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“Traditionally, Cardassian weddings are small, family affairs- although small is a relative term, given how tightly knit the Cardassian extended family can be. That’s all changing, though, since the war. Most of us have barely a fraction of the family we once did… at any rate, it is beginning to be quite usual to invite close friends who have been supportive in a time of need. I can think of no one of whom that is truer than you, Doctor. Doctor?”  

Julian blinked. “Yes, Elina,” he said. “I would be honored.”

She smiled a distinctively Cardassian smile, but still looked uncertain. It was possible for Julian to hear and even process everything that his fellow physician said- and still be light years away in terms of his focus.

“I mean it,” Julian said, doing his best to clear his head. “That you consider me family makes me so…” Kardasi was a complex and varied language that Julian had come to love, but it had its limitations- or at least Julian’s command of it did. Likely, it spoke to the times that Julian knew no Kardasi word for ‘overjoyed.’ He settled for spreading his hands. Cardassian body language was a subtle and illusive as the Cardassian people- Julian’s grasp of it, with the help of an enhanced memory, grew daily, but he still sometimes fell short. This deeply human gesture of helplessness rarely failed to make Cardassians take pity on Julian- as far as they were able, of course.  

“I understand you,” Elina said. Her smile had faded somewhat, but she still looked pleased. “I have no doubt that you are tired of all this wedding talk.” Her manner turned self-effacing.

“No- I-” he met her measured gaze and sighed. “All right, yes. I am a bit. But I’ll still come, of course.”

“You are of course welcome to bring someone else as well. A… plus one?”

She said this last in Standard and Julian laughed, wondering if she’d chosen the term because she supposed it lacked romantic connotations and would encourage Julian to bring a friend, or because she supposed it did have romantic connotations and there was, in fact, no Kardasi word for ‘date.’ That particular shortcoming alone explained a great deal about Julian’s current predicament, really.

He said, “I’ll work on it.”

Elina smiled, bowed her head, and departed- still radiating mild Cardassian happiness. Julian was happy for her- happy she was happy. When he came to this planet, almost a year ago now, she had been a nurse still, studying to become a doctor. Beyond that, she was like many of the Cardassian people- very nearly broken. Their cities were in pieces, but the destruction was as much emotional as physical; they had been badly betrayed by the leaders they were taught from childhood to trust absolutely. That left wounds that Julian only wished he was equipped to heal.

Now, Elina was so much happier. She was in the position she’d always wanted, doing what she was good at and helping her people at the same time- Julian had learned by now not to underestimate the pleasure a Cardassian got out of doing their civic duty- and now she was getting married.

It was true that all Elina’s ‘wedding talk’ had a tendency to lose Julian’s focus, but it wasn’t for the reason Elina thought. She had a great deal of respect for him- for the fact that he had chosen to come to this world to help people who needed him rather than further his career, certainly, and she admired his intellectual gifts greatly, for all they were artificial. Among those Federation doctors who wouldn't have been outright repulsed, Julian knew his genetic enhancements would have been considered cheating, giving him an undeserved ‘leg up’- a saying which, incidentally, puzzled Julian’s Cardassian friends. The sentiment puzzled them too- his intelligence gave him an advantage that any Cardassian would have used shamelessly, and been generally lauded for doing so. The fact that Julian had spent his life curbing himself just enough to keep from revealing how smart he really was amazed them. If Elina knew how genuinely stupid he had once been and why the daily reminders of her upcoming nuptials so distracted him… well- she might lose that respect, and he didn’t want that, so he kept the truth of the matter to himself and pretended he was bored of hearing the details of her plans again and again.

He only wished it was that simple.

*   *   *

Elina had met Entak not long after Julian came to work in the Cardassian capital. Entak had been less than pleased with the decisions of the previous government and been given a posting on a distant province so he might be out of the way. Now that the interim government was in charge and Cardassia was being rebuilt, men like him were being recalled, given work. Entak was a smart, managerial sort of man- fond of order and as straight-talking a Cardassian as Julian had ever known. By human standards, he was still a subtle creature- but Julian knew enough about Cardassians as a people to know that Entak was in fact rather blunt, preferring to say what he thought rather than hint ambiguously at it and throw in a few lies for good measure.

It was, Julian sometimes thought, Entak’s straight-talking nature that had so thrown him. Other times, Julian suspected that he wouldn’t have understood what happened next regardless.

Though Elina had drawn Entak’s attention from the first, Julian had seen little in it. They had argued about the best method of bringing relief workers to one of the more distant provinces, and gotten so caught up that they appeared to forget anyone else was in the room. When Entak did finally excuse himself, he had hesitated, briefly, then laid his hands lightly on her shoulders and said that he hoped they would have leisure to discuss it further.

Given the dismissive way Entak had treated all Elina’s arguments, Julian had interpreted this as a parting shot.

But it wasn’t long before the two of them were meeting for lunch regularly, arguing as fiercely as ever. Julian was privy to their actual conversations only rarely, but he observed that, what few times they agreed on something the subject was quickly changed to one wherein they didn’t. Julian hadn’t quite understood why they sought that kind of conflict, but he did have reason to believe that- as a people- the Cardassians found vigorous debate highly entertaining. In fact, Julian had come to think- in hindsight- that, on Deep Space Nine, Garak had gone out of his way to give him Cardassian literature that he would find objectionable, and gone out of his way to find Terran literature objectionable in turn, just so they could quarrel about it.        

Any entertainment value aside, Julian was astounded when- after about a month of this- Elina told him that she and Entak were engaged. “You can’t be serious.”

“My mother would have been appalled at the short courtship, I will admit,” Elina told him. “But it is not wholly unreasonable. When a courtship is going well, one simply feels it. And I do.” She was so full of obvious happiness in that moment that Julian believed it.

“But it’s so… unexpected,” he said.

You can’t be serious,” she returned, frowning. It was still very much a human expression, one Julian had repurposed some Kardasi words to approximate. Julian’s Cardassian friends accepted it, but this was the first time he had heard one adopt it themselves. “Everyone in the hospital was perfectly aware of our courtship- including, I had thought, you.”

“Really?” Julian managed. He had been hoping that the two of them had been doing something other than fight all the time in private.

“Of course,” she said. “That is the custom, particularly among Cardassians whose family is not present. The courtship is to be public so that one’s friends and peers will be able to register objections, should they have them. I was not aware that you did.”

“And if I did?” Julian asked, baffled.

“It would be my duty to protest, of course- though if you had reasons I would listen.”

“I don’t have reasons- or objections, honestly. I just… I thought you didn’t like him. Failing that, I thought he didn’t like you.”

“Of course I like him,” she laughed.

Julian couldn’t really quibble that. It wasn’t as though arguing and love were mutually exclusive. He bickered with Miles O’Brien, but it didn’t mean he didn’t consider the man a dear friend. He and Garak had rarely agreed on anything, but it hadn’t stopped Julian from developing a rather more than friendly regard for the man over the years. “And him?”

“His interest was clear from the first.” Now she spoke to Julian with exaggerated patience. “A little archaic, perhaps- but given how modern most of Entak’s ideas are, there was something charming about that.”

“Archaic?”

“Our people have long believed in…” Elina finished with a word Julian didn’t know. “I believe humans call it ‘love at first sight.’ In the old days, a person was meant to show his interest in beginning a courtship at the end of the first meeting, or not at all. Now it’s reasonable to wait- to note some kind of compatibility in a friendship, and turn that into a courtship later on. Still, to see that possibility from the very first, and spend months proving it, is rather the height of romanticism.”

“I’m sorry,” Julian said. “I just… I guess I don’t understand Cardassian courtship very well, then. The arguing- that’s part of it?”

“Naturally.”

“What else?”

“Well, it is begun by a touch to the shoulders upon leaving- I know you observed that much. From your reaction, I assumed you knew what it meant.”

“No. I just- I recognized it. Something similar… happened to me on Deep Space Nine.”

“I see,” she said, with what was unmistakably a Cardassian leer. Obviously, she was under the impression that Julian had once missed the- to her obvious- signs of a Cardassian courtship, and been ultimately wooed in some other fashion. He was about to correct her, and say it wasn’t like that, when she continued. “After that, regular meetings in public places are considered usual. To have a difference of opinion on a subject and still be extremely fond of each other is the greatest sign of compatibility, and one… most titillating. Body language, to telegraph that continued fondness, and frequent touches on the arm are all to be expected. Favors are also expected- gifts, sometimes. It depends on what the career and particular skill set of the one who has begun the courtship is. Whatever those skills might be, this person must show how… useful they can be. That is the most overt part of the courtship.”

“Ah,” Julian said, vowing to never try to set Elina straight about what happened on Deep Space Nine, because he was suddenly, horribly afraid that she didn’t have the wrong idea at all.

*   *   *

Julian shook himself out of these memories. He was finished with his shift at the hospital, and he was meeting Garak for lunch. From the time he had arrived on Cardassia, he and Garak had run into each other a few times, agreeing to meet at some point more often than they actually met, as both of them were very busy. Julian had asked Elina about what constituted a friendly lunch as opposed to a romantic one; the differences- mainly to do with positioning, eye contact, and the conversation- were subtle but present, and what few times he and Garak had actually eaten together Julian had observed that they were very firmly in the ‘friendly’ category- but back on Deep Space Nine, before they began to drift apart, it had been a different story.  

It rather baffled Julian.

Garak was already seated at their usual table- located in a restaurant right between the base of the interim government and the hospital- with his nose buried in a padd. What exactly Garak did for the government Julian didn’t completely understand, only that it wasn’t strictly official and it kept him very busy.

“How are you, Garak?” Julian asked when he sat down. Complicated though things had been between them ever since Elina’s engagement, he was still happy to see his friend whenever he did. In truth, Garak had been cool with him since before the engagement- he had been cool with him since he came to Cardassia- but it wasn’t until after the engagement that Julian finally realized the indefinable something that had been missing from their friendship since they both left Deep Space Nine was that Garak was no longer flirting with him.

“Quite well,” Garak said. “And yourself?” He drew Julian out with questions about the hospital for a while.

When next the conversation lagged, Julian brought up a newly published book he had read. Art was no longer coming out of Cardassia as it once had, but things were slowly improving. In the mostly one-sided discussion of the work that followed, Julian determinedly misinterpreted a point of Cardassian values in hopes that Garak would correct him. “-don’t you think?” he pushed.

“I do not,” Garak said, soundly tired. “We will have to… agree to disagree.” He had slipped into Standard, something that he had done only rarely since Julian had begun learning Kardasi.

“There is no Kardasi term for ‘agree to disagree,’” Julian said. It wasn’t a question because he knew there wasn’t and Cardassians didn’t. Even when there was no hope of getting their conversation partner to change their mind, they never stopped trying, because they liked a good argument and, failing that, they could still enjoy the sound of their own voices.  

“There isn’t.” Garak’s body language was all apologetic blandness, but he was holding himself stiffly and there was a world of pain in his eyes. Julian wanted nothing more than to make it go away, but to do that he would need some understanding of what had his friend so disturbed in the first place. All Julian knew was that the harder he tried to get things back to the way they were on Deep Space Nine, the more Garak retreated from him.

*   *   *

The realization that Garak had, by Cardassian standards, been flirting quite unambiguously with him since they met had only really been an unpleasant one because now that Julian knew what all the little things he had just thought of as part of Garak actually signified, they had stopped altogether. They met, and Garak seemed pleased enough to see him, but it was entirely the pleasure of a friend- completely, frustratingly platonic.

To Julian’s mind, there were two likely explanations.  

The first was that Garak had flirted with him as a joke, a bizarre entertainment to while away his time in exile. Julian couldn’t see the allure of laughing alone at someone who was unable to identify his culture’s courtship for what it was, but that didn’t negate the possibility. As much as he liked Garak, Julian didn’t pretend to understand his motives, or what he considered fun.

The second was that Garak had flirted with him because he’d wanted to, but had- after years with no results- eventually given up on the whole business. Julian had shown no interest during those years, after all- his conscious mind hadn’t seen fit to process that he was interested until after they’d already begun to drift apart.        

Neither option exactly filled Julian with hope; honestly, he didn’t know what was worse- to have one been a laughing stock to his friend, or to have honestly captured his regard and then lost it through his own ignorance.

Either way, Julian had been placed- for the moment- in what he understood to be solely a 'friend' sphere. It was a situation with which Julian had vast experience, and he was tired of it.  

Julian had no desire to simply surrender the field, however. He wasn’t going to live in the same city as Garak, seeing him once a week and feeling as he did, and not at least try. If he made a fool out of himself in the process, it was just as well. He had plenty of experience with that, too. The question was how, exactly, he intended to make a play for Elim Garak.  

After the amount of time he had spent on the planet, Julian’s understanding of the Cardassian language- both verbal and physical- was better than most other humans could boast, but he was still more than a little at sea. Even with Elina around to explain, he didn’t really understand their traditions or priorities; they would never come naturally to him. He could turn around and do all the things that Garak had done to him, but he couldn’t imagine what Garak’s reaction might be- and, what was more, he couldn’t imagine how he himself would keep it up.                

Eventually, Julian decided not to overcomplicate things.

Garak had courted Julian like a Cardassian, and the whole business had gone completely over his head. Julian wanted to see how Garak took it when Julian courted him like a human.

*   *   *

Dinner out was the obvious first step. It had a bit more significance than their usual lunches together, but it still had precedent. If Julian canceled lunch plans, claiming to be busy all day- which was not much of a lie, as when he didn’t have plans with Garak he typically ate between patients- and asked if they might have dinner instead, it might not strike Garak was particularly odd, and possibly lull him into a sense of complacency. Well, as much complacency as Elim Garak ever experienced.

A part of Julian wanted to jump into this courting thing with both feet, be as blatant as Garak had been and see how he liked having the shoe on the other foot. The rest of Julian knew he couldn’t afford to spook Garak. Back on Deep Space Nine, Garak had talked to Julian like he was the only person in the room- the only person on the station, even. These days, Garak always seemed to have one foot out the door. Julian wouldn’t risk losing him when they were this close; he would have to try subtlety and see where that took him.  

Arranging the date itself was the easy part. Finding the perfect place was less so, but if the task taught him anything it was that he had more friends in the city than he’d given himself credit for; all his patients were more than happy to lend a hand.

The whole business made Julian feel rather like a secret agent again, and in a good way.

All Julian’s hard work definitely paid off when they walked into the restaurant. “I remember this place,” Garak murmured. He turned to Julian. “I thought it shut down during the war.”

“It did,” Julian replied. “But thanks to a certain doctor repairing the chef’s cooking arm, it’s back open.”

Garak gave Julian a much broader smile than had been his custom of late, as though he’d been surprised out of his distance.

Though it was obvious he did, Julian asked, “Do you like this place?”

“Very much.”

A waiter whose broken hand Julian had repaired a few weeks ago saw them to a table and then departed, making a very human ‘good luck’ gesture to Julian over Garak’s shoulder as he went. Julian held back a grin and kept his eyes on Garak. “Tell me about it,” he said.

Garak launched into a story involving the restaurant but centered around some intercepted messages which sounded like one of Julian’s holonovels and was undoubtedly not in the least true. Julian was used to that at this point.  

He realized that he had even come to miss it.

*   *   *

“You hate this, don’t you?”

Julian looked at Garak out of the corner of his eye, not wanting to take his eyes off the stage in case something happened to help the play before him make sense.

In lieu of a movie or an evening at a holosuite- one of which didn’t exist on Cardassia and the other being maintained by some Ferengi at unreasonably high prices, Julian had decided to take Garak to the theater, a choice he had regretted as he learned how little he actually knew, or understood, about Cardassian plays.

“Do you like it?” Julian asked, as softly as Garak had addressed him.

“It’s a morality piece,” Garak said. “Liking it isn’t the point.”

Julian wondered when he’d come to miss Garak’s pedantic way of explaining Cardassian art. He wasn’t sure, but he did know that he’d see this ridiculously slow show a million times if he knew that it would happen again.

He didn’t ask what the point was until intermission.

“It’s meant to teach a lesson, I suppose. Although I’ve never seen one quite like this.”

“It’s a new play?” Julian looked at his program accusingly, wondering why it hadn’t told him so and if that was a bad thing.

“No, in fact it’s older than me. However, the underlying message of it is one that has become rather passé in most circles, of late.”

Julian considered the piece, which choices the characters made that were lauded by the narrative, and which were not. “Obedience to the state at any cost?”  

Garak smiled. “Very good, Doctor. That’s exactly right.”

“So this particular staging is meant to say that the moral the play teaches isn’t always right?” Julian thought about how severe the performance had been thus far, how black and white everything seemed. He turned it over in his mind while considering what Garak had said. “It’s a satire.”

“Indeed,” Garak agreed. “Unusual, because morality plays have never been played for satire before.”

“Not ever?”

“Not ever. Your human expressions find their way into our culture in the oddest ways.”

*   *   *

Their third date- a reasonably innocuous planned walk in a newly rebuilt park- went wrong in a surprising way.

Julian had just arrived in the government building where Garak worked when alarms started blaring. He stood there like an idiot, watching civil servants running this way and that, until he felt a familiar hand on his elbow. “We’re meant to go to the bomb shelter on the lowest level,” he said, and steered Julian towards some stairs. “This way.”

“What’s going on?”

“Whether it was intentional or not, the Dominion left a parting gift. Some of the torpedoes they fired on the city never went off. The wrong kind of energy can set them off at any time.”

“Why haven’t I heard of it before now?”

“We figured out how to neutralize them early on, and we haven’t had one explode since you’ve been here. Still, better safe than sorry.”

“Unexploded bombs and shelters,” Julian remarked. “Feels like the Blitz.”

“The what?”

They had reached the shelter and Julian sat down on the floor, back against the wall. “On Earth several centuries ago, an enemy force bombed the city of London for years. It was called the Blitz. The bombs wouldn’t explode sometimes, and they would just stay there until someone found it, or it got set off. People would be evacuated when one was found, and soldiers would try to disable the bomb. It didn’t always work.”  

“Hmm,” Garak said. “I can see the similarities.” They sat in silence for a while, until Garak said, “I’m sorry. About our…” he trailed off, obviously looking for the word.

“Date,” Julian supplied in standard, gut twisting slightly.

“Date,” Garak repeated, sounding thoughtful and uncertain- as if he was turning connotations over in his mind.

Again, there was a silence.

This time, Julian was the one who broke it. “There’s a game Terrans used to play. It’s called ‘Two Truths and a Lie.’ It’s always reminded me of you.”

Garak huffed out a laugh. “And how is it played, this game?”

“One player tells the other three things, two of which are true and one of which isn’t. And the other person has to guess which one is the lie.”

Julian couldn’t have said if he actually wanted to play. Being around Garak was so much like playing two truths and a lie all the time that- though Julian had his own experience with plausible lies- he had no doubt who would win. So once he had explained he fell silent again. Garak was quiet too, but his silence was more contemplative.

What he eventually said surprised the hell out of Julian. “I do know what a date is.”

“Um.”

“I’m not sure I would have come if I’d known that’s what this was. There are things you don’t know.”

Short of saying, ‘That’s not exactly how you play,’ Julian had no idea how to respond to that, so in a way it was lucky that that was when a Cardassian voice came over the intercom to say the torpedo had been dealt with.

Later, thought, he did wish they’d had more time, because though he suspected he knew which was the lie- what a date was was pretty obvious and there were always things Julian didn’t know, so the middle statement had to be the one- he wanted to know what the truth was. Would Garak have come anyway- or was he simply sure that he wouldn’t have if he’d suspected?  

*   *   *

Julian was not having his best day ever. He’d been running all over the city making house calls, and Elina had finally done the Cardassian version of bullying him into a taking a break around lunch, the one time he would really have preferred to be working. He didn’t have plans with Garak, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered if he had, since the former tailor had now canceled what plans they had made three times in a row. Julian’s long break had given him time he didn’t want to ruminate on the fact that Garak appeared to be avoiding him.

By the end of the day Julian was exhausted but unwilling to go home to his empty house and feel sorry for himself some more, so he stayed in his office, writing a dozen different versions of the same request for more Starfleet aid workers, each more passive aggressive than the last.

It was reasonably late when he heard a light rapping on the door and looked up to see exactly the last person he’d suspected hovering in his doorway. Well- Sisko sent back by the Prophets might have been a little bit more surprising- but actually not all that much, in truth.

“Garak,” he said. “Come in. Sit down.” He gestured to the couch pressed against one wall of his office, which had made a passable bed for him in the past.

Looking uncertain, Garak obeyed.

“What can I do for you?” Julian asked.

“I… I don’t… nothing, Doctor.” Garak stayed seated, though. “I honestly didn’t mean to come here.”  

“But you are here,” Julian said. “Would you like anything? I have some kanar.” It’d been given to him by a patient as a gift, and Julian had still not developed a taste for it, so it remained in the desk drawer where he had stowed it when it was first presented to him.

“Is it good?”

“I really have no idea.”

Garak smiled. “No thank you, Doctor.” Garak looked like he thought he should leave, but for whatever reason he didn’t move.   “I think I’ll just sit.”

“Would you like to talk?” Julian asked. Garak was obviously tired, and he seemed drained in a way Julian hadn’t seen him since the war, and though it was in some ways gratifying that Garak had come to him in this state- when Julian knew how much he hated to look weak- it did leave Julian feeling rather… helpless.

“Not really.”

“Would you like me to talk?”

“I…” Garak looked at Julian thoughtfully. “Yes, I think so. You… look tired, Doctor. Was your day as trying as mine?”

“I doubt it,” Julian said. He crossed to sit next to Garak. “To be frank, it wasn’t such a bad day after all. I didn’t have to see to any children suffering from malnutrition or waterborne diseases today, and most of my patients with major injuries from the war- amputated limbs, serious burn scarring, that kind of thing- are actually making very good progress. Under the circumstances, I have nothing to complain about.”

“Have I mentioned how glad I am you’re here?”

Julian stared at Garak. “No?” It came out like a question.

“I know you don’t have to be. I’m glad for all the doctors who came from the Federation- we all are, though no one is eager to admit it- but I’m glad for you most of all. Having you here makes seeing my home like this so much more bearable.”

“Thank you?” Julian managed. That was one was definitely a question.

Garak’s mouth twisted and he slumped back. “I’m sorry about the last few days- that’s what I really came here to say. I do not want to lose your friendship.”

“And I don’t want to lose yours.”

“Then don’t let me push you away.”

It wasn’t the best encouragement a courtship had ever received, but Julian was willing to take it. “I hadn’t planned on it,” he said.

“Good,” Garak murmured.    

Julian decided to push his advantage. “You look very tense,” he remarked, and let his hand hover over Garak’s shoulders in what he hoped was a fairly obvious question. He knew that a shoulder massage was an intimate thing among Cardassians- a part of why placing one’s hands on the shoulders of a person one intended to woo was widely considered such an unambiguous signal- and he didn’t want to risk alienating the man. Garak looked… uncharacteristically uncertain, but he nodded in a way that allowed for more than agreement, so Julian slid closer.

Garak really was very tense, and Julian focused on working out the knots and best he could. He did realize, however, that maybe Cardassian ideas of what was and wasn’t a romantic gesture had merit- or at the very least had gotten under Julian's skin more than he had anticipated. Shoulders weren’t exactly a major zone of focus for humans, but he caught himself thinking how nice Garak’s were, and as his hands moved there was a tension in the air where there hadn’t been before.      

Whatever Garak’s job was- Julian had pretty much given up, at this point, on ever knowing what it was- it obviously had him working hard, and Julian couldn’t take care of all those knots in one massage- but scheduling another time for one would make it all seem too… medical.

So, when he was done Julian just ran a finger lightly over Garak’s neck and leaned forward to look at him.

When Garak met Julian’s gaze his own were relatively unfocused. Their faces were very close together, and for a moment neither of them moved. Then Garak’s eyes- which Julian knew were rare and considered highly unnerving among Cardassians, but which he had always found more warming than mere friendship allowed for- slid down and lingered on Julian’s lips.

Internally, Julian did a small but optimistic victory dance. He didn’t let it show on his face.

Garak sighed, close enough that Julian caught the warm puff of air and the faint sweet smell of kanar, and drew back. Julian’s hand was still close, and he caught Garak’s chin and kissed him. It wasn’t a long kiss, or an especially deep one, but it was tender and- hopefully- very obvious. Julian drew back, letting his fingertips linger on Garak’s jaw, and looked his friend over. Garak’s face was carefully blank, but his eyes- always more expressive than Garak probably liked- registered shock, of all things. “That shouldn’t have come as a surprise,” Julian informed him, keeping his voice as matter-of-fact as possible. “Since we have been dating for weeks.”      

The shock faded, leaving nothing useful in its place. “Yes,” Garak agreed.

“Right.” Julian sat back with a sigh of his own. “Look, I meant what I said earlier. I don’t want to lose you as a friend either. But I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t like us to be more than friends, and you have been making it harder than hell for me to figure out if that’s still a possibility.”

“Still?” Garak repeated.

“Yes.” Julian kept his voice firm. The ‘still’ was a gamble, but given the way Garak had looked at him for that moment before they kissed, he didn’t think it was actually all that much of one. Garak had wanted him once, and it seemed to Julian that he was well on his way to wanting him again, if indeed he had ever stopped. “See, by that logic, if we had gotten married back on Deep Space Nine it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise either.”

“Ah.”

Julian didn’t think he’d ever heard so little come out of Garak’s mouth, but this wasn't really the moment to appreciate it. “You did know that I’d figured that out. Finally.”

“You are most intelligent, my dear doctor. It was difficult to imagine circumstances in which you would not have eventually done so.”

Julian let out a less than happy laugh. Thinking about Garak on Deep Space Nine, Julian didn’t feel ‘most intelligent,’ but the remark did throw Garak’s rather prickly reaction to Julian’s enhancements into a different light. He’d never seemed angry about all the lies- not that all his remarks about Julian being a machine hadn’t stung just as much as accusations would have. But it seemed to Julian now that they might have actually come from Garak’s frustration at discovering that Julian could calculate some of the most complex equations in the universe in seconds, but hadn’t been able to see that Garak had feelings for him- feelings about which he had, by Cardassian standards, been very obvious. Julian said, “I know now that I could have shown receptiveness in ways that I didn’t. But I also know that in… certain quarters I did… shall we say… ‘lead you on’?”  

Julian said the last three words in Standard. Garak’s mouth quirked. “The Kardasi term is even less complimentary.”

“I gathered as much,” Julian said. “When you helped me- and the Federation through me- back on Deep Space Nine, I know that that wasn’t about me. At least… not completely. After all, nothing serves only one purpose with you.”

“It is most gratifying when one’s skills are appreciated.”

“Still. Garak, I just didn’t understand. Why didn’t you try again once I might have?”

“I’m aware that I could have. Your initial obliviousness suggests an obvious loophole, and under the circumstances Cardassian propriety was not necessarily more important than clarity between us might have been, but-”

“But?”

“Traditionally speaking, there are… time limits. Oddly enough, turning a courtship into a fully fledged relationship is a simple matter of the ‘courted’ partner saying he or she wishes to do so. On the other hand, there is little more complex and delicate than refusing. Feigning ignorance is often considered the appropriate method, and though I suspected that yours was in fact genuine, there is nothing more offensive or disrespectful than pushing one’s suit once it has been disregarded for the requisite length of time.”

“You’re saying that after a certain amount of time, you have to quit flirting and pretend it all never happened?”

“Precisely.”  

As much as a part of Julian thought that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard, he could imagine times when that system might work out for the best. “I think I understand,” he said, finally. He leaned close to Garak again. “But under the circumstances, I wish you had just asked.”

“Things would have been different if I had. But I… didn’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“There is a reason my people do it this way. It is thought better for one’s suit to be ignored than rejected. When it comes to the Cardassian ego, the thinking is correct. The fact remains, my dear, dear Doctor, that I had nothing to give you. No rank, no home, no family- just a shop, a negligible income, and a list of enemies I could never explain to you. Even my help, what few times I was able to lend it, could never be given for its own sake. Had I been courting a Cardassian, it would have gone no better for me. Mine was a poor suit. If I took you to… ‘dinner and a movie’ or whatever else your people might have favored, that fact in itself would not change.”

“And now? Being a plain and simple civil servant?”

“I am a better prospect than I was. But I will never be a good one. That said…” Garak reached out and- mirroring Julian’s touch from earlier- cupped his jaw lightly. “If you have indeed ‘set your cap at me’ as I believe the saying goes, I will not quibble with your taste.”

“Well,” Julian said, resting his forehead on Garak’s as he had seen Elina do with her fiancée a few times, “that’s something. By the way- how would you like to be my plus one?”