A/N: Well, it turns out I've got more time than I thought, since I've just lost my job :( so here we go, the sequel to the Art of War. Still playing with ideas right now so the first couple of chapters might appear quite slowly, but it should speed up once I've figured out where I'm going.
Feedback of any kind gratefully received, as always.
A/N Supplemental: I've finally remembered to put in visible line breaks. I know it was kind of confusing before because FFN ate up all my hard returns and I didn't realise until about last week. Belated apologies for not doing so before.
1: ALL OF THIS AND NOTHING
You didn't leave me anything
That I could understand
– Psychedelic Furs
Kira was looking in the mirror. She'd been doing that a lot over the last few weeks; she was trying to remember what she'd looked like as Iliana Ghemor. It was an entirely masochistic exercise, because every single second she'd spent as a "Cardassian" had been like a nightmare from which she could not wake. Yet she kept doing it, with a regularity that bordered on obsession.
Take care... Iliana. Dukat's last words to her on that final morning as he'd been taken away. They resounded in her head over and over, got into her dreams at night, gave her no peace. Why had he called her Iliana? Was it some kind of weird joke that only he would find funny? One final wind-up to remind her of who and what he was? Or was it something else – a message that she could not read, a hint she could not take? If only she could just ask him, or rather, storm up and demand an answer, watch his face as he cracked that grin of his, wait in a fever of impatience and something that used to be anger as he spun it out, then abruptly pulled the rug with a disarming explanation. The blush afterwards at his mocking laughter when she found out it was a perfectly simple answer.
She snorted. Perfectly simple? Dukat? The day that anything involving Dukat had a simple answer would be the day Kai Winn danced naked in Jalanda Square in front of ten thousand people. She shuddered at the thought, and tried to turn her attention back to her reflection. Black hair instead of red, long and sleek and strangely heavy like a wet cloth stitched to her skull. Grey, tight-feeling scales that were cold and papery to the touch, unlike her own skin. A kind of angularity that had never been part of her; she was curves and arches, not those straight hard lines. Only the eyes were the same; she'd never have Cardassian eyes. Tekeny had said she was beautiful, but she had seen only hideousness, only the face of a stranger superimposed over her own without warning, only a violation of her identity – and for what? All so they could trap him. Cardassians and their traps! And she was caught in a damn good one herself...
'Odo to Kira,' said her comm, breaking off that particular train of thought, but scarcely improving her mood. Things between her and Odo were still very strained; they'd been keeping interactions to a stilted, over-formal minimum because it was just too painful otherwise. She hadn't arranged anything with him now, so she wondered what the occasion was.
'I thought you'd want to know that the Bajoran government have agreed without question to exonerate Rom of all crimes. He's coming back on the evening transport.'
She didn't fail to pick up on how embarrassed he sounded, but the imminent return of the goofy, sweet-natured Ferengi made her smile all the same. Leeta had been unbearable the last week or so, constantly asking when he was coming home, and Kira hated turning her away with the same answer every time.
'That's wonderful. I'll go and meet him, make sure he gets an official welcome home. The staff briefing will probably be done by then...'
She hesitated a second, then thought what the hell. This stiff, awkward silence between her and Odo instead of their solid, trusting friendship felt like the loss of a limb, and she wanted that limb back before she got too used to being without.
'You want to come with me, Odo?'
She heard him hesitate too, almost heard the grimace on his face. She knew Rom wouldn't hold it against him, but that wasn't the point. Odo would hold it against himself. And Quark would probably be there, which wouldn't help any.
'Yes, I suppose I'd better. I'll see you at the briefing, Major.'
And that was that. Kira was left with her thoughts of traps and missing limbs, the memory of a face not her own staring back from the mirror, and a sardonic grin. Cardassian eyes.
Take care... Iliana.
'OK, here we go,' Sisko announced as soon as they'd all clustered around the long table in the wardroom. 'We've got some good news and some bad news. Which would you like to hear first?'
'If the bad news is about those power conduits in the docking ring again, then that's not news,' O'Brien grumbled. 'And no, I still haven't fixed the damn things, before anyone asks.'
Kira shot him a sympathetic look. He wasn't having a nice time. The station was still riddled with damaged circuitry, power outages, malfunctioning systems and a whole host of other problems, and it was over a month since the battle. He and his teams were run off their feet – she knew, because she organised all the shift rotas, and she wouldn't be in his shoes for anything.
'Let us hear the bad news first. Warriors do not shrink from adversity,' Worf intoned. He looked even more disgruntled than usual, and Jadzia, sitting next to him with her hands wrapped around his arm, was smiling very smugly about something. Her blue eyes twinkled as she grinned impishly at Kira. Sisko shrugged.
'Alright. The bad news is, we've had reports of yet another Dominion raiding party headed this way, presumably attempting to disable the minefield again. I've asked Starfleet Command to send us reinforcements but they won't get here until tomorrow, while the Jem'Hadar will probably arrive some time tonight.'
'If they arrive at all!' Bashir remarked indignantly. 'After what happened last time, I'm inclined to take that with a pinch of salt. I'd really rather not have to empty the infirmary and put all my teams on call if I don't need to.'
There was general agreement with this. Three days ago, they'd received word that a Jem'Hadar fleet were tearing towards DS9, the station had gone into panic mode, everyone scrambled for the nearest weapon locker, O'Brien nearly bust a gut trying to fix the torpedoes... and they'd all spent a tense, jittery night waiting for a fleet that turned out to be nothing more than a sensor error, misread by a nervous ensign pulling the graveyard shift at the relay station.
'Yeah, but if it's not just a sensor blip, then we're in big trouble if we haven't got those torpedoes,' O'Brien countered. 'Major, I dunno what you did to them, but the launching mechanisms are fried.'
'Chief, I keep telling you, ask Quark about it. I had nothing to do with it,' Kira answered automatically, not wanting to go through the whole dissection of that day yet again. A sequence of events printed so indelibly on her memory should not be so hard for other people to grasp, and they'd all read her reports. O'Brien looked like he was about to ask her something else, but Sisko saved her by snapping back to business.
'Well, just keep running sensor scans, keep checking with the relay stations, and make sure we're as ready as we can be for whatever turns up. You all know the drill, people.'
'Is it time for the good news now?' Jadzia asked, fairly bouncing up and down in her seat with excitement. 'I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting pretty sick of all these raiding parties and I've got something much more interesting to announce. Go on, Benjamin, can I tell them?'
'Patience, Old Man, all in good time!' Sisko laughed, while Worf looked faintly ill. 'There's actually two bits of good news. First off, I'm glad to announce that Rom has been exonerated of all crimes by the Bajoran government, and he's arriving back here on the evening transport.'
'About time! Maybe he'll be able to help me with the damn torpedoes, because I'm sure as hell not asking Quark to do it,' O'Brien muttered amongst the smiles. Kira noticed that Odo was not really joining in; instead he stood even straighter than usual, slightly apart from the rest of the group. She knew it was partly her fault; she'd said and done some awful things to him over the last month or so. He'd done some awful things to himself too. It might get better with time, but that didn't help either of them now.
'And secondly,' Jadzia broke in loudly, 'you'd better dig out your glad rags... ' She grinned at Worf. 'Because a certain bad-tempered Klingon has agreed to marry me next month and you're all invited!'
'Jadzia, I wish you would take this a little more seriously,' Worf complained as everyone pressed forward to congratulate the happy couple. Bashir, Kira noticed, looked gutted underneath his slightly-too-cheerful grin; it was common knowledge that he'd carried a torch for Jadzia ever since he'd met her, and he obviously hadn't expected this. Odo also looked frozen, stiff and awkward at the back of the crowd with his eyes carefully not meeting hers. Those we love too much are never the same as those who love us too much. When would it ever be simple, without all the questions and the doubts and the fears? Why all these hateful tangles, why always three sides where there was only room for two? A Klingon and a Trill and a Terran – or a Bajoran and a changeling and a Cardassian, for that matter, she thought bitterly, then snapped herself out of it. Thinking like that would get her nowhere.
A Bajoran and a Ferengi, though, that was something else. Who'd have thought? Leeta and Rom, the least likely, most mismatched, oddest-looking and happiest couple she knew. The astonished joy on Rom's ugly face as Leeta rushed up the transport gangway and practically knocked him over in her squeaking, tearful embrace made Kira grin, until she saw Odo's painful attempt at a smile and had to suppress a wince. Rom said over and over again that he blamed no one, it could have happened to anybody, he was simply glad to be alive and out the other side of it with no lasting harm done – but she knew Odo blamed himself and always would. Rightfully so, said the unfair, judgemental part of her. Had he not let them down, things could have been very different. But then again, if he hadn't let them down they might have all ended up dead anyway. Who could say? She didn't even understand what had happened, let alone what hadn't. Still, watching someone else return from jail was slightly near the knuckle in a half-funny, half-upsetting kind of way, and she was glad when Rom, along with Leeta, Nog, Quark and several others who'd showed up to welcome him back, disappeared off in the direction of the Promenade. She turned to Odo, who was staring at the Bajor-bound passengers boarding the transport with a distracted kind of fascination.
'Thinking of joining them?' she asked him as the blast doors rolled shut and the transport fired up.
'Hmm? Oh. No, not really. What would I do on Bajor, anyway? It's not my home.'
Implicit: I have no home. His shoulders were sagging, his face turned away. She shrugged and began to walk down the corridor; he fell into step beside her, but the silence they kept was not a companionable one. Several times she noticed him open his mouth to say something, then shut it again. Her thoughts whirled and jostled in her head sickeningly, always returning to the same place: Dukat at the top of the ramp onto the prison shuttle, the guards gripping his arms. Turned back to look at her half-faced, the twist of his neck framed dark against the yellow light.
Take care... Iliana.
'What does it mean? Why did he call me that?' she exclaimed, her self-imposed silence broken all in a rash instant. She'd promised herself not to talk to anyone about it, but it was too difficult. She needed answers, otherwise she'd go mad.
'I assume you mean "Iliana," yes?' Odo asked bitterly. 'How would I know, Nerys? And what business is it of mine?'
'Look, I'm sorry! This isn't what I'd have chosen either!' she snapped, suddenly furious with him and herself and the whole stupid situation. 'But it's happened, that's the long and the short of it, so we've both got to deal with it, OK?'
'You did choose it, though,' he pointed out. 'The only option I got was one that forbids me from ever reconciling with my people, and what did I get for it? Nothing.'
She stared at him. What did he want? The man who stood for nothing but truth, wanting her to lie to him about how she felt, wanting him to say she loved him back even if it wasn't true? That wasn't like him. And it wasn't possible; she'd only lied to him once, and that was more than enough.
'The man who made your life hell for all those years. Why, Nerys? Why did it have to be him?' he said hopelessly. She shook her head.
'If I knew that, we wouldn't be having this conversation,' she snapped. 'I don't know why, Odo, and it's not like it makes me that happy either, but it's not going to go away. And if you feel like this about it, why in the Prophets' name did you drag me down to that room when you knew what was going to happen?'
Odo muttered something unintelligible; she didn't need to hear what it was, the tone was more than enough to ignite her already bubbling temper.
'Fine! If that's the way you're going to be, I'd rather ask Quark for advice!' she shouted, her boot heels stabbing the floor as she strode away, not caring that he called after her. The hell with him. The hell with everyone. Especially Iliana Ghemor, whoever she was.