Thirteen years after Gul Dukat had been killed, the Bajoran government catches three humans in the Fire Caves, with unknown plans. Admiral Elizabeth Bashir is sent to investigate. Sent alongside with her, Captain Chakotay uncovers her best kept secret...

"Is that her?" Cadet Antol turned to her male colleague, interest sparkling in her eyes.

Cadet Lewis shrugged, but not out of ignorance-he merely wanted to be left alone to survey the surroundings, so as the woman that had just entered the room.

The room was a hall usually used for briefings and meetings like this one, sometimes even trials occurring due to serious Cadet disobedience. It was wide and long; ti simplify, enormous. It had windows that looked into a well-kept garden, but during meetings they would usually be closed tight. They called it the Observation Hall as well, because of the vast screen with a display of various stars and planetary systems so often showing on it. There was no Cadet that had never visited this room; at least none that had survived the first year of the Academy.

In spite of that, rare were those Cadets who could state they had witnessed such an important event in here without lying. On this very day, the number of such individuals was going to increase by a large number, because the hall was crowded. There was barely air to breath, all the seats were taken(this was a miracle for a place of such size) and as if all of that was not surprising and miraculous enough, quite some people were standing.

Mesmerizing all this once again, Lewis breathed deeply, overwhelmed by it all. Then, finally, as if tasting a dessert at the end of a delicious meal, his eyes landed on the woman.

She was tall, her figure slim and curvacious; it was evident she had spent years in Starfleet, for she looked incredibly fit for a woman of forty. Her hair was long and dark, pulled up into a neat but a rather extravagant bun. Lewis smiled-so it was true. The Admiral was known for her slightly narcisstic nature. By what he could see, though, she possessed that trait with full rights. Her face was oval-shaped, with slightly wider cheekbones and a determined jaw. It was decorated with full, rosy lips, a pair of bright, almond shaped chocolate eyes and a longish, a tad wider nose. She possessed a refined carriage, and seemed to be a natural at evoking respect within others. Or it was perhaps just her reputation that evoked it within him.

Before he had another chance to assess her, though, a loud sound was heard-the sign that the conference was about to begin. As if on cue, everybody grew silent and grave.

Captain Chakotay stepped forward. He had been in charge of the Academy for six years now, and everybody agreed that he was doing a good job. He was in line for promotion soon, and the Cadets were already planning a surprise party for him. The Captain was strict, but fair and he had a sense of humor unlike some previous.

"Greetings, Cadets." Chakotay began, "First of all, I am extremely glad to see you here in such a large number. I'm glad that this occasion has triggered your curiosity just as it has triggered mine." Here he paused, beaming a smile at the woman, who stood next to him. She returned it with grace. The Admiral, Lewis noted to himself, looked a lot different. From what he'd heard, she was a rather bitter woman, who rarely smiled and never joked.

"I hope," The Captain went on, "That we shall all greatly profit from this conference. Now, without further ado--or I might start feeling tomatoes on my face--" Everybody laughed, "Let us continue. I hereby present you...Admiral Bashir!"

Elizabeth Bashir made a step forward so everybody could see her, while applause erupted throughout the hall. Again she smiled, revealing her regular teeth, nodding her head and thanking the Cadets. That could've and would've lasted for ages, if she had not stopped it by approaching Captain Chakotay.

"Thank you, thank you all." Her voice was loud and clear, silencing everyone immediately, "For this warm welcome."

No wonder it was warm, Lewis thought as she went on expressing her gratitude. Even though she acted as if that fact did not exist, this was the first time Admiral Bashir had spoken of the events that had occurred ten years ago-the events of the Dominion War preceeding its end. And for many years, she had been the only witness that close to those events. Why had she refused all those interviews and conferences up to now was a mystery, and, Lewis felt, one that was not going to be revealed.

She had married Julian Bashir, thus becoming his second wife after the sudden death of Ezri Dax. He had died three years ago, leaving her a widow. As far as anybody knew, she had not engaged in any other relationship.

"Now, since I do not have any desire to bore you to death with my long talks-for I do tend to get overly talkative from time to time-"

What? Admiral Elizabeth Bashir was joking? He couldn't believe his eyes, or, better said, ears. This truly was a remarkable event.

"-I will allow you to ask questions right away. Whatever might interest you. That is, in my opinion, the best way of learning."

And she moved away, crossing her arms, as if waiting for a battle to begin.

At first, everybody was silent. Then a murmur overcame the mob, and before Lewis knew it, several arms were up in the air.

"Admiral Bashir!" He noticed Antol screaming, as the Admiral pointed at her, giving her the honour of speaking the first question, "What opinions can you share with us about the Dominion War?"

"I can solely say that it had been a great tragedy. Mistakes were made on both sides, I certainly won't deny that. We all could have made greater efforts and could've resolved the conflict peacefully...or at least with less violence." She shrugged, "Alas..what has happened has happened. I only regret some lives that were lost."

Some? Lewis felt his eyebrows raise instantaneously. Some? So she thought some of those people had deserved death? This was probably, he reassured himself, because she'd fought in the war. She wasn't going to state she felt sorry for her former enemis, surely...Even though she claimed the Federation had made mistakes...

"Admiral Bashir!" Another first year Cadet raised his hand, and she gave him the word, "What mistakes do you think the Federation had made?"

The Admiral smiled, "I've expected this question, Cadet. And I've been preparing the answer for the last seventeen years." The mention of the time increased the tension, "First and foremost, I think the Federation would have lost nothing by, if not joining the Dominion, allying themselves with it."

Exclaims seemed to pass the mob just like a wave. Captain Chakotay and Admiral Nechayev exchanged looks in the corner where they had moved. More hands flew up into the air, but the Admiral Bashir obviously was not finsihed yet.

"Next, I think that Benjamin Sisko had made a lot of crucial mistakes in the War." Lewis raised his eyebrows again, and Antol inhaled sharply. Captain Sisko had been considered one of the greatest heroes of the War, and Admiral Bashir had served under him for seven years. She'd never stated disapproval of him. But, as a matter of fact, she'd never stated anything up to now.

"I believe that, as the Bajoran...Emissary..." She spoke the word with emotion near distaste, "He was unfit to perform the duties of one of the main Commanders of our forces during the War. He had been too subjective when making many decisions, which had been highly unprofessional and had resulted in...casualties." The pause had gone unnoticed, because hands were up again.

"Admiral!" A fourth-year shouted, "What can you tell us about the death of Kira Nerys?"

"Colonel Kira had died of natural causes." Bashir spoke flatly, "a year after the War had ended, she was diagnosed with a cellular degradation virus that had no cure."

Many had implied that Kira had been murdered. The circumstances of her death were hardly clear, because nobody had ever mentioned the name of this virus Admiral Bashir mentioned.

"Admiral Bashir! Why have you agreed to attend such a conference only now, after all these years?" A very bold person asked. The Admiral did not seem touched at all.

"I have my own personal reasons for that. Let us just say I had not yet been ready to remind myself of those events so soon."

"What do you think of the Federation-Cardassian relations right now?"

"I believe that they are progressing fine, and that our alliance shall bring us both nothing but good."

"What can you tell us of Gul Dukat?"

As the entire hall grew silent in awaiting of her response, Elizabeth Bashir grew paler than ever. All color seemed to have drained off her face, and her eyes flashed with a mysterious emotion. Lewis would've judged it as a mixture of nostalgia, pain, regret...and hope. A flicker of new hope, still fighting to survive among all those feelings. He wasn't studying psychology for nothing.

It seemed to take a long time, and it seemed to be more difficult for the Admiral, but after a few seconds she spoke.

"Gul Dukat," Her voice was more silent and somehow wrapped up in sadness, "Was a great man. He was strong, proud, could almost say in love with the sound of his own voice." She spoke the last part almost affectionately, "He was the kind of man who would do anything to reach his ends. He was the sort of man who would turn over an entire planet just to find one person that had wronged him if he felt it was necessary ...and with the power to do it. He never spoke empty words. He was determined, dedicated...And fascinating. Frightening, deadly, but fascinating."

So it was true, Lewis thought, as the entire mass of cadest seemed to be recovering together with Elizabeth Bashir, what they said. When you fight someone long enough, you learn to respect them. At least some people do so. He glanced at Antol, who was evidently frightened by this monologue of Bashir's. Plenty of others felt the same, including Admiral Nechayev. Captain Chakotay merely appeared uneasy. But looks of understanding were plastered upon all of their faces. Lewis felt satisfied with his psychological analysys. He was certainly going to mention it to Professor Troi.

Captain Chakotay watched Elizabeth Bashir answer the rest of the questions. Somehow, he got the impression that none of them had left the same imprint on her as the one about Gul Dukat, even though she did flinch slightly when Gul Damar was mentioned. That he could understand, since Damar had had a change of heart…

On the other hand, who was he to understand or not understand, to judge or not to judge? He could only imagine what Admiral Bashir must have gone through. All of her friends had died since then, including her husband. In spite of the fact he'd been a Maquis, he'd never really fought in the War itself. His entire being protested against Admir Bashir being able to feel affection for any Cardassian, but his mind knew better than to question that. It agreed with Lewis' psychological analysis, even though hardly aware of the Cadet's observations.

It was not until the very end of the conference that the bombarding with questions ceased. The Admiral stood her ground heroically, Chakotay had to admit. It apppeared to him as if she was finally getting rid of some burden, because when he got back to announce that the meeting was over, the Admiral looked a lot lighter than she had when she'd entered the room five hours ago. One would have thought she'd have been tired, but it seemed that the case here was the exact opposite. Admiration sparkled within the Captain again, as he gave the Cadets his final words and announced that there would be a seperated banquet for them and for the Admiral. In return, he got sighs of disappointment, but everybody knew better than to disobey.

Out of the observation hall at last, Elizabeth Bashir turned to Chakotay and Admiral Nechayev.

„That was some conference, wouldn't you agree?" Her tone was light and nearly careless. Where had the stern, cold woman gone?

„Yes, indeed it was." Nechayev retorted, „Five hours of questions! I can only imagine how you felt…even though I must admit I was thriving to hear the responses to some of those."

„I suppose everybody was." Bashir added as they walked towards the Banquet Hall, „Even though I don't let it become evident, I am well-aware of the fact I've never spoken on this subject before."

„As you've said, you had your reasons." Chakotay decided to leave it at that. If she had chosen not to reveal those reasons fully, he was going to respect that.

But Nechayev wasn't; „I can't help but notice you seem a lot happier now that you have done so." She said with a friendly smile, which was, evidently, hiding great amounts of curiosity.

Bashir laughed out loud, throwing her head back. She still was very beautiful, Chakotay noticed, and she did look…rejuvinated after the conference, „Yes, it has, now that you mention it. I feel a lot better."

„Why the sudden change of heart?" Nechayev asked as they reached the Banquet Hall door. Chakotay felt the sudden urge to slap her, but Bashir was composed and cool.

„I simply woke up…and felt that I've had enough of silence."

As if abiding her wishes, as they entered the Hall they were encountered by music. Again Bashir smiled, and Chakotay heeded she still had pimples on her cheeks.

During the entire banquet, he found that he couldn't take his eyes off her. It was not any kind of sexual attraction, he was aware of that right away. He was faithful to his wife, Kathryn. It was merely…fascination. There was something within Bashir, something deep and undiscovered, that kept her going. Something that had broken her from the thirteen years of sorrow, and that had brought her back into life.

But no matter how he tried, he couldn't reach the conclusion-what…or who was it?

That's it for now...there will be more if I get positive reviews. Ack, there will be more anyway, because I adore writing this, but please, give me some reviews.

Thank You!