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In Plain Sight
It has been said that Cardassians have no hearts.
This is, of course, untrue. Any being that derives sustenance from an external source – nutrition, respiration, hydration – must have some means of delivering that sustenance throughout its body. Thus, a circulatory system is necessary, and with it, some mechanism for its operation: a heart.
But he understands the analogy of the statement, because he's heard it so many times before. He's even suggested that it might be true. It's camouflage, obfuscation, misdirection. Lies within lies within lies, until the truth is exposed in plain sight yet impossible to see.
Cardassians have hearts. This he knows. For he has seen the risks a Cardassian might take over an affair of the heart. And as he lay dying, acknowledging the son thus created, he opens his heart's eyes and, finally, sees that truth within his own life.
She comes to him upon his promotion to the upper echelons of the order, one of the rewards that include, among other things, a private home in an exclusive part of the city. Looking down and speaking in a soft voice, she gives her name as Mila Garak and states her purpose: to provide him with housekeeping and "any other services you may require." It's obvious what she expects will be the nature of those services.
She's startlingly beautiful, with lustrous hair and eyes wise beyond her obvious youth. In that moment he decides that he will, indeed, avail himself of those other services. Yet the first time he reaches for her, he finds himself pausing at the mixture of fear and expectation in those arresting eyes.
"I do not require your assistance with this matter," he says after a long, charged moment. His voice is harsher than he'd intended.
"I apologize that my employer does not find me sufficient," she says softly, those eyes downcast once again.
"There may come a time when I do require such a service," he replies, "but that time has not yet arrived. Carry on with your other duties." He dismisses her and as she raises her head to see her way out, he sees a spark of something else flash through her eyes, something that is neither fear nor expectation. He's not quite sure what it is, and he dismisses the thought that it might be intriguing to find out.
There is plenty of intrigue in his life already.
After this she quietly fades into the background, always present yet never obtrusive. He sees the evidence of her work throughout the house. She learns his favorite dishes and ensures that they are prepared for him whenever he may be in residence. She sees to it that his bed is soft and fresh, and, in the mornings, ensures that his overnight companion wants for nothing prior to her departure.
Sometimes days will pass, even when he is present, when he does not see her. It seems as if the house simply keeps itself, but then he will discover her, quietly humming as she places folded linens into a closet or looking at him with startled surprise when she emerges from the root cellar with her arms full of produce.
In time he chooses to avail himself of those other services, his initial reaction notwithstanding. She is quietly efficient in that area too, yet at times he sees that same mysterious flash in her eyes. Sometimes he even imagines there might be something more there than duty, more than obligation.
She is quiet immediately afterward, not cluttering the silence with frivolous talk. After a time, when they're both breathing normally again, he'll finally hear that soft, melodious voice. "Will you require anything further, sir?"
At first, he dismisses her with a curt – though not impolite – negative. Sometimes he'll remind her of a task yet to be done and she nods and ensures it is complete before he emerges from the bedroom. He never sees anything other than the quiet, efficient housekeeper she had appeared to be when she first presented herself in his office.
One night, though, when spring is in bloom and the scent of orchids fills the air, he finds himself asking a question instead. "Are you the one who straightened my study while I was gone?"
"Of course," she answers. "I see to it personally." By this point she has asked and received his permission to occasionally hire temporary staff, particularly during the twice-yearly deep cleaning or when he will be in the city for long stretches.
"You have developed a very efficient filing system," he observes. "I take it you can read and cipher, then?"
Something that might be surprise flickers across her expression. "Of course, sir. I'm sure I can't do it at your level, but it's necessary to ensure that the household papers and accounts are properly maintained."
"You've seen the notes about the increasing pro-Bajoran sentiment among the people, then."
"I would never presume –"
He keeps his voice quiet, calm. "Yes or no, Mila."
She lowers her eyes. "Yes. But I do not read anything beyond what is necessary to efficiently file the documents. Such matters are not my business."
"Does it seem to you, as it seems to others, that there is an interesting juxtaposition of the increase in pro-Bajoran sentiment and the strengthening of the Federation presence near the Orias sector?"
Mila lowers her eyes. "I may read the documents, sir, but any analysis is beyond my ability."
"If I wanted professional analysis, I would ask a professional analyst. I am asking you because I would like to know what a common citizen, knowing what you know, might think."
Again he sees a flash in her eyes, and he can understand that she is thinking carefully. She is far more intelligent than he had first believed, he realizes abruptly.
Intelligent enough, he realizes, to understand the concept of playing a role. She would know that successfully assuming a role would require completely subsuming the self into it for a significant period, perhaps even one's entire life.
There is far more behind those dark, inscrutable eyes than he had imagined.
"It appears," she says slowly, bringing him out of his musings, "that the Bajoran problem may lead to more consequences than the Detapa Council and Central Command may have originally intended."
He's privately thought the same thing. "What brings you to that opinion?"
She does not now meet his eyes at all. "A questioned leadership is a weakened leadership, and a weakened leadership is a defensive one. When on the defensive, one must pay more attention to practical matters and thus less attention to making significant decisions. It begins a circular cycle."
"Yet the leader that ignores 'practical matters' is one that can find himself unaware of the changing needs of those he leads." A smile tugs at his lips, but with her head bowed he knows she does not see it. "I am the leader of this house, you know."
"Of course, sir."
"Do you not feel I should spend time attending to the more mundane activities of its operation, then? Paying attention to the small details?"
She raises her head then. "No. That is why I am here."
It's only later that he realizes she did not call him sir.
He watches her after that conversation and realizes that she has, indeed, quietly slipped into a role of senior administrator in his household. She never questions his authority; she's made it clear she would never presume. But all the details are handled entirely by her direction. In her own way she subtly directs the household simply by managing all of its daily functions.
In that moment he realizes how significant a lowly administrator's position can be, and decides to take steps to bind her closer to him. She is too important, too critical to risk the possibility of her betrayal. He couldn't stand to lose her.
It's for his protection, he tells himself. Before one can address the enemy ahead, one must ensure that there are no enemies within. Loyalty is paramount, and cannot be earned by position alone.
So he brings her presents from time to time, trinkets from the places he travels in service to the Order. She accepts them graciously, sometimes even with a smile, and every now and then he sees that mysterious flash in her eyes.
It's when he presents her with a length of high-quality Risian silk that he recognizes another nuance of that flash. "You find this amusing."
She drops her eyes. "Only in the most benign of ways. It is no comment about the quality of your generosity."
"Come now, Mila. There is a difference between humor and gratitude. I don't doubt the latter," he continues, carefully shielding the fact that he isn't as sure as he sounds. "But I don't understand the former. What is so funny?"
"It's nothing. A trifle."
"I'm waiting," he says, forcing the patience into his voice.
She lifts her head although she still will not meet his eyes. "The silk is exquisite. Its quality is obvious without examination. But it is impractical."
"Impractical?" He had not expected to hear that.
"Cloth this fine is fit only for clothing. But why would a mere housekeeper have need for a garment so fine?" She runs the cloth through her hands. "This is a beautiful gift. But I have no use for it. It will require some effort on my part to create something of it that would show my appreciation."
"So you're saying I actually made more work for you?"
She risks a glance at his eyes. "Yes."
"I will take it back, then," he says, and she hands it over immediately. "I will remember that my housekeeper prefers practicality to beauty."
"I'm sorry, sir."
To his own surprise, he laughs. "Oh, Mila, don't be sorry. You're right. I simply hadn't thought about that detail."
"I handle the details," she says quietly, "so that you can enjoy the beauty of your home."
He dismisses her with a nod, but it occurs to him that there is a certain beauty in efficiency.
He comes through the door, breathing heavily with exertion, though the greater heaviness is the one in his heart. Mila reaches for his coat. "I'll prepare something for your ailment immediately."
"No, no, it's not necessary," he waves her off. "I am not ill. Only sick at heart."
She turns from the coat-hook to look at him.
"The Central Command has chosen to...increase the military presence on Bajor. To crush the rebellion, they say, and protect the strength of our position."
"This does not please you." It isn't a question.
"Of course not! Mila, it's stupid! Throwing good resources after bad! The Bajorans and their damnable faith can't be controlled by more of the same. We must act differently, more subtly, to crush the –" he trails off, realizing who she is. She does not deserve to bear the brunt of his anger. "I'll be in my study."
"I will bring you something hot," she says, though for once her normally-busy hands are still.
He shakes his head. "No. I need to be alone."
"As you wish." But she comes into the study several hours later, bearing a meal of cold finger foods. She approaches him cautiously, quietly, to avoid disturbing what he realizes she must believe to be sleep. Her intent is clear: that he wake up to find his needs already met.
Or is it? Today she has seen him under less than perfect control, has learned information that could lead her to believe association with him might not be in her best interest.
As she sets the tray down on the table beside his chair, he abruptly sits up straight. "Are you here to poison me, then?"
She is so badly startled that she drops the tray onto the floor. "To poison you?"
"Yes. I'm a member of an opposition group now, someone who has openly spoken against Central Command. It may be that a liaison with me is unwise."
Pausing from cleaning the floor of spilled food, she sits back on her heels. "Liaison? You are my employer, nothing –" she breaks off herself in a rare loss of composure. Taking a breath, she continues in a more measured tone. "Your point is well made, but I do not believe that I am in any danger simply because of my position."
"And if I should be required to go underground? To work – outside the lines of the law?"
"I would have no need to be aware of such activities," she answers, straightening. "My responsibility is to maintain your home, not monitor your comings and goings."
"What if I could not give notice of those comings and goings? If I were to simply appear and disappear without warning?"
He sees another of her rare flashes of feeling, but to his surprise she makes no effort to avoid eye contact. "Then I would keep the household in a state of continuous readiness."
Perhaps it is the fact that she maintains eye contact when making this statement. Perhaps it is the years of experience they now share, or simply some foolish assumption on his part. But he believes her. She will not transfer her loyalties.
"Mila," he says as she turns to leave. "I want you –" he pauses. "I would like you to join me in my bed tonight."
"Of course. I'll be there as soon as I've had a chance to clean up."
"Mila." She turns around again. "I don't want you there unless you want to be there."
Without a reply, she exits the study and closes the door behind her. But later, after he truly has fallen asleep this time, he wakes to find her slipping, already unclothed, into the bed beside him. They do not speak, offering no promises, no declarations of loyalty, no tender but meaningless words.
Afterward, he tells her to call him Enabran.
His prediction turns out to be correct; he's required to go underground in order to maintain the Order's work. It is a slippery activity, as he must maintain the appearance of his normal routine even when he's required to be off world for days, weeks – or, even once, months – at a time.
His house is always ready for him. He never comes in after a long absence to find dust, an unstocked kitchen, powered-down systems or any other indication that the house has not been lived in the day before. She is as true to her word about that as she has been about everything else.
She also never asks whether or not he wishes her companionship when he is home. They never openly speak about it. But in the night, she always comes to him. It is the only time she will ever speak his name, ever show anything other than the quiet efficiency she has given for years.
One night, as she slips away, he catches her hand. "Stay."
"Mila, stay. You don't have to leave."
She frowns slightly. "It's not seemly."
"Nobody else is in the house," he points out.
"Staff members will report in the morning," she replies. "There is no need to risk an inadvertent discovery. Eyes and ears can be everywhere."
He doesn't release her hand.
"Enabran." It's the first time she's spoken his name while outside his bed. "This is too risky a time to lead with your heart."
Startled, he drops her hand and sits up. "My heart?"
There's a flash in her eyes again and she bites her lip before schooling her features. "I apologize for the presumption. But simple prudence indicates –"
"No," he says. "You're quite right. You may go now."
She gathers her clothing and dresses, but then stops before leaving the room. She takes a breath. "There is something else you should know."
"The house is being watched even when staff is not present." She meets his startled eyes. Hers are calm, shielded. "My job is the details. I see the differences, the subtle signs. It's important that you take steps for your own protection."
"Thank you." His eyes follow her as she slips out of the room, and he wonders why she chose that particular time to give her warning. He wonders what else she might have to say and why she finds him so important.
It has nothing to do with either of their hearts, he knows. She's too practical for that, and he's too careful.
Maintaining the fiction of normal routine isn't always easy, and at times she is required to meet him outside the house. Sometimes she brings him a change of clothes, to imply that he'd had a chance to go home overnight. Sometimes she retrieves some item that would be better off stored within the home.
She is always cautious, approaching through carefully hidden means and maintaining absolute silence and discretion, even when he chooses to indulge himself with her body.
It is during one of those meetings that he finds out. She is collecting her clothing, stands up suddenly, and unexpectedly sways. She's forced to grab for the wall to steady herself.
He looks down at the surface beneath them. It's perfectly level, not slippery and with no obstacles that could cause her to trip. "Mila, what is it?"
She shakes her head, though she is still leaning against the wall. "It's nothing, sir. Just a temporary malady."
In the dim light he can see that she is much paler than usual. "Nothing?"
"It's not communicable. You're in no danger."
"Mila." He catches her chin with his fingers and raises her face so that their eyes meet. Hers are completely opaque. "That wasn't my question."
She takes a single sharp breath. "I simply need to undergo a procedure. It's already scheduled. This should not happen again."
"All right." But then, as she is pulling her jacket around her body, he notices that there has been a subtle change in its shape. Her breasts are slightly fuller, her face the tiniest bit rounder. And there's a palpable difference in her aura, her presence. In the space of a heartbeat, he knows.
"You are carrying a child."
Had he not been looking directly at her, he would never have seen the brief hesitation in her actions. "It's nothing of consequence."
"Nothing of consequence? Is it mine?"
Her head comes back sharply at that. "Who else would it have been?" She squares her shoulders. "I did not take proper care, that's all. But I've already made – arrangements. You need not concern yourself."
"No." He crosses to stand in front of her, to keep her from leaving. "I won't have that."
"It's the most practical solution."
"Hang practicality! You're talking about a child, about family. How can you so blithely make such a decision? How could you do it unilaterally?"
"Biology is not family," she whispers.
"But it isn't a 'malady,' either." He takes her hands. "I will be home in a few days. We will discuss this in further detail then."
"No buts." He looks her straight in the eye, sees emotion flash there. "We will talk."
He is the one who initiates the arrangement. There are a dozen reasons why it is a risky move, yet, in his mind, they are outweighed by the one reason that supports such a risk.
By now he knows that she will protest, so he does not inform her in advance. He simply instructs the new city groundskeeper to be present in the kitchen early one morning, when she emerges from the small room where she sleeps.
She stops short, for once plainly showing her feelings. "What are you doing here?" she asks, the shock from her face reflected in her voice.
"I might ask you the same," he replies. "How many years has it been? What are you still doing here?"
She takes a breath, schooling her expression though her breathing is still irregular and her body taut. "I have a job."
"A job." He looks her up and down. "It appears you have a problem, too."
Although the signs of her pregnancy are not yet obvious to a casual observer, they are clear to anyone who would recognize them. She does not bother to deny them. "Perhaps. But it has nothing to do with you."
"That's where you're wrong," the other man snaps. He slams his hand down on a kitchen counter. "It has everything to do with me, since I'm now here to provide this situation of yours with..." he trails off before spitting out the last word disgustedly. "Legitimacy."
Mila shakes her head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do! Don't tell me you didn't suggest this to him? It's a perfect way to hide the family 'shame,' isn't it? Now they can say that Tolan saw the error of his beliefs once he met the right woman. He's gone off into the city to be with her and live as a proper Cardassian!"
She had recovered some of her composure during his speech, but the final phrase startles her again. "Start a family?"
"Yes. I'm here to be your husband and the father of your child. Your bastard child," he finishes with a sneer. "At least I'm honest about the Way. You? You always professed to be so dedicated to being a proper Cardassian: right belief, right thinking, right behavior. Behavior that does not include this!"
"I have done nothing that was not appropriate," she answers, and though her voice is calm there is a hint of defiance in her eyes.
"Oh, so you love him, then," he challenges. "This employer of yours, this spy, who fathered a child on you. I assume he's your lover, of course. Or could it be he's just your handler? Maybe you're even using him for your own purposes?"
"Tolan! We're standing in his own house!"
"Yes, you are." Tain strides into the room, nonplussed. This was not the happy reunion scene he had imagined. "And you are quite free to change your mind, Mr. Garak. Of course, you'd have to be sent away to make sure that there's no chance of anyone finding anything out, but there are ample opportunities for groundskeepers with your skills."
Tolan Garak squares his shoulders. "No. She's my sister. I'll stay."
He has to admit that the statement impresses him. Clearly, this man is displeased at both his sister's and his family's actions. Yet, when called upon for help, he doesn't question the need to care for his relatives.
"Good," he says, not wanting to let too much of his opinion show. "But keep in mind: she's not your sister, she's your wife. And that is the last time you will ever call my child a bastard."
Tolan's eyes hold Mila's as he nods. "Yes. The last time." Then, breaking the contact, he turns to address his civil service sponsor. "If you'll excuse me, sir, I need to visit the city offices."
They watch him leave, each looking anywhere but at the other.
"He will not be the best of influences," she comments later that night, when they are alone. He has to leave again in the morning, to travel off world. She has not asked where. "His beliefs are...radical."
"Exposure to different mindsets will be a positive experience for our child," he answers. "The Oralian Way is an ancient religion, and it will die off within the next three generations. It no longer constitutes a threat to Cardassian culture. Let him amuse himself thinking he could pass it along."
She drops her eyes, clearly not agreeing but just as clearly not intending to argue. He decides not to press the point, instead remembering another part of the overheard argument.
"Mila, when you were arguing, Tolan called me your 'handler.' What did he mean by that?"
"It's just an old argument."
"Really? What about?"
Her hands have frequently been busy in his presence, but this is the first time he's ever seen them moving nervously. She worries the edge of the bedspread that covers them. "Sibling insults, nothing more."
He says nothing more, but he remembers that the word handler can mean a person who works with a covert agent. Combined with Tolan's next accusation – maybe you're even using him for your own purposes – it creates a suddenly alarming picture.
He had hesitated before contacting Mila's family. Now, he wonders if he shouldn't have done it sooner than he did.
Pre-natal examination shows that the child is a boy, and at his request she agrees to name him Elim. It had been his grandfather's name, but it's common enough that there should be no awkward questions about the child's namesake.
Still, just to be certain, he goes into the Order's files himself one night instead of delegating the task to an assistant. He will be certain that this child has no negative family connections which would preclude a future in the Order. This is what he is doing when he discovers that Mila has an agent's file.
He hadn't been at a high enough level to decrypt this portion of her records when she first began working for him. By the time he was, he had been certain enough of their relationship that he had never bothered to look. After deciphering the codes, though, he castigates himself for his complacency.
He will, he decides, dismiss her immediately. He won't bring any additional shame on his son by publicly accusing or excoriating her, but he must take steps to protect himself. He begins to read the intelligence she has provided, arming himself with the knowledge of whatever covert information had been gathered about him.
It is three hours later when he realizes she has not provided the Order with any reliable intelligence since before he first went undercover. Her reports became increasingly riddled with misinformation, and eventually, she simply stopped submitting them. The Order has not heard from her at all in nearly two years.
He's called away again the day after he reads the file, and by the time he returns, his son is ten days old. Tolan mentions to him that her slender physique meant the birth was not easy, yet he knows from reviewing the household schedule that she has already returned to work.
He finds her in the kitchen, instructing the cook she has finally hired on a regular basis. The baby is asleep in a corner. He pauses to look at the child before coming over to them. "What are you doing working?"
"You are hosting a breakfast for senior Council members in two days' time –"
"And I'm sure that it will all be fine. It never has been otherwise."
"There are always last-minute changes and checks to be addressed."
"Yes," he answers, "but I've never known a new parent not to be sleep-deprived. You will make mistakes if you don't rest."
Her lips quirk into a brief smile and then smooth back out. "Sleep deprivation is nothing new to me, sir."
"I can imagine. We need to talk."
At this uncharacteristic statement, she looks up and meets his eyes. "Now, sir?"
"Yes. Come with me." He leads her through the yard into one of the walking paths Tolan has beautified in the last several months. "Before I left, I went into the Order's records. I located and decrypted your file."
She stops, closes her eyes, and exhales slowly. "I had wondered when this day would arrive. Do you wish for me to arrange something quiet, or would it suit your purpose better if things were more public?"
"What are you talking about?"
"My elimination, of course," she answers without a change in tone. "I'm a rogue agent, too much of a liability. I've positioned myself so that exile will be sufficient, but if it should come to execution –"
"Mila. I'm not talking about getting rid of you."
He knows her well enough by now to identify the flicker in her eyes as one of relief. "What do you plan, then?"
He considers her for a long time. "I don't know. There was a question I could not answer. Why did you start submitting false reports?"
She glances away.
Her voice is very soft, and he's reminded of the day he first met her. "I knew how the information would be used. I could no longer be objective."
"You became emotionally involved with the situation?"
Her lack of response provides all the reply he needs.
"You once told me that I shouldn't lead with my heart," he says just as softly. "You warned me that it would be too risky. That was because you already had, hadn't you?"
Still not meeting his eyes, she nods.
He reaches out, cups her chin, and turns her face up to his. "All this time, you've been protecting me. Caring for me. In some cases, ensuring that my needs are met before I even know I have them."
"That is my job."
"Yes. And you do it more than well. Well enough, I believe," he continues, an idea dawning on him, "that you've earned the right to security."
"Come back with me to the house," he answers. "We will draw up a contract of permanent employment. I will see to it that the Order will never be able to discipline you as a rogue agent."
Her lips quirk into a smile again. "That's as risky as leading with your heart."
"Riskier." He returns her smile. "But the risk will be worth the reward."
Nobody was fooled, he realizes now. This truth has been lying in plain sight the whole time. The contract wasn't his first risk. It was his last.
The darkness is surrounding him now, and he can no longer feel the presence of those who are around him. He will not see Mila again. Yet he has no regrets about never explicitly telling her about this truth he has seen in the final moments of his life. He knows she knows. For she, too, has a Cardassian heart.