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Give the Cardassian a Cat

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“Damn, I’m sorry—” Julian hurried to his seat in the Replimat, hand on the back of the chair as he twisted his hips to sit.

“Quite all right, doctor,” Garak said. “I hope you’ll forgive me for starting without you. My empty stomach rather went on the offensive.”

“No, don’t worry.” Julian shook his head, breathing a laugh. “I wouldn’t have been late but Miles and Keiko just headed off to Bajor, and I wanted to see them out. And I had to get their cat settled. Silly thing set up camp under my sofa the moment I let him in, and I needed to show him where his litterbox was kept before I left. Had to move the sofa, and then I lost the cat— Whole big thing.” Julian took a breath, looking ponderously towards the replicator past all the other tables. “Now then! What should I have for lunch today, I wonder?”

Garak narrowed his eyes. “Do excuse my ignorance, but... what exactly did you lose?”

“Oh, Miles’ cat. His name’s Chester. Hang on.”

Julian got up and went to the replicator, where he ordered Tarkalean tea, extra sweet, plus scrambled eggs on buttered toast with baked beans. He took his plate and mug back to his seat and tucked himself up to the table.

“It’s only for a couple of weeks,” Julian said, shaking salt over his food, then hesitating on the pepper, and then going for it anyway. “The O’Briens will be back from their holiday and Chester will be living with them again. So long as he doesn’t tear up my furniture or leave stains on the carpet I’m sure we’ll get along.”

Garak chewed his double-crisp vegetable platter more slowly, eyes set curiously on Julian. “Are Mr. O’Brien’s houseguests usually so inconsiderate?”

Julian glanced at him, mouth full. “Whm?”

Garak urged, “I just find it quite bemusing that you’d allow such a vandal to take up residence in your quarters, doctor. Where does this fellow sleep, exactly?”

“Oh, probably in my bed.” Julian shrugged. “He likes to cuddle. I’m not allergic or anything, thank goodness.”

Wholly taken aback, Garak stared for a few moments. “How interesting,” he said carefully.

“He’s friendly once he gets to know you,” Julian said, head bobbing as he scooped food onto his fork. “A bit pedantic, apparently, when it comes to living arrangements. He picks a favourite chair—” Julian poked a firm finger down on the table, “and nobody else can sit in that chair.”

“Well,” Garak smiled, “you may call that pedantic, but doesn’t everyone have such quirks? I myself prefer my quarters and my shop to be laid out just-so for the sake of comfort. And it is irritating to have someone make unexpected changes.”

“Yes, but it’s a cat. I’m not letting Chester run my life the way Miles does, that’s for sure. But that said—” Julian winced and started eating a bit faster, “I ought to get back quickly. Poor Chester’s alone in my room and probably thinks I’ve abandoned him.”

“You’re leaving so soon?” Garak lamented. He’d almost finished his own food but ate the last scraps with some annoyance. “I think I should like to meet this new ‘friend’ of yours, doctor. You and him have spent not an hour sharing quarters and he’s already expertly pulling your strings. Quite the puppet-master, no?”

Julian started to grin, needing to pause to put down his tea. “Garak... Do I detect a hint of jealousy in your voice?”

Garak flushed. “Of course not. How starved for your company must I be, if I cannot bear to see another man steal it away from me? I’m not as weak as that.”

“I mean pulling the strings, you twit. God forbid anyone on this station have his way faster or more efficiently than you, O good Sir Garak.”

Garak harrumphed, setting his cutlery together neatly on his empty plate.

“Anyway,” Julian said, scarfing down his food, dripping bean sauce down his chin and swiping hastily with a napkin. “You’mmm.” Gulp, more chewing, some tea-drinking. “You’re – hh – welcome to come meet him if you like. Just be warned he’s likely to leave hair on your clothes. I’ve been given very strict instructions to groom him daily. They gave me a special brush and everything.”

More intrigued than ever, Garak said, “In that case, doctor, please, lead the way. Ah, I’ll take that for you.” He stood and collected up the dirty plates, waiting a moment for Julian to guzzle down his tea, then took the items back to the replicator while Julian panted behind him, tongue burned and stomach overwhelmed.

They went together to the turbolifts, Julian chatting happily about all the colourful toys he looked forward to using with Chester – “He’s quite energetic, actually, despite all the pampering. You really have to tire him out before bed or no doubt he’ll be waking me up, begging for attention...” – which quickly left Garak sullen with embarrassment and envy.

“Most remarkable, doctor,” Garak said, blushing furiously as they reached the lifts. “I had no idea you were so willing to talk about your personal exploits so openly, and in public...”

Julian gave Garak an odd look, standing at his shoulder as the turbolift doors closed. “I mean, it’s not exactly a secret that the O’Briens left me their cat while they’re gone. They trust me to care for him – and besides, he’s already comfortable around me. He’s been around whenever I visited their quarters for dinner – sat on my lap a few times, actually.”

Garak’s stomach was churning in distaste. “Did he, now. Quite forward in his affections, isn’t he.”

“Apparently I tickle him just right. Of course,” Julian cocked his head, “it helps that I like him more than Keiko does, that’s for sure. It was more Miles’ attachment to Chester that led them to even get a cat in the first place. Miles had that thing with the Orion Syndicate, do you remember? Chester belonged to someone down there.”

“It must be a treasured position in a household, then,” Garak supposed. “Being someone’s... ‘cat’.”

“Oh, yes,” Julian agreed, a little groan in his voice. “Would be lovely, wouldn’t it? Just laying around the house, eating and being taken care of. Always someone to share the bed with. Then again, having to lick my own backside every day would be a little tough. I may be flexible, but I definitely don’t have that kind of physical dexterity.”

Garak had no idea what to say to that. His brain was completely and utterly blank, definitely not imagining Julian naked, laying back with his thighs over his shoulders, needing Garak’s help and gentle guidance to lick himself.

All Garak knew for certain was that he had to get Chester away from Julian by whatever means necessary before he stole Garak’s as-of-yet unclaimed prize. It was hard enough to scare away women – Julian tended to do it himself before too long – but perhaps a man might be more easily intimidated.

The worst part was that Chester was clearly beating Garak at his own game, which meant Garak really had to step up that game.

First order of business: size up the opponent.

The turbolift halted on Julian’s level of the Habitat Ring, and Garak gestured for Julian to exit first. Garak followed after, trying to look calm and poised and give away no sign of the electric, dark thoughts that clouded his mind.

As they came up to his quarters, Julian said, “Try not to scare him.”

Garak smiled innocently. “Wouldn’t dream of it, my dear doctor.”

They entered the double doors, and Julian looked around. “Now let’s see...”

He got down on his hands and knees, poking his buttocks in the air as he winked to peer into the dark gap beneath the sofa. He mumbled something about his stomach sloshing around. Garak admired how the Starfleet uniform wrinkled nicely in the partition of the doctor’s buttocks, but his appreciation was abruptly overtaken by concern as Julian reached under the couch and said, “Come on, darling, it’s just me. I brought a new friend.”

Darling.

Garak had never heard Julian use such a term of endearment for anyone. Oh, Garak was already too late. He’d missed his chance. He should’ve been more clear that he’d been courting Julian; should’ve spoken up the first time Julian started dating other women, rather than letting it happen, thinking he was being supportive of Julian’s needs, only to realise months later that Julian simply never realised he and Garak were supposed to be a couple. By that point it was too late. To still be debating whether now it was too late just made Garak more upset. It was so far beyond ‘too late’ that Garak felt his spirits crushed, and he sank his shoulders low, considering leaving before he ever met Chester. The better man had won. Garak’s desire to be kind and patient with his friend had been his downfall.

“Oh, come on, you silly thing,” Julian cooed. “Garak won’t hurt you, I promise.”

It was settled, then. Garak couldn’t break Julian’s trust like that. Chester would not be subject to a mysterious disappearance. Only Garak felt a knife plunged into his heart and twisted.

“Doctor,” Garak said sadly, “perhaps it’s best I go.”

“Oh, no, one minute, he’ll come out. Come on, Chester. Garak, get the treats, they’re in a box on the table. See the one with the clippy lid?”

Garak frowned. “It’s really not my place, doctor.”

“Well, it is mine, and I’m telling you, Chester loves a treat. If you put it on your fingers he’ll come up and lick you. If you’re lucky he’ll scent-mark you, and he only does that if he likes you.”

Something uncomfortable and prickly seemed to be rising in Garak’s chest, and he realised after a moment that it was despair. Was he about to weep? If so, he had to take his leave, and quickly. “I— Hh’doctor...”

Julian heard the crack in Garak’s voice, and sat up, looking back over his shoulder. “Garak! What’s the matter?”

Jaw steeled, Garak gave him a hard look. But he couldn’t speak.

Julian got to his feet, coming up to Garak with immense concern heavy in his eyes. “Garak...?”

Garak turned his head and looked away. “You’ll find me ridiculous, doctor.”

“I already find you ridiculous. A little more absurdity is hardly going to tip the scales against you.”

Garak hung his head. “There’s really no point. You’re obviously... devoted to your new companion. If I have any dignity left at all, I’ll leave you to play with him and sleep with him and – and appreciate how slim he must be, to slide under your furniture so easily. I quietly suspected you thought me too large, but now I know. Good day, Julian. I hope you and Chester are very happy together.”

He turned away for the doors – only for Julian to gasp and grab his shoulder, turning him back. “Look,” he whispered, excitement in his voice. “There he iii-iiis. Hello, beautiful.”

Garak eyed the couch in dismay, but then he saw a tiny fluffy creature step out from under the couch. It was less than a foot tall, with four dainty legs, and a fur-draped tail following it. It was grey on its back and white from its nose down to its belly, and was definitely too small and too non-Humanoid to be a romantic interest.

Garak stared.

“Isn’t he cute?” Julian grinned, leaving Garak to go to Chester, bending to reach down a hand. Chester sniffed him, jerked his head back – tiny pink nose, how peculiar – then sniffed him again. A moment later, he slid his fuzzy cheek against Julian’s hand, and Julian chuckled as he gave Chester a tickle under that tiny chin.

Garak stared some more. “That...” He blinked twice. “That’s a ‘cat’?”

Julian glanced up. “Oh, you’ve probably never seen one before. Yes, this is a cat. They’re popular on Earth. Come closer, he might let you pet him.”

“Pet...?”

Julian beckoned.

Tentatively, Garak stepped closer. “This animal... lives with you. For what purpose?”

“Oh, you know,” Julian uttered, taking Garak’s hand and easing it down to Chester’s nose. Miniature warm breaths puffed onto Garak’s fingers as the cat sniffed him. “He’s just a pet.”

“I truly don’t know what that means,” Garak advised, startled as the cat’s face moved past his fingertips, rubbing its sleek fur against him. “What— What is it doing?”

“He’s scent-marking you!” Julian stood straight, hands proudly on his hips. “There, you’re in. He’ll be sitting on your lap and demanding cuddles in no time.”

“Doctor,” Garak said, standing up, looking at his tingly fingers, “what...? What is he?”

Julian gave Garak a ponderous look. “Garak, a cat is a pet. What do Cardassians do with pets? You feed it and play with it and form a special bond. Sometimes they can be trained to perform tricks, or services for the disabled. Not Chester, though. He just keeps the bed warm.”

Garak felt his chest unclench at last, a smile starting to form. He forgave himself for all his misunderstandings; Julian clearly wasn’t aware of the double meaning of his words. “Alas, no, we have no... ‘pets’ on Cardassia.”

“Oh. That’s too bad. Well, if it’s any consolation, you’re welcome to stop by and play with Chester.”

Garak looked at the cat, who was quite innocently sitting, doing nothing, staring at a distant wall, with its tail tucked around its little white feet. The soft feeling still tickled at Garak’s fingertips, and he enjoyed how it felt, even as time passed. “You know, doctor, I think I might like that.”

Julian hummed, content. Then he turned his eyes to Garak, smiling while his brows inched together. “Now, what was it you were saying? Something about you not being slim enough?” A chuckle tumbled from Julian, and he shook his head. “Garak, if I picked my friends by how easily they fit under my sofa, I’d be very lonely indeed. As is...” He sighed softly, and reached to pat Garak’s bicep, giving him a fond look as his hand slipped downwards, then dropped away. “Hate to admit it, but I might’ve mostly agreed to take Chester because I was feeling... well. A little lonely. Nice to have someone around, sometimes, that’s all.” He averted his eyes, colour in his cheeks as he swallowed. “With Miles going away you can hardly blame me, can you? On that note, I— I’m sorry for trying to cut our lunch short. If it helps, I’m glad you’re here now. Do you... want some tea, or pudding, or something? We could sit and chat.”

The smile Garak wore doubled in size and comfort. “I would be overjoyed, my dear doctor.”

And so they had some tea, some pudding, and sat and chatted for well over an hour.

Around the time Garak started needing the bathroom, Chester came pacing along the back of the couch, then down into Garak’s lap.

“Oh!” Garak raised both hands to shoulder-height, looking in awe at the four-footed animal putting its warm paws on his thighs. “Doctor—”

Julian laughed, head back. “Just relax. He’ll settle down.”

Garak tried to relax, sitting and staring at the warm invader as it sat on him, getting warmer. Chester set his eyes half-closed, unfocused.

“Try petting him. Like this.” Julian stroked his hand over Chester’s head, curling fingers behind one of those odd pointy ears, then nuzzling under Chester’s chin. Chester stuck out that chin, but then Julian fell back.

Eager to try, Garak set fingers on Chester’s head, and... wriggled.

Chester’s ears were soft and floppy, though they didn’t look it from their natural upright posture. Garak’s smile grew of its own accord until he grinned ear-to-ear, something unusually bright and cheerful in his chest.

Then Chester started to rumble, and the sound shocked Garak into pulling back, relieved when the noise ceased.

“Oh, don’t stop,” Julian complained. “He just started to purr.”

“He was growling.”

“It was a purr, Garak, it means he’s having fun.”

“On my lap?!”

“Just carry on, would you?”

Garak did. Again, that rumbly noise came out of the cat, vibrating in Chester’s throat; Garak felt it through his fingers. “How utterly mesmerising.”

Julian lounged on the other side of the couch, beaming, eyes taking in the scene before him with open affection. “Theeere, look,” he said softly. “He’s settling down.”

Garak somehow felt proud of himself, as Chester knelt down, tucked his forelegs under his chest, and turned into a furry mound, as plump as an ikri bun.

Garak stroked Chester’s back, loving how soft he was.

Minutes passed in silence, and Julian just watched as Garak kept stroking.

Eventually Chester stopped purring, that ball inside him rattling into silence, and although Garak wondered what he’d done wrong, he realised a moment later that Chester was falling asleep. Soon the cat’s chin lowered to Garak’s thigh. The entire animal appeared to have deactivated.

Garak stopped stroking, but he left his palm comfortably resting on Chester’s bony backside.

“Well, you’re never leaving my quarters again,” Julian remarked lightly.

Garak looked at him, heartbeat surging. “Is that an invitation?”

If there was anything Garak had learned today, it was that he wasn’t going to let Julian get away from him again. If that meant being forward with his affections – more forward than their first few meetings, when Garak had realised Julian needed to be courted gently and slowly, as he was desperately shy about his attraction to men – then so be it. Years had passed and Julian was a different man; perhaps he was ready for ‘forward’.

Julian chuckled. “Mm,” he teased. “It’s not too bad, having company. Maybe I could use another pet around here.”

“Someone to keep your bed warm?”

Julian was startled by that suggestion, but not offended. “Depends. Do you shed?”

“Only my clothes.” Garak hesitated, then added, “And my scales, but I assure you I do that completely in private.”

Julian laughed, leaning his right temple onto a half-curled fist, elbow perched on the back of the couch, body turned towards Garak. His eyes were shining. “Do you need feeding?”

“You know the answer to that, doctor.”

“Luckily I like the answer,” Julian replied, smirking. “Aaaaaand, would youuu...” He tilted his head teasingly, biting his lip. A nervous flick of his eyes gave away the fact he knew he was flirting, but a quick gulp and a tiny smile revealed his self-assurance about that fact. “Would you want me to – play with you, Garak?”

Garak gazed at him. “Oh, yes, doctor,” he said, chest and inner thighs suddenly feeling tight and hot. “I certainly don’t need tiring out before bed, but...?” He offered a smile. “On special occasions I would enjoy a ‘game’ with you.”

Julian’s breath shivered a little. The look in his eyes had turned dark and understanding. Garak was serious about this. And, in the silent seconds that passed wherein Julian didn’t laugh off this conversation, Garak realised Julian was truly considering it.

“Okay,” Julian whispered. His gaze was intense, his face relaxed, a shy smile ticking at the corner of his lips. “If that’s what you want, Garak, I... I think I’d really like that.”

Garak’s lips parted. “To be clear, doctor... You— You’re asking me to... move in with you?”

“Yes.”

“You’re not toying with me.”

“A bit.” Julian smiled. “But no more than you are with me. Took you long enough to make a move.” He shrugged, bashful, then leaned in and gave Garak a most unexpected smooch on the lips. Then he fell back, clearing his throat, fiddling with a wrinkle in his uniform, feigning nonchalance.

“Took me long enough,” Garak echoed, flatly. “Long enough?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, do you not count all these years as time passed? Seemed awfully lengthy to me.”

Garak chortled at Julian’s indignation, giving Chester a little hip-rub to release the burning heat that had collected under his palm.

“Do you know how many women I’ve dated, Garak?” Julian seemed so amused, yet so tired. “You couldn’t ever do more than fend them off, could you? Honestly. How many new shirts and pants and historical costumes and custom-made skin-tight catsuits does a man who spends all his time in uniform and pyjamas need, Garak? How many?”

Garak sank with a sigh. “I have thought your fashion habit excessive. I merely assumed you took great interest in... playing dress-up games.”

“Well, that too.”

Garak rolled his eyes. “I never wanted you to feel... obligated by my attraction to you. It was hard to know what would scare you away. And my foremost priority would always be our lunches together. I cherish the time we spend in each other’s company more than – truly, doctor, anything else in my life.”

“I know that,” Julian said softly, forgivingly. “But for God’s sake, you ignored so many of my body’s reactions as you fitted me for clothes I started to think you weren’t interested at all. That’s why I’m—” He palmed his eyes, then laughed softly, giving Garak an adoring look. “I was surprised. Just now. When you asked...”

Garak leaned towards Julian, and Julian leaned closer to let Garak kiss him— Garak yelped. A set of sharp pointy things had stabbed him – and Chester was gone, tail swishing as he marched away in obvious annoyance.

“Oops,” Julian said. “Shouldn’t’ve moved.”

“It stabbed me.” Garak rubbed his thighs in upset. “It has... knives.”

“Perpetually armed,” Julian said. “Retracting claws. For catching prey and fighting enemies.”

Garak felt himself light up with joy and admiration. “I think, doctor... I rather love cats.”

Julian beamed, taking Garak’s cheek and pulling him in for a kiss – a proper one this time, slow and deep and nuzzly, with a hot exhale sliding down Garak’s cheek as Julian emptied his lungs through his nose. They pulled back smiling, content.

“I think I rather love you,” Julian replied, gently.

Garak’s heart tumbled up and down his body at once. Through a delighted smile, he remarked, “How miserable that must be for you.”

Julian snuffled a laugh, forehead on a fist. “You have no idea.”

Garak stood and leaned down to put a kiss on Julian’s cheek. “I have some idea, doctor.” Their eyes met, all atwinkle, before Garak stepped away, heading for the ensuite bathroom.

He came back, refreshed, finding Julian standing at the porthole in the living room, looking out at the stars, while Chester’s head peered at Garak over his shoulder. Julian cradled the purring cat like a baby, fingers idling at its scruff.

Garak joined Julian, pressing a hand against his lower back. Julian gave him a tender look, eyes dipping to his lips, then back up.

“I’ve been thinking,” Julian said. “We could put in a request for bigger quarters. I’m a senior officer, and if I had a partner we’d get a place as big as Miles and Keiko’s. Better view. Could be nice. You wouldn’t have to stuff all your belongings in with mine – we could take what we want to keep, and start over.”

Garak inclined his head. “After so long, and so many mistakes made, doctor, I think a new start does sound as though it’s in order.”

“Right then.” Julian smiled. “I’ll tell the Captain tomorrow.”

Garak smiled. “And tonight?”

Julian took Chester under his little cat arms, rotated him in mid-air, and handed him to Garak without much warning. Chester was unfazed, however, purring away, lazy-eyed and floppy as Garak cradled him awkwardly.

“Tonight,” Julian said, giving Garak a sly look, “I suspect Chester will have to sleep on the sofa.”

And he went into his room, peeking back to check Garak understood.

Garak did. He gave the cat a kiss on the top of its head, told it thank-you, then plopped it down on the couch and left it behind, heading into the bedroom...

Only to remember that it was barely mid-afternoon and just because the stars were out, didn’t mean it was bedtime. He’d be back in the evening, he promised, giving Julian one more kiss. He then left, so Julian could attend to the ensuite bathroom activities he’d been planning on doing alone.

 

 

TWO WEEKS LATER

“Hmmm.”

Garak glanced up, a padd in one hand and Chester under the other. “What do you mean, hmm? I hear the deprecating tone, doctor.”

Julian shrugged his shoulders, shucking his Starfleet jacket off, then wriggling out of his turquoise undershirt. He tossed the undershirt onto the sofa right next to Garak, making Chester’s eyes open and his body flinch, but he didn’t get up.

“Every time I see you, Garak,” Julian said, “your lap is occupied. Seems a little unfair, doesn’t it?”

He slunk up to Garak’s knees, looking down at him seductively, fingers playing on the waistband of his trousers. Garak eyed that waistband, then looked up into Julian’s eyes, smiling.

“I dare say, it must feel torturous,” Garak said carelessly, attention back on his padd, scrunching his other hand in Chester’s fur once again. “Wanting something and not having it. Having to wait.”

Julian pouted. “Mmm,” he groaned, wriggling his trousers down an inch, exposing well-trimmed pubic hair. “All the space in the world in these quarters,” he said lowly, “and you happen to sit right where I was planning to. Ah, well, can’t be helped.” He lifted a knee onto the couch, shuffling until he hovered over Garak’s lap, cat unperturbed by this. “Hope you don’t mind... if I... oops...!” He sank down with a sigh, the moment after Chester realised his time was up and it was Julian’s turn for attention now. Chester was on the other side of the room with his nose in his dinner bowl by the time Julian’s buttocks touched Garak’s thighs.

Now Garak dropped the padd and gripped Julian’s waist with a deep sound of want. Julian wriggled closer until his crotch pressed to Garak’s and he sighed in pleasure, starting to squirm.

“Doctor,” Garak moaned. “Ah— O’uh—”

Julian murmured, tensing and relaxing in place, giving himself some friction. He let his open lips drag against Garak’s forehead ridges, tip of his tongue just teasing at the bumps. A smile, then a wet and breathy kiss was set upon Garak’s textured temple... A nose dragged up Julian’s trembling throat as Garak began to move his hips...

The door chimed and Julian jumped.

“Ignore it,” Garak begged, hands around Julian’s back. “You’re mine tonight. Oh, come here; closer, closer – hmmh, my dear Julian—”

But Julian’s attention had been drawn away, and with a strike of horror, he leapt up, breathing, “Oh, God, I forgot, I can’t believe I forgot—” He shoved himself back into his undershirt, then hugged his jacket to his waist as he blasted out, “Come in! Come in! Damn-damn-damn.”

The doors parted, and the O’Briens stood there – Miles confused, Keiko flat-smiled, but Molly delighted, hopping out between her parents’ legs, rushing inside right away.

“Chester!” Molly shrieked, running to her cat, who startled and flattened his chest to the ground, but recognised a friend, and very patiently put up with a cuddle, two small arms wrapped around his arched middle as he meowed a hello.

Miles strolled in, eyebrows rising as he saw Garak get to his feet and tug his tunic down with some force.

“Heyyy, you,” Julian crooned, wrapping Miles in a hug, then switching to Keiko. “How was the trip?”

“You wouldn’t believe it, it rained the entire time,” Keiko said, smiling. Her fond gaze lingered on her husband, however, and he smiled back. “Couldn’t have had a better fortnight, though. Sometimes the best things happen when you’re least expecting them.”

“I should say so,” Julian agreed, with a glance to Garak.

“Mr. O’Brien,” Garak said coldly, as Miles looked at him. “Mrs. O’Brien.”

“Garak!” Julian chided. “Be nice. Oh, don’t mind him,” he told his friends. “He’s just bitter because – well. Reasons. He’s sick of being patient.” He smiled, chin down.

Miles looked between them, but his eyes settled on Julian. “So what’s with the new quarters? Some space ray blow up your old ones?”

Julian glanced at him. “Oh. No, I—” He looked back at Garak, whose glower had been forcefully tempered to a mild frown. Julian turned back to Miles and shrugged sheepishly. “Found myself a new roommate.”

Miles’ was about to ask who, then he noticed Garak’s smirk and his eyebrows rose. “This guy? Seriously?”

“Miles!” Keiko thumped Miles’ side – but Julian was laughing, reaching to clap Miles on the arm.

“Don’t worry,” Julian assured Keiko. “I’m just as surprised. Like you said. Right when you least expect it.”

“Sorry if we... interrupted anything,” Keiko said, looking nervously at Garak. “Really.”

Garak sighed, all the fight going out of him. “You did, but that’s hardly my biggest qualm of the moment.”

“It’s not?” Miles asked.

Julian was equally perplexed. “So what is?”

Garak shot Julian a rather petulant look. “Don’t tell me you’re not upset, my dear. Two wonderful weeks and now they’re here to take it all away.”

Julian scoffed. “They’re just taking the cat, Garak, you can stay.”

Garak actually pouted. “But I like the cat. I want to keep the cat. I don’t want the cat to leave.”

“Really?” Miles and Keiko said, with wildly different tones. Miles seemed bland as biscuits about it, but Keiko looked ecstatic.

Hearing the tone, Miles looked at his wife in horror. “No. Honey— No. Don’t. I can see— Stop that. Stop thinking. No!”

Keiko wore a gigantic grin now. “Miles,” she said, with eager eyes and a suggestive head-tilt, as if urging Miles to agree with her. “Garak likes the cat.”

“But Chester’s mine! And— And Molly’s!”

“And definitely not ours,” Julian said hurriedly. “We couldn’t— Really, Miles, we wouldn’t—”

“Doctor,” Garak said, “tell me you wouldn’t jump at the chance to keep Chester if Mr. O’Brien and young Molly were to agree.”

Julian spluttered. “Not the point!”

Garak put on a smug smile, eyeing Keiko.

But even Julian’s heart began to ache, seeing Chester standing on the back of the sofa, just out of reach of Molly’s wanton hands. The cat liked her but he’d definitely seemed more at ease here than he’d ever been at the O’Brien’s place. He closed both eyes and relaxed his ears forward whenever he slept, now.

“You’d still see her,” Julian said to Miles, offering his most apologetic look. “All the time. Every day. Molly could come by whenever she wants—”

“With some warning!” Keiko added, clearly knowing all too well what they’d almost walked in on. “A lot of warning.”

Miles gritted his teeth in chagrin, but it wasn’t Keiko’s enthusiasm, nor Garak’s threatening glare that won him over, but Julian’s pleading puppy eyes. Please please please please please

Miles hung his head, fingertips touching his forehead. “Molly, honey?”

“Yaa?”

Miles let go of a sigh, trudging past three beaming people. He put on a reluctant smile, then crouched down by his daughter, trying to find words. “Would it be okay if Uncle Julian and—” Miles glanced at Garak, then Julian, then Garak again, and his eyes widened as he understood the nature of the relationship two minutes late. “And-And-And. Uh. Uh. Uncle. Uncle Garak.” He gulped at looked at Molly again, smile more secure on his face. He seemed to relax. “Don’t you think it would be nice if Chester could carry on living here? Look, doesn’t he look happy?”

Molly actually paused to consider Chester’s state of being before expressing her own feelings on the matter, which Julian thought spoke volumes about what kind of parents Miles and Keiko were.

Molly wasn’t sure.

Miles held her hand. “Look, Uncle Garak and Uncle Julian both really-really-really love Chester. He’s got a big space to spread out here, so he won’t be hogging Mummy’s chair when she wants to sit in it. And you’d get to see him lots if he lived here, right? You know how often we go to visit Julian.”

Not that often, Julian noted, but with a swift glance at Garak and a shared nod, they agreed to host family dinners frequently.

“But who’s gonna sleep on your bed?” Molly asked. “You love having him on your feet un- until you can’t feel them anymore.”

Keiko’s smile strained. “I think we can learn to live without that, sweetheart.” She went to sit on the sofa seat nearest her daughter, and asked, “Molly, honey, listen. You get to choose, okay? I’m sure Chester would be happy with any of us – we all love him, don’t we?”

Everyone nodded.

Molly folded her arms and fretted. “But—?” She looked at Julian. “Uncle Julian, will you cry if we take him home again?”

Julian drew a breath and looked softly at Garak. Garak was already on the verge of tears but had lodged his jaw stiff so he looked impassive. Julian smiled and looked at Molly. “Honestly? Yes. Absolutely. I’ll hide in the bathroom and curl up, bawling in anguished silence for hours and hours. Probably days. And I’ll go off my food and not be able to sleep and get very, very grumpy, and then I’ll do something mildly irritating but deeply petty in the name of revenge, and your daddy is going to be incredibly cross with me for quite possibly the remainder of linear time.”

Miles snorted. “Or at someone, anyway.”

Julian slipped his hand into Garak’s, and squeezed.

“Apparently,” Julian went on, “being able to bury my face in a warm, purring pillow and lie there for five minutes is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and to live without that gift would cause me indescribable agony.”

He checked with Garak, and Garak’s tiny, angry nod confirmed that Julian’s assumption was the truth. God, Garak loved cats. He’d been carrying Chester around and bouncing him and showering him with extravagant praises for two weeks, and he’d never seemed so happy before. Sometimes he just walked past, saw Chester sleeping, said, “A cat!” then carried on with whatever he was doing, now smiling.

Molly sighed. She looked at Chester and stretched out a hand for him, but he was still juuust out of reach. So Miles took Molly’s waist and lifted her to touch the cat. The cat started to purr, but there was a slightly resigned look about his posture.

When Miles let Molly down, she was satisfied. “Thank you, Chester. We’ll see you tomorrow! And the day after. And the day after. And the day after that—”

Miles got up, holding Molly’s hand. He gave Julian a soft smile – thankful, if sad. They paced as a family towards the doors.

Keiko rushed to Julian and hugged him, eyes on Garak. Then she hugged Garak too, and whispered, “Thank you.

Garak was beaming when she pulled back. “It was very much our pleasure, Mrs. O’Brien.”

The family left with cheery waves and elongated goodbyes and thank-yous, but at last the doors shut, and everyone relaxed. Chester yawned and hopped off the sofa, plodding to the bedroom to sleep on Garak’s side of the bed.

Julian turned to Garak and hugged him tightly, rubbing his back as they both breathed in, then out.

“I don’t deserve you, my dear,” Garak said. “Or any of the wonderful people you’ve surrounded yourself with.”

“Oh, but you do,” Julian said. “Even Miles thinks so, or he would’ve fought this decision until the turn of the next century.”

Garak pushed up a grateful smile.

“Why does this mean so much to you?” Julian asked. “I mean, I know you love Chester to bits, I get that, but— What is it with you and cats?”

Garak shrugged, eyes narrowed as he mused, “The species’ mere existence sparks some kind of elation in me that I couldn’t explain fully even if I tried. A creature so... soft, so gentle, so docile, yet deadly, with its hidden claws and teeth... It quietly judges and wishes to dominate everyone and everything, but makes space and allowances for the people it loves and cares about— In truth, I don’t think I’ve ever met a creature I understood so intimately. Nor adored more.”

Julian chuckled, putting a kiss on Garak’s ridged nose. “Save one?”

Garak hummed, eyeing Julian in acute contemplation, then decided, “Save none.”

Julian fell back laughing, which let Garak relax into a laugh too, taking Julian into a warm and snuggly hug.

“I jest, doctor,” Garak assured him. “I jest.”

“I know.” Julian kissed him slowly, smiling all the way through it. “Now,” he said, “as the bed is most likely occupied, what do you say we make use of the sofa? You’ve waited long enough.”

“That I have,” Garak agreed. “But might we consider something... else? My mood has rather shifted course since we were interrupted.”

“Oh. Okay. What did you have in mind?”

Garak combed his fingers back through Julian’s hair. “If I may...? Untangle a few knots here. A tickle there...?”

Julian giggled, squirming as Garak wrapped his middle in a tickly hug. “What am I, your pet? How dare you.”

“You’re always welcome on my lap, dear doctor.”

Julian hummed acceptingly, following Garak by their joined hands as he sat down. Once settled, Garak opened his arms for Julian to sit with him. Julian plopped onto his thighs with both legs stretched out down the couch, shoes kicked off, arms around Garak’s neck, forehead against his cheek.

Garak cuddled up to Julian and stroked through his hair – which had no tangles at all, in fact. Julian appreciated the touches anyway, moaning quietly, swaying his head until he relaxed on Garak’s shoulder, held close.

“Hmmmmmm. I’d purr if I could,” Julian promised.

Garak’s eyes shone as their gazes met, Julian having lifted his head again.

They shared a little kiss, and big smiles. And, of course, they enjoyed a wholesome sense of emotional completion – which, all things considered, was really what Garak had been waiting for. The cat was the last piece in a sordid domestic puzzle he’d never quite put together – or, for that matter, seen as a realistic goal. Now he looked at Julian with insurmountable gratitude, and gave him a slow, feline blink, holding his gaze all the while.

Julian understood the gesture, and smiled. Cats knew how to say ‘I love you’ more simply than people ever could. Julian blinked back, just as slow and loving.

 


 

Uncle Julian and Uncle Garak hosted a family dinner every Tuesday and Friday from that night henceforth.

Chester always seemed especially cheerful on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. But, once the O’Briens left, he spent a day sleeping off the exhaustion that came of chasing young Molly around the room as she dragged a jangling teaspoon on a string while Kirayoshi wailed in the background. Sometimes, after family dinner nights, Chester lay on his back and snored.

After a few months, Garak could be seen strolling the Promenade with a grey-and-white cat trotting behind him with its fluffy tail held high. Later he’d be in his tailor’s shop, arranging rolls of fabric while Chester sat on his work and batted paws at the thread bobbins. Garak insisted to customers that Chester was helping.

And he was. He very much was.

It was perfectly clear to Julian: Garak was no longer the loneliest Cardassian in existence. How could he be? He cuddled with the love of his life every night, and then woke to the sound of purring.

Who knew how many problems might have been solved if someone had just given those poor Cardassians some cats?

 

{ the end }