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Strange and Distant Shores

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"Do you mind if I record our conversation?" Felix Marian set the small metal recording disc on the table between them. His fingers stayed on the device, shaking slightly with nervousness.

Chairman Elim Garak waved a hand and leaned back in his chair. His smile was a mixture of smug and content. "I don't mind at all."

"Thanks." Felix pressed his finger to the top of the disc. The upper face turned green. He smiled sheepishly at Chairman Garak and quickly ran through his usual preamble. "Interview with Elim Garak, the current Chairman of the Cardassian Democratic Union. Stardate 75615.1." He offered the Chairman as small smile. "Congratulations are in order, Chairman Garak. You were recently reelected to your tenth consecutive term, correct?"

Garak's smile widened an almost imperceptible fraction. "You are correct. I believe my beloved is planning a party to surprise me. He's being very secretive about it. It's all very charming."

Felix raised an eyebrow. "It's hardly much of a surprise if you already know about it."

"I find those are the best kind."

Felix glanced down at the smooth reflective surface of the table for a moment and then picked up the cup of tea he'd been served earlier. A similar cup sat in front of Garak, though his drink was darker in hue. "By 'beloved', I'm assuming you mean Ambassador Bashir?"

It was Garak's turn to raise an eyebrow, though his smile widened. If Felix had to guess, he'd say the look on the Chairman's face was pride, or possibly possession. "It would be quite improper to refer to anyone other than my husband as 'beloved'." He paused for a moment, his gaze drifting slightly to the side for a second before returning. "Though, I suppose it could be used for my children. However, as you aptly guessed, that moniker is already taken."

"How is Ambassador Bashir?"

"Busy as usual. Age has done little to slow him down." As he spoke, Garak's expression turned increasingly fond. "A word of advice, never marry a doctor. The hours are most inhospitable for relationships."

He couldn't help but grin in response. "I'll keep that in mind. I suppose it's fortunate that Ambassador Bashir was chosen for the position. You knew each other on Deep Space Nine during the War, correct?"

The smugness that had been hinted at behind the façade of Garak's previous smiles emerged in full force. "Like most things in life, fortune had very little to do with it." Garak set his cup very carefully on its saucer and turned the handle until it was perfectly perpendicular to himself. "He wasn't actually appointed Ambassador until two years after he moved to Cardassia. Did you know that?"

Felix shook his head. "No, sir."

Garak smiled widely. "Of course. You wouldn't. They like to keep those things quite hush these days. They sealed the records but just between the three of us," Garak's magnanimous gesture included the recording device, "technically, my dear Doctor Bashir quit right after the war. There was something of an inquest into the dealings on Deep Space Nine and what all had gone on both during and immediately before the war. You know, the usual nonsense of 'how could we have prevented this' and 'what went wrong'. Needless to say, certain facets of my dear Julian's... shall we say, extraordinary facilities came to light, which they were willing to overlook – he was a war hero after all – but they were less forgiving about his ties to hostile races."

Felix stared. He slowly closed his mouth. He itched to have a pad and stylus in hand but that was what the recording disc was for, so he could have his hands free and think. But his brain seemed stuck on all the history Garak was revealing, fascinating history, and he only belatedly realized he should be saying something. "You mean his ties to Cardassia? To you?"

Garak steepled his fingers and leaned back in his chair. "Quite right. When his allegiance to Starfleet was put into question by his friendship with me – and we were just friends then despite what those conducting the inquest implied, very dear friends but just that – he did what any irrational, emotional human would do in his situation. He quit."

Felix smiled. His appreciation for Ambassador Bashir jumped tenfold. "Just like that? He quit? How did he end up on Cardassia, then?"

Garak grinned. "By a trader ship, of course."

*****

Doctor Julian Bashir stepped off the trade ship Esmeralda with no small amount of trepidation. He was an idiot, a supreme idiot who'd ruined his entire career and thrown everything away because a stupid Rear Admiral had made a stupid comment during a stupid inquest into the stupid war about a stupid Cardassian that he may in fact be in love with. It only taken him a war to figure that out and by the time it was all over and the dust settled, Garak had disappeared and Julian had been left with this giant hole in his life that felt like a wound, aching and raw.

In retrospect, he shouldn't have called the Rear Admiral a xenophobic asshole. But that was done and he'd quit and now he was here. Alone. On Cardassia Prime.

What, exactly, had he been thinking?

"Doctor Bashir?"

Julian stared at a pair of very young Cardassian boys in military uniform as they approached him. As far as he was aware, there were exactly three people who'd known he was heading to Cardassia – himself, the Captain of the Esmeralda, and Doctor Kirik, the head of the new Lakat Medical Center. It was obvious that they knew who he was – he was the only human on the docks, possibly the only human on the planet, but the question of why they knew him remained unclear.

"Hello."

They bowed as one. The shorter of the two spoke. "Welcome to Lakat." He had a nice smile, if restrained. "Are these all your bags?"

Julian glanced behind him at the four large metal cases stacked on the ground. He shouldn't have brought them. It was too much stuff, not enough that he couldn't carry it – with great difficulty – but it was impractical. At the time, it had seemed like a good idea to pack all of his worldly possessions and make a clean break.

He nodded. "Yes, well..." He really had no idea what to say in his defense. Garak had always complained that Julian didn't know how to truly 'rough it'. At least Garak wouldn't have been able to fault him on his wardrobe. He'd picked it out, and it was strangely fitting that after he ditched all of his old uniforms, the only clothes he'd been left with had been made by a Cardassian.

"Allow us." Before he could protest, the boys grabbed his cases, hefting them with ease. Julian knew from experience that they weren't light but the weight didn't seem to bother the boys. "Follow us, please."

Julian had no choice but to follow, since they were walking off with his belongings. "I don't mean to be rude, but who are you?"

They shared a look between them and smiled slightly. "I'm Jesri," the shorter said, "and this is Tarar."

Their grasp of English was excellent. Not that it was necessary, given that he'd spent the entire ride from Deep Space Nine refreshing his Cardassian. "Did Doctor Kirik send you?"

Tarar chuckled. Jesri shook his head and said "No."

"Oh." Bashir frowned. He took in their military uniforms, which weren't entirely out of place since that seemed to be what every young person – and several of the older men and women – was wearing. In fact, as they headed towards the rubble at the center of the city, into what once must have been quite a lovely district, there were far more people in uniform than out. "Am I in some sort of trouble? Did I miss filling out an immigration form or something?"

They both chuckled at that, as if there was some big joke that Julian had been left out of. "No."

He bit the corner of his lip to keep from asking too many questions. If there was one thing he'd learned from Garak, it was that it was no use trying to get a Cardassian to tell you something they didn't want you to know. All would be revealed in due time, or so he hoped.

They turned off the main thoroughfare just short of what had obviously been the capital building. The architecture in this area was stunning. It was heavily damaged, but Julian could see past the blast marks and gaping holes to what it would have been before the war. He could fall in love with this place if he wasn't too careful, just from the buildings alone.

The road they followed turned off into a secluded little plaza. Someone had taken great care to replant the flowers that lined the plaza. It smelled almost like roses and lilacs with a hint of strange spice, though he knew that wasn't what the flowers actually were. Jesri led the way into the third building on the left, right next to the large building that dominated the far end of the plaza. Pairs of armed Cardassian soldiers patrolled the area but none of them gave Julian so much as a second glance. That alone should have set off warning bells – Cardassians were highly xenophobic and yet not one had even given a pause at his presence – but he had a strange feeling he knew where all of this was going.

They climbed four flights of stairs and then stopped outside of a door marked with the Cardassian symbol for forty-one. Jesri pushed the door open and then deposited Julian's cases not far inside the door. The suite – it was definitely part of a hotel, or at least once had been, presumably before the military took over – was simplistic but done in an elegant sort of way that suggested this whole area had been one of affluence not long ago. The precious metals had been stripped away, replaced with ceramics that were quite beautiful but nonetheless not quite matching with the décor. Someone had tried, obviously, to return the room to its former glory.

There was a round wooden table in the center of the room and on that table was a folded pile of Cardassian medical uniforms and a note. Julian frowned as he picked up the note. He was only vaguely aware of Jesri and Tarar leaving. The paper was coarse and heavy. He unfolded it and stared at the black ink. The handwriting was unmistakable, and even if he'd had any doubts left, the single signed G at the bottom of the page confirmed what he'd already suspected.

The note read simply: "With my regards. –G"

A grin spread across Julian's face like ice melting in the face of the dazzling sun. He knew then that he'd made the right decision.

*****

Felix twisted the teacup in his hands. It felt strange sitting in the parlor of the Chairman's mansion. He'd never dreamed of being allowed in, but that's where the Ambassador had wanted to meet. The man in question half-reclined against the side of the sofa opposite, a similar cup of tea in hand. His hair was losing the battle against grey and his face had lost the soft naiveté of youth so often seen in the pictures from when he'd served on Deep Space Nine, and had instead taken on the wizened, weathered look of advancing age.

"So, Ambassador, what was it that brought you to Cardassia Prime, out of all the planets you could have chosen?"

Ambassador Bashir smiled, his expression at once fond and distant. "There wasn't much of a choice really. In those days, I was all about going where I felt I was needed, off to the frontier where no one else wanted to go. That's what first brought me to Deep Space Nine, and after the war there was no planet needier than Cardassia Prime."

"Because of all the devastation."

Bashir nodded. "So much of their world had been ruined. They had doctors of their own, of course. Brilliant doctors, but not enough. There were never enough in those days. Millions had been killed and millions more injured or incapacitated. It kept me quite busy."

Felix grinned. "Despite that, you still found time to reunite with Chairman Garak."

Bashir chuckled. "He was just a Dal at the time, and the title was mostly honorary since they were in the middle of shifting things to the new Democratic structure. But, I didn't find him. He simply pulled a string and there I was, right where I was meant to be."

"And you didn't mind being manipulated like that?"

Bashir's laugh filled the room. "Of course I did, but I have this weakness where Elim is concerned and I let him get away with it. Things turned out alright in the end."

"I'm more interested in the beginning."

"Well then, it began in a café on the Promenade of Deep Space Nine." There was a fond twinkle in Bashir's eyes as he spoke about the station. "But you already know about that. No, the beginning you want, oddly enough, was also at a café, but this one was in the ruins of the Emrit district of Lakat."

*****

The hospital had no more room for patients, which meant that ninety percent of Julian's day was spent making house calls. There must have been some planet-wide memo sent out the day before he arrived because no one, absolutely no one, questioned a human doctor in a Cardassian medical uniform showing up on their doorstep. He was certain Garak was to blame.

They'd realized he didn't need a translator after his second house call, which meant most of his visits were made alone with the aid of a suspiciously accurate map of the city that had mysteriously made its way onto his datapad. The exception was when he ventured into heavily damaged sections of the city, like his current trip to the Emrit district, which meant his constant shadows Jesri and Tarar weren't far behind. He didn't really mind since it was useful, usually, to have extra sets of hands around. Besides, they seemed to take their orders directly from Garak and getting them to go away meant convincing Garak, which was hard to do when he hadn't actually seen Garak the entire week he'd been on the planet so far.

Part of a building had collapsed while the reconstruction crew had been assessing the damage, leaving several workers trapped inside and the vast majority of them heavily injured. Someone had started a triage center in the remains of a café across the street. Julian put his case down next to the exam table – two long tables pushed together – and pulled out an autosuture to seal the gaping wound in the abdomen on the Cardassian worker on the table. Once the worst of the man's injuries were patched, he gingerly slid off the table to be replaced by another man on a stretcher. Jesri and Tarar shifted the man onto Julian's table and he switched the autosuture for a dermal regenerator to treat the man's burns.

One patient blurred into the next. Julian wasn't overly aware of who he was treating. They were a sea of faces that came secondary to the wounds that needed treating. He was distantly aware of artificial lights being brought in as the natural light started to fade. Nurse Ari's voice was a vague murmur in the background as she treated the less serious injuries. There was a growing pile of bloody gloves on the floor next to him. There was blood on his uniform too, not that he cared or even really noticed. So much of Cardassia these days was rubble and dust and blood.

His patient went away and Julian frowned at the table when another didn't immediately take the man's place. A gentle hand took him by the elbow, pulling him away. He resisted for half of a second. There were patients to see to, but as he looked around the emptying café he realized there were no more patients.

He fell heavily onto a metal chair. The hand at his elbow went away and then a sandwich and a steaming cup were placed on the table next to him. He stared at the cup. The smell was so familiar. He reached for the cup and then stopped and stared at his blood covered hands. Familiar green scaled fingers wormed under the edge of his gloves and pulled them away, first the right, then the left. The touch left a burning line of warmth on his skin.

He tilted his head back and stared up at Garak's smiling face.

"Garak." It was not the most brilliant thing to say after over a year apart, but Julian was not operating at his best at the moment. Under the circumstances, Garak would have to forgive him.

"My dear doctor." His voice hadn't changed one bit. Julian closed his eyes and let the sound of it wash over him, as soothing as a warm shower on a cold day. He must have dozed off for a second. A hand closed over his, guiding it to the warm cup. "You should eat."

His stomach growled then, as if the mention of food woke in it a forgotten hunger. He was all of a sudden ravenous, though that was hardly surprising given the dark streets outside. It must have been hours since he'd eaten. The cup was blissfully warm in his hands and he smiled at the first sip. He'd missed redleaf tea. The sandwich disappeared far too fast and he stared at the empty plate as he drained the last of the tea.

Garak stood from the opposite side of the table where he'd quietly watched Julian eat. His hand once more settled on Julian's elbow, steadying him as he stood. Garak stayed at his side as they left the café. Jesri and Tarar fell in step a few paces behind them, silent as shadows. At some point during the walk home, Garak's arm had slipped around Julian's waist. It was a warm weight against his lower back and he wanted to lean into Garak. He didn't. He wasn't sure how Garak would take it and now was not the time for that conversation.

He stumbled on the steps, tripping twice and he would have fallen if it weren't for Garak's hold. He didn't question that Garak had a key to Julian's apartment, not when it was so much more convenient than trying to fish his own key out. Their shadows had fallen behind, leaving Julian and Garak alone in the apartment. There were so many things he should say. A thousand words danced on his tongue but none saw fit to emerge.

Garak's hands were strong and sure as they stripped Julian of his bloody clothes. They'd done this once before, when Garak had fit Julian for a suit, but it felt different this time, strange and new and familiar all at once. Garak pulled Julian's sleep shirt out of the top dresser drawer and pulled it over Julian's head like he did this every day. He supposed, for a tailor, it wasn't entirely out of place.

The bed was soft and warm and yet far too big for him alone. But Garak didn't follow Julian under the covers. Garak tucked him in and then turned and stopped as Julian's hand found his, holding loosely. Garak half-turned and stared down at their joined hands.

A single word hung on Julian's lips but he fell asleep before he could say it – stay.

*****

Felix leaned forward in his chair. "Those must have been exciting days. The new Democracy was just beginning to come together and you had a large hand in it. Some have even said you were the guiding force behind it."

Chairman Garak waved a hand in front of his face. "Those are just rumors. You shouldn't pay them much heed." His voice came across smooth and silky, ever the perfect politician. "It was the people's choice for democracy. Our home had been destroyed by war and so many put the fault for that not just on the Dominion's head, but also on the military's since they'd been the ones pushing for an alliance. Well, we all know how that turned out. So many died during the war and we couldn't go back to the way things were."

"Cardassia needed to change."

"Yes. And change we did."

"How did that feel, all that change?"

Garak leaned back in his chair and turned towards the wide window behind his desk. It overlooked the central plaza. There was no obvious trace of the Dominion destruction left on the city, unless you knew where to look. Felix had studied the photos of Lakat from before so he knew which buildings were new and what had been repaired. So much had been damaged that every building had some hint of remodeling to it which gave Lakat a seamless look of rebirth.

There was a long paused before Garak spoke and when he did it was with a distant tone, as if he was speaking more to himself than Felix. "It was bitter for a lot of us. Everyone had lost someone in the war. The lucky ones were the ones who still had family left. Family means so much to Cardassians. Family and society. We banded together. We made a new society, one that was shaped by what the people wanted and in doing so we made our government part of our family and the government returned in kind."

"How so?"

Garak turned back to look at Felix. "Adoption wasn't done too often before. Orphans were a blight on society. They had no family to turn to, none to back them, and they were seen as useless. Our family makes us what we are. But there were too many orphans then, too many parents who'd lost their children and their grandchildren. So when the government restructured, so did our families. It was easy. Our meticulous records had been destroyed, whole family registries wiped out. So we made new ones and we pieced together children and parents until Cardassia was whole again."

"Is that why your union with Ambassador Bashir went so smoothly?"

Garak grinned. "Hardly. Cardassians value skill and intelligence. We also value things that are useful to us and dear Julian managed to prove himself quite useful in those early days. The longer he stayed, the more he became thought of not as one of 'them' but as one of 'us'."

"Cardassian?"

Garak nodded. "There were some trouble spots. It took him years to get the culture down, but yes, he's a Cardassian now, by more than just marriage."

"What were some of those trouble spots?"

Garak grinned like a shark.

*****

Julian paused on his way out of the temporary capital building. He'd been sent to check up on a clerk with a terrible cough at the end of his day's rounds, since it was so close to his apartment. The cough had been nothing serious, but it had taken him a while to diagnose. He'd expected the building to be empty given how late it was in the evening, and it was, for the most part, save for a corner of the building still lit.

Inside one of the lit offices, he saw the most peculiar sight – Garak, bent over a computer, typing something with immense concentration. Judging by the slump in his shoulders, he'd been there for quite a while. Julian glanced out the windows at the dark night sky and reversed direction, heading back to the small kitchen he'd spotted on his way in.

Several people gave him curious looks as he walked into Garak's office with a plate of sandwiches and a glass of rokassa juice. He ignored their stares and cut off their faint whispers as he gently shut the door with his foot. Garak looked up as the door closed. His haggard expression instantly shifted to one of delight.

"Julian, my dear. What brings you here?"

He smiled back and placed the plate and glass pointedly in between Garak and his computer terminal. "A patient initially, and then I spotted you and assumed you could use a break."

Garak rolled his shoulders and sat back in his chair with a slight wince. "You are quite right, I believe."

Julian frowned at the way Garak was moving and stepped around behind his chair. "Are you shoulders bothering you?"

"It's nothing, just an ache. It'll work itself out."

"Nonsense." Julian's hands were on Garak's shoulders before he even thought about what he was doing. He hesitated for a second, wondering if he'd made a huge mistake, and then decided to just go with it. His fingers dug in hard – he had to if he wanted to do anything to the muscles below Garak's scales – and he worked his hands over Garak's shoulders. Garak moaned briefly and then the sound cut off, as if Garak had only afterward realized what he was doing. Still, he didn't pull away and he didn't complain. Julian could feel the tension in Garak's body. He smiled as it slowly drained away.

When he finally stopped, Garak sighed and turned his chair to face Julian. "I think, dear doctor, I may just have to keep you around."

Julian blushed and grinned. "I think I could be persuaded."

Something in Garak's expression shifted. He regarded Julian speculatively, his gaze suddenly serious. "Why did you come here, doctor? Why here out of all the places that would have wanted you? Why Cardassia?"

There was only one answer he could give. "I came here for you."

"Why?"

They were on a precipice and one wrong move would break everything, break all the years of growing friendship and trusting and something more, something he'd been too blind to see until it was too late. But Garak wasn't blind. He was too smart for that, too observant. He'd known what was between them all those years, known the name of it even if Julian had been too naïve to recognize it for what it was.

Garak had known.

Garak knew.

What was he waiting for?

"I love you."

The smile that spread over Garak's face was smug and satisfied and pleased all at once. It was also gentle and fond and warm. "And I, you."

Garak reached up and took Julian by the hands. Their palms pressed together briefly and then Garak shifted his grip, pulling Julian down onto the chair with him. Julian tilted his head, opening his lips just slightly and inhaling a quick, short breath just before Garak's lips closed over his. Julian's eyes closed. His hands clenched the front of Garak's shirt. He wanted to press forward, to lean into Garak until their bodies blended together and they were one.

Now was not the time. There was only a thin door between them and the outside world. Too many eyes. Too many witnesses. Garak would not approve.

Their lips pulled apart slowly, regretfully and there was a new intensity in Garak's eyes as he looked at Bashir, a strange kind of fire that burned into Julian and made him feel like he was going to burst. He couldn't stop smiling.

Garak turned towards his desk and opened the top drawer. "This is for you." He pulled out a plain white box and set it in Julian's lap.

Julian looked questioningly at Garak and then opened the box when no explanation seemed forthcoming. Inside was a simple silver necklace with a small sheathed knife hanging from it. Julian lifted the necklace with a feeling of reverence. It was beautiful. His thumb brushed over the pendant and it came apart, knife separating from sheath. It was surprisingly sharp.

"Do you like it?" There was a strange hesitancy in Garak's voice.

Julian smiled and snapped the knife back into its sheath. "It's beautiful."

"May I?" Garak held out a hand. Julian set the necklace in Garak's palm and blushed as Garak put the necklace on Julian. The metal settled around his neck like a heavy weight, both welcome and calming. "It looks good on you."

Julian smiled and wrapped his hand around the knife. It was a strangely romantic gesture. It probably had some deeper meaning in Cardassian culture but that didn't matter to Julian at the moment. All that mattered was the happiness on Garak's face as he looked at Julian.

*****

Felix raised an eyebrow. "That was a betrothal knife."

Ambassador Bashir blushed. "Yes, well I didn't know that at the time. I mean, how often do you see Cardassians get engaged when you're not on Cardassia?"

Felix couldn't stop himself from grinning. "How long did it take you to figure it out?"

Bashir's blush deepened. "Two weeks. I couldn't figure out for the life of me why everyone kept congratulating me and staring. I thought it was just a really nice necklace at first."

"And then you got suspicious."

Bashir chuckled. "You should always be suspicious around Cardassians. It's the only way to survive here."

"You seem to have acclimated well."

"Yes, well, I had help. More help than Elim will actually admit to."

"So how did you find out?"

Bashir's hand went to his chest, fingering the necklace through his shirt. The actual knife was hidden by his shirt, but Felix could see the chain peeking around the edges of Bashir's collar. "I was visiting this old woman. It was a miracle she'd survived out on her own at the edges of Lakat. She saw my necklace and started going on about her betrothal. She pulled out her jewelry box and showed me the lovely necklace her husband had given her. She was gushing about how young and in love they were and it all just sort of clicked. I nearly died on the spot, I was so humiliated."

"Did you not want to be engaged?"

Bashir shook his head. "No, no, nothing like that. I quit Starfleet for Elim. I was happy to be engaged it was just... I'd gone weeks without even knowing and he'd just let me..." Bashir sighed. "He does that. Just lets me wander off in my own ignorance. No wonder we took so long to get together. But, oh, I was livid by the time I got to Lakat."

*****

"You insufferable bastard!"

For once, Garak was home, which was fortunate because this was not the screaming match Julian wanted to have in public. Garak stood from the couch suavely and folded his hands. He didn't look the least bit contrite. Instead he was smug and that only made Julian want to hit him even more.

"Is there a problem, my dear?" Garak asked. Even his voice was smug.

"We're engaged!" He was for once grateful that Garak lived on the top floor of the building, with Julian's apartment directly beneath him.

Garak's grin widened. "Yes, we are. Does that bother you?"

Julian sputtered. He glared. Of course it didn't bother him, and Garak knew that. "That's not the point! You should have told me."

"I thought that was obvious from the proposal."

Julian wasn't aware of crossing the room or of his hands clenching into fists. He stared up at Garak. "No. No it was not obvious and you knew that."

Garak shrugged and shifted closer. "That hardly seems relevant."

He wanted to scream. Technically, he already had. His voice was slowly settling back into normal registers. "It is entirely relevant. Completely relevant. That's the whole fucking point. You knew and I didn't and you let me keep not knowing for two whole weeks."

Garak's hands settled on Julian's arms and stroked gently up and down. "I thought you were being coy."

He kicked lightly at Garak's foot. "You know I wasn't, bastard."

"That hardly changes anything," Garak said and damn him, he was right.

Julian sighed and leaned across the scant inch between them to rest his head on Garak's chest. "We're engaged."

Garak's arms wrapped around him, holding Julian close. "Yes, my dear."

Julian's hand pressed against Garak's chest, right over Garak's heartbeat. His stared at his hand. They should have rings. He felt like they should have rings and a ceremony on Deep Space Nine. "Can we get married on Deep Space Nine?"

"Anything you want, my dear."

He grinned. A sudden giddiness washed over him as the gravity of it settled in. They were engaged. He was engaged to Garak which meant they were going to be married and move in together and maybe have a family. He desperately wanted a family, one he could love in spite of their flaws and give them the happy childhood he'd never had.

He stretched up on his toes, connecting the short distance between their mouths. Garak's arms tightened and he deepened the kiss. His tongue pressed into Julian's mouth. Julian could taste the redleaf tea Garak had been drinking, spiked with a hint of kanar. He pressed against Garak, giving in to the urge to melt into him now that they were finally alone with no business to call either of them away. Or so Julian assumed. He'd probably stab anyone who tried to interrupt them with his betrothal knife.

Garak shifted against him and chuckled, breaking the kiss. Julian moaned as Garak shifted again, rubbing his leg against Julian's growing erection. "I see I've got you quite wound up."

Garak's hand was a possessive weight on Julian's lower back, effectively trapping him against Garak's body. He shifted his legs slightly apart, giving Garak's knee more room to slide between Julian's legs. He gasped and twisted his hands in Garak's shirt. "You do... seem to... do that... a lot."

His breath came out in heavy pants. This was so new to him, to them. He'd had sex before, obviously, but it wasn't sex with Garak and that made it a whole new animal, fragile and tenuous. He wanted so much. He wanted Garak in him and on him. He wanted to ride Garak. He wanted Garak to fuck him into the mattress and make him scream. He wanted all of that and more and he knew, knew with absolute certainty, that Garak wouldn't deny him any of it.

"I love you."

Garak's grin lost a touch of smugness and replaced by gentle warmth. "I love you, my dear Julian." He lifted his leg slightly, forcing Julian to cling to him as Julian stretched onto his toes while straddling Garak's leg. "Shall we take this to the bedroom?"

Julian moaned at the thought of it. That was answer enough for Garak. He stepped back, not far, just enough to give Julian room to move. Garak's hand was a constant weight on Julian's back, guiding him into the bedroom. He'd never been in Garak's bedroom before, had only really been in his apartment once and that had been brief, they'd both been called away to other things.

The bed was large enough for three and covered in deep red sheets. They looked soft, like silk. Garak's hands slid under the sides of Julian's shirt and pulled it away. It fell to the floor and Julian turned into Garak's embrace once more. They kissed and stripped, hands wandering over territory both familiar and new. This was Garak, Garak who had been his friend and close confidant for years, and now there was a strange newness between them that made Julian's stomach ache and head spin.

When there were at least no more barriers between them, they fell to the bed, one body intertwined. The sheets were cool under Julian's back but that only offset the heat of Garak's fingers inside of him, opening him up with gentle care. Julian could feel himself coming undone under Garak's touch. As with all things Garak did, there was a single-minded focus that was devastating when turned on Julian. It made him forget about Starfleet and Cardassia, about doctors and democracy. There was just their naked bodies, skin against scales, combined by a desire first lit years ago and only now being realized.

Julian pushed at Garak's chest, turning them until he was on top. The betrothal necklace was a cool weight on his chest. Garak's fingers dug into Julian's hips as he shifted, straddling Garak's waist and positioning himself so that they were perfectly aligned. The thick head of Garak's cock pressed against Julian's ass. He exhaled slowly and then pushed his hips down. He moaned, loud and wanton, not really caring who heard him then because Garak was sinking inside of him and it felt like heaven.

His hands pressed against Garak's chest for balance. He shifted his weight on his knees, making Garak hiss as he better positioned himself and then rose up, dragging Garak's cock out. He couldn't move far, but it was enough. The necklace swung between them, smacking against Julian's chest on every push down, reminding him that he was Garak's, inside and out. He felt a knot of tension he'd never even noticed before uncoil in his chest.

All of his life he'd been looking for something that had been missing, some deficit instilled in him by parents who cared too hard and not enough. He'd spent years chasing after it, and all the time it'd been right in front of him. Right here. Home. Safety. Belonging. Love.

"Garak," he moaned the name. He was so close, so very close. He could feel Garak sliding inside of him, thick and warm and all that he'd ever needed.

Garak's fingers dug into Julian's hips. Garak bucked up into him with small, short thrusts, like he was trying to keep still and failing. Julian didn't blame him. He was lost in the rhythm of their hips and the sway of their bodies. "It's Elim. Call me Elim."

Julian came with a shout. He curled into Garak as he came on Garak's chest. Release ripped out of him, like tearing the skin off an old wound. Garak's arms wrapped around him, holding him tight as their bodies slowed and then stilled. They pulled apart and fell to the bed, side by side in a tangle of limbs. The betrothal necklace was a heavy weight between them, connecting them deeper than even their bodies could reach.

*****

Felix stared past Chairman Garak at the midday sun. It glinted off the metal roofs, highlighting the newness of the city. "The images from your wedding on Deep Space Nine were lovely."

"Thank you." Garak grinned. It reminded Felix of the picture of Garak and Bashir standing in front of Commander Sisko in the station chapel.

"You were married for a year before Doctor Bashir was offered the ambassadorship. Is that correct?"

Garak's grin widened. It had a strange sort of mysterious twist to it. "That sounds about right."

"Why him, if I may ask? He was, by law, a Cardassian at that point and no longer part of the Federation. Why did they ask him back?"

"It seems that the Doctor's resignation had been mysteriously misfiled. As far as the records were concerned, he was on extended personal leave without pay. As the Democracy took hold, the Federation took notice. They needed an ambassador, since the previous one had been killed in the war and the position had remained vacant. Julian was offered the position."

Felix had learned enough from his conversations with Ambassador Bashir and Chairman Garak to know to read into that. "Was that your doing or the Federation's?"

"Which? His resignation or his reassignment?"

"Both."

There was that smugness again. Garak's smile thinned, growing more personal, more secretive. "The resignation is quite the mystery. The Federation claims it was a technical glitch. As for his reassignment, well, they had no choice. Cardassia would have accepted no one else. He is one of us."

"A human Cardassian." The words felt weird on his tongue.

"Stranger things have happened."

Felix was beginning to catch on to this game. Maybe a bit of Cardassia was rubbing off on him. "Like a spy becoming a tailor becoming the leader of a democracy in a former military state?"

Garak winked at him and tapped the recording device off. "I believe that's all for today."

Felix stood slowly. His knees ached from sitting so long and he barely resisted the urge to stretch out his knots in the middle of the Chairman's office. He picked up the recording device and dropped it in his pocket. "Thank you so much for your time."

"Any time. I have always been a proponent of accurate records."

That was a boldfaced lie but Felix let it slide. He'd heard enough of the truth, more than he'd ever thought he'd hear. As Bashir had shown him, sometimes a little deception led to wonderful things.