Chapter 1: Born Out of Ashes
2348, Adigeon Prime
2353, Cardassian Empire
She's visiting Adigeon Prime, just a personal visit, nothing official or even unofficial, when she meets the boy. He's quiet and watches her sideways while he fiddles with something. Human, nothing remarkable for his species, but there is something there. Something in his gaze that makes her watch him.
He changes, less quiet, and less still, but he never quite is willing to meet her gaze head-on, just watches her out of the corner of his eyes when they're in the same space.
Discreet inquiries and carefully calculated bribes earn her the boy's name - Jules Bashir - and those of his parents - Richard and Amsha, as well as their residence while they're on the planet and their purpose for being there. It's intriguing, that these humans are willing to do what is considered to be a treasonous crime in the Federation.
It takes a little more work to convince her handler that this would make a worthwhile assignment, observing this boy. Adigeon Prime has the facilities and the willingness to change her appearance, and another joins her long enough to provide the rest of the tools to ensure that no one will guess the young woman who settles in the same town as the Bashirs isn't human.
For five years she watches, and makes friends of her neighbors, and of the young Jules Bashir. Close enough a friend that he comes to her in the middle of the night with a bag on his back, a cherished toy tucked under an arm, and wide, terrified eyes as he tells her a tale of distressing revelations and an unwelcome visit that he'd escaped only because he'd insisted he needed Kukulaka before he would go anywhere.
"Federation security." Pressing her lips together, she steers Jules into the back room of her apartment, the one she had always dismissed as too cluttered to be of any interest if anyone asked after it. Among the clutter are weapons and clothes that would give her away as something more interesting than the artist she pretended to be.
"This goes into your carryall." She activates a life-signs scrambler, that will hide Jules from anyone searching for him. Nothing here but an artist's pet. "Stay right here until I come back. I won't be long."
She gathers what she needs to keep from the room, changing clothes for something that will hide her in the darkness. All she needs to do is get to a port far enough from this town they won't look for Jules, and she can take him wherever she wishes.
"Here." She hands him a jacket that looks a little too large on Jules, worn enough to look like he's wearing someone else's castoffs. Even here, they don't look too closely at those who look to be less. "It will have to do."
"Where are we going?" Jules frowns at her, fingering the jacket sleeve.
"Eventually they'll come here to look for you." She puts her hand under Jules's chin, making him look at her. "You can stay and wait for them, or you can keep running, or you can trust me to find you somewhere safe where you are not less just because your parents disobeyed the law."
She wants to say that they defied the State, but it isn't what a human would say, and Jules is intelligent enough to pick up on that phrasing as odd. She doesn't expect he'd make the connection to her people, but only because they're careful not to let too much information slip away to be used by their enemies.
Jules watches her for a long moment before he reaches out his hand, taking hers. "Where are we going?"
"First, away from here. Where we go next, I'll figure out on the way."
It's surprisingly easy to leave Earth, with nothing more than a well-forged identity that makes them out to be an aunt and nephew that she has raised for years. No one stopping them, no one recognizing Jules and bringing Security down on their heads.
Two weeks later, they're on a freighter when they pass into Cardassian space, and are stopped by a patrol.
"Stay with me, and don't ask questions until we're alone."
Jules is watching her, and listening to something she can't hear, a small frown on his face. "You're not human, are you?"
"No." She removes a data rod and a padd from her carryall before moving it to rest across her body. "I didn't think I would be returning home this soon, either. But whatever the mission calls for is what I will do."
"I'm your mission?" Jules makes that connection swiftly, though he looks confused. "Were you supposed to bring me here?"
"That wasn't the stated goal of the mission. Only observation. Recruitment, when you were old enough, perhaps. The Federation changed my plans. Now hush."
She takes him to the glinn inspecting the ship, and gives him only the security codes that will earn her his full cooperation. The accomodation they provide is a step above that of the freighter, and the encrypted communications link is enough to make up for any deficiencies.
Jules remains quiet while she contacts her handler, and updates him on the change in mission parameters, and requests a safehouse and a skilled surgeon. It will be good to wear her own face again.
"Can they make me look like a Cardassian?" Jules is picking at a loose thread in the trousers he'd changed into when they changed shuttles the first time. "Make me look like someone entirely new?"
"If that's what you want." She watches him for a long moment. "Are you going to tell me why you want that?"
"My parents didn't want me as I was. The Federation doesn't want me to exist at all. You're the only one who chose me for me, not for who you could make me." Jules looks up at her, blinking away a brightness that makes her think of tears. "Maybe not because you liked me, but you never tried to make me someone I wasn't."
"I didn't chose you out of some sense of compassion or kindness."
"I know." Jules chews on his lower lip a moment, before raising his chin in a gesture that reads of defiance in humans. "You still chose me, and so I'm choosing to become more like you."
"It will take more than changing your appearance to become more like me. You should not make that decision now; looking Cardassian will be change enough to decide so impulsively." She allows a small smile, tilting her head slightly toward him. He is still not old enough to make such a decision legally, but the Obsidian Order will not care, if she tells them to make her little protege look a Cardassian boy of his age. "They'll need to take a tooth, while you're altered, if you're to stay."
Jules nods. "And I want to change my name, too."
"What would you change it to?"
"Julian." Jules pauses a moment, a small frown on his face. "Just Julian. I don't want to be a Bashir."
"A Cardassian needs to have family, Julian. Even if you do not like them."
"Bashir isn't a Cardassian name, though."
"Neither is Julian." She watches him for a long moment. "If you want to be more like me, do not cut yourself off from your family. You won't be using your name very often, anyway. It will merely be recorded, and hidden, and known only to those few who must."
Herself, her handler, the head of the Obsidian Order. Even those who train him need not know his name, when it comes time to hand him off to others. It will be enough.
"What is your name? Your real name?" Julian is watching her intently, and she smiles.
"Call me Nadya."
Chapter 2: A Child's Sharp Smile
2357-2358, Cardassia Prime
2358-2360, location classified
He's been sent a child to assist him, and Garak would have sharp words for whoever had thought this was a good idea if he hadn't watched the boy with an interrogation. He has a talent for extracting information that could one day equal or surpass Garak's own, if it's properly honed. Still, he's a child, and Garak wonders whose child he is that he can command the unwilling tutelage of Tain's own protege.
"If you want to know so badly, you'll have to find out on your own." The boy has a smile that's sharp as Bajoran winter, and Garak returns it with a blade-thin one of his own. "What do I call you?"
"Garak." He doesn't need to hide behind a creation, or a rank. His name is enough a warning for most, that he is not to be crossed.
"I'm called Suroi." The boy offers up the name like it's a gift, if one barbed and venomous. A given name, but not the one the boy calls his own, if Garak reads him right. There had been more reason to watch the boy conduct an interrogation than to see if he had any skill at all.
"Very well." Garak lets himself smile with amusement, to see what the boy will do with it. That he gets nothing in return but another of the coldly sharp smiles is intriguing. Even among those who choose to serve in the Obsidian Order, few are so controlled so young.
The boy continues to intrigue, swift to learn and always willing to try a new technique, a new tactic, until he finds what works. Even if what works doesn't follow accepted conventions. Garak wonders, sometimes, that Suroi becomes so close to some of his subjects, giving them every expectation that he is their friend, that he will provide them aid, perhaps even help them to escape.
Oh, he never does, and Garak never sees any trace of the soft, open, and sometimes frightened child that appears in the interrogation room once Suroi steps out of it. The child that lulls even the worst skeptics into believing the boy is their friend, that he will help them – that makes them believe that by giving him the means to contact their allies, they're helping him to escape from something he doesn't want to be part of.
Garak is fascinated, and he is torn between finding out how long Suroi can pull that off, and reminding the boy that is something that will not work forever. In the end, he does chose the latter, the better to teach the boy.
"I know it won't always work. That's not the point." Suroi takes a mouthful of his soup, watching Garak across the small table they're eating at. "The point is they underestimate me, and that they trust me. Even once I leave, they trust me." The smile that crosses Suroi's face is genuinely delighted, proud of his work. "I almost hope they trust me up until their execution. That they believe that even if they must die, they were able to save one person from being ground under the machinery of the State."
A vain hope, Garak suspects, but not one that seems to dampen Suroi's enthusiasm for his work. Not the first year, nor the second. Not even when they move from interrogations to field work. Quiet spying and a little assassination here and there as necessary.
Indeed, Garak almost thinks that Suroi takes a greater pride in learning how to quietly and effectively kill. In creating accidents that are nearly impossible to determine are murders rather than mishap. Medical accidents seem to be his favorite, disguising one death for another, so only the most complete and meticulous of autopsies would be able to tell that whatever manner of death seemed obvious wasn't the reality.
He almost regrets Suroi returning to Cardassia when he's assigned to Bajor, and he hopes he'll have the chance to see him again some day. Though it might be safer and better for them both if he doesn't.
Chapter 3: Together Or Not At All
Kira meets Tua when they liberate a labor camp. He's only a couple years older than her, and he bears just as many scars as she does. A familiar light shines in his eyes, a fierce anger at the Cardassians that he speaks of with venom in his voice. The Cardassians that killed his parents, that took him from their dead bodies to the labor camp, and laughed at his grief.
He fights well, when he goes on his first raid. Perhaps takes a little too much pleasure in killing the Cardassian soldiers they take out, but he has a reason to be glad for their deaths, just like every other member of the Resistance.
For most of a year, they fight side-by-side, before Kira is asked to take an assignment that will take her to Terok Nor, and might not bring her home. Tua is worried for her, and he asks once if she wants back-up on the station. He doesn't insist, he doesn't offer to take the assignment for her, and he's gracious enough when she tells him no.
It's almost flattering that he worries for her, at least since he's not trying to stop her. Kira doesn't think she'd be so forgiving if he'd been more overbearing.
Killing the collaborator on Terok Nor is surprisingly easy, though escaping the investigation after is less so. The strange man Dukat has put in charge of discovering who'd killed Vaatrik is good, more observant than Kira is entirely comfortable with. Not good enough to see through her claim to a different crime to avoid execution for the murder.
She almost feels pity for whoever takes the blame for her deed, if not enough to keep from taking the chance to escape back to Bajor. Back to her waiting comrades and Tua's relieved smile. He asks her if she had any trouble at all, in the quiet of the late night watch they took.
"None." Kira manages a quick smile, a flash of teeth that Tua would see in the starlight. "It went almost exactly as planned."
So easy, to kill the man who put so many Bajorans in the sights of the Cardassians, and to walk away as if she'd done nothing. As if there weren't blood on her hands, staining her soul, no matter how worthwhile the deaths were. If they'd prove enough, in the end, to chase the Cardassians off Bajor.
"Almost?" Tua sounds a little worried, but not greatly. Perhaps because she is here, returned whole and hale, rather than injured or pursued.
"Dukat has a new pet investigator. Not a Cardassian." Kira shakes her head. "He told Dukat he was sure I didn't have anything to do with it."
"I'm glad." Tua leans in, warm in the night as they continue to keep watch.
Kira hasn't been back a month when a raid goes terribly wrong, ending with her waking up in a cell. She can see into the cell across from her, though the occupant is curled up with their back to her so she can't quite see who it is. Shifting, she grimaces at the pain that goes through her. It feels like some of the guards got some kicks in while she was unconscious.
"Hey." She keeps her voice low, to try not to attract the attention of the guards while she tries to see who else has been captured. There's no response, and Kira bites her lip a moment before she tries again, a little louder.
That gets a twitch, and after a moment, the other person rolls over, and Kira's eyes widen a little. Tua's lip is split, and his one eye all but swollen shut, and the care he took in rolling makes her wonder what injuries she can't see.
"Kira." Tua gives her a pained smile. "I had hoped I was the only one captured."
"You don't get to be that lucky." Whether it was good or bad luck that they were both captured, Kira doesn't know, but at least neither of them is alone. If anyone has a chance of getting out of here, it's them. "Have they taken you for interrogation yet?"
"Not yet, but I don't know how long that's going to last." Tua is quiet a moment, breathing slowly and carefully, like his ribs hurt him. "Nerys. If you have the chance to escape, run, and don't look back. Don't wait for me."
Kira shakes her head. "No. I won't leave you behind, not if I can save you." She won't leave any Bajoran in the hands of the Cardassians if she can get them free. "We get out of here together or not at all."
There's a flash of something Kira can't put a name to in Tua's gaze before he gives her another small smile, a little hope lurking in his gaze. "Together or not at all."
She doesn't know how long after that it is when guards come to take them both, binders on their hands, separated into different interrogation rooms. Kira keeps silent, though at times it is a struggle, when her interrogator gets creative. Pain is fire along her nerves when the door opens, and the interrogator is summoned away.
A different Cardassian comes in before she can force her awareness of the pain down and away, a pair of guards following in his wake with Tua slung between them. He doesn't look much worse than he had been, though if that's because they're hidden wounds, or if it's because his interrogator had done different work, she doesn't know.
They drop Tua in a heap next to the desk, where he sprawls where he fell without moving as the guards leave the room, the door shutting behind them sounding like a final thud of doom.
"So inelegant." The Cardassian shakes his head, looking down at Tua. "I suppose that's to be expected of terrorists, lost in your need for violence."
Kira smiles at him, trying for sharp, and hoping she only doesn't come across as desperate. She doesn't know what they've done to Tua, but she wants to live, to escape, not to die here, and she refuses to leave him to die here.
"If you Cardassians left Bajor, we wouldn't have to fight." She'd spit at him, if she thought it would reach him. If she thought it would make him keep his focus on her.
"Of course you would." The Cardassian turns away from Tua, a gentle and amused smile on his face. "It simply would be a fight turned against someone else. Each other, perhaps. What else do you have? You know nothing but violence."
"We would have a chance to rebuild everything you destroyed." Kira can see a small movement, and she has to keep the Cardassian focused on her. Give Tua a chance to get up, to get rid of their interrogator. A chance, perhaps to escape. He just needs to get up.
"And turn your phasers into hammers and plows?" The Cardassian snorts, chuckling lightly. "You won't last a day doing that, Kira Nerys."
It's chilling to hear her full name in the mouth of a Cardassian, though she supposes it must be in some database somewhere. Kira bares her teeth at the Cardassian, silently daring him to use her name again.
"I'll last as long as I have to in order to see Bajor rebuilt."
Behind the Cardassian, Tua slowly rises to his feet, leaning heavily against the desk. Hurt, still, and Kira keeps her gaze focused on the Cardassian's face. Tua needs just a little more time.
"You have three broken ribs already, Tua Bahri. Would you like to add to your collection?" The Cardassian smiles at Kira again, still disturbingly gentle and amused.
"If I'm breaking your ribs." Tua grins, blood on his teeth, and a wild gleam in his eyes. Kira's seen it before, and she hopes that this time it doesn't get Tua killed, whether or not it takes their captor out.
The Cardassian turns, almost casual as he acts to backhand Tua, though his blow is caught on Tua's forearms rather than Tua's face. It still makes Tua stumble back, and Kira surges up in her seat, even though she can't go very far, with her hands bound to the chair, and the chair bolted to the floor. No need to risk having any Bajoran prisoner escape their questioning.
Tua laughs, though Kira's not certain why, and charges the Cardassian, bound hands coming up to slam the binders against their captor's chin, the crunch of bone wet and hopeful in the room. Kira tugs against her own binders as the Cardassian goes down, and Tua follows him, all but feet hidden by the desk.
She counts her breaths to keep herself as calm as she can manage, until Tua moves, sitting up on his heels. It's a little longer before he stands, the rattle of metal on metal telling the story of his removal of his own binders. He limps over to unlock hers, and Kira frowns a little, reaching up to not quite touch his bruised face.
"Are you all right?" Kira holds his gaze, watching the bright viciousness drain out of his expression.
"As much as I can be." Tua's smile is pained and a little crooked before he looks down, focusing on the key and the locks, making sure Kira's entirely free before he looks up again. "I'll be better once we're free of this place."
It isn't a clean escape, even once they've startled the guards outside, and taken their weapons from their bodies, but it's still an escape, and outside, in the swiftly-falling night, they have the advantage of knowing the terrain better than their pursuers.
When they get back to the caves where their cell has hidden before, they find nothing but the rock and a few hidden graves. Abandoned or raided, and either way, they don't dare stay there. There are other places to meet up with the rest, and the most important thing is to keep moving.
They never do find the others, no matter how many of their hiding places they find, and Kira begins to have the sinking feeling she and Tua hadn't been the only ones captured on the raid. That someone had broken under the Cardassians' torture, and wiped out the cell. Or enough of it that the rest have had to fall back into the deepest back country of Dakhur, perhaps over the borders into one or another of the provinces bordering theirs.
"I don't like this." Tua is tapping his fingers against his thigh as they hide in what is little more than a crevice in the rock, a silent fidget he's had since they rescued him a year ago and more. "They shouldn't have been able to get everyone, even if one of us talked."
"I know." Kira reaches over, lacing her fingers through Tua's, holding his hand tightly. Trying to reassure him that this isn't the end. If they can't find anyone else, they still have each other, and there are a lot of Cardassians to kill.
Tua looks over at her, a faintly startled expression on his face before he smiles, squeezing her hand in return. "Together, or not at all." It has become something of a mantra for them, as the bruises fade, and other wounds heal slowly. No matter what happens, they're in this together.
Kira smiles briefly, nodding. Together, or not at all.
Chapter 4: They Chose Me
2369, Deep Space Nine
They each chose me. One way or another, they chose me, each of them. They trusted me, in so much as any of them trust anyone. Trusted me despite the secrets, despite the lies. Or perhaps because of the lies. Garak never tells the truth, and he seems to be delighted by finding the one I've been telling since I was twelve.
Nerys is furious about my having been part of the Obsidian Order since before she met me. She isn't sure she can trust me when I say I would not have betrayed her, and that I never told the Order where to find the hiding places of the Resistance. They never asked me to betray those around me. That has never been my purpose.
I would have preferred to keep Bajor in the Cardassian Union, but they had no love of my people – and the Cardassians are my people, no matter where I was born, or what species my genetics claim me to be – and I would rather see Bajor free peacefully than have them destroy Cardassia. It is the opinion I gave my handler, and it is an opinion that I stand by, no matter the grumbling of certain factions of the military.
Whatever will happen now, there are still secrets I will keep. No one need know everything I have in my head, no matter how many questions they ask, or how hard they press for answers. It is enough that the accident revealed the secret of my birth.
Garak traces the lines of Kardasi on the padd that Commander Sisko had brought him, though they seem little more than gibberish. Words without meaning, though he doubts it is anything so simple. Suroi – Julian Bashir, human augment, Obsidian Order operative – is too brilliant for this to have been an error.
"Can you read it?" Sisko stands stiffly, visibly uncomfortable, though whether it's with Garak or with the reality of Bashir is unclear and ultimately irrelevant.
"I don't know why you believe I could do so, Commander. I am, after all, just a simple tailor. As far as I can tell, this is unintelligable. Random words, with no context or meaning." He smiles, handing the padd back. He can recreate the text later, where he can work on it without Starfleet looking over his shoulder. Even if the content is entirely innocuous, a concept he finds laughable, it is not for them to know unless they manage to break whatever code Bashir is using.
Sisko doesn't look convinced, but Garak doesn't give him the chance to object, ushering him out of his shop. He'll have to talk to one of his remaining contacts in the Obsidian Order, and find out who is the one to speak with about his former protege.
"You can release Bashir and return him to Cardassia, or you can reap the rewards of unlawfully holding a Cardassian citizen." Nadya meets Commander Sisko's gaze steadily, her Gul's uniform reminding him she is more than some simple operative, and reminding her that she is not allowed to extract Julian in whatever manner she sees fit.
"It's not that simple, Gul Gennel. The Bajoran government has questions about Bashir's activities on Bajor during the Occupation, and the Federation still has questions about the deaths of his parents and his disappearance that have never been answered."
Nadya refrains from smiling, though she would like to show the pride she has in Julian. The first lies he told her, and well-executed, though it is uncertain exactly where the lie is.
"Bashir's parents were visited by Federation security, and Bashir fled to the home I occupied at the time. I arranged for his safe passage to Cardassia as a political refugee. Anything further is classified, and no concern of the Federation."
Let her support of the story he told her, the lies, be her show of pride.
"That still leaves many questions unanswered, Gul Gennel." Sisko's smile is cold and hard as any unhappy Cardassian's, and Nadya tilts her head slightly in acknowledgement of his anger. "Including what he was doing on Bajor during the Occupation."
"I'm certain that Major Kira has given her government reports on her activities during the years she was with Bashir."
"The man she knew as Tua Bahri, yes. I'm sure the Bajoran government will want to know more than that."
"They can want to know all they like, and unless I am given instructions by Central Command, all they may know is that the mission is and will remain classified." She pauses, turning over her ace in her mind, feeling the edges of the truth and the bait. "I am, however, authorized to arrange the exchange of Shakaar Edon for Bashir, provided that he is not questioned further on his activities by either the Bajoran government or agents of the Federation or Starfleet."
"I cannot promise anything, though I will convey your offer to the Bajoran Council of Ministers." Sisko nods to the door of his office. "I can have Major Kira show you to quarters on board the station, if you would like, or you may await any response to your offer on board your ship."
"Actually, I would like to see Bashir. To ensure his continued good health." To see her son, though he once more wears the face his human parents had given him. It will be corrected soon enough.
Sisko is silent a moment before he nods. "You won't be allowed to speak to him without a security officer present."
"I would expect nothing else." Nadya turns to the door, meeting the gaze of Kira through it, the Bajoran scowling at her for a long moment before turning away. "Shall I ask Major Kira to escort me?"
Sisko doesn't give her the chance, doing so himself, and Nadya is surprised when Kira agrees to do so. Though perhaps she should not be - Kira had spent five years with Julian, no matter that she knew him by a different name.
"Was he supposed to find the Resistance and betray us?" Kira doesn't look at Nadya as she asks the question, staring instead at the passing wall of the lift. Her hands clenched in fists, all but radiating hurt and anger.
"I'm afraid the particulars of Bashir's missions are all classified, and likely beyond your authority even to request, Major." Nadya tilts her head to underline her sincere regret at being unable to relieve Kira of even the least of her concerns. Perhaps after Nadya has seen Julian – has seen how Julian reacts to Kira – she might have some kind words for her.
The shapeshifter is in the security office, and he watches her for a long moment, expression unreadable, before he nods graciously, allowing Kira to take Nadya into the holding area, where Julian is sitting on a bed in one cell, watching the door intently.
His gaze lights on Kira first, a warmth easing the tightness around his eyes and mouth. A smile that he isn't quite willing to let be obvious, that Nadya hasn't seen since he'd returned from his training with Garak. Too quickly smothered, in the light of a new mission.
It fades a little once Julian sees her, amusement and a faint puzzlement changing the light in his eyes. "I see they've made you a Gul, mother."
Nadya can see Kira startle out of the corner of her eye, and she lets herself smile at both Julian's open acknowledgement of their chosen relationship and Kira's reaction to that information. "You would have known that if you'd come home."
She comes as close as she can to the force field that hums between them, Julian standing to do the same on the other side. Studying him for a long moment before she speaks again, knowing that Kira will be listening to every word.
"They're willing to trade Shakaar for you, instead of leaving to your fate." Even without Nadya's influence, since it had come from Central Command directly, rather than from the Order. "What are you still holding over them?"
"Not them." Julian smiles, bright and sharp and vicious. "Dukat."
The name is spat like a curse, and Nadya raises an eyeridge. Julian hasn't shown such vehement dislike of anyone since she'd escorted him off Earth, and he'd last spoken of the humans who had once been his parents. Always so willing to make friends, if as easily discarding most of them, and unvariably kind and courteous even up to a person's execution for their crimes.
"What about Dukat?" Kira is just out of arm's reach, watching Julian with a wary frown. "I thought he was popular among Cardassians."
"He is the son of a traitor, and he has the same weakness of character." Julian's eyes are cold as a winter night, full of rage. "No loyalty to his family. To either of his families."
Nadya stiffens slightly. To dally with Bajoran women is one thing – a foolish indiscretion for a married Cardassian, and distasteful, but not truly unexpected. To create a family with one is entirely a different matter, especially a man like Dukat, married properly and with a family on Cardassia to provide for.
"What family?" Kira takes a half step closer, and Nadya politely steps sideways, letting Kira have room to be comfortable.
"A Bajoran woman, with a daughter. I was tracking them when you broke me out of that labor camp." Julian's face warms a little, his eyes fixed on Kira's face.
Nadya turns her face slightly away, the movement drawing Julian's gaze long enough for her to narrow her eyes at him, warning him that he isn't supposed to be discussing his mission here. Too many ears.
Julian is silent for a long moment, his expression carefully blank as he holds her gaze. A small tilt of his head acknowledges her rebuke, but there's a hint of rebellion in his eyes.
"They were aboard the Ravinok, at the same time Shakaar was."
Kira lets out a bitter bark of laughter. "And you told me you didn't betray us."
"I didn't. I didn't have to." Julian shakes his head. "It's not what I was trained for." He pauses, his face softening again. "Together, or not at all. I wasn't lying then, Nerys. Were you?"
Staring for a long moment, Kira gives Julian a pained smile. "I meant what I told Tua in that prison cell. I don't know I could trust you not to turn on me now."
Julian laughs, openly amused, and apparently uncaring just what he is showing either of them. How vulnerable he is making himself. "I have no reason to do that, Nerys." He trails his fingers across the force field, the energy crackling against his fingertips. "Ask Garak about what Sisko wanted him to translate. If he's figured it out."
He pauses, tilting his head slightly as he watches Kira. "I would have done the same thing again, knowing it would reveal secrets I've kept for a long time, if it meant keeping you alive."
The incident that had revealed Julian's subterfuge to the Bajorans and to Starfleet, of which Nadya hasn't heard more than the barest of details. An accident, with a fanatical Bajoran, that had left Julian badly injured. Nothing about why the attack had occured, or who had been present.
Kira stares at Julian for a long moment before she turns abruptly, and stalks out of the room. Going no further than the security office, likely, but Nadya appreciates the chance to speak to Julian alone.
"You never were supposed to stay that long with the Bajorans, only to find out where the sympathizers were among our own." Nadya keeps her voice low, standing as close as she can to the force field, so that she's not picked up by any listening devices in the room. "Why did you stay with them?"
"They chose me." Julian rests his palm in the air close to the force field, and Nadya raises hers to echo the gesture. She knows how much that choice to accept Julian as he is means to her son. How bitterly angry he was at his parents the first years he was safe on Cardassia. "They could have left me behind, but they didn't."
"They thought you were Bajoran, of course they wouldn't have left you behind. We knew the Resistance would rescue any Bajoran they didn't consider a collaborator."
"Not just the rescue." Julian closes his eyes a moment. "They could have rescued me, and then left me wherever I told them my home was. Could have left me idling about one camp or another, nothing more than an errand boy. Instead, they gave me a chance to be part of them – and in being part of them, finish what I had started."
There had been coded reports after the raid on the labor camp where Julian was doing his work, using his Bajoran face to find those who would need to be removed among the guards. After he'd vanished into the Bajoran Resistance, and all but become a sympathizer himself.
"And your insistence that the Empire withdraw from Bajor?"
Julian opens his eyes, meeting her gaze easily, and with none of the guilt she'd expect of a traitor. "They would have fought until they found a way to bring the fight to Cardassia itself, and they would have torn the Empire apart with their bloodied hands if it won them their freedom. I don't like leaving Bajor, but it is what is best for Cardassia, and that is all that matters."
It is likely only that Central Command agrees with Julian that has kept them from sending her with orders to bring him home under arrest. Or worse, leave him to the mercy of the Bajorans or the Federation. Nadya doesn't want to imagine what the Federation, particularly, would do, with their extreme views on genetic manipulation.
"I hope you are right." Nadya wants to lean forward, to touch her forehead to his, no matter that he lacks chufa or ridges at the moment, his face strange without them. To reassure him that though she thinks his opinion is wrong, perhaps dangerous, she still sees him as her son.
"I am." Julian steps back from the force field, sitting once more on the bed. "I want to stay until after Shakaar is returned. To speak to him, if he will allow it, before we return home."
Nadya echoes him, stepping back before she tilts her head in acknowledgement of his wishes. She doesn't know why he wants to stay, but she'll give him what she can.
Chapter 5: Lies and Truths
2369, Deep Space Nine
Kira paces the strip of floor around the center console of Ops, waiting for for a message from either the Council of Ministers or from the Cardassian ship that still hangs in space a few hundred kilometers off the station. She hates feeling helpless, knowing she's done all she can, and all there is left is waiting. It had been a horrible feeling in the Resistance, and it's worse now, when she doesn't even have the knowledge that at the end of the waiting, there will be a concrete action.
"Incoming transmission, Major." Dax smiles at Kira briefly, an attempt to relieve the tension that's been building in Ops all shift. "The Prakesh, Gul Gennel would like to speak to you."
"Put it on the main screen." Kira draws a deep breath, turning to face the primary view screen, as pleasant a smile as she can summon on her face. "Gul Gennel."
"Major Kira." Gennel tilts her head slightly, a lightness around her eyes that is as close as she gets to smiling. "Central Command has agreed to the modified conditions of exchange requested by the Bajoran ministers, and the Rabol is en-route with three passengers. I expect it to arrive in three days. I trust you will have made arrangements for their safety before they arrive."
"Of course." Kira isn't certain she's comfortable with the return of a collaborator, but if Bahri – Julian – is telling the truth, she will do what she can to protect Tora Naprem. If only for the sake of her daughter, who shouldn't suffer for the sins of her parents. "I'll see to it personally."
"Thank you." Gennel nods again before she cuts communication, leaving Kira with something to do again. Anything to keep her distracted.
The next three days pass in a blur of making security arrangements for the Tora family, and for those who will come to the station to greet Shakaar on his return. Keeping her busy enough that she can avoid going to the holding cells, if not busy enough to keep her from thinking about Bah–Julian and his insistence that he'd never betrayed them.
Together or not at all.
What did that even mean, when he was a Cardassian-raised spy, who would leave the station for Cardassia as soon as he was allowed to? Certainly she wouldn't leave Bajor, or the station, and he couldn't stay here.
The last evening before the transport is supposed to arrive, Kira takes a deep breath, and makes herself go down to the security office. Odo watches her for a long moment, before nodding her through to the holding cells. Giving her the privacy to talk to Julian alone.
"Nerys." His voice is no different than the one she's spent years waking up to hearing, reassuring her even when she doesn't want it to. How can she still trust him, learning even the secrets she has learned, much less those he's still hiding?
"The transport with Shakaar and the Tora family will arrive tomorrow morning. I've arranged for the ward room to be available if Shakaar wants to talk to you." Kira clasps her hands behind her to keep from fidgiting, watching Julian from halfway across the room. She's not sure she trusts herself to get close.
"Excellent." Julian smiles, and it's the same warm smile that Tua had when the Cardassian withdrawal had been announced. He could have left then, could have found a way to leave her behind and go back to Cardassia with the rest of his people.
"Why did you stay?" She's not sure what she's going to say until the words are out of her mouth. "Why didn't you try to sneak away and return to Cardassia after the Occupation ended?"
"I already told you why." Julian tilts his head rather than shrugging as he might have when he was Tua. Mannerisms returning to the Cardassian ones he'd grown up with instead of the Bajoran ones he'd had to use while he was Tua. "Yes, I could have left. Garak knew who I was – he was the interrogator that day, if you remember – and even exiled, he has the contacts and skills to ensure I was safely returned to Cardassia."
"So why didn't you?" Kira holds up a hand before he can reply. "Don't tell me the words, tell me why."
"I didn't know what would happen to you."
"Me? I would have been fine." Kira spreads her arms, a gesture both showing off what Julian already knows, and encompassing the station around them. "I don't think your leaving would have changed any of this."
"If the millitia realized you'd been fooled into thinking a Cardassian agent was a Bajoran? When everyone else who'd been fooled was missing or dead?" Julian gives her a look full of mixed amusement and disappointment. "I doubt they would have been so forgiving as they are now, when so many more people have believed and trusted what they thought I was."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Kira finds that hurts more than knowing he kept the secret from everyone else for longer than he had to. She'd have been furious to find out, she knows that – she still is angry about it, learning now – but perhaps as much because Julian didn't trust her enough to tell her.
"What would you have done with the knowledge, Nerys? What good would it have done for you to know I was raised and trained by the Obsidian Order, that I chose to be as Cardassian as was possible, when you would have had to keep that secret or destroy your own future?" Julian holds her gaze steadily, a softness around his eyes that contrasts with the sharpness of his words. "I know you'd rather have had the choice, but I'm afraid I'm a selfish man who has no desire to expose you to more harm than I must."
"Is that you, or is that something you learned from the Cardassians?" Kira can't help the small smile that makes her eyes crinkle at the corners, even though she's not sure she should be so amused at Julian's blunt assessment of his own character.
"Perhaps a little of both." Julian's smile in return of hers is warm as summer sun. "I was never very good at stepping back from those I call family, not even if it were in the interests of the State. Not you, not Garak, not Gennel, not Shakaar."
"But you are doing that. Going back to Cardassia, to being part of the Obsidian Order, to serving the Cardassian Empire. The State." The moment of warmth is fleeting, and Kira clasps her hands behind her again, this time to keep from wrapping them around herself. "I can't leave Bajor, even if wanted to go with you."
Can't keep the promise to stay together, whatever the universe threw at them. Kira doesn't know why she wants to, and to hell with duty.
"I know." Julian tilts his head slightly, though what he's trying to convey is lost in translation. "I will return, eventually, though I don't know how long it will be before I can. Or where I might go in the interim."
"Do I watch for a human face, or a Cardassian one?" Kira hopes he'll at least be gone long enough for her to sort out what she feels about all this without him being right there to distract her. It'll be difficult enough knowing Garak is familiar enough with him to ask questions about what Julian had been like before he was Tua Bahri.
Julian glances down a moment before he looks at her. "I had no regrets about having a Bajoran nose while Tua, but I will admit to looking forward to having scales and ridges again. I hope it won't be too unsettling."
Seeing his face in Cardassian gray, with the ridges and scales that she had known all her life to belong to an enemy, is something Kira can't quite imagine, even though she had asked. She doesn't know how she'll feel, if she sees him again. When. When she sees him again.
"We'll see." Kira isn't sure what else to say, and she watches Julian for a long moment before she turns away.
"Will you be the one to escort me tomorrow, if Shakaar is willing to speak with me?"
Looking over her shoulder at Julian, Kira takes a moment to think before she speaks. "If he wants to talk to you, I'll take you to him."
Garak looks up when the door to his shop opens, a genial and utterly insincere smile on his face out of habit even before he sees the person stepping inside. "Gul Gennel, what brings you to my shop?"
"I heard there was a Cardassian tailor on the station." Gennel glances at him a moment before she turns to the displayed dresses, ostensibly looking them over. "I had wondered what you had done with yourself, Garak, since you'd gotten yourself exiled."
"It's not entirely horrible." The lie is easy and bitter in his mouth, though Garak refuses to admit just how much he wants to go home. Gennel doesn't have the means to defy Tain and the Order over his exile, even if she can clearly exert enough influence to bring her own son home.
Gennel lets out a brief chuckle, glancing at him again with amusement brightening her eyes. "Except for the cold, the bright light, and the lack of suitable conversation partners."
Garak tilts his head in acknowledgement, carefully hiding his curiosity, for all that he wants to know the answer to his original question. Watching as Gennel inspects each dress and suit.
"If you're searching for new clothes, I'm sure there are tailors back on Cardassia who are more familiar with the current fashions."
"If I were looking for current fashions, it would be best to wait." Gennel fingers the material on another dress. "Fashions change all the time. I prefer something that lasts longer than fashion."
Intriguing, and perhaps to be expected. Someone who lasts as long as they do in the Obsidian Order has to be able to change with the whims of the head of the Order and of the leaders of Central Command.
"What did you have in mind? Not something too risque, I hope."
"Would I be wearing this if I sought something entirely out of style?" Gennel moves to the next stand, and the suit on it. "Something a little more daring than traditional, perhaps, but I've been known to be eccentric from time to time."
Garak narrows his eyes slightly, watching Gennel for a moment. "Perhaps something with a small human influence?"
"Now, let's not be too brash." Gennel turns from the mannequins, coming over to his table, studying the dress he has laid out on it. "Perhaps something with a tiny bit of Bajoran in the decoration. A token nod, nothing more."
"Did you have a particular sort of Bajoran influence in mind? They have several distinct styles, I wouldn't want to chose the wrong one."
"I hear the styles out of the Dakhur province are sufficiently subtle not to offend, at least not now. A very contemporary style from them, nothing too old." Gennel pauses, reaching out to finger the dress on the table. "Perhaps some fabric from there, if the styles are still a little too radical."
"They do produce some very sturdy fabrics in Dakhur province. Perhaps why their fashions tend to remain more radical than most are comfortable with." Garak carefully begins to fold the dress to set it aside. "I think perhaps one of their warmer fabrics. Something with a bit of red?"
"Perhaps. I'm hoping that they have something a little more gray, perhaps something that tends toward black. I don't look my best in reds." Gennel rests her hands on the edge of the table, watching him. "If there is nothing available save in red, then by all means. I can always wear it at home."
Garak tilts his head, his smile this time more genuine than the one he'd given Gennel when she came in. This should be an interesting project, and perhaps one that will give him a chance to get home, should nothing go wrong.
"When did you want it finished?"
"I thought perhaps in time for my retirement." Gennel gives him a small smile. "Plenty of time to finish it, I should hope."
"So long as I am not making it for your funeral." It will take quite a while for the project to be finished, if it can be done at all, but it's an interesting challenge.
"If I wanted a funeral, I'd keep the uniform and the rank that goes with it. I don't think it suits me, though. Too constricting." Gennel shakes her head slightly. "I don't intend to die before I retire."
"No one ever does." Garak moves the folded dress under the table, bringing out a padd with his other project on it, leaving it where Gennel can see it. "Did you want anything else made?"
"Perhaps. You made a fine suit for my son once. He could use a new one, and red suits him far better than I." Gennel lets her gaze drift to the padd he'd left out. "You'll have to ask him what sort of cut he's looking for. I'll make sure you have suitable codes to reach him."
"Of course." Garak smiles once more. "I am flattered by your business, and that of your son."
Gennel chuckles, glancing at the table a moment. "You do good work, Garak. It's a pity it was unappreciated at home." She pauses, turning the padd with the entry Sisko wanted translated toward her. "A copy of a new book?"
"Unfortunately. Commander Sisko was unwilling to part with the original. Do you know the author?"
"I might. I wouldn't trust the Commander's copy to be the original. The author is not in the habit of letting them out of his possession."
Gennel pushes the padd back to Garak, nodding a wordless farewell before she turns on her heel to leave.
Garak keeps silent until the door shuts behind her, amusement bubbling up in his chest. "This should be very entertaining."
Chapter 6: From a Child's Mouth
2369, Deep Space Nine
Ziyal takes a deep breath as they come out of warp, reaching out to grab her mother's hand. Hoping that this is what they've been told, a return to Terok Nor – called Deep Space Nine by it's new owners – and to Bajor. Not to her father, even though she hopes he'll come back to them some day, but at least it will not be the labor camp.
She doesn't want to give up the hope that Dukat will return for them, no matter what that might mean for him on Cardassia. Her mother has, but Ziyal cannot let that go. Family means everything to Cardassians, and even though her father never could, or would, marry her mother, Ziyal is still his daughter.
"We will be docking as soon as the station gives us clearence to do so. Gul Gennel will be waiting for you at the airlock with an escort." Mavek has been their guard through the trip, making sure they're fed and that they stay in the quarters Ziyal and her mother share with Shakaar. "They'll take you to where the exchange is occuring."
"Exchange?" Shakaar hasn't spoken more than a handful of words the entire journey from Cardassia IV, and Ziyal turns her head to look at him as he speaks now. "What exchange?"
"I wasn't told who, but whoever the Bajorans have, they're important enough to Central Command they'll trade the three of you for them." Mavek shakes his head. "You'll find out."
There's nothing more to say or do as they wait to dock, and for Mavek to escort them to the airlock. Another pair of Cardassians are waiting on the station side, a woman with a Gul's uniform and a small smile for Ziyal when she meets her gaze, and a man with a Glinn's rank markings.
"Thank you, Glinn Mavek. I will take them from here." Gul Gennel tilts her head to Mavek, both thanks and dismissal, while the Glinn helps Ziyal's mother out of the airlock. "I do not require any extra assistance."
Ziyal takes a deep breath of the station air as the airlock closes behind them, the smell of a home she hasn't seen in four years.
"This way. The corridors have been cleared between here and the wardroom, but I do not wish to take long." Gul Gennel doesn't need to beckon them to follow as she leads the way, with her Glinn following behind, though Ziyal isn't certain if it's to keep them from wandering off or to keep them safe. "While the Bajorans will no doubt welcome your return, Shakaar, the welcome of Tora Naprem and her daughter is far less certain."
"Then why were we asked for, and not any of the others at the camp?" Ziyal ignores her mother's tight grip on her hand, wanting to know more. Perhaps something to tell her if maybe her father is involved, that he has done this to give her and her mother a better life than the last four years. Maybe not as good as she remembers, but better is still good.
"That you will have to ask someone else, as I was not privy to the reasons for the Bajoran request to have you returned alongside Shakaar."
Ziyal has the impression that Gul Gennel is not telling them everything, but she remembers her father not being able to share everything with them, for their safety, and doesn't ask what she isn't telling them. If they need to know, they'll learn later.
When they reach the wardroom, there are a handful of people waiting inside, none of whom Ziyal recognizes. The Bajorans almost all move toward Shakaar, words of welcome and joy that he's alive and well on their lips. Only one of them come to Ziyal and her mother, along with the people in Starfleet uniforms.
"Tora Naprem, Tora Ziyal, welcome home." The Bajoran woman is a little stiff with her words, but the smile she gives Ziyal is almost warm, and certainly kinder than her voice a moment before. "Quarters have been arranged here on the station for you, close to those for the Starfleet personnel."
"Where I won't offend a Bajoran's sensibilities about collaborators?" Naprem smiles a little when the woman looks uncomfortable. "It's what they will call me, no matter who speaks for me, or what has happened since. I am not ashamed of what I have done, or what it has brought me."
"Where we can ensure your safety and that of your daughter." The man with the red - command, from what Ziyal remembers of her lessons before they'd left Terok Nor - is the one to speak, a polite smile on his face. "Unless you'd prefer other quarters?"
"Those that have been arranged will be good enough, thank you." Naprem nods her head in a more Cardassian fashion than Bajoran, even after working among other Bajorans in the last four years. Few in the camp had particularly cared what the past had been; in the camp they were all prisoners, Bajoran and Cardassian alike.
"Why us?" Ziyal smiles at the Bajoran woman, whose name she should ask, but this question is more important to her right now. "There were so many others you could have asked for. Why us?"
The room goes quiet, and Ziyal can feel the eyes of others on her, and can see some of the Bajorans are looking past her to Gul Gennel.
"How many others?" The woman has gone pale, and her voice is as stiff as earlier, tightly controlled.
Ziyal reaches out for her mother's hand, unnerved by having so much attention on her now when they'd ignored her earlier. "There were twenty-nine Bajorans in the camp, including mother and Shakaar." Ziyal glances at her mother, who smiles encouragingly at her. "At least, when we left. There had been at least six or seven more when we arrived, but I don't know how many of them died, and how many were sent elsewhere."
"I think I know why Mr. Bashir told you about Miss Tora and her mother, Major." The Starfleet officer looks grimly amused, and the Major grimaces at his words. "Gul Gennel, I believe you need to speak with your government."
"It would appear so." Gul Gennel doesn't sound very surprised by what Ziyal has said, and Ziyal thinks she had probably known about the other Bajorans at the camp. She's not sure why the Gul hadn't said anything to the Bajorans, though, if they were releasing prisoners. "I could not say anything without risking the exchange, you understand."
The Major gives Gul Gennel a long look, eyes narrowed, before she smiles, bright and insincere. "Of course you couldn't."
"Why don't you come with me, and I'll show you where your quarters are?" The other Starfleet officer speaks, a welcoming smile on her face. "Unless you need to ask Miss Tora or her mother more questions, Major Kira?"
Major Kira glances over at them, her smile shifting to something a little more apologetic. "I'm sorry. It's just this is..."
Naprem smiles, shaking her head. "You don't need to apologize to us. You do what you need to do. We'll be fine."
"Good." The Starfleet woman smiles again, leading them back out the door, and down the corridor. "I'm Jadzia Dax, by the way. It's good to meet you."
"Really?" Ziyal isn't sure what to make of Dax and her cheer in the face of everyone else's dismay and anger.
"I like meeting new people." Jadzia pauses a moment to let Ziyal come to walk beside her, Naprem on the other side of Ziyal so she's safely in the middle. "And your quarters are in the same section as mine, so I thought it might be good for you to have a chance to get to know one of your neighbors, at least."
Chapter 7: Treason Before Betrayal
2369, Deep Space Nine
"Did you know?" Kira is glad, at the moment, for the force field between her and Julian. It means she can't punch him before he gives her answers.
"That Central Command hadn't actually released all their Bajoran prisoners?" Julian's smile is sharp and fleeting. "I didn't have any proof, but how could anyone believe they had released everyone? Nerys, they're my people, I know how they think. Why let go of what could be used for their own gain?"
Kira turns away from the cell, pacing the room as she tries to tamp her anger back down. Waiting a long moment before she looks back at Julian, taking a deep breath.
"Was that why you wanted us to ask for the Tora family? For them to tell us that there were more than we could have known to ask for to be returned?"
"I thought Miss Tora would be happy to be rescued from the labor camp the Ravinok was headed for. Dukat should never have sent her there, if he had any love for her." There's a deeper anger in Julian's eyes than Kira expects even from someone raised by Cardassians, with their vocal and vaunted love of family. "Even the lukewarm affection of Bajor is better than that."
Kira flinches at the faint bitterness in the words, though she refuses to apologize for her anger over finding out about Julian's deceit. "Bajor won't turn away a child, no matter what they think of her parents."
Julian tilts his head, acknowledging the welcome of Bajor for children, even when no one wanted much to do with the adults some became.
"Shakaar wants to talk to you, before you're sent home." Kira knows she should have said as much sooner, but she'd wanted to know why Julian hadn't told her, at least, that there were still Bajorans being held by the Cardassians. She wonders if Julian will tell Shakaar why he didn't bother to tell anyone sooner where he was.
"Are you still planning to bring me to him, or is he coming to me?" Julian's expression has softened, something like hope in his eyes.
"I promised I'd take you to him if he wanted to talk to you, and I will. I just need a few more minutes."
"So you don't show me into his presence with a bruised jaw?" Julian smiles, amusement brightening his expression for a moment.
"Something like that." Kira doesn't smile back, though she smooths her scowl away. "You should have told me something."
"And how would have Tua Bahri known what I know?" Julian sighs, shaking his head. "It would have raised too many questions, and too many suspicions, for you to hear any of this from me before."
Kira hates that he's right, hates that she knows he's right, and there is nothing she can do about it. Only figure out how to go forward, how to sort out her conflicted feelings for Julian, and how to deal with the consequences of whatever she does.
She takes a deep breath, moving to deactivate the force field.
Julian doesn't come out right away, holding out his hands instead, waiting for binders, and it takes a moment for Kira to put them on.
"Better for everyone else's peace of mind that they see me walked away shackled and subdued." Julian gives a little shrug, walking in front of Kira toward the security office, letting her direct him where to go.
There are people on the Promenade, and in the corridors to the ward room, most of whom give them wide berth, and many who watch Julian with undisguised distrust or dislike. Perhaps even hatred, though Kira isn't entirely sure if that's merely because Julian had been exposed as working for the Cardassians, or something more.
The ministers and other Bajorans have left the ward room by the time Kira brings Julian in, leaving Shakaar alone with Sisko and Gennel, the Glinn who'd accompanied Gennel outside the door.
"Bahri." Shakaar smiles as the door shuts behind Kira, though he frowns a moment later. "Are those really necessary, Nerys?"
"He insisted." Kira moves to remove the binders, and Julian steps away, shaking his head.
"Leave them." Julian goes to the chair Gennel pulls out for him. "Thank you."
"You're not going to hurt me, or anyone else here." Shakaar sits in the chair at the end of the table, close enough to Julian that Julian could reach out and grab him easily. "I'm not even sure why everyone's being so careful about you."
"They left telling that to me." Julian looks down a moment, then up at Kira. "Thank you." He looks to Shakaar a moment before leaning back in his chair, a slow and deliberate move that echos the studied care of Cardassians playing at ease. "Have they even mentioned I'm the one you and the Tora family are being traded for?"
"No, they hadn't." Shakaar frowns, looking around at the others for a long moment. "Why are you worth three other Bajorans?"
"I'm not Bajoran." Julian snorts softly, looking over at Gennel, sitting at the far end of the table to give the smallest illusion of privacy. "Gul Gennel is my mother, in all manners that matter to me."
"You don't look Cardassian. And you didn't act like one, either." Shakaar looks down at Gennel a moment as well, before looking at Kira. "Nerys, did you know?"
"Not until a few weeks ago." Kira takes the seat across from Julian, where she can watch him and Shakaar both. "He took a phaser blast that was meant for me. They found remains of an implant that was meant to fool even medical scans when they took him in to surgery to repair the damage."
"It's a standard part of going undercover for longer missions." Julian shrugs. "I couldn't risk being found out from a simple medical scan."
"And what were you supposed to be doing?" Shakaar is watching Julian intently, a frown on his face.
"Finding Cardassians who needed to be removed from their posts for sympathy to the Bajoran resistance." Julian glances down the table to Gennel, whose expression is closed and almost stony. "They deserve to know who betrayed them, mother. It won't change anything. He's already dead."
Gennel narrows her eyes, watching Julian for a long moment. "Which Gul?"
"Hakon." Julian gives Shakaar a wry smile. "He sold out his contacts for his life, though which of them was the one who actually gave you to the Cardassians, I hadn't determined yet."
"If you had?" Shakaar's voice is steady, but there's an expression on his face that Kira can't quite read.
"They would be dead." Julian's voice is almost cheerful, and Kira feels a chill run down her spine. Remembering the vicious pleasure he had taken in killing those Cardassians who got in their way, and her worry then, for all that it had felt a small and ignorable one. "I didn't like finding my friends missing when we returned from our brief capture."
"The Cardassians came barely an hour after you'd left for the raid." Shakaar shakes his head. "I don't know who betrayed us. They separated us, and no one else from the cell was on the Ravinok when they took me to the Hutat labor camp."
"I might be able to find where they were taken, once I'm home. Make sure they come home, or the records of their deaths."
"You're making more promises to them than you should." Gennel ignores everyone else looking at her, focused on Julian.
"What else am I supposed to do?" Julian has a mild expression on his face.
"Remember your duty to the State."
"And is not keeping a leash on those who have gained too much power to care about the welfare of the State not part of my duty to it? Punishing those who fail to think of the good of the State?" Julian's eyes are bright with the same light Kira remembers from skirmishes with Cardassians, from the day Julian had broken a Cardassian's jaw - Garak's jaw? - to get the keys to their binders so they could escape. It makes Kira grip the edge of the table, tensing in anticipation of violence.
"It's not your job to determine who those people are." Gennel stands, resting her hands on the table as she leans forward. "Nor is aiding Bajorans who committed acts of terrorism, no matter how attached you became to them!"
Julian stands slowly, the corners of his lips turning up slightly. "If I have failed in my duty to the State, let the courts try me and have me executed. If the Order feels I have outlived my usefulness, leave me here to the mercy of Bajor and the Federation. Let me wither in exile, with only the precarious trust of those who hate my people and the dubious company of a tailor and a liar."
Gennel is silent for a long moment. "Commander Sisko, I believe it is past time I escorted Mr. Bashir back to Cardassia, and cease to impose on your hospitality. With your permission, I would prefer to have the Prakesh beam us directly from here, rather than forcing them to dock."
"If my first officer is willing to agree to ending this conversation now, than I will give you that permission." Sisko raises an eyebrow at Kira, though it isn't a request for permission so much as asking if she would like him to deny Gennel the chance to stop Julian's tale-telling.
She looks away, studying Julian's face for a long moment. The vicious promise of violence is still lurking in his expression, and for all that she wants more answers, she'd rather not get them at the expense of anyone in the room, not even Gennel. "This isn't the last time we'll see him. Let him go home."
Gennel barely waits for Sisko's permission before calling her Glinn back in, and contacting the Prakesh to beam them out. Leaving Kira with more questions than answers, for the moment.
2369, Cardassia Prime
"You remind me of Garak when he was younger. I find that very entertaining, but be careful you don't follow in his footsteps."
Tain pours a glass of kanar for his companion, watching the young man as he studies a report he brought with him. One on the current disposition of Dukat, lucky to retain any position in the military, if Tain has any insight into the matter.
"That would be difficult, considering I have no father to exile me in disgrace, and my mother's deep ambition is to retire alive. Unless, of course, you were thinking of doing the honors yourself, Director Tain, in which case, I'm sure Commander Sisko would be delighted to have me return to his precious station."
Nadya Gennel, yes. Tain had considered - ever so briefly - appointing her as his successor, if only to irritate her. There are few who have the audacity to not only adopt a non-Cardassian child, but to raise that child to follow in their footsteps in the Obsidian Order. A decision that Tain is still uncertain if Cardassia and Order will come to regret.
"Now, that would be a pity. There's no need to send the Federation so fine a gift when we've already signed a treaty with them."
A small smile quirks up one corner of the boy's mouth, fading quickly into contemplation as he sets his datapad aside in favor of the glass of kanar.
"Now, why would you want them to be in that sort of disarray?"
Astute, and well aware of his own talents and gifts. Perhaps a little too talented, sometimes, for the comfort of those in power, but at least this time he restrained himself. Though Tain is still curious why. The Bajoran terrorist, or Dukat's half-breed child?
"Unless, of course, you're looking for something a little more like Bajor and a little less like Romulus. Though I don't expect they'd be fooled into thinking me someone else without rather more surgery than is generally recommended."
"Would I ask you to put on someone else's face?"
A brief grin is his response, and the draining of the kanar in a long gulp. Not trust, in that, but a challenge. Knowledge that there's little that Tain is familiar with that his companion hasn't studied in his voracious appetite for learning. Or hasn't used in his vicious defense of his view of the State and the Order.
"I've always wanted to be the thorn in the Federation's side."
That, Tain is certain, could have been achieved by his guest being Julian Bashir, whatever path he chose to take among the masses of the Federation. His choice to follow a Cardassian spy, and to take to the teaching of another, that is the curious part. What made being a Cardassian so appealing to the child Bashir, and what keeps him here when he could have returned to being Julian Bashir among humans with their arrival on Bajor?
There is another partial chapter for this story that has been updated today, but is not yet complete, and this story will be updated, if as sporadically as anything other WIP I post.
Chapter 9: A Promise Kept
His timing is impeccable, and Kira isn't sure why he came in person to keep his promise. Or what she feels about... well, about everything.
2370, Deep Space Nine
"Commander Sisko. Major Kira. I hope I haven't come at a bad time."
The face on the screen isn't familiar at first glance, but the voice is, and Kira draws in a quiet breath as she studies Julian's face with Cardassian ridges and scales. The golden brown that she remembers is traded for a grayer shade that still at least holds some hint of that same warmth, although his eyes are the same as she remembers.
"Only the worst possible time for a Cardassian to come to the station." Kira doubts Julian has failed to hear of the unrest on Bajor. "What are you doing here?"
"I promised to ensure any Bajorans still held in Cardassian space were returned home, or the records of their deaths." Julian smiles, the familiar sharp smile that sends a chill down Kira's spine. It looks more sinister on this face of his than it had on one with proper nose ridges and soft skin with no trace of Cardassian scales. "There were more of the latter than the former, I'm afraid. May I have permission to dock? My passengers would prefer to walk off my ship, rather than be transported."
"Upper pylon three is currently available, and we shouldn't need it for anyone in particular today." O'Brien is keeping his attention firmly on Sisko, probably so he doesn't glare at Julian. "And the airlocks there are working, I checked them myself this morning."
"Upper pylon three it is, then." Kira looks at Sisko, who nods in agreement. "The commander and I will meet you at the air lock."
"I look forward to it, Major Kira. Prakesh out." Julian cuts the communications, and Kira heads for the turbo lift, barely waiting for Sisko to step in before her.
"Promenade." Kira clasps her hands behind her, and tries not to pace the small space. The anger she'd been trying to ignore is bubbling up again, and she needs the physical movement to keep it from boiling over. It's been months with no contact, and after what Julian did... She lets out an irritated huff.
"What's on your mind, Major?" Sisko is watching the doors passing walls of the turbolift shaft, waiting for them to stop again.
It might be better they have the walk between the lifts for the central hub and the turbolifts that service the habitat ring, docking ring, and pylons. It will give her action to help her calm down.
"He didn't have to bring them back himself. He could have sent someone with the survivors and the records." Kira all but bolts from the lift when it stops, heading directly for the nearest crossover lock. "Instead he's putting himself in a position where he could be arrested by Bajoran or Federation authorities, just to bring home people he doesn't even know personally."
"This isn't the first time a Cardassian has put themselves at risk of arrest to come to Deep Space Nine." Sisko keeps pace with her easily, stride confident and smooth where hers feels jerky and uncoordinated.
"Marritza came with the intent of being arrested." They hadn't found out Julian's secret then, and Kira wonders what might have happened if Kainon hadn't stabbed Marritza. If the former clerk might have vanished after going back to Cardassian space, arrested for being a sympathizer to the Bajorans simply because he had tried to make Cardassia face their crimes in the Occupation. "And he was born a Cardassian. He didn't chose to be as much of one as possible. It's not the same."
"Perhaps not. I am curious myself why Bashir put himself at that risk." Sisko reaches the next lift first, and touches the button to summon it. There really isn't much to talk about that Kira is willing to touch on between there and the airlock, even though the silence gives her more room to think than she really wants.
The airlock is still sealed when they arrive, though Kira can see the Prakesh has docked. Just docked, she imagines. She straightens her uniform as they unseal the station side of the airlock, waiting for the Prakesh to do the same on their end.
A Cardassian appears briefly as the Prakesh's airlock is opened, though they vanish before Kira can tell if the Cardassian is Julian or not. Bajorans, dressed in simple clothes that aren't the ragged sort Kira expects, start coming off, some leaning on each other.
There are a dozen or so, and they cluster around Kira and Sisko as they come off, none of them speaking until the last of them is in the space past the airlock, safely on Deep Space Nine, and no longer in any way in Cardassian hands.
"Where is Shakaar?" The woman who spoke is unfamiliar to Kira, but her voice holds the familiar cadence of Dakhur province. "Gennel told us he spoke to Shakaar before he came looking for us. And a Kira Nerys."
"I'm Kira Nerys." Kira hears the murmur that goes around the small group, and wonders for a moment what Julian had told them about why he was bringing them home. Why a Cardassian - in appearance, at heart, if not by birth - was setting them free, willingly. "Shakaar is on Bajor, back in Dakhur province." To the best of her knowledge.
"We can arrange a shuttle to Bajor, as soon as our medical officer has a chance to check you over." Sisko's words draw their attention for a moment, and their spokesperson nods.
The deliberate sound of footsteps make everyone look to the airlock, before Sisko can say anything more. Kira draws a deep, deliberate breath to settle the gnawing feeling inside. Julian's Cardassian appearance is more unsettling in person than on the viewscreen. Perhaps because she knows that beneath the scales and ridges that Kira has known as enemy all her life is someone she had once loved. Someone she thinks she might love still, despite everything.
"Commander Sisko." Julian tilts his head briefly in greeting, one equal to another, then looks at her instead. "Kira." Giving her the distance of family name, rather than personal name, for all the gentleness of his voice.
"Mr. Bashir." Sisko doesn't offer any welcome to the station, though it might be as much because he would prefer not to deal with the intricacies of Julian on the station as anything else.
Julian's lips twitch, and he shifts his weight to angle himself a little more away from Sisko and toward Kira without taking a step forward. "I promised I would bring them home."
He doesn't move from the airlock, and it takes Kira a moment to realize he's waiting for her to come to him. Cardassian arrogance, or something else? She doesn't know, but there's a box in his hands that must hold whatever he brought of those who had died.
It's a wooden box, real wood. Carved with Cardassian motifs she doesn't recognize, but the way he holds it, and what she thinks is inside makes her wonder if she's not seeing something out of Cardassian funerary customs.
"I couldn't bring our friends home alive, and for that I am sorry. I did see to it the camp guards and supervisors were suitably chastised."
Kira had reached for the box before Julian speaks, and she closes her hands convulsively around the handles on the sides. She's well able to imagine what Julian thought was suitable chastisement. "I'll tell Shakaar when I'm on Bajor."
"I appreciate that, Kira." Julian's eyes are soft, for all that she has never thought a Cardassian face suited to such.
"Nerys." She's not sure why she offers that intimacy to him again, even if she does still love him, only that it feels right.
The smile that he gives her lights his eyes as much as it had Bahri's, as she thinks it might have lit Julian's, if ever she saw the face he bore first.
"Suroi, then. I am Suroi Gennel when I wearing this face."
Kira nods, taking another deep breath as she turns back to the station side of the airlock. Clutching the box tightly to her chest. The survivors, the last Bajorans freed from Cardassian hands, wait for her, though they watch the box more than her face.
"I'll show them to the infirmary, Commander." Kira meets Sisko's gaze as steadily as she can. "And arrange the shuttle."
Leaving Sisko to talk to Julian - Suroi, Bahri - about whatever needs discussing between them.
When everyone is settled in the infirmary for Doctor Lense to evaluate, Kira takes the box to the wardroom. Staring at it where she sets it on the table for a long few moments. It looks like nothing dangerous, and yet she doesn't want to open it, to see the contents.
Taking a deep breath, she unlatches the top, opening it and letting the lid rest against the table.
Inside, there are trays divided into compartments, each lined with thick fabric to cushion the earrings they hold. She counts seventy-six, laid out neatly, and at the bottom, under the trays, are two boxes. A smaller one just large enough to hold the Cardassian-style padd, which she ignores for now. Whatever records it holds, they can wait.
The other holds a stack of paper. Real paper, and of good quality, handwritten with familiar Bajoran script in stark black ink. She knows that handwriting. Even if she'd rarely seen it, she knows it, and the signature at the bottom of the first sheet only confirms it.
Kira sits down in the chair behind her heavily, staring blankly at the far wall. She hasn't counted the notes, but she's certain there's one to match each earring.
How long she sits there before the door opens, she doesn't know, and she waits for the footsteps that stop just enough inside for the door to close again.
"Why?" She doesn't look up, fixing her gaze instead on the box, empty of its contents. She should put everything back together, to take back to Bajor. Return these lost home as much as she is able.
"I can't return them myself, and give them a target for their grief." Bahri's - Julian, Suroi, what does she call him now in the privacy of her mind? - voice is quiet, almost soft. "Let them have something to destroy if they wish, a proxy for those who did their loved ones harm."
"And you think that's enough?" Now she does turn, looking at him. Really looking at him for the first time since he came off the Prakesh. Dressed in simple black, thick for the chill of the station, and not in military armor. It doesn't make him look any less dangerous. "After everything, all the families will get is an earring and a note?"
If there are families left to be given that much. How many of these people had nothing left after their families were killed?
"Of course it's not enough." His smile is hard now, his tone gently mocking. Suroi, not Bahri, and Kira barely squashes a flinch at the difference. "Nothing will be enough, Nerys. All I have in my power to give is this, and I know it will not be enough for those who have lost everything to Cardassia.
"Let them have these apologies, as inadequate as they are. The token that is all I could bring for them from the camps, bodies lost. The deaths of those who were directly responsible for the camps that failed to obey the orders to release all Bajoran prisoners."
She had been right to think that was his idea of a suitable chastisement. "And if there's ever anything more in your power to give them?"
"Then I will provide it."
It's all she can ask him for. If he still had his Bajoran face, if he were still Bahri, maybe he could be there when the earrings are returned, could deliver the notes himself as being from the Cardassian who had retrieved them. But he's right that he can't. Not now, not with the curling ridges of scales, the warm grey of his skin, the uniform he wears - not armor, perhaps, but Kira doubts that makes it any less a uniform.
"Good." Kira turns away from him, reaching for the box that held the stack of notes to start repacking everything for taking down to Bajor.
She can hear him moving, and the creak of a chair as he sits down. Several chairs away from where she is working, where she can see him in her peripheral vision. Not trying to impose, but not letting her forget he's there.
"Did your conversation with Commander Sisko go well?" Kira isn't certain if she wants to know how much he put himself at risk to come here - to this room, to the station, to anywhere outside Cardassian space - but knowing is better than ignorance.
"If by well you mean that the Federation still understands that trying to hold me for anything that happened before I followed mother to Cardassia is a foolish idea, then yes, it did go well."
"Are they still going to be looking for answers about what happened then?" The trays are all back in the chest, and Kira looks down at the top tray for a long moment before she closes the lid again.
"They will forever be looking for answers, Nerys." There's a wry twist to his lips when Kira looks at him again. "They don't like the one they've been given."
"And what answer is that?" Kira rests her hands on the box, the wood warm under her fingers. "Commander Sisko never shared what Gul Gennel shared with him."
"My mother told him what I told her. Starfleet Security visited my home. They insisted I had to accompany them, and I fled to her rather than do so. I know nothing more than that." There's something lurking in his expression that suggests he actually does know more, but if he is going to talk about it, it won't be here.
Silence falls between them, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Not uncomfortable, and not one either of them feels a need to break. Waiting in silence for... well for what, Kira doesn't know, but for as long as they need to.