'To betray, you must first belong. I never belonged.'
'And thank you again, Lieutenant.'
'My pleasure.' I smiled as Ensign Gelat left my office. We had made real headway over the past two weeks in helping her manage her anxiety attacks, and I felt a flush of pride after she had gone. You're getting better at this, Ezri, I told myself. You'll be convincing yourself you're a real counsellor in no time.
I never fail to be amazed at just how well some of these older therapies worked. Managing one's thought processes, and looking for the steps which could trigger a panic attack or a depressive episode, were all techniques which I taught on a regular basis with continued success. For someone as cerebral and control-orientated as Gelat, it was an ideal way to help her feel that she was actively contributing towards her own recovery.
I should write a paper on this, I thought, caught up in my own enthusiasm. 'The continued relevance of cognitive therapies to modern counselling.' It could be a real contribution to the field... I sat down behind the desk, but forced my attention towards Gelat's file, which needed updating after our session. No sense in getting into bad habits so early on in my first professional post. My contribution to theoretical counselling would have to wait just another half-hour or so. Within a few moments, I was completely engrossed in the file, and called out an automatic 'Come in!' at the sound of the door chime.
Looking up from my report, I was startled to find myself looking straight into the wide blue eyes of the station's tailor, Mister Garak. I must have shown my surprise, since he blinked slightly, then asked, very politely, 'You don't appear to be expecting me, Lieutenant. Have I made a mistake about the time?'
I gathered myself together, came round from behind my desk, and smiled. 'Not at all.' I gestured at one of the two armchairs which were located opposite each other to one side of my office. 'Do sit down.'
He smoothly followed my gesture and sat back in the chair, completely at ease.
I sat down across from him. 'To tell you the truth,' I confessed, 'I wasn't really expecting to see you. I didn't think you'd take up the offer of these sessions at all.'
He raised an eye ridge delicately. 'After you were so successful in treating my claustrophobia? I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity of spoiling myself with more of your insight.'
I frowned at him amiably. 'Garak, I've read your medical file. This episode of claustrophobia was entirely consistent with others Julian's monitored: a gradual accumulation of stress leading to a sudden physical collapse followed by a quick and apparently inexplicable recovery. So there's no need to pretend. You and I both know that whatever got your claustrophobia under control, it had nothing to do with me.'
'You shouldn't underestimate yourself, my dear,' he bounced back, unabashed. 'The Captain speaks very highly of you as a result.'
'It's very gallant of you to keep up the pretence in public, Garak, but I don't think there needs to be any deception between us, in here.' I nodded around my office.
He inclined his head, possibly in agreement, but didn't answer. I made myself comfortable in my chair. This promised to be an interesting session.
We looked at each other. He blinked. A smile started to twitch across his mouth.
'Shall we begin?' he eventually asked.
'Where do you want to start?' I asked.
'I don't know. It's been a long time since I did this.' He cast me a cool, amused glance.
'You've had counselling before?' I reached for my pen.
'I was talking about interrogation,' he replied.
I put the pen down. 'I'm sorry?'
He leaned back in the chair, stretched his legs out in front of him. 'Come, my dear. You must be aware of the similarities between our professions.'
I relaxed back in my chair, matching his easy posture, and took my time. He was watching me very closely, the amusement quite evident on his face. I cleared my throat.
'It's very common to find,' I replied calmly, 'that when you begin working with a new client, he or she instantly takes the offensive. It's a way to exercise control over the relationship. I'm happy if that's the way you want to proceed. But that doesn't mean that I will find it necessary to respond to you combatively in turn.'
He seemed if not impressed by the answer, then at least interested. That was a start.
'I'm also not going to bore you with justifications for counselling, and I'd be grateful if you didn't bore me with comparisons between what goes on between therapist and client, and between interrogator and subject. I'm not so naïve that I don't understand the dynamics and the processes, and what each situation is trying to achieve. We're both professional persuaders, I know that. What I don't know is why you've decided to talk to me. What do you want persuading of, Garak?'
He shifted in the chair, chewed thoughtfully at a thumb, not expressing nervousness, just interest in the question. 'There are other purposes to communication beyond persuasion, Lieutenant,' he responded eventually. 'Perhaps, for once, my goal is nothing more devious than a desire for intelligent conversation.' He began to warm to his theme. 'It's possible to argue, of course, that all communication is directed towards some end, and that in attempting to claim our purpose is purely objective, we mislead ourselves. Even in exchanges which are simply exploratory, there is some design at work. It can be something as simple as satisfying one's own curiosity, or exercising one's faculties...' He hesitated, frowned. 'Maybe I'm just lonely,' he concluded. It was said without self-pity, more an analytical detachment, and I, cursed with the questionable gift of empathy, wanted nothing more than to help.
Lieutenant Dax is, of course, quite right that my recent recovery from claustrophobia had nothing to do with her tender concern, no matter how kind she was. Over thirty years, I have become quite adept at recognizing the warning signs and putting them under control, since the price of not being in charge of oneself can be rather high. But sometimes, just sometimes, it all goes too far. Even I have to make allowances for severe emotional stress. So I'm not surprised that it happened after Tain died. I'm not surprised it happened after two years living here. I'm not surprised that it happened after I was interrogated for a month on Romulus. Understanding that perhaps you've put rather more pressure on yourself than you do customarily is part of the process of regaining your self-control.
But I am surprised that it happened last month. No stress, no upset, just a shortage of breath that reinforced itself with frightening speed into panic until I was completely and, this time, quite terrifyingly, teetering on the edge of complete collapse. It took an almighty effort of will to pull myself back, and I had to invent an explanation pretty quickly, if only to satisfy Dax and Sisko. All this remorseful mumbo-jumbo falls too easily on Federation ears. I'm sure they were delighted to think I was repenting my wicked ways after so long among them: a surprisingly puritan civilization, in many ways, as well as a hypocritical one. As if I would feel guilt over loss of life, even Cardassian life, while trying to secure Cardassia's future. Two years before the Occupation ended, I destroyed a transporter carrying ninety-seven Cardassian civilians, to stop a group of resistance fighters getting off Bajor. And I got a medal for it.
So the walls still press, and I am no nearer to grasping why, but I try to distract myself with decoding transmissions and the promise of a liberated Cardassia. But I don't really believe I'm fooling myself. I've seen loss of nerve before. There is a sudden point, almost like an audible 'click', when you would look at a colleague's face and think, They've gone. I can't count the number of times that I've seen older men, whose fearlessness and panache I'd previously admired, start to crumble. Briefings would become longer, as they would take extra time to memorize the details, trying to protect themselves, hiding away from the crisis of confidence. And it was invariably no use because, in this game, when your faith in yourself becomes shaky, your real protection has gone, and you're going to die. It's not going to happen to me. I won't allow it. I can't allow it.
I had spent the morning decoding transmissions of Dominion troop movements for Starfleet, and it had gone badly because my concentration was poor, so perhaps I wasn't in the best frame of mind when I went to see Lieutenant Dax for our afternoon session. Nonetheless, I hadn't intended to turn it into an interrogation, which was an exercise that perhaps would have been better conducted in the holosuite, if it had to be conducted at all.
What many people fail to understand is that, in fact, information retrieval is not the main purpose of interrogation. Yes, there are questioners' ploys, methods by which you can trick your subject into giving away more than they intend - but there are easier ways to find out information, and the real objective is more subtle. If the goal of therapy is to construct in the patient a coherent and purposeful self, the goal of interrogation is to undermine that self, to disorient and fragment it until its only reality is the person sitting opposite - and you are in a position to construct something different. At this point in her life, it was not hard to dislocate Lieutenant Dax's sense of identity. It would have been very easy to destroy her.
Throughout the session, I had been almost monosyllabic, which is most uncharacteristic for me, and which she hadn't noticed, and then she suddenly turned the topic of our already one-sided discussion to my father. A tedious subject, as far as I am concerned, and one on which I have nothing more to say. But to hear this girl prattle textbook drivel at me was too much. It has taken me years to grasp the complexity of the relationship Tain and I had. How could she think she could understand it in a few hours of trite chatter?
She was babbling away, about the effect parents can have on us, how childhood events can affect our adult actions - I do believe she actually used the word 'repression' at one point - and I listened with increasing irritation. Eventually I had to cut through her nonsense. 'Lieutenant Dax,' I said, 'While I sit in admiration at the breadth of your expert knowledge, you are making a simple matter unnecessarily complex. The fact is that from a very early age, I understood precisely what I meant to my father. And that was that so long as I continued to be useful, I was of interest to him. Beyond that he didn't care whether I lived or died.'
There are essentially two ways to respond when a person reveals such a truth to you. Lieutenant Dax, unfortunately, chose the wrong one. My own preference is to indicate that I understand the uniqueness of that experience. She, alas, tried the different approach, and attempted to offer consolation through showing we had something in common. 'That's something I can relate to,' she replied, in what, no doubt, she thought was a comforting and conspiratorial fashion. 'My mother gave me much the same impression when I was seven.'
I tilted my head and looked at her closely, and she became a little unsettled beneath my gaze. I leaned in towards her slightly, and reconfigured my face so that it showed pity. She swallowed slightly, but I didn't allow her to drop her gaze. And then I showed her how it should be done.
'How very sad and lonely you must have felt,' I said, very gently, wielding compassion like a precision instrument, 'to be so young, and to understand that, and to have nobody.'
There is a situation that can occur in interrogation when a statement you make produces a startling effect on your subject; you see their face empty of its usual animation, and freeze suddenly, a single emotion gripping their face. And this emotion comes from the past, it is the re-experiencing - as if it were happening now - of a moment of distress one felt once in the past, when you were a child, and fear or loss or grief struck you and you had no means by which to describe it, and knew only the raw emotion, immediate, and cruel. It is a deep shock to the subject, to be in the adult body and experience again the terrible clarity of the feelings of the child, how we all once felt before the cool web of language wrapped around us to afford us protection and save us from insanity.
This is not an easy effect to produce, and it can happen quite unexpectedly. One becomes more experienced at seeing opportunities to provoke this reaction, and one also learns to recognize when it has happened, and grab that chance. It can occur in therapy too, I understand, and the therapist, having produced it, moves away from that moment in time back towards the present, leaving the subject with a cathartic understanding of how they once felt, and how they can feel differently now. Our purpose is not so benign. Having achieved this state, we exploit it, and we reinforce this vulnerability quite ruthlessly.
So there she sat, locked in that moment when, as a little girl, she had realized that her mother cared for her not at all and I, in accordance with my training, seized the opportunity and began to bolster her sense of isolation. I could hear myself, mellifluous, persuasive, destructive, and suddenly it seemed to me that I too had regressed in time - fifteen, twenty years - to a time when I had listened to that velvet voice almost constantly, and when life seemed to consist entirely of little rooms, and a succession of bewildered victims that I would expertly dismantle, whose lives would disintegrate under my ceaseless pressure. And then - all of a sudden - the little clock on her side table struck the hour, telling us my time was up, jolting us back to here and now. The spell broke, she started to cry, and as I looked at the shuddering shoulders of the girl opposite me, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder what I thought I was doing.
She was in floods of tears, and I had proven to myself that I still had the edge over any therapist, interrogator, or confessor that the universe could throw at me. I got up and left without a word. Not, on the whole, an edifying performance. Nevertheless, back in the shop - sewing this time since I couldn't quite face the codes - I will freely admit - since I am not a hypocrite - that I felt better than I had since Senator Vreenak came to visit.
Julian was just lovely. He later said that he'd seen Garak's face as he left my office, and knew instantly there was something wrong. I was a disaster area when he came in, head down in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably.
'Ezri, what the hell has happened?' Before I realized what was happening, he had his arms around me, and I was crying onto his shoulder. When I'd gotten back some semblance of calm, he went straight into tea and sympathy mode. 'Tell me what happened.'
Of course, I couldn't give him the details - there is such a thing as client confidentiality, even if the client is a complete bastard - and I've got some grasp of professional ethics, even if I am lousy at the job. I gulped down the tea. It was hot and sweet and very comforting. 'It was a bad session, Julian. I was out of my depth, and it went out of control.'
He shook his head. 'It isn't fair to expect you to deal with someone like Garak so early on in your career.'
Another gulp of tea, another stab at self-control. 'I've got to learn somehow, Julian. Maybe it's better to be in at the deep end. Sink or swim. Strain those metaphors.'
He grinned at me and I smiled back.
'Being Ezri was hard enough, sometimes. Being Dax just makes it that bit harder,' I said ruefully. 'It's all still a bit of a rollercoaster ride at the moment, Julian.'
He patted my arm. 'Well, I hope you know that you don't have to go through it alone.' And we smiled at each other again.
When I went back she looked unsure about letting me pass the threshold into her office, which is probably the most sensible thing she's ever done. I apologized profusely, there, in public, with several people casting curious looks, and she finally stepped aside and let me through.
She shut the door behind us, and then I handed her the parcel. She unwrapped it. A scarf from the shop: Tholian silk, dark and jade green patterns - very much her colour - and quite disgracefully expensive. She was very touched.
'You didn't have to, you know,' she said.
'I rather think I did.' We looked at each other, and I smiled uncertainly. She collected herself.
'Please, sit down.'
I followed her gesture towards the armchair, and leaned in towards her when she sat down. 'Lieutenant Dax, let me say again that I cannot apologize enough for my disgraceful behaviour...'
'Cut it out, Garak,' she replied, sounding faintly embarrassed. 'I've accepted the apology. And it's as much my fault. It was unprofessional of me to let myself get into that state.'
'I would hate to think that what I did would in any way jeopardize our relationship...'
'It's okay, Garak.' She smiled wryly. 'Look, I want us to keep on meeting. We've just got to set some ground rules. You drop the interrogator routine, and I'll not take everything you say personally. How's that?'
I nodded agreement, and we arranged to 'start over' at our next meeting. Mission accomplished. I skipped the shop and went back to my quarters, where I spent a hour or so finishing up some decoding, then put it aside with relief and picked up the Jane Austen novel which is probably the best book Doctor Bashir has forced on me, and had just watched with morbid satisfaction as the infuriatingly immature Louisa Musgrove fell off the Cobb at Lyme once again, when the chime went on the door.
I went to open it. 'Doctor!' I said in genuine pleasure. 'I was just thinking of you. It's a long time since you've been here - ' and I stopped when I realized that what I was seeing on his face was absolute fury.
Meeting Julian and Miles for lunch had become something of a habit. I like Miles a great deal. I teased him over the mountain of food on his plate, and he sparred back, always staying on the right side of kindness. As we reached dessert, he asked me whether I felt I was getting the hang of my new job.
'Not so new any longer, Miles. I've been here a couple of months now.'
'And are you feeling more confident?' he asked.
'I am. It was hard at first - most new counsellors would have an older, more established colleague to fall back on for advice, but I think I'm doing okay. No complaints from the clientele, anyway,' I said with a laugh.
'Well, at least you shouldn't have any trouble with Garak from now on,' Julian said.
I turned to look at him directly. Miles saw the warning signs and pulled a face. You can always spot the men with wives. 'And why do you say that, Julian?' I responded coolly.
Lamb to the slaughter. He blithely put another spoonful of soup in his mouth and swallowed. 'After last time I went round and told him not to feed you any more of his stories.'
'Is that right?'
'You considered it appropriate to approach the patient of a colleague and leave that patient with the impression that his counsellor had discussed the content of their sessions with a third party?'
Miles looked away. Julian finally clicked. 'Umm, well, when you put it like that...'
'When I put it like that, not only is it desperately unprofessional, Julian, it's also really insulting. Don't you think I can cope with my own job?' I could hear my voice getting squeakier and more petulant and I wished desperately for some of Jadzia's poise. 'For heaven's sake, Julian! Just keep out in the future!' I threw down my cutlery, partly in exasperation at Julian's interference, but also in frustration at my own inability to handle any situation with composure.
As I left the table, face flushing, I heard Miles mutter, 'Well, you asked for that...'
But it didn't make me feel much better, I stormed back to my quarters, choking back the sobs and the tears until I was safely inside and the door was locked behind me. Then I went through the ritual. I turned the music on loud. I stood in front of the mirror. As I looked at my pathetic little face, crumpled and red, I felt the familiar shame start to wash over me. When I was at home, and I had gone through another session in which my mother had systematically demolished me, I used only to hit myself. Since I became Dax, there's too much inside. Hitting doesn't work any more. So I picked up the razor.
What people don't understand is that when you cut, you're not in a frenzy, you're not in a rage. You're really quite calm, quite rational. Almost from a distance, you register the terrible pressure, the stifling self-disgust - and then you run the blade against yourself and release it all. It's good. It makes perfect sense. It's only when you look down and you see the little threads of blood, and you think, startled, I've hurt my arm... that you start to cry, just a little.
Anyway, that's the cycle; each time, the same. At least I recognize the pattern. Willem, my old tutor, would tell me not to worry about it. 'Doesn't matter that you're doing it, Ezri. But you've got to know why, you've got to know what purpose it serves. You feel unbearable pressure, and you let it out. What's wrong with that? At least you're not hitting the wife and kids.' Not that I would ever have dreamed of talking about this with him. Who'd license a counsellor who hacks bits out of her arm?
Some days I think Willem is right: what's wrong with letting out an emotion physically? At least I understand why. I know that I cut because there's too much inside me, and this is the best way to let it out. I mop up the mess, give a big smile, and that should be enough. But mostly it just confirms what I already know: that Ezri Tigan was the biggest fraud ever to embark on a counsellor's course, and Ezri Dax is even worse.
The assault, when it came, was not, of course, unexpected. I had been carrying a weapon on a daily basis again for more than four months now, a practice I had largely abandoned after Tain's death. But, foolishly, I had stayed late at the shop. I had been anxious to finish decoding a particular transmission and, besides, my quarters felt so small of late. I wanted to be tired when I got home, so that I would sleep quickly.
The Promenade was deserted as I locked up; the lighting dimmed to what was, to me, a tolerable level. Quark's had the dishevelled appearance all watering holes get just before they close, as the night turns the corner into early morning. I moved on automatic to the turbolift, and yawned my instructions to the computer. I was thinking about the following day's main priority, a particularly urgent and potentially greatly informative transmission which had been intercepted earlier in the day by Starfleet Intelligence. I had given it a cursory glance before leaving the shop, and my mind was already ticking over, analyzing the possible construction of the code used. Tired and preoccupied, I approached my quarters - and was brought to the floor before I realized what was happening. Stupid old man. A misjudgement like that could have cost me my life.
Reflex kicked in, and I punched back both elbows with as much force as I could muster, twisting round on the floor to face my assailant. Human, I noted, and prepared my own attack based on this information. Fair-haired, male. These details were inconsequential, but I took them in anyway. More importantly, I realized that he wasn't trying to kill me - at least, not in a way that would look like murder. He could have shot me in the back rather than assault me. Presumably he wanted to knock me out and then orchestrate an apparent suicide. This put me at an advantage as I, in contrast, wanted him quite decisively dead and could respond with much deadlier force. All this information took even my fatigued mind just moments to process, as we grappled in near silence, with only the odd grunt of exertion emerging from either of us. It was a cold, passionless, purely professional encounter.
I struggled to free a hand and reached into my jacket, pulling out a thin, sharp tool which I could claim, if pressed, was for cutting cloth. His eyes widened, and he tried to grab at my arm. I could feel my hand trembling as I stabbed upwards into his throat and slit the artery. He fell forwards onto me, dead, spraying me in his blood.
At this point, three things happened in quick succession. A security officer, making a routine sweep of the Habitat Ring, came round the corner and his eyes widened at the tableau in front of him. I, in turn, looked down at the blood, and at the corpse, and at the gory weapon in my hand. And then I panicked, falling back on my most ingrained response to any awkward situation. 'It wasn't me,' I lied. Sitting somewhat wretchedly in a holding cell fifteen minutes later, I reflected that I must have been even more worn-out than I'd imagined to say something so ridiculous. I wiped my left hand across my forehead, noting that it came away smeared red. And suddenly I felt desperately afraid, almost frantic, and I remembered again the faces of all those colleagues whose judgement had failed them, who were no longer pulling the strings, but were now themselves no better than puppets. I closed my eyes so that I couldn't see the walls.
We had barely been back on the station a week when Sisko first approached me to work for Starfleet Intelligence. My co-operation on the starbase had not gone unmarked, and it seemed that my services were suddenly in demand again. He ushered me into his office, sat me down, poured drinks, and didn't look straight at me once.
'Please allow me to offer my condolences,' he started.
'Condolences?' I queried.
'On the death of Ziyal.'
'Ziyal,' I murmured.
'It's a great loss to the station,' he added.
'A great loss,' I agreed.
He leaned back in his chair and looked at me then. 'Garak, are you going to repeat everything I say?'
My mouth twitched. 'Not everything...'
And then the offer, couched in the usual evasive language, and as he spoke all I could think was that I had never believed I would fall so low. Elim Garak working for Starfleet Intelligence. How my former colleagues would have laughed. Still, you have to put this sort of thing into perspective. All my former colleagues are dead now. I'm not.
'What the hell is going on, Garak?' It was Sisko's voice now, puncturing the oppression the way I had stabbed through that man's throat. My eyes shot open. The Captain stood in front of the holding cell, apparently barely containing his fury. I was glad of the force field. Odo was behind him, arms folded, looking even grimmer than usual.
I tried to pull myself together, and stood up to face him. 'I would very much like that question answered too, Captain,' I answered, somewhat more shakily than I would have preferred. 'Am I to assume that the residents of this station can no longer go about their business without being attacked?'
Sisko slammed his hand against the wall next to the force field. I have no doubt that he would have hit me, given the opportunity. 'Don't screw with me, Garak! When did you start working for them? What did they offer you? A chance to go back to Cardassia? Because I'm going to make damn sure there's nowhere left for you to go!'
I wasn't going to get anything sensible out of Sisko, so I looked at Odo in blank, and unfeigned, astonishment. 'What is he talking about?'
Odo's voice was brisk, business-like, and as cold as a night on the station. 'Pym - the man you killed - was a member of Starfleet Intelligence. His most recent files on you make for interesting reading.' He left the implication hanging in the air.
I swallowed. 'You think I'm a Dominion spy?'
Odo inclined his head. 'It's what the files suggest.'
I wearily rubbed my less bloody hand over my eyes. 'Do I really need to point out that this is a set-up?' Sisko looked ready to detonate again.
Odo cut in, calm, but terribly icy. 'That's something we'll need to investigate, Garak.'
I stared at both their faces, Odo impassive, Sisko livid, and I realized in horror that they really did not have any intention of releasing me. And that was when I exploded, which was probably not the best tactic given the circumstances, but I was keenly aware that time was running out. 'This is preposterous! For more than a year you have had my absolute loyalty! How can you possibly believe that I would sell out the Federation...?'
Sisko was now face to face with me, only the force field protecting us from each other's fury. 'To go home? After seven years? I think you'd sell out anyone for that, Garak.'
'To the Dominion?' I countered in disbelief. 'Have you paid attention to any of my actions over the past four years, Captain? You may recall that the Dominion are the ones responsible for my continued banishment on this benighted hellhole - '
'I don't believe a damn word you say, Garak!' he yelled back, and I knew that at least part of his anger was directed at himself, not for trusting me - which he never had - but for ever working with me in the first place. I have no time for those people who cannot accept the consequences of their actions. I turned to Odo, trembling with rage and incipient panic. 'Get him out of here. I have nothing to say while he's here. I'll talk to you and nobody else.'
The constable turned to look at Sisko, and nodded slowly. Sisko swallowed, his wrath starting to subside. 'All right, Constable,' he murmured, and headed out, casting one last look of naked loathing in my direction. I matched the look, and kept on watching until I was sure he was gone.
Then I spoke urgently to Odo. 'Odo, you have to trust me. I need you to release me immediately.'
He looked back impassively. 'I can't do that, Garak. I'm surprised you even ask.'
I rubbed my face, blood coming away again on my hands. 'Odo, this is serious. I shouldn't be here. You can't keep me here.'
He started to answer that indeed he could, and suddenly his eyes narrowed. 'What's going on, Garak?'
I swallowed. 'I don't know what you mean.'
He folded his arms. 'I can stay like this for a long time, Garak.'
I tried another tactic. 'You don't seriously believe these accusations, do you? Pym attacked me; he intended to kill me...'
'What I believe doesn't matter, Garak. We'll discover the truth - after a no doubt very long and very painstaking investigation.' He leaned in closer. 'I have all the time in world, Garak. But something tells me you don't.'
I had no choice. Against my instincts, against my training, I had to take the chance, and I told Odo the truth.
I'll say this for being taken hostage - it puts your neuroses in perspective. I woke up with a start to realize that someone had their hand over my mouth. It was dark and I couldn't see a thing.
'Don't make a sound,' whispered a voice. 'Or I'll kill you. Get out of bed - slowly, mind. We're going for a little walk.'
I slid out of bed, and was suddenly twisted round, my back pushed against my captor's side, his arm around me. I couldn't see him, but felt the heat of his breath on the back of my neck, and the press of a weapon at my side.
'Please don't hurt me,' I whimpered.
'Shut up and walk,' he hissed.
I let him guide me out of my quarters, into the corridor. We were well into the night cycle now, the lights dimmed. It was unlikely we would pass anyone at this time, and anyone we did pass would assume we were a couple, in the gloom, and walking so close together. There was no one to help me. I started to tremble.
Get a grip on yourself, girl!
If you lose your head, he'll kill you. Now pull yourself together!
Keep your wits about you. I want to know where we're going on this little jaunt.
We passed through corridors slowly, and as I squinted through the darkness, I realized we were heading to the docking bay. Was he intending to take me off the station?
If he gets you onto a shuttle, you're as good as dead. You'd better not let it happen.
I swallowed. Curzon was astute, but he didn't inspire confidence. We moved slowly along the corridor, heading closer and closer to the docking bay, and I looked around desperately for an opportunity, the slightest chance.
The entrance to the docking bay was now feet away. My captor started to slow down, preparing himself for a potential attack as we went in.
Joran. I heard the voice, clamped it down, and took its advice. I pushed back with unnatural strength, the unexpected movement catching my captor off-guard, and sending him backwards. His head hit the wall hard, and he was dazed.
'Ezri!' I heard, as I tried to get my breath back, and looked up to see Sisko, Odo, and a team of security guards at the far end of the corridor, about fifty feet away. 'Get away from him!' Sisko was yelling. 'Get here now!'
I crashed forward, almost tripping over my feet as I sprinted towards them. Glancing back, I saw that my captor had got his wind back, and was rising to his feet. Within seconds I heard his footfall behind me, matching me step for step. I saw the officers in front of me raise their phasers.
They want to take a shot at him, said Curzon. You'll need to dive to get clear. Don't mess it up!
'Move it, old man!' Sisko was yelling, and Curzon agreed passionately with the sentiment.
But I had to judge the moment to perfection. Too soon and he wouldn't be a target. Too late, and he might have a chance to take a shot at me himself. I dared a glance over my shoulder. It was difficult to guess...
Trust me, Ezri, a female voice whispered. Emony. Trust my instincts.
Emony had such physical awareness, such confidence in her reflexes. So I left myself in her tender care, and somehow I knew that now was the moment. I dived to the ground, and Sisko was there, pulling me to the side of the corridor. I heard, over our heads, the sound of phaser fire, and I saw my captor fall to the ground. And then I heard a final voice, and knew it was Jadzia's. You'll never be alone, Ezri, she murmured. We'll always be with you...
I am more than the sum of my parts, I thought, and as I collapsed into Sisko's arms, I realized for the first time how uniquely blessed I was.
We three did, in fact, meet again - later, when that long night had finally transformed itself into late morning. I had at last been able to wash my face and hands, but there was still blood on my clothes, to the somewhat ghoulish fascination of those station staff on duty in Ops as Odo escorted me into Sisko's office.
'Sit down, Garak.' He pointed at the chair opposite him, then went back to playing with that ridiculous ball, watching me. I obeyed wearily. Odo stayed standing behind me.
'You'll be pleased to hear that we've made an arrest,' Sisko said. 'A junior engineer called Bland. He's being transferred back to Earth for questioning.'
I nodded in acknowledgement.
'You may also be interested to hear that Lieutenant Dax is fine,' he added. 'Minor cuts and bruises. Doctor Bashir has just released her from the Infirmary.'
I closed my eyes momentarily in relief. 'I am indeed pleased to hear that she is all right,' I answered quietly.
'No thanks to you,' he added.
I was now beyond anger and firmly in the grip of bitterness. I looked away from him, down at my hands, spread across my knees, the nails still slightly red-rimmed. 'I knew it was a mistake to trust you, Sisko.' I didn't have to see his face to know what expression would be forming.
'A mistake to trust me...?' I could hear the frank disbelief in his voice. 'Mister Garak, have you no sense of proportion? You have just endangered the life of one of my officers, and it's only luck and her own presence of mind that kept her alive!'
'If you hadn't insisted on keeping me in custody, Lieutenant Dax would not have been in danger in the first place,' I hit back, glaring up at him. 'The Dominion have had their eye on me for months now. I knew they'd send someone to kill me.'
'So you thought we should all join the party, is that it?'
I looked down again, shaking my head in contempt. 'Captain Sisko, I have just unmasked two Dominion agents working within Starfleet Intelligence. It was inevitable that someone was feeding the Dominion information, that they'd learn I was working for you. And then it was only a matter of time before someone came for me. Pym tried to frame me, Pym came to kill me. There's your first agent.'
'And where precisely does Dax fit into all this?' Sisko rumbled, the quiet of his voice more menacing.
I looked at my hands even more intently. 'I've made a point of seeing Lieutenant Dax once a week for some time now, and there are documents in my files implying she was my main contact with Starfleet Intelligence. If someone came for her, we had another Dominion spy.'
There was a silence. When I spoke again, it was mostly to myself. 'I thought I'd be there to protect her. I must confess I didn't expect you to believe Pym over me.' I laughed a little at the irony. 'After all this time, I fall foul of misplaced trust. Whoever would believe it..?'
Odo spoke for the first time, and I thought I heard the merest hint of sympathy. 'Why didn't you talk to us earlier, Garak?'
I turned my head and looked at him. 'Someone was going to kill me, Odo. Someone who was prepared to betray the Federation to the Dominion. Who would you have trusted in those circumstances?' I looked down again. 'Besides, would you really have believed me, Constable?' I nodded at Sisko. 'He wouldn't have.'
'Don't cast yourself as the martyr in all this, Garak...' Sisko started.
'The martyr...?' I murmured. 'No, Captain, I don't feel like a martyr. I hoped for your protection. I didn't get it. If anything, I feel vindicated in my cynicism. Everything I always suspected about the Federation turns out to be true.' I stood up, no longer interested in talking to him. 'I do believe we're finished, gentlemen. If you'll excuse me, I'm sure we all want some sleep.'
As I passed along the Promenade, I glanced into the Replimat, and was treated to the sight of Julian and Ezri sitting down for an early lunch. Julian looked up as I passed, caught my eye very briefly, then looked away. And I moved on.
The final time I saw him, a couple of months later, was in the shop, where we had first met. But this time the shop was virtually empty, I noticed as I went in. The furniture was stripped; the mannequins crowded together mournfully in a corner. Garak was over by the recycler, pushing in large amounts of cloth. The shop was obviously being closed down.
'I'll be sorry to see the shop shut,' I remarked. 'I never did get to have anything made by you.'
He looked around in surprise at me. 'Well,' he said eventually, 'I didn't expect to see you.'
'I had to come,' I said, 'To say once and for all that I don't feel it was your fault. You did what you had to in order to protect yourself. No one else was going to do it for you, were they?'
He raised his eyes briefly to the heavens. 'Lieutenant Dax, that is an admirable sentiment, but a misguided one. Can I remind you that I deliberately deceived you for months in order to use you as bait? And that as a result you were nearly killed? I suggest that you come to terms with the fact that as far as I was concerned, you were a tool to be used. Not a counsellor, not a friend. A conveniently trusting individual who played perfectly the part I set for her.'
'I know all that,' I answered. 'It doesn't matter.'
'You may find this hard to believe, but I am not interested in your forgiveness.' He turned back to the recycler, carried on pushing in cloth.
'I'm not the only one who was mistakenly trusting, though, am I?'
He stopped what he was doing again, rolled his eyes. 'If you are intent on taking pity on me, then please - spare me your trite attempts to find some sort of connection between us. Or if you insist on some kind of finality, some sort of moral, try this.' He moved away from the recycler, and I was suddenly aware of his physicality, his strength, and the passion which underscored it. I squared my chin as he faced me.
'You and I are the high priests of coercion, Lieutenant. Our societies seek to control their members, to force them into productive roles. We take people's souls and we alter them to fit better: you construct healthy individuals, I constructed loyal citizens. We each offer the misfit the chance of happiness, the chance to belong. And those of us who understand this, who lie awake and consider the consequences of our actions, grasp at whatever justification we can: idealism, patriotism, the greater good - whatever you like.'
He looked at the cloth in his hands. 'And there, I fear, my analogy breaks down, Lieutenant, because I don't believe you've ever thought about what you're doing when you enter that little room, and you so arrogantly assume the right to judge the other person, to offer them a perspective different from their own, on the grounds that it will somehow make them 'happy'. You're part of the machine, Lieutenant, as much as I was. You just don't understand it.'
'You're wrong, Garak,' I said simply, and I realized in amazement that I was keeping my voice steady. 'I'm in this job because I care. I don't want to transform people, I don't want to change anyone. People come to me because they're lonely, or because they're hurt, or because they need to know that just one person is willing to listen to them, to their own, unique story. And that's why I'm there: to let them know that someone, somewhere accepts them - without pressure to change, without any condition at all. And because I keep in me the hope that maybe, just maybe, this acceptance will make a difference for them.' And as I spoke, I knew, with a great sense of liberation, that this was the truth about me, about Ezri Dax, and that whatever life had in store for me, this certainty would always sustain me.
'It's all I wanted you to know,' I added.
He didn't answer, just turned back to the recycler, a gesture of dismissal.
'You don't expect to come back from Cardassia, do you?' I said.
'Either we free Cardassia, or we die in the attempt. Either way, I think I can finally say that my days as a tailor are over.'
'You'll be missed,' I said simply.
He looked up at me then and laughed shortly. 'No I won't. And I can tell you one thing else, Lieutenant, I leave this place without regret.' He turned back to his work, and I knew that even if I could say something else, he did not want to hear it. Still I stopped at the door and said, 'Goodbye, Garak,' before turning back to a station which was a prison for some, but which held the whole future for me.