War is fought by human beings.
-Carl von Clausewitz in On War
1. Sisko looked at the orders from Starfleet without really seeing them. The orders to pull out. Funny, how just five years ago he would have jumped at an order like this. He felt a stranger to the man who had sat so reluctantly at this desk then. Since his assignment had begun, this place had transformed from a dark, foreboding and alien station to a warm, familiar home. A place where he could hang up his old art work from Earth, where he could cook jambalaya for his friends, a place he could even trust to be the community in which to raise his son.
He would miss this office; his rooms; the crowds on the promenade; the officers, Starfleet and Bajoran, working in Ops. Most of all he would miss Bajor itself. He had seen it grow from an out-of-the-way planet, devastated by decades of occupation, to one of the most important places in the Alpha Quadrant. Though the idea of being their Emissary still disturbed him somewhat, he had grown accustomed to his role as Bajor's advocate to the Federation.
But orders were orders. He would simply have to hope that Bajor's treaty of nonaggression with the Dominion would be honored.
He picked up his baseball as he considered what he would say to those staying on the station, to those on the planet. The truth, he decided. He owed them that much and more. After a breath, he placed the ball deliberately back on the desk and turned to go.
2. Jake crouched in the dark hall behind Quark's, trying not to imagine what the look on his father's face would be when he realized that his son had not left the station. I'm a grown man and a journalist. It's my duty to stay.
And I'm not afraid, he told the darkness. Jake hugged his legs against the eerie silence of the station and waited.
3. "Terok Nor." Kira had fought these five years against the return of that name. "Deep Space Nine" was a comfortable place, despite its past. Just when she'd finally stopped seeing Terok Nor's cold, dark harshness out of the corner of her eye, this had to happen.
She wanted to rant and rage, to pummel Dukat and his smug lackeys to the floor, to make them pay for this further injustice that just when she'd started to breathe easy for the first time in her life, this should happen.
Instead, she stood in the prefect's office, barely concealing her contempt for the man sitting at Sisko's desk like he owned the place again. She had to act civil and do her job, but she could see in his eyes that he knew full well how much she would like to kill him. Worse, it amused him. She was essentially handcuffed and he was loving every minute of it, all the more so because of her defiance. She hated him for it, and hated him more for knowing that she hated him.
She couldn't break today, no matter how much she might long to, because Bajor depended on her. But someday it would be too much, and the result would be ugly.
Honestly, she was looking forward to it.
4. It had taken about a week before Starfleet had enough time on its hands to start asking the usual questions. "Why didn't you stay behind?"
"I'm afraid," he had demurred, "that other Cardassians don't like me very much."
Garak had answered their questions, not really telling them anything, of course. They had been irritated, but for some reason had left it at that. He couldn't help but feel disappointed. They could have at least threatened him.
When he brought it up upon returning to the ship, Bashir had made a crack about how Garak was "the only person I know who would miss being tortured," but it was obvious his heart wasn't in it. After a few minutes' attempted conversation, the doctor turned back to his calculations.
Later, they had dinner in the Defiant's cramped mess room. Dax told stories from her past lives, stories designed to be humorous and disguise the worry that shone clearly in the lines of her too pale face. Bashir laughed too loudly. Garak watched him. Was it the war that had added lines at the corners of his eyes and tension to his shoulders? He didn't look quite as young as he had. Of course, none of them did.
He saw that the Chief had caught him looking and smiled benignly. O'Brien scowled in response and Garak's smile became almost genuine as he deliberately turned back again. Some things, at least, were constant.
5. Odo sat at the edge of the bed and tried not to think about it. Even so he recognized the typical reaction in himself: whenever he felt strongly conflicted about something personal he had a tendency to push it to the back of his mind and ignore it. He thought it was better to go about life … calmly. Detached.
But that was the problem, wasn't it? Clinically detached had been her exact attitude throughout, like a scientist observing a curious phenomenon, like she was learning about the mating habits of spotted grouse or newts or something that didn't matter. He'd wanted so much to teach her something that might help her to understand solids better. How completely pathetic was it that sex was the best thing he could come up with.
And of course it had done no good. If anything, it had given her more ammunition in her belief that they were better than solids. Solids. When had he started using that term? Her term. With all the implications of inferiority it carried.
But aren't we better? He shook his head, but he couldn't dislodge the thought. Conflicted.
When we take something's shape, we come closer to understanding what it is to be that thing, she had explained. Hadn't he spent the majority of his life in the shape of a humanoid? Hadn't he even been a bona fide humanoid for half a year not too long ago? There were some things about them he felt he would never comprehend, but he saw how much closer he was to that state than she would ever be. She didn't want to understand. She wanted to control.
But she was one of his people. She could answer so many more questions about the nature of Changelings. She did not treat him like some sort of freak, something to be studied or laughed at or pitied. And yet she continually dismissed those things about which he felt most strongly: justice, peace, his friends.
If I even have friends anymore, after this.
He sat there, feeling dirty, as though he had betrayed someone. He just couldn't figure out whom.
6. Sisko stood at his office window and looked out at familiar stars. He clutched the ball in his right hand, feeling the pattern of leather and stitching. Home at last. But of course, nothing would ever be the same.