Garak was just about to close up for the day when Miles O'Brien appeared quite unexpectedly. He was an infrequent visitor in the shop. The chief tended to leave sartorial considerations to his wife when he could get away with it. Outside of his holosuite costumes, that is, and in those cases he usually discussed things thoroughly with the doctor before letting Julian make arrangements with the tailor.
"Good evening, Chief O'Brien," Garak greeted him pleasantly. "How are those trousers I mended working out for you?"
"Fine, fine. Good as new," Miles said, but nothing more.
"Was there something you need? Don't tell me young Miss Molly had another growth spurt again so soon? That would be most inconvenient to Mrs. O'Brien. I believe she said they would be on Bajor this month? There aren't many clothing shops in the mountains of Ray'laht."
Miles was surprised, and not sure how he felt about the Cardassian talking so familiarly, and knowledgeably, about his family like that. But of course Garak would know a bit about it. Keiko liked the man, naturally would she would chat with him whenever Molly's pants were getting too short again and she had need of his services. Keiko was a nice, engaging woman and most people liked talking to her. Miles wouldn't have guessed Garak would care enough to listen, but then the man was or used to be a spy. He probably filed away any bit of intel, no matter how innocuous, just in case it came in handy later.
"Not that I am aware of yet," Miles answered, and huffed a laugh. "Won't be long though, the way she's growing."
Now that he thought of it, though, he could remember Julian mentioning that Cardassians were real big on family and loved children. Both apparently being big themes in the books Julian read and discussed with Garak. Julian, bless him, didn't try to get Miles to read any of it, limiting himself to the very broadest strokes of the stories when recounting his weekly lunches with the tailor. And Molly was adorable enough to win hearts wherever she went. It was possible that Garak not only knew but had a genuine friendly interest (as well as a professional one) in not just Molly's measurements but things like her favorite colors and what she liked to do for play. Some of the stain-resistant fabrics Garak had tracked down were a godsend, given how much the girl loved to paint.
Miles might not spend more time with Garak than he had to, but that didn't mean the man was entirely removed from his life. Even if Julian wasn't friends with the man, he would still be there on the station. In his tailor shop, discussing orchids with Keiko and making a mental note that young Miss Molly O'Brien detested knitted sweaters and broke out all over in itchy hives no matter how soft the wool.
Garak looked at the human and tried not to grin widely at the man's reticence, knowing the chief would only interpret it poorly. Garak simply enjoyed drawing information out of people otherwise reluctant to give it away. That's what had made him so good at procuring information for the Order. An honest zeal for the work.
"I stand at the ready when she does," Garak said with his blandest salesman smile. Which was really the only one the chief was likely to trust. "I was just about to close up for the night, if there's no assistance I can offer...."
He trailed off, eyes widened expectantly. Obviously the human had a reason to come here. O'Brien more than most was no fan of Cardassian company. With any other potential customers Garak would have set up an appointment for the following day. But if the chief was here for a fitting it wouldn't take long and Garak suspected O'Brien would be just as happy to have to over and done with quickly.
Miles didn't immediately answer and Garak began to turn away before the chief spoke up.
"You, uh... you want to help me prank Julian?" he asked.
"Pardon me?" Garak's tone and expression were a little too politely confused by half.
"You know, a practical joke."
O'Brien didn't believe for one second that the savvy ex-spy had lived among humans for so long without learning about pranks. In fact, he was damn sure a species as naturally devious as Cardassians was already intimately familiar with the concept, so he didn't elaborate.
"Julian's back from his conference tomorrow," he said instead, "Thought we could arrange a little 'surprise' for him."
"We? As in you and I?"
"Sure! Pranks are more fun with an accomplice," Miles said with a slight smile, and squinted speculatively at him. "And you seem like you might know a thing or two about being a co-conspirator."
Garak didn't insult the chief with his usual protestations that he was just a plain and simple tailor who couldn't possibly conspire against a soul, except perhaps his fractious supplier of Orellian brocade. In truth, the oft-repeated denial of his former career was getting a little tired. One should endeavor not to repeat the same lie too many times. And he was quite sure no one else found it as amusing as Julian did.
"Why me?" he asked. The two men did not have a habit of spending time in each other's company.
"Why not you?"
Miles tried not to get annoyed by the interrogation. He knew it was only annoying because he didn't want to explain himself. He had made the decision to try to be more friendly towards Garak, to reach out and include him in some shenanigans. It was his own fault if that gave the fellow a chance to get under his skin.
And it was a fair question after all, given the usually chilly civility between them.
"Dax and I have pranked Julian a dozen times already," Miles said. "Who else am I going to ask? Sisko? He's my commanding officer. Worf's barely got a sense of humor. And Odo is the station's head of security."
"You expect to engage in acts of dubious legality then?" Garak raised his brow ridges as if scandalized, but there was definitely a hint of mischief in his gaze.
"I expect Odo would find breaking into Julian's quarters a bit dubious, yes." Miles nodded.
Hmm, interesting. Garak was already intrigued by the novelty of the situation. The chief inviting Garak of all people into his fun. There was a 'why' to be discovered there and Garak did enjoy a mystery. But even if there were any reason to suspect the chief's motives might be nefarious, the chance to snoop around the doctor's quarters a bit would still be impossible to resist.
"Actually Quark is pretty good at schemes," Miles continued on through the list, "but there's no latinum in this for him so he wont bother himself. And the Major... well, she's had a hard life. A real rough time growing up. I'm not sure she would see the point in this sort of... silliness. And it occurs to me now that might be true for you too." Miles finished awkwardly. "I mean, I understand if you aren't interested."
Miles, with the natural intuition of a man of similar age who had seen his fair share of trouble, had guessed that Garak had been through a lot in his life. Even if he didn't have any idea what exactly. Garak didn't worry about anything Julian might have told Miles about the former spy's life simply because Garak hadn't told Julian much of anything that could be confirmed as truth. Station gossip surprisingly didn't have much to say about him beyond the painfully unimaginative: that he was still a spy, loyal to Cardassia, in service of the Obsidian Order, here to steal highly classified information and disrupt Federation efforts. Largely negative, but not so bad as to stop the gruff human engineer from sympathizing where he thought they might have common ground of being victims of trauma. Garak could almost feel a sort of... camaraderie with him for it.
"Why Chief, are you implying that I'm no fun?" Garak pivoted, a playful smile served with the joke. Easing their mutual discomfort at the near brush with emotional honesty, and signaling his acceptance of the scheme.
Miles barked an honest laugh at that and grinned back, relieved and, yes, a little amused by the Cardassian.
"I'll get what we need while you close up shop. Meet me at my quarters and we'll walk over to Julian's together."
When he received a nod of acquiescence, Miles left, cheerfully whistling on his way down the Promenade.
Garak was quite sure O'Brien knew he was just as capable of breaking into crew quarters as the engineer. But the former spy lurking around on a habitat level not his own would definitely draw some suspicion from station security. He did have a history of going where he wasn't authorized to be when the situation called for it and a door lock had never stopped that. In the chief's company his presence was less likely to be questioned, but Garak knew how to handle any potential run-ins with Odo regardless.
"Hey," O'Brien greeted him when Garak arrived at the chief's quarters with a parcel under his arm. "What's that?"
"My excuse for being on this level this time of night." Garak handed the package to Miles. "For Miss Molly. They'll be a little big yet, but that hardly matters with pajamas."
"What, did you sew these in the 10 minutes since I left you?" Miles asked with mild astonishment.
"I already had the pattern cut and fabric pinned," Garak said with a dismissive wave. "they were just waiting for the updated inseam measurement. It hardly took a moment to run my handheld seamer over it all."
Huh. Prepared for anything, this one, Miles thought as he accepted the parcel with a nod of thanks and set it down next to two Starfleet issue canvas duffle bags. One of which he hefted, the other he handed to Garak.
They made short work of the walk to the doctor's quarters and even shorter work of bypassing Julian's lock code to let themselves in.
Garak crossed to a table where he could set down the bag he held. Next to a pair of data padds that he made sure to 'accidentally' bump so as to activate their screens, which he then just happened to glance at long enough to make note of their contents. All of which would have gone unnoticed even if the room had been crowded with people. Garak was very discreet.
"What's the plan, Mister O'Brien?" He asked, opening the bag to pull out its contents. Which he stared at thoughtfully a moment before he gave up guessing and turned to ask an explanation. "With all these...pieces of paper?"
The bag was crammed full with short stacks of small slips of paper in various neon hues.
"They're called Post-Its, or sticky notes back home. Not exactly a novel concept, I've seen similar things around the galaxy. They mostly fell out of fashion on Earth in the 21st century when people started carrying electronic devices everywhere. You write notes on them: reminders, messages, shopping lists. They have adhesive on the back so you can stick them wherever you need and they come in bright colors so you can't miss seeing them."
"So we're going to... write notes to the doctor on these little squares?" Garak ask skeptically. That didn't seem terribly amusing but then, it would matter a great deal what exactly was written.
"No." Miles eyes suddenly gleamed with a light that bore ill tidings for Julian Bashir. "We are going to stick every single one of these little squares to every single surface we can reach until the whole room is covered with them." As Garak caught on and began to smile, Miles smiled back. "Though, now you mention it.... it could be funny to write stuff on 'em."
"Not all of them surely?" Garak asked.
O'Brien eyed his own bag crammed full of as many Post-Its as he could replicate. His hand cramped at just the idea of all that writing and he made a face.
"Because" Garak hastened to suggest, no more enamored with the thought of that task than the chief, "I really think it would be more amusing to write only on a select few of them. Say, give each word of a sentence its own square and scatter the message around the room. This would force him to examine every last one if he wants to be sure he's found all them."
"Garak, that's brilliant!" Miles grinned. Okay, maybe now he could see how Julian found Garak's devious mind enjoyable instead of just worrisome. "He won't be able to resist finding the clues so he cant just sweep everything into the recycler, he'll have to leave it all up and stare at it until he solves the puzzle."
Miles chortled, pulling out a cube of sticky notes and handing it to Garak.
"You think up a message, I'll try to find you a pen."
"No need, Chief." Garak pulled an elegant looking pen from a discreet pocket in his trousers.
"You just carry a fountain pen around with you?" Miles asked.
Plenty of people still enjoyed the tactile feeling of writing, Jake Sisko to name one, but who actually carried such an old-fashioned writing implement? Most everything on the station could be handled through a computer or padd. And even a standard ink stylus would work more reliably than a fussy fountain pen. They never leaked and stained your uniform, for one.
"A tailor is always prepared for anything," Garak said with a smirk, unknowingly echoing Miles' earlier thought.
Miles shook his head but he was still smiling as he turned away to start covering Julian's chair.
They were both accustomed to working with brisk efficiency so it didn't take as long as either expected to work their way around the room in opposite directions, covering everything in a kaleidoscope of neon paper. Still, it would have bordered on tedious if Miles hadn't broken the silence with a few stories of past pranks. Garak warmed up to the subject as he came to find the other man could be delightfully inventive in his mischief. The prank they were currently engaged in, while diverting, was not particularly impressive by Garak's estimation. The chief agreed.
"This is a pretty amateur effort, if I'm honest," Miles said over his shoulder as he lined the doorway to Julian's bedroom with bright blue squares. "But it was all spur of the moment. I didn't have the time to plan anything more elaborate before tomorrow. Besides, Keiko would have words for me if she came home to find i blew a bunch of latinum to play a joke on Julian. This only cost me replicator credits."
Garak could understand the pressure of a deadline, and a budget. Sometimes an uncomplicated plan was best when one was in a pinch.
"I think the doctor will be amused, regardless of the simplicity," he offered as reassurance to Miles. "And if he happens to return exhausted from his travels, it will be a kindness for him that it's not something a great deal more involved."
Garak was thinking of one of the stories Miles had just shared about locking a particularly annoying Enterprise crewmate in the holodeck for several hours to play out an especially embarrassing scenario.
Miles for his part was thinking how interesting it was for Garak to be so considerate of Julian's comfort like that. The doctor was known for his abundance (some might say excess) of energy; all bounce-and-go. He wasn't exactly the type you'd ever think of as being in need of a nap. Fretting that someone would have a proper chance to rest after a long trip... that spoke of a certain level of caring, in his experience. What level exactly Miles wasn't ready to hazard a guess at. He couldn't read the Cardassian in the best of times, let alone when they were both at work with their backs to each other.
Huh. Willingly turning his back on a Cardassian, a known operative of the Obsidian Order, alone and in close quarters with no witnesses. Miles could honestly say he didn't trust the man. If Quark had a pool going, O'Brien would lay a bet that Garak had at least 2 weapons hidden on his person at any time. But he somehow knew Garak's deceit did not extend to doing violence in this sort of innocuous situation.
Their final task was to cover the shelving along one wall, full of Bashir's books and belongings. They worked their way up from the floor, with some discussion as to how to wrap oddly-shaped knick-knacks, until they reached the top shelf. And its lumpy, rather disreputable looking occupant.
O'Brien eyed it dubiously.
"I don't think Julian will thank us for messing with Kukalaka. The adhesive on these things is pretty weak but still... that bear is half dust, held together by nostalgia and stubbornness. I don't want to try sticking anything to that threadbare fur."
Garak regarded the teddy bear, largely ignored on his previous visit (intrusion) in the doctor's quarters. The chief was obviously well familiar with the toy and what it meant to Julian. Miles didn't offer further information but Garak could read between the lines and tell it important. Very important indeed. Sudden inspiration suppressed the burning curiosity he knew wouldn't be satisfied in the moment anyway.
"I think we can include... Kukalaka, is it? in on the fun without harming him," Garak smiled at the chief.
While O'Brien finished the rest of the shelf, Garak grabbed a cube of notes and began layering them until he had a large multi-colored sheet. Very carefully (the chief was right, the adhesive barely stuck to anything) he began to fold his creation. Spare minutes later Kukalaka was the proud possessor of a very dapper, day-glo hat. All sticky edges safely folded and tucked away.
"Huh, I didn't know you could do origami." O'Brien remarked as he took in Garak's handiwork.
"I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the term."
"Oh, its an art form from Earth's Japanese culture. Folding paper to create shapes, usually animals and flowers and the like."
"And hats." Miles chuckled. "I'm not too bad at it myself. Keiko taught me, thinking with all the fiddly engineering work I do my fingers would be good at it. She was right, like she usually is."
"I would imagine several society with advanced paper industries have developed similar arts," Garak said, always interesting in cross-comparing cultures. "I'll have to ask Mrs. O'Brien to tell me more about this origami sometime."
"You should," Miles' smile was... actually genuinely friendly. It was not a sight Garak was used to seeing. "She'd enjoy talking to you about it."
They both looked around for a long moment, feeling satisfaction at the visible results of their efforts. Nearly every surface was decked in bright colors. They didn't have enough supplies to completely cover the walls so they settled for framing the doorways and viewport, and covering all the wall art. An armchair was a violent neon purple, the low table before it a yellow that hurt Garak's eyes to look at directly. The replicator in the wall was ringed in concentric stripes and Julian's desk was covered in no less than 5 different eye-searing shades.
"I wish I could see his face when he walks in," Miles chortled, almost boyish in his glee.
"I can send you the feed from my hidden surveillance devices," Garak offered with a straight face and level tone.
Any other day that line, delivered with that sort of aplomb, would have left O'Brien with a suspicious, questioning glare. Such a thing was by no means beyond Garak's capabilities or outside his morals, they both knew that. But, despite himself, the unique experience of spending this time with the chief did not lend itself to Garal projecting his usual aura of danger cloaked in affability. The engineer looked him over and he could practically see Garak radiating with a energy of what he could only describe of as.... fun.
So Miles didn't bother to take the joke seriously. Even if it was true and Garak did have illegal surveillance equipment set up, the chief would never actually get confirmation or proof of it so it didn't bear worrying about right now. If, later, Miles decided it was a credible threat he would mention it to Julian.
"C'mon," Miles said, almost going as far as giving the man a good-natured slap on the back but definitely smart enough not to push his luck. "I'll buy us a round at Quark's in the name of a job well done."
"I don't think we've ever had a drink together, Chief," Garak couldn't help but point out, because it was in his nature to stir the pot, to provoke a reaction just to see what he would get.
Miles shrugged that off, knowing it was true enough. But the whole night had been unprecedented anyway, and he for one had worked up a thirst.
"You can relieve Quark of some of that overstock of kanar he's always complaining about taking up space in his store room. The more you drink, the less I have to listen to him whinge about it," the human said.
Garak accepted that, and the offer of a drink; oddly more comfortable for it to be a matter of selfishness on O'Brien's part rather than an honest gesture of kindness from an acquaintance. What sort of life left a man unable to trust motives that weren't entirely devious and self-serving? Miles shook the thought off as they headed for the Promenade and the bar. He was much too tired to go digging around in anyone's psyche right now, much less the enigma of a man beside him.