The first time Garak saw Julian was a mess of discomfort and endorphins leveling out that discomfort, excitement at seeing such a beautiful, intriguing, Human face among the crowd, and the thrill of thinking that he may be able to use the young doctor in his efforts to return home. There is something important and valuable about that first moment, he knows, but it isn’t really the one that he counts, because the first time Garak saw Julian without the effects of the implant altering his perception was well over a year later. He still remembers what that moment felt like, standing just outside the Replimat, looking for the first time upon a young man who was already a part of his life. Julian had dug his way in, trusted him, accepted him without even knowing the whole truth, and planted himself firmly within Garak’s existence, so that when he woke up with a clear head, Julian was already there. And as Garak watched him in the Replimat, he came to a decision. When he entered and sat across from his friend, it would be a first in its own way, but he would treat it like a continuation nonetheless, like something without a beginning. Something that always just was.
That memory is on his mind now as he opens his eyes to the early morning sunlight. Lying on his side, staring straight ahead at the wall, he can think of nothing else. Julian is still asleep behind him. There was nowhere else in the shed for him to sleep, at least nowhere else that was remotely comfortable. They’ll see about getting him a mat of his own to sleep on later, if anything so that Garak won’t feel any more crowded in the already tight space.
At the moment, though, he doesn’t feel that familiar panic rising, not when he has an altogether different worry on his mind. Ten days, that’s how much time Julian got to come here. Ten days and then the man will be gone again. Possibly. There’s the chance he might stay, that near-unspoken implication that he wants to. Garak wants to let himself hope.
He can hear Julian breathing behind him. When Garak turns over, what sight will he find? A continuation? Something new?
Is this the start of something? The middle? The end?
He tries to shake those thoughts from his head. They’re far too Human.
A hand shaking his shoulder pulls him from sleep. The nightmare still clouds Julian’s mind as he slowly starts to work out where he is. “Julian,” Garak mutters, his voice still full of sleep.
Visions of Garak’s death still permeate Julian’s dreams. He can’t make them stop. He’s not sure they ever will. They have come close to reality too many times to ever go back to a passing fear. The feeling of Garak’s hand in his in the infirmary still ripples through his palm when he doesn’t expect it. The desperation and fear and pain that welled up inside him in the simulation, too tangled to escape, still entwines its way around his spine in moments of silence. He can still hear the rush of his own blood as he ran to the explosion at Garak’s shop and found the man lying on the ground; still wakes up in the middle of the night, his throat filled with worry that Garak hasn’t returned to the station – until he remembers that they are no longer on the station, but in a garden shed on Cardassia and that Garak is in the room with him.
There are a lot of things that went wrong during the holosuite adventure, but Julian still can’t come to terms with that moment between firing the gun and the bullet hitting Garak’s neck. That moment where he knew that one wrong move, one slight miscalculation, and his friend would be dead. The blood that slid down Garak’s neck was brought there by Julian.
And separating himself from Garak, separating himself from what he knew he was capable of, wasn’t enough. Garak still got captured by the Jem’Hadar after they had to evacuate the station. Garak still went to help lead the resistance on Cardassia. Garak still lost so many of his people.
The wind howls against the walls of the shed, loud and quiet all at once. This planet has 800 million ghosts. They’re everywhere. In the wreckage of buildings too damaged to be repaired. In the sunset at the close of every day they never experienced. In the hushed voices at night. In the eyes of everyone who chose to live on after the world ended.
Garak is not one of them, Julian reminds himself as he tries to calm his breathing, the nightmare dissipating around him. They don’t need another ghost, not when full and unpredictable life lays ahead. The nightmares won’t stop so easily, and he reaches across the small space between them to put a hand on Garak’s arm. Alive. Real. “Thank you,” he breathes, and allows sleep to claim him once more.
A flash of lightning illuminates the shed for a moment longer than Julian expected. He’s never lived in a place before where the lightening comes in flash after flash after flash, the sky kept bright for several seconds at a time. From his perch near the window, he watches the trees try to hold their ground in the wind. He almost feels like he should cross his fingers, knowing that if the trees don’t make it then things won’t be looking too great for this old shed in the garden of a ruined house. The knowledge shouldn’t be so thrilling.
The only sounds are the rain pounding against the window and the rumbling thunder outside. Something else catches his attention; not a sound or a shadow or a movement, but something that makes the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He turns around and sees Garak watching the window from the other end of the shed. He doubts that’s where Garak’s gaze was a moment ago.
He probably shouldn’t stare at Garak, but the storm is making him bolder than he might usually be around the man. The lightening stops and darkness descends upon the shed once more, so that Julian can’t really stare at anything. He does what he can to keep his gaze where it was anyway. It isn’t cold, not really, not for him, but his arms are covered in goose bumps.
He was supposed to leave today, make his way back to Deep Space Nine, but he’d sent a resignation in his place. It may seem silly, but part of him feels like it’s the scariest thing he’s ever done. But he’d known since he left the station ten days ago that his future wasn’t in Starfleet. The Federation doesn’t want him, he knows it; he was tolerated because they had been at war and needed all the assets they could get, and because Captain Sisko cared about him enough to try to protect him. But he knows the Federation still kept him reluctantly; that was reflected in Section 31’s mistrust of him despite their desire for his abilities.
The Captain is still gone, and his friends are scattered throughout two quadrants. Julian had given most of his life to Starfleet, but he knows it doesn’t have to be all of his life. There is more to the universe than that, than the Federation and their views. They probably don’t even think of him as Human anymore.
Lightning strikes again and flashes through the room. This time he does catch Garak looking at him, or Garak lets him see for just a moment before turning away again. In the alternating light, it takes Julian all his strength not to get up and cross the room. He wants him, badly; wants to know what he feels like, what he tastes like. Instead, he tries to let the sound of the thunder overwhelm him, keep him in place.
If Garak notices the way Julian’s hands tighten their grip on his seat, he doesn’t say anything.
Julian wishes he could claim ignorance to his own hesitation. After all, he chose to stay, didn’t he? But he can’t forget his nightmares, a regular occurrence since the war. He can’t forget his history textbooks and the villains of his world.
Monster, they had called Singh. It was a thing said casually, without concern, without controversy. And Julian had always known that if Singh was a monster, so was he.
Maybe Cardassians are monsters too. They certainly filled the role of villain whenever it was required. But Cardassians are still Cardassians, they still have a home that they love, a place of their own. Julian doesn’t know what he is.
So he stays where he’s sitting, listening to the thunder, and watches Garak without trying to hide it. And he hopes that Garak, of all people, is okay with monsters.
“See, the concept of your enigma tales is not totally foreign to us.” Julian announces as he drops next Garak on the mat.
Garak sighs and looks up from the padd. “I’d hardly call this an enigma tale.”
“But it does fit the general concept of everyone being guilty of something.”
“True, but that is not where the mystery of the story lies. We already know who is guilty of what, it was announced in the recording. I’ll admit it’s not boring to learn how they are each guilty of their individual crimes, but the two main mysteries are of who is trying to kill them all – which is very much like the rest of Terran mystery – and whether or not Vera is guilty of murdering the little boy, which of course she is.”
“You only say that because all of your mystery literature has taught you to assume all characters are guilty.”
“Perhaps, but I’m also right.”
“But that’s not the point! Vera is underestimated by Lombard, and men in general, because she’s a woman, and it isn’t easy for them, or even the reader, to believe she is capable of homicide. She’s relatable, even. Emotional and also rational, she works through the evidence and tries to discover the killer. The other characters confess their own deeds to her, adding to the idea that she is trustworthy. That she could have so willingly caused the death of a child in her care, and for such selfish reasons, is shocking for the reader.”
“A Human reader, maybe,” he corrects with a dramatic huff of disappointment. “Really, you always want to believe the best in people first. It keeps you from seeing the worst in them. What they’re really capable of.”
“I don’t know if it’s about seeing the best in people as much as it is about creating all-encompassing generalizations that we force on one another and that keep us from seeing them as humans, capable of what every human is capable of. There aren’t enough depictions before, and even after, this book of women being capable of horrible acts – not for feminized issues like romantic or familial love, but for more insidious reasons like money, in Vera’s case. She didn’t just want to be in love, she wanted to be rich, and so she killed a child. Anyway, how have you gotten with the other mystery in the novel?”
“I’ll admit not far. I’m generally suspicious of every character, but I don’t see how Vera could be guilty in this case, if anything because the author would likely not want to overburden the character. I had begun to suspect the judge, and I still do, despite his death. As for Vera, though, I’ll give you this, it’s a much darker book than I’d understood to be in your culture.”
“Oh, I think Terran literature is darker than you think it is.”
Garak rolls his eyes and looks back down at the padd, but something in his demeanor tips Julian off that this is a conversation that interests him. “I rather doubt that.”
“Really,” Julian insists. “I’m surprised we haven’t gotten to some of it after all this time.”
“You were the one choosing the Human selections.”
“True,” he admits. “Perhaps I didn’t want to get into it, with everything that was going on at the time. There’s a common thread through many Human cultures connecting love with death, almost an obsession really. There are many different versions of the Romeo & Juliet type story, ending in the death of one or both of the lovers. In a play by Oscar Wilde, Salomé has Jokanaan beheaded; she then kisses his decapitated head and says, ‘Was it the taste of blood? Nay; but perchance it was the taste of love.’ Murder can often be conflated with the consummation of a relationship, whether the lovers commit a murder together, or one of them murders the other. Even the word ‘consummation,’ here referring to the first sexual act in a relationship, has roots in Latin where it can refer to death and destruction.”
“I feel I should warn you, my dear,” Garak interrupts as he gives up the pretense of trying to read and sets down the padd. “That you’re beginning to ramble.”
“You’re right, sorry.” He takes a steadying breath, his thoughts still racing. “Perhaps, then, I’ll convince you to read Angela Carter next. The endings of her stories are things like a young woman strangling her mystical lover with his own hair, or a young woman finding a werewolf has eaten her grandmother and, in order to save her own life, she seduces the werewolf and falls in love with him.”
“You’re an odd species.”
“I prefer the word ‘passionate,’” Julian quips, his gaze on a distant point. In the corner of his eye he can see Garak blink slowly, and it feels like the movement brings him back to the moment, giving it a sensation of realness that it didn’t seem to have before.
“Is that why it matters?”
Is what why it matters? Julian doesn’t think he understands the question. But then. Maybe. Maybe Garak understood what he was saying better than he did. “They are my species,” he whispers. “I shot you once,” he says even quieter, not sure if Garak could even hear him.
Garak sits up straighter, but he does not move away, and Julian gets the distinct impression that Garak did hear him after all. “Just as long as you don’t murder me in my sleep.”
“Your hair isn’t long enough,” he tells him. He can’t keep himself from smiling, and it feels like a promise.
“Something’s happened,” Garak says, hushed, as he slides into the shed and hurriedly closes the door. On instinct, Julian reaches for his kit. “Kamar is dead.
Dead. His hand slides away from the kit. It won’t be necessary. “Was it an accident?” Julian wasn’t that familiar with Kamar, a neighbor of theirs, but he knew the man worked on one of the teams clearing out and repairing some of the buildings in the city.
“No,” Garak tells him, his gaze sharp. But then, as quick as ever, his face relaxes and his tone changes. “Officially they don’t know the details, but Nekhar hasn’t been seen since this morning.”
“Yes. From what I know, I feel quite certain she’s guilty.”
Julian leans against the wall, his gaze not leaving Garak. Someone may be dead, murdered if Garak is correct, but they won’t be leaving the shed before morning. “If this were before the war?”
“She would be found guilty, there would be a trial, and she would be executed.”
“You sound quite sure.”
“Like I said,”Garak reminds him, “From what I know of the situation, that would be the most likely outcome.”
But there is something in Garak’s tone – not regret, not disappointment, something that Julian recognizes but can’t name. “It’s a different world now,” he says cautiously, waiting to see what Garak’s response reveals.
Garak’s gaze grows sharp again, he knows what Julian’s trying to do. He gives a little information anyway. “This isn’t how justice should be dealt.”
Justice. Julian almost smiles at the thought that Garak gave him just what he needed to know to work the rest out. “But I imagine justice, this kind of justice, wasn’t dealt very well before either.” And before Garak can give any sort of rebuttal, he follows up his statement with, “And yes, the Federation tends to fail in this regard as well. Both of us can probably attest to the failures of our societies. They both have their reasons for failing to protect the vulnerable, but it’s still a failure.”
Garak doesn’t nod, doesn’t change his expression at all. “But how often do wives kill their husbands in the Federation?”
“Now? I couldn’t say, but Earth’s history, at least, is filled with different justice systems. And in situations with weak or nonexistent justice systems, people tend to do what they can.”
“Cardassians are taught to put the needs of the state above all else. Now, without much of a state…” he doesn’t finish the thought.
Julian speaks up, more just to say something than in any attempt to reassure. Garak isn’t the type to want blind reassurance. “Reminds me of this old Earth song from America. I remember hearing it when I was at the Academy.” He’d probably be able to remember the words too, if he hadn’t spent so much of those days working as hard as he could to keep anyone from guessing his true genetic status. A perfect memory would have been too much of a tell. “I can’t remember the words, exactly, it wasn’t the kind of thing that people sang often, but I remember that it came from a part of the country that tended towards isolation, especially when the country was relatively new. In it a woman’s husband is killed – at least in some versions. The nature of his death isn’t entirely clear, only that he was decapitated by a train; and the woman now sleeps outside in the cold, like she’s hiding.”
Garak looks tired, like the day has worn on long enough. “It’s winter. If Nekhar is sleeping outside in hiding, I don’t know that she’ll survive.”
“Then let’s hope a song is just a song,” Julian says, trying to give the conversation up. “She’ll see sense and come back.”
“And if she does, what will happen to her? What will our new society choose to do?”
There are no lights in the shed when he returns home. He doesn’t make a sound as he cautiously pushes open the door, standing to the side. He can’t see anyone in the dark and ventures a quiet, “Julian?”
There’s no word in answer, only laboured breathing. A sniffle.
“Are you sick?” Garak asks as he slips inside the shed and shuts the door behind him. He doesn’t bother searching for a light, he can now just make out the shape of Julian on the floor.
“No,” Julian whispers back.
Garak stands awkwardly near the door for a moment. “I remember that your species could have respiratory problems when ill, and when I heard the sniffle, I thought…”
“Congestion can happen for other reasons as well.”
In the dark he can see Julian move slightly, turning his head in the direction of the door. He can tell now that Julian has been lying face down on the floor. Another sniffle comes in response.
Garak kneels down in front of him, choosing to believe that Julian was being truthful when he said he wasn’t ill. “What’ wrong, then?”
A bit dramatic, Garak doesn’t say. “How so?”
Julian’s shoulders do their best to pull up in a shrug. “I never feel… fine. Content.” Garak can remember times on the station when Julian seemed perfectly fine, but he doesn’t interrupt him. “I thought leaving Earth would be the end of it. The station was good, for a while. I want to feel happy.”
The statements seem to lack context, but Garak tries to make sense of them. “Do you want to leave Cardassia?” He steels himself as best he can for the answer.
“No. Not really. I don’t know; I feel restless? Something worse than restless. I want the feeling to go away.”
And maybe Garak can understand that a little. He’s spent enough time moving from life to life. It isn’t easy, after all that, to choose to be someone and not see an end to it. Not when all the people you’d been before had expiration dates, or at the very least, the threat of war looming ahead. “And so you chose to lie on the floor in the dark?”
“It wasn’t dark when I chose to lie on the floor.”
“I was angry at myself. And I was tired. I don’t think I’m a good person.”
“Julian.” Garak reaches out and touches his face, feeling tears. Is that what caused the appearance of illness earlier? Human emotion? “You’ve been through a lot the last few years.”
“So have you,” he says almost defensively.
“Yes, and I was a mess for it. I was having claustrophobic attacks on a space station where I’d lived for years, I was such a mess.” Julian leans into his hand, sliding his body a little closer to Garak’s. “I can’t say I know much about… health. But this isn’t something you can fix with a dermal regenerator and a few minutes. Healing isn’t quick or direct or even in a straight line; not when it’s more than just your skin that’s been broken.”
Julian sniffles again. “I know,” he admits, quietly, like it cost him.
This whole situation is just bizarre and, well, vulnerable enough that Garak decides to give up any last pretense of dignity. “Here, let me just.” He lets go of Julian to lay down next to him, facing the ceiling. “You should contact someone. I’m sure the Federation has sent counselors of some sort here. Or they’ve come of their own will, full of Federation optimism. And root beer.”
Julian breathes out a soft laugh. “Yeah.” He moves so that he’s lying on his back as well, their arms just pressed together.
The rain begins to fall harder on his face as he lies in the mud, and he laughs with his mouth closed to keep from drowning in it. Garak nudges his arm from where he lays beside him. “May we go in now,” he says with not a little annoyance in his voice, like he’s done humouring Julian’s oddities.
“Oh, alright,” Julian breathes with amusement, sitting up and holding out his hand to pull up Garak. “I wouldn’t want you to freeze out here.” As they stand, he takes note of the affection carefully concealed behind Garak’s look of indifference. When did he become so skilled at reading his notoriously guarded and secretive friend? Perhaps there was some sort of reward in studying him for so long. It wasn’t knowing, exactly – there were still depths to Garak that Julian could see in the distance in his eyes, or the way he’d wake up in the middle of the night and pretend to still be asleep. There would always be more to Garak than Julian could learn, for that was the way of people, even if it’d taken Julian years to understand that the joy in discovering something or someone was in discovering that they could never be wholly known. Instead of knowing Garak, it was a sense of familiarity, of home, in a way that he had never really felt with anyone else. The comfort of looking in the window after being gone for months and knowing it was where you belonged, even if you didn’t recognize every little thing about it.
Julian considers then that maybe he had always understood the joy of not knowing over knowing. The point of getting as far away from Earth as you could was to know that there would always be more distance ahead of you to run across than there would ever be behind. The point in loving the universe was in learning it without ever truly knowing it.
Garak tries unsuccessfully to brush some of the mud from his clothes and grumbles as he heads the few steps back to the shed. Waiting just a couple seconds longer as the rain pours down, Julian smiles upward at the sky with his eyes closed. He takes a deep breath and follows the now-washed-away footsteps.
It’s darker inside than outside – no reason to light anything, they both know the space by heart. Garak is already pulling on dry clothes as Julian takes a seat on the other side of the small room. He decides he’ll change in a few minutes. The night feels real in a way that moments rarely do and he just wants to experience it, to look at his surroundings and memorize the knowledge that they are here and they exist and so does he.
A flash of lightning almost startles him and he looks to the window near where Garak is standing. For a few seconds, the outside looks nearly as bright as it does during the day, before falling dark again. The thunder that follows is loud enough to shake the wood of the shed. Julian thinks distantly that maybe he should be concerned, but the thought gets swallowed up by the ever increasing realness of the moment.
Lightning strikes again, but this time Julian watches the way it flashes across Garak’s cheek and neck, catching on the spaces between his scales. It’s easy to say that people are like universes, expansive and expanding, bright points and long stretches of darkness, at once beautiful and alive and unforgiving. But such an analogy has never felt as true as it does as he watches Garak’s body reclaimed by the shadows of the room to the rumbling of the thunder. Julian spent his youth reaching for the stars, and since being among them he reached for more just as he reached toward the person standing only a few feet away.
He spent seven years learning and memorizing every look, word, and touch. Seven years reaching for a very different set of stars. It takes him seconds to cross the room.
Garak is entirely aware of his approach, Julian can see his head tilt toward him almost imperceptibly in another flash of lightning. He cautiously lifts a hand to Garak’s cheek, cradling it softly, feeling the bottom of an eyeridge beneath the pad of his thumb. As the glow outside the window fades out, Julian leans forward and catches Garak’s mouth with his own.
There’s a moment, not quite a hesitation as much as just a breathe in, breathe out, before Garak kisses him back. The hand that’s resting on Garak’s cheek slides into his hair as Julian’s other hand comes up to grip his shoulder. The thunder running through the walls of the shed and the glass of the window describes Julian’s feelings better than his thoughts could – all of which lay scattered in the wake of finally. The feel of Garak’s lips isn’t anything like he imagined, instead it’s real, like the night is real, like the rain pouring down on the roof is real.
The ridge on Garak’s nose brushes against his own nose and he pushes in further, holds on tighter. For the first time he doesn’t have to hold back, doesn’t have to pretend that his strength is any less than it is. Garak won’t be hurt by him, won’t fear him or hate him. Perhaps the night is real because, for the first time, Julian is.
Garak’s arm is inches from his as they walk back from the opening of the art exhibit. Julian clenches and unclenches his fist, flexing his fingers. The whole evening he had to keep himself from reaching out and touching.
Instead he listens to Garak break every aspect of the exhibit. It was an odd mix, in all honesty. Part of the exhibit was art that had survived the war and been restored in the past months, and part of it was newer art created in the wake of all that was lost. Ambitious, if slightly incoherent. “It was beautiful,” Garak eventually concedes.
“But beauty is impermanent,” Julian thinks out loud before he can stop himself. “Jes Grew is eternal.” And he smiles at the memory of old discussions with all-but-forgotten friends on a different planet. It’s a small change in topic, but it’s what his mind jumped to.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Mumbo Jumbo,” Julian replies.
“That’s the name of the book, Mumbo Jumbo.”
“You never brought it up before.”
“And for a reason. The book was written well before Humans made first contact, but within the context of the 24th century, it could be seen as anti-Cardassian. At least before, but now… Now maybe it’s something I should find a copy of for you. Maybe you won’t hate it too much.”
“And what is, as you called it, Doctor, Jes Grew?” It sounds harsh as he says it, his Cardassian tongue not catching the play on words. Julian plans to rectify that.
But then he realizes he’s thinking about Garak’s tongue and quickly tries to redirect his thoughts. “Oh, it’s music and passion and spirituality and sexuality and freedom. If you catch it you have to do and feel and make art.”
Garak wakes first. He can’t see Julian from where he’s pressed up against Garak’s lower ribs. Garak doesn’t know at what point in the night he attached himself to that particular spot, but he can feel the way skin is sticking against scales from the heat between them. Or, to be more accurate, Julian’s heat. Julian’s warmer than anyone he’s ever let get so close. He can feel his warm breath ghosting across his scales.
It’s barely early spring, still a good deal colder than Garak prefers, though he knows even the winter felt like summer to Julian. It hasn’t escaped his notice how this kind-hearted, exuberant man prefers such colder climates. Julian doesn’t wear it like a contradiction, he wears it like a dream. Like a nightmare. An alien from freezing cold rain and snow. An alien who burns like stars in the cold expanse of space that he loves so much.
Garak knows what Julian’s done, he’s read the reports since the war, no matter how confidential. It was never made common knowledge, never even reported with total clarity, but Garak could put the pieces together. They formed a picture where Julian tortured an unknown Federation operative for information and the operative died. But Garak knew before – he knew Julian’s strength and penchant for survival, the depth of his determination. He won’t forget Julian casually calculating their odds of survival. He won’t forget Julian shooting him in the neck.
And he remembers Julian, the night before, fingers pressed hard enough into his ribs to bruise had he been from a species closer to Human, lips feather-light across his sternum. “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,” he had breathed against him. “In secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
There was an innocence to the words, like the opposite of a weight. Garak could feel them sinking in beneath scales and into his veins. Even now it’s like he can feel the words moving lightly below the press of Julian’s fingers holding onto him in sleep. “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,” Julian had murmured. Garak had listened, had breathed, had felt, but most importantly, he had let it all happen. He hadn’t tried to take control. Julian is stronger than the average human; Garak isn’t even really sure of the man’s full potential, but he had put his safety, his body, in Julian’s hands. He made that choice.
With that thought in mind, he curls around Julian’s still sleeping form, and Julian clings tighter in response. Such a Human thing to do; such a Julian thing to do. Garak runs a hand through his hair, which has grown longer since his arrival, and buries his face in the soft strands. Repeating Julian’s recitation from the night before, he whispers, “So I love you because I know no other way than this.” Julian stirs in his grasp, face tilting so that his nose brushes blindly against Garak’s. “Good morning,” he says only a little louder.
Julian doesn’t open his eyes, but he smiles like he’s about to tell a joke that they both can see coming. “I suppose it could be.”
As the sun begins to dip below the horizon, Julian sits down amongst the newly blooming orchids. It’s the only time of day he feels comfortable sitting outside now. The mornings are nice and cool, but that’s when he walks to work at the hospital. He gets home in the afternoon, pushing through the heat, and immediately sequesters himself inside the house until the light finally begins to dim once more.
He closes his eyes, leaning back, a soft breeze on his face, and digs his fingers into the soil. Sometimes, it’s as if he can feel the humming of the planet beneath him, though he’s sure it’s just his imagination. The dirt is soft, powdery on his fingertips. It will remain dry until Garak returns for the day and waters it. Julian offered to water the flowers once, but Garak fussed that they need a carefully monitored amount of water, and Julian left it at that. So, for now, the soil is dry as he leans back onto his palms, letting the dusk drift over him.
His legs twitch slightly and he stretches them out, shaking them through their restless energy. There are no other sounds around apart from his bare feet on the ground, such a departure from the constant thrum of the station that Julian can’t help but constantly notice it. If he tries hard enough, he can picture that sound exactly as it was just under six months ago, the last time he heard it. Even the crowds sound different here, when he walks through them to and from work. There are no walls to echo back their conversations, their breathing, their living. Every sound they make just drifts outward, unravelling in the openness.
Julian doesn’t feel the need to run like he used to, the pull gathering in his stomach isn’t the same as when he packed his bags and boarded the shuttle to San Francisco, or when he stepped foot on the Xhosa without any desire to look back. But that openness beckons all the same. The two seem at odds with each other. He hasn’t discussed it during counseling, hasn’t found the words yet.
When he pictures that openness, it doesn’t have a solid form, exactly. It’s shifting, fluid. It’s the dryness of Cardassia, it’s the dim brightness of distant stars viewed through the window of a ship. No matter how hard he tries, the picture never feels completely right.
The sound of crunching gravel cuts through his thoughts and he opens his eyes slowly. It’s gotten considerably darker since he first sat down, but the gray of Garak’s skin is illuminated slightly in the moonlight. Julian’s heart stutters a moment and his fingers instinctively flex in the dirt. It’s been months since Julian first decided to stay on Cardassia, a week since he first tasted as much of Garak’s body as he could manage, years since they first met. Time has had no effect on what seeing Garak does to him. Or if it has, the effect has been to alter every moment he’s seen him, backwards and forwards in time, so that they are all the same, all marked by a hunger he has little control over.
“You look lost in thought,” Garak observes as he approaches.
Julian wants to stand up and kiss him, but he knows if he does he likely won’t get around to answering Garak’s implied question. “I was thinking about the future and how I’ve never really considered it much before. My only plan had been to leave Earth and get as far away as possible. I didn’t plan much ahead of getting to Deep Space Nine, and now I’m so far from that life. I don’t know whether to feel lost or excited.”
Garak takes a seat in the dirt beside him. “Is it not possible to feel both?”
“I suppose,” he breathes. “But I don’t think that I’m capable of it.” Garak says nothing, likely waiting for Julian to elaborate. So he tries, “I mean, of course it is, that’s what adventure is. If I am feeling both of them, it’s not in a particularly great way, it’s more in the way that they’re at odds with each other.”
Garak turns to look at him, Julian can feel it even if he doesn’t see it for himself. “Do you want to leave Cardassia?” It’s been months since Garak last asked him that question, and the uncertainty underlying Garak’s tone still cuts him in exactly the same way.
Julian almost reaches out to grasp Garak’s hand, but refrains from doing so. He doesn’t want to offer a gesture that may not be totally honest. “That’s not it, not exactly. I don’t know what I want. I try to picture it, but I can’t figure out its shape.”
“A yearning for the future. For things that haven’t happened yet and will take time to pass.”
“When I was on Earth I just wanted more. I got to the station and then I wanted more. Now I’m here with you, and I feel like a monster that just wants to consume more and more.”
“A monster—” Garak begins, but he’s cut off abruptly by Julian standing up.
Julian walks toward their shared shed-house, needing to move his restless legs. “I’m going to water the flowers.” He expects to hear Garak protest as he reaches for the watering can, but no words come. He stares resolutely at the flower petals as he holds a steady stream of water over the soil beneath them.
Garak’s footsteps on the ground are the only indication that he has stood up, but instead of heading into the house, Julian hears them approach him slowly. His gray hand lands on Julian’s darker one, but instead of pulling the can away, he lifts Julian’s hand just a little, slowing the flow of water without stopping it. “As I was saying,” Garak continues, both annoyance and empathy evident in his voice. “A monster is only ever named as such by others. A monster isn’t monstrous by being itself, it’s only monstrous when compared with a false normality constructed outside of itself.” Julian moves down the row of flowers, keeping the can at the exact same angle Garak had placed it. His steady hand might be described as inhuman by others. “You wouldn’t be you without your insatiable desire for the universe.”
At the end of the row, Julian sets the can down, keeping his focus on it rather than his surroundings. “I just want to sit in one place and feel content. It’s exhausting.”
Garak places his hand under Julian’s chin and gently lifts to face him. “It’s only exhausting because you’re trying to deny what’s within you.” Julian’s fingers latch on to the sleeves of Garak’s shirt, clutching the fabric tightly in his hands, his gaze on Garak’s blue eyes, unable to look anywhere else now that they are held. “Whatever you decide, I’m with you. Even if you decide to leave this planet.”
Julian takes a deep breath, searching the gaze before him. “Cardassia’s your home.”
“Yes,” Garak tells him, sure. “But so are you. I’ve lived with both and neither and variations between. I feel fairly confident in my choices.”
“I don’t want to leave, at least I don’t think so. I really don’t know what I want. I just want.” The energy in his legs is still there, the pull in his stomach only growing stronger, but his hands just hold Garak’s sleeves even tighter. “I do know I want you.” It’s the one thing he’s sure of, a solid certainty he can’t remember having before. As he leans in closer to Garak, he lets that certainty settle inside, an anchor among the shifting waves.
Garak closes his eyes again for one more second, rolling onto his back and turning his head to the form sleeping beside him. He opens his eyes and takes in Julian’s unguarded face, his eyelashes laid against his cheeks, the rise and fall of his arm and side in time with his soft breathing.
“Good morning,” Julian nearly whispers, his voice scratchy.
Garak almost smiles, remembering the few occasions in the many Terran novels he’d read, where the Human character could sense someone watching them. Such a sensitive species. “I suppose it could be,” he says evenly.
Julian opens his eyes and sits up. His gaze seems to fix on the window and the gray light drifting in through it, but Garak doesn’t turn to see what Julian is seeing, he just observes Julian, ready to look away should Julian notice. “It definitely rained last night,” Julian says. “And it seems it will rain again soon.”
“Yes,” Garak responds, his focus unshifting. “I imagine another storm is certainly on its way.”
Julian turns to look at him, his expression soft. Garak forgets to look away in time and gets caught in the gaze, instead. “What’s your plan for today? I don’t mean to interrupt your life with my sudden ten-day visit.”
“You’re not an interruption,” Garak tells him, cautious. “At least not an unwelcome one. And to answer your question, I’m helping repair houses a few streets over.”
“Rebuilding,” Julian smiles.
Garak only half-hears him, his mind stuck on the thought of ten days. He doesn’t want to bring it up too soon, worried that he might accidentally push Julian away. But if he doesn’t make sure that Julian knows he wants him to stay, Julian might misunderstand and they’ll lose this chance. “Rebuilding is one word for it, though I don’t know if it’s entirely accurate.” His mind drifts to the concept of permanence. Can he get Julian to stay? For how long?
Repetitive epics are known for their unbroken, cyclical nature. Like the seasons and the storms, things come and go and then come back again. There’s a comfort in that. The state never dies, Cardassia stands strong through the ages, and everyone serves her with honor. Things can never really be frightening if you know that it’s all happened before and it will all happen again. Except now the state is dead, Cardassia in ruins. Art and museums and remnants of the past destroyed in the Dominion’s attack. Cardassia must change to survive, must work to keep from repeating what’s happened.
“What’s the right word, then?” Julian asks.
“I don’t know,” he says with honesty. “It’s something different. It needs to be.” Garak takes a deep breath, trying to gather what strength he can. “Julian.” His heart is in his stomach, beating throughout his body. “I know you have ten days to explore and talk and let those thoughts of yours run through as many possibilities as they can, but I’m going to say this now. Stay. You should stay. With me.”
Julian runs his hand along the wall of the shed, now so much bigger than it had been when he’d first arrived. It’s more the size of a small cabin now, more like a home. He’s not sure when, between his first night and the night that’s falling now, he started to think of this place as home. It must have been sometime through everything he’s touched here. He’d touched the walls of the shed for the first time that first night, and then there’d been the inside of the hospital, the Cardassian food and Cardassian plants. There was the touch of almost-cold rain on his skin. There was the feeling of Garak’s scales, of his black hair, of the inside of his mouth, of being inside him. There was the feeling of Garak inside of him.
The weather is getting hot enough now that Julian’s considering spending longer days at work to avoid going out in the sun, though has refrained from doing so by reminding himself that it’s an absurd idea. The longer he spends at work, the shorter his time with Garak is. Maybe they can work something out.
But it’s dark outside now and Julian thinks he can maybe hear a small breeze. “We should go for a walk, it’s a nice evening.” He grabs Garak’s hand, squeezing it gently with affection, but he doesn’t make for the door until he sees Garak nod.
In the dark he can make out the shapes of trees and houses and the little bit of debris still needing to be removed. The trees on Cardassia aren’t anything like the trees on Earth, not really. Cardassia has nothing like Earth’s forests, and the trees here bend and twist in ways he’s never seen trees do. They’re sparse, spaced out like buoys in a sea made of hard sand and cracked dirt. Yet it’s the trees that remind him of the words.
“Her husband, he was a hard-working man, killed about a mile from here,” he begins softly.
Garak slows almost imperceptibly in his steps, turning his head to look at Julian. “That Terran song? You remember it?”
Julian doesn’t say anything in response, only nods his confirmation. “His head was found in a driving wheel, but his body never was found.” He’s a little off-tune, he’s never been much of a singer.
Garak doesn’t say a word about his singing, though Julian pauses just long enough to give him the chance to. Garak only watches him silently.
He presses on, working to recall the words of a song from a land that wasn’t his own, from a planet he’d spent the first part of his life trying to leave. “My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me. Tell me where,” he falters for a moment, losing the tune, before picking it up again, “did you sleep last night? In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine. I’d shiver the whole night through.” His feet carry him forward, just a little ahead of Garak, still holding his hand, their arms like a thread connecting them, his eyes on the dark horizon ahead. “My girl, my girl, where will you go? I’m going where the cold wind blows.”
The rain had been falling for nearly an hour now, Julian watching it transfixed through the window. He wonders if it’s gotten colder outside yet, or if it’s only gotten humid. “I’m going outside,” he announces.
A shuffling behind him tells him that Garak most definitely heard and may have nearly dropped something in the process. “Outside? It’s raining.”
“I know,” he smiles. “I’ve missed it. One of the downsides of living on a space station for so long is the complete lack of weather.”
“Downside?” Garak sounds incredulous. When Julian turns to look at him, he nearly laughs at the confusion on his face. “The only thing good about storms is when they’re over.”
“On the contrary, storms can be quite beautiful. Lively.” He opens the door, the rain louder than he had expected it to be. All the same, he takes a step outside. The drops on his face are nearly suffocating at first, but once his hair and skin are soaked, he doesn’t notice it much. Turning back to the doorway, he holds out his hand. “Join me.”
Garak huffs out a breath and it feels like an eye-roll, but he takes Julian’s hand all the same. Julian pulls him out into the rain without warning. “It’s freezing!” Garak complains.
To Julian it’s just tolerably warm. He holds onto Garak’s hand a few moments longer, even if custom determines it to be inappropriate. When he lets go, he swears he can see Garak’s hand instinctively follow his before falling back against his side. “There’s something so calming about the rain,” he says just loudly enough to be heard over the downpour without yelling.
“The fact that you have to raise your voice negates that statement,” Garak responds, but Julian can see the hint of amusement in his gaze.
Julian glances down at Garak’s neck, at the spot where the bullet had nicked him. He tries to tamp down a sudden urge to place his mouth on that spot, to devour him. “But that’s what’s so calming about it,” he explains. “It drowns out everything else, narrows the focus of the world. In a way it feels like it’s just you and me that exist. The two of us.”
“You’re absurd.” The fondness emanating from him undercuts any potential sting the words might have had.
“You wouldn’t want me any other way,” Julian says, backing further into the rain. He watches the way the raindrops dig into the earth, giving it life. Without giving it time to second guess himself, he kneels down, laying in the mud. Clothes can always be washed.
What he doesn’t expect is for Garak to lay down beside him, but he does. There is only affection in his voice when he speaks, “If I get sick because of this, I’m blaming you.”