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between the noise

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Julian was bent over data samples in his study, completely engrossed by the interaction between the subject’s tissue samples and the most recent batch of his Delta 9-A solute, and didn’t appear to hear the door opening, or the clink of someone carrying a generously loaded tray. He jumped when the tray was set down at his elbow, twisting in his chair to look up at his unexpected visitor.

“Easy, Pa,” Chut said, dropping a light kiss on the top of her father’s head. “It’s just me.”

“And a rather large slice of larish pie,” Julian said. “with... is this Earl Grey?”

“Or the closest thing to it,” she said, circling around his desk and moving a stack of datapadds from the chair to the floor so she could sit. “I know you said your replicator hasn’t been able to get it right in years, so I tried fiddling with it a bit.”

“‘Fiddling’,” Julian repeated flatly, looking sternly at his oldest daughter. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“Well, it may not taste good,” she admitted. “But deshkadir said you hadn’t eaten anything all day, so I figure even though it might be more like sludge than proper tea, it’s at least going to keep you from keeling over.”

“You know he hates when you call him that,” Julian pointed out, not for the first time.

“He pretends to,” Chut said impishly. “But I have a theory that he’s always seen himself as a ‘his holiness’ type. Besides, it’s especially apt today. He won’t let me alone about my loc.”

“What’s wrong with it?” Julian asked, looking at the tear-shaped ridge in the middle of her forehead. From a medical perspective it looked fine, but he could admit he wasn’t the ultimate authority on Cardassian anatomy, even after all these years.

“That’s what I say,” Chut said, the ridges around her eyes flushing in a too-familiar sign of temper. “But he thinks it’s improper that I don’t apply the pasht every day. I try to tell him that no one bothers with that anymore, but he seems to think that if I’m not dabbing myself with blue paint all over, I’m not a proper Cardassian.”

“Well,” Julian pulled the larish pie towards him, leaving his research for later. “In my practice, I can tell you that only the older Cardassian women I treat still use pasht. But you know how he is, he’s become quite the stickler for tradition.”

“A little ironically, don’t you think?” Chut said, gesturing to the two of them. Julian grinned and was about to answer, when a dry voice cut him off.

“Ah, I love to see these shows of filial piety,” Julian and Chut turned to see Garak leaning in the door frame, surveying the two with a look of severity slightly undermined by the shine in his eyes. “They really do warm the heart.”

“Garak,” Julian said sternly. “Chut’s just arrived and you’re already quarreling?”

“I have to do something to assert my authority,” Garak said, walking in and putting a hand on Julian’s shoulder. “The number of subjects under my command in this house has been dwindling.”

Chut rolled her eyes, a gesture she’d picked up from her Terran father. “Of course you could just be satisfied with all the people under your command outside the house.”

“I find them quite satisfactory, yes. They always do what I say, and never talk back to me. Not more than once, at any rate,” Garak said. “So nice to preside over such an obliging population.”

“See, if you didn’t have me to give you some rebellion, you’d go soft,” Chut said.

“I,” Garak said gravely, “would do no such thing.”

Julian escaped from his obligation to participate in the familiar argument by stuffing his mouth full of larish pie (delicious and not-replicated; Garak had been experimenting with recipes lately) and looked at the two of them.

It was amazing how much Chut resembled Garak, given that they weren’t actually blood relatives. But then, all the children did. Twins Kelok and Kezdem were half-Bajoran and only thirteen, but already had taken to using the same elegant hand gestures when arguing a point. It was a direct result of extended exposure to Garak, Julian mused. Once you were enfolded into Garak’s orbit, he seemed to work into the fabric of your life in uncountable ways. Julian had had years to observe the phenomenon.

Kelok and Kezdem were the only ones still living at home, now. Chut was well into her majority at twenty-five, and working as an assistant for the Prefect of nearby Lakat, where she lived with her husband and his family. Riza was off-world at the Starfleet Medical Academy, though she was tragically resolved never to go near the raquetball team. Their youngest girl, Ziyella, had just moved out and joined a troupe of travelling players, of all things. Garak had spent more than a few sleepless nights over that one, but Ziyella had always been more of a quiet dreamer than her siblings. Julian had never really thought that she was Gul material.

“Alright, you two,” Julian swallowed the mouthful of larish pie and pointed a finger at Garak. “That’s enough familial discord, don’t you think? Chut’s been home for all of a minute, Garak.”

“And she’s been gone far too long if she thinks she can just stroll in and begin railing against her father—”

“Garak,” Julian said sternly. Chut appeared to be attempting to stifle a smile, but stood and walked over to Garak, the very picture of daughterly penitence.

“Come on, Dad,” she said, and wrapped her arms around Garak’s waist. “You know how upset Pa gets when we have our little discussions. Let’s go easy on him, hmm?”

“You always think of protecting his feelings when I’m winning,” Garak said, but patted her gently on the back. “So considerate.”

“I do so love to be used as a pawn in your arguments,” Julian said, and took a cautious sip of the ‘Earl Grey.’ It wasn’t bad, actually, though it did have a distinctive and inexplicable undercurrent of... pickle juice?

“You should be used to it by now,” Chut said, releasing Garak and settling back into her seat. “But I didn’t just come to provide you with a proper sparring partner, Dad. There’s something I want to ask you.”

Garak looked at her consideringly, and moved over to stand just behind Julian. His hands settled on Julian’s shoulders, and Julian brought one of his own up to cover the hand on his right shoulder. He had had years, decades, to get used to the slight coolness of Garak’s skin, but the first shock of touch had never stopped giving him a little thrill. Neither had the weight of Garak’s hands settling over his shoulders, though it had been even longer since that first meeting in the replimat.

Focus, Julian told himself sternly, looking at Chut. She appeared uncharacteristically nervous, tentative even. With a pang, Julian remembered the first time he’d seen her. Shy, uncertain, asking a stranger if he had come to take her home.

As though he could sense what Julian was thinking, Garak gave his shoulders a quick squeeze.

“Anything we can do for you, we will,” Garak said seriously. “You only have to ask.”

“Well, wait until I ask it,” Chut said, smiling. “I’d like... I’ve talked it over with Laran, and we’d like to live here. With you.”

Garak’s hands tightened on Julian’s shoulders again, and Julian heard him suck in a great breath.

Julian’s jaw dropped. “Oh, Chut, of course there’s no question, but— Have his parents been cruel to you?”

Chut waved a hand at him. “No, no, nothing like that. But it’s not right, you outrank both of them. His mother is head geneticist at the Lakat Institute, but that’s nothing to— to whatever it is you do,” she said to Garak.

“Minister of Education,” Garak said primly.

Chut rolled her eyes. “Right.”

“Chut,” Julian said, forcing himself to say what he knew must be said. They had had this conversation before, but not in over three years. He didn’t like to think of it much. “You know how we care for Laran, but his— well, we’re not exactly the model Cardassian family, are we?”

“Hmph,” Garak said dismissively, releasing Julian’s shoulders and moving to the side of the desk. He picked up the plate from Julian’s tray and began picking at the larish pie, affecting boredom.

“Well, we’re not,” Julian said, mouth twisting into a small smile. “And I understood that his family had... objections, to the two of you living here.”

“They did,” Chut said, and there was that stubborn flush of her eye ridges again, “They do. But Prefect Jatal puts more and more trust in me, and I think he has ideas about governing more than just Lakat.”

Garak and Julian had discussed the rumors about that only last night, but neither of them said anything.

“Besides,” Chut said, squaring her shoulders. “I’m the one having a baby, I get to decide where we raise it.”

The plate of larish pie hit the floor with a crash. Neither Garak nor Julian looked at it though, staring instead at their daughter. Julian didn’t even have the presence of mind to enjoy the look on Garak’s face, though he always tried to savor the very rare moments when Garak was truly, visibly shocked.

Instead of thinking about Garak and what he was doing with his face, Julian leapt to his feet and let out a wild whooping noise, sending datapadds and notes flying as he raced around the desk and pulled Chut up into a hug.

“You’re pregnant!” he yelled, spinning around in a wobbly circle and almost lifting her off the ground. “Oh Chut, how incredible!”

Chut laughed, high and loud and relieved, and hugged him back just as tightly. “You’re a medical man, Pa, you should know it’s not that amazing.” But she was beaming up at him when he finally let her go.

“It is amazing,” Julian insisted. “It most certainly, certainly is. Garak—” he looked over at Garak, who hadn’t moved. “We’re going to be grandfathers.”

“I heard,” Garak said, but so quietly that Julian almost couldn’t hear it. “I heard.” And Garak was smiling. It wasn’t a toothy grin, it was hardly a smile at all, but Julian knew that look. And he could read the warmth of it. Julian almost suspected that Garak was blinking away tears as he finally stood and walked over to them.

Garak wrapped his arms around the pair of them, pulling Julian and Chut tightly against him. Julian wound an arm over his shoulders and leaned into the pair of them, bowing his head a little to rest against Garak’s.

“Of course you’ll live with us,” Garak said, his voice a touch rougher than usual. “I’ll make it a government order if I have to.”

“Something the Ministry of Education does often, hmm?” Chut said, still laughing.

“Oh, shut up, the pair of you,” Julian said, kissing Chut and then Garak on the forehead.

Garak looked up at him, eyes bright and still smiling, and brought his right hand up from around Chut to cup Julian’s cheek. He was smiling as he slowly brought their lips together, Julian still laughing a little against his mouth.

“Gross,” Chut grumbled, shoving at Garak’s chest like she was still a little girl.

“My dear,” Garak said softly, pulling back only scant centimeters from Julian and keeping his eyes still fixed on his face. “If you’re going to move back in, you’ll have to get used to it.”

“Besides, you’ll want your baby to know his grandpapas love each other,” Julian said, leaning in to give Garak another quick peck on the lips. He closed his eyes for a moment, grinning.

“What makes you so sure it’s a boy?” Chut said archly, but she let Julian pull her back into the group hug.

“Grandpapas!” Julian murmured. “I can’t believe it.”

After a little while Chut stepped back, wiping at the corners of her eyes. Julian was unwilling to let her go, but at least Garak seemed content to stay with his arms circled around Julian’s waist.

“I should let Laran know what you’ve said,” Chut said. “He was a nervous wreck about it.”

“But you’ll stay for dinner?” Julian said. “Tell Laran to come too, we’d love to see him.”

“And if his parents have anything to say about it,” Garak began, “you can tell them to—”

“Join us for dinner?” Chut cut in smoothly. “I’ll be sure to, Dad.” Before she left she darted in for one more hug, then quickly headed out of the room.

Garak chuckled. “Will you tell the boys, or let her?”

“Probably I’ll have to tell them,” Julian said, turning and tilting his forehead down to rest against Garak’s. “It took her ages to get to the point. I can’t see Kelok or Kezdem having the attention span to listen for that long.”

“Just when we were starting to have some peace and quiet,” Garak said softly, hands sliding slowly up and down Julian’s back. “We’ll be quite overrun before too long.”

“I’m excited too,” Julian said.

Garak chuckled. “My dear Julian, you know me far too well.”

“Just what you’d like me to believe,” Julian said, cradling Garak’s chin in his hand and gently tipping his face up. “Lull me into a false sense of security, all of that.”

“Chut was right, I am going soft, if even you can figure out my tricks,” Garak said. He was smiling again, and his voice was soft. “Julian, we’re going to be grandparents.”

Julian thought of nights alone, of the echoing darkness of a space station. He thought of Garak as he had first known him, always smiling and always lying, gliding along alone in his own silent corner of his own private prison. And there had been nights too, much later, where he had been just lying next to Garak, both of them getting their breath back, the darkness around them not at empty as it had once seemed.

And on one of those nights Bashir had whispered across the dark how he’d been thinking about the war orphans, and about maybe starting a family. And Garak had stilled under Julian’s hands, not saying anything, but letting out a broken-sounding breath before rolling over and pulling Julian tightly against him.

Julian thought of their children. Their beautiful, wonderful, insane, brilliant, devious, maddening children. They took after Garak, in so many ways. Well, alright, some of the madness and brilliance could be due to Julian as well. But they were the best and worst of both of them, him and Garak.

Julian kissed him.

And Garak leaned into him, cool lips parting for Julian’s. His hands pressed securely into Julian’s back, and Julian hummed happily against his lips.

It felt like family.

It felt like home.