Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Paramount.

Thanks to: Kathy, for beta-reading.

Timeline: Set directly after the flashbacks of the season 2 episode Necessary Evil.

Author's Note: Written for Yuletide 2011.


Prologue

Given that he hasn't been able to identify Vatrick's murderer, Odo expects Dukat to lose interest, round up the ten Bajorans Dukat said Central Command recommended, and order them executed. Maybe Dukat will be annoyed enough by Odo's failure to order him off the station, back to Bajor. Odo isn't sure how that makes him feel. Sorry for the ten unlucky Bajorans, yes, but it is a distant kind of regret, and distaste at the general injustice of it. There are so many Bajorans dying through Cardassian orders around him, directly or indirectly. It is hard to see ten more as separate from this, at least as long as the ten have no names and faces. Odo is aware he would feel differently if Dr. Mora was one of them. His feelings on subject of Mora have remained contradictory and violent ever since he walked out of Mora's lab.

Dukat says: "Well, that's unfortunate; I expected more from you," when Odo makes his report, and maybe it's because Odo has been thinking about Mora, but a surprising and altogether unwelcome sensation from the past arises. He feels embarrassment and shame at his failure, just as he did when Mora Pol said, ever so patiently: You managed the feathers of a bird, Odo. Surely a proper Bajoran face should be easy by comparison?

It's not that he cares one whit what some petty Cardassian official thinks of him. It's that he undeniably failed at something he should have been able to do. Maybe it is the result of spending all that time performing experiments, maybe is a conditioned response by now, but Odo hates failing more than he hates most things. Which is why he decides to demonstrate just what he's capable of.

"You expected everyone to be impressed by the fact you're taking the murder of a Bajoran seriously, and to see you as a stern and just ruler," Odo says, because as Cardassians go, Dukat is not that hard to read. "They are. It does not change the fact they hate you."

"Naturally," Dukat says, sounding amused and the slightest bit intrigued. "But I also expected and still expect not to be taken for a fool. Given we still have a Bajoran corpse and no culprit on our hand..."

He spreads his hands and lets the sentence peter out. Cardassians love their gestures and the sound of their voices. At least this one does. And yet, he remembered Odo from a lab visit two years ago and a few ridiculous demonstrations and correctly deduced Odo would wish to be more, would want to use his mind, not the body Mora was so fascinated by that he never stopped probing and prodding. No, it would not do to take Dukat for a fool.

"Who was your most promising lead?" Dukat asks, and the face of the redheaded woman comes back to Odo, in every exquisitely carved detail. By now, she must have left the station. He could name her without getting her killed. But this would be unjust; she committed sabotage, not murder. And if Odo names her, her face will be known as a resistance member to every Cardassian on Bajor. Undoubtedly, she would be dead soon.

We all have to pick sides, Constable, she'd said to him. And so Odo replies tartly: "The Ferengi barkeep."

After all, the Ferengi is clearly guilty of a lot of things. Lying, cheating, exploiting Bajorans in their hour of need. An altogether repellent individual. No loss there.

"Quark, hm?" Dukat says. "Pity. He's useful. Ah well, I suppose that brother of his will keep the bar going. And if not, there'll be a new Ferengi soon."

Undoubtedly, there would be. From what Odo has been able to observe on Terok Nor, Ferengi are as greedy and prone to show up everywhere there is something to gain as vermin. But Dukat's mention of Quark's brother has an odd resonance for him. He hadn't imagined the Ferengi as someone with a family. Someone who would miss him.

"He is undoubtedly a thief," Odo hears himself saying. "But I don't know yet whether or not he is a murderer."

Dukat swings his legs from his desk.

"Well, Constable," he comments, "you have one more day to find out."