Learning to Speak - by tinsnip - Star Trek: DS9 [AO3]
Julian Bashir has been on Cardassia for six months. He thinks he's adapted pretty well. But when it's time to learn the language, he realizes he's nowhere near as clever as he thought.
“Learning to Speak” is a story I’ve held off on sharing because I like to spread out my very, very FAVORITE stories a bit and this is one of them. This one is SO good, it’s like one of those bottles of liquor you save for a special occasion. That said, I’ve read it over and over. Bravo, @tinsnip.
Now as for WHY I like it so much, let’s see. There are loads of fics set in post-Canon Cardassia and tinsnip has more of them than I think anyone ele, but this one gets me because while it is similar in its set up to many, the details are different. Yes, Bashir comes to Cardassia and gets to work as a doctor. Yes, he gets involved with Garak and they move in together. And yes, he has to learn to assimilate to Cardassian society, including the language. But what this story does is present a scenario where none of these elements – the work, the relationship, and most especially the culture and language bit – go smoothly. Bashir thinks, idealistically, that the little problems he encounters will work themselves out, and focuses on his work at a children’s center and bright spots in his life with Garak. Meanwhile Garak is extremely worried about the whole situation, which he expects to fly apart. In other words, there are Problems – yes, capital P. This story is about those Problems coming to a head and how the couple deal with them. And I just love everything about 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.
P.S. I must also mention the language, meaning the Kardasi. There is an extensive vocabulary employed here, to the point there’s an appendix at the end. It adds a great deal to the story.
Title: Learning to Speak
Year Posted: 2013
Approx. Word Count: 20,000
Chapters: 6 (plus appendix)
GB - Slash or Platonic: Slash
My Rating (1-5): 5
Keywords: Post-Canon Cardassia, Established Relationship, Angst, Drama, Cross-Cultural Differences, Xenophobia