Disclaimer: Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is the property of Paramount Pictures.

A Study in Egotism

The journey through the Anomaly – the wormhole, he was training himself to say, as they did in this quadrant – had been startling in a way that Weyoun had not expected. The way the blinding blue light swirled around in a tight wall of energy stopped him in his tracks and all he could do was stare at the viewscreen in awe. The crew of the Karemma ship that he was on exchanged glances with each other, and the captain asked, "The Vorta has never visited the Alpha Quadrant?"

White energy crackled in ropes across the screen and Weyoun watched it, captivated. Space was a vast blurry blackness to him; if he was lucky, the closer stars appeared as faint smears of light. This was…immediate, crystal clear, and something he'd never imagined in any of his lifetimes, his progenitor's included. "No," he said vaguely, distracted by the bright intensity surrounding the ship.

Then with a flash of light, the ship shot back into the galaxy's normal blackness. Weyoun whirled to watch out of the small viewport at the back of the bridge as the wormhole closed, like a flower folding in on itself. Was that beauty, he wondered? He'd have asked the Karemma bridge crew, but they seemed bored by it. Perhaps they had no sense of aesthetics either, he mused. Or perhaps they were just jaded, having made this trip a dozen times.

He shook himself and snapped out of it. He wasn't here to contemplate the aesthetic value of a cosmological anomaly. "Are we passing Deep Space Nine?" he asked the captain, a woman called Kathar.

She nodded and ordered, "Magnify," to her crew. An image of the joint Bajoran-Federation station appeared on the viewscreen with a level of detail that even Weyoun could see.

Crossing his arms over his chest, he studied the station; its two concentric rings capped by three sweeping pylons. Cardassian architecture – the first he'd seen in person. The magnification was enough to show the red spacecraft warning lights flashing and each individually lit window in the station's central core and inner ring. "Have you ever been there?" he asked Kathar, turning to her.

"Once or twice."

He let his gaze drift back to the viewscreen. "I'm looking forward to visiting, myself."

Kathar tried not to look interested. "Will the Dominion be negotiating with the Federation soon, then?" she asked.

Weyoun raised his eyebrows, more amused than anything else by this clumsy attempt to glean information. "That's none of your concern," he replied mildly.

The captain shrugged. "It would be economically advantageous to know."

"I'm well aware of that." Weyoun paused and gave her a meaningful look. "It still isn't any of your concern. All you need to worry about is arriving at the rendezvous point on time."

Kathar bowed her head. "Of course." She hesitated, then added, "The Dominion was very generous to offer to pay us for our time."

"Dominion Command was very generous in their assumption that you and your crew will hold your silence about this meeting." His eyebrows drew together in a feeling, but significant, furrow. "Don't disappoint them."

She looked uneasy – likely she wasn't exactly sure if she could trust his assurances – but it was better that way. The more nervous she was, the less likely she was to talk. Dominion Command had settled on the Karemma for this mission because they had become, by now, a familiar sight entering and exiting the wormhole. A Jem'Hadar fighter coming through would have attracted instant attention from the Federation, and undoubtedly the Klingons and Romulans, and attention was exactly what Weyoun wanted to avoid.

If the governments of the Alpha Quadrant were to find out prematurely that the Dominion and the Cardassian Union were opening diplomatic talks, there could very well be an eruption of open hostilities, and the Dominion simply wasn't prepared for that. The Federation-controlled wormhole was too strategic a position, that proverbial choke-point that had been the downfall of vast military forces throughout galactic history, to count on having access to if fighting broke out. The Dominion might be able to bring a few fleets through, but without a base in the Alpha Quadrant, it would be too easy to be picked at by the Federation or the Klingons, or the Romulans, or one of the other minor powers in the quadrant. No, the Dominion needed an immediate foothold; a place to build shipyards, not to mention Jem'Hadar hatcheries and Vorta cloning facilities. Once the Cardassian Union had been brought into the fold, they'd have it, and they could begin bringing convoys through the wormhole…

Weyoun smiled to himself. Command would be pleased, and thus, the Founders would be pleased, if he was able to carry out these negotiations successfully. He knew that this task had been assigned to him because his predecessor had successfully destroyed the Iconian gateway on Vandros IV – even if he'd died in the process – but more importantly, because he'd successfully worked with Alpha Quadrant species on that mission. His ability to make inroads with them in such a short amount of time had won him, upon his activation, an immediate promotion. And when he'd been given this assignment, an envoy from the Founders themselves had stressed to him that failure would not be tolerated.

At the memory, he almost raised an unconscious hand to the notch at the base of his skull where his termination implant sat, but stopped himself without much more than a twitch of his arm. Of course failure wouldn't be tolerated; he lived to serve, and he lived to further the wills of the Founders. Perhaps a lesser man would have found the task, and the threat, daunting, but Weyoun knew he was more than capable of success.

He clasped his hands behind his back and shifted his shoulders a little. "How long until we reach the rendezvous point?" he asked.

Kathar tapped at her console. "Ten hours and nineteen minutes at our current speed," she answered.

Ten hours. He'd been awake for twice that amount of time today. With a nod, he said, "I'll be in my quarters. Notify me when we're within one light year of our destination." When the captain bowed her head in acknowledgement, Weyoun signaled to his two Jem'Hadar guards, who were standing quietly off to one side of the bridge – a signal that meant stay here and keep your eyes on them. Not that he thought the Karemma needed to be watched, but a little extra caution never hurt, not on such an important mission.

He had already determined that four hours would be enough to make his final preparations for the meeting with his Cardassian counterpart, and so when he reached his quarters he laid down on the bed there, instructed the computer to wake him in five hours, and turned out the lights. For a minute, he kept his eyes open, staring towards the ceiling that he couldn't see with his slow-to-adjust vision. Sometimes, in private, he allowed himself a moment of vivid imagination; of what he might achieve for himself if he obeyed the wishes of the Founders – if he obeyed them so strictly, carried them out so precisely and flawlessly, that they wouldn't be able to find anything wrong, any small mistake. He would certainly be rewarded with a higher position in the Dominion. That would, of course, be...satisfactory. But the reward that he wanted, always, in that moment just before he fell asleep, was to have a Founder look at him and know his name; know who he was beyond just another servant.

Weyoun sighed and closed his eyes. Only a moment of such fantasy was advisable. He didn't serve for personal gain. He served because that was his purpose; the very reason for his existence. And in ten hours he would do his job. There was never a choice other than to do it well.

The Karemma had cleared the most spacious room on the ship for Weyoun to use as his wardroom during this mission. Inside was a replicator, as all serious diplomacy required food and drink, as well as a table and chair – luxury, after working as a field supervisor for so many years. He didn't mind standing, not really, but he did appreciate the ability to sit down now and then while on the job.

He was doing so now, drumming his fingers absently on the table, while he awaited the arrival of the Cardassians. They had been the ones to contact the Dominion, looking to negotiate for an alliance against the Klingons. The message had come at an opportune time, as the Dominion had been weighing its options regarding which Alpha Quadrant government to approach. The Cardassians had always been a strong possibility. That, after all, was the reason for the Dominion-engineered Klingon-Cardassian war. Weyoun had been somewhat surprised that a member of the Cardassian government hadn't contacted the Dominion – that instead it had been a disgraced former gul called Dukat, a man who had been conducting guerrilla warfare on the Klingons from a commandeered Bird-of-Prey for some months.

It was Dukat who was on his way now, and Weyoun, with the might of his government behind him, was going to offer the Cardassian Union admission into the Dominion's ranks, under terms that wouldn't alienate the Cardassians, but which would, nevertheless, leave the Dominion the undisputed master. He leaned back in his chair, listening idly for anyone's approach. He'd read Dukat's psychographic profile repeatedly and thoroughly. It was an interesting study in egotism, not just Dukat's, but his entire race's. From what Weyoun knew about Cardassians, they were proud to the point of arrogance. Well, their pathetic attack on the Founders' former homeworld was evidence enough of that, wasn't it? Pledging their allegiance to another master would be a high price to pay, even for their own stability, but they would pay it. Dukat, if the psychographic profile was even close to accurate, would choose to pay it.

The door opened and one of his Jem'Hadar announced, "The Cardassians are within transporter range and will be arriving shortly."

Weyoun stilled his fingers and smiled slightly, saying before the door shut again, "Good. You have your orders." The two Jem'Hadar would stay stationed outside during the meeting. Dukat had been told to come alone, and in good faith, Weyoun would do the same. He didn't think the Cardassian would acquiesce gracefully, but in the end, he wouldn't be allowed into the room accompanied by anyone else, so it didn't really matter. How Dukat handled this small humiliation would be a good measure of how he'd handle the greater humiliation of allowing Cardassia to be subsumed by the Dominion.

The sound of heavy footsteps in the corridor reached his ears and he leaned forward in his chair, listening as a new voice conversed with the Jem'Hadar – the sort of typical discussion that was to be expected. But then, of slightly more interest: "It's essential that my adjutant joins me for this meeting." There was a peremptory note in the speaker's voice, and Weyoun focused on the sound of it. This was his first impression of Dukat and he intended to take advantage of the fact that he could begin to form it while his counterpart was still on the other side of the door.

"We cannot allow anyone else into the meeting. You also must leave your weapon with us."

There was a long, heavy pause. Weyoun wished he could see what was happening. Then, finally, "Wait for me here, Damar."

"Yes, sir," another Cardassian said promptly.

Weyoun listened during the next pause, in which he assumed Dukat was handing over his phaser, and then he stood up as he heard one of the Jem'Hadar key the entry panel for the door. The door opened and Weyoun caught sight of his two Jem'Hadar guards, plus two Cardassian officers, in the corridor outside. One of the Cardassians stepped into the room, and Weyoun gave him a wide, disarming smile as the door hissed shut behind him. "You must be Dukat. I can't tell you how happy I am to finally meet you."

For a moment, Dukat stared at him, then glanced exaggeratedly around the room. "But you're a Vorta," he said, sounding surprised.

His smile still in place, Weyoun replied, "That's right."

Irritation showed plainly on Dukat's face. "I expected one of the Founders to be at this meeting."

Weyoun would have wondered if the man was joking if it hadn't been clear that he most definitely wasn't. "I'm afraid the Founders don't concern themselves with the day-to-day operations of the Dominion." Weyoun thought he'd hit the right notes of apology and firmness with the comment, considering Dukat's expression – he looked as though he was facing something ugly, unpleasant, and beneath him. There was something very grating about it.

At this, Dukat raised his eyeridges. "I would have thought that negotiating a treaty with the Cardassian Union would qualify as more momentous than 'day-to-day operations'."

Weyoun didn't allow his pleasant smile to waver. "I apologize for the misunderstanding. In time, I'm certain we'll both come to understand one another's cultures more fully. But the Founders leave administrative matters to the Vorta. No slight was meant."

Finally, Dukat nodded curtly and stepped further into the room. "You're right, of course," he said, his expression lightening. "Where are my manners? Yes, I'm Dukat."

Even if Weyoun hadn't seen pictures of the man, his reputation preceded him. Arrogance practically rolled off him in waves. "My name is Weyoun," he said, setting aside his instant dislike of Dukat. "And it really is a pleasure to be able to speak with you privately like this. The Dominion is thrilled to be involved in these talks."

"Hm." Dukat gave him a probing stare. "I'm glad to hear it."

Weyoun kept smiling. "Can I get you something to eat or drink? Kanar, perhaps?"

Dukat looked intrigued. "Replicated kanar, I assume?"

"I'm afraid so." Moving out from behind the table – it was a physical barrier between him and Dukat, and thus a metaphorical barrier to the progression of the relationship between them and, more importantly, their two governments – Weyoun said, "But my Karemman crew mates assure me that it's quite a good imitation."

After studying Weyoun for a further minute, Dukat said in a nonchalant voice, "Why not? And I hope you'll join me in a glass."

Inclining his head, Weyoun stepped over to the replicator, rapidly entered a code, and removed the bottle of kanar and two glasses once they'd materialized. When he carried them over to the table and moved to open the bottle, Dukat said, "Allow me."

Weyoun relinquished the bottle gracefully and watched as Dukat expertly opened it. Having such a limited sense of taste was occasionally a source of wistful longing, but it did come in usefully during diplomatic negotiations. The kanar was visually unappealing – a deep sort of brown that sloshed thickly back and forth in the glass as Dukat poured it – and Weyoun was glad he didn't have to taste it beyond a slight sensation of sweetness, and of course the toxicity of the alcohol. Though, of course, there was always the texture to consider. Dukat bolted down a mouthful and Weyoun followed suit, though he took a much smaller and more delicate sip.

"This must be your first taste of kanar," Dukat said, looking amused.

Weyoun tilted his head quizzically and lowered the glass. "What makes you say that?"

Still looking amused, Dukat set his glass down on the table. "I've seen enough non-Cardassians drink it to be able to tell. You all get the same expression on your faces. Oh, you try to be polite, but there's a certain tightening of the brow that makes your distaste obvious."

Putting his own glass down on the table as well, Weyoun remarked, "I've certainly had worse." There were times in this game where a white lie regarding national drink was required, but he sensed that this wasn't one of them. The Cardassian's patriotism didn't seem to be that easily offended.

Dukat chuckled and said, "It's an acquired taste, but I suppose you hear that often enough." He paused to sweep his gaze over Weyoun. "You've probably been a diplomat for some time."

"In a manner of speaking," Weyoun replied. Four other diplomacy-riddled lifetimes didn't need to be part of their discussion today. Then, he molded his face into the very picture of sympathy. "Now, to get down to the business at hand – it's my understanding that the Cardassian Union has been heavily weakened by the war with the Klingons." Weyoun spread his arms in a gesture of beneficence. "The Dominion would like to assist you."

Still studying him, Dukat said, "I had no idea the Dominion was so altruistic."

Picking up the glass of kanar and taking another drink of it – Dukat may have been able to tell that he thought it was vile stuff, but that wouldn't stop him from being courteous – Weyoun replied pleasantly, "The Dominion has its interests, of course. There's no such thing as altruism in galactic politics."

"No, there certainly isn't." Dukat lifted his own glass of kanar back to his mouth and took another swallow. "And the Dominion has the reputation for being…shall we say, less than altruistic."

There was a predatory gleam in his eyes, but Weyoun just laughed good-naturedly. "Then perhaps that bodes well for our peoples. Cardassians, so I've heard, have a very similar reputation."

For a moment, Dukat appeared to be deciding whether to take offense or not; in the end, he smiled and said, "A reputation that's most unjust. Like the Dominion's, I'm sure."

Weyoun inclined his head. "Unfortunately, the Jem'Hadar tend to make a first impression that most people find difficult to forget."

"Oh, I don't know. Sometimes it's best to project an image of power."

Putting down his glass on the table again, Weyoun crossed his arms over his chest and began walking around Dukat, who sipped idly at his kanar. "True. And you, if you don't mind me saying so, look like a man who's used to power." Weyoun paused, completing his slow circuit of Dukat and using the time to gauge the Cardassian's body language. There was undisguised hunger in his eyes when Weyoun faced him again across the table. Yes, Dukat craved power, needed it; despised how far he'd fallen in the Cardassian Union and the fact that the only people who took orders from him were the soldiers on his single, laughable Klingon Bird-of-Prey. Weyoun put his fingertips lightly on the table and leaned forward. "I can give you the Alpha Quadrant."

Dukat raised his eyeridges, looking both intrigued and amused. "You?" he asked. "A Vorta diplomat can make that kind of promise?"

With an easy, affable smile, Weyoun replied, "Of course. I'm the Dominion's representative in the Alpha Quadrant and I have been authorized to offer you whatever is necessary—" he paused to let those words sink in, "—to secure an alliance with the Cardassian Union."

"Ah." This time, Dukat circled Weyoun. That predatory expression was back, but Weyoun only straightened and clasped his hands behind his back. "But as you know, my opinion means nothing on Cardassia. Less than nothing. I'm disgraced. Demoted. I was the Prefect of Bajor; a Legate; the chief military advisor to the Cardassian government. And now?"

"You're a freighter captain who's waging a one-man war on the Klingons," Weyoun supplied, arching an eyebrow.

Dukat dropped his arms, which he'd raised theatrically during his litany of lost rank. "Precisely."

"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear," Weyoun said mildly. "The Dominion feels that your exemplary leadership would be a great asset to Cardassia in these troubled times. We would, of course…help you to regain the position you were stripped of. And more."

Dukat stopped on the other side of the table and stood there, appearing to weigh his next words carefully. "You're offering to install me as the leader of the Cardassian Union via military coup," he said, and Weyoun, for the first time, couldn't peer past the scales and ridges of the other man's face to see his true feelings. Was it possible that, far from being thrilled with this idea, Dukat might actually be repulsed by it?

"Not a coup, exactly," Weyoun replied smoothly, hiding his faint uneasiness.

"No?" Dukat raised an eyeridge. "What would you call it?"

Weyoun smiled slightly. He didn't think he'd misread Dukat after all – the Cardassian was simply testing his responses. "A liberation," he replied, letting a hint of grandiosity creep into his tone. "Your people have been crushed under the yoke of this conflict with the Klingons for too long, with a government that hasn't been courageous enough to do what needed to be done. You won't make that mistake."

Dukat was staring at Weyoun with a new...respect – though that wasn't quite the correct word, it was close enough – and he finished the kanar in his glass in one long swallow. "It's a fascinating idea."

"I thought you might like it."

The Cardassian set his empty glass down with a dull clunk. "Even if I were to become the leader of the Cardassian government, that far from solves my people's problems. For one thing, you can't possibly expect Cardassians to trust me when I'm being propped up by the Jem'Hadar."

Noting the sly look in Dukat's eyes, Weyoun replied, "Not at all. The Jem'Hadar will simply be used as...ah...persuasion for the Detapa Council. There are still many in the Cardassian military loyal to you. Or willing to be loyal to you, if the circumstances were right."

Smugness flashed over Dukat's face, presumably at the news that he still had friends on his homeworld – a fact which he surely had already been aware of. "It sounds as though you're more intimately acquainted with events on Cardassia than I am."

"I wouldn't say that. But the Dominion does like to keep itself apprised of power balances amongst its neighbors."

"Neighbors?" Dukat chuckled. "I suppose we are, in a manner of speaking, what with the wormhole." His expression grew more serious; almost sincere—in a way that Weyoun didn't trust at all. "My first priority," Dukat said, "will obviously be to drive every last Klingon out of Cardassian space. I'll need the troops and ships to do so."

"Done," Weyoun said immediately. This had always been the demand he'd expected first, and even if he hadn't been prepared to grant it to Dukat, it certainly wouldn't be a problem for the Dominion to effect a fleet build-up in Cardassian territory.

Dukat didn't look surprised, or even particularly pleased. There had never been a doubt in his mind that the Dominion would give him the ships to end the war with the Klingons, Weyoun mused. Well, at least the two of them had started out on the same assumption. "Once the Klingons have been dealt with," Dukat went on, "I want to take care of the Maquis once and for all."

"The Maquis?" Weyoun repeated, surprised. "I hadn't realized they were that much of a threat."

"They aren't," Dukat replied, bristling slightly. "But they are a nuisance that the Cardassian government has looked the other way from for far too long."

Weyoun waved a hand lazily. "Fine. Ferreting them out shouldn't take more than a week or two." Before Dukat could make another military request, Weyoun volunteered, "The Dominion will send enough ships to ensure the sovereignty of Cardassia's borders; there's no need for you to worry about that."

"Ah, good." The predatory smile crept onto Dukat's face again. "How very prescient of you."

With his own wide smile, and in a voice smooth with reassurance and earnestness, Weyoun replied, "The Dominion has been negotiating alliances for two thousand years. We're well aware of the sorts of things our potential allies require."

"Negotiating, hm?" Dukat asked, a hint of amusement in his voice again once more. "I'm sure the Jem'Hadar are very helpful with that."

"You'd be surprised," Weyoun replied good-naturedly. Did Dukat think he hadn't heard any of this kind of smirking cleverness before? His line had been in service for over two hundred years, and in that time he'd been involved in more diplomatic negotiations than the Cardassian could imagine. No two meetings were the same, and yet they were all, in their own ways, so similar.

He drew in a breath. It would be easy to predict every single one of Dukat's requests, but that wasn't the point of this. That was never the point of the negotiations themselves. The Dominion always knew what concessions it would have to make, which demands it would have to fulfill, before talks even began. The point of sending a Vorta was to determine what kind of relationship would exist between the Dominion and its soon-to-be vassal state. Weyoun felt confident in thinking that Dukat and the Cardassians would need supervision – Vorta supervision. As a people, they were too willful, too stubbornly nationalistic, to be trusted. And Dukat, personally, was too deceitful. Possibly – if the Founders were pleased with his report – that supervision would be provided by him. Though he didn't relish the idea of spending further time around Dukat, the idea of being the liaison to the Cardassian Union, the Dominion's pathway to supremacy in the Alpha Quadrant, was attractive.

Dukat was watching him. "Perhaps," he replied, then looked at Weyoun as though he thought a few Jem'Hadar might come marching into the room in that instant. "There's also the matter of medical and economic aid."

"Of course, of course. I can only imagine the horrors of invasion," Weyoun said feelingly. "We'll do everything we can. But," he said smoothly, preparing to change subjects, "we can discuss specifics later. Preliminary talks are fine for today, and I'm sure in the coming weeks we'll be able to reach an agreement that's mutually beneficial to both of our governments."

Dukat abruptly sat down in Weyoun's chair, then leaned back, surveying the wardroom as though he owned everything in it. The Vorta couldn't help but stare. "Why wait?" Dukat asked. "I'm perfectly happy to discuss the Dominion's terms now. I think I've made it clear what I expect for Cardassia."

"And I've told you that you'll have it," Weyoun replied, struggling, for a second, to keep the sharpness out of his tone. This Cardassian was more irritating than any one person had a right to be. His narcissism was overwhelming – Weyoun wondered how he managed not to choke on his own inflated sense of self-worth.

With that insincere, predatory smile, Dukat agreed, "Yes, you've been most accommodating. But you aren't, as we've discussed, offering the Dominion's aid to Cardassia out of altruism. What are you expecting from this alliance?"

Weyoun drew in a breath, the pleasant, diplomat's smile on his face revealing nothing of his true feelings. "I really don't think this is the time to discuss it—"

"I do." Dukat raised his eyeridges, unbothered by the fact that he'd just cut Weyoun off mid-sentence. "Specifics are one thing, but you've given me no idea of what the Dominion expects from Cardassia. And that, Weyoun, makes me wonder about the Dominion's intentions."

For a minute, the two men stared at each other, and then Weyoun's expression grew more businesslike. "As you wish." Tilting his chin upwards in a gesture of imperiousness, he said, "Our fleet will obviously need to be stationed within Cardassian territory."

"Obviously," Dukat echoed, sounding vaguely mocking.

Weyoun didn't think the tiny twitch of annoyance in his forehead was noticeable. Keeping his mask of pleasantness firmly in place, he went on, "The Dominion will also require a certain amount of space in sectors of our choice for our facilities."

"What kinds of facilities?" Dukat asked.

There was a moment that Weyoun considered refusing to answer the query, but ultimately, there was no point. Dukat would find out soon enough. "Shipyards," he answered. "Jem'Hadar hatcheries. Cloning facilities."


Weyoun almost pressed on without explanation, but then he said, "Vorta are all cloned. It's how we maintain our population. We're much more effective with lifetimes of experience and no…maturation process." Before Dukat had a chance to respond to this, Weyoun went on, "And there's one other thing. The Founders will expect their divinity to be respected."

At that, Dukat looked suddenly contemptuous. "You can't possibly expect me or any other Cardassian to start believing that the changelings are deities—"

"I didn't say you had to accept it, I said you have to respect it," Weyoun interrupted sharply. "The Founders are gods and are accustomed to being treated as such." It pained him to consider that this man might have contact with the Founders, but if this alliance with the Cardassians proved successful, and if his gods' plans for the invasion of the Alpha Quadrant came to fruition, it was a distinct, if unpleasant, possibility. He shook his head slightly and forced himself to brighten. "It is, after all, the Founders' generosity that will allow Cardassia to rebuild."

Dukat had banished the look of contempt from his face. "Of course," he said with markedly more respect in his voice. "Forgive the misunderstanding."

"There's nothing to forgive," Weyoun said immediately, smiling magnanimously. He was aware that many species found Vorta mannerisms ingratiating, particularly Alpha Quadrant species. Fleetingly, he wondered if Vorta geneticists would be given the order to engineer more…Alpha Quadrant-friendly personality traits, before pushing the thought aside. Personally, he liked his personality. Certainly more than he cared for that of the man currently sitting in his chair.

The Cardassian was nodding slowly. He stared into the distance for a moment, as if lost in thought, but then shifted his focus back to Weyoun. "As you said, the specifics can wait." Getting to his feet – finally – and walking over to Weyoun, he added, "But that's all very reasonable."

Weyoun had to tilt his head upwards to look Dukat in the eye. He'd never felt that his slight build put him at any kind of disadvantage. In the Gamma Quadrant, the sight of a Vorta's violet gaze could have just as much effect as an unshrouding Jem'Hadar could. "That's gratifying to hear you say. Though the Dominion is nothing if not reasonable."

There was a moment of measuring silence while both men stared each other in the eyes, and then Dukat nodded and walked past Weyoun. "Of course," Weyoun said, without bothering to turn around, "the Dominion's assistance will require more than a simple alliance."

The sound of Dukat's footsteps ceased, and Weyoun turned lightly, clasping his hands behind his back again. The Cardassian was giving him a hard, distrustful stare. "I'm sorry?" Dukat asked, his veneer of politeness wearing very thin.

There was something vastly entertaining about the fact that he had Dukat exactly where he wanted him; that despite the man's reservations he'd agree, eventually, to the Dominion's terms. Oh, he'd bluster and pontificate, make petty demands that Weyoun would probably have to accede to, but in the end, he'd agree. Anything to catapult himself back into power. Cardassia was weak, teetering on the brink of annihilation, a few Klingon incursions away from collapse. Who better to draw it back from the edge than Skrain Dukat? Offering him a sympathetic smile, Weyoun said, "I know that the political structures of Alpha Quadrant powers differ from the Dominion's, so let me be blunt. In order for the Dominion to offer the assistance we've discussed to Cardassia, Cardassia must agree to join the Dominion as a subject state."

Dukat stiffened. "Cardassians are no one's subjects—" he began.

Tempering his smile with further apology and punctuating his words with his hands clasped in front of him, Weyoun said, "I understand—the Dominion understands that its constituent peoples value their freedoms. Cardassia would keep its political structures intact. Haven't I offered to make you its leader?"

"You offered me the Alpha Quadrant," Dukat reminded him.

Weyoun's smile widened. "One thing at a time."

The Cardassian stared at him, hoping, Weyoun knew, to use the advantage of his larger build to intimidate. "I'm not a fool, Weyoun."

Weyoun couldn't have looked more contrite if he actually had been. You certainly are, he thought, before saying out loud reassuringly, "The thought never crossed my mind."

Stepping closer to him and forcing Weyoun to tilt his head further upwards, Dukat said, "I know the Dominion wants a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant, and I know it's for expansion. Military expansion. You can't rely on the wormhole for supplies and reinforcements. So you need an ally here. I'm quite certain the Dominion is happy to send enough ships to protect Cardassia's borders – in fact, I would hazard a guess that it will be enough ships to launch an invasion on the Federation." Weyoun opened his mouth to respond, but Dukat held up a finger, silencing him. "If it was the Klingons or the Romulans whose empires were collapsing, you'd be meeting with them. Or am I underestimating the Dominion's capacity for charity?"

For the first time, Weyoun allowed some of his amusement to show through. "Opportunism is the hallmark of all great empires," he said.

Dukat raised his eyeridges, looking pleased. "Some honesty from you at last."

Giving him a toothy smile tinged with sarcasm, Weyoun replied, "From what I know about you, Dukat, honesty is something you're not very concerned with yourself."

With a deep chuckle, Dukat replied, "Well. What I lack in honesty, I'm sure I make up for in opportunism."

"Ah, no wonder we've been getting along so well together," Weyoun said with an obsequious smile.

Dukat looked utterly unconvinced but Weyoun didn't particularly care – they didn't need to like each other, only to suppress outright hostility so they could have an effective working relationship. After a second, the Cardassian returned to the table, where the open bottle of kanar had been sitting, neglected, throughout the discussion. Pouring himself another glass, he remarked, "You've barely touched your kanar, Weyoun."

Smiling slightly and tilting his chin up, he replied, "I thought I should save it to toast a successful first day of negotiations."

Raising an eyeridge, Dukat remarked, "You were that confident?"

Weyoun gave the other man a bright look. "I wouldn't have been sent here if confidence wasn't warranted." Let Dukat puzzle out if he meant that no one would have been sent at all or that Weyoun, personally, wouldn't have been there.

Dukat seemed, however, to know he was being baited, and just chuckled before picking up Weyoun's glass and offering it to him. Weyoun took it but waited for Dukat to offer some kind of toast before saying anything himself. The Cardassian studied the kanar for a moment, started to raise the glass, but then lowered it slightly. "It's most important that I take my place at the head of the Cardassian Union as soon as possible," he said seriously, giving Weyoun a meaningful look. "My people need a strong leader, and they need one now. The civilian government has been weak and ineffectual – we Cardassians are lucky that the Klingons haven't taken more of our territory."

Inclining his head, Weyoun replied, "I assure you, the Dominion shares your desire for haste. We'll move as quickly as possible once the terms of our alliance have been cemented."

Dukat shot him his typical predatory smile – but Weyoun was beginning to get used to it. Raising his glass of kanar, he said, "To Cardassia and the Dominion, then. May our governments continue to find common ground."

Echoing the gesture, Weyoun said, "If our talks continue to be as productive as today's then I have no doubt that they will." On a hunch, he added, "And I hope our working relationship will continue to be so successful."

Dukat clapped him on the shoulder and Weyoun suffered through the contact for a second or two before sidling away. "I'm certain it will be," Dukat replied, his gaze taking in Weyoun's movement knowingly before he downed a mouthful of kanar.

Weyoun narrowed his eyes nearly imperceptibly, kept his pleasant smile in place, and took a diplomatic drink of kanar. His eyes didn't leave Dukat as he did so, and as the two of them swiftly made arrangements to meet again the following day – Dukat insisted on his adjutant's presence and Weyoun, with a great show of reluctance, agreed – he couldn't help but wonder if his watchfulness now was a portent of things to come. He trusted the Cardassian as far as he could throw him, and Weyoun, though he was possessed of innumerable fine qualities, could not count physical strength among them. Dukat, he was sure, shared his sentiment.

A feeling in the pit of his stomach told him they would make uneasy allies, but what counted, for now, was that they would become allies. Weyoun beamed at Dukat as the Cardassian left the wardroom to return to his own ship, and when he was once again alone, his grin faded to a more genuine smile of self-satisfaction. He was certain that this alliance with the Cardassians would prove most beneficial to the Dominion.

The Founders would be pleased.