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Garak thinks that living so long on Deep Space 9 must be making him soft, because he can’t get the doctor’s words and the look on his face, rueful and self-deprecating and so painfully eager to pick up whatever scraps Garak’s willing to throw his way, out of his head.

 He shouldn’t care, doesn’t care, except that he does.

 Garak might not be able to love the doctor, might wonder if anyone could love such a complicated, delightfully contradictory man. But that doesn’t change the fact that Julian’s Garak’s only friend here, that he has a smile - too wide and a bit crooked - that’s just for Garak, or how Julian always makes sure he has extra hyposprays for migraines even though they both know he can’t pay for them.

 Julian deserves to like himself, even if Garak can’t love him. And that’s how Garak finds himself at Julian’s doorstep at 2AM with 50 less pieces of latinum than he had this morning. The doctor, this time forgoing his matching pajamas for a white tank top that reveals entirely too much skin and rolled up pajama bottoms in a similar blue silk. Julian frowns at him, rubbing at his eyes.  “Garak, what are you doing here? It’s nearly 2:00 am and some of us have to work in the morning.”

 “Take a walk with me, Doctor.” Garak murmurs softly as he holds a hand out. Julian’s gaze flickers down to his hand, and Garak finds himself swallowing in time with the doctor. Garak has no reason to be nervous; he loses nothing important if Julian turns him away. And yet his stomach is still in a strange mess of knots, a new one being added for each second Julian stares at him with that unsure, reproachful gaze.

 Garak feels a swell of relief when Julian slides his fingers through Garak’s own, smile nervous and tight, gaze bemused and just a touch sheepish. Garak wonders idly if it’s for going with him now or for his melodramatics a few days earlier. He doesn’t know if it matters.  

 “Garak.” Julian’s voice is little more than a whisper, gaze curious as he glances around the hallway and nowhere near Garak. Julian finally stops it when they get to the turbolift, looking up at Garak with the determination and excitement of a young ingenue who thinks he’s a hero. Julian’s gaze is bright and curious, exuberant in a way Garak’s not sure he ever was, even in his youth. “Are we sneaking off to Cardassia or Bajor again? Maybe Risa this time, for a change of scenery?”

 Of course. Julian did love a good adventure, and the promise of one is apparently enough to make him put aside Garak’s dismissal from the other day. Garak guides him down the promenade, gaze apologetic when they finally stop in front of Quark’s, lights dim and the entire bar empty. “Nothing quite so adventurous, my dear. Just to the holosuites.”

 Garak presses a few numbers into the lock on Quark’s door and it comes open easily. Julian raises an eyebrow, lips pressed in a thin line, though Garak can see a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. Julian follows him inside the bar, running his free hand down the smooth white metal, tapping his hands along the tops of chairs every so often. “Is this your way of apologizing for throwing me out of your shop yesterday instead of finishing what you started?”

 “Not quite.” Garak can’t help scoffing a little. If anyone needs to apologize to Julian for yesterday, it’s Julian. But they can get to that later. Right now he has a holosuite to break into and an obnoxious Starfleet Officer to seduce. Garak comes to a stop in front of one of the holosuites and enters a few numbers, the doors sliding open and a light glow coming over the room as it took shape. “Or at least not first.”

 “Then where are you taking me?” Julian asks as he takes a step into the room, smile twitching a little as the white tiles along the floor suddenly bloom with thick cardassian sea grass, red and vibrant as it rises from the dust. There are lines of flowers, vivid yellows and silver, a few orange blossoms weaving in and out in a line to the sea.

 Julian lets go of his hand so he can brush his fingers along the petals, the pale silver blossoms a sharp and beautiful contrast to the deep gold of his skin. Garak watches Julian for a moment, the way his smiles brightens as he leans over to study the blossom, gaze taking on a look of wonder as he catalogues each and every angle and curve of the petal.

 Julian takes a step back when there’s a knock on the door, Garak twisting around to meet an annoyed and exhausted looking Quark at the door. It was a wonder, what enough latinum and a threatening voice could get you. Garak takes the basket and blankets carefully layering it over his arm. Quark tries to sneak a peak over his shoulder to catch a look at their holoprogram, likely for blackmail purposes.

 Garak doesn’t let him, pressing the door shut as he turns around with a beatific smile. “It’s a picnic. I thought we could finish our discussion on Preloc’s shorter poems from the other day.”

 “I seem to remember giving you all of my answers.” Julian reminds him as he tilts his head to the right, the smirk on his face not reaching his gaze. Instead his gaze is, for once in his naive little life wary, a certain tension coming over his frame. Julian takes a few steps back, deeper into the thick red grass spreading out across his bare feet and his slender ankles, just visible beneath his pajama bottoms.

 “Not where I could hear them.” Garak answers warmly as he leans down to spread the blanket out, the luxurious scarlet velvet nearly as soft as Julian’s skin. It might be a bit decadent for a picnic, but Garak isn’t going to fuck Julian or be fucked on anything less.

 Not when he’s brought along one of Quark’s only decent bottles of kanar.

 “Garak, I know you’re trying to be nice and that must be very hard for you.” Julian teases softly, though there’s a pinched quality to his voice Garak’s only heard a few times before, usually when the Federation isn’t quite living up to all his varied ideals. Julian’s smile is slight as he presses their shoulders together. “But you don’t need to do this.”

 Garak gives Julian a flat look, because it’s a little late now, when Quark’s already delivered their pudding and wine in a lovely wicker basket the Ferengi assured him humans use.

 Garak swallows the urge to say any of that though. It was a surprise for Julian, and besides he’s not here to be rewarded for his thoughtfulness. He’s here to ensure that Julian feels liked so he doesn’t have to hear another bout of self-pity. That’s all. “No, but I want to.”

 “Why?” Julian’s voice is barely more than a whisper as he takes a few steps back and then collapses onto the blanket, slender limbs bundling together like firewood. He glances up at Garak with far more openness than he anticipated, gaze soft and vulnerable and just a little bit afraid. Garak will have to teach him not to let that shine through so easily in the future, if Julian’s to survive out here.

 But that can wait. For now Julian needs to understand something else.

 “Because someone as charmingly arrogant as you shouldn’t dislike themselves so much.” Garak’s voice is playful as he sits down on the edge of the blanket next to Julian, letting his gaze fall to the sleek lines of his neck and shoulders, a few scattered bruises - Julian calls them hickies for some ungodly reason - still lingering there.

 Julian lets out a rough laugh, shaking his head so a few errant curls fall across his forehead. His gaze is a harsher now, tone pedantic and just a touch smug in a way Garak’s sure has pushed any number of lovers away in the past. “To be fair, if you remember right, I said that you didn’t like me, not that I didn’t like myself.”

 “My feelings toward you are … complex.” Garak is admitting this as much to himself as he is to Julian, the honesty of it alien on his lips. He wants to not care about Julian, to not think of him as anything but a pretty distraction with a few clever ideas until he returns home. That’s simpler for both of them.

 But Garak can only fool himself for so long. If it were merely that, he would have abandoned the doctor when he noticed the young man getting attached, when the excitement over his mysterious past and sexual knowledge gave way to a genuine interest in Garak’s opinions on poetry and a fondness for the way he fussed over fabrics and their meals.

 Instead he’d made sure to fix his father’s sloppy work and make sure all the files about his enhancements were properly destroyed.

Julian rolls his eyes though, brushing on of his ankles along Garak’s thigh. His smile is crooked and there’s a look in his gaze that isn’t quite disdain, but it’s close. Apparently Garak’s truths have started to sound like the lies of amateurs. “No they aren’t. I’m good in bed and not terrible at arguing.”

 “Yes, you are those things. But you don’t seem to take any pride in them. Not truly, when you get past all of your smugness.” Garak’s only noticed this recently, but for all of Julian’s’ bragging and insistence on sharing every thought he has - most admittedly quite interesting, but some also quite banal - like people wanted to hear them was an uncertainty, a loneliness of someone who thinks they don’t deserve not to be.

 Julian looks away from him then, gaze locked into the thick velvet beneath them. Garak wonders if he can see each individual thread, each shade to make up one color. Then Julian answers him, a whisper of a secret passing between them. “You can’t take pride in what isn’t yours.”

 Of course. Julian’s brilliance and easy athleticism, possibly even that sharp yet soft beauty of his face and body, were all born out of a lab. It makes no difference to Garak but it would to Julian, whose grown up surrounded by Federation bogeyman in the shape of Khan Noonien Singh.

 Garak wants to remind him that Julian is the one who decided to use that unnatural brilliance to help people and save lives, who sees people with compassion and a sense of responsibility even when they’re not his own. That Khan didn’t share Julian’s curiosity or love of literature or desire to befriend everyone he meets (even if most of his attempts end in disaster).

 Garak could point out that Khan wouldn’t have devoted 10 days to trying to save his life, ignoring every hateful word he spat at Julian, that he wouldn’t have gone against Starfleet orders to protect Bajor.

 Garak might admit that he wouldn’t have wasted the time to protect Khan or anyone else from records of their past.

 But that’s Julian’s secret to tell, not his. He won’t take that from him. Instead Garak leans over and presses a kiss, rough and needy, gasping into Julian’s mouth when the other man returns it in equal measure. Julian stares at him, gaze somehow hopeful and reproachful at the same time. “You accept me without trying to change me. You see the world with kinder eyes than most people, and when you don’t, you try to make things better.”

 “I thought you found my federation optimism and compassion saccharine.” Julian mumbles against his jaw as he sits up on his elbows. A small, ridiculous part of Garak wants to tell him that he does find Federation idealism so, but Julian’s own brand of it - that Garak can stand. But he doesn’t.

 Julian’s gaze is that vulnerable, hopeful look from before, the one Garak should hate but instead finds himself rewarding with another kiss as his hands tangle in Julian’s shirt. “The taste grows on you.” Garak murmurs into his ear as he starts unbuttoning his pajama shirt. Garak remembers root beer and sugar cane and the strange tiger lilies from earth Julian brought him once.

 Garak thinks of warm hazel eyes that are constantly full of life, racing from one idea to the next with a speed even Garak can barely keep up with. He thinks of futures he’s not allowed to want.  

 “I thought you wanted me to tell you my thoughts on Preloc.” Julian murmurs with a heady gaze as Garak makes quick work of his shirt, licking his lips as new planes of skin are revealed to him.

 “I do, and for every time you’re not terribly wrong, I’m going to touch a new part of you.” Garak flicks his tongue over one nipple purposefully and Julian throws his head back with a bit of a gasp.

 “Careful, Garak, you keep up that kind of encouragement and I might end up liking Preloc more than you.” Julian chortles, voice light and airy and quickly lost in a moan when Garak bites his other nipple, hands gliding down to rest at his waistband.

 Garak pushes away past worries and future thoughts. For now there is the present, and a beautiful, brilliant, endlessly frustrating man pushing his hips up against Garak’s own. “One can only hope.”