.
“Please.” Elim smiled at him, waiting for him to try the wine, and oh, God, all right, there was a way to do this, wasn’t there…? But he really had no idea what it was. Best cast himself on the mercy of the court.
“Do I smell it, or swirl it about…?”
“Oh. Well, you can if you like.” Elim looked a bit surprised. “I’d have thought you’d prefer to simply drink.”
“Oh, can I? Great!” That way he could get it over with, and so he pinched the spindly little stem of the glass between tentative fingers, lifted it, tipped a generous splash of wine into his mouth—
Oh. Oh! It wasn’t sour! It wasn’t awful, it was a bit sweet and kind of grapey and mmm, really rather nice, and his eyes widened as he swallowed. “Garak, that’s— That’s good!”
The man’s eyes were practically squeezed shut, he looked so damned pleased with himself. “I’m glad to hear it.”
He sipped again, and actually found himself wishing his mouth didn’t taste of beer. “I didn’t know wine was allowed to be sweet…”
“Wine can be many things. Now, try a bite of your meal.”
Oh, his poor neglected kemprel! It did look very good; Elim was a dab hand with kemprel. He took a bite, smiled as he chewed.
“Mmm… yes, excellent. Excellent!” And it really, really was—the flavour of the wine blended with the light, savoury taste of the kemprel and tomato and whatever other spices Elim had thrown in there. He couldn’t help but grin, mouth covered with one hand.
Elim nodded with smug eyes and cut into his own kemprel, and for a few minutes the conversation flagged, replaced instead by the clinks of cutlery and his own poorly repressed noises of happy enjoyment. God, this was—this was really very good—all right, point to Elim, he’d not tried this particular thing before and once again, yes, he liked it—how did the man know? or maybe he was just lucky?—and was he at the bottom of his glass already? He glanced from it to his plate. More to eat—more to drink?
“Do you think I could have a bit more?” His hand hovered over the bottle. It seemed a bit rude to just go ahead and pour himself some.
Elim’s brows rose. “By all means. But you may wish to—”
“Hmm?” He looked up, glass filled.
Elim’s mouth twitched into a half-smile. “I was going to say that you may wish to slow down somewhat.”
“Oh… sneaks up on one, does it?” He looked at the bottle with new respect. Pretty water, indeed.
“It can. And I’m not certain that ‘flat-out drunk’ is the way you wish to spend your evening.” Elim cut primly into his kemprel, took another bite, and meanwhile Julian was suddenly rather thoughtful.
It had been an awfully long day, after all… lecture all morning, and then the hospital orientation had been fun but also more than a little overwhelming, and he’d been running, running, running all week… would it be so wrong to take a little break?
I should be revising. But he should always be revising, shouldn’t he? And instead he was having dinner with Elim, and it was great, and it was an awful lot like summer out there, wasn’t it, and he felt good… and how often do we have an actual night together, these days?
An actual night, just the two of them, just him and this person who’d become so ridiculously important, this person he really rather thought he might be… um… well, at any rate, it didn’t happen nearly as often as he’d like, certainly. Which wasn’t going to get any better, was it, not with third year looming over him like a wave about to crash down…
The night breeze drifted over him, brought with it the scent of summer, and that settled it.
“Actually, I think it’s very much how I’d like to spend my evening.”
God, seeing Elim’s brows jump was really the very best thing.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Let’s get smashed, Garak.” He leaned forward, grinning, doing his best to look irresistible, come on, let’s play!
All it netted him was incredulous amusement. “That doesn’t sound like a particularly productive way to spend the evening.” Elim forked up another mouthful of food, rather primly, it had to be said.
“Productive? I didn’t realize we had to be productive.” He tilted his head in mock apology. “Have I been wasting your time?”
“Hardly, my dear, but really…”
“Oh, to hell with really.” He grinned as Elim looked up at him, expression censorious.
“’Julian’ nothing. It’s been a hell of a day and I’m tired, and I feel like getting tipsy and foolish, and I’d very much like to do that with you… if you don’t mind my drinking all your wine, that is.” Forgiveness, not permission, yeah, that was more Elim’s style, wasn’t it?
Seemed to be working, because Elim half-smiled. “You’d have to work quite hard to drink all my wine.”
“Oh, have you got lots? Even better!”
“It’s not all wine.”
“If it’s all as good as this stuff, I don’t care what it is.”
Now Elim looked up with amused eyes. “Oh, have we suddenly decided that we trust my taste?”
He laughed. “We have!” And that sounded weirdly Borg-like, so it stopped right away. “I mean… that was rather good, and I’d certainly like to try a few more things, if you’re up for it. What do you say?”
“I could let you sample different types of wine without getting you drunk, Julian.” And Elim was still smiling, but his voice held a sort of… Well, it was almost distaste, wasn’t it. He hadn’t expected that.
“Not just me. You too. Please?”
Elim made a sort of noncommittal noise. Huh. Something there.
Time to fish a bit. “Do you not like getting a bit tipsy, Garak? I’ve seen you drink before…” Hell, I’ve seen you pretty close to plastered. But only once that he could remember… not that he could remember much of that night, actually…
Meanwhile, Elim was rolling his eyes. “I drink when it is appropriate.”
“And is it not appropriate to get drunk with me?”
Elim raised a placating hand. His mouth worked. “It does seem a bit…”
“A bit…?” He raised his brows, widened his eyes, go on.
Elim sighed and put his fork down, spread his hands. “I apologize, but it seems a bit immature, my dear.”
Oh, was that all? “Of course it is. It’s about as immature as one can get.” He shrugged. “I’ve been mature all day. Hell, I’ve been mature all year, and do you know what?”
Elim looked at him, waiting.
This time Elim’s brows made it nearly to his hairline. “I’m not sure I should let you get drunk. Clearly you’re feeling rather obstreperous.”
“Oh, very much so. Describes me to a tee.” Time to try the lean again—he was getting somewhere, he could feel it. “Come on, Garak. Teach me about drinks. We could relax, we could just get silly…”
Oh, really now. “Yes. Silly. I know that you know what it is. I’ve seen you do it. Come on. I tried wine for you and now I like it, look at me,” and he waggled the glass in his hand, pulling a reluctant smile from Elim. “Won’t you try this for me? Let’s be stupid, let’s regret the night, come on, what do you say?”
Elim sighed, rubbed his eyes, but there was a little smile there, ha, got you! “This would hardly be a new experience, my dear… You’ve seen me drunk before.”
Oh, his last gasp, how pitiful. “Yes, and you’ve seen me drunk too, but I’ve never gotten drunk with you, one on one. There’s a difference.”
“Mmm. Aren’t you the slightest bit curious…?” He raised his eyebrows and waited, smiling.
There was a beat, and then Elim sighed again. It sounded like victory. “Am I going to regret this?”
Ha, yes! “Oh, almost certainly, ” and he grinned wide and topped up Elim’s glass with a bit of a flourish. “Don’t worry. You’re in good hands with me.”
“Oh, well. That does change things.” In that silly sort-of-sexy voice, God, the man was ridiculous.
“Don’t you worry—I promise I won’t take advantage of you.”
“Well, then, what is the point?”
* * *