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Title: 30-Day Cheesy Tropes Challenge - 18. Orphan AU
Fandom: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Genre: Gen
Rating & Warnings: PG (reference to abuse)
Words: This part 3366, ?? overall
Disclaimer: I don't own Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Summary: When "Torin" Garak's coworker asks him to get rid of the Human boy asking for a job at their Cardassian restaurant, Garak decides to do the manager's job for her and hire "Julian Banting" instead.
Author's Notes: ngl this was one of my absolute favourite fics to write out of the entire series, and like the Arranged Marriage one, I have a few more ideas for it kicking around the back of my head. Whether I'll get around to them remains to be seen, but I hope I'll have the time eventually.

"Garak, there's some Human boy looking for work out front and he won't leave," Melkir complained as he strode into the kitchen.

Elim Garak—or Torin Garak as he was known on this assignment—didn't bother to look up. He simply kept chopping his povva. "Hmm, really?"

He didn't bother to add, "And what are you expecting me to do about it?", since, as he expected, Melkir picked up on it anyway.

"You go talk to him—I'm through. If I spend any longer arguing with him, I'll overcook the stew." The sound of said stew being stirred was layered beneath Melkir's words as he added, "He wants to speak with the manager."

"Did you tell him she won't be back until tonight?"

"I did. He didn't believe me." Melkir banged his spoon against the edge of the pot. "Go pretend you're the manager or something. I don't care. I just don't want him taking up any more of my time."

Garak set aside his knife. "All right. But I doubt he'll believe me, given how loudly you're speaking. Humans may not be Vulcans, but they still have more sensitive hearing than we do."

Melkir grunted. Clearly, he no longer believed this to be his problem.

It took Garak no time at all to pick out the boy Melkir had been talking about once he left the kitchen for the main restaurant area: Human adolescents weren't precisely commonplace in Cardassian restaurants on Vulcan. He was the gangliest youth Garak had ever seen, all arm, legs, and nose—and scowl. It looked as if Garak had been right about Melkir being overheard.

In response, Garak put on his most pleasant smile. "You must be the one looking for a job."

"Yes, but you aren't the manager," the youth retorted.

"I'm afraid not." Garak held out his hand, because if there was one thing he'd learned during all his time offworld, it was that handshakes were irresistible to many Humans.

This one proved the rule. Despite his frustration at Melkir's tactlessness, he still took Garak's hand. His palm was unpleasantly damp (a combination of Vulcan's climate and nerves, Garak suspected), and the moment they touched, he startled. If Garak had to guess, this was his first contact with a Cardassian in more ways than one—and that made his choice to come here an odd one.

"My name is Garak," he continued. "It seems I've been assigned to get rid of you."

His humour was not shared; the youth's frown did not move. "I just want a chance at a job. I need work experience if I'm to get into Starfleet. I don't care what you give me—I'll do it."

Garak widened his eyes at him and inclined his head. "Dangerous words. I'd be careful about saying them to a stranger."

He considered the young man for a moment, measured the set of his shoulders and the pinch of his mouth before he made his decision. Sentiment: it was his weakness every time.

"Come into the kitchen and get cleaned up." He smiled. "You can start by chopping my povva roots."

The youth's eyes widened, though as a Human, the gesture meant disbelief and not emphasis. ". . . I, um, can?"

"Unless you aren't able to do so, in which case I find it somewhat unusual that you're looking for work at a Cardassian restaurant," Garak answered, but it was clear that once again the tease had passed very, very far over the young man's head. Ah well. "Follow me."

Garak rather enjoyed Melkir's incredulous look when he returned to the kitchen with one more Human than he had started with. It wasn't that he disliked his coworker—it was simply that this was one of the less interesting covers he'd had for a while. He had to make his entertainment where he could.

"Garak, what are you doing?"

"The cleaning station is in the back," he told the youth, then turned a smile on Melkir. "I'm giving Osin a hand with her staffing. She was planning on hiring someone to help us in the kitchen this week."

"A Cardassian." Melkir set his hands on his hips. "Not some Human child who's wandered in from who knows where."

Garak glanced over to where said Human was doing a surprisingly thorough job of washing up. "Where did you wander in from, might I ask?"

He slid an uncertain look over his shoulder. "The apartments two blocks over."

"There. You see?" Garak beamed. "Mystery solved."

Melkir rolled his eyes. "Osin is still going to be angry, and I'm not taking any of the blame for this."

"I'd hardly expect you to. But I'm sure she'll come around. After all" —he glanced behind him and gestured at his abandoned knife and povva for the young man's benefit— "having a Human working with us would go a long way toward proving to the Vulcans that our reputation as 'inflexible xenophobes' is unwarranted. Yes, that's it," he added, breaking off to come stand at the youth's elbow.

Melkir grunted and went back to his stew. Once more, it seemed he felt he'd done his duty; any further consequences were Garak's alone to shoulder.

Garak watched the youth for a moment or so before commenting, "Cut the povva a little thinner . . . yes, like that. Good. You have very steady hands."

The young man didn't look up—clever. "Thank you."

"You're most welcome." He watched for a beat longer. "Our manager, by the way, is Renara Osin. She's the one you'll need to impress. The ray of sunshine by the stewpot is Damen Melkir. We have a few more working here as well as the wait staff, but I'll introduce you when your shifts coincide."

The youth stopped chopping for a moment. "Do you think Ms. Osin will hire me, then?"

"I think she'll be rather displeased with my initiative, but will ultimately see the wisdom of my decision." He smiled; when Melkir snorted, his expression only widened.

He allowed the young man a moment to stare at him out of the corner of his eye, aware that he was almost certainly a strange sight. Garak had met his first Human when he'd been around that age and had found him difficult to look at naturally. He could sympathise, then, with the conflict of manners and curiosity—especially since he knew Cardassians had a reputation for being rather dour. The frequency of his smiles no doubt made him seem all the stranger.

"And now that you have our names," Garak said once he felt the young man ought to have looked his fill, "what might yours be?"

It was a question of convenience and politeness, but the reaction it received turned his inquiry into something else entirely. It was slight, almost nothing, really. The teen had begun to lift his knife to resume his work. For just a beat, not even two, he lowered his hand so that his heel rested on the cutting board. Then he began to chop again, and only then did he answer.

"Julian."

Someone like Melkir wouldn't notice that checked movement, let alone understand its significance. But an operative of nearly two decades in the Obsidian Order? He'd deserve whatever unpleasant ending was in store for him if he didn't spot that sort of detail.

His smile never changed. "Julian . . . ?"

A longer pause, an obvious one this time. ". . . Banting."

"A pleasure to meet you." He touched Julian's upper arm—the one opposite his hand holding the knife, of course. "I'll be putting together the sauce for the tojal. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask me. Or Melkir, if you can't get enough of his winsome ways."

Melkir ignored him, but Garak saw a suppressed smile on Julian's face. That pleased him. What pleased him even more, however, was the way the afternoon had turned out.

"Julian Banting" was no longer simply a whim. Now he was a puzzle.

*


An unfortunately easy puzzle to solve, as it turned out. It was simplicity itself to determine that "Julian Banting" was actually Jules Bashir, missing from Earth for the last three weeks. Parents Richard and Amsha Bashir were apparently desperate for news of him, particularly news leading to his safe return.

Garak wasn't all that inclined to give it. According to the date of birth listed in the bulletin, Jules was fifteen. As far as Garak was concerned, that was more than old enough for someone to make their own decisions. He had been living on his own as a probe for nearly two years when he was Jules' age. He was aware, of course, that Humans tended to regard youth differently than Cardassians, but he was hardly Human, was he?

To be certain, though, three days into Jules' work at the restaurant (as predicted, Osin had been vocally displeased but had hired him anyway), Garak followed him home.

Withdrawing his presence was somewhat more challenging than usual. Not only were there relatively few Cardassians on Vulcan—only a smattering of political exiles—but he simply did not and would never have the willowy shape of a typical Vulcan. But he succeeded all the same, to the point where there were several occasions when he came into Jules' field of vision and the young man hadn't so much as blinked. Not even the Vulcan pedestrians paid him any attention.

It turned out that, just as he'd said, Jules lived in one of the buildings only two blocks from the restaurant. As Jules entered, he passed an older Vulcan woman who greeted him about as fondly as Vulcans greeted anyone. Rather than follow him farther after that, Garak stayed where he was.

It had been foolish and sentimental to concern himself even this much with Jules' wellbeing, and he could only imagine what Tain would say if he found out. And if he learned that Garak had actually been relieved to watch that interaction between Jules and one of his neighbours . . . best not to think of it.

His curiosity satisfied for the moment, Garak departed for his own flat in a markedly more spacious neighbourhood and remained there for the rest of the day.

*


"Pass me the yamok sauce, if you would, Jules," Garak requested without looking away from arranging the tojal on a plate.

He heard the bottle scrape against the counter and looked up to take it. It allowed him to see the precise moment when Jules recognised his mistake, and to catch the sauce before it made a dreadful mess on the floor.

Jules' chin jerked left and right, but Garak had made certain they were alone in the kitchen before he had spoken.

All the same, Jules whispered, "It's Julian."

"Not according to the bulletin your parents issued last month," he answered amicably. "Jules Bashir, born in 2341 to Richard and Amsha—"

Jules seemed on the verge of bolting, so Garak cut himself off to lay a hand on his forearm. "I won't turn you in. You have my word. But you may want to reconsider your alias. After all, if I, a simple cook, was able to track you down so easily, it will be only a matter of time before your parents do as well. I presume that isn't what you have in mind."

"I'm never going back to them, ever."

The statement was uttered just as quietly as before, but the force of his words couldn't have been greater if he'd shouted. Garak didn't allow himself any outward reaction but kept his hand on "Julian's" forearm. The response had only confirmed his decision to let Jules live his life as he chose. It was plain the mark of whatever his parents had done to him was scored deep.

"No one is expecting you to, Julian," he saod deliberately, and felt the young man relax beneath his hand.

He let go of Julian and picked up the yamok sauce again. "By the way, did you finish the book I loaned you?"

Julian had, and he was his usual awkwardly polite self about what he had thought of it, but Garak wasn't offended. His tastes would mature in time.

*


Later that night, once Garak had finished counting the day's earnings and had returned to his apartment, he went to his computer. It was a work of barely half an hour to erase any traces Julian had left over the past month and to create a more concrete identity for "Julian Banting." If his parents discovered him now, Garak would be very, very surprised.

*


Inevitably, Garak's time on Vulcan drew to an end. He found that he was sorry it had. The climate was pleasant—it was almost like being back on Cardassia—and for once, his cover had been, too. He'd greatly enjoyed mentoring Julian. He could already tell he was going to miss him. It was tempting, extremely tempting to invite him back to Cardassia, but the idea of what Tain would do with that brilliant, innocent young man quickly put paid to his flight of fancy.

Instead, he would have to care for him in other ways—careful ways, so that Tain would never discover just how badly one of his best agents had been compromised.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, my dear Julian," he announced one evening. They were alone in the restaurant; Julian was cleaning up and he was once again tallying the restaurant's earnings.

Julian looked up from wiping a table, his eyes wide. "What's wrong?"

"I've received news that my father back on Cardassia has taken ill." He kept his expression suitably sombre, but he couldn't help his twist of enjoyment at that particular deception. "I'll be returning there as soon as I set everything here in order."

Julian's cleaning cloth dropped from his hands; Garak barely needed to glance at Julian's expressive face to tell what he thought. It was heartwarming, in its own way, that he was so affected.

"I'm so sorry. How long will you be away?"

Garak waited a moment before responding: the hesitation of a man trying to find the right words. "That's something of a . . . problem. You see, like me, my father works in a restaurant—or rather, he owns one. He'll need someone to take over when he passes on, and being his only child, well. . . ." He spread his hands and allowed regret to suitably arrange his features. It required far less effort than he had expected.

"Oh." Julian's head lowered; his shoulders dropped. But then he looked up again. "I'm . . . glad you'll be able to have your own restaurant. You've wanted that for some time, haven't you?" An endearingly alarmed look crossed Julian's face. "I'm—I'm not glad about your father—I only meant—"

Garak stepped around the front counter to lay a hand on Julian's upper arm. He couldn't have suppressed his smile even had he wanted to. "I understand completely, and I'm touched by your well-wishes. Thank you."

"Oh, um. Don't mention it."

Then, his gaze slipped from Garak's and shifted left and right. He was clearly mastering the courage for something. Garak gave him time and waited.

Finally: ". . . I'll miss you."

Garak had no more need to feign his surprise than he needed to pretend deep fondness. "And I'll miss you. You've made my time here far more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been."

Julian made a darting little movement forward, but fell back. A beat later, he took in a breath, strode ahead, and, to Garak's astonishment, hugged him.

Julian was tall for his age—nearly as tall as Garak—and he had the build of a typical Vulcan. Garak at first took care as he awkwardly folded his arms around him. But then he became aware of the surprising strength to him, beyond what he would have expected. Julian Banting wasn't nearly as fragile as he appeared.

Garak could tell that Julian's flush when they parted had nothing to do with Vulcan's climate—particularly since the evening was cool—and so he said quite naturally, "I'd like to give you a gift, if you'll accept it. Think of it as a goodbye present and a thank you for all our discussions."

"You don't need to do that," Julian answered automatically. Whatever else his parents had done to him, they had at least raised him to be polite.

"Oh, but I want to." He slipped his passcard from a pocket and held it up. "I'll leave this and my address with Osin before I depart. It's for my apartment. You can have whatever is inside, although I'm afraid it isn't much. I'll be traveling light, so I'll need to leave the majority of my possessions behind. You can do with them whatever you see fit."

Julian's mouth had dropped open partway through his explanation,, and his eyes had grown wider by the word. The moment Garak finished speaking, he burst out, "I can't take your home, Garak!"

"Why not? It would only be going to a stranger," he said as reasonably as he knew how (which was very reasonably indeed). "I'd rather leave it in your hands than anyone else's. And this way, I don't need to worry about disposing of my belongings before I leave—you'll be doing the job for me. So, you see, you're actually doing me a favour."

But still Julian was shaking his head. "It's too much—I can't."

With great deliberateness, Garak took both of Julian's upper arms in his hands and waited for Julian to look up at him. It had only been a few months since they had met and already the distance between them was noticeably smaller. If he had been in a position to stay, Garak didn't doubt that one day in the not-at-all distant future, he would be the one looking up instead.

"Cardassians value good conversation above nearly all else," he said. He let the unusually subdued tone of his voice capture and keep Julian's focus. "That's something of which you've given me a great deal. Let me repay you for your gift." He waited a breath, then added, "Please."

As he knew, Julian was unable to defend himself against Garak's words. ". . . All right. Thank you so, so much, Garak."

"Not at all. I'm happy to be able to do this for you." Garak let go of him and returned to his original place. "Now we should finish our tasks before it grows too late. I would hate to get you in trouble with Osin."

"Right." Julian picked up his cloth again—but didn't go back to cleaning right away. Once more, Garak waited.

"Garak?"

"Yes, my dear?"

"Could you send me your address when you get back to Cardassia? I want to keep in touch." He smiled awkwardly. "You already know mine, or you will, so. . . ."

Garak barely hesitated. "I'll see what I can do—but keep in mind that it may be some time before I can. I'll need to set my father's affairs in order."

Or rather, he would need to arrange a suitably secret drop-off point. Such things were not quick to assemble.

"Of course." Julian tossed the cloth from right hand to left and back, an absent sort of fidget. "Take as much time as you need, all right?"

"All right."

They shared a smile at the deliberate echo, and then both went back to work.

*


The following morning, Garak departed on the first of a long series of shuttles that would take him back to Cardassia. The passcard to his apartment, he had left on top of Osin's desk with the address and permission for one Julian Banting to make use of it for as long as he chose.

Later that morning, a prominent Andorian politician was found dead in his guest quarters. He had been visiting his planet's ambassador, but had succumbed to what seemed to be a heart attack. It was an unfortunate matter, to be sure—particularly for the Andorians—but it had little impact on the life of an ordinary cook returning home to care for his father in his last days.

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