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Learning to Speak

Chapter Text

Julian Bashir was being bothered.

Something was tapping his shoulder, very gently, rather insistently. He scrunched up his face and rolled over, trying to hide from whatever was rude enough to disturb his sleep. No luck; the tapping continued right between his shoulder blades, regular as a clock's tick and just as subtly annoying.

He hunched his shoulders and tried to burrow deeper into the bed. Maybe if I stay very still, it will go away.

For a moment, it seemed his ruse had worked; the tapping stopped. He waited, face buried in his pillow, only half-awake and so comfortable...

And a hand buried itself deep in his left axilla and tickled, and he yelped and flipped over and scrambled away, and found himself flat on his back, staring up at his adversary.

Garak's ridged face smiled down at him. "Good morning, small-flower-with-a-greenish-centre." Julian's universal translator added a subtle echo to the last phrase; it couldn't quite translate, and had substituted something roughly equivalent. Since Julian's arrival on Cardassia, he'd gotten rather familiar with the effect. Cardassian seemed to be a language with many shades of meaning. It's too early for shades of meaning...

"Mmmmph... good morning, Garak... that was a dirty trick..."

"I specialize in them. You may remember."

Julian rubbed his face and blinked the sleep away, and peered up at his Cardassian partner, who was of course fully dressed and washed and ready to face the day. It was maddening. "What time is it?"

"It's oh-seven-hundred."

Julian slitted his eyes and tried to shoot Garak a dirty look, which was surprisingly tricky to do when looking up. "Garak, I've worked until twenty-three-hundred hours for the last five days in a row. Would it be such a crime to let me sleep in on my day off?" He pulled the light sheet up over himself, holding it close to his chest.

Garak smiled serenely and yanked the sheet away; Julian grabbed futilely for it as it slithered to the floor. "'The planet turns,' Doctor; 'move with it, or it will leave you behind.'" His voice had the declamatory tone he used only when he was imparting some essential piece of Cardassian lore to his semi-willing Human student. It is also too early in the morning for declamatory tones.

Julian rolled his eyes as he pushed himself up into a half-sit, resting his weight on his palms. "I don't think that translated quite right, Garak."

Garak looked just a bit rueful. "Proverbs seldom do. Such a shame. Which reminds me:  you have, mmm, three more minutes until we turn off your translator."

Julian promptly flopped back on to the bed, throwing his arms out perhaps a touch dramatically. "Oh, for God's sake, can I not just have one day where I can relax?"

His histrionics had very little impact on Garak, who tilted his head and smiled thinly. "You are being lazy, Doctor."

The accusation stung, and Julian sat up again, indignant and briefly dizzy. "Lazy? Me? I work like a dog, Garak! I'm at the Children's Centre eleven days out of thirteen, I run nonstop, I barely eat, I come home, I go to bed, I get up, and I do it all again!"

Garak blinked slowly, just once. "Doctor, may I remind you that I spend my days at the Central Plaza, running nonstop, barely eating, and that I then come home and prepare food for us, and that I do not bring hounds into the matter?" His tone was complacent; his second tongue said irritation. Julian caught it. That was my warning.

"You're right. I'm sorry. It's just..." He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. "I hate having my translator off. I know I need to learn Kardasi. And I am trying. I'm already doing better with the second tongue, aren't I?" He looked up at Garak, aware that he sounded rather pathetic. Belatedly, he gestured with one arm in his rudimentary second tongue, apology.

Garak's expression softened a little. "Yes, Julian. You're learning very quickly." He leaned forward and tapped Julian's temple, lightly. "But immersion is the best way I've found to truly understand a language, and you are relying far too much on your translator. It may not always be there for you, you know."

Garak was right. The implanted universal translator was a privilege given to Starfleet officers and favoured citizens of the Federation. If he stayed here on Cardassia - wonderful, terrifying thought, and let's put that away for now - it was very possible that his translator would be deactivated, leaving him on an alien world with only Fed Standard under his belt. Totally inadequate. Possibly dangerous. And I'd be a liability to Garak. But it was such a slow process, learning Kardasi, and a day without a translator was very hard work, and he'd really just wanted to relax today.

"I just hate walking around Cardassia City pointing at things and grunting. It's so frustrating. I feel like a toddler." He knew there was a bit of a whine in his voice; he indulged himself. Let me sulk just a little, please.

Garak nodded, looking past Julian, considering. "How remarkable. You sound like one, too. And your translator isn't even off yet." Both tone and second tongue were amused. It is, to sum up, far too early in the morning for smug Cardassians.

Julian tossed a pillow at him; Garak dodged out of the way easily and laughed at him, flashing white teeth. "Two more minutes," he sang, and moved to the window. He slid aside the heavy curtain, and the sun flashed in, bathing Julian in horrible, horrible light.

Julian groaned, and fled to the safety of the bathroom, closing the door behind him for some semblance of privacy. The face that greeted him in the mirror was still sleepy, chin stubbly (is that another grey hair?), eyes heavy-lidded, hair a mess. Sweat was already beginning to bead on his forehead. Good morning, Julian. Welcome to another lovely day on Cardassia Prime.

He relieved himself and ran his hands under the sterilizer, then tore open a package of pre-moistened wipes, and scrubbed his hair as best he could. They were still rationing power as infrastructure destroyed in the war was rebuilt, and so the water wash he really wanted was out of the question; replicating water when one could just vibrate the dirt away was not acceptable.

But it was so hot now, in the thick of a Cardassian summer; outside temperatures in the streets of Cardassia City routinely reached 37°C, as warm as Human body temperature, and the humidity made it feel a lot hotter. He and Garak kept their home at about 27°C, which was probably equally unpleasant for both of them. Garak wore layers; Julian wore as little as possible.

Even so, his hair always felt matted with sweat, and the sonic shower just didn't seem to do much about it, and these days, water was for drinking and irrigation only. Make do. You've managed with worse.

He combed his hair, cleaned his teeth, ran a depilator over his jaw, then slipped off his light shorts and stepped into the shower. As it hummed, he slumped against the wall, enjoying the sensation as the soothing vibrations cleaned away the worst of last night's sweat. He'd never imagined needing two showers a day, but Cardassia Prime was like an eternal sauna, and his body responded accordingly. Both he and Garak had sensitive noses, and there was no way he was going to walk around smelling like that. Besides, he was one of the few Human residents of the planet, at least so far; he felt a bit of an obligation to represent his species, and he didn't want the cleanliness-loving Cardassians to immediately tag Humanity as "oh, yes, the smelly ones."

His musings on interspecies relations were interrupted by Garak banging on the door. "Time's up, Doctor!"

Oh, for God's sake - "I'm almost done, Garak!"

"You are five minutes overdue - that means five minutes longer tonight!" Garak sounded terribly amused by this. Julian didn't find it nearly as funny.

"All right, all right, I'm coming out." Julian allowed himself one more pleasant stretch in the vibrating air, and deactivated the shower. He picked up his shorts as he left the bathroom and tossed them into the laundry chute. Garak cast an appreciative eye over him as he moved to the wardrobe; he pretended to ignore the Cardassian, and rooted through the wardrobe until he found underpants, a light tunic and some trousers that seemed like they'd go with the tunic well enough that Garak wouldn't complain. He shimmied into them, stretched bone-crackingly, and turned to face the day.

The day came towards him, smiling, blue eyes laughing. "Ready, Doctor? Do you have any last words?"

"I hate this." He pressed his lips together, eyes narrowed.

Garak leaned in and kissed him, pressed his Chufa to Julian's forehead, and whispered, "I know." His tone was mocking and completely unsympathetic.

Julian rolled his eyes. "Really, Garak, you are the most - "

-- Garak's fingers tapped Julian's skull three times, just above the right earlobe, and then pressed lightly for one second --

" - smug, insufferable ass I have ever met."

Garak's smile widened just a little, and he stepped back and shrugged, as Julian's complaints fell on him in a cascade of incomprehensible sound. "Ver'tek, S'h'iosr'ha. Nu taslevren'I." Amusement-amplified, laughed his body.

Yeah. Right. Julian sighed. Ten minutes ago he'd been sleeping. Now he faced thirteen hours of unfiltered Kardasi. Can I just go back to bed?

Well, might as well make the best of it. He was hungry, and there was a tempting aroma wafting from the kitchen; perhaps Garak had laid on some breakfast? "Um. Food?"

Garak's eye ridges bent just slightly, and he waited.

Oh, for God's sake. "Uh. Food... please?"

Garak smiled, and bowed him out of the room.

Chapter Text

They sat in their kitchen, morning-lit, a humid breeze already wafting through the open windows. Outside, the occasional vehicle sighed by; in the distance, Julian heard the clanging of the signal bells that marked the arrival and departure of the public transport trains. A velial called out once, twice. Behold, another day. And here he was, at his breakfast table, gulping down Kardasi along with his meal. I do hope I don't get indigestion.

"Lam chek'I'o?" What's this? Garak pointed to Julian's cup of coffee.

Julian smiled cheekily. "Coffee."

Garak wasn't amused. "Kafi, diTh, he' kafi cufra..." Coffee, yes, and coffee is in the...

"Um, cup."

"DiTh. Lam'o?" Yes. This? Now he indicated Julian's breakfast plate.


"DiTh, S'h'iosr'halin! He' lam'o?" Yes, my dear doctor! And this? And he touched a fingertip to the deliciously aromatic basket of peppertop rolls between them, and Julian had absolutely no idea.

"Oh, I don't know, Garak - " His exasperated wail was cut off mid-sentence by a grey Cardassian hand slicing through the air, palm flat, fingertips towards him; the hand stopped and hovered, and Garak looked annoyed.

"Chu'lian. Ka prente'net'U. Lam selien ga'I." Julian. Try harder. This is a basket. Second tongue whispered disapproval; Garak's eye ridges twitched downward, just slightly.

Julian sighed, and nodded, and signalled understanding. "Basket, yes."

Mollified, Garak sat back and offered him the basket of rolls. Julian took one and munched on it, a bit morosely. It was really very good. He peered over it at Garak, who was sipping his morning rokassa juice and gazing out the window. This is so hard.

Talking to Garak had been his favourite hobby for... oh, years now. At least seven, of course, and then there had been the letters for a while, and now he'd been here for... six months? It was difficult, converting between Federation and Bajoran and Cardassian time systems, but he thought it added up to about eight and a half years of pleasant chit-chat on just about every topic under the sun. Several suns, in fact.

Their conversations had led him to some fascinating places - to an orphanage on Bajor, to the home of the former head of the Obsidian Order, to a Jem'Hadar prison on an asteroid, and finally here, to Cardassia Prime, to the home - and the bed - of a man he still wasn't quite sure he really understood. Speaking of fascinating places... Cardassia had certainly been an education, in many ways. One of the things he'd learned was that Elim Garak did care for him - more than Julian had ever imagined - but there was still so much about him that was... less than transparent. And not being able to understand him when he asks me to pass the butter really doesn't help matters!

He hated the idea of missing out on what Garak might have to say, and that was part of why he fought so hard against turning off his translator. But let's be honest, Julian. His irritation was only half of the problem. The other half was the humiliation he felt at being reduced to two-word sentences and shrugs, especially before Garak, before someone he so wanted to respect him. I'm better than this, I'm smarter than this -

Except he wasn't, really, was he? He'd cheated his way through with the translator. Hell, he was cheating even now; he had an eidetic memory that no other Human could hope to be born with, and with its help surely he'd pick up Kardasi soon enough... Please?

In the meantime, this was important to Garak. And if it felt a bit hopeless sometimes, well, Julian was good at hopeless causes. Pull it together, Doctor Bashir. Remember, you usually know more than you think you do. Touch wood. Surreptitiously, he knocked on the underside of the table, then pursed his lips, and picked up the pitcher of rokassa juice. "Garak - "

Garak turned back towards him, expression neutral.

"More juice?" And he proffered the pitcher, smiling. I'm trying.

Garak's eyes closed for a moment, and when they opened again, there was warmth in them. "DiTh, ss'lei. Turessin." That was yes at the start and thank you at the end. Ss'lei, he didn't quite know. He poured and pondered.

"Garak, what is ss'lei?"

And now Garak's expression was strange, half affectionate, half bemused. "Ka tasperet'I'o?" You don't know?

Julian shook his head, and watched Garak's second tongue say something absolutely inexpressible in Fed Standard - amusement/irritation/affection all at once. Garak sighed, and shook his head. "To'pey, S'h'iosr'ha." Later, Doctor.

Julian pursed his lips in mild irritation, and inclined his head, fine. He sipped his coffee - ubiquitous across the worlds, hoorah for Earth! - and bit into another roll, and listened to the sounds of the city waking up.

They finished their breakfast and tidied the dishes, taking their time. It was a day off, after all; there was no sense in moving too quickly, especially in the growing heat of the day. Everybody took their time when it was summer. Even Cardassians could get hyperthermia. Speaking of which -

Haltingly, Julian asked the household replicator for a glass of water, salt-dosed. He sipped it slowly. Garak nodded his approval. "Vess, S'h'iosr'ha. Ka harit vri'net'U." Good, Doctor. You must keep drinking.

They'd had one frightening episode, where the heat of Cardassia combined with one too many layers of clothing had led to Julian needing minor rehydration therapy at a local clinic. The doctors had tutted, especially upon finding out that Julian was a physician himself. He'd been admonished as only a Cardassian could admonish (first by the doctors, and later by Garak, which had been memorable), and had been given a prescription for a specific salt mixture to replenish what he lost through sweat. He'd learned quickly how to dial for it at the city's public replicators, because toting a little thermos around felt a bit silly. It had been a sharp reminder that Cardassia, as comfortable as it was becoming, was not quite home. This place won't adapt to me. I've got to try to adapt to it... Hence his new clothes, loose and light; hence the drink; hence the language.

He wandered over to the front window and peered out into the street, over the two roads running in front of the little joined houses, and the strip of park between them. So much of Cardassia was a desert, and it was half-funny, half-sad how zealously the Cardassians guarded their remaining bits of green. Cardassia City had gardens everywhere. Every little house had a shade garden in the back. Even the government buildings hid little gardens on the balconies, or so Garak told him. Must be careful about revealing those government secrets, Elim. Who knows what Starfleet might do with that dark knowledge?

He snorted, amused with himself, and tipped back his glass to catch the last few drops, then turned to Garak, now fiddling with one of his plants.

"What do today?"

Garak looked up at him, his face pleasantly blank. "Ka chek ge'Ieh'o, S'h'iosr'ha?" What would you like to do, Doctor?

Aargh, infuriating. Um. What did he know how to say? The only words that leapt to mind involved eating, swearing, and sex. He'd just eaten, he wasn't quite irritated enough to curse, and it was a bit hot for that kind of thing, really. He thought for a moment, then pointed out, towards the city. "Go for a walk? Um..." He flipped quickly through his mental Kardasi dictionary, found nothing. "Hmm. Legs?" He made his fingers walk across his forearm and looked to Garak, hoping for understanding.

Garak tilted his head in acknowledgement. "Ah! S'hren. Vess. Nu terre'I." Apparently this was acceptable to Garak, because he gave the plant one last pat and straightened up. "Nuka ragUrsit juq'U. Emero'net ga'U." He slid a sideways look at Julian, appraising, and nodded once, firmly. So that was all right, whatever it was.

Um, didn't catch that. How much do I trust this man...?

Julian smiled blankly, and led where Garak followed.

Chapter Text

The heat of Cardassia washed over Julian like a wave. I really do think this planet is trying to kill me.

He and Garak walked down the street, Julian's hand tucked loosely in the crook of Garak's arm, Garak's hand covering it. Look at me, half of a Cardassian courting couple. Life is strange. It was terribly hot for such close proximity, but the newness of the posture was still a bit intoxicating for Julian, and Garak's skin was cool; his hand was comfortable against Julian's own. It fits mine so well. Could I have had this all along? A strange thought, too melancholy for this day, and moot now anyway.

Garak, for his part, squeezed Julian's hand just a little as they walked. Outwardly he looked calm as always, but Julian thought privately that perhaps he was rather enjoying the posture too. He certainly seemed to adapt it any chance he got. It was pleasant, the way it held the two of you in lockstep; it felt more intimate, somehow, than the Human equivalent of holding hands. Cardassia Prime has certainly been a source of new and interesting experiences. One or two of the more notable variety popped into his mind, and he smiled to himself.

Garak saw his smile. "S'hren derbet'I'o, S'h'iosr'ha?" Enjoying the walk, Doctor?

Ah - well, yes, he was, although perhaps not for the reasons Garak thought. "Ah, yes. Cardassia City is pretty-amplified."

Garak frowned a little. "Kardasia si-ti?" He drew the second word out, pursing his lips as if he didn't much like the taste.

Oh. I guess that wouldn't be the right term, would it. "Um... This place. Here." He pointed to the ground, waved his arm at the homes and businesses around them.

"Ah! Kardasi'or ga'I."

"Kardasi'or?" Sounded like another damned suffix. Kardasi loved its suffixes. Well, this one seemed easy enough. And it did roll off the tongue more nicely than Cardassia City - much lighter on the syllables. He filed it away. "Thank you!"

Garak nodded, accepting his due. "Nu perrik'I, S'h'iosr'ha." You're welcome, Doctor. His second tongue signalled mild superiority, and Julian felt duelling urges to both kiss him and to smack him one. Decisions, decisions; he settled for a semi-affectionate eye-roll. He should have been a professor. Garak, you missed your calling.

He couldn't read any of the street signs (argh, it was the little things that surprised you most!), but he'd by now figured out that they were going to the open-air market near the train station. It was a lovely walk, past some very pretty parks and some interesting architecture, almost all restored now. The area of Kardasi'or where Garak lived, Paldar Sector, had been one of the first targeted for post-war repair, as it housed many civil servants who between them could pull a plethora of strings. If one spent most of one's time in the neighbourhood, one could almost forget that the rest of the planet was still clawing its way out from under the debris. Garak was lucky to have found a house there.

Hmm. Actually, knowing Garak, luck had nothing to do with it.

As they neared the market, Julian heard the calling of the vendors and the chatter of shoppers. It was probably going to be busy today; it was still before lunch, and the sun wasn't yet beating down with its full force. Everyone who wanted to shop at the market would do it now, before it got too hot to breathe.

Julian listened as they approached, hearing the babble of the market with newly appreciative ears. His translator had always switched it over to Fed Standard for him, and so he'd never really understood how different Kardasi could sound. A crowd of people speaking Fed Standard sounded loud and rounded, lots of big vowels; by comparison, the crowd of Cardassians was quieter, more sibilant. Their gestures, however, did a lot more of the talking. There was a tumult of kotok temell in the crowd, merchants signalling honesty/pleasure/helpful, shoppers answering with disbelief/delight as the case might be. Julian hadn't really noticed it before. I never had to.

He looked at Garak. "We need specific thing?"

Garak's mouth pursed a little, affectionately, in appreciation of Julian's effort. "Yaq, S'h'iosr'ha. Nuka s'hren'rat. Sepnu preb'I, thuza." No, Doctor. Let's just walk. Stay with me, please. Julian nodded, and noted to himself that perhaps this damnable twisty language was starting to feel a bit more accessible. I hope.

The pathways between tables and stalls were too narrow to navigate side by side; reluctantly, Julian loosened his grip on Garak's arm, and they walked single-file past tables laden with fresh produce from tiny gardens, with little flowers in soil-filled paper bags, with weavings, with jewellery, with miniature paintings (done on individual leaves, incredible!), with a thousand varied little outpourings of creativity. Julian was still delighted by the fact that Cardassia, so severe on the surface, teemed just underneath with stories and songs and drawings and gardens. How funny that the need to create seemed to be so ubiquitous among the Cardassian people. Well, much as it is with Humans, I suppose. Why am I still so surprised when they're so much like me?

"Ah!" Garak had stopped a few feet behind him, and was looking with evident pleasure at a table laden with purple, bulbous... fruit? Probably fruit. Garak nodded at the elderly lady who held court over the table, his posture offering admiration. She nodded back with a touch of smugness, acknowledgement. Julian caught the exchange, and was just a little smug himself. I can do this - it's easier every minute - why was I so upset?

"S'h'iosr'ha!" Garak beckoned him over, and glanced sideways at him. "RakiTh pertek ga'I! Thuza, ka emp vereti'U, he' yus'vi'U betraruxt be'les." Oh, dear. Um, something about this food being... special? And thuza was please, and he was to do something to three of something, and then... Oh. Pick out three and pay for them. God, it sounded so simple. Where had his smug gone?

He pressed his lips together, and raised his brows at Garak. You are being cruel. Garak returned the look with cool eyes and a twitch of his eye ridges, it's good for you.

"Uh, please forgive my-Kardasi-diminished." The first phrase Garak had taught him; certainly one of the most useful. Oh, and the posture that went with it, supplication, light and quick. He was rewarded by a surprised head tilt from the matron, and caught the glance she flicked Garak's way. I wonder what she makes of me? Favoured pet? Dancing bear? Keep dancing, Julian!

Despite his slow, stuttering Kardasi, he managed to enlist the woman's aid in selecting three fruits that she promised would be "cidUm'net!", very tasty! He pressed his thumb against her merchant's PADD, sealing the deal, and thanked her politely as she bagged the fruit for them. She smiled fondly at him and flicked her fingers against his hand once, not hard enough to hurt. Like a grandmother to a grandchild, marvelous.

But it wasn't so terrible, really, and he had just done something he had never imagined doing without his translator. His spine straightened; beside him, he heard Garak emit a little "hmph" of amusement. Laugh if you like. I did it! He swung his bag of possibly-fruit beside him as they walked away, and probably looked silly, and didn't much care. Cardassia, I will beat you yet.

They meandered a while longer through the little stalls, showing each other bolts of cloth or little trinkets, Garak in full professor mode. It was a bit irritating to be quizzed on every colour in a traditional twelve-colour-quilt, but Julian had to admit the technique was effective; he was soaking up Kardasi at a rate he'd never previously imagined. How much of it was Garak's teaching and how much was his own not-quite-Human brain, he didn't know, but it didn't really matter; he felt proud of his progress, and if the Cardassian's little smile and hint of kotok temell were any judge, Garak was too.

The temperature had continued to rise as the morning began to shade into afternoon; it was getting a bit hot to be outside. Julian saw Garak eyeing him, and knew he was being assessed. Wouldn't want to pass out in public again, no sir; mustn't worry the man who makes the meals. He ran his own quick self-diagnostic and decided he'd better get somewhere a bit cooler. Judging by the way Garak pursed his lips, he concurred; he touched Julian's shoulder and leaned over.

"S'h'iosr'ha, nuka tuv'kiTh hiTh'U."

Oh! Lunch! A brilliant idea. "Yes! Where shall we go?"

Garak nodded in acknowledgement of his proper usage of an auxiliary verb, even as he frowned in thought. "Nuka raUnt tUr kaporex juq'Ieh - Rokerren'ik?" Near Julian's work - oh! Rokerren's? Marvelous!

Julian grinned. He'd been niggling at Garak to try the little sandwich shop for a month now. It had been such a pleasure to find a restaurant with food that so reminded him of Earth cuisine, a cool breath of home on this sauna of a planet - and so close to the Children's Centre. He often picked up lunch to go on his way in. True, the sandwiches - well, the releh'ren - were made with ingredients he'd never heard of, and the bread was really some kind of pressed Cardassian grain, and nobody had any idea about mayonnaise, but damn it, sometimes close enough was close enough. Wonderful!

On a happy impulse, he leaned down and nipped the Cardassian lightly on his jawline, and brushed his cheek once against Garak's, rough and sweet. "Yes-amplified! Good-amplified! Thank you, Garak!"

Oh, how delightful - for once he'd caught the Cardassian by surprise, and he got to enjoy the spectacle of the self-possessed older man's ridges flushing charcoal, and the brilliant flash of blue from Garak's deep-set eyes as they met his own, almost shyly. Ah... Julian Bashir, you are a tremendous flirt. Well, I wouldn't do it if he didn't like it so.

"Ah... nu'perrik'I, S'h'iosr'ha, nu'perrik'er," and his voice was just a bit hesitant, oh, I did catch you out, didn't I! "Nu vintetei katuv'rin'U, thuza?" He offered his arm, and Julian was more than pleased to wrap his hand around it, to be captured in return by Garak's own.

Chapter Text

Julian savoured the last bite of his releh'ren, the tart bite of pickled vegetables blending pleasantly with the soft texture of the grain. The cooler air of the restaurant was refreshing, revivifying after the oppressive heat of the afternoon. He sipped his slightly salty water, and sighed a well-fed sigh.

Across the table, Garak was nibbling at his own lunch; as always, Julian had finished eating long before Garak. That was fine; he had nowhere to go and nothing to do, and the company was good, if mildly incomprehensible. He poked Garak's foot under the table with a questing toe, and smiled at the Cardassian's mildly reproving expression.

"This is fun. This is like before."

Garak paused mid-chew, thoughtful; his kotok temell warmed, affection/truth. "Replimat cIf'a'o? SeIdania dederin-kUlp raha'amox tasmin q'rUnt'a'I." Like the Replimat? It's a pity they don't serve Idanian spice pudding.

Julian's smile widened into a grin; he rocked back in his chair and let his arms hang down. It was rather nice to have Garak across a proper lunch table from him once again. Past, meet present. Rokerren's did look a bit like DS9's Replimat; the chairs and tables were Cardassian standard issue, the lighting a bit garish, and it was all delightfully familiar. Spending all those years on a Cardassian-built space station had acclimated him to the species's architectural stylings, and when he'd first landed on Cardassia Prime, he'd been surprised to find that everything looked right, somehow. Funny planet. I feel like I could like it here. If it ever stops trying to kill me.

Well, and those were long-term thoughts, and this was a short-term kind of day. Tomorrow he'd be back to work, and Garak willing, would be considerably more eloquent. In the meantime, it was actually rather fun to puzzle out Kardasi'or on his own, much less scary and embarrassing than he'd feared. Well, "on my own" is perhaps not exactly right; thank God for my intrepid native guide.

He watched Garak finishing his releh'ren, and smiled to himself. It was fascinating to see Garak so completely at home, here on his world; on DS9, he'd been exotic, and here on Cardassia Prime he was just another face in the crowd. Although I can pick him out every time... The Cardassian knew the rules here, all the moves of the dance that was Cardassian public life, and it was one of Julian's secret joys just to watch him interacting with his fellows, without any overhanging threat of danger or fear. For the first time, he saw Garak living a normal day-to-day life. It was quietly marvelous. Once I wanted him to tell me all his dangerous secrets. Now I just want to watch him buy melons. My God, how we've both changed.

He realized suddenly that he'd been staring at Garak, and that Garak was looking intently back at him - no, not quite at him, but at something just behind him. The Cardassian's expression was peculiar, a mix of guarded reserve and... amusement? He spoke in a low tone. "S'h'iosr'halin, races kacIdet cigren prente'I, nuzas ga'I." Someone wants... me to look at them?

Puzzled, Julian turned, and his gaze met a pair of dark eyes gazing directly into his, and a small, frustrated face; the frustration melted into a smile as soon Julian's attention was turned its way.

"S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian! Salmakt! Ka raUnt-tascic ga'I – ka ha'a chut'I'o?"

Oh, wonderful! Julian's brows leapt up and his eyes widened; he couldn't help but smile. Present, meet future:  there was Perent, and Ch'riel, and Toski - and here was Matron Amrille, watching sternly over her charges, a hint of a smile lurking behind her quiet expression. Excited, Julian turned to Garak, grinning.

"Garak, these are some of the kids from the Centre! This is Perent, and - hey, what are you doing here, anyway? I'm - "

- and he trailed off as he realized that all of the Cardassians were staring at him, Garak disapproving, Amrille surprised, and the kids confused and a little bit scared. Oh, no, no -

"Please forgive my-Kardasi-diminished! I learn Kardasi today. I practice!" He smiled widely, perhaps a bit too widely, wanting to make it okay and dreadfully embarrassed. Baring your teeth at them probably isn't going to help, Julian.

And indeed, Perent looked very worried, and little Ch'riel was about to cry, oh, no! The small Cardassians looked at each other, eyes round, mouths tight; suddenly their expressions were fearful, their second tongue closed down, and he remembered how suspicious they'd been when he first met them, how unwilling to let anyone close. No, no, please don't -

Toski stepped closer to Matron Amrille; Julian heard her whispering, "S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian sedveles ga'I'o, Parmani?” “Am I sick” – she must think I’m delirious!

The Matron didn't appear to be certain how to answer. The look she gave Julian was half-confused, half-censorious - how dare he scare the kids like this?

Garak blinked a few times, and inclined his head apologetically. “S'h'iosr'ha Ba'cir temes'kasintaspUr tudta ga'I. Thuza, nus'mar kacigren'I geh'rensUtis siga'I; tas'si'sedveles’I.” He gestured reassurance, and smiled politely; Julian nodded emphatically in agreement. Not diseased, eh? Thank you, Garak. At least he explained the translator situation, so they won’t think I’m completely demented. Probably.

The kids didn't seem particularly heartened by this, but Matron Amrille's quick smile flashed across her face. "Ah, S'h'iosr'ha! Raduxt katuvUr Garak ga’I’o?” Doctor, is this your romantic-partner, Garak? Her eyes scanned Garak, top to bottom; if she came to any conclusions, her expression didn't share them.

Julian blinked. He'd hoped to be slightly more articulate when the time came to introduce Garak to his co-workers, but needs must. "Yes. This is Elim Garak. Garak, this is Matron Amrille, and here are Perent, Ch'riel, and Toski." He stammered, hating his limited Kardasi - but it was apparently adequate; he saw the children beginning to relax, and became aware of how taut he'd been himself. See? I haven’t suddenly gone mad - you can still trust me! These kids had been through enough; they didn’t need any more frightening surprises. Experimentally, he tried a small smile at Toski; she met his eyes, and smiled back. Perent and Ch'riel, looking to her, flashed relief. Oh, thank God.

Garak made a small bow, his eyes never leaving those of Matron Amrille. "Hintik, Parmani Amrille. Seka nu tutesm'a." I've been told about you.

She bowed slightly in return, kotok temell signalling interest. "He' nu nopt ga'a, Garak. Nuka litcil ga'Ieh sept'U." Stories to trade? Um. Well, she's figured out the way to Garak's heart.

As he'd expected, Garak's mouth dropped open slightly, curious; he slanted a look of conspiratorial delight at Amrille, then turned to Julian. "S'h'iosr'alin, kajucemces'tUl katef'Ieh, ju'pey nuraduxt pUrtef'I?"

I'm to go chat with the kids, while you two get to know each other? Something was going on here, and Julian was not impressed. He frowned at Garak; Garak's look in return was perfectly innocent. Amrille, on the other hand, looked like the cat that swallowed the canary. I'm to be taken apart bit by bit, aren't I. Kind of them to send me off while they do it. Shouldn't a man be present at his own vivisection?

Oh, well; Amrille was nice, but the kids were much more fun - and I've got to make up some lost ground, I think. Julian stood, offering his chair to Amrille; she slid into it easily, already bantering with Garak faster than Julian could easily follow, their postures flickering. Bah. Who wants to sit at the grown-up table anyway?

He squatted down on his haunches between two tables, and smiled at the three children. "Hi! Why did you come here?"

Perent straightened, visibly pleased with himself; a hand flickered pride in emphasis. "Jij'jessbUv, vrusi vess'net ge'a!" Oh - did well on our monthly summary testing, did we?

Toski nodded, and added in her quiet voice, "Vrusi bIcen lam'I - lec'te bet'tapx'or - pertek kiTh!" Her face was calm, as always, but hints of pleasure leaked through her posture, and her eyes darted around the restaurant, taking it all in. A reward, a trip away from the Centre, a special meal - well, this is an important day, isn't it.

Ch'riel apparently hadn't quite decided Julian was back to normal yet, for he still stayed behind Toski, clutching the hem of her tunic; absently, Toski smoothed his hair back with a practiced gesture. Those two are never apart.

Julian kept the smile on his face as he looked at the three children, their plain tunics, their worn sandals. You get the bare minimum you need to survive, and you're to count yourselves lucky. Your special reward for a month of hard work is a trip to a sandwich shop and a walk through the city. As childhoods go, this seems a bit... lacking. And this was as good as it would ever get for them; orphans on Cardassia didn't have much to look forward to in life. They'd be educated to a standard level, and kept reasonably healthy, and fed adequate meals, and when they were old enough, they'd be slotted into public service jobs, where they'd serve Cardassia doing the work nobody else wanted to do until they were too old to do it, and back to another kind of home they'd go, to sit alone until they died. For Cardassia, always for Cardassia, and never for them. It's not right.

But there's nothing you can do about it, at least not right now, and in the meantime, let's not spoil their day any further with unwarranted moodiness, all right?

Perent was frowning again; apparently he had a question, what a surprise, he always does. "Hif' S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian, ka ha'a juq chut'a'o? Katapx chiha'a ga'I'o? Raduxt sepka chen'I'o?"

Julian threw up his hands, laughing. "Too much! Too fast! Your Kardasi slower, please!"

Perent looked a bit put off; Toski leaned forward and stage-whispered in his ear, "Vin'cestUl'net'vesa, tef'U." Talk to me like... a baby? Oh, well, that's hardly flattering. And not at all wrong. Julian bit his lip to keep from laughing.

Perent's posture cried disbelief, but he rose to the occasion, mulling over his options and picking the question that most interested him. "S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian, raduxt chen'I'o?" He spoke very slowly, and indicated Garak, absorbed in conversation, his head bent towards Amrille's.

"That man is my romantic-partner. His name is Garak."

Perent's eyes widened, and he looked over at Garak in no small amount of confusion. "Hif' si Kardasi ga'I!" But he's a Cardassian!

"I know this." Julian's smile twisted, wryly.

"Hif' ka HUmani ga-tasga'I'o?" But you're Human, aren't you? Perent darted a glance at Toski; she nodded, yep, Human all right.

"Yes, I am."

"Oh." Perent gazed at the floor, processing this, then looked back up. "Lam cerda'I'o?" Toski looked mildly alarmed and poked Perent in the side; Perent twitched away and frowned back at her. Julian was having to work harder to bite back his laughter, now; Perent's first concern was always whether something was allowed, and this apparently was no different.

"Ka ciua tasga'I. S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian kisicus'te taskatreb ga'I." Toski nodded firmly; behind her, Ch'riel nodded an echo. Ah, Toski; always the arbiter of polite conduct. Thank you for the backup, it's not his business, but - oh, dear - enjoined?

"We aren't enjoined - we are just -" What they were just, Julian wasn't quite sure, and it was really a bit complicated to explain to these kids, and why was he explaining anyway? A bit desperate, he cast a look Garak's way; although Garak wasn't looking at him, Julian was absolutely certain that he'd heard every word.

Surreptitiously, Garak pushed their bag of probably-fruit towards him with a toe; a hand flickered gift. Gift? What am I supposed to do with this?

The mystery of the bag was too much for Ch'riel, who burst out, "S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian, lam chek'I'o? Loxnuka ga'I'o?" What is it - is it for us?

"Um, I'm not sure..." He opened it, and tipped it towards them; three small faces lit in unison, and Ch'riel piped, "Oh! Bap'Uv! Nuka tud hiTh'U'o?" Bap... melons? Those are melons?

Apparently this really was a treat, for even Amrille turned in curiosity when she heard Ch'riel's happy shriek. Her eyes widened at the sight of the melons; she quirked her mouth, and assented with a nod. The three children smiled widely, and Julian saw a smirk slip across Garak's face. Too clever by half, aren't you.

"Tascufjoz," Amrille said sternly. "Ezten'net ga'I. Cafjoz lam tuv'rin'U. S'h'iosr'ha, ka ge'U'o...?" Her gesture indicated the door.

Too messy for inside? This should be interesting. I wouldn't miss it for the world. "Yes, Matron Amrille." He rose, scooping up the bag of maybe-melons, and made for the door, the three small Cardassians trailing after him. As he moved past Garak, the older man stopped him with a gesture.

"S'h'iosr'ha, ka lam jat'U." He handed Julian a fistful of napkins, left over from lunch.

A fistful? Apparently this was to be very messy indeed. "Uh, thanks, Garak."

Outside, they found seats at an empty table on the restaurant's busy little patio, under the eaves to give Julian a bit of shadow. Conversation rose and fell around them as Julian placed a melon on the table and looked at the children. They looked back, expectantly. What am I supposed to do?

"Uh, I don't know how to eat this... Please help."

Three small faces went very blank; three small bodies signalled disbelief, then amusement. Perent leaned forward, his eyes quickly scanning the crowd, then fixing on Julian’s; his voice was almost a whisper, as if he was trying to save Julian some embarrassment.

"Bap'Uv ga'I. Ka bap'I."

"I don't understand."

Now the kids were signalling varying degrees of pity, and Julian felt very much at sea. He gestured at the mysterious fruit. "You show me, please."

"Oh!" Ch'riel danced and squirmed in his chair. "Nu? Nu ge'U?"

Toski nodded assent; Perent, who'd been about to interject, swallowed his words and nodded too.

Ch'riel narrowed his eyes at the purple bulbous thing in fierce determination. He raised a hand and pointed one finger, and waved it in the air as he chanted, "Tud - kot - emp - bap!"

On bap, the finger darted forward and poked the melon solidly in one of its lumpy bulbs. The bulb split open with a loud pop, and pulp and juice flew out to all sides, spattering the table. Julian started back, surprised, then grinned as the kids laughed at his reaction.

"Visf'I'o?" said Ch'riel, self-importantly. "Bap'Uv." He dipped a finger into the cracked bulb and scooped out a mixture of pulp and seeds, then popped it into his mouth; his eyes closed blissfully.

"Wehhhh," Toski said, distaste in her voice and her gesture. "Sip' heTh'U, Ch'riel." Ch'riel crossed his eyes at her, but grabbed a spoon for his next bite. Julian noted the purple marks on his fingers; apparently, bap'Uv stained. Garak, you set me up!

"Lam ast'U, S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian!" Perent scooped out a spoonful of pulp and seeds and offered it to Julian. Julian accepted the spoon and examined its load closely. It looked like fruit, all right. And Garak gave it to me. So it's probably safe to eat. Unless he doesn't know that it's not. What I wouldn't give for my medical tricorder right now. Oh, well, nothing ventured, nothing gained; Julian closed his eyes and put the spoonful in his mouth.

Oh - ugh! The melon was very, very sweet, with a tart undertone; he screwed up his face involuntarily, and heard the kids giggling. He swallowed, but the melon left a strong aftertaste; he shuddered.

A small hand found his arm. "S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian, kacic ga'I'o?"

He forced his eyes open, aware that he probably now looked a bit goggle-eyed. "Oh, yes, I am well; surprised only! Very strong taste!"

"Hmmmm." Toski assessed him. "Jeld'net loxHUmani ga'Ieh." Too strong for Humans? Ch'riel nodded shy agreement. Perent was delighted, and immediately took another heaping spoonful.

"Hey! Don't eat all of it! I try small bite." He reversed his spoon, and bapped another melon-bulb; it popped satisfyingly, and he sampled a little of its contents. Small bites appeared to be the key: a little bit of pulp, placed on the end of his tongue, filled his mouth with thick sweetness but wasn't overwhelming. He nodded in satisfaction; the kids nodded back. Cross-cultural bonding, yes! And it was fun to see these kids enjoying themselves, really enjoying themselves; he had a feeling they'd be bragging about bap'Uv sep-S'h'iosr'ha'-Chu'lian back at the dorms for at least a few days. So let's make it fun, all right, Julian?

They compared the flavour of different bulbs, and tried mixing the pulps together, and Toski showed Julian how to bite down on the seed to get at its tart innards; one taste of that was more than enough, thank you, but the kids seemed to like it. Julian watched, and smiled to himself as they chatted back and forth, a bit fast for him; he only caught every third word or so, but it was enough to tell that they were having fun, their signals and postures gleeful. Their mouths were stained purple, and Julian thought ruefully that his was probably just as colourful. Oh, well, nobody to impress here. He tried futilely to keep the kids from making too much of a mess, but the melon seemed designed to spray its seeds as far as possible - evolution in action - and both the table and their faces were soon speckled with purple. Thank God this tunic is dark blue. Garak would have my hide.

The kids were happily occupied with mess-making; Julian relaxed a bit, tilted his chair back and looked out at the street, at the people walking by. Torr Sector wasn't nearly as pretty as Paldar Sector. It had been hit harder, and its citizens were less influential. Some buildings were still badly damaged, and here and there were empty lots, cleared of rubble but still barren; small weeds twined up, and insects moved across the earth, but nobody had time to think of rebuilding here, not yet. Torr Sector had been Kardasi'or's cultural nexus, brimming with little restaurants and theatres and dance halls - even tailors, at least as per Garak, who'd been wistful as he described what Torr had been. Sadly, after the bombardments, survival had been rated more important than art. But the little market, the paintings - it seemed the Cardassians still needed, viscerally, to make art. The fact that they had recovered enough to be able to do so... well, that was a kind of survival too.

A squawk from one of the kids brought him out of his thoughts; apparently the last bap had been unusually productive, and the table was now very brightly decorated. "Hey! Careful!" This last was met with giggling; apparently S'h'iosr'ha Chu'lian, not very intimidating at the best of times, was particularly toothless in baby-talk. Can't argue with that.

He mock-frowned at them, provoking more giggles, and wiped the table with the napkins Garak had provided, then tried to dab some of the worst of the mess from, ye gods, Ch'riel's eye ridges. Ch'riel squirmed, but didn't protest his ministrations. How do they ever keep these things clean -

"Rasark sepracestUl ge chek'I'o?"

Julian registered the hostility in the unfamiliar voice, rising through the babble of the patio patrons, before he understood the words. Alien with children... he's talking about me. Nothing I haven't heard before. He ignored the comment, kept wiping Ch'riel's face.

"Xevret' ga'I. CestUl ajevik chipchen ga'I'o? Vrut rasark ga'seIeh!" The words fell on Julian's ears like blows, despite his pretense of indifference. Disgusting, am I? Probably diseased? Where is their guardian - right here, you bigot. But it wasn't worth engaging, he could let it pass -

Except the kids heard it now, too, and the laughter slipped from their faces, the joy from their second tongue; they were watchful again, their youth submerged in suspicion. Julian's heart sank, watching them. One happy day, that's all I wanted. Damn it, Cardassia, won't you give me even that? He knew he shouldn't, but he turned anyway, scanning the patio patrons, looking for trouble.

A Cardassian male returned his gaze, challengingly; his friends averted their eyes. Julian kept his own gaze level, and raised his eyebrows, is there a problem?

The man's expression turned arrogant. "DiTh, sarkka, nu kapet'I. Sark sedvel tUcrUn'er, vrut ga'er. Ka tUrtascic Kardasi ga'er, tUrtascic'net cestUl ga'er!"

Fascinating. Aliens are dirty, and carry disease, and - really, we shouldn't be near children? That is astounding. When no Cardassian wanted to have anything to do with these kids - really, how dare you?

Inside Julian, anger flared to life; he kept it tamped down, don't want to scare the kids. He spoke, his words measured. "This... sark... is doctor for these children."

Now the Cardassian looked incredulous. "Vess'et. Ter tasjox'I. Ter nisark ga'I, hi e'Gir sark ga'I."

Defective? Me? You bastard! For a moment, everything got terribly bright; Julian's heart pounded in his ears, and his nails dug into his palms, and it was so damned hot - 

Ch'riel looked frightened; Toski pulled him closer, and Perent glared at the strange Cardassian, then at Julian, as if he blamed them both; it was unbearable. This stops now, it stops now.

Without thought, he raised his fingers to his head, tap-tap-tap-press, and as his translator slid a thin transparent haze of comprehension over his world, he rose from his chair and stood over his attacker.

"Don't you ever call me that."

The Cardassian looked up at him, and something changed in his posture, in his face, something Julian couldn't quite read. His eyes narrowed, hardened; he pushed back his own chair and rose. Oh, God, he's as tall as I am.

His voice was louder now, as if inviting an audience. "What word didn't you like? 'Alien'? 'Defective'? What shall I call you, then? Perhaps 'animal' would be better? Or 'useless'? Or perhaps simply 'Human'?" And he drew out the last word, as if it was the worst insult he could offer.

Julian looked to the children, back to the stranger, again to the children - what do I do? How do I handle this? He didn't know what to say, and he had a worrying feeling that things were spiralling out of control. People on the patio were turning to watch the confrontation, and the kids were huddled together; they looked as if they wanted to disappear. The noise level was rising. What do I do?

A soft voice, pitched at conversational level, cut through the noise as if it wasn't there at all. "If you're looking for suggestions on how to address Doctor Bashir, I have found that 'partner' is remarkably accurate."

Garak. Julian heard his partner's measured steps on the ground behind him, and relief bloomed quietly in his chest. The shorter man stepped to his side, looked sideways up at him, are you all right? Julian nodded, yes. Thank God.

The hostile Cardassian sneered at Garak. "Ah. A xenophile," and the word was ugly in his mouth, and the translator echoed. God, what did he actually say? His sneer lengthened, teeth visible. "And what should I call you?"

Garak blinked once, slowly, and smiled. It was not a particularly nice smile; it looked sharp enough to cut. "At the Central Plaza, they seem to like to call me Minister Elim Garak. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to do the same."

Julian watched, a bit awed, as the Cardassian seemed to shrink, his posture folding in on itself, submission. He stammered, looked down. "Forgive me, Minister. I - I did not - "

"You didn't know," and there was a hiss in Garak's voice that Julian had only heard once or twice before. It breathed pure menace. "Well, now you do. Please be sure and tell your friends." Garak bowed politely; his second tongue whispered caution/threat for just a second, and then said nothing at all. "To your health, sir."

The Cardassian blinked, didn't dare to breathe. "To - to your health, Minister."

Garak turned away from the man, dismissing him completely. What, that's it?

He extended his arm to Julian. "Doctor, we must go; I still have a few tasks I'd like to complete today." His eyes met Julian's, commanding, move.

Julian frowned at him, looked back at the children. "I've got to say goodbye."

Garak's gaze was neutral. "Be quick, please."

Julian moved to the children, knelt down to look directly at them. They were still shaken up, but Perent mustered a small smile, and Toski's mouth was firm as she wiped Ch'riel's tears. Forgive me, kids; I didn't want any of this... "I'm sorry about that. I'll see you tomorrow at the Centre, all right?"

Toski nodded; she wouldn't meet his eyes. "You can talk now. Was it a trick?"

Oh, Toski... "No. Not a trick. I'm trying to learn how to..." But it was more than just the language, wasn't it. " to fit in on this planet." And every time I think I'm getting it, it slips away from me.

Toski's eyes were lidded; she looked sideways and down. "You need more practice."

His heart hurt. "I know. Maybe you can help me, all right?"

"All right, Doctor Julian. Thank you for the pop-melon."

Julian wanted her to smile so badly. I can never trust this planet. Everything goes wrong in a matter of seconds. He knelt a little farther, peered into her eyes. "You're welcome. Thank you for showing me how to eat it."

He picked up the bag, looked inside, looked back at Garak - a nod - he pursed his lips, and slid the bag across the table to the kids. "You take them. Share them around, okay?"

Small deep-set eyes met his and lit, and Julian's world got a little brighter. He stood, nodded his goodbye. Matron Amrille had joined them on the patio - after that embarrassing little incident, I hope - and bid him good health as he passed; he smiled, returned the salutation, moved to Garak's side and slipped his hand around his partner's elbow.

They walked towards the train station, back along the route they'd taken. Garak didn't cover his hand right away; instead, without looking at Julian, he passed over a small insulated cup with a straw. "For you. Your salt-water, from lunch."

Julian looked at it, incredulous. Back to normal, just like that? "Garak, I - "

"Julian. You are sweating, and you are trembling. Drink it."

Julian narrowed his eyes, but did as he was told. Garak's hand, now free, covered his own, and squeezed -

"And while you drink, Doctor, I am going to talk, and you are going to listen to me, is that clear?" And there was that hiss again, and Julian stared at his partner. Garak was furious, incandescent with rage; it was tightly controlled, not at all visible in his face, barely seen in his posture, but this was the one Cardassian that Julian could read without thinking, and he couldn't have missed the emotion if he'd tried. Rage, and... fear?

He let the straw slip from his mouth. "Garak, what - "

"No, Doctor," and Garak didn't look at him, was almost hauling him along the street, "I note that your translator is on, which means you should be able to understand every word I say, although by the Union, I am tempted to test its capabilities." He stared straight ahead, would not meet Julian's eyes. Too angry? Too... what?

"I have tried to impress upon you, Doctor, the importance of learning Cardassian. I have tried to instruct you in the reading of second tongue. I have given you books on Cardassian culture. I have discussed with you in minute detail the differences between Human and Cardassian social interaction. I have flattered myself that my methods of instruction have been effective. And then the second I take my eyes off you, you start a fight?"

What? Not fair! "I didn't start a fight!"

"You most certainly did, Doctor; I saw you through the window. Rude and challenging - standing over him, without even the courtesy of proper postural acknowledgement! Where was your second tongue? Where was your stance?"

"I - I didn't - "

"Let me guess. You didn't remember to use it, because you got angry. Doctor, second tongue is as much a part of the Cardassian language as the words are! You need to employ it instinctively, no matter how you feel, or else you will send a message that you do not intend, and next time, I may not be around to save you from yourself." His voice trembled with emotion, and his steps were quickening; Julian found himself having to hurry a little to keep up, unusual when he walked with the shorter man.

Resentment twisted in him; he chafed at Garak's sharp tone. "I can't see as how it would have made any difference with that man. He was clearly spoiling for a fight."

Garak closed his eyes, exhaled sharply; to all appearances, he'd completely given up on Julian. "He wanted an argument. If you'd remembered anything I've taught you about second tongue, you would have seen that he was proposing verbal challenge only. No actual physical threat was offered you, am I correct?"

Julian blinked, pulled up the scene, ran it through his perfect memory. Garak was right. "Yes, you're right - but - "

"And so you took a very simple, very common Cardassian way of bleeding off excess hostility, which we have discussed, Doctor, and you turned it into a fight." Disgust and disappointment coloured his voice, and Julian couldn't bear it; around them, Cardassians walked this way and that, living their lives, not looking at the two of them at all.

"But - Garak, he was upsetting the kids - "

"The 'kids' are Cardassians, Doctor. They were upset, yes, and if you had done what you were supposed to do and ignored him, or walked away, or, perish the thought, argued back politely, the situation would have been defused, and they would have been fine. As it was, they were far more terrified by the idea of their beloved doctor being beaten bloody before their eyes than they were by a little verbal back-and-forth."

Julian was incredulous, angry, mouth moving faster than his mind. "Really, Garak? Well, I'm terribly sorry that my response was so disappointing. God forbid it should have been you that he came after - " Oh, God, he knew it was stupid as he said it -

And now Garak looked up at him, and his eyes were blazing. "Doctor, back on Deep Space Nine, someone 'came after' me every day. Did you ever hear of me brawling on the Promenade? No, because I know the difference between saving face and surviving, and I know which one is more important."

"What - and I don't?"

"Doctor, I am forced to assume that you do not know, because the alternative is that you do not care, and if that is the case, then you are never going to be safe alone on Cardassia Prime."

Julian frowned."Garak, you are overreacting."

"Am I, Doctor? I see. I am trying as hard as I can to keep a child from poking a nest of hornets,” and the translator echoed, maddeningly, “and the child feels that I overestimate the danger." Sarcasm twisted through his words.

A child? I - "What do you mean by that?"

"Exactly what I say, Doctor," and Garak was looking straight ahead again, his eyes slitted, tension writhing in his shoulders. "The only things keeping you safe on this world are the protection of my influence, and your ability to blend in. My protection can only go so far, and you are not blending. You are not Cardassian, Doctor, and my people are not fond of non-Cardassians at the best of times, and I think we can both agree that this is most certainly not the best of times. I have enemies, Doctor; you need to realize that this means that you have enemies, too." They turned the corner; the station was visible a block or two away, and Julian had no idea what was going on here.

"What - " He couldn't quite believe where this conversation was taking them. "You've never said anything about - do you really think someone would try to hurt me?"

"Doctor, I know someone will try to hurt you, whether it's to strike at me, or at the Federation, or whether you just happen to be the wrong race at the wrong time - "

"But - the Federation is - we're helping Cardassia - and I'm not even with Starfleet right now, I'm not with anyone - " He was tripping over his own tongue, the words wouldn't come, I'm not even speaking Kardasi, damn it!

"Oh, come now, Doctor!" And Garak's exasperation flared; he looked up at the sky as if praying for divine intervention. "I had hoped that you were not still so naive! I had hoped that you had learned from your years on DS9 that sometimes, it doesn't matter who you are or what you're doing - sometimes you simply attract the wrong person's attention, and you die." His hand gripped Julian's painfully; they were almost at the station now, and Garak's stride slowed. "Cardassians are proud, Doctor, and if you think that everyone on this planet is happy that the Federation has a presence here, you are fooling yourself. There are many angry, confused people who need someone to hate, someone to blame, and an alien who stands out is a very tempting target - and you stand out, Doctor, whether you want to or not. You are getting too comfortable, you think you are safe, and your cavalier attitude is going to get you hurt."

"My cavalier attitude -" Julian stopped dead in his tracks at the station turnstile, pulled his hand sharply away from Garak's, stepped back from him -

Garak's posture was tight, controlled, but Julian saw the hurt for just a moment - and still that undertone of fear that sent chills through him, far more frightening than the anger could ever be. "Give me your hand, Doctor, right away; we are being watched."

"Oh, really! By whom?"

"Doctor," and Garak's eyes were furious slits, "by everyone, all the time, and I cannot afford to have anyone think that you have rejected my protection - "

"You can't afford - your protection? You've never said a damned thing about me needing protection! You've never said anything about any of this! You even never asked me if I wanted your protection, Garak!" Beneath him, the ground was tilting; where had his steady footing gone?

"You do not have an informed opinion on this matter, Doctor!"

"Maybe if you'd told me any of this, instead of letting me fumble around - instead of treating me like a child who can't be trusted out on his own -"

"Do I have to explain everything to you, Doctor? Can you not trust that I know this planet better than you do? Can you not follow my instructions without questioning them even once?" Garak's hands were clenching, unclenching -

"Don't patronize me, Garak! If you don't tell me what I need to know, how am I supposed to know that I need to know it, let alone why? You want me safe - but you take away any chance I have of protecting myself!"

Garak hissed, actually hissed at him through clenched teeth, and then froze in place, bowed his head. The station crowd flowed around them; they were their own little island in a sea of people, noisy and babbling, and Julian heard none of it.

He watched the tension draining from Garak's body, the silencing of his second tongue. When Garak raised his head again, his expression was cool, remote, and his voice was so quiet; Julian strained to hear him.

"I should never have brought you here. What was I thinking?"

Julian rocked back on his heels. His heart thudded in his chest, its beats drowning out the station noise, the clamour of the crowd. "Brought me here? I came here on my own, Garak!"

Garak's eyes met his; whatever he was feeling, he was keeping it to himself now, and Julian's search for clues was futile. "And I suppose the letters we exchanged had nothing to do with your decision?"

I don't understand. I thought you wanted - "Cardassia needed doctors. You made that clear."

"Ah." Garak almost smiled. "And how kind of you to sacrifice your home, your way of life, perhaps even your Starfleet career for nameless, faceless Cardassia." His tone was acrid, biting.

Julian pressed his lips together, found no words. He looked away.

Garak nodded, as if to himself. "I am a sentimental fool. This world is not safe for you. I knew that. And yet I thought I could protect you here, like a flower in a greenhouse. How perfectly ridiculous of me." Julian's eyes were drawn to him as he spoke, as they always had been; the Cardassian's tone now was almost amused, but still his second tongue was mute.

They stood there for a quiet moment, staring at each other, wrapped in their own silences, aware of something between them that one had wanted to ignore and the other hadn't even known was there. Another wall. I thought I'd finally reached you, finally begun to see some truth, and there's another wall. Julian wanted to reach out; he wanted to storm away; he wanted to get the hell off this insane planet; he wanted to sprout roots and sink himself here so tightly that no goddamned xenophobic son of a bitch could even think of ripping him out. Where did my happy day go? Who is this man before me? God damn you, Cardassia - can't I trust you for even one minute? He breathed, and closed his eyes.

The crowd wove around them as if they weren't there, its noise washing over them. A minute passed before Julian spoke, quietly. "So what do I do, if I'm not safe here on Cardassia Prime? It seems you're not willing to trust me with the knowledge I need to defend myself. Do I leave?"

Garak looked at him, without judgement, without rancour, his face calm, only his eyes alive with emotion. His voice was low. "My dear doctor... I am afraid my opinion on this issue is rather biased. I fear any answer I could give you would be hopelessly compromised. I think... I shall leave it up to you." He inclined his head, for all the world the polite Cardassian, and turned away.

Julian stood there and watched him walk into the crowd; he watched the lines of his back, the quickness of his stride, and saw through Garak's pretenses into the tumult at their heart. Oh, you bastard, you perfect totally infuriating brilliant idiot, you liar...

He looked at the little cup in his hand, marked where he'd clutched it, still half-filled with salty water. Around him, Cardassia pushed in. What am I going to do?

For now, he followed.

Chapter Text

The train ride was silent. So was the walk back home. Julian's mind was roiling; he couldn't find words. God. This morning I was so frustrated at how hard it was to express myself. I had no idea. His mind seemed to flit from one thought to the next faster than he could follow; nothing was processing, and he grasped in vain. He drank his salt water and watched his thoughts fly.

Garak, for his part, spent the train ride looking out the window, watching the city slip by; his hands were folded in his lap, his back straight, and wherever he was, it wasn't with Julian. When they walked through the quiet neighbourhood, winding their way back to the house, he stayed close to Julian, but made no move to take his hand, offered no consolation. It was as if the Garak he'd laughed with not an hour before had vanished, subsumed by this man who kept a careful distance from Julian, would not meet his eyes. Overhead, the sky was hazy with thickening cloud; Julian walked in grey light, and wondered.

Who was Garak, here on Cardassia Prime? The Garak Julian knew had lied to him, so many times, in so many ways - but never where it counted, never where it could affect Julian's life in a way that couldn't be undone with a lunch and a smile. This... it wasn't a lie, exactly, but Garak had clearly been carrying something around that he hadn't felt he could trust Julian with, and in a strange way, that felt worse. He was scared for me. All this time, I thought I was doing so well, and he was scared for me. And how dare he be angry with me for not doing something I didn't know I needed to do, for not understanding something he never told me! A breeze stirred the humid air, cool and sharp against his skin; he shivered, and saw Garak fold his arms.

He'd thought that Garak had taken as much pleasure in teaching him about Cardassia as he'd taken in learning about it, that the talks about history and language and culture had been entertainment for them both. My God, maybe I am a child. How did I not see what he was trying to teach me?

Wait, that wasn't fair. Garak had never presented the lessons as anything more than interesting facts, charming stories, suggestions of things to say and do. He'd never breathed a word of any threat to Julian, by hidden enemy or idiot-on-the-street. There had been no context for Julian to grasp.

Perhaps he was trying to teach me. But he never told me the object of the lesson, and so I never really understood. Julian had tripped merrily along, dabbling in Kardasi cultural studies, playing with second tongue, and not taking any of it seriously at all, really, with no idea that his safety could hang in the balance. Was I naive? Should I have known?

He thought about how he'd so enjoyed watching Garak move through the crowd, about the delight he'd taken in Garak's knowing the rules on this unfamiliar planet. Turns out he was following rules I didn't even know existed. Damn it, Garak, why didn't you tell me? He'd been so happy to see Garak just living. He'd supposed them both free of fear and threat. The thought made him want to choke.

The afternoon heat was fading just a little, but the humidity was still oppressive, the air thick in his lungs; it didn't help his thinking. Why hadn't Garak told him, anyway? He kept going round and round in his head and coming back to that same question.

Did he really expect me to figure this out on my own? It didn't make sense. Garak knew Julian's past; it had its share of darkness, with one overhanging secret he'd only clawed free of a few years back, but there was nothing in it to compare to Garak's own life, only ever seen in mirrors and hints and subtext. The Cardassian had experienced things Julian couldn't dream of. He was certain of that. Perhaps that's the problem - I don't know what's out there, but he has seen it for himself.

He squeezed the cup in his hand, empty now, a little plastic shell. He's trying to protect me from things I can't imagine, without ever letting me know that they exist. How can you protect someone without telling him? How did he think this wouldn't all come crashing down around his ears?

He turned his head and looked at Garak, walking quietly beside him. The Cardassian looked straight ahead; Julian saw his eyes flicker to Julian for a moment, then fix again on the path before him. Garak, you're smarter than this. Where are your wheels within wheels? In a way, seeing Garak stumble so badly was more worrying than the fight. I don't understand, I don't understand...

And yet, in a strange way, Julian was grateful for this argument, this revelation. It was helping him to subconsciously answer a question that had been curled up at the bottom of his brain for some time now, one he'd been afraid to face:  Do I stay here?

He was building a life here, but his foundation rested on nothing more than blue eyes and clever words. There were no promises. Neither of them knew where this was going. Frankly, that was part of the appeal; they kissed and clashed with equal frequency, and it was terribly fun, but the undertones, the drumbeat in the melody suggested that there might be something more here, something worth exploring...

But there was nothing solid here, and if Garak decided one day that this was over, would Julian Bashir have thrown away everything he'd ever worked for for nothing? Well, not for nothing, this could never be nothing...

Hearing Garak tell him that he should never have come to Cardassia Prime was strange; he'd felt frightened, adrift, and yet in that moment he'd fallen back on his foundation, and for the first time had known it for stable - and rooted somewhere completely unexpected.

I am not going anywhere.

His life here had a purpose that meant something to him, that made him feel needed as Deep Space 9 hadn't made him feel in quite some time. DS9 had brought new challenges every day, new races, new faces, so many chances for him to impress people, and once upon a time that had mattered. Now... now he was older, and he'd figured out that you could impress people every day, and it would never be enough, you'd always feel that you had to do it again. He'd had to become happy with himself, had to learn to tell himself that Julian Bashir was doing just fine. And in the course of so doing, he'd discovered that perhaps Julian Bashir... wasn't.

Part of it had been Ezri. She'd been intoxicating, lovely, and so much fun, and he'd watched her grow away from him, until they didn't really know each other anymore. They'd still been close, but part of him had wondered at the changes in her, had thought, Julian, why have you stopped growing?

There had seemed to be so little permanence about DS9 after the war. His best friends all gone; new staff, new faces; and one day he'd looked in the mirror and realized that he was lonely. He hadn't felt that way in, oh, seven years?

And Garak's letters had dropped into his life one at a time, small glimpses of a world in pain, and a friend who, in the process of rebuilding his planet, was quietly tearing himself apart.

And one day, he'd put in for leave, and he'd gone, confusing his friends, surprising himself. And when he'd found Garak here, things had gotten complicated -

But here was the thing: aside from Garak and his complications, completely peripheral and totally unexpected, was the Children's Centre, the place he'd taken a job as a physician. He'd filled a place that had gone empty for months. They were happy to take a Human; they would've taken a Jem'Hadar, they would've taken anyone. Orphans just weren't a priority on this world, never had been, and even Garak had looked at him askance when Julian had told him where he'd found work. Doctor, he'd said, all elegant disapproval, your talents are being wasted there - isn't there something more important you could be doing?

The answer was no, had been no from his first day there, from the first parasitized child he'd assessed, the first half-starved infant whose mother had died before he was weaned, the first toddler whose back was bent from an injury that no one had ever bothered to properly treat. Such little things, such small people, and Julian couldn't believe the difference they made to him. For the first time in his career, he saw the same patients every day, followed their progress, oversaw full courses of therapy. There were no quick fixes. These kids were broken, some of them almost beyond repair, and Julian was part of a skeleton staff that was trying to put them back together as best they could. It was hellishly busy and paid very badly, and for the first time in a few years, Julian Bashir was fine, just fine. I have found my place, and my foundation is strong.

Garak. You can stop seeing me if you want to, but you can't make me go away. This place is where I need to be, at least for now. He wasn't here just for Garak. He was here for himself. Even if I need to drink salt water every day, even if I can't escape this heat, even if I have to bow and scrape to every xenophobic idiot I meet, I am not leaving.

He found himself smiling, teeth bared with fierce joy; Garak saw it from the corner of his eye, and turned to him, frowning, about to speak -

- and the sky opened, the rain poured down, oh, God, it's been three days, we're overdue, I was too upset to notice - they were both soaked in a matter of seconds, all weighty thoughts forgotten in the mad scramble to move, get out of the rain, get to shelter, go go go! Julian's long legs pumped as he ran; the Cardassian was falling behind, and Julian grabbed his sleeve, towed him along behind him. They gasped as the rain pounded against their backs, ran into their eyes and their mouths; they were half-blind and near-suffocated by the downpour, propelled along by sheer momentum, reaching their door and pressing up against it under the eaves to hide from the rain while Garak quickly tapped in the entrance code, and they tumbled into the entranceway and slammed the door behind them, and looked at each other, dripping on the floor, Julian's tunic plastered to him, Garak's sleek hair matted, blinking and coughing and panting, all their careful dignity stripped away, and they laughed, they couldn't help but laugh.

Chapter Text

"No, you idiot, hold still." Julian tugged at Garak's wet shirt, slid it off over his head; the Cardassian shivered in the cooler air of the house and hugged himself, even as he protested feebly.

"Doctor, you are just as wet as I am - "

"Yes, but twenty-seven Celsius is warm to me, and it's too cold for you. I'll keep. Get those pants off."

Garak's look was arch, but he contented himself with peeling off the sopping wet clothes; Julian wrapped their largest towel around him and rubbed, soaking up as much water as he could.

The Cardassian's eyes closed in pleasure as Julian worked his way over his back, up over his shoulder ridges, down to his scaled collarbone; he pulled the towel tightly around himself and leaned against the bathroom countertop, and arched his neck as Julian rubbed his hair with a hand towel, around his ears, down along the ear ridges, under his chin. He sighed, and made a low, happy sound; Julian felt warmer just hearing it.

He looked into Garak's eyes, smiling slightly. "Better?"

Garak blinked back at him, and Julian saw a hint of concern in his eyes; his posture flickered doubt. "Doctor, I - "

"Hold on. I'm still wet." The house might be warm, but Julian's wet clothing was clammy and unpleasant. He slithered out of his tunic, stepped out of his pants. Even his underwear was soaked; it joined the rest of his clothes on the floor, and he ran his hands back through his hair, squeezing out what felt like a bucketful of rain. Well, I got the water wash I wanted.

He stretched, lacing his arms over his head and arching his back, and saw Garak smile, watching him, a little tickle of lust in his posture. That man, I recognize. Better, much better. Now, where's - ah. He pulled out his favourite towel, the purple towel, soft and absorbent and not too thick, and wrapped it around himself, relishing its warmth. Briefly, he pulled it over his head and rubbed it this way and that; when he settled it back down around his shoulders, his hair was fuzzy and not at all coiffed, and right now that felt fine. No pretenses, no walls; I need to talk to him, and this is about as defenseless as we're going to get.

"Come on. I'll make hot chocolate." Julian inclined his head, gesturing towards the kitchen; Garak's little smile lingered, and he nodded assent. The two of them padded down to the kitchen, Garak pausing only briefly to pull his robe from the bathroom door and shrug into it; Julian just slung his towel around his waist as he walked, trusting that any immodest slips would probably not be taken amiss.

Downstairs, Julian toggled the little replicator and leaned in. "Bashir two-eight-nine, two cups, one sixty degrees Celsius, one ninety degrees Celsius." A hum, and two mugs appeared; the warm, dark aroma of chocolate laced with cinnamon wafted into the air, and Julian's brows rose in pleased anticipation. He took one cup in each hand and carried them to the back of the house, stepped down on to the cool stone of the enclosed back porch where Garak stood, slipper-clad, looking out over their small shade garden, their little patch of green. The rain pounded at the windows, rattling against the panes; outside, the plants bowed with the wind, their leaves twisting and twitching and flailing at air. He moved to Garak's side, and handed him the warmer mug. They leaned against the windowsill and sipped; two sets of eyes closed, and for a moment two worlds met in united appreciation of sweet warmth.

Julian leaned his elbows on the windowsill, holding his mug in his hands, its slight heat pleasant even in the muggy air. He looked over at Garak next to him, resting his cup against his lower lip, his eyes heavy; the Cardassian looked back at him, gaze starting at his shoulder and sliding its way up to his face, as if he was ashamed to look directly at Julian, as if he was afraid of what he might see. Second tongue hinted at loss, responsibility, in the angle of his shoulders and neck. Oh, Garak. You really are the smartest idiot I've ever met.

Deliberately, so that Garak could not possibly deceive himself in any way about what he was doing, Julian smiled at him, letting his mouth stretch wide, his expression warm up, putting all the affection he could into his face. See? I like you. I'm here with you. I'm still here.

Garak's expression changed, so subtly; shame slipped to confusion, and then to a smile, returned almost unwillingly, pulled from him without his consent. His eyes were still perplexed, his posture the same. Ah, is it my turn to be the mystery? I don't think that's the role I was born to play.

Julian reached out, resting his free hand on Garak's shoulder, thumb gently stroking its ridge through the robe; Garak leaned into it almost unconsciously, and shook his head. "My dear Doctor, I - "

"No, Garak. Drink your chocolate. And while you drink," and he smiled, and mimicked Garak's precise diction, "I am going to talk, and you are going to listen to me, is that clear?" He kept his voice light, laughing; there is no anger here, no sting.

The Cardassian closed his mouth. Well, that's another first, on this day of firsts.

"Here is the first thing you need to know: I am not leaving Cardassia."

He saw Garak draw his head back, his face so still, his eyes widening. You didn't know, did you. You really didn't know. Well, in fairness, neither did I.

"Here is the second thing you need to know: You are not responsible for me."

Now Garak's brow ridges drew down, just slightly, posture whispering disagreement, and his mouth opened -

"No, Garak. Whether you like it or not, whether I came here for you or not, I am here on my own now, and I have built myself a life here, and right now it includes you and I'm very happy about that - but even if it didn't, I'd still be here. So any notions you've dreamt up about me throwing my life away for you are going to have to be disposed of, because despite your worst fears, I am happy here, and I plan to continue being happy here no matter what happens with us. I refuse your responsibility. You may as well drop the matter."

For a moment, he quietly enjoyed the sight of Garak, speechless. While I'm counting firsts...

"Now, you appear to have developed a bit of a complex about my fitting in on Cardassia. You need to understand that this is never going to happen. I am always going to be at risk of missing some important social cue, or of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It may be because I am not Cardassian. It may also be because I am me." And he smiled, just a little. "I'll do my best to get it right, and I will learn Kardasi, and my second tongue will astound and amaze you, but please understand: every now and then, I am going to botch it completely. All I can promise is that it won't be often. Can that be enough for you?"

Garak's face was a picture. Julian squeezed his shoulder, and he tilted his head, his eyes never leaving Julian's. He flickered a signal at Julian, question?

Julian pursed his lips. "Yes?"

"Julian," and he paused, thought for a moment, "what happened today, with that man at the restaurant. Has anything like that happened to you before?"

Julian nodded. "Yes. A few times. Nasty names on the train, that sort of thing. It never escalated as far as it did today. I was lucky you were there."

Garak nodded slowly. "Yes, you were. But I can't always be there, and that is what worries me. I'm... relieved to hear that you have dealt with this before."

Julian raised his eyebrows; Garak tossed his head, impatient. "Come now, Doctor, you know what I mean. If you have successfully dealt with such situations in the past, that means at least some of what I've been trying to teach you has been sinking in. You should be able to safely handle Cardassian aggression and belligerence."

Julian nodded, sucking on his lower lip. "I've been an unwelcome interloper on a few planets now, Garak. It's not an entirely unfamiliar feeling. I know how dangerous it can be."

Garak blinked at him, and favoured him with a slightly ironic nod. "Good. Then you can understand why I am so emphatic that you - " And he paused, selecting his words. "That you do your very best not to give offense."

Ouch. Julian kept his expression mild, but let a little irritation slip into his tone. "I will aim to please, Garak, but you must be aware that the very fact that I'm a Human is enough to offend in some quarters."

Garak's look was very dry; his posture flashed irritation in return. "I would hope, Doctor, that you would be clever enough to stay out of those quarters." He looked down, breathed out, lips pressing straight. "Although I suppose sometimes they will find you. As they did today, for example."

Julian nodded. "Garak, I did nothing to provoke that man." He paused, conscience prodding him. "At least, not at first."

Garak looked up at that, amused and acknowledging. "Oh, your very existence was provocation enough, Doctor. There is something I don't understand, however; humour me. If you've been in similar situations before and gotten out of them without requiring me to visit you in hospital, why were you not able to do so this time?" His tone was soft; he was genuinely curious.

Now it was Julian's turn to look down, to puff out a breath. "I... never had anyone there who mattered to me before." Rage rose in him again at the memory; he sighed, and let it flow away.

Garak frowned. "The children?"

He nodded. "And you. I... I didn't want you to hear that. Any of you." How dare anyone say those things in front of my friends - how dare they threaten the few relationships I've built here? He knew, intellectually, that the slurs hadn't really meant anything, had been random spew from an angry man; they ate at him anyway. I can swallow it. But it doesn't agree with me...

He stared at the windowsill, watching the shadow of a raindrop as it wended its way across the glass. Beside him, he heard Garak's intake of breath; the Cardassian's free hand covered his own and squeezed gently.

Garak's voice was gentle. "My dear Doctor, I assure you I am familiar with the less savory side of Cardassia... and those children, I am sadly certain, know it just as well. Trying to hide this from us will only make it a burden you must carry alone. I would prefer to share it with you. 'Life is in the group,' Doctor; 'there is no success for those who walk alone.'" A subtle echo from the struggling translator, and a declamatory tone; another proverb, it seemed.

Garak turned his head and dropped a kiss on Julian's fingertips, curled over his shoulder. Julian felt the brush of that kiss and smiled; he slid a sideways look at the Cardassian, thanks. But something small twisted within him, something sour and uncertain. You want me to share with you. You're not sharing with me. This is not good...

"Elim. Earlier, at the train, you said I needed to be more careful because you have enemies, and that means I have enemies too. That sounds like something that should have been mentioned to me shortly after my arrival. Why wasn't it?" He dropped his hand from Garak's shoulder, rested his elbows on the windowsill and sipped his drink. This is your chance to make this better. Explain.

He heard Garak's slow exhalation. "Oh, Doctor. How does one explain to one's newly arrived companion that while one is delighted to have them here, quite overjoyed in fact, one is beginning to realize that it was a frighteningly bad idea for them to have come in the first place?"

Silence for a moment. "Do you really believe that?"

Garak sighed, and looked into his mug. "What I believe is not relevant. What I would like to be true isn't relevant either. What is, is what matters." He sipped, eyes hooded, and cast a look at Julian, his hand flickering guilt. "Doctor, I wanted so badly to show you Cardassia. It was a beautiful world, you know."

Julian frowned slightly. "It still is, Elim."

Garak closed his eyes, frowned. "Parts of it, perhaps. But there are ugly things here that I had... allowed myself to forget. To an exile, home is a glorious, unattainable dream, and unattainable dreams are, by their nature, flawless. I... had forgotten about the flaws, my dear Doctor. I didn't want to see them. How could I, then, tell you about them?"

"Tell me about... what? That there are dangerous people here? That life might be risky? It certainly wasn't any different back on the station - "

Garak made a frustrated sound. "No, Doctor, it wasn't, but back on the station, you were never at risk because of me."

"And here, I am."

"Of course you are, Doctor," and there was that mild exasperation again, that slightly professorial tone. Good. If he's slipping into this mode, he's starting to relax. "I am a political figure of, may I say, some stature. I exercise control over some very important people, and many of my former enemies resent my return to power. There have already been attempts on my life - "


Garak waved a hand, dismissively. "Nothing worth informing you about, Doctor; certainly nothing a competent security staff can't handle, and quite frankly, they were all embarrassing failures. I am almost disappointed that I don't attract more competent assassins." He tapped his mug once against his teeth, bemused, then sipped.

"Garak, if you are joking, it is not funny." Julian's fingers were tight on his mug, his teeth clenched. What else are you going to hide from me?

The Cardassian flickered a look at him, a half-smile. "I'm not trying to be funny, Doctor. I'm trying to explain to you that staying here with me may be... risky."

"In what sense?" Julian narrowed his eyes.

"In every sense, Doctor. It is not unheard of on Cardassia Prime for the families of those in power to be closely watched by those of... compromised morality. Any hold, any grip one can obtain on someone with power may be useful. Doctor, there is risk here for you, as well as for me. It is possible that you could be... targeted."

"Because I am your..." He drew the sentence out.

Garak's eyes glinted in acknowledgement, even as he frowned. "Because you are my, that's right, and because I have influence, and because you... have influence over me. Dear Doctor, I cannot promise that this will not happen. I will do my best to keep you safe; that I can promise. But I cannot give up my work - we are just starting to make such progress..." And he trailed off, eyes flicking from side to side; he rested his mug against his cheek and looked out the window, where the rain was just starting to soften.

Julian looked at him, at the way the grey half-light, shining through the rain on the window, traced patterns across his face. They shifted and changed; Garak's expression was indecipherable behind their maze. Very pretty sentiments. But you have just tried to misdirect me. As always. You almost succeeded.

"Garak, I'll ask you again, and this time I'd like an actual answer, please. If you knew that there were potential dangers involved in being your - your lover," there, said it, it's real now, and it's mine, please don't make me give it up, "why didn't you tell me before we became... intimate? Why have you let it go this long?"

He saw Garak's face freeze. Yes. I caught you. "Perhaps I should add that if you try to misdirect me again, or refuse to answer, I will no longer feel safe with you. This will, of course, affect things between us." Julian took refuge in precise diction, cold words; inside, he trembled.

Beneath his breath, Garak made a sound that was almost a laugh. "Doctor, I've always told you not to trust me..."

"That was before. This is now. Am I to take that as your answer?" No, no, no...

There was a very long moment before the Cardassian sighed.

"Julian - " And although he couldn't read Garak's face, his second tongue was almost anguished, unguarded, apology/responsibility. "Please understand, it was never a purposeful decision not to tell. I never imagined that you'd come to Cardassia, and when you did, I wanted - I wanted to protect you, to show you only the best of Cardassia, so that she could capture you as she holds me. But you tread so lightly on Cardassia Prime - you never put down roots. You play with the language, you flip through the books, you nibble at the food, you never embrace anything, you never surrender. I kept waiting for you to fall in love with my world. After that, I thought, the little details would work themselves out. Unfortunately, the little details decided to become big details rather more quickly than I had anticipated, and..." He ran down, and pursed his lips. "My fear ran away with me, Doctor. And now we find ourselves here. And for that I am sorry."

Garak turned his head, looked at Julian from deep-set eyes. "I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me for this, Doctor. It was truly reprehensible behaviour. I realize that I used to be rather renowned for that." His expression was unguarded, almost naked; Julian wanted to flinch away from that painful honesty. "I find... I'd like that to change."

They stared at each other for a long moment, then Garak looked away; he stared into the depths of his mug, and Julian reeled. Well, I wanted an answer. I got one. Now what do I do with it?

Garak had been waiting for him to surrender to the glories of Cardassia Prime, to commit to staying, before he revealed that not all was as it seemed. The possibility of threats against my life, and he didn't tell me. Well, at least it wasn't malicious, and God damn it, that’s a very poor consolation. If that's the best I can do, the best he can do, I should walk away. He wanted me to choose, based on a lie, and how can that ever be a true choice?

But Julian had chosen to come here on his own: that choice had been wholly his. And he was choosing to stay on his own: Garak had no say in that decision, either (and how strange, and freeing, to realize that). He'd found a place for himself here, and he was going to stay, no matter what, he was going to beat Cardassia at her own game. He didn't need to hide who he was, to pretend to be Cardassian; he could be as Human as he liked, anywhere he liked, and still live on this planet. There was no need to surrender.

And yet...

He found himself thinking of the call of the velial in the morning, the buzz of unseen insects in the bushes at Tov'ren Park. Pop-melon, purple and sweet. The fascinating curves of the architecture. The undulating patterns made by a crowd at a marketplace, singing to each other with their postures, with their hands. Paintings on leaves, and hidden gardens on the balconies of the Central Plaza, tended by grey-faced men in angular uniforms. There is so much that's lovely here; it's so hard to stay on my guard. How can I condemn Cardassia for her ugliness, if I so adore her beauty?

And if I do let down my guard, what happens to me? If I give in to Cardassia, does Julian Bashir become Chu'lian Ba'cir, poor pretense of a Cardassian, bobbing and weaving in second tongue and drinking kanar and living only for the Union? I don't think that's my answer...

There's got to be a middle ground here.

He looked over at the man next to him, who'd spent so much time in exile that he now saw Cardassia with new eyes, and did not fear to hold her flaws up to the light - who was undeniably Cardassian, through and through, and yet was now something more. Being with him carried risks, it was true. But I know about risks. I'm not scared of threats. And he could help me - if I could trust him...

Julian bit his lip for a moment, then rested his fingertips against his skull, triple-tapped and pressed once again.

"I understand now. I forgive you. This time."

- and Garak turned, his eyes wide -

"I will stay here. On Kardasia. With you, if I can. But I need your help, and your promise."

Garak's face was still, but his eyes danced; his posture shifted, willingness. "Hi pet'U, S'h'iosr'ha. Ka nujat ge chek'U'o?" Name it, Doctor; what do you want?

"I will not surrender to Kardasia. But perhaps you can teach me to make peace with her?" And he held his hand just so, his arm tilted, request/affection.

Garak breathed, his face softening; his eyes closed, and he smiled, as if warmed by sun. Julian, watching, felt the warmth on his skin and smiled too; impulsively, he reached out to touch Garak's cheek, and Garak's hand covered his own and pressed lightly.

"Oh, nu ss'lei'ik..." he breathed. "Loxka, nu kUruntef loGret sepRomUlaji ge'vesa. Kardasia toross cuChben ga'U." For me, he'd negotiate peace with the Romulans? Confident fellow. Cardassia probably would be easier. Good way of looking at it, I suppose. Still, it was quite the declaration...

Garak turned his head and kissed the palm of Julian's hand, holding it tight, not letting go. His eyes were almost giddy with delight; Julian couldn't help but grin at him. You didn't think you were going to get away with this one, did you. Well, you won't: you're conscripted now.

"I am not done talking, Garak." He changed his posture slightly, affection/command, and hoped that this would feel more natural soon, because right now it was work. All things in time...

"Here is how things must be for us to be romantic-partners. From now on, when I am not at work, I will keep my translator off. No more hiding from Kardasia. But you must do the same: no more hiding from me, no hiding anything. Do not protect me. Do not protect yourself. From now, if you have a worry, you tell me. I will help you. If someone threatens you, or me, you tell me! You share your worry with me, I share my worry with you. This does not work if we do not learn to talk to each other better." Whew, easily the longest thought he'd ever attempted to express in Kardasi, and absolutely the most important. Anxiously, he watched Garak's face, hoping for comprehension; he saw it in the acknowledging flicker of Garak's eyelids, the tilt of his head.

"S'h'iosr'halin, nuka wennij tagjow' c'tess'Ita pUrtef'a. Nuka vessi'ir jijtef hUs ga'soIeh, kazas ga-tasga'I'o?" His smile was lopsided. Are you joking with me? Huh. In a strange way, that was a compliment; his Kardasi must be improving if Garak felt comfortable enough to try jokes. All right, let's see - we've been talking for eight years - we should be better at it - well, that was certainly true, but how much of what they'd said had been important? There'd never been this weight, before, this need to get it right. I don't think I realized how much I wanted this until this moment.

"Garak, in eight years, we did not say very much that was real. Now there is a lot to say. We must always say it." God, this was so frustrating - he was trying to negotiate the future of their relationship in near-monosyllables -

- but Garak was nodding, his eyes intense, his mug on the windowsill and both of his hands gripping Julian's free hand tightly. "Nu prente'U. Pey telUp loxtorj ga'U. Hif' nu ka s'mari, nu telUp ga'U." That last emphatic, and punctuated with an almost painful squeeze of his hands, and a twist of his neck; Julian parsed it, as quickly as he could - he'll try, it'll take time to learn, but he promises he will learn, and he means it -

So between them, Julian had just promised to learn to speak Kardasi, and Garak had just promised to learn to... speak, period. It was almost funny. Now all we have to do is keep our promises. Easy, right? But already things felt better, more right, and a smile was twitching around his lips.

With some effort, he kept his face serious, his tone cool; he lowered a shoulder, angled his head, agreement. "This is good, Garak. Maybe hope exists for you and I in-future." A bastardization, a poor approximation - would he catch it?

Yes!  Garak's eyes widened, and he actually laughed out loud, a surprised, delighted ha! that warmed Julian top to bottom; his hands tightened on Julian's, and his second tongue shouted raucously, joy/love/agreement! It was almost deafening, yes, yes, yes!

That traitor smile slipped out, unbidden, and widened - and Julian smacked his mug down on the windowsill beside Garak's and threw his arms around the Cardassian, pulling him close, burying his face in his flared neck. He felt Garak's start of surprise, swiftly followed by an embrace just as tight, a rub of Garak's cheek against his, a hum of contentment from deep in Garak's chest. Brilliant idiot, lying professor - he found himself chuckling, half-dizzy with happiness. It won't be easy, never easy - but oh, it will be worth it... Sunlight warmed his skin, through the window; it seemed the storm was almost over.

Garak was whispering softly against his ear; he listened, straining to hear over the sound of his blood humming. A soft sound, almost a hiss, "Ss'lei, nu ss'lei'ik, ss'lei..." Garak's word from this morning - something about Julian himself, never explained.

Well, more language practice certainly seemed to be in order, if half of what they'd just wildly promised was to come true. He pressed his forehead against the Cardassian's own, smiled into his eyes. "Elim, what is ss'lei?"

Garak's eyes, so close, smiled back. "Ah, Chu'lian, nu ol'lier mirater ka peld s'mari'I, s'mari'er, hit' ka nu tit'tos'tef mefs peld'I..." He's promised me he'll answer any question I ask, now and forever, and so I ask him vocabulary questions. Well, put in that light, it did seem a bit wasteful, especially as Garak angled his head and pulled Julian into a kiss, intense, their mouths opening - mmm, yes - wait, hold on, he actually rather did want to know the answer to this one.

Julian pulled away, but stayed close; he breathed into Garak's mouth, "You said later. It is later. Answer me. It will be practice-amplified." He smiled, teasing; Garak's mouth quirked with amusement at the reversal of roles.

"DiTh, te'alakec. HUrdu'pey ga'I, ka peld vesspey ga'I. Visf'I." Yes, teacher - sarcastic ass! - and that this is actually a good time to ask, and I should look... Garak pressed a hand against Julian's cheek, angling his head so that he looked out at the garden, fresh after the rain.

"Ss'lei is a plant?"

Garak nodded, pointed. "Ter wenmar'or visf'I'o?"

Julian looked, and saw a spread of green vines, bursting with tiny leaves, twining in and around the shade garden. Each vine sprouted a tiny flower every four or five leaves; the flower was a soft shade of cream, and its heart was a vibrant green, shot through with warm brown. This is not what I expected.

Garak, tiring of horticultural discussion, was kissing his cheek, his neck - he angled his head away, looked sternly into those blue eyes. "Why am I a plant?"

And now Garak was very amused, his posture flirtatious, pleased with himself. "Ah, Chu'lian - chika'net ter ga'I. Cufvirater ter juq'I. Nu ter hilwenti c'tess'Ita, ne' ter kartem'mitka yorin'I; mUrhem'li ga'I. Ter nihoss'mitkalUrkec telUp'I, hiqervra teh'ri'I." God, he'd had to ask, hadn't he - um, the plant was very like him, because it... got into everything? And Garak kept having to trim it, or else it - it climbed other plants because it didn't know its limits, and Garak had to be a very skilled gardener to turn it into something more courteous, hey, ouch!

The Cardassian's air was long-suffering, but his kotok temell flirted, teasing/amusement. Why, you - !


And Garak actually chuckled, his eyes dancing. Two laughs in two minutes. Looks like I'm not the only one who's feeling a bit giddy. "Chu'lian, nu ss'lei zIra'er. Ter tasbok veret loxmitkalUrn ga'I. Ter jend kret'er. Hif', oh, javrell'net chax ter ais ga'I - he' Chu'lian, chax nu ter mitkaderb visf'I, nu ka pris visf'I." This time, Julian thought he'd followed better, and he let the words sink in: Garak loved the ss'lei, despite how it stood out in a Cardassian garden, despite how much work it could need, because it was so beautiful when it bloomed, because in those blooms, Garak saw his eyes. You always did have a way with words, Garak. He was melting, and Garak touched a fingertip to the corner of Julian's eye, ran the back of his fingers over Julian's cheek, and his other hand was wandering, and Julian was forgetting how to think -

"Garak... ah..." Damn it, it was impossible to find the words, especially with the Cardassian's fingers running down his neck, his chest - "Thank you for telling me... It is important-amplified that you tell me always - ah - "

And Garak made a low sound, face buried in Julian's neck; his words were muffled, "S'h'iosr'ha, ka tef mira'pey tasc'tess'er'o?" Doctor, don't you ever stop talking?

His hand slid down to Julian's waist, twitched the towel away; it fell to the floor, unnoticed, unneeded. Oh... and after all, making love to a Cardassian does require a special vocabulary all its own, definitely worthy of further study...

Julian closed his eyes, sighing with pleasure, and lost himself in translation.


Chapter Text

Tinsnip’s (working) Cardassian vocabulary


NOUNS - Cardassian



guardian, watcher




pop! (the sound a balloon makes when bursting)






person (gender unspecified)


child (gender unspecified)












the forehead ridge






attention - "your attention please"










practice (as in "it'll be good practice")




















"to your health" - greeting, toast


Humans (species)












while; do this WHILE I do that (current time, overlapping time)






Cardassian language, Cardassian people




Cardassia City














travel (for pleasure)


story, tale, legend






(a) question




at any time












limit, boundary



nu perrik'I

"it is my duty", also, "you're welcome"


we (including speaker and listener)


we (excluding speaker)


"matron," "madame" - respectful term for older woman in authority


duty, service




employment, job




pitiable situation - "a shame"


kind of like a sandwich - pickled vegetables between pressed grain squares, sometimes meat too, with sauce (often yamok)






an illness, a disease






him, her, that other person


enjoinment, "marriage"








promise, assurance


small flower with a greenish centre; used as a term of endearment on Cardassia, at least by Cardassians dating Humans with greenish eyes








language, "tongue"




thing, item












later (distant time, future time)


concern, thing that affects you








noon-food - lunch!


partner, with romantic undertones; can be enhanced with second tongue if you wanna be really lecherous about it


place, location




Cardassian flying reptile - about as close as they get to a bird


choice, selection


sorry, apologies




everything, all things




we (excluding listener)


stinging insects; make nests, and you don't mess with them, because you will get stung!








thoughts - to say "I think," you say "my thoughts (present tense)" - nuzas'I




VERBS - Cardassian



to bloom


fight! (definitely hostile)


argue (confrontational but not necessarily hostile)


sample ("try it!")




adversarially converse (still friendly)


become, transform


obtain (have without force)


stop, desist




was, be, is, will be, to be


to do, will do, did


take (have by force)










want (desire, not essential)




speak (to speak a language)




need (require, essential)




understand, comprehend


to play (a game)




to answer (a question)






indicate, point out


practice (as in to practice)




try (make an effort)


companionably converse


exchange, trade




to (make a) promise


to teach (as if for a person)


talk, converse


to train (as if for an animal)


need, require




tell (a story)




to carry, to transmit (a disease, a signal)


bring, escort


choose, select


to see






trim, cut back, shorten




to climb




to love


ADJECTIVES - Cardassian







allowed, permitted


delicious, tasty


rude, impolite


comparatively, in comparison




messy (in the sense of food, painting; something that's not dangerous, just unpleasant)


happy-to-meet-company (Cardassians love company, so it gets its own word!)


confident, self-assured


talented, skilled


strong, intense (a strong smell)




rare, special


polite, courteous


sick, unwell, diseased




simple, easy


near (it's near your work)






pretty, lovely


dirty (in the sense of disease; something that's unpleasant and possibly dangerous)


revolting, disgusting, turns my stomach















PREFIXES - Cardassian



prefix meaning "from" - eg. I take it FROM YOU - nu BETKA lam gren'I


prefix meaning "out of", "outside of"


prefix meaning "close to," "almost" - so if "nopt" means same, "chinopt" means "almost same" or "similar"


prefix meaning "at" as in location - he's at the store


prefix meaning "in", "inside of"


prefix meaning "must" - you must do this - eg. nu visf'I, I look; nu hilvisf'I; I must look.


prefix meaning "above" or "superior"


prefix meaning "on" or "at" to mean "in the situation of" - I did well ON the test - not quite like doing well TO the test - I did well IN THE SITUATION OF the test; similarly, I'm better AT the game


prefix meaning you're doing the action to yourself - jikvisf'I - I'm looking at myself - reflexive voice


prefix meaning someone is making you do the action - kinvisf'I - I'm being made to look - causative voice


prefix meaning "for" - eg. I do it FOR YOU - nu LOXKA lam ge'I


prefix meaning "too much"; eg. aws = big; mUraws = too big


prefix making something definite, eg. kith = food, rakith = the food


prefix meaning "of" - I was told OF YOU; it is OF THE GROUND; it is OF THE SKY (eg. spaceship); we are OF CARDASSIA (seKardasia); different than "from" because from implies taking it away from something, removing it from a situation; "of" means you are describing a thing still in its situation


prefix meaning "with" - I go WITH you


prefix meaning "negation", "not"


prefix meaning the action is being done to you, instead of you doing it - passive voice - tuvisf'I - I'm being looked at


prefix meaning "to" - eg. I bring it TO YOU (or I bring you TO IT)


SUFFIXES - Cardassian



suffix meaning that it happened in PAST


suffix meaning something is right, something is as it should be


suffix meaning it happens always and forever - past, present, and future


suffix meaning that it's happening NOW (present-tense)


suffix meaning it might happen, could happen, eg. vri'Ieh = might drink


suffix meaning something is owned, eg. kith = food, kithik = somebody specific's food - usually you put whose it is before the item in question


suffix meaning it NEVER happens, past present and future


suffix meaning "valued" - eg. s'h'iosr'ha is doctor, s'h'iosr'halin is my dear doctor


suffix that amplifies; eg. prente = try, prente'net = try HARDER


suffix meaning preceding is a question


suffix meaning administrative centre (or just centre); Kardasi'or = administrative centre of Cardassia


suffix meaning it's on, it's active


suffix that reduces; eg. prente = try, prente'rat = try a little less hard; can also be used to say "simply" eg. s'hren'rat - let's simply walk, let's just walk


suffix that can be tacked on to Ieh to make something PROBABLE to happen, although still not certain - eg. vri'Ieh, might drink; vri'seIeh, will very probably drink


suffix that can be tacked on to Ieh to mean something SHOULD have happened, but hasn't yet; eg. vri'Ieh, might drink; vri'soIeh, should've drunk it by now but hasn't yet


suffix meaning something is wrong, is not as it should be


suffix meaning it's off, it's not active


suffix meaning "immature," "unripe"


suffix meaning IN THE FUTURE


suffix meaning it's imaginary, it isn't really happening



NUMBERS – Cardassian



suffix for number groups (first second etc.)







































Further numbers use a combination of suffixes (this does make for rather large words, most Cardassians prefer to write larger numbers down then to actually say them or write their words.)


- number info all from






Pronunciation in Standard.



as in Father or Taco



as in Bob



as in Shine



as in choke, challenge



as in Dad



as in Bay



as in Fear



as in Good



as in goal



as in Help



as in Beet



as in eye



as in Zhivago



as in Kick



as in Little



as in Mom



as in none



as in poke



as in pop



soft ku sound. same as Klingon <q>



'r' in Spanish, like in perro



as in sad



as in top



as in thin, path, this, these



as in boot



as in cut, gul



as in valve



as in wild or wow



as in Bach, loch, mech, same as Klingon <h>



as in young or yay



as in zap



same as Klingon <`> (glottal stop)

from, retrieved Feb. 3 2013



Subordinate clauses, both dependant and relative, are handled by a prefix-pronoun pair. For dependant clauses (where a noun or verb is being modified), the prefix <ni> is attached to the word begin modified or referred to, and the pronoun <hi> is used in the next sentence to refer to it. <hi> would best be translated into 'that' in English, but it in relative clauses it can somes times be better translated as 'who', 'whom', 'to whom', or 'whose', depending on context.

ka nirayut taskinat'U; hi ka kinkith'I

"Don't bite the hand that feeds you."

or more literally

"You ni-the-hand will-not-bite; it you causes-to-eat."

 Cardassian doesn't have participles (verbs being used as adjectives), but it can get the same effect by using a dependant clause. The sentence "The hired man is working." could be split up into "The man is working. He was hired." and mean nearly the same thing. One must split things up like this in Cardassian. Here, 'biting' is the present participle of 'to bite'.

nu niratunka visf'I; hi kinat'I

I see the biting animal

or more literally

I ni-the-animal see; it bites

 A relative clause provides additional information about a previously mentioned noun or pronoun. The relative clause is introduced as a separate sentence that uses the pronoun <hi> to refer to the topic of the previous sentence.

lam niraduxt ga'I; nu hit visf'I.

That is the man that I see


That ni-the-man is; I him see



In English, when a relationship of possession is being expressed, the word that is the possessor is modified, while that which is being possessed is not. Take the phrase "John's car", for example. Here, since John is the possessor, a suffix is added to indicate that relationship. Cardassian uses the exact opposite. In Cardassian, the 'possessed' is modified, while the possessor is not. This is described as putting the possessed into the 'construct state', while the possessor is left in the (normal) absolute state. The construct state is expressed by adding the suffix <ik> to the possessed, and the absolute (possessor) is placed before the construct (possessed).


duxt tapxik

The man's house


from, retrieved Feb. 9 2013



Sources include

thehoyden (Theniaz)

prairiecrow (ss'lei, s'h'iosr'ha)

giny04 (Kardasi'or and the 'or suffix)

and my own head