Gul Dukat lowered himself into Commander Benjamin Sisko's chair. Formerly his own chair and, he knew, one day his own again. Everything that had been his would return to his possession. It was only a matter of time.

Time. The one thing this station had precious little of, which was of course why he was here, in Sisko's office with Major Kira Nerys, the station's Bajoran second in command, standing before him. He spoke without preamble: "I know time is of the essence, Major, so I'll be brief." He leaned forward and flicked Commander Sisko's prized baseball off its stand, watching as it rolled off the desk and onto the floor before continuing: "I think it's time to reestablish a permanent Cardassian presence aboard this station. Nothing too elaborate, mind you. A garrison would suffice." He smiled insincerely. "I can deploy troops from my ship immediately. And in return, I'll solve your current dilemma."

Kira stood stiffly in front of the desk, the only thing moving her eyes as they tracked the ball during its descent to the floor. She remained silent during Dukat's entire speech, returning her gaze to him and speaking only as he finished. "Now you know I'm never going to agree to that!" Her voice was incredulous.

Dukat nodded. "I thought you might say something like that," he replied. "I suppose if I reminded you how many people would die if this station self-destructed, you'd simply tell me you'd rather let that happen than allow a Cardassian presence to be reestablished here, that perhaps they might even prefer such a fate."

"Damned right," Kira snapped, then paused, mouth open to make another scathing comment. Her lips slowly closed, and she cast a suspicious look at Dukat through narrowed eyes. "You sound as if you were expecting me to say that, to turn you down."

Dukat smiled slightly as he leaned back in Sisko's chair. "I was."

"So why bother asking me, if you already knew what I was going to say?" Kira was confused, and didn't bother trying to hide it. Confused and annoyed; the station had less than 30 minutes of life left to it, and Dukat was wasting a fair amount of that time by engaging in some sort of foolish word game!

"Because I wanted to give you more than one option, of course," Dukat replied, an unknown emotion glittering in his eyes. "I wanted to be certain that you were aware you had…choices."

"You could just help us without putting conditions on your assistance," Kira pointed out with a scowl. "It would go a long way toward establishing a cordial relationship between Cardassia and the Federation. Not to mention Bajor."

"If I were interested in such a thing, I might do as you suggest," Dukat agreed. "As it is…" His voice trailed off as he shrugged. "As it is," he repeated, "all I'm interested in right now is your response to my next--and, I might add, final--offer."

Ah, the negotiations were over. Cards were being laid on the table, as Chief O'Brien would say. Finally. "That being?" she asked with a pointed glance at the chronometer.

"That being a more personal Cardassian presence aboard this station, for a strictly limited period of time--say, one night? And in a strictly limited area of the station. Your quarters, to be exact."

Kira stared at Dukat, not quite certain she was hearing him correctly. "Are you saying--are you implying--what are you saying, Dukat?" she finally demanded, balking at the first interpretation that came to mind. He couldn't possibly be saying what she thought he was saying. Could he?

Apparently so. "I am saying that I will cancel the self-destruct sequence and return this station to order, thus saving every life on board, without making it a political issue," he emphasized. "All you have to do is consent to--how shall I put it?--ah, yes, that wonderful human euphemism I heard Chief O'Brien use once. Spend the night with me. In your quarters. In whichever part of your quarters you prefer having sex in," he clarified. In case she still wasn't getting the picture.

He couldn't make it any more blunt than that. Kira sat in stunned silence as precious seconds ticked by. "You're saying that unless I let you…" she couldn't get out the words have sex with, so she settled for another human euphemism instead. "Unless I sleep with you, you'll let this station blow up. Killing everyone on board."

Dukat pursed his lips in thought. "That is what it sounds like, isn't it?" He paused to allow his response to sink in before continuing. "I offer my assistance in exchange for a night with you. And I want to make it clear that I am looking for a night of, shall we say, enthusiastic coupling, not just a warm body." His smile deepened. "I am looking for a night with a responsive woman, someone who gives as good as she gets. And before you make any snide comments, Nerys, that woman will be you."

Kira felt her teeth grinding at the familiar use of her name while part of her mind wondered how she could possibly find the energy to worry about something so trivial when Dukat's every word was an affront. "And if I refuse?" she asked, even though she knew the response she would get.

Dukat made a tch-ing sound as he shook his head. "Are you truly willing to let everyone on this station die merely to save yourself from what might not be an unpleasant experience? I understand your patriotism allowing for the deaths of all these people--Federation, Bajoran, and others--to save countless other Bajoran lives from prolonged exposure to Cardassian influences," his voice took on a mocking tone, "but really, Nerys, just to spare yourself? I've avoided making a political issue out of it. Can you do the same?"

Another precious few moments ticked by while Kira thought furiously, trying to find some way to get around Dukat's "offer." The mere thought of sharing her body with him repulsed her, but he was right about one thing: she might be willing to sacrifice the lives of herself and hundreds of other people for a patriotic principle, to save her world from a second Cardassian infestation, but she could not in good conscience sacrifice them just to save herself from personal unpleasantness. And Dukat knew he had her; he was obviously unwilling to offer his assistance without attaching a price tag, and there simply wasn't time to explore other alternatives. Especially with Commander Sisko trapped elsewhere on the station, and Dax injured…

Her nod was firm, showing none of the reluctance in her mind, none of the doubts. "All right, Dukat. You've got yourself a deal." She swept out of Commander Sisko's office, not bothering to look behind her. All she would see would be Dukat's self-satisfied smirk, and she had a feeling she'd be seeing enough of that before their outstanding business was completed.

"We'll work out the details after you've finished cleaning up your little mess," he called after her. She jerked her head in bare acknowledgment of his words before the doors hissed shut behind her.

"Gul Dukat has graciously agreed to override the self-destruct command for us before he leaves."

Bashir gaped at Kira, then moved his gaze toward Sisko's office. He traded stunned gazes with Dax and Garak as Dukat strolled back into Ops, then all three looked at Kira, who was very determinedly not looking back at them--or Dukat.

Garak opened his mouth as if to say something, to offer some sort of objection or voice a question, then clamped it shut as Kira shot him a glare set well past stun. His eyes instead turned to Dukat as the other Cardassian swaggered over to the center of Ops, surveying the wreckage and waiting a dramatic minute longer before spitting out the string of numbers that meant their salvation. Then, as the computer acknowledged the validity of the codes and turned control of the station back over to them, he walked over to Kira, bowed, and touched his wrist. "I'm ready."

And he was gone.