Disclaimer and author's note: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the property of Paramount Pictures. This fic takes place following the events of season six's 'Sons and Daughters'.

Art Education

At 21:28 hours, Weyoun stopped outside Dukat's quarters and stood still for a moment, tilting his head as he listened to the voices coming from inside. Dukat, pontificating as usual, a low rumble of agreement from—he furrowed his brow a little and listened more closely—Damar, and then a peel of female laughter. That would be Tora Ziyal, Dukat's half-Bajoran daughter, and the reason for Weyoun's presence there on a night that, prior to receiving this invitation, had been blissfully Dukat-free. Apparently the girl was some sort of artist, and her work was being displayed at some prestigious institute on Cardassia Prime.

So Weyoun had gathered, at least, when Dukat had invited him to this party in her honor. Diplomacy had demanded that he accept, and more importantly, not mention the fact that he was wasted on an art exhibition. And even if he wasn't too diplomatic to mention that Vorta genetic quirk, the look on Dukat's face as he'd gushed about his daughter's talent would have kept Weyoun quiet on the subject. He didn't like the man, professionally or personally, but an implied slight to his daughter was a line that Weyoun didn't need to cross.

There were a few other voices that he recognized inside—Cardassians under Dukat's command—and his ears picked up the heavy tread of more approaching. He straightened, rolled his shoulders back, and tapped the door chime.

The door hissed open, revealing Dukat, glass of kanar in hand. "Weyoun!" Dukat exclaimed effusively, clapping him on the shoulder. Founders, he hated when the man did that. "Come in, come in. Have some kanar."

As he stepped inside, Dukat poured a generous glass of the drink and handed it to Weyoun. "Thank you," he said, glancing around the quarters curiously. He'd thankfully never been inside any of his Cardassian allies' quarters. It was too warm—he was already sweating in his jacket—and too dim, especially for someone with poor eyesight. Leave it to Dukat to hit upon a Vorta physical weakness without even knowing it.

He swirled the kanar around in his glass before taking a polite sip. It was vile stuff, even with just the texture and the sensation of alcohol, and he couldn't help wondering what it tasted like to make Cardassians love it so much. Nevertheless, he kept his distaste out of his expression while Dukat steered him by his shoulder towards the wall, where a number of paintings were displayed.

"Wonderful, aren't they?" Dukat exclaimed. The man was already inebriated, though at least it seemed to have put him in a good mood. In a bad mood, Dukat was just tiresome.

Weyoun made a noncommittal noise in response, but when Dukat looked at him expectantly, he said, "Yes, they're excellent." He had no idea if they were excellent or not. They reminded him of Dominion script, and it had never occurred to him that one could find aesthetic value in that. "They're very…" He cast about for some descriptor to pin on them. "…uncluttered."

For a moment, Dukat stared hard at him, and Weyoun held his gaze mildly. Perhaps that had been the wrong adjective to choose. They were uncluttered; he felt qualified to make that judgment, as it was simply a spatial one, but maybe something more…artistic sounding would have been better. Before he could correct this mistake, Dukat nodded approvingly. "She's been compared to Nanpart Malor," he said proudly.

With a smile—this was something to fall back on—Weyoun asked, "Nanpart Malor? I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the name."

"One of Cardassia's finest painters," Dukat effused. "It's a great honor for Ziyal to be compared to him. A great honor."

"She's very accomplished for such a young woman," Weyoun said politely, with an urbane smile to match.

Dukat looked pleased to hear it—though unsurprised, as though his daughter's success was a reflection upon himself. Weyoun had to suppress the urge to roll his eyes, and then force himself to listen attentively as the Cardassian said, "Going to Bajor really was the best thing for her. Oh, I never would have admitted it at the time, but seeing what she's been able to do has proved me wrong."

With a smile that was half sardonic and half amused, Weyoun remarked, "What a shocking thing to hear you say, Dukat."

Chuckling, Dukat said, "You don't appreciate the Cardassian sense of pride, then."

Hadn't he made that abundantly clear? Of course Dukat would present that fact as an insightful observation. "I'm sure you're very proud of your daughter," he said, unusually sincere for his dealings with the gul. But then, he had the sense that he needed to play this situation carefully. It still mystified him why Dukat had invited him to this gathering, other than to grandstand off his daughter's accomplishments. The other Cardassian officers in the room were either avoiding his gaze entirely or eyeing him distrustfully; and he couldn't blame them, really. He had actually debated bringing Jem'Hadar guards but was glad, now, that he hadn't. After that…unfortunate incident in Quark's, it was better for the Jem'Hadar and Cardassians to be kept separate as much as possible.

Dukat opened his mouth to respond, but at that moment, the door chime sounded again, and he just said, "Ah, more guests! Have some more kanar, Weyoun—and if you'll excuse me…"

Weyoun stood and stared at the paintings for another few minutes. Really, if you took away the posturing, the ego, and that insufferable Cardassian arrogance, Dukat wasn't so bad. Not that they were about to become bosom friends, and in fact, as Weyoun picked out Dukat's conversation with the party's new arrivals, he moved away across the room, preferring not to get drawn into another conversation with the gul. He made his way over to the window, where he stood for awhile, watching the other guests mingling, his sensitive hearing picking up the threads of multiple conversations. His presence clearly put some of the other guests on edge—feelings were obviously still raw from the fight in Quark's between his troops and Dukat's.

For the briefest of moments, he caught Damar's eye, but the other man looked away quickly, a sour expression on his face. Interesting. Weyoun knew that Damar didn't care for him—a more self-evident statement couldn't be made—but could it be that the glinn didn't want to be here either? Perhaps Damar harbored some kind of resentment towards the relationship between Dukat and his daughter. That could bear some observation.

Glancing around the room, Weyoun caught sight of a painting hanging over the replicator, and after a moment's hesitation, he went to look at it—admire it, if anyone asked—wondering vaguely if it was one of Tora Ziyal's. It would give him the opportunity to surreptitiously recycle his kanar in the replicator as well, if nothing else.

He found a chance to do so, eventually, then took a step back to legitimately study the painting. Then, a woman's voice said from behind him, "That's one of Nanpart Malor's most famous water colors." Weyoun turned and found himself face to face with the gathering's guest of honor, holding an empty bottle of kanar—probably on her way to recycle it in the replicator. So, this piece was by the famous Malor—there was a certain similarity between it and Dukat's daughter's paintings. "I kept it in my room at university so it didn't look so drab in there," she added.

He glanced back at the painting, somewhat surprised. Could it be used for such a purpose? The colors didn't look particularly bright; in fact they were muted, spare, and washed out. "Indeed," he said, returning his attention to her. "And does it do the same for your quarters here?"

She smiled, leaned towards him a little conspiratorially, and lowered her voice. "Not even close. Cardassian architecture is so heavy. I shouldn't say this, but I've never really cared for it." Then, she smiled self-consciously. "I'm sorry; how rude of me. We haven't met formally—I'm Ziyal."

She had a very earnest, open face, and a bright smile that from Weyoun's understanding was in spite of everything she'd been through in her short life. He bowed his head and said, "Weyoun. I believe we've passed one another coming in or out of your father's office."

With a nod, she said, "It was good of you to come. You must be…" She hesitated, and he saw two conflicting emotions clash in her eyes. "…very busy."

Running the station she'd lived on under the Federation, whom she preferred to the Dominion, she meant, but was too polite to say. He gave her an affable smile. "I appreciated the invitation." A lie. "I don't get invited to many parties." Another lie, though he didn't get invited to many parties for his diverting personality—which, frankly, he'd always found somewhat unfair, as he was without fail entirely agreeable at any social gathering. He supposed it was the fact of his presence and the reason for it more than any failing of his own.

Weyoun decided to divert the conversation, and what better subject than the point of the gathering? "How long have you been painting?" he asked her.

It had been the right question. A glow lit her face immediately. "Not long. I used to paint when I was a little girl, but it's really only been since I was at university on Bajor that I've gotten serious about it."

Thoughtfully, Weyoun asked, "And what makes someone want to do something like that?"

"Paint?" Ziyal clarified.

He realized he was being vague and shot her a pleasant smile to make up for it. "Yes, exactly."

"Well." She absently shifted the bottle to her other hand. "It isn't so much that you want to as it is that you have to. There's something inside of you that…that you don't know how to say any other way, and for me it comes out in my paintings."

Suddenly, she looked down, and Weyoun knew she was embarrassed to have revealed something so personal. He was intrigued by her answer, though; intrigued by the idea of a feeling so intangible that it could take form in the infinite diversity of artistic endeavors. "May I ask you a question?" he finally said. He didn't understand art—he never had, and everything in his genetic makeup said he never would. But there was something about it; about the lines and colors in a painting, or a melodic phrase in a song, or a stanza in a poem, that always made him try one more time. Perhaps it was because every species that the Dominion had ever conquered seemed to come by the ability naturally. Effortlessly. The Founders had given the Vorta everything; made them powerful beings and set them at the head of their empire—and yet, this sense of aesthetics, this basic thing that every other sentient being took for granted, eluded all of them. Many, probably most, of his people were content with that. Weyoun had always been curious, though.

"Of course," Ziyal replied, looking as though she was steeling herself to be mocked for what she'd said.

She needn't have worried. Sincerely, he asked, "What is the difference, aesthetically, between this—" He pointed to the painting, and then gestured at the empty glass bottle in her hand as he finished, "—and that?"

Ziyal stared at him, and he could tell by the conflicted expression on her face that she wasn't sure if he was joking or not. "What's the difference between a water color painting and a kanar bottle?" she asked uncertainly. There was a hint of a smile in her voice, as though she was ready to laugh when he revealed this to be a prank.

"Yes," he replied, perfectly serious.

Her ridged nose wrinkled in puzzlement. "I'm not sure what you mean."

Weyoun clasped his hands in front of himself. "I'm aware—intellectually—that most people consider this painting aesthetically pleasing. My question is, what makes the bottle different?"

Still looking as though she couldn't quite believe he meant what he was saying, Ziyal replied, "Well, a kanar bottle is…utilitarian. It's made for a specific purpose."

He cocked his head at her. "It's my understanding that certain things that were made for a specific purpose are quite highly regarded as art objects." Casting about for an example, he said, "Bajoran mandala, I believe, are prized as such? Or am I mistaken?"

Ziyal looked slightly deflated. "No, you're right." For a moment, she looked at the painting thoughtfully, and then at the bottle in her hand. "I suppose it's just…convention. Ancient Cardassian bottles are considered art…but modern kanar bottles aren't."

"Curious, the way conventions can be so arbitrary, isn't it?" Weyoun remarked.

Giving him an inquisitive look, she asked, "Do you find this bottle…er, aesthetically pleasing?"

He ignored the question and held a hand out, saying, "May I?" When she offered him the bottle, he took it and traced a finger up the spiraling neck, then remarked idly, "The curve of this line is very similar to the way the river curves in the painting."

Her eyebrows went up, and she glanced between the two objects. "You're right," she murmured. "I've never thought of that." For a moment, she remained silent, and Weyoun lost himself a little in study of the objects. Then, Ziyal asked curiously, "What does Vorta art look like?"

He set the bottle down in the replicator. "Vorta don't have art. We don't have any appreciation for it, I'm afraid." When she looked at him with wide eyes, he added, "It's genetic." His resolve not to inform Dukat of this fact came back to him in a flicker of remembrance, but his instincts told him Ziyal wouldn't be offended. In fact, this young woman would most likely pity him for the…deficiency.

She frowned at him. "You mean you can't tell if something's beautiful?"

"That's right."

"You've never looked at a landscape and been…overwhelmed by it?"

"I can't say I have, no." He hesitated, then added, "It rains on my homeworld most of the time. Do most species find that aesthetically pleasing?"

Shaking her head, she replied. "No. Well, the Ferengi do, but other than that, no."

"Hm. I've always found it somewhat of an inconvenience, myself," Weyoun remarked pleasantly. Ziyal nodded, looking as though she thought she should engage him on the subject of the Vorta homeworld, but that she shied away from inquiring about a world so deeply embedded within the Dominion. It wasn't unusual. People always seemed loathe to ask about Kurill Prime.

"What about stars?" she finally asked, with a gesture towards the window. "Everyone finds stars beautiful."

All he could see out of it was blackness and, very faintly, a few indistinct smears of light that blurred into nothingness along their edges. The brightest and most distinct, by far, was Bajor-B'hava'el, Bajor's sun. But still, it wasn't much more than a smudge, a haze of light; like a speck of dust floating just in front of his pupil that was impossible to focus on. Of course he knew what stars looked like—he'd stared at enough holoimages and star charts—but there was something very…melancholy about the fact that he'd never see them physically manifest. He'd wondered, now and then—if Vorta could see stars, would they understand this elusive notion of beauty?

She was looking at him expectantly. "Don't you?" she prompted.

Smiling slightly, he replied, "Just ancient light traveling across empty space."

"Well, that was a little poetic, at least." She paused and eyed him. "I suppose you don't have poetry, either?"

"No. We confine our written efforts to technical and legal documents."

"Do you read fiction?" she asked, sounding more and more incredulous.

"I have, but I don't understand the appeal." He paused, then added, "Why would I read other people's fantasies when I could be reading about what's actually happening?" A week ago, he had arrived early to a meeting of the station's ruling council to find Odo, much to his surprise, already in the wardroom. His eyes had flicked automatically towards the padd that the Founder was reading, and before he could stop himself from invading Odo's privacy, he saw the title: Vengeance is Mine!, by Mickey Spillane. After the meeting, he'd had vague plans of spending the day in his makeshift office and then going to Quark's, but instead he had gone directly back to his quarters and asked the computer to download every single one of this Mickey Spillane's novels. He'd read through as many as he could before eye strain and exhaustion drove him to sleep, desperate to understand what made his god read such a thing; to make that small connection with Odo.

He couldn't.

"Hm." Ziyal frowned again. "That seems very…sad."

The same thought had occurred to him. Repeatedly. He just shrugged, vaguely satisfied, at least, that he'd read her correctly. Tora Ziyal was too innocent of a creature to have Dukat as a father; to be at a party surrounded by Cardassian soldiers and one Vorta liaison. She was too innocent a creature to even be on this station, and Weyoun, with what little thought he'd cared to spare the matter, couldn't understand why Dukat had even brought her here. They were in the middle of a war. Weyoun was self-aware enough to recognize his own capacity for selfishness, and certainly what he was doing right now—attempting to force his way past his genetic programming; the traits that the Founders themselves had deemed sufficient for his people—qualified. But insofar as he could imagine having a child, he didn't think he'd bring her to what was, arguably, the most dangerous place in the quadrant.

But then, he couldn't have a child, and maybe that left him with too essential of a disconnect to fathom Dukat's motives. Though in those cases, the man's egotism was a good fall-back position. And Weyoun found Ziyal's innocence touching in a strange way—probably in a way that only someone who didn't have a childhood of his own to remember could.

"It's not important," he finally said briskly. Though, to an artist, he supposed that statement couldn't be further from the truth. He wasn't even sure what it was that he was saying wasn't important—his lack of aesthetics or the sense of them itself. Clearly, she'd disagree with him in either case, and he wasn't interested in a debate. In the end, he couldn't help what he was.

Ziyal opened her mouth to respond, but perhaps she saw something in his eyes that brooked no argument, because she closed it without saying anything. The moment of…acquaintance between them seemed to abruptly come to an end, and she was once again just a civilian with questionable loyalties, while he was the Dominion's liaison to the Alpha Quadrant. They had nothing in common, aside from the fact that he was a diplomat and it was his job to have something in common with everybody.

"Well," Weyoun said, smiling benignly at her, "congratulations on your well-deserved accolades."

"Thank you," Ziyal said politely.

She reached out to recycle the bottle in the replicator, but before she pressed the button, he asked, "Do you mind if I keep that?"

He could tell that again, she was wondering if he was joking, though based on the previous conversation, he'd expect her to come down on the side of his sincerity. "You can replicate one with kanar in it," she said uncertainly.

Removing it from the replicator and smiling, Weyoun said, "No, I prefer this one. Is it replicated?"

"I don't think so. The kanar wasn't."

He studied it intently, his eyes following the way the dim light in the room glinted off the curves of the glass. "I find the vessel itself to be infinitely more worthwhile than what it contains," he remarked. Then, he glanced up at her. "Thank you."

With an unsure smile, Ziyal replied, "You're welcome." Glancing over her shoulder, she added, "It was nice meeting you, er…" He could see her struggle for a title, or an honorific, before she settled on, "Weyoun."

"Likewise, Miss Tora," he said.

She turned to walk away, then paused, almost reluctantly, and looked back towards him. "I think," she said, "the fact that you're asking means you understand aesthetics more than you think you do."

Weyoun raised his eyebrows and she didn't wait for a response, disappearing into the crowd of Dukat's officers. They looked as uncomfortable around her as she did around them, he noticed, and filed the information away for possible later use. He supposed that was one thing that they truly did have in common. With a stifled sigh, he glanced once more at the painting above the replicator, then went to do his diplomatic duty by mingling with the Cardassians.

Another glass of kanar and he could go, and he would return to his quarters and try not to think about the pity in Tora Ziyal's eyes when she'd learned that he lacked the ability to distinguish beauty from all the other noise of daily existence. He didn't like pity; knew, with perfect clarity, that there was no reason for anyone to pity him. Still, it wasn't the fact that she pitied him that bothered him as he took another swallow of kanar and smiled good-naturedly at the soldiers around him—it was the fact that deep down, he suspected that her pity might be justified.