Author's note: AU after Behind the Lines-ish (s6) – not sure of exact point of divergence because I've mucked around with the timeline a little bit for narrative purposes. Before anyone shouts at me for not sticking to canon – this is fan fiction, so willing suspension of disbelief should be expected to some extent. There is a line, of course, over which only Mary Sues and horrendous clichés await; fear not, I will attempt not to cross said line... but if I do, feel free to vent your displeasure in the form of a review. If the feeling is not displeasure, please feel equally free to vent it.

Author's slightly less polite note: I know a lot of people will dislike this because it plays merry hell with the subsequent canon/character development, but I don't care, I'm doing it anyway. Flame away, it's freezing in my house.

Right, now I've written an introduction longer than one of Dukat's speeches, I'd best get started...


Never again is what you swore

The time before

Depeche Mode

Kira jerked awake as Dukat finally stopped talking and people began to leave the wardroom. She'd switched off halfway through his interminable pontificating; staying up all last night worrying about how to get Rom out of jail, combined with the ridiculous workload Damar had shovelled onto her, hadn't made for much spare energy. She stood up and saw Dukat coming towards her, an enquiring smile on his reptilian face. She glared at him.

'Major, a word with you, please?'

'I have nothing to say to you and you know it,' she said flatly. Right now she just wanted to get the hell out of this dingy, overheated room and go back to her quarters for some sleep. Or, failing that, take a swing the first Cardassian, Vorta or Jem'Hadar she could reach – and if it was Dukat then so much the better, even if he did chuck her in the brig for it. He raised an eyeridge.

'Maybe not, but I have plenty to say to you. Walk with me a minute.'

He wound his arm through hers, effectively pinning her against him, and steered her firmly in the direction of the door. She shrugged him off.

'Get lost, Dukat! I've had enough of your games!'

'I thought you had nothing to say?' he remarked archly, trying to take her arm again. She snatched it away and he sighed, the picture of sainted patience. Oh, how her fists itched.

'Alright, I won't touch you. But do hurry up, I haven't got all evening.'

He obviously wasn't going to take no for an answer, so she followed him down the corridor, glowering at his back, until he turned off at a maintenance junction and unlocked a door using a lengthy override code. It opened into an abandoned storage bay, currently piled high with broken or unused equipment that nobody had got around to dealing with yet. He relocked the door carefully, sat down on a crate and kicked another one towards her. She stayed on her feet.

'Why are we in here?' she asked suspiciously.

'Because this is one place that Weyoun can't spy on us,' he answered, in the long-suffering tones of one explaining a simple concept to a rather stupid child. She snorted. Dukat getting her alone could only go one way, and she wasn't going to like it.

'What do you want? If this is yet another misguided attempt to seduce me, I'm not interested.'

He laughed, a deep smoky chuckle that was perhaps his one redeeming feature.

'Major, really, I am capable of thinking of something other than you now and then, so don't flatter yourself unduly.'

'Me, flatter myself!' she spat, incensed. 'You're a fine one to talk, you smug, narcissistic son of a – '

'While being abused by you is the absolute highlight of my day,' he interrupted, 'I am a very busy man and I'd appreciate it if we could get to the point.'

'Even if I say no you're going to tell me anyway, so let's just get this over with, alright?'

'Very well. Sit down, make yourself at home.'

She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of being eye-to-eye with her but her feet ached from standing up at Ops all day, so she sat. He leaned forward conspiratorially and she had to sit on her hands, such a tempting target he made.

'You may have noticed that the minefield across the wormhole has not come down yet. Now why do you think that is?'

'Because you Cardassians aren't as efficient and technologically advanced as you claim to be?' she shot back, hoping to rile him by insulting his beloved race. He only grinned.

'Very good! And there I was thinking Bajorans had no sense of humour... Actually, I could get rid of those mines in fifty-two hours – but Weyoun isn't aware of that. Neither is Damar. Therefore they have no idea that I'm stalling for time. Waiting for the right moment.'

Stalling for time? Probably so he can gloat as long as possible about retaking the station before the Dominion or the Federation swipe it from him. She only hoped that Weyoun got sick of waiting and replaced him with someone else, preferably in a violent and irreversible manner. Then she saw his expression, realised what he meant and stared at him.

'You're double-crossing the Dominion?'

'Well, of course I am,' he scoffed. 'You didn't expect me to be a mere puppet ruler, did you? You know me better than that by now, I hope.'

She should have expected it. No matter how bad he seemed, he always had something else going on underneath the surface that was ten times worse. Huh. Cardassians. Just when you think you've got their measure and they can't possibly shock you any more, they reveal a whole new layer of deviousness that you never even knew about. She snorted.

'Right, I get it, you're a devious, twisted little puppet ruler just waiting for the right moment to cut the strings and turn on your masters after they've rebuilt your planet for you, not to mention given you back your beloved Terok Nor and roughed up the Federation a little. Very clever, Dukat.'

'Yes, I thought so,' he remarked matter-of-factly, though his eyes gleamed with pride. 'A classic example of Cardassian guile and subtlety, if I may say so myself.'

'Oh, spare me your posturing!' she snapped. 'I couldn't care less about the in-fighting in your cosy little alliance! In fact, I'd be overjoyed if the whole lot of you jumped out the nearest airlock, it would save me the bother of pushing you out myself.'

'Ah, but you haven't heard the best part yet...'

'Dukat, the only thing I want to hear is that you, Damar, the Founder and Weyoun have made a four-way suicide pact, but somehow I doubt it's my lucky day. Now spit it out, would you?'

'As the lady wishes. I'm planning to get in contact with your old friend Shakaar.' Kira frowned, opening her mouth to interrupt, but he shushed her and continued, 'While I find him an unutterably tedious man with no discernible personality, I think we'll agree on one thing: getting rid of the Dominion is a priority. I am not in a position to negotiate with him alone, but if you accompany me in your official capacity as Bajoran Liaison we may be able to come to some sort of... arrangement. Similarly with the Federation, in due course.'

She was stunned. The nerve of the man! To think that he could turn around and demand Bajor's help after all he'd done! It was so unbelievable it was almost funny.

'Bajor allied with Cardassia? You can't seriously believe that you can make all this mess, give the Dominion a toehold in the Alpha Quadrant, then expect us to help you clean it up! To say nothing of the damn Occupation – '

'I would rather have avoided this war, never mind the Occupation,' he said in a tone that indicated the Occupation was a discussion for another time, preferably never. 'However, Cardassia was in a terrible state. I needed a plan to get her back on her feet, and that is exactly what the Dominion have done. Originally I would have waited long enough for them to get rid of the Klingons as well, but now the Federation have muscled in that no longer seems to be an option. Terrans do love sticking their noses into other people's business, don't they?'

'Of course the Federation got involved! You invaded their station, what did you expect?'

'Major, just between you and me, I don't see what business the Federation had here in the first place. It's a Cardassian station in Bajoran space. Come on, you know that as well as I do.'

She'd got used to the Federation being there but she hadn't liked it at all, at first. She didn't see what right they had to come in and take over like they were some kind of self-appointed gods' gift to struggling powers, all the while spreading their vaunted morals around as subtly as a bat'leth to the head. Damn it, he was right!

'Huh. I hate to admit it, but you kind of have a point there,' she conceded grudgingly. He grinned.

'I do, don't I?'

'No need to gloat about it!'

'I was not gloating, I was merely stating a fact. Anyway, the Cardassian Union would actually prefer to avoid another clash with the Federation, but the Dominion want nothing less than to wipe them out completely, according to Weyoun.'

'So you're switching sides.'

Ah yes, the Cardassian way. Play both ends against the middle then side with the winner, save your own skin and to hell with everyone else. He nodded, unabashed.

'An admirably succinct conclusion, though is that tone of voice really necessary?'

'You are totally insane. Bajor will never ally with Cardassia, never in a million years.'

'You'd rather Bajor became a Dominion world?' he retorted. 'Think about it. This could be our chance to eradicate the Dominion for good and expand into the Gamma Quadrant. In fact, my alliance with the Dominion has provided the ideal opening, because Cardassia is now privy to all the Jem'Hadar and Vorta technical schematics, including the locations of their White refineries.'

'Why do we need to expand into the Gamma Quadrant at all? Why can't we just leave each other alone? The galaxy's a big enough place that we don't have to step on each other's feet all the time!'

'There is no such thing as peaceful coexistence with the Dominion,' Dukat said flatly. 'If we don't destroy them, they'll destroy us – all of us, alliance or no alliance.'

He was, for once, deadly serious. She sat silently, realising what he said was probably true, but still not wanting to concede to such a patently ludicrous scheme – a scheme cooked up by a Cardassian, at that.

'Have you ever played the Terran game called chess, Major?' he asked suddenly. She blinked at the abrupt non-sequitur, but shook her head.

'Nope. Never had much time for games, funnily enough, I've always been too busy trying to stay alive while you people destroyed my planet.'

'Ah, yes, I see why that could have been rather distracting. Well, chess is a game of skill, manoeuvre and outmanoeuvre, a game with one clear winner. In chess, sometimes you have to concede a little territory at the beginning in order to set up the board in your favour... You know, chess is one of the few good things to come off that planet, actually,' he remarked brightly. 'That and their literature.'

What was the idiot on about now? She had better things to do than listen to Dukat wax lyrical about Terran pastimes, none of which she'd ever experienced, nor did she want to. She shook her head.

'Dukat, you've just outlined what sounds like the craziest plan in the history of the galaxy and now you're talking about literature? What is the matter with you?'

He waved a hand frantically, cocking his head towards the door.

'Wha– oh,' she blurted, belatedly realising that the faint clanging noise was footsteps in the corridor. 'Uh, right. Terran literature. Who's your favourite, then? Prophets, I can't believe I'm asking you this, it's ridiculous!'

'I always rather liked Sun Tzu's 'Art of War,' personally...' Dukat mused, apparently taking the question seriously. 'And Machiavelli isn't bad either, if a touch pedestrian from a Cardassian point of view... Ah, good, they've gone. Where was I? Oh yes. My cunning and audacious plan.'

She snorted disgustedly and a crafty smile appeared on his face.

'You like it, Major, admit it. It's a desperate, heroic struggle against a superior foe. Isn't that what the Shakaar were always about?'

How dare he? Dragging the whole quadrant into his crazy machinations was bad enough, but expecting everyone to like it was utterly unacceptable.

'We weren't about teaming up with backstabbing traitors like you!' she hissed. 'As far as I'm concerned, there is absolutely no reason why Bajor should help Cardassia when all you really want out of it is more territory to conquer!'

'Bajor might not have an expansionist outlook, but all the major powers in this quadrant do. You wouldn't want to oppose the wishes of people like the Romulans, would you? Compared to them, we Cardassians are about as fearsome as Betazoids!'

He said it almost admiringly. Kira's blood boiled and she leapt to her feet, glaring at him. This had gone too far.

'I don't care about the damn Romulans!' she shouted. 'I see absolutely no reason why anyone in this quadrant should go along with this! If you think you can simply pick sides after all you've done and expect us to welcome you with open arms, you're even more deluded than I thought!'

'If we're going to debate the specifics, Major, it was actually Enabran Tain and the Tal Shiar who started all this with their demented attack on the Founders' home planet – which, actually, I think you'll find I had nothing to do with,' Dukat explained, his look of weary patience at her apparent stupidity only slightly marred by the leer he directed at her aggressive stance. 'After that, the Dominion were obviously going to invade either us or the Romulans sooner or later, so I anticipated their move and turned it to our advantage.'

'You don't know that for sure,' she countered, though it sounded hollow even to her own ears. 'They might have just ignored us.'

'The Dominion do not ignore people who oppose them; they either conquer them or destroy them outright. Therefore we must get rid of them, before they get rid of us.'

'Oh, so you think this plan of yours is the answer?' she sneered. 'Mighty big gamble to take with a lot of people's lives, Dukat. But then you never were terribly worried about other people's lives, were you?'

'Major, I hold all the aces!' he snapped, losing his composure for the first time. 'I've got the Dominion's technical information! They have ours too, of course, but if this plan works that won't matter because they'll have everyone else to contend with as well. We lose what seems like a lot at the outset, but, if I may quote myself,' he grinned a little sheepishly, 'everything we have lost, we will regain. And more.'

'Now where have I heard that before?' Kira remarked sourly. He shrugged.

'When you've made as many speeches as I have, it's hard not to repeat yourself after a while. And I'd quite like to remind you that for once I'll be the first to die if this backfires – therefore it is in both our best interests to make sure it succeeds. You need me to keep Weyoun in check, which I can't very well do if I'm dead, now, can I?'

She sat back down. She couldn't win this one: he had her and they both knew it.

'You want to know how Miles O'Brien describes Cardassian tactics? A plan within a plan within a plan, leading to a trap.'

'And he's absolutely right,' Dukat laughed, evidently rather pleased with himself. She'd intended it as an insult, but he seemed to find it complimentary. Cardassians... He leaned forward again, dispensing with his smug levity for a moment.

'The essence of this conversation is that I need you to talk to Shakaar, arrange a meeting with him. Preferably without any Vorta eavesdropping, if at all possible.'

Great. Just who she didn't want to talk to – well, besides Dukat, Weyoun or Damar, of course. She hadn't forgiven Shakaar yet for that time she caught him in bed with his secretary, and the one good thing about this occupation was that she never had to go down to the surface these days. Until now.

'You and your pact with the Founders haven't exactly made that very easy; Bajor's crawling with Dominion 'facilitators'. And what makes you think he'll listen?'

'Major, I have every confidence in you,' he told her soothingly, laying a hand on her knee. She slapped it away.

'The feeling isn't mutual, Dukat. I don't trust you or this plan of yours.'

'That is of course your prerogative. I just wanted you to know what was going on.'

'Understood. Anything else, or can I get on with my evening?'

He didn't answer, so she got up and crossed to the door, aware of his eyes following her, cool blue gaze assessing, calculating, sizing her up. Even from behind she could practically see the little wheels ticking in his head. Still, he hadn't said anything yet... so far, so good –

'Ah, just one more thing, Major,' he interrupted as her hand reached out for the door control. Silently raining foul curses on him for being so predictable, she turned back.

'What, Dukat? Oh, wait, let me guess: you want me to do more of your dirty work.'

'No, I want you to stop doing your own dirty work.'

'What the hell are you talking about?' she snapped. He raised his eyeridges, clearly not impressed.

'Whatever else you may think of me, I'm not stupid.'

'Could've fooled me!'

He smiled humourlessly at her cheap jibe, but his gaze was hot with suppressed anger.

'I know you were the Ferengi's accomplice when he tried to sabotage the computer system,' he growled. 'Don't bother denying it.'

'You've got no proof,' she insisted, though her heart had begun to race. He waved a hand scornfully.

'Your plan was crude, ill-conceived and risky; in fact it had 'Bajoran Resistance' written all over it. You didn't seriously think you'd get away with it, did you? I'm not completely blind, you know.'

'Sometimes I wonder,' she retorted acidly. He scowled.

'Major, the only reason Weyoun hasn't had you and Sisko's boy sentenced to death as well is because I managed to convince him you're more useful to us alive.'

'How generous of you,' she snarled back, trying to ignore the cold slosh of fear down her spine. He had her life in his hands, and it was entirely up to him what he did with it. He knew this, of course, and she wasn't surprised when he moved in for the kill. Angry, but not surprised.

'If your little resistance cell tries anything else, I will be forced to arrest the lot of you myself. However, if you cooperate with me and sort out a meeting with Shakaar, I will try and persuade Weyoun to let Rom off with a prison sentence instead of execution – in the interests of Bajoran-Dominion relations, of course. Am I making myself perfectly clear?'

'Dukat, this is blackmail and bribery all in one!'

And there wasn't a thing she could do about it either. He had her coming and going. Prophets, how she hated him for it! He nodded offhandedly.

'Yes, that sounds about right. But for once, it's not simply revenge on someone who's been a thorn in my side for too long; your cooperation, or lack thereof, could influence the future of this entire war. Call it... extra incentive, if you like.'

Incentive, huh? She briefly considered telling Weyoun about Dukat's plan and watch him try to smooth-talk his way out of the Vorta's eerie-eyed scrutiny. Now that would be incentive. It must have showed on her face, because he threw his head back and laughed at her.

'Going to sell me out to our Dominion friends? My dear, you are positively Cardassian in your deviousness! Who'd have thought you had it in you?'

She gritted her teeth. Right, that idea was out. No way was she stooping to his level, she'd rather die. Which was looking increasingly likely if she didn't find a way out of this mess.

'I expect your decision by 0600 tomorrow morning, Major. I will stop by your quarters before I go on duty; if anyone asks, we're catching up on paperwork over breakfast.'

Well, that was just the icing on the poisoned cake, having Dukat inflict his presence on her that early in the morning without even a raktajino to make her feel vaguely alive.

'I can hardly wait,' she ground out, turning back towards the door. 'Now if you'll excuse me, I want to go off-duty – Damar's had me running around like a slave all day checking your damn cargo manifests three times over.'

'That won't do at all, I'll have a word with him. Oh, and by the way – '

'Prophets, now what?'

He grinned slyly at her, obviously working up a good taunt, and she clenched her fists.

'Please stop baiting Damar; his temper is bad enough without you provoking him all the time. If you really must shout at a Cardassian on a regular basis, my door is always open to you...'

'In your dreams, Dukat!'

'Indeed,' he purred. 'Good night, Major. I await your answer with bated breath.'

'Well in that case, I hope you suffocate,' she spat, smacking the door control and storming down the corridor with the sound of his laughter echoing in her ears. Damn him.