During his exile

 


  

            Dukat looked out across the Promenade and sighed heavily. He’d fallen out of favor with Central Command, and all because of that accursed Maquis fiasco. In trying to prove to Sisko in particular and to the Federation in general that the Cardassian government was completely innocent of supplying weapons to the Cardassian colonies – an innocence in which he’d genuinely believed – he’d inadvertently managed to prove the exact opposite. His government had then, in its own relentless fashion, responded by choosing an individual upon whom to hang the blame, thereby officially exonerating itself. In the skewed justice that it no doubt considered poetic, it had chosen Dukat. The gul had received from Sisko – in the hopefully closest to flustered that the human would ever see Dukat – the humiliating news that Legate Parn had visited DS9, placed the blame, stated that the Cardassians didn’t even want Dukat back, and said that they would execute him if they got him. Sisko hadn’t gloated. For so long, Dukat had scorned humans’ naïve nobility, but this time, he was grateful for it.

            But then there’d been Garak. Being of the same breed as Dukat, he’d shown no such thoughtful restraint. Of course Garak had rubbed Dukat’s nose in his disgrace, exactly as Dukat had done to him when Garak had been exiled. But in typical arrogant Cardassian pride, each had feigned nonchalance, and refused to let the other see how much the barbs had found their mark. Ironic in the extreme. The worst, of course, had been when Garak had suggested, deadpan, that Dukat should open a shop of some sort in the vacant establishment right next door to his tailor shop.

            Through it all, each Cardassian had placed his dignity as paramount among all the “mongrelized Federation lackeys” and “Bajoran scum,” never letting the haughty mask slip. In public, each was the consummate, pleasant, confident professional.

            As he did each day lately, Dukat plastered on a comfortable expression, and headed toward the replimat for lunch.

 

            “So, Doctor.” Garak smiled across the table at his companion. “I hear that you and Major Kira just had a fascinating experience in an alternate universe, and I can’t wait to hear all about it.”

            Bashir looked slightly disconcerted. It was not that he minded talking about it, or having his enigmatic friend know about it, it was just that the station rumor mill had set a new record.

            “How did you hear about that already?? We only just got back yesterday!”

            “Quark.” Garak smiled. The one word explained all.

            Bashir shook his head. “I’d love to know what all of his sources are.”

            “Julian, the Obsidian Order would like to know what all of his sources are.” It was an exaggeration, but not by as much as one might hope.

            The human shrugged. “All right then. What would you like to know?”

            “Well, I heard that alliances over there are quite different from here.”

            Bashir grimaced. “Did you use that word on purpose, or was it just serendipity?”

            “Which word?”

            “Alliance.” His tone was foreboding.

            Garak shrugged, baffled.

            “Very well. They call their empire ‘The Alliance.’” He suppressed a shudder.

            “Who exactly are ‘they’?”

            Bashir sagged, clearly anticipating Garak’s inevitable reaction. “It’s an alliance of Cardassians, Klingons, ….”

            Garak’s eyes lit. At moments like these, his predator background reasserted itself, despite his friendship for the human.

            But Bashir wasn’t finished. “…And Bajorans.”

            Garak’s near constant cool demeanor slipped. “Bajorans?!”

            His volume had been unfortunate. Two or three members of the aforementioned species scowled at him from nearby tables.

            Garak gathered himself, and simply summarized, “How interesting.”

            “Hm.” Bashir was rueful.

            Garak feigned concern. “I take it, you did not find the voyage stimulating?”

            “Not much.” When Garak simply waited, Bashir confessed, “Humans were their slaves.”

            Not about to have a second inappropriate outburst, which this time would’ve been one of humor, Garak merely raised his brow ridges.

            Bashir went on reluctantly, “In the ore mines.”

            Garak heroically fought down a smile.

            Bashir sighed and rolled his eyes. “Here on Terok Nor.”

            Laughter exploded, but not from Garak, from directly behind Bashir. Dukat.

            The human whirled.

            “How delightfully ironic!” Dukat’s glee forced aside, at least for a while, his own gloomy situation. He pulled out a chair and joined them.

            “Garak!” Bashir accused. “Why didn’t you tell me that he was behind me?”

            A twinkle was in Garak’s eye. “I didn’t want to spoil your surprise.” He clearly enjoyed teasing Bashir even more than he enjoyed tormenting Dukat.

            “So!” Dukat was obviously reveling in this. “Did they throw you into the ore mines?”

            “Yes,” Bashir admitted glumly.

            “How did you like it?” Dukat baited him.

            Bashir snapped, “About how you’d think!”

            “Was my counterpart here? Was he running the place?” Dukat was still trying to have fun at the doctor’s expense, but this attempt flopped.

            “Why, no,” Bashir said, as if only just realizing it. “And that surprises me. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but he should’ve been. Nearly everyone’s counterpart was here.” But then a playful gleam came into the human’s eye. “Although, come to think of it, that wouldn’t’ve worked out at all.” He held both members of his rapt audience in suspense for a moment. “Since just about everyone’s personality seemed the opposite of what it is here, that would’ve made your alternate too nice a guy to run such a place.” He looked from one man to the other in triumph.

            A dangerous spark entered Dukat’s eyes; he was not seriously angry, but Bashir would probably pay for that in some minor way. The human narrowly resisted a grin, and instead, constructed a wide-eyed-and-innocent look. For Garak’s part, he enjoyed them both, and he asked, “Was my counterpart here?”

            Instantly, Bashir’s face fell. “You could say that.”

            Garak appeared intrigued. “What was he like?”

            “Monstrous!” Bashir clearly wasn’t joking.

            “What does that say about you, Garak?” Dukat taunted. “That you’re sweet and harmless?”

            Garak barely spared him a sullen glance. He seemed eager for more information. “What did he do?”

            “Well, for one thing, he tortured Quark to death.”

            The formidable sounds of two Cardassians guffawing drew apprehensive looks from Bajorans all around the area. A few even left, clearly considering it the last straw.

            Bashir wasn’t laughing. “Over there, Quark was a decent, honest, nice guy.”

            Garak seemed to sense that there was something else ominous that particularly troubled his human friend that had not been revealed, and he sobered, and asked gently, “Julian, there was more to it, wasn’t there?”

            The human’s eyes were haunted. “You were…he was…going to do the same thing to me, and to their Miles O’Brien.”

            Garak stared. Their eyes met for long moments, and Dukat watched with interest.

            “If it hadn’t been for Kira, and Sisko’s counterpart….”

            “I’m sorry, Julian,” Garak said quietly. “I know how that must’ve been for you. I hope that it doesn’t make you want to avoid me.”

            “No.” Bashir appeared sincere, although the smile he forced seemed false and insecure. He said lamely, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

            “Yes.” Garak’s eyes were kind.

            Dukat had apparently had enough of the solemnity; these two had been cheering him up, and he obviously wanted them to continue to do so. Besides, he had a question of his own that he was eager to ask, and Bashir had just reminded him of it.

            “How did Major Kira fare over there?” He seemed to be trying not to look more interested than was appropriate, but he clearly had to work to suppress his eagerness.

            “Better than I did,” Bashir answered ruefully. But then a thought struck him, and a ghost of his own humor returned. He began to regard both Cardassians devilishly, anticipating how his next revelation would disconcert Dukat and perhaps astonish Garak. His eyes began to sparkle, and the eyes of both Cardassians narrowed, watching him.

            “In fact,” Bashir said dramatically, “Garak, your alternate found our Kira fascinating! He asked her to save him a dance, he blew her a kiss, and he caressed her shoulder! He was clearly making sexual advances to her!” He gleefully watched both companions.

            Dukat was apparently trying, and failing, to feign only polite interest, and Garak was clearly contemplating a revolutionary new concept of which he’d simply never before conceived. He was obviously trying on the idea like a new garment, to see whether it suited him. As Dukat observed Garak’s contradictory responses, he himself seemed to vacillate between jealousy and lecherous intrigue. In the race of which man would first hit upon the obvious question, Garak barely won by a split second.

            “How did Kira respond to the advances?”

            Dukat’s eyes speared Bashir in an almost threatening demand for an immediate answer. Clearly, he wanted to know if she could find a Cardassian attractive, but he worried whether she might prefer Garak to him.

            Garak looked as if he would be flattered by a positive answer, but also as though he might then feel uncomfortable around Kira while he sorted out his feelings for her.

            In any case, Bashir answered promptly, as Dukat silently ordered. “She was uncomfortable, of course, about as you’d expect. She’d clearly never thought of you that way before, Garak; your counterpart was an exceedingly dangerous man; and we were in an horrifically risky situation in general. It was one more complication that we didn’t need.”

            Garak immediately seemed to realize that that reaction was neither flirtatious nor insulting, and instantly relaxed. Dukat more slowly came to the same conclusion, and cautiously did the same. His good humor returned, and he asked, “Was Garak’s alternate dressed as a tailor?” The scorn in his voice was not softened by his teasing smile.

            This time, Garak did give him a dirty look.

            Bashir even glanced askance. “No, he wore a military uniform, just like yours.” He looked the former gul up and down with an obviously dubious opinion of his attire.

            Garak grinned radiantly. “Ah, and did I look magnificent in it?” He clearly expected a compliment.

            Bashir struggled for tact. “Very…convincing.”

            Garak blinked, uncertain how to take that.

Dukat suddenly stiffened, plastered a slightly exaggerated smile on his face, and said, “Nerys! How nice to see you! Come join us!”

            As Bashir and Garak both turned to follow his gaze, they could readily see that the Bajoran was startled and somewhat flustered.

            “Oh! Thanks, no. I’m…just going to grab something quick. We’re having a busy day in ops.”

            The two Cardassians exchanged significant looks, but peculiarly, it was Bashir who protested. “Now, Major, as your doctor, …well, as everyone’s doctor, I’d say that that doesn’t sound too healthy. It sounds stress-filled, and part of a bad trend. And after all, it’s not as if we’re at red alert, facing an imminent attack from the….” He saw the two Cardassians staring at him in amusement, just waiting for him to name their own empire as the potential culprit. He blushed and went on abruptly, “Borg, or somebody.” He saw the two men grin, and he twitched infinitesimally, thus broadening their grins. Looking at Dukat evidently reminded Bashir of why Kira might be so reluctant to join them, so he said, “Here, there’s an empty spot right between Garak and me.”

            Kira still looked wary, as if wondering whether sitting next to Garak was really much safer (lecherously-speaking) than sitting next to Dukat. She sighed and took the plunge, probably just to provide pride-saving proof that she wasn’t afraid. She plopped and tiredly shoved her hand through her short hair, possibly to cover her uneasiness.

            Garak was looking mischievous and teased, “Don’t worry, Major, I’m not like my alternate in the parallel universe; you’re safe sitting next to me.”

            Kira instantly went on full alert; she straightened abruptly, looked at Garak in shock, looked at Dukat in alarm, and regarded Bashir accusingly. “Why did you tell…?!”

            “I’m sorry, Major.” He seemed genuinely repentant. “They just kept asking questions.” He shrugged, apparently helpless to know what to add, especially since what he’d said so far hadn’t made the least dent in her indignation.

            Garak evidently decided to bail him out. “Don’t blame him, Major Kira. Dukat and I threatened him with the vilest torture imaginable, and you know how quickly humans cave in under such dire threats.”

            Kira looked extremely skeptical, Bashir blushed in embarrassment, and Dukat grinned in approval.

            Kira wasn’t through with Bashir. “How’d they even find out about our little expedition, to ask about it anyway?”

            Together, Garak and Bashir chorused, “Quark!”

            Kira muttered an unpleasant Bajoran oath, and then said, “I’m going to kill that little toad one of these days.”

            All three men were amused at that.

            “Right before you arrived, Nerys, the doctor was telling us about Garak’s alternate wearing a proper Cardassian uniform,” Dukat said.

            Garak seemed pleased at the reminder, and asked, “Yes, and I was asking whether I looked quite charming in it.”

            Kira’s eyes and Bashir’s met, and he shrugged as if to say that this was not his department.

            Her eyes dropped, and she said, “You looked…nightmarish. Like all of you do in it. I’ve often assumed that that was the designer’s intention.”

            The tailor feigned offense. “A lot of women like a man in uniform.”

            “Not that uniform,” she said somberly, not quite glancing at Dukat.

            He caught her furtive avoidance, smiled confidently, and boasted, “I’ve found that a lot of women find a Cardassian military uniform quite dashing.”

            “They weren’t Bajoran women,” she insisted quietly.

            “Some of them were,” he informed her matter-of-factly, earning a smoldering look.

            Eager to change the awkward subject, Bashir dared to say to Kira, “I can’t resist asking you: do you still have that dress?”

            Dukat and Garak appeared intrigued, and Dukat said, “What dress?”

            Kira turned up her nose, looking irked, but not as badly as she had been by the previous subject. “A little slip of a thing in lavender; I was still wearing it when we escaped.”

            “It was very fetching, I must say,” Bashir risked teasing.

            “Must you??” She was obviously aggravated. “Tell me again, Doctor, about stressful lunches being unhealthy.”

            “Ouch. Guilty as charged. I’m sorry.”

            The two Cardassians, of course, couldn’t miss an opportunity to tell her how much they’d love to see her in it. Garak seemed slightly intrigued personally, as well as exhibiting professional interest, and Dukat predictably looked lecherous.

            Kira addressed Bashir accusingly, “Now see what you’ve started?”

 

            Just a few weeks later, it was Bashir who came upon Dukat and Garak having lunch. The Cardassians had grown somewhat friendlier, being the only two on DS9; they could relate to each other even better than they could with a friend from an alien culture. The human’s manner this time was anything but relaxed and congenial.

            “They’ve taken Miles!” he said abruptly, taking a seat without asking.

            “Who?” asked Dukat, unclear as to whether he was asking the identity of the undefined “they,” or was failing to recognize the first name “Miles.”

            “Your people, they’ve taken him! Chief O’Brien!” Bashir answered both possibilities, sounding impatient.

            “Easy, Julian,” Garak soothed. “Slow down and tell us what happened.”

            Bashir took a deep breath and tried to comply. “He and Keiko were going on vacation in a runabout, and they just blatantly abducted him off the ship, right in front of his wife!”

            “‘They?’” Dukat demanded clarification. “Do you know who, specifically?”

            “Gul Evek and his men.” Bashir didn’t even try to hide his agitation, which in itself spoke volumes regarding his state of mind.

            “Do you know why?”

            “To put him on trial for something, but they wouldn’t say what.” Bashir was clearly beside himself over his other best friend, so much so that he missed the foreboding look that passed between the two Cardassians.

            “What about Mrs. O’Brien?” Garak was keeping a calm tone, likely trying to help Bashir to do the same.

            “She’s badly frightened, but they didn’t hurt her. They returned her to the station. At least they had that much decency!” he commented bitterly. “But unfortunately, she’s aware of your people’s propensity for torturing others, and she actually swore at Sisko and told him not to lie to her – very out-of-character for her – and pleaded for him to do something in a tremendous hurry, because she’s convinced that every second counts, knowing how afraid Miles always told her he was of ever getting captured by Cardassians…!” Bashir broke off suddenly, as if abruptly realizing how much he was compromising O’Brien’s pride, and Keiko’s dignity. The often overly-exuberant young man had once again spoken before thinking. He blushed hotly. Dukat visibly, ghoulishly, enjoyed the human’s understandable lapse, as well as the ego-boosting information that he’d let slip. Garak valiantly attempted to avoid doing the same, in courtesy to his friend, and failed only after an immense struggle. Bashir slumped in misery: one-quarter humiliation, and three-quarters desperate worry over his friend. But then he rallied from urgent need. “Help him, can’t you? You two ought to be able to do something!”

            Dukat cast him a cynical look. “Our influence isn’t exactly at its peak right now, Doctor, or haven’t you been paying attention?”

            “But surely you must have some contacts, some influence….”

            “There you are!” Major Kira Nerys burst in, unceremoniously joining them as well. “You’ve got to do something, Dukat! Your people can’t just kidnap Federation citizens assigned to a Bajoran station!”

            “Good afternoon to you, too, Major,” he responded sarcastically.

            “Don’t play coy with me! You could probably straighten all of this out with just a well-placed message or two!”

            “Nerys, as much as it may shock you to hear this, I am not acquainted with every Cardassian in the galaxy; do you know all Bajorans? With the exception of Evek, who apparently made the arrest, I don’t even know the individuals involved in this incident.”

            “Oh come off it, Dukat! Mokbar just told Sisko that you’d told her about him.”

            “Mokbar?” His brow ridges rose.

            “Yes! She’s to be the judge or magistrate or whatever!”

            “I admit that I know her, but I still don’t know the reasoning behind all of this.”

            “Oh really? You probably chose O’Brien to be set up for a fall of some kind.” She turned her ire on Garak. “You probably had something to do with this, too; you know very well that he was involved in the Setlek 3 massacre. You’re likely prejudiced against him because you know O’Brien has bitter feelings about your people stemming from that shameful event; I’ve heard your disparaging remarks regarding him and Setlek 3. The chief doesn’t like to talk about that time, but you keep throwing it in his face! This might just be your way of getting even!”

            “Now hold on, Major.” Bashir tried to defend his friend. “I don’t believe that Garak would be party to such a thing.”

            “Well, I find it all too convenient that the very Starfleet officer here who has an unpleasant past with your people is also the very same one who gets set up for this…whatever it is! It’s just too pat. He’s the perfect victim. And you know it all too well, Garak!”

            Garak addressed her coldly. “I am not in the habit of setting people up for such roundabout intrigues. However, I will gladly make a few discreet inquiries on his behalf.”

            “Thank you!” Bashir gave him a sincere smile.

            Kira wasn’t finished. “What about you, Dukat? I’ll bet that you and Garak have very different contacts. Who knows which one’ll do the most good?”

            Dukat eyed her coldly as well. “Why should I?”

            She bit back an angry retort, and her eyes narrowed calculatingly. “How badly do you want to see me in that dress, Dukat?”

            His eyes lit.

            “Just the dress.” She gave him a warning look.

            “Oh?” he asked in mock innocence. “You won’t be wearing anything under it?”

            She had an even harder time holding her temper. “I mean that that’s all you’ll get! Seeing me in the dress!”

            Dukat’s resulting unsavory smile made her teeth clench, but she somehow refrained from roaring at him, for O’Brien’s sake.

           

            Alone later, Garak asked, “So, what do you think?”

            “I think that it’s a hopeless cause,” responded Dukat.

            “Well of course. The execution date is undoubtedly already set.” He referred to the standard procedure in Cardassian courts, that the trial was a mere formality to reaffirm the triumph of their justice system, with the verdict determined and the execution scheduled before the trial even began.

            “Do you suppose that his friends realize that he is doomed?” asked Dukat.

“Doubtful. Given the very nature of Federation courts, they’ll assume that they can save him if they prepare a good enough case. But when I asked what you thought, I actually referred to whether or not you would grant Major Kira’s request.”

            Dukat shrugged. “Why not? Although it is a useless exercise, my efforts on her friend’s behalf will at least earn me a worthwhile reward. But what about you? From what Kira said, O’Brien is likely prejudiced against us due to Setlek 3, so would you really want to try to help him? Of course, Kira turned it around, and accused you of being prejudiced against him.”

            “It is true that O’Brien has always viewed me with distrust, particularly in regard to Bashir. He fears that the doctor’s idealistic gullibility will make him especially vulnerable to my deceptive charm, so that he will fall victim to my considerable manipulative skills.” Garak looked smug, although with a touch of self-deprecating humor.

            Dukat grinned appreciatively. “And does it? Have you successfully maneuvered the brash young human to achieve your own ends?”

            Garak couldn’t hold back his smile. “Occasionally.” His eyes twinkled mischievously. “Most notably the time that I used him to reveal your complicity in the plot to separate that boy Rugle from his father, so as to cause political embarrassment.”

            Dukat glowered at him slightly, never having forgiven Garak for his involvement in the incident, but nevertheless more focused on the issue of the present.

            Garak’s smile faded. “But yes, while O’Brien is indeed prejudiced against us, I will still keep my promise to Bashir and do my best for his ‘other best friend,’ as Julian innocently and naïvely phrases it, despite my wariness toward that other friend, precisely because Bashir has been the only person in this wretched existence to even bother to befriend me.” A fleetingly wistful smile appeared and then just as quickly vanished. “But back to you. You said that your efforts would provide you with a worthwhile reward, but will they? Will seeing the major in a specific dress truly satisfy you that much, or will it only serve to frustrate you further?”

            Dukat wore a secretive smile. “We’ll see, won’t we?”

 

            “Do you really think that they’ll help?” Kira asked Bashir privately.

            “I don’t see why not,” he replied cautiously. “They said that they would.”

            “The word of a Cardassian.” She snorted. “As untrustworthy as the Earth-cobras that they resemble.”

            Now he looked at her disparagingly. “I don’t think that they look like snakes.”

            Kira stared directly at him. “Have you ever seen Dukat in profile?”

 

            “You won’t like it,” Dukat warned Kira and Bashir, as the four met sometime later in a private office.

            “Try me,” the Bajoran prompted impatiently.

            “All of this somehow concerns one Raymond Boone, a human from Volan 3.”

            “How?” Kira shook her head at the apparent non sequitur.

            “We’re not yet clear on the connection to O’Brien’s trial, but he did know this man. They served together on the U.S.S. Rutledge. Boone was captured on Setlek 3; he was held and beaten for an extended period by Central Command.”

            Bashir winced at Dukat’s words, but Kira never blinked.

            “And do they still have him?” the human asked anxiously.

            Dukat shook his head. “He was retained until Command received a request to turn him over to the Obsidian Order.”

            Both listeners’ eyes automatically shifted to Garak, who obligingly and smoothly took up the narrative. “They tortured and questioned him at length. When they had all the information that they wanted, they killed him. Enabran Tain’s orders.”

            Bashir shivered; Kira looked disgusted, but unsurprised.

“Well.” She shrugged helplessly, plainly dissatisfied with the unclear connection. “Is that all?”

            “For now.” Dukat nodded tolerantly.

            “I hope that it helps,” Garak said generously.

            “Well…, thanks.” Kira shoved a hand through her hair.

            “Thank us later,” Dukat prompted with a twinkle in his eye. “But not too much later.”

 

            It was a few weeks later, in fact, after O’Brien’s against-all-odds exoneration, and after his and Keiko’s postponed vacation. The senior staff threw O’Brien a belated but heartfelt “Congratulations For Surviving” party, although O’Brien quietly dubbed it, “Congratulations For Surviving Evil Bloody Cardie” party, but only within earshot of Keiko, Kira, and Bashir. Only Bashir “tsked.” Kira produced a silent, sardonic half-grin, and even sweet, tolerant Keiko looked sympathetic. Garak and Dukat were safely out of hearing range, conversing with Jadzia Dax. Benjamin Sisko and Odo chatted in a farther corner. Even Quark had been welcomed, although as both guest and caterer.

            Kira had chosen that “safer” public occasion to meet her half of the bargain. She wore the “Mirror Universe” dress: lovely lavender, of a clingy fabric with a figure-flattering, exaggerated, low sweetheart neckline, and spaghetti-thin diagonal strips of fabric from just above the left breast to tightly over the right shoulder.

            “Lovely dress, Nerys,” Dukat said with a wide smile, as soon as the opportunity arose to approach her.

            Garak, remembering something that Bashir had told him about his alternate, said, “You’ll have to be sure to save a dance for me.”

            Kira looked sharply, first at Garak, then at the nearby Bashir.

            The latter was sheepish. “I truly am sorry.”

            Kira gritted her teeth and muttered, “I think that this dress was a mistake, despite our agreement.” She obviously knew how alluring it made her, and she was definitely uncomfortable with that, in present company.

            Dukat said smoothly, “Well, we won’t object if you wish to remove it.”

            The uncharacteristically self-conscious Bajoran glared knives into him. She clearly did not like how vulnerable the dress made her feel.

            Trying for a bit more diplomacy, Garak pretended, “Of course, my interest in the garment is purely that of a professional tailor, studying the style of another artist in the field.”

            “Yeah, I’ll bet,” Kira said sarcastically. “And do you always request to dance with the model of a fashion competitor?”

            “Not always.” He grinned enigmatically.

            “Look at her, Garak,” Dukat oozed. “Have you ever seen a more tempting little firebrand?”

            Kira sputtered in indignation.

            Garak attempted to soothe her. “You must remember that we’re predators by nature, Major. And nothing is more irresistible to a predator than squirming, struggling, fleeing prey.”

            “Oh, so if I stopped struggling, you two would lose interest?”

            “Not necessarily,” admitted Dukat, but he clearly wished that she would.

            “All I’m saying, Major, is that you need to realize how much your behavior provokes us.” Garak tried again to soften his words and to reassure her.

            “It’s both provocative and provocational,” Dukat quipped, and then continued to try to inflame her responses. “Now really, Garak, why don’t you admit that you are at least a bit interested, now that you know how titillated by her your alternate was?”

            “If it will put a stop to your continual insinuations, Dukat, I will,” Garak admitted. His frankly acquiescing smile surprised an embarrassed, amazed blush into Kira’s cheeks, so he endeavored to explain. “You Bajorans never recognized your own inflammatory behavior, throughout the Occupation. We raped because you deplored it; we tortured because you condemned it; we gave beatings because you decried it.”

            Appalled, Kira stared, wide-eyed.

            Dukat calmly concurred. “If your people had ignored, or at least downplayed, the first rare incident or two of each, our personal attacks would have remained rare, instead of multiplying as they did.”

            Garak was nodding. “Instead, your people called attention to the events, created a public outcry, and unintentionally spurred us on, inspiring more and more of us to increasingly abuse you.”

            “The irresistible prey is that which does resist.”

            “Then, you even called it ‘The Resistance,’ of all things.”

            “As the Borg are inclined to say, ‘Resistance is futile.’”

            Kira struggled to draw herself up in resentful, Bajoran pride.

            “Look at her, Dukat: the picture of unwary confidence, unaware that she’s being figuratively stalked, even now.”

            “And that makes her seem even more vulnerable, more alluring, so desirable.”

            They stared, apparently mesmerized, as Kira squirmed in disbelief and discomfort. And then, totally unnerved and trying not to show it, she spun on her heel and marched over to Jadzia Dax, to converse, and to studiously ignore them.

            “That was cruel,” mildly chastised Bashir, trying to conceal his own slight amusement at their ability to goad her.

            “A harmless cruelty, Doctor,” said Dukat, never taking his eyes from her stiffened back.

            “And was all of that true? About Bajoran behavior unwittingly urging you on to atrocities?”

            “Quite true,” said Garak, also still observing the withdrawn woman.

            Garak and Dukat watched after her bemusedly, until they heard a throat cleared awkwardly behind them. They turned, and in mild surprise, beheld the guest of honor.

            O’Brien seemed uncharacteristically shy. “Um…. I wanted to thank both of you; I understand that you were instrumental in uncovering the uh…, conspiracy against me.”

            Dukat nodded polite acceptance.

            Garak asked gently, “Are you all right?”

            O’Brien shifted uncomfortably, self-consciously, knowing full well that these two certainly knew better than anyone else on the station exactly what he had endured. “Yeah. Yeah, mostly. I think.” His eyes darted uneasily, reluctant to meet their steady, unwavering gazes.

            O’Brien was bailed out by a completely relaxed and smiling Julian Bashir, who clapped him on the back and beamed at Garak.

            “Thank you for helping to save my other best friend.”

            Garak smiled unreservedly. “You’re welcome, Julian.”

 

Weeks later, Kira was abducted by the Obsidian Order, surgically-altered to appear Cardassian, told that she was the daughter of well-known politician Dekeny Ghemor, and informed that she’d been a spy for the Order on Bajor for many years. Garak declared it completely hopeless to try to save her. Only Sisko’s and Odo’s determined persuasion on that score prevailed upon the tailor to involve himself.

On the way back to DS9, Kira was uncharacteristically sullen and kept to herself. Sisko was kept busy piloting, and Odo scanning for possible pursuers, so the two “real” Cardassians aboard, Garak and Ghemor, went to sit by her, one on each side.

“Are you all right, my dear?” asked Ghemor solicitously.

She shrugged despondently, if anything, even more withdrawn since they’d joined her there. She wouldn’t raise her eyes to look into their faces.

Insightfully, Garak said, “You’re embarrassed, aren’t you? You needn’t be, you know. You did nothing to bring this on yourself.”

Kira squirmed slightly, subtly, and Garak’s brow ridges rose. It was most unusual for the confident, flippant young Bajoran to seem unsure of herself in any way.

Finally, she admitted, “I don’t want to be seen like this, back at the station. No offense, but the irony of my appearance hasn’t escaped me. Don’t pretend that you don’t know what I mean, Garak; you already commented on it, back there at Ghemor’s house.”           

Garak thought back, and quickly realized that she referred to when he had told her, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look so ravishing.” It had been a backhanded compliment at best, to state that she was at her loveliest while an apparent member of his species, not hers. It could never be taken as flattering by the major, and he’d known that.

“I’m sorry,” he said automatically.

“That’s all right.” She immediately waved it away with a careless hand. “You couldn’t help teasing me about it; it’s such an obvious opportunity to do so. It’s just that….” She trailed off helplessly and shrugged again, even more at a loss this time.

Instantly, Garak knew the rest. “It’s Dukat, isn’t it?” he asked her gently. “You don’t want him to see you like this.”

“I know how much he’ll gloat,” she said, confirming his suspicions, without really replying directly to his question.

That tipped him off to even more insight. “You don’t ever want to seem undignified in front of him. That’s it, isn’t it? You feel that your dignity is your only defense against him.”

“Against his smug arrogance!” she said vehemently.

“You feel vulnerable to him, because you know that he always scrutinizes you so intently.”

She growled unpleasantly in her throat, refusing to confirm the uncomfortable truth, and thus guiltily confirming it all the more. In her effort to avoid Garak’s eyes, she’d inadvertently met Ghemor’s, and her look of humiliation was exchanged for one of concern. “What’s troubling you?”

“So you’re saying that Dukat is on your station?” He wasn’t even trying to mask his worry, which in itself was disconcerting.

“That’s right. What about it?” Kira wondered matter-of-factly.

“He and I are old political enemies.” His eyes unfocused distantly.

From that, Garak gleaned intuitively, “He hates you. Enough to want to ruin you? And to use Major Kira to do it?”

Their eyes met. No words were needed; their conclusions were identical and clear.

But then Garak hesitated. “But wait a moment. He’s made no secret of the fact that he wants Kira. Would he really be willing to sacrifice her? Even for the opportunity to ruin you, and even if it meant a chance to get back in the good graces of Central Command?”

Kira was already nodding. “He may have done so if he’s given up hope of ever having his way with me.”

“Given his ego, I doubt if he’ll ever give up that ambition,” said Garak. But he stopped at the look on her face; Kira clearly knew something that he didn’t.

She confirmed it by saying, “Remember the night of O’Brien’s party? The night that I wore the lavender dress? Afterward, Dukat came to my quarters, pushed his way in, and was quite aggressive and insistent. I hadn’t had time to change out of the dress yet, and he took full advantage of how intimidated it made me feel. Well, I’m afraid that I wasn’t very polite or diplomatic in my refusal. I know that I made him very angry. I’m sure that he was enraged enough to sacrifice me in order to get back his position as gul.”

Garak rose abruptly, and went forward to ask Sisko to hail DS9.

An answer was not long in coming. Kira had indeed worried needlessly about letting Dukat see her as a Cardassian; he was gone. They learned later that the sometimes gul had actually masterminded the entire plot to use her against Ghemor, from behind the scenes, nearly getting the rescuers and their benefactress killed in the process. It put him back in the good graces of Central Command, but it reignited the long-time ill will between him and Garak, as the latter was almost a casualty of the betrayal. Everything was back to normal.

           

           

             


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