Chapter 1: it was a summer night, the stars were all aligned
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?”
* * *
Chapter 2: we didn't sleep at all, played records all night long
Kardasi translated in hovertext.
He listened to the singer as her voice swayed low, as the instruments buoyed her back up again. Honeyed and warm… “This is really pretty… who is it?”
Leaning back on the sofa next to him, Elim smiled. His eyes were closed as he listened. “This is Matav Alon.”
“She’s good… is she popular in Cardassia?”
Elim’s eyes opened, and his smile went a bit flat. “These days? I really couldn’t say.”
Um. “Of course not. Sorry.” Topic switch. “But I really like the style… this is a bit more relaxed than most Cardassian music, isn’t it…?”
That flat smile suddenly had a bit more dimension. “And what does most Cardassian music sound like, exactly?”
This was one of those trap questions, wasn’t it. “I only know what you’ve played for me.” There, that was safe, and he could hardly be blamed for thinking Cardassian music was all six-part chorales and fluttery piano bits, could he?
“Ah. Well, now you know this as well.”
“I like it. What’s she singing about?”
“Love, of course. What else does anyone ever sing about?”
Oh… he couldn’t ask for a better segue, could he? But it was—nah, too clumsy, too obvious, and so instead he smiled. “That’s a pretty good topic.” Stupid. Stupid thing to say.
But Elim smiled. “People never seem to get tired of it, do they? Now, shall we continue your tour through my modest stash of inebriants?”
“Oh, by all means.”
So far the cherta’nook was his favourite, but he’d not minded the little taste of Ican spice-wine, although it had been a bit hot even for him. He’d been wary of getting too tipsy too fast—no fun to get completely destroyed and ruin the night!—but the cherta’nook hadn’t toppled him the way Elim had hinted it might, and so far he had only a warm tingle in his cheeks to remind him that he was being irresponsible. Must remedy that.
Well, the bottle Elim was uncorking might help. Looked like… soy sauce? But thick? And apparently there were special little flutes with it, of course there were… He took his flute absently; he was still much more interested in the bottle.
Elim poured with care, and he did his best to keep his hand as still as possible. His jeans could handle a spill, but heaven forfend anything should get on the sofa. “What is this?”
“This…” and Elim narrowed his eyes in concentration as he let the last drop trickle into the flute, “is tral’dek kanar.”
He’d rather thought it might be. “Come on, Garak. No fish. You promised.”
Elim smiled a little as he set the bottle down. “Leaving aside the question of whether or not a well-aged kanar tastes of fish—”
“It does. There’s no question.”
“—I believe this may suit your palate.”
“What, is it a bit immature?”
“Not at all. In fact, it requires a cultured tongue to truly appreciate it.”
Oh. A challenge. And perhaps a compliment, thank you, Elim, although it remained to be seen whether he’d actually earn it. He let it slip by and lifted the flute to the light of the reading lamp. Not a single photon was getting through the stuff.
“It looks like molasses. Or tar.”
“It will taste like neither.”
“Why this? Why not something else like that cherta’nook?” Gloop, gloop. It didn’t look at all appealing.
“Because, quite frankly, I can only drink so much cherta’nook.” Elim’s tone was dismissive.
“Which means this will be…”
“Right.” Now the kanar looked even less appealing, somehow, and its thick scent of anise and God-only-knew-what-else wasn’t helping matters.
“Why do I need this silly glass?”
“You don’t need it. But it enhances the experience.”
“My God, Garak. You do love your little details.”
Elim nodded, pleased at his noticing. Ass. Adorable ass. Really, he was too much fun, and suddenly it seemed very important to reach out, to sling an arm around him, which jostled them both and made the kanar slop about dangerously—
“Do be careful, Julian!”
“Sorry.” But he wasn’t, not at all: he was happy and a little bit tipsy and also awfully tingly because Elim was next to him and not going anywhere, and hell, he’d decided that the sofa could survive a few drops of kanar after all. “Bottoms up?”
Elim tilted his head, smiled. "lo’neUt, lo’zas.” He closed his eyes and sipped with evident pleasure, and Julian girded his loins and did the same—surely it couldn’t be that bad—
No. No, it could be exactly as bad as he’d thought. And what, exactly, am I to do with a mouthful of licorice-and-anchovy-flavoured syrup?
It was certainly alcoholic. God, he could get drunk off the buccal absorption alone—but this was really not working for him, and he had to do something— Can I spit? Had Elim opened his eyes yet?
Oh. Yes. Yes, he had, and he was watching Julian with his patented little half-smile, irritating as hell; no, he could not spit, and so he swallowed, euuurgh, and he was absolutely certain that the stuff left a trail as it slid down. Don’t cough, don’t gag—
“So what do you think?”
That deserved an exasperated glare, and that was exactly what it got. Frustratingly, it didn’t seem to quash Elim’s little smirk to any noticeable extent.
“I do apologize, my dear. I’m afraid I over-estimate your capacity to enjoy Cardassian delicacies.”
“I think you’re bang-on right about that, considering you keep trying to serve me fish juice and toad meat.” Yuck, his tongue felt thick. The little flute could go live on the coffee table, thanks very much.
“May I remind you that you very much liked the toad meat?”
“Until you told me it was toad meat, and none of that is any excuse to feed me this.”
Elim tutted at him. “But this is such an excellent vintage, my dear. Perhaps if you gave it another chance—”
“It’s wasted on me, Garak. Cork it and let’s move on.”
“If we must.” God, the man had a tremendous repertoire of exasperated sighs.
“What else have you got?”
“Mmm. Let me see.” Elim leaned over to examine the little army of bottles lined up on the table, and Julian leaned with him, curious. The fact that this allowed him to keep an arm snugly around Elim’s middle was completely beside the point, as was the fact that Elim’s hand was now making itself cozy on his thigh. “We have vel’dek kanar—”
“—and we have mUr’dek kanar—”
“Have we anything that isn’t kanar? Not all of these bottles are twisty—what’s that?”
“Ah.” Elim pursed his lips. “That is bet’esk.”
“It looks interesting.”
“I assure you it isn’t.”
But his tone was almost too dismissive… Curiosity killed the med student.
“Come on, now; why’d you bring it out if it’s no good?”
“I didn’t. You did.”
Well, that was true; he’d grabbed an armful of everything. Elim’s liquor stash was surprisingly expansive for a man who really didn’t drink, but the right drink for the right occasion, he’d said, as if that explained everything. Perhaps it did. Didn’t matter; he was still curious. “What is it?”
Elim’s lips were beyond pursed, now. They were practically… practically suitcased, ha, pretty good. “It’s made of bet’to, and I’d really rather drink absolutely anything but that.”
“That sounds a bit like a challenge.”
Elim flicked him a look, and he grinned. “All right. No bet’esk tonight. How about the purple one?”
Now Elim’s eyes lit up. “Ah, yes… do you know, I haven’t had nes’otniv in quite a long time? It really requires company… it’s not the sort of thing one drinks alone.”
“How lucky for you that I’ve turned up, then.”
“Mmm! Pardon my reach,” and Elim made a long arm over Julian’s knees to catch up two more glasses, which gave him the perfect opportunity to snag his shoulder and buss him under the ear.
“Yes…?” And now he could murmur endearingly, albeit ticklishly, right into Elim’s ear, which was always good for some entertainment—the irritated twitch alone made it all worthwhile.
Elim tugged his head away and looked at him with mild exasperation, which aligned him perfectly for a kiss. That was very, very nice, even if he did taste of fish and licorice. When he pulled back, Elim had gone all charmingly big-eyed—he was awfully reliable that way, for someone who prided himself so very much on being mysterious—and it was really very nice to stroke a hand down his cheek and smile at him.
“I do very much like you, you know.” Silly and warm and tingly and with him, oh, all right, score one for the cherta’nook and possibly the fish juice…
Didn’t matter, though, because Elim cleared his throat, blinked, smiled back. “I’m glad to hear it.”
Oh, lovely… “Tell me you like me too.” Tell me more… Oh, but that was pushing his luck, dangerous, Julian, watch your mouth…!
But perhaps he wasn’t the only one feeling his fish juice, because Elim’s eyelids drooped and he practically purred his reply. “With pleasure. How shall I say it?”
“Hmm.” He pondered, and meanwhile his hand dandled its way up into Elim’s hair. Mmm, lovely and smooth and silky. “Well, what are my options?”
Elim blinked lazily, slowly. “I’m quite certain that anything you can dream up, I can provide.”
Oh, you have no idea. “Anything at all?”
Elim’s hand squeezed his thigh, which was really rather spectacular. “Have I failed you yet?”
“Oh, no, not at all. Food and alcohol and a comfortable sofa. What more could a man want?” He let his fingers drift down over Elim’s ear, traced its shape, tightened his other arm around him; God, he was lovely.
“’A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou’?”
“Oh, well said!” That rather deserved another kiss, in fact; mmm, mutual reward. Still tasted a bit of fish juice, though. “All I really want right now is some of that nes’otniv, I think.”
“Ah? And will that suffice as proof of my affection?”
Mm, a little twist in his belly, and he was suddenly all warm inside, and that hand was still there on his thigh, hinting at all kinds of interesting things… “It’ll do. For now.”
Another lazy blink. “Then by all means, my dear, allow me to oblige.”
Chapter 3: something in your kiss made my body electric
“Come on, be quiet—”
“You don’t need to tell me to be quiet—you’re the one who trips over shadows—”
“Shh! Shh, we’re going to wake everyone up!” He frowned fiercely at Elim. Well, as fiercely as he could, considering that he was also doing his level best to suppress a giggle fit. It wasn’t fair to expect him not to laugh, not when Elim was padding about in slippers playing sneaky spy in the stairwell. “Now come along!”
“This is a terrible idea.”
“It’s a grand idea.” Up, up, up he went, bare feet slapping on the stairs and his head floating a foot or so above his body, and Elim trailed along behind him like a sulky little duckling.
“We should just settle in with a nice bottle of kanar—”
“No more fish juice!”
“You liked the last one.”
“I hated it less. That is not liking.” Up, up, second floor—
“Why couldn’t we take the lift?”
“I don’t trust that thing.”
“But it’s been repaired—”
“Mrs. Troi and Odo were stuck for twelve hours in there. You want to be stuck for twelve hours in a lift with me?” Third floor, and his calves burned pleasantly.
“Will you be talking?”
“I’m always talking.”
“I don’t know why I put up with it.”
“Because you’re always talking too.” Fourth floor—
“I’m simply trying to instruct you—”
“Oh, how lucky I am!”
“I thought we were supposed to be quiet.”
“Which you aren’t being, actually—”
“Nor are you.”
“Well, instruct me, why don’t you?” There, now they were at the fifth-floor door, and Elim puffed up behind him, slightly flushed and more than a little put out.
“I do hope you have something in your apartment to make this worth my while.”
Heh, a slippery thought as he looked at the pink in Elim’s cheeks— “I can make it worth your while right now…” Why not—why not turn and grab him and kiss him here, hard, with fluorescent lights blinking over them and Elim’s surprised gasp echoing in the stairwell—
“Mmmph—Julian!” Elim’s voice was muffled. Rather had to be, didn’t it, because he was intent on muffling him as thoroughly as possible; there, got him, now… mmmm…
Some amount of time passed. He was too tingly to really pay much attention. Berries… cherta’nook… kanar… All wrapped up in Elim’s arms, and wrapping him up in turn, rather a lot of mutual business going on with hands now and then, and oh, it was very, very good… Mmm, too good, much too good for the stairwell, and so he broke the kiss, looked at Elim, yes?, oh, that was a definite yes on Elim’s face and so he tugged at him as he turned and yanked the door open—
“Um, uh… Miles! Hi!”
A quick mental inventory, he couldn’t help it: I am semi-shitfaced and barefoot in the stairwell of my apartment building, and I have clearly just been fooling around with the man next to me, who is just as shitfaced and is wearing puffy house slippers and a tugged-open tunic—and oh, God, I think my zip might be open—
Apparently Miles was doing a similar mental inventory, because he looked Julian up and down, oh, God, and up again very fast, thank you, Miles. After an initial shocked glance, he avoided looking at Elim entirely. His voice was embarrassed. “I, uh…” He jerked a thumb backwards, over his shoulder. “I was just at your place… Wondered if you were up to anything… maybe wanted to go for beers or something…”
Um. A bit late on that one. “Heh, I… uh, thanks, Miles, but I’m… already engaged tonight…” Yes, his zip did require management and oh, God, this was really awkward, and Elim was not helping matters by being all amusement and teeth.
“Good evening, Mister O’Brien!” Whoops, there went any pretense of this being even remotely normal: Elim’s voice was remarkably sweet, happy as hell and not at all his standard Miles voice. “How does this evening find you?”
“Uh.” Even in that little syllable, Julian heard the sound of gritted teeth. “Fine. It finds me fine. Thank you. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m just marvellous this evening, thank you so very much for asking!” God, he was practically batting his lashes, which wasn’t helping. Elim, stop it! But it was awfully hard to deliver a subtle elbow when he was this off-balance, as proved by the fact that he almost toppled them both over—funny as hell, and they were both giggling, and Miles was not, and he really needed to straighten himself out right now.
“Um. Sorry, Miles. Sorry about that.” He drew himself up straight, did his best to look not at all drunk. “Sorry. We’ve had a bit to drink, you see.”
The look on Miles’s face was getting stranger and stranger. “You don’t say.”
“Yes. Yes, in fact, we’re both a bit inebriated.” He stumbled over that last word, plowed on regardless. “And we’ve run out of things to drink at Garak’s—”
“There are plenty of things to drink, you just don’t like any of them—”
“And so we’re going to go to my place and see what I’ve got there,” that sounded good, yeah, a good explanation, “and so I can’t go anywhere with you—but you could come join us if you like!” Wait—what? I didn’t mean to say that!
He briefly envisioned Miles and Elim staring at each other over a slowly growing pile of empty bottles. Oh, God—
Oh… no, he was going to be lucky, because instead both Miles and Elim were staring at him with nearly identical expressions of disbelief.
Miles recovered first. “I… think I’ll pass on that one.” He abruptly seemed to feel that this wasn’t quite enough, that he needed to be a bit more polite. “But it was kind of you to offer! Thanks! Thanks very much!” His smile was pained; his eyes glanced beyond them to the stairwell, to escape.
“Don’t let us delay you, Mister O’Brien. Enjoy your night.” Elim stepped aside smoothly, leaving the doorway clear, and Miles didn’t waste his chance: he shouldered between them with a muttered ‘scuse me, and his see you around, Julian! drifted back up to them with no regret whatsoever as his footsteps thudded downward, ending shortly thereafter in the echoing slam of a stairwell door.
Elim stared after him with unmasked amusement, then looked back to Julian with delighted eyes. “Well, that was a charming interlude.”
His face was hot. “Oh, my God.”
“Indeed. Dear me. Did you see—oh, dear, when he saw me…!” And… oh, incredibly, now Elim was suppressing his own little giggle fit, one hand over his mouth, cheeks even pinker. “Do… do forgive me, my dear…” Oh—and that was the battle lost, and now Elim’s eyes squeezed shut and he shook with silent laughter.
It rather killed the mood. Well, Miles had already done that, but whatever slim hope there’d been of resuscitating it had just evaporated. Oh, well; the night was young, and meanwhile he grinned at Elim and shook his head in mock disapproval. “Elim Garak, you are drunk as a skunk, aren’t you.”
Elim fought for breath, eyes opening to happy slits. “What a… what a charming expression—oh, no…!” Off he went into another little paroxysm, shoulders hunched.
“Are you just going to stand here in the stairwell and giggle?”
“Oh, no—not at all—”
“Really? Because that’s rather what it looks like right now.”
“My—my apologies, Julian—oh, my… his face!”
Ridiculous. Really ridiculous. Wonderfully ridiculous. “Come on, you. Come along. And stop making so much noise!”
“Oh…! Oh… oh, my sides… oh, his face!”
Chapter 4: electric warrior love
Kardasi translated in hovertext.
“All right, now… if I move the mouse like this…”
He leaned over on an elbow, careful not to overbalance, and peered at the screen. “Yeah, that’s—yeah, if you hold that button down you cast—right, you’ve got it.”
Elim smiled in toothy pleasure as the pale grey fireball exploded over the little zombie horde. “I begin to see why you find this so appealing.” He wriggled himself back into the pillow and narrowed his eyes at the screen as a little pile of bones rebuilt itself into another enemy. “Hmm.”
“It’s got a certain something, doesn’t it? Here, hand me that—”
Half-abstracted, Elim took his hand off the mouse for only the moment required to catch up the Scotch bottle and sling it his way. He caught it. Barely.
“Careful with that!”
“I’d be doing you a favour if I spilled it.”
“Hey!” He frowned as he unscrewed the stopper. “I like this stuff!”
“Of course you do… you like all kinds of awful things, but I am more selective… now how do I get at that healing spell again…?”
He splashed a bit more Scotch into his glass, shaking his head. “You hold down—yeah, hold that down and then there’s the menu—”
“Yes, yes. Thank you. There. Ha. Try to run from me, will you…?”
God, it was like babysitting Molly, only with more sarcasm. Cute as hell, though—cheeks tipsily pink, focussed stare, slightly feral smile… he fumbled for his phone, where was it, oh, there it was… “Don’t chase them down, you’ll get killed. You’re a healer, not a warrior.”
“’Aesculapius’. Really, my dear.” Elim’s tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth as he targetted one unfortunate zombie, and that was the moment, wasn’t it—
“What can I say? I dream big—ha!”
Elim blinked at the phone’s little click! and actually turned from the engrossing screen to give him a double-barrelled full-on Elim Garak disapproving stare. “You didn’t.”
“I clearly did.” Heh, yes, the shot was just as ridiculous as he’d thought. “Look.”
“Give me that—”
“No! You aren’t allowed to delete it. I like it.”
“I look ridiculous.”
“That’s rather the point. Look at your cheeks… no, no, don’t touch. Here, haven’t you got zombies to attend to? Look, poor Aesculapius is being gnawed to bits.”
“I should let the zombies eat him. That would teach you a lesson.”
“You won’t, though, because then we’d have to rez him and it’s dull.”
A put-upon sigh. “Oh, very well. How many of these must I kill?”
“Up to you. They’ll just keep coming ‘til you kill the leader.”
“Well, which one is the leader?”
“Can’t you figure it out on your own?” Heh, another snarky stare, and he grinned and gulped Scotch, blinking for a moment as the fumes tickled their way up his nasopharynx. God, that’s lovely. And hey, wait— “Garak, how the hell is it fair to say that when I don’t like kanar, it’s because my palate is so very untutored, but when you don’t like Scotch, it’s because yours is so refined?”
“Are we back to this again…? Oh! This one has a sword!”
“Yes, we are, because there’s a hole in your logic.”
“Do tell… dear me, he’s strong, isn’t he…”
“Well, sometimes we like the same things. Explain that one to me if you’re so ridiculously clever.”
“Mmm… well, I suppose I’ve simply instructed you well enough that you can sometimes rise to my level—oh!” as Julian snatched the laptop from his hands and settled it firmly on his own thighs. Elim’s eyes were stricken. “Give it back!”
“No. Only nice people get to play my game.” Oh, shit, the zombie leader was going to make mincemeat of him—Elim had been in way over his head. Damn!
“I’m very nice. No one is nicer." A beat, and suddenly Elim's voice was a purr and his hands were busy, "Look how very nice I can be…”
Oh, God, the man was infuriating in the best possible way, oh— “No—no, stop it. You’re going to get me killed—”
“’Here lies Aesculapius, struck down in his prime for submitting to his wanton urges—’”
“Keep dreaming.” He caught one of Elim’s wandering hands in the crook of his arm and trapped the other between his knees. “Look, you’re the one who was curious about this—now are you going to let me deal with the damn zombies or not?”
“Oh, I suppose.” Slightly miffed, Elim withdrew to his pile of pillows, eyes blinking a touch muzzily. “Where has that wine gotten to?”
“Don’t ask me—I haven’t touched it.”
“I know it was here… ah!” Elim fished it up from beside the bed. He took a moment to recline and admire the label, holding it up to the light. “I cannot believe you had this in your cabinet. I cannot believe it was sitting there untouched…”
“I don’t drink wine. Least not before tonight. You know that. Damn, I—shit. Did you use all my mana potions?”
“I don’t know, did I…?” Splash, splash, went the wine into the water glass. “A pity you don’t have the appropriate glass to drink it out of…”
“You’re managing just fine, aren’t you?” Shit, they were everywhere! “You ran us straight into the middle of the horde, you know.”
“I’m certain you’ll manage to survive, my dear. Mmm… this is nice. How did you come by this, anyway?”
“Secret Santa at work last year… damn it, this guy’s immune to my debuffs…”
“Really? Now who at the restaurant would select something like this…?”
“I thought it was Mister Sisko, but Jadzia said later it was Worf… okay, that’s one, two, three greater zombies and no potions. No, this is just no good. I’m going to have to retreat.”
“Oh!” Elim stopped in mid-sip and looked at the screen in slightly pouty distress. “Must you?”
“Mmm. I’m going to get slaughtered.” No teleport, no escape rope, damn, damn, damn.
“I don’t see how we’re to advance in this game if you keep running from every enemy we encounter.”
He rolled his eyes. “Aesculapius isn’t built to handle this sort of thing. He’s a healer, not a fighter.”
“So you keep saying.” Elim took another sip of wine and rolled it around his mouth rather obnoxiously. “How ever do you get anywhere?”
“That’s where Miles comes in.” Could rather use him now, actually. Oh, well, light armour meant fast character, and Aesculapius needed all the speed he could get up, now. Go, man, go!
“Ah, the many-facetted Mister O’Brien…”
“He’s very good at this game, thank you, and he’s a barbarian—that was a very rude noise.”
He frowned at the screen. “That snorting noise, which you made as commentary, because you are being rude.”
“I do apologize.” Which he clearly didn’t. Snarky. Not worth engaging.
“Anyway, barbarians are very strong and good at fighting, but they don’t really have the ability to heal themselves. Without a healer as backup, eventually they just get killed. So he and I can—oh, here’s the town.” Just in time, thank God!
“And what happens in the town?”
“Well, first of all, the zombies leave—yes, there they go… that was a near thing.”
“Dear me. I didn’t realize this game could be such an intense experience. Do you know you were biting your lip?”
“Mm. Quite fetching, actually…”
“Thank you, Garak… mmm, that’s nice… now, shall we explore the town?”
“Oh, by all means.” Elim snugged down against him, one hand sliding cool fingers back and forth across his stomach, ah… “What excitements will the town hold?”
“Mana potions, for starters. Comes in handy when someone’s used up one’s entire supply. And this is where people meet up and chat, plan quests—”
“Why are all those people dancing?”
“I’m… not sure. That just sort of happens sometimes. Here, look—look what I can make him do.”
There was a short pause.
“Are we really going to sit here and watch Aesculapius dance? Is this really what one does in this game?”
“It’s about being social, Garak.”
“This does not even remotely approximate being social, Julian.”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine. We can go to the Inn. We can meet some people and maybe—”
Ka-ponk, went his computer.
THUGGO is online.
“Oh! Hey, you wanted social—that’s Miles!”
“Of course. Of course it is.” Elim sipped his wine, eyes laughing, then stopped and frowned. “What on Earth is he doing up at this hour?”
“Probably the same thing we’re doing.”
“I doubt it’s exactly the same thing…” Clink, went Elim’s wine on to the floor and whoops, here were those hands again, aided by lips this time which really wasn’t fair, oh…
“Hey, I’m trying to… Mmm… No, now look, do you want to play this game or not?”
“Does it get any more exciting?”
THUGGO says: hi julian!!!
“Is that exciting enough for you?”
A slow blink. “Not really.” But he contented himself with coiling around Julian like some kind of half-drunk snake and peering over his shoulder at the screen.
“Is that him?”
“Who… oh, her? No. Definitely not, no. Thuggo is… well, he looks like a Thuggo.”
“Where is he, then?”
“Oh, I don’t know… home town, probably…” Mana shop first, actually, then the Inn… all right, if this was Erregor, then the shop was over there.
“And yet you can speak to him?”
“Well, we have these amulets—”
THUGGO says: did not expect to see you on here tonight!!!!!
“Um. Let me just answer him—he knows I’m online… this won’t take a minute…”
AESCULAPIUS says: yeah still awake ha ha!
THUGGO is typing…
“Do you often play at this hour?”
“Some nights we’re both up late…” Right, here was the shop… potions were going for how much? Goddamned noob server inflation—
“I hope you don’t miss this much sleep on a regular basis.”
“That’s not really any of your business, is it?”
THUGGO says: twisty bastard had to go to bed early did he????
Heh. “Serves you right for being snarky, doesn’t it.” All right, fine, five potions and—
“Give me that.”
AESCULAPIUS says: Good evening, Mr. O’Brien!
“What are you doing? Give it back!”
“I will not—”
THUGGO says: that’s not funny julian!!!!!
“Oh, how charming.”
“Give it back!”
“Don’t spill your drink.”
AESCULAPIUS says: This isn’t Julian, Mr. O’Brien.
THUGGO is typing…
THUGGO is typing…
THUGGO is typing…
“He must be typing a great deal.”
“No, that’s what it does if you erase what you started to say.”
“Oh, dear. I do hope I haven’t upset him too terribly.”
THUGGO says: hello garak
“How remarkably civil of him.”
“Can I have it back now?”
AESCULAPIUS says: sorry its me now
THUGGO says: ffs julian
“What does that mean?”
“Just… gaming shorthand.”
AESCULAPIUS says: soooooooooo
AESCULAPIUS says: cant sleep?
THUGGO says: one of those nights!!
AESCULAPIUS says: that dream again?
THUGGO says: so anyway what are you up to???
AESCULAPIUS says: took garak to zombie horde he likes it
THUGGO says: oh noob time is it???
“Should I be offended?”
“You will be anyway, right?”
“When it comes to Mister O’Brien, it’s my default assumption.”
“He feels the same way about you. Hey! Stop it, I’m trying to have a conversation here.”
“Don’t let me interrupt…”
“Stop it. Or at least move your hand. Not like that!”
AESCULAPIUS says: how about you whats going on
THUGGO says: not much!!! may as well grind a bit if can’t sleep right??
THUGGO says: want to come with??
“My goodness. He wants his adventuring partner. That’s really quite sweet.”
“’The Adventures of Aesculapius and Thuggo.’ It really rather sounds as if it should be in lights, don’t you think?”
“Do you want to sit on the floor?”
AESCULAPIUS says: no big quests 2nite sorry
AESCULAPIUS says: just giving the guided tour lol
THUGGO says: too bad!!! no fun allowed with garak there i guess!!!
“Oh, really, now.”
“Sorry, he means—”
“I know just what he means,” and suddenly Elim’s hands moved over him inexorably and, oh, God, with intent… “And do you know, I suddenly feel like being a great deal of fun indeed...”
“Jesus, what… oh, oh, God, you’re… Garak!” It was almost too much in the funniest kind of way—Elim was never like this, hell, half the time Julian had to pull him into bed, not like he minded, but— “What is this? Is this spite?”
“Perhaps. I do hope you don’t mind…” His voice whispered into Julian’s ear, all warm and tickly and oh, this was extremely distracting and he was being really rude—
“Garak—oh, God, easy—look, I’ve just got to answer Miles—”
“Oh, really, my dear…” That voice again, that slow breath, that heat against his skin and such busy hands, not fair, not at all, and he was still talking, “Do you know, you spend a great deal of time with Mr. O’Brien—yes, you do, in one way or another, and for tonight… mmm, for tonight…”
The way Elim trailed off meant he expected Julian to ask him to go on. He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. But Elim’s hand was doing something altogether delightful rather south of his navel, and it simply wasn’t at all fair. “Ah… um, for tonight?”
Elim leaned in, smiling at him. “Fuck Miles.”
Aghast was probably the word. The world toppled on its axis. “Did you really just say… you did, didn’t you! Elim Garak, you are cut off.” God, Elim using the f-word… did I really just think ‘the f-word’?
“Oh? I’m sorry, I thought being immature was the theme for the night…” He was smiling in that sneaky way, oh, he thought he was being really funny, wasn’t he. The worst part was that he kind of was. I will not laugh.
He kept his lips straight. “That was impolite.”
“Dear me. I do hope I haven’t disappointed you. Look how coarse I become when I’m drunk…” Now he leaned up, pressed his lips against Julian’s neck as his hand tugged sharply at the hem of Julian’s shirt, unh, oh, God, that was Kryptonite, and he struggled to focus—
“You need to be nice to Miles—”
In a sing-song, “He called me a twisty bastard…”
“Um… well, yes, but you’re… oh, that’s…”
“Twisty bastards don’t have to be nice…”
“Mmm… I suppose that’s true, but…”
“And you’re not even letting me play the game… what motivation have I to be nice…?”
God, he was being all tangly with his words, and unless Julian said something right now, he wasn’t going to say anything particularly coherent for another hour or so. “No. No, look, just—just stop it for a minute and humour me, all right? It’s important to me. Be nice to him. I defend you when I’m with him, you know.”
Pink cheeks, laughing eyes, flushed lips, damn the man. “Is that so?”
“It is. And when you act like this I feel as if I shouldn’t.”
“Mm… well, I do hate to cause you distress…”
Elim brushed that away. “Very well. Un-fuck Miles. He is welcome wherever I go. In fact, I think he may be my new best friend. Does that suit you?”
Silly ass. Not at all sincere. Then again, asking Elim for sincere was pushing it, and this was still a pretty significant victory. “It suits me very well indeed, thank you.”
“Good. Now be quiet.” And suddenly Elim’s mouth was against his—
—and smiling, and sighing, “My dear, my new best friend is trying my patience.”
“Let me just answer him…”
“Must you…? Wouldn’t you rather—mmm…”
“Mm… ‘course I would, but I should really… oh, God, stop for a second…”
“If you want me to stop, why are you helping me?”
“Damn it, Miles—”
“Was that another curse?”
“Meant in a friendly way, I assure you… and it’s a very mild one…”
“How restrained of you…”
“Truly heroic—oh, that’s… yes, just like that—”
“He’s desperate for your attention… tell me, should I be jealous?”
“Dear me, I hope he doesn’t want you for his own nefarious purposes…”
“Can we please never, ever consider Miles in that context again?”
“That’s fine with me… shall we consider this instead…?”
“Oh, God, that’s… you are terrible, do you know that—”
“Mmm… that one was pretty, what… ah, what was that one…?”
“I’ll tell you later…”
“Oh, fuck off, Miles…” and he slammed the laptop shut with one foot, shoved it over to the edge of the bed where it couldn’t bother him.
“That’s the spirit…” Elim’s lips moved over his earlobe, down his neck, and oh, God, those hands, oh…
He’d make it up to Miles later. Much later.
Chapter 5: red wine and whiskey on your tongue
He stretched out lazily, stroked the back of Elim’s head as his breathing slowed, as Elim drooped over him, arms limp, drifting.
“You are so gorgeous... You know you’re gorgeous, right?”
A sort of acknowledging mumble, but not much else, and now Elim let himself roll half over on to the bed, one leg still crooked over Julian’s thighs, one arm across his chest, the quilt half-tangled around the two of them. It wasn’t particularly comfortable. Didn’t matter, though. He was warm and sated and drifty-drunk, and at the moment, he couldn’t think of much that would be better than being pleasantly squished by someone he was really fond of.
Really, really fond of.
Now might be a good time to say it…
His stomach fluttered.
I want to. I want to say it so much.
But he was far too drunk, the moment wasn’t right, God, what if he didn’t believe me…? Instead, he rested the bridge of his nose against Elim’s forehead and closed his eyes for a moment, floating on the sound of Elim’s breathing.
“I am ridiculously fond of you, Elim…” And that was all right. That he could say.
“…’f you too…”
“Didn’t quite catch that…” He cocked an ear, grinning.
A gusty sigh against his shoulder, and Elim pressed in further, his arm tightening around Julian’s chest. His voice hummed in Julian’s ear, tickly and warm. “I’m fond of you too.”
“Mmm. Thought you might be. Just wanted to be sure, though.”
A bit of a hmph, and Elim’s breath slowed again, whispering in his hair. God, it was just lovely, it was perfect and excellent and Elim’s arm was strong and oh—
“Really very ridiculously fond.” Look at me, look at me…
No answer at all this time, and it just couldn’t be borne.
“Madly adoring, in fact.” This time he poked at him.
“I want to sleep, Julian…”
“No, you don’t. It’s just physiological. Give it a minute. It’ll pass.”
“I don’t want it to pass…”
“I never get sleepy after.”
“That’s because you never stop talking long enough to fall asleep…”
“You don’t want to fall asleep lying all over me, anyway. You’ll get a crick.”
For a moment there was no response, and then the marvellous strong arm and heavy leg slid from their comfy spots, and Elim turned himself over and curled up into a ball, head buried in his arms, vanishing beneath the quilt.
“Hey! Not fair!”
No answer, and that was really no fun at all. “Garak…” He wriggled over, spooned up against Elim, kissed his neck and worked his hands in beneath Elim’s arms, wrapping him up tight. “Come on, talk to me—”
Elim’s shoulders shook.
The man was laughing. Oh, exasperating, maddening, irritating, and so he bit him.
“Julian!” In one remarkably fluid movement, Elim turned, grabbed him, legs twining with his own and immobilizing him rather neatly, and glared into his eyes from about an inch away.
He grinned disarmingly. “Sorry… did I wake you?”
Elim’s irritation slipped to a smile for just a second, and that was all he needed—it was fine—he wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close, and oh, God, this was just exactly wonderful, and for a few moments there was just lovely Elim and closeness and pleasant slightly wine-y and Scotch-y breath intermingled. Perfect, perfect, perfect.
“Uh… sorry, just… sorry.”
“Did you just say ‘perfect’?”
“I may have, yes.”
Elim pulled back, looking at him with eyes that were lovely and laughing and oh, God, he was far gone. “And why did you say that?”
“Did you know your eyes are incredibly beautiful?” Is everything I think going to come directly out of my mouth?
Luckily, Elim was laughing. “Are they, now.”
“Mmm. I feel like you see right through me, sometimes.”
“Perhaps I do.”
“Can’t be. You wouldn’t be here.” Whoops, strike two, no, let’s not do that… And so even as Elim began to frown, as his mouth opened to ask the question, Julian leaned in and kissed him.
It was a long, long kiss, all sliding gentleness and no urgency, none at all. He tasted Elim’s mouth, he breathed his breath as Elim’s lips met his own, as his lips were softly bitten, mmm, oh, time was liquid and everything was unstructured and luxurious. Red wine. Whiskey. Me.
When it ended, it still went on. Elim was caught up close against him, and they were pressed so close together that their mouths still touched, lightly, just resting against each other, no pressure, just presence.
I love you, Elim. I love you. He wanted to say it, God, he was drowning in it, and so instead he said, “I wonder how long we can breathe each other’s breath before we pass out…?”
“Julian Bashir, you are a romantic.”
He heard the smile in Elim’s voice, he felt his mouth stretch against his own, and he basked in it, glad and warm and far past tipsy and so, so in love, oh, God, hush, Julian, hush…
But it just couldn’t get any better. It just couldn’t.
I’m really very drunk. I mustn’t say anything at all.
And so he lay there with Elim in his arms, mouth soft against his lips, eyes closed, listening to him breathe, feeling the heaviness of him, waiting to drift off to sleep, and it was a palpable shock when he realized that Elim had fallen asleep first.
Oh, my God. Oh, don’t move—could it really—don’t you move, Julian, don’t you dare!
This never happened—Elim never fell asleep first, he was so damned jumpy—God, Elim even being able to sleep in the same bed with him had taken a month—was it the alcohol? Probably—or maybe…
He snuck up on the thought sideways, not looking it in the eye. Maybe he’s comfortable with me…?
Maybe he trusts me?
Now that was a thought to get one drunk.
Didn’t matter, couldn’t prove any of it, and Elim would never give him a straight answer anyway… and who gave a damn, really, when the simple fact of it was that Elim Garak was curled against him in his very own bed with his mouth drooping open, fast asleep?
No way to get at his phone. And he’d never forgive me anyway.
He narrowed his eyes and took a mental picture as hard as he could.
Perfect. It really was. He really was. God, I love you, Elim.
His lips moved silently, shaping the words, not quite daring to make them real.
I love you. I do. Oh, I do.
He wasn’t sure if he meant Elim or himself. Oh, well: both of them could be ridiculous together, here in this happy little bed, wrapped in warmth and quilts and an alcoholic fog that tugged him down and left him yawning and mildly aware that both he and his arm were shortly going to fall asleep…
In the end, he beat his arm to the punch.
Chapter 6: nothing can last forever, but i'll always remember
Oh, God… ow, ow, ow!
Light stabbed him in both eyes, and he winced, aargh, and realized he was being pinned down by an extremely heavy, still-unconscious Elim Garak, and also that moving his eyes hurt, as did moving anything else. How could every part of his body be pins-and-needles at once?
Urgh. He blinked, agonizingly.
Also, as a sort of side dish to his agony, he needed rather badly to empty his bladder. This didn’t seem at all feasible, given that there was a Cardassian lying on it. Push him off? But he’s sleeping… which wasn’t nearly as endearing now as it had been however-many hours ago, and what time was it anyway…
Hell, where was his phone—there it was, fuck, not at all reachable, not unless he… yes, one long arm and he had the very edge of it, reaching over the bed and stretching as far as he could which hurt like bloody fucking hell, this was miserable and really uncalled for on the part of the universe, God damn it, “Aaargh,” there, there he had it, and it was…
10:02 said his phone, smiling at him, and he had to be at work at quarter to eleven.
Oh, fuck. Fuckity-fuck. Damn. Hell.
But the bed was warm, and moving hurt…
Manager Kira'll do a hell of a lot more hurting if I show up late. And that settled that.
“Garak.” God, his voice sounded like sandpaper.
There was no response. If anything, Elim got a little heavier. He wriggled under him, poked at his shoulder.
A shift, an inhalation, a moment where the universe held its breath… then, from the depths, an answer:
Elim’s voice didn’t sound any better. Good. Misery loves company, goddamned fish juice. “It’s ten o’clock.”
Elim made a mrmph sound and didn’t move at all.
“I’ve got to get up. I’ve got to get ready for work.”
A long sigh, and Elim’s eyes, still closed, pressed even more tightly shut, wrinkling the skin around them. The dark circles underneath were actually quite impressive, and for a moment Julian admired them. Still no sign of blue, though. Hmm. Elim was a bit older, wasn’t he… was he all right?
“Hey.” He poked him again. “How’re you feeling?”
No answer. No movement. If not for the extremely tiny irritated huff, he’d think the man was dead.
“You’ve got to feel at least as awful as I do.”
“…will you please have mercy and stop talking…”
Heh. Not quite dead, it seemed. “Is that a yes on ‘awful,’ then?”
“Hush, for goodness’ sake.” One clammy hand came up and covered his mouth; he turned his head, and it fell rather pathetically away.
“You’ve got to get ready for work too—”
“I am aware of that.” And that was Elim Garak, actual Elim Garak, whining irascibly and not moving. In another time and place, when Julian was less hungover, it might be sweet. At this particular moment, it was extremely irritating.
“Just get off me, will you? Before I shove you off? Because I have to pee.”
“Damn you, Julian Bashir. Damn you and your clever, clever ideas.”
“You started it. Get off.”
“Do not even begin to argue with me about this—oh, my head...”
The face Elim was making was actually mildly concerning. “Does it hurt?”
“Oh, no, not at all, honestly, Julian, how on Earth do you think it feels? Dear me.” But Elim rolled off, finally, and landed heavily on his back, eyes opening slowly. Yergh. There wasn’t much blue. There was, however, an awful lot of red.
“You look terrible.” He sat up and looked down at him, and the world swam about his head. “Oh, God…”
Elim frowned up at him, reaching up with one hand to touch his cheek. “You look worse.”
Do I? He ran a hand through his hair, which, interestingly, hurt, and Elim’s eyes widened, then closed tightly.
“That did not help. Oh, goodness.” Now Elim turned over on to his belly and pressed his face against the pillow. One arm reached out questioningly, found the quilt, and tugged it decisively up around his neck.
Julian rubbed his face. His stubble scraped against his palms. “Get up.”
The response was muffled by the pillow. “It’s too bright…”
“You’re just not used to waking up in actual sunlight, is all.” Not that Julian was enjoying it much at the moment, either. Dark and warm sounded rather good. Perhaps Elim just has a sort of permanent hangover. And perhaps I’m thinking total nonsense.
Anyway, Elim was still face down and had now, in fact, huddled himself even further beneath the quilt, and the longer Julian spent next to him the greater the chance he’d be tempted into the same sort of thing. No. Couldn’t have it. Up you get, Julian, one, two, three—
Augh, and as he swung his legs over the world tipped him up and sideways and suddenly everything was awful—
Deep breaths, deep breaths, one, two, three all over again, and no, he wasn’t going to throw up after all. Good. Good, good.
“…are you all right?”
All right, now, up onto unsteady legs like a baby giraffe, and he wobbled his way to the bathroom, clutching at the wall as he went, prodding himself along with a steady stream of oh, God, oh, God, and the face he saw in the mirror was, frankly, terrifying. Elim had been right. It was like… like Dorian Gray, or something. My sins visited upon my countenance… God, was that even Wilde, or… ouch, stop it, Julian. Thinking hurt.
“I’m not made for this. Not anymore. You’ve ruined me.”
The reply from the bedroom was faint. “…I’ve tried, goodness knows… oh, my head…”
Peeing was the first priority, after which he set about the awful business of making himself into something that could present itself at Deep Dish Nine in less time than he cared to think about. Brushing his teeth helped. Slumping into the shower helped a little more. Scrubbing himself dry with his horrible, horrible scratchy towel helped not at all, but it woke him up, and by the time he’d fumbled out a couple of ibuprofen and downed them with a slice of bread, he was very nearly human again.
Elim… well, not so much. By the time he padded back into the bedroom, there wasn’t so much a human outline in the bed as there was a pile of angry sheets.
“Get up.” He sat next to where he figured Elim most likely was and prodded at the pile.
“Go away.” Elim’s voice was faint, barely audible through the wall of fabric.
“Get up, Garak.” Desperate times called for desperate measures. He snagged a section of quilt and tugged steadily at it, pulling it off and off and off—
“Stop, stop…” There was a movement within the sheets that hinted at human occupation. Good. Victory through irritation.
“You need to get up.”
“Get off of my bed…” One hand emerged from the pile and batted at him before dropping to hang uselessly over the side of the bed.
“This is my bed, actually.” Tug, tug, tug.
“It’s not a bed at all, it’s a torture device… oh, my head… please stop, please…”
“Come on. Get up. I’ll feed you.”
“Oh, really… threats, now…?”
“Come on,” and he seized the limp arm that dangled free of the sheets, “one, two, three—”
Two minutes and a stream of semi-comprehensible and very educational invective later, Elim stood before him, clad in yesterday’s rumpled clothes and looking very much the wet cat, spoiling for a fight. There really wasn’t time for it. He took charge of the situation, instead. “Come on. Kitchen.”
“I am not hungry—”
“You will be, come on, don’t make me drag you.”
“You couldn’t if you tried.”
“Not right now, no. Come on. Please?”
Please worked. Interestingly, so did the production of a bag of white bread, by which Elim was first revolted, then enchanted. Almost worryingly so. Two pieces… three… four…
“I can’t believe you’re eating.”
“Nor can I,” and there went another piece, devoured in a few bites, and Julian found himself mentally reviewing his Heimlich.
“I could barely choke down one piece.”
“I eat when I’m unhappy.” Another bite, and Elim glared at him as he chewed.
“Not feeling cheery, are we?”
“We are feeling downright miserable, thank you, and I’ll remind you that it is your fault.”
“You’re being nasty. My head hurts too much for nasty.”
“I’m only giving you what you deserve—”
“Too bad. Nice people get ibuprofen.”
“Oh. ” Suddenly Elim’s eyes positively glowed with good cheer. “Medication? Really?” He set the bag of bread down; apparently its fascination had waned. “How nice do I have to be?”
He smiled. It hurt. “You can owe me. Come on, it’s in the bathroom—”
But all attempts at better living through chemistry were derailed when Elim caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror and made a thoroughly scandalized noise.
“Oh, Julian, you didn’t tell me—”
“Tell you what? That you look awful? So do I, it’s to be expected—”
“No, no, I simply—I apologize, my dear,” and now he turned to Julian and, oddly, made a small formal bow. “I hate to leave in such a rush, but—”
“Leave?” Wait, he’d missed something. The fact that his head was full of sludge wasn’t helping. “Why do you have to leave?”
“Well, my dear.” Elim gestured at the mirror and turned to Julian, eyes wide, as if that in itself was explanation enough.
“Because you’re… rumpled?”
“To say the least.” Apparently it was all perfectly obvious to Elim. It wasn’t, so much, to him.
He smiled tentatively, opened his hands. “So… un-rumple. I mean… you can use my toothbrush, you can shower here…”
“Ah ha ha.” It wasn’t a laugh. Elim actually said ah ha ha.
Julian blinked at him, half-irritated, half-laughing, entirely short of patience. “Really? That’s just completely unfathomable to you?”
“Hardly unfathomable, my dear, but… oh, my head…” Elim rested the heels of his hands against his eyes for a moment, dropped his hands, looked at Julian. “Forgive me. It’s rude. I am aware. But all of my things are downstairs, and… could you just indulge me in this?” And it was strange, but… clearly this was very important to him, and clearly he was too tired and sore to argue about it, and… so am I, quite frankly.
But it was such an anti-climax, wasn’t it? It had all been so good—life was hell right now, but he could remember, and now… “You’re just going to… go?”
“If that’s all right.”
“And then we’re just both going to… go to work?”
“And that’s it?”
Elim blinked at him, those red eyes strained. “Were you expecting more…?”
But I wanted—
What had he wanted?
The words bubbled in his mouth, and he bit them back, because if ever there was a wrong time to tell someone you loved them, it was when they were hungover and you were too and both of you were irritable and hurting…
He hugged him instead, arms reaching and finding and pulling him close, and he buried his face in the crook of his neck.
“Oh… my dear…” Elim’s arms came up around him almost tentatively. “Is everything all right?”
Silly. Tired. Hungover. Elim’s skin was cool, and he rubbed his face against it, against that soft spot on his neck where his skin looked older, against the tiny, sparse scattering of stubble on his lower jaw. “Yes. Yes, I’m fine. Sorry. Don’t mind me.”
“I never do.”
They held each other almost delicately, careful not to make any sudden movements for fear of shattering.
“I’ll see you later, will I?”
“It is Saturday, isn’t it?”
“So I will.”
“Of course you will.”
“Or something like it.”
“I don’t expect I’ll eat much.”
“I had fun. Did you have fun?”
“I did. Thank you.”
“You need to get ready to go, Julian.”
“Mmm. I know. One more minute.”
One more minute stretched to two, to five, just holding him, and when Elim finally pulled away and left him with a kiss on his cheek, he stood for a moment looking at the door.
Only a moment, though, because holy shit, it was 10:36 and Kira was going to kill him—
And it wasn’t so bad, really. It could have been worse. Overnight, fall had come with a vengeance. The weather was cold as hell, and he shivered in his sweatshirt, hands jammed into the big front pocket as he ran across the parking lot, anticipating the worst—but when he got there, Manager Kira only gave him two kinds of hell, and Jadzia grinned at him afterwards and handed him a cup of coffee that tasted like a reason to live.
I should’ve done it differently.
His stupid uniform cap felt like a vise on his head.
I should’ve… maybe I should’ve told him up front? Or I should have made it into a story…
The collar on his goddamned shirt kept flipping up. It was really very annoying.
I wonder what he would have said if I had told him?
“Yes, sir, we have two… sorry, three lunch specials available: a Seafood Delight, with Vulcan mussels…”
I am never going to drink kanar again. Never, ever, ever.
His brain ticked over, sluggish and full of aldehydes, doing its best to cope with the demands of now and the recollection of yesterday. It was, honestly, a bit more than he could manage. He grinned his way through it, jaws aching.
Next time. I’ll tell him next time. For sure. I’ll plan it out. It’ll be perfect.
And even though it hurt to smile—it really did, it was astonishing how much it hurt, in fact—the smile gradually got more and more real as the day wore on, because it was all still there with him, wasn’t it…
The weight of him, asleep in his arms. The words behind his lips, doing their damnedest to be said.
He thought of the note buried in his biology textbook, and yes, his smile was very real now. To hell with how much it hurt.
I shan’t forget, Elim Garak. You fell asleep first. You snored. There’s no denying it.
It was a bit prosaic, wasn’t it? It wasn’t quite the grand declaration of love one saw in all the films. Well, to hell with grand declarations of love. This was good enough, more than good enough. It made his heart race, it made him laugh, it made him skip embarrassingly across the parking lot after work, and honestly—
Ding-ling, said the chime as the door opened, and there he was, red-eyed and horrible and smiling like it hurt.
“Hello, my dear.”
—honestly, if things got any grander, any better at all, he’d probably explode.
“Ready for lunch?”
“Good. Me either. Come sit with me anyway.”
And he did. And it was perfect.