Julian and Garak sat at their usual table in the replimat watching Miles and Keiko O'Brien play with their daughter Molly. The little girl firmly gripped her parents' hands as they lifted her and gently swung her back and forth. Happy, childish laughter ran throughout the replimat, bringing smiles from passers-by of all species.

Julian smiled himself as he turned back to his companion. "That is one adorable child. The O'Briens are lucky to have such a sweet little girl like Molly."

The Cardassian leaned back in his chair with a broad smile on his gray-skinned face. "Why, Dr. Bashir!" he exclaimed with mock surprise. "You sound almost jealous! Surely you're not pining for a little one of your own?"

Julian laughed in response. "Oh, for heaven's sake, no! I couldn't imagine being a parent. I have plenty of responsibilities as it is without a child to take care of. No. The thought leaves me cold."

Garak nodded, frowning slightly. "Oh, I quite agree, doctor." He replied softly. "Despite its inherent joys, it is my impression that child rearing can be quite tedious, quite limiting: certainly nothing with which an independent, sensible, career-minded young man would wish to burden himself."

"Well," Julian countered, "I wouldn't exactly call it a burden. It's just . . . well, from what Miles has told me, it's a huge responsibility that changes your life in ways you can't imagine. That's certainly not something I would want to face right now. Maybe someday, but right now I'm perfectly happy with my life as it is." The doctor smiled, reaching across the table to brush his fingers against the Cardassian's cheek.

"Interesting," replied Garak, placing his napkin on the table.

Julian glanced down at his friend's mostly full plate. "Surely you're not finished? You've barely touched your food."

Garak shrugged. "I'm just not feeling very hungry today, that's all."

Julian frowned. "You didn't eat much at breakfast yesterday, either. Or at last week's lunch. Are you feeling all right?"

Garak raised his eye ridges. "Well! I didn't realize my physician was monitoring my nutritional intake! I am perfectly all right, Julian. Please don't nag, I've already got a headache." He rose from his chair abruptly.

Julian winced slightly. Garak was upset about something, and he had a hard time believing that it was simply his medicinal nagging. Could it have been something he said, something he did? What could he have possibly done in the space of twenty minutes?

"Look, Garak. I'm sorry you're not feeling well. I didn't mean to pry. I just . . . well, I love you and I worry about you." He took the Cardassian's large grey hands in his own small, brown ones. "Perhaps I could come over to your quarters later and . . . allow you to do some prying of your own?" Julian put on his sweetest puppy-dog face.

Garak allowed a weak smile. "I certainly appreciate the offer, my dear doctor, but I do have an awful lot of work to catch up on. Perhaps another evening. Now, if you will please excuse me: I'm going to close the shop for the afternoon. I'd like to go back to my quarters and rest for a while."

Julian nodded, feeling both disappointed and concerned. Garak did seem awfully tired. It was clear he didn't feel well at all – Julian had known him long enough to know that the Cardassian rarely revealed any weaknesses, and that he was probably feeling quite bad if he was letting glimpses of such slip through his ordinarily opaque exterior. Garak was deceptively open and friendly; it was often hard to know what thoughts and feelings resided behind that playfully unctuous shop keeper's smile. Over the years, Julian had learned that the Cardassian valued his privacy almost above all else; apparently their recent intimacies hadn't changed that. If there was something seriously wrong, Julian would have to back off and wait for him to come to him on his own terms.

Julian smiled and planted two light kisses on the backs of Garak's hands. "Another time, then."

The next day, Julian passed Garak's shop at midday, noting with concern that it was still closed.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When Garak refused his lover's overtures that afternoon, he was actually telling the truth: he was indeed behind on his work and had fully intended to play catch up. However, after the preceding restless night, a queasy morning, and a pounding afternoon headache, he was too weak and exhausted to do much of anything. A gloriously long nap thankfully banished his headache, yet he was still tired and unfocused. Concentrating on needlework was out of the question.

So instead of working, he replicated some mild tea, nibbled some crackers, and lounged around his quarters. He spent the evening pondering his growing problem and wondering when and how to tell Julian about it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The following week, Julian stood outside of Garak's quarters, anxiously sounding the door chime. Garak was supposed to have met him at the Vulcan restaurant for breakfast forty minutes ago, and he was never late without calling. When Garak neglected to answer the door after ten minutes, Julian entered his CMO override code and entered.

The room appeared to be empty. Surely Garak wasn't still asleep at this time of morning? thought Julian. He's always been an early riser. And if he'd already left for the Promenade, Julian would surely have met him in the corridor. At that moment, Julian became aware of a sound: coughing and a muffled retching coming from behind the closed bathroom door. Garak's location and reason for being late were no longer mysteries.

Julian knocked firmly on the bathroom door. "Garak," he said clearly, "Open up. I think I should come in and have a look at you."

There was a low moan, followed by a sigh. "Doctor," came the faint reply, "clearly I am not feeling well enough to entertain. However, I suppose I should of known you'd come looking for me. You humans are so inquisitive; it's certainly one of your more annoying habits."

"Garak, what kind of nonsense is this?" demanded Julian. "What would you have done if I just didn't show up for a date? Would you just continue on with your day, assuming that everything was okay and that whatever reason I had for standing you up was none of your business?" He paused, waiting for the nasty retort. When it didn't come, he continued: "Listen, love, I know you don't feel well and that you want to be left alone, but I'm not prepared to do that. I know you haven't been well for some time, and I'm concerned. You're important to me Garak. I don't want you to suffer, not if there's anything I can do about it. Is it so hard to believe that I sincerely care about you?"

There were several moments of heavy silence. "Exactly how much do you care about me, Julian?" asked Garak weakly.

"Garak," Julian contined in a low, sincere voice, "For years you've been a wonderful friend, and now you're so much more than that. Believe me when I say that you are the most important person in my life. I love you, and it hurts me to see you suffer."

After a few moments, the door opened. There stood Garak in a dark purple robe looking pale and tired. "Doctor," he muttered, gesturing towards the living room. "Please sit down. There's something important we need to discuss."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Garak!" said Julian after several moments of tense silence. The two men were seated on soft chairs in Garak's quarters. Julian did not like the look on his companion's face: it was apprehension, defeat, and fatigue all rolled into one.

"Garak," he repeated, softer this time. He leaned forward and placed a tentative hand on the Cardassian's arm. "Please tell me. Whatever it is, I'd like for us to talk about it."

Garak leaned back, massaged his temples, and sighed deeply. "I was just thinking of the best way to begin. I suppose I could ask you about a certain . . . aspect of Cardassian physiology of which you are likely ignorant. Are you aware, doctor, that approximately eleven percent of Cardassians are technically hermaphrodites?"

"No, but I am now," Julian replied calmly. A flash of recognition passed over his face. "Garak," he began cautiously, "are you trying to tell me that . . . you are a hermaphrodite?"

The Cardassian nodded, his pale blue eyes distracted. "Among other things, yes."

Julian smiled and ran the back of his cool, brown hand down Garak's flushed cheek. "That's perfectly all right. I hope you didn't think I would mind. I love you; why would I care that you have a few extra parts inside of you? But how does this relate to your symptoms?"

Garak shifted awkwardly and removed his lover's hand from his face. "There is a direct relation, actually. And despite your protestations of biological tolerance, there is a very good reason why you should care about these 'extra parts,' as you have so graciously termed my anatomy. You see Julian, Cardassian hermaphrodites are not genetic mishaps; they are a fully functioning third sex. I myself, being of good health and the appropriate age, am not an exception to the biological standard."

Garak paused, staring into the doctor's warm, brown eyes, and Julian realized just how worn and tired his lover really was.

"Julian," Garak continued with a heavy sigh. "I'm pregnant."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Julian's eyes grew wide, and he swallowed thickly. Did Garak just say what he thought he'd said?

"Are you sure?" he blurted out clumsily.

Garak rolled his eyes. "Of course I'm sure! Why do men always ask that?"

"Oh, um . . . . well . . ." Julian was at a complete loss for words. This certainly was not what he'd expected. Not unless his dear, sneaky friend was playing a very eccentric practical joke on him.

Julian smiled in defeat and rolled his eyes. "Very funny, Garak. You really had me going there for a moment."

The Cardassian frowned. "Oh, how perfectly awful! You think I'm being facetious. Well, doctor, I'm afraid it's no joke."

Julian's face fell. "You mean you're serious? Really serious?"

"Oh yes, doctor. It's true that I haven't always been truthful to you, but at the moment I am perfectly sincere. I realize that it must come as a great surprise, but please believe me when I say that I am indeed expecting."

Julian was rather pale. "I don't understand. How . . .?"

"Well, I think you already know that, Julian! But as an indulgence I'll explain further. You see, Cardassian hermaphrodites are capable of impregnating a female or another hermaphrodite, and – as in my case – they can also become pregnant. Now, you know me as a well-prepared, cautious individual, and I have indeed been taking contraceptives lately. However, I was assured by a Cardassian doctor that they would work with a human partner, but clearly I was misled." He sighed. "I sincerely hope you are not offended that I kept this information from you. It is rather personal, after all."

"Garak, I'm your lover. I think you should have told me."

"Well, it's too late now. And before you ask, I'm keeping them."

Julian sighed. "Garak, I wouldn't want you to . . . get rid of them. I'm just, well, I hoped that you trusted me enough to share that kind of information."

"My apologies, Julian. Perhaps you are right. But that's a moot point now, isn't it? And it probably wouldn't have changed things. What could you have done? Tested my contraceptives to ensure their potency? You, who until ten minutes ago were ignorant regarding the finer points of Cardassian gender distinction?"

"I suppose you're right. I just . . . wow, this is a lot of get used to. I can't believe that I'm going to be a . . . father."

"Garak," he continued nervously after several moments' pause, "this is wonderful. I'm quite surprised of course, but . . . I'm not unhappy. I just . . . never expected you to say those words to me. This really is fantastic." Julian smiled as he took his lover's hands and squeezed them gently.

"I'm glad you think so, doctor," was the melancholy, vaguely sarcastic response.

Julian frowned. "You don't believe me?"

"Forgive me, Julian. It's not that I don't believe you; it's just that I've been realizing over the past few weeks that you do not want a child. Your stunned alarm has confirmed this. Now, don't get me wrong, Julian. I love you, and I know that you love me too. You're a kind, compassionate man, a rare jewel within humanity. I know that you will love the child as well. It is not in your nature to do otherwise. But I also know that you're not ready to be a father. I can tell from the panic in your eyes that this situation terrified you. You are still young, and you don't want to be saddled with a baby. I understand. It's a big responsibility, and I can't expect you to change the course of your life due to a contraceptive error. I wouldn't want to force you to do anything that would make you unhappy.

"Julian, I can't say exactly how this will affect our relationship – perhaps you will choose to leave me; perhaps you will spend a certain amount of awkward time with me, just to let both of us down easier, and then you'll see less and less of me until we drift out of each others' lives; perhaps you will choose to stay with me. I don't know how I will feel later on, either. But no matter what happens later on, I do want us to try. I'm not getting any younger, Julian. I'm tired of being alone, and I want us to stay together. I will understand if you choose not to be a parent, Julian, but I sincerely hope that you will remain my lover and friend. Just give it some thought.

"Now, if you don't mind, doctor, I'd like to get some rest. This pregnancy has left me unbelievably fatigued. I am sorry to cancel our breakfast – perhaps we can reschedule for next week." Garak gave the somber, stunned Julian a light kiss on the cheek before returning to the bedroom.

That morning's walk to the infirmary was a slow and contemplative one. Julian knew his boyfriend was right: he didn't want a child. He wasn't ready for that. Some days he still felt like a kid himself. He did love Garak, but he couldn't imagine settling down and raising a child with him. They had only been officially dating for less than two months, and now a baby was on the way? Oh, everything was happening much too fast!

Before he'd realized it, Julian reached his office. He sat down at his neat, organized desk and let out a troubled sigh. He felt almost like weeping. How was it that he was surrounded by friends, a lover, and now a child, yet felt so alone?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The days passed routinely for Julian. He continued to see Garak regularly – they enjoyed each other's company, but the mood was definitely altered. The burgeoning emotional intimacy they had experienced before Garak's revelation abruptly ceased. There was a formal coolness between them now, as if the two were going through the motions of love without truly meaning every gesture. There was a strange unspoken truth always lingering around their time together: that their relationship could never really be the same again.

Julian indeed wanted to keep their relationship alive. He wasn't trying to gradually cut Garak loose. He didn't want to be lonely either, and there was no one he'd rather spend time with than Garak. Lunch with Jadzia or darts with O'Brien was fun, but it just wasn't the same. But wanting to keep a relationship alive was not the same thing as actually achieving it. Sometimes Julian worried that the awkwardness would become too uncomfortable for them, or that Garak would tire of his foolishness and leave. But that hadn't happened . . . at least not yet.

For now, Julian was avoiding the proverbial elephant in the room. He never spoke to Garak about the baby. They talked about everything else but that. Julian foolishly hoped that somehow the whole situation would just 'sink in,' that it would somehow become less daunting before he would be forced to cope with it. He would face the situation when some of the shock had worn down, and then he would be better equipped to make a decision.

But ignoring what he didn't want to face didn't make it go away, nor did it have the mollifying affect for which the doctor had hoped. Days turned into weeks, and Garak was growing rounder all the time. Julian managed to make himself conveniently unavailable for Garak's first few check-ups, leaving the job to an assisting physician. However, soon it was time for the first ultrasound, and Julian couldn't ignore his partner any longer.

Luckily, the procedure indicated no problems with the offspring or its parent, although one big surprise was in store for the fathers-to-be: Garak was having twins.

"Twins?" exclaimed the Cardassian as he clumsily struggled to sit up. "Two of them? Oh, gracious, I had just gotten used to the idea of one!"

"Well, it does make sense," replied Julian uncomfortably. "With the rate of your weight gain, that is."

"And I thought it was all that fattening yamok sauce and Delevian chocolate," Garak moaned.

"Garak," asked the doctor gently, "Are you upset?"

The patient shook his head reflectively. "Oh, not really; just surprised, that's all. One baby is a big responsibility, even for one as resourceful as I, and now that responsibility has just doubled. And both unplanned, too. A few months ago I had no intention of becoming pregnant, and now there are two little ones on the way."

Julian felt an awful twinge of guilt, as if the unplanned pregnancy was somehow his fault alone. He wanted to apologize, to somehow express his concern for Garak's situation and show that he did care about him, but an apology seemed self-indulgent and inappropriate. Several minutes of silence passed as both parents stared at the two little life forms on the viewscreen. It was such a strange experience to look at his own babies: their tiny forms floating peacefully, their odd little half formed limbs interlocked. He could see their little hearts beating, and it was an amazing experience. He was experiencing one of those strange moments that one only usually encounters in poetry: where everything seems to stop for an indefinite period of time to allow a flood of strange emotions to make their way through one's mind and heart. These little creatures are mine, too, he thought. I helped create them, and there's a piece of me and a piece of him inside each one. And suddenly Julian could no longer ignore the wonderful phenomenon before his eyes. Nor could be ignore the man before him.

"Garak," he began. "What are you feeling?"

Garak sighed contentedly. "I thought you'd never ask, Julian. It's not a comfortable topic for you, we both know that. But what you might not realize . . . is that this hasn't been easy for me either. I too have reservations; I'm feeling vulnerable. I must admit that at times, I feel rather scared. It seems so ridiculous, with all the dangers and challenges of my life, to be scared of two babies, but it's the truth. Before, I was only responsible for myself, but now, I have two little precious people to care for, to support, and to guide." He paused momentarily, frowning. "Julian, I had a bad relationship with my own father. How can I be sure that I'll do a better job than he did? Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying that no matter how good my intentions, I will be a tyrannical father. But even so, even though I can't help questioning, regretting, and worrying over the children, I . . . already love them so much that I can hardly stand it. In fact, I love them so much that it frightens me. It's very unnerving to be helpless like this, to be forced to place so much love in something outside of yourself."

Julian suddenly felt terrible. All this time he was focused on himself when his lover, the man carrying his children, his best friend was experiencing such conflicted thought and emotional need. All he'd been thinking about was his own comfort level, his own feelings, and own problems in adjusting to the situation. He'd never stopped to consider what Garak might be feeling – and he'd certainly never thought that they might be feeling the same emotions. Julian realized that he'd made a grave mistake: all this time he could have been supporting Garak, but he'd selfishly delayed confronting this issue. Meanwhile, the person he cared about more than anyone had been suffering alone. How could he have been such a jerk?

"Garak," the doctor replied pensively, "I never realized how difficult this is for you. I was too focused on my own fears to consider that you might be frightened too. I've always thought of you as such a strong person. I guess I just assumed that . . . becoming pregnant was something you could easily handle. But I was wrong, and I'm sorry."

The Cardassian smiled and gently cupped the doctor's cheek in his hand. "Thank you, Julian."

Several minutes of silence passed as the pair stared at the ultrasound image.

"They're absolutely beautiful, Garak," whispered Julian. "It's strange – I've seen dozens of ultrasounds, but none have ever affected me like this." He smiled sheepishly. "Expectant parents always say these sorts of silly things – oh, how beautiful, how amazing, how incredible. Sometimes I felt it was a bit ridiculous acting like a completely normal biological process was a miracle, but now I think I understand." He paused. "Garak, I want to apologize again for not being there for you thus far. I want to change that. From now on, I want to be right by your side. I want us to be together, truly together. I want . . . I want us to raise our children together.

"I know that this will be a challenge for both of us. I realize that it's risky to love. But it's a beautiful risk, and it's a chance I'm willing to take. It took me a while to realize that; thanks for being so patient with me."

Garak's response was a deep kiss and a long embrace.