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Title: Warts and All (1/1)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] seraphtrevs Fic Masterlist
Pairing: Bashir/Garak
Fandom: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Rating: PG
Word count: ~2800
Genre: Humor, Romance
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit made, etc.
Spoilers: None
Summary: Garak is going through his annual molt, an uncomfortable process that all Cardassians are forced to endure. In attempt to cheer him up, Julian books them a day at the beach on the holodeck. Things don't go exactly as planned, and Julian and Garak are confronted with the fact that loving someone doesn't mean that you don't also find them massively irritating.

A/N: This is not directly a sequel to They Stumble That Run Fast, but it can be seen as taking place in the same universe.



It was a gorgeous, sunny day.

Well, that wasn’t completely true – they were on the holodeck, so it wasn’t really a gorgeous, sunny day. Nevertheless, it was an excellent approximation. The not-ocean sparkled under the cheery not-sun, and while a salty breeze didn’t actually waft across Julian’s toasty-warm skin, it might as well have.

Julian rolled over onto his stomach and adjusted his bathing suit with a discrete swipe of his finger. “Mmm, this is nice,” he said. “Isn’t this nice?”

Garak didn’t respond. Julian propped himself up onto his elbows and looked over at the other man. He was lying face-down on his blanket, not moving. Julian wasn’t sure how he was even breathing in that position. He must be asleep, the poor thing.

Garak was going through his annual molt, an uncomfortable process that all Cardassians were forced to endure. Over the course of four days, the top layer of his skin would peel off in pieces; it was painful, draining, and more than a little disgusting. Garak was on Day Three, which was the worst of it. His skin looked like gray tree bark, curling away from his body in paper-thin pieces - just looking at it made Julian itch. There was one piece on his back that was especially prominent, like it was about to fall off. Slowly, Julian reached over and grabbed the top edge of it between his fingers…

“Don’t. Touch. It.”

Julian withdrew hastily. It looked like Garak wasn’t asleep after all. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s just so…tempting.”

“It will fall off on its own.”

“Of course. Sorry,” he said again. “You know, it’s sort of interesting – I wonder if the reason I find your skin so distracting is because of some latent grooming instinct that I have. Most social mammals on Earth – well, not just mammals, birds too, I think – have an instinct to groom each other. It strengthens social bonds.”

“Fascinating,” Garak said, his voice muffled by the blanket.

“I can’t really recall if any of our reptiles engage in similar behaviors. Of course, Earth reptiles aren’t especially social creatures. I imagine that’s not the case on Cardassia, since Cardassians are descended from reptiles and are just as social as Humans are. Although if you think about it, it’s sort of silly to use one planet’s classification system for creatures from another planet. I mean, Cardassians do have a lot of characteristics similar to Earth reptiles – like the molting, for example – but you bear live young – well, not you personally, obviously. And you have hair.”

Julian realized that he didn’t have much more to say on the subject, so he stopped talking and watched the waves lap gently on the shore for a while. He crossed his arms and laid his head down, enjoying the feel of the sun on his back. “Is the sun helping your skin at all?”

Garak made a motion that was probably a nod. Julian beamed. When Garak had told him that he was going into his molt, Julian had the idea to book them a day in the holodeck. Sunlight helped the process along, and while they couldn’t get real sunlight, they could get the next best thing. Garak had been hesitant, saying that he’d prefer to be on his own. But Julian had insisted; he guessed that Garak was just self-conscious about what was happening to him, and Julian wanted to show him that there was no need for that.

“It’s a lovely program, isn’t it?” Julian said.

Garak sighed. With great effort, he turned his head to look at Julian. “The scenery is nice, but – ” As if on cue, there was a series of whoops and drunken cheers coming from the party on the other end of the beach. “But I would have preferred something quieter.”

“Sorry,” Julian said. “The program description didn’t mention quite how…rowdy it would be.”

“What was the title again?”

“’Spring Break at Cancun.’ It’s a program from twenty-first century Earth. I thought it would be relaxing.” He frowned thoughtfully. “Although that was one of our more decadent centuries, come to think of it. Anyway, Quark highly recommended it.”

“And if there’s anyone with impeccable taste, it’s Quark,” Garak said sarcastically.

“The wet t-shirt contest was sort of fun,” Julian said.

In Garak’s days as an Obsidian Order operative, he was able to extract confessions through nothing more than looking at his subject. The look Garak gave him just then reminded Julian of that fact. Julian turned away and laid his head back on his arms. “Well, it was,” he mumbled.

Neither of them said anything for a little while. Julian couldn’t tell if they simply weren’t speaking or if they really Weren’t Speaking, so he started to talk again. “It’s really amazing how much better I feel after just a few hours of exposure to sunlight, even if it is artificial. I’ve actually petitioned Captain Sisko to authorize some improvements in the artificial lighting of the station. There are so many detrimental effects that a lack of a proper circadian cycle can have on humanoids; I think that a closer approximation to natural sunlight would make a noticeable positive impact on the performance of the crew members – not to mention the moods of everyone else as well. And with tensions as high as they are, we could all certainly use it!”

Garak didn’t say anything, so Julian prompted him. “Garak?”

Garak let out a loud sigh. “What?”

“Are you all right? Is there anything I can do for you?”

“There is something,” he said after a moment. “But I don’t know if I want to ask you. It would probably be difficult.”

“I’m sure it won’t be any trouble,” Julian said. “What is it?”

“I want you to please. Stop. Talking.”

They lapsed into silence again. Julian tried not to let it hurt his feelings; Garak was going through a difficult time, and was understandably a bit sensitive. He needed to be patient. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, concentrating on the soothing sounds of the seaside: the hush of waves crashing gently on the sand; the calls of seagulls flying above them…

…the vomiting of drunken students in the distance. Maybe Garak did have a point.

After a little while, Garak pushed himself up to a sitting position. He winced and brushed his left arm, which caused several pieces of dead skin to sheet off of his arm and gather in a little pile around him.

“Ew,” Julian said, and then immediately wished he could take it back. Where was a space-time anomaly when you needed one?

Garak gave him another Death Glare. “I’m sorry that you find my involuntary bodily functions so distasteful.”

“I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to make you self-conscious.”

Garak harrumphed and lay back down. Julian thought the danger had passed, but then Garak muttered, “At least it only happens once a year. You Humans have disgusting bodily functions year-round.”

“Oh really,” Julian said through only slightly gritted teeth. “Like what?”

“You ooze.”

What?

“When you’re overheated,” Garak said. “You ooze.”

“You mean sweating?” Julian said. “That’s not ‘oozing!’”

“It involves a substance seeping out of your skin - it’s oozing. And you have fur.”

“I do not have fur. It’s hair.”

“This,” Garak said, indicating the hair on his own head. “Is hair. This, however – ” He pinched a few strands of Julian leg hair and tugged at it, “ – is fur.”

“Ow!” Julian glared at him. He stood up. “I’m not going to let you pick a fight with me. I’m going to the bar to get another drink.”

“Fine,” Garak said. “I’m sure you’ll find the scenery there much more pleasant than it is here.”

“Oh right, because that’s exactly why I wanted to do this program with you,” Julian said, falling into the fight in spite of himself. “So I could ogle imaginary women.”

“You’re forgetting the imaginary men – there are plenty of those to ogle, too. Why limit yourself?”

“For the last time, I’m not – you know what? Never mind. You’re obviously not capable of being rational right now.”

“And you’re obviously not capable of shutting up, so maybe you should go.”

“I will, then!”

“Fine!”

Fine!

Julian started to walk away, but before he left, he bent down and grabbed the strip of loose skin on Garak’s back and ripped it off. Garak yelped in pain, which gave Julian a childish sense of satisfaction. Before Garak could respond further, Julian stormed off. Or at least, he attempted to storm off – it was very difficult to walk quickly on sand, especially barefoot, and it wasn’t as if he could go back for his shoes. To make matters worse, his bathing suit started to ride up again. He tried to decide if it would be more or less dignified to adjust it. He glanced over his shoulder to see if Garak was watching; he was, unfortunately. He gave the suit a quick tug back into place.

By the time he reached the other end of the beach, Julian’s anger had dissipated. Julian knew he was annoying. He didn’t mean to be, but he somehow always managed to say the wrong things. He slunk up to the outdoor bar and took a seat on a stool, resisting the urge to bang his head on the counter. Garak hadn’t even wanted to come, but Julian had insisted. Why, oh why hadn’t he listened?

After a minute, the bartender approached him. Her name was Ronnie – Julian and Garak had spoken with her earlier. She had short, sandy blonde hair that she wore pulled back in a small ponytail at the nape of her neck. She wore a bikini top that was more sporty than sultry, but it still showed off her golden-tanned skin and her stunning curves – she was exactly the sort of woman that Julian used to chase before he got involved with Garak. And the beach was full of people just like her. Oh God. No wonder Garak was furious. Julian really should have read the description of the program more carefully.

“Hot enough for you?” she asked.

It took Julian a moment to realize she was referring to the weather. “Yes – to my exact specifications actually.” He’d calibrated the settings of the program to be the optimal temperature for Garak’s comfort. If only he had paid that much attention to the rest of the program.

Ronnie gave him a quizzical look, but didn’t ask him to elaborate. “So how’s your boyfriend? Is the sun helping his skin condition?”

“Yes,” he said. “At least, I think so.”

“Glad to hear it,” she said. “So what can I get you?”

“I am in serious doubt of my decision-making capabilities at the moment, so I’ll let you pick for me.”

After considering him for a moment, she whipped up a fizzy concoction that included green leaves of some sort. He took a sip; it was sweet and minty. “What’s this?”

“A mojito. You look like you need something to help you cool off.” She put the bottles away and began to polish some glasses. “So what was it about?”

“What?”

“The fight with your boyfriend.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“I’m a bartender – I have a sixth sense about these sort of things,” she said. “Well, and I could see you stomping your way over here.”

Julian sighed. “I might have accidentally let on that I found the wet t-shirt contest a little more interesting than I should have. And then I might have accidentally implied that I find his skin condition a tad on the disgusting side. And then I ripped some of the skin off of his back.”

“Accidentally?”

“No, that part was on purpose.”

“Yikes.”

Julian groaned and buried his head in his arms. “He’s going to leave me, isn’t he?”

“Well – you’re cute. That counts for something.” Julian must have looked extremely miserable, because she finally took some pity on him. “Relax,” she said. “He’s not going to leave you.”

“And how do you know that?”

“I told you,” she said, tapping her finger on her temple. “Bartender – sixth sense. And on top of that, the way he looks at you… well, it’s not the look of someone who’s going anywhere any time soon.”

It was silly to put any stock in the judgment of a hologram, but still, it did make Julian feel a bit better. “Thanks. That’s good to hear.”

“No problemo,” she said. “So is this your first fight?”

“God, no,” he said, and then quickly amended, “Not that we fight all the time. We just have…misunderstandings.”

“And those misunderstandings have obviously not ended your relationship yet, so what are you getting so worked up over?” Ronnie pulled out a glass and mixed up another mojito. “Here’s what you’re going to do – you’re going to take him this drink, and then the two of you are going to chill the fuck out already and enjoy the sun. I guarantee that you’ll reach a re-understanding in no time. Got it?”

Julian smiled weakly. “Got it. Thanks.”

He took the drinks and made his way back across the beach. He found Garak sitting cross-legged on his blanket, looking miserable. He looked up when Julian arrived. “I’m disgusting,” Garak said. “And jealous. And worst of all, I’m mean – very terribly mean. You should leave me immediately.”

Julian sat down beside him. “And who else would have me?”

“Anyone here.”

“They’re holograms. They’re programmed to want to have me.”

“Then anyone on the station. Anyone in this galaxy.”

Julian rolled his eyes and handed Garak his drink. “I don’t want anyone else.”

“I think we’ve already established how poor your judgment is.”

Julian put his drink in the sand and turned until he was kneeling in front of Garak. The only spot on his face that wasn’t covered in peeling skin was his nose. Julian leaned forward and kissed it. “I’m sorry, too.”

Garak tried to smile, but the movement pulled uncomfortably at his skin and he ended up wincing instead. “I wish I could touch you.”

“You probably wouldn’t want to, anyway; I’m covered in disgusting Human ooze.”

“I actually like your ooze,” Garak said. “It makes you very shiny.”

“Why, thank you,” Julian said. “I think.”

“So what’s this?” Garak said, indicating his drink.

“A mojito. They’re very refreshing.”

Garak took a sip; his face puckered.

“I can get you something else if you don’t like it,” Julian said.

“No, it’s fine. Just – sweeter than I anticipated,” Garak said. “Sweetness always takes me by surprise.”

Julian kissed Garak’s nose again before returning to his own blanket. They said nothing for a while as they sipped their drinks, but it was a very companionable silence. The sun was starting to set, which meant the program would soon be over. It hadn’t been a bad program, really. Maybe Julian could have it reconfigured to get rid of the scantily-clad students.

“I’m sorry this didn’t turn out very well,” Julian said. “I wanted to make you feel better, but I did a rather piss poor job of it.”

Garak didn’t respond right away. Julian was just about to get up and end the program when Garak said, “Do you remember when we first met?”

“Of course I remember,” Julian said. “What kind of question is that?”

“A rhetorical one, meant to segue into a recollection – really, Julian, must you always be so literal?”

Julian rolled his eyes and waited for him to continue.

“I had been on the station for nearly a year at that point, and there wasn’t a moment that I wasn’t acutely aware of my banishment. I had no respite – even in my dreams I remained an exile, unable to even imagine myself home again. While the implant sometimes dulled the pain, I always knew where I was, and how I had come to be there. But when I saw you on the Promenade for the first time, I completely forgot where I was, and that’s never changed. Being with you transports me from my exile.”

It was one of the nicest things anyone had ever said to Julian. He didn’t know what to say, so for once, he decided to say nothing. He reached over and took Garak’s hand, careful not to put too much pressure on it. The sun had nearly disappeared below the horizon, but they still had a few moments to enjoy each other’s company.

THE END
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