60,054 (Kurillian Calendar)

It wasn't that Soltoi didn't try to carry out her threat to destroy Weyoun. She made, however, two fatal errors: one, she underestimated Weyoun himself. He was a better diplomat than even she knew, and he wasted no time in strengthening his relationships with his friends in the media, other senatorial offices, and amongst the Complex lobbyists. Then he made overtures—and some promises—to those he knew he needed on his side: other powerful members of the Council, officials in the Tira Exarchate gubernatorial offices, and several of Soltoi's business friends.

The second mistake Soltoi made was underestimating the lengths that Parnon would go to protect his new senior aide. When Weyoun's younger brother was hunted down and incarcerated for a litany of petty crimes—Weyoun nearly felt a twinge of sympathy for the fact that one of his unsuspecting, gutter-bound siblings was getting embroiled in this—Parnon refused to rise to the bait. He refused to entertain the idea that Weyoun's lowly origins made him prone to some innate stupidity, or coarseness, or perversity which made him unsuitable for his position, and he treated as a joke the implication that Weyoun had come to work for him to take advantage of him in some way.

"You can't have it both ways," Parnon good-naturedly told one of the Complex reporters. "Either he's a simpleton or a criminal mastermind."

The reporters persisted for a few more questions, but Parnon repeatedly shut them down, and when Weyoun, standing in his office door, started to speak, the senator held up a hand to silence him. Once the two reporters left, one of them throwing a baleful look over her shoulder, Weyoun crossed his arms across his chest and leaned against the door frame. "They'll be back," he remarked.

Parnon nodded. "Don't talk to them," he said. "Just let me deal with it. Soltoi wants you to say something incriminating—I'm sure you wouldn't," he said before Weyoun could interrupt with that himself, "but don't give them an opportunity to twist what you would say into something that they can use."

At that, Weyoun raised his eyebrows, still leaning against the door frame. "That happens to be an expertise of mine."

With a grim smile, Parnon replied, "You're on the wrong side of the Complex reporters now, Weyoun. You may find that everything was easier when you were in their good graces."

Weyoun returned the same grim smile. "I knew what I was getting into when I asked for this position, Senator."

Parnon laughed. "I like your confidence, Weyoun."

It was a confidence that he felt was warranted, and not just because of his political skill. There was nothing on his own record that could be used against him besides his pedigree. He'd been an excellent student at the Exarchate school, an even better one at Tira University, and his abilities in the Complex spoke for themselves. Inevitably, Eris's name was dragged into things, and Weyoun endured a couple weeks of the assumption, just as Soltoi had predicted, that he'd lost the Hellad hearing for his former employer because of his romantic relationship. Of course, now his former employer was able to lay the blame completely as his feet, and she didn't hesitate to try—but conversely, the reaction that he got from his fellow aides was mostly good-natured ribbing. He'd developed a reputation as something of an ascetic throughout his time in the Complex, and a few of his closer associates were highly amused by the whole thing. Unsurprisingly, Eris was approached by a few reporters, but she flatly refused to answer questions about her personal life, and they gave up when university security stepped in.

"Luckily for you," she commented one night as they were sprawled together on the sectional in her living room, "my background is as clean as yours."

She was working on cataloguing finds for the day and he was staring idly out the window watching Vrilla, Kurill's largest moon, rise over Tira City's towers, though at that, he turned his head to regard her, his eyes slightly hooded. "I wouldn't say mine is clean," he remarked.

Eris flicked her eyes towards him but kept working as she replied, "Of course it is. It's not a crime to be born into the slums." When he made a noncommittal noise in response, she shifted so that she could stare him straight in the eyes. He couldn't help slipping his arm from around her shoulders to around her waist. "Caste can't mean anything unless you let it."

At that, he chuckled, and when she shot him a disgruntled look, he kissed her. "I'm glad you think so," he replied.

Eris glanced at her padd again, then switched it off and leaned forward to kiss him lightly. "You're all so concerned with appearances in Tira City," she said. "I'll never get used to that. In Pegrill no one cares where you come from."

"How utopian."

With a roll of her eyes, she poked a finger into his chest and said, "It's true."

Weyoun grinned. "I believe you."

She settled back, laying her padd on her chest, and pursed her lips. "No, you don't. You think I don't know how things really are in Pegrill because I grew up privileged in one of the exurbs."

"Eris," he said, putting a finger under her chin, "if you must know, I'm thinking about how beautiful you are."

"Hmph. Beautiful and naïve, I'm sure."

His grin widened. "Obviously."

She pushed against his chest lightly with the back of her hand, though a smile fought the aggrieved expression on her face. "Think whatever you want," she said airily, then, with a twitch of a smile, leaned towards him again and put her hands on either side of his face as she kissed him. The kiss deepened as he pulled her closer, and he was just about to slide his hand under her shirt when she pulled away abruptly and picked her padd up again from where it had fallen between them. The screen flickered to life and she glanced over at him, a crooked grin on her face. "But I'm not naïve."

His hand lingered at her hip, where the hem of her shirt lay. "Did I say you were naïve?"

Smiling, but keeping her eyes on her padd, she reached up and ran her fingers down his ear lightly. "Distinctly. And I need to get this cataloguing done tonight."

"Message received." He watched her fingers skitter across the screen for a moment before turning his attention back to the window. The only thing visible in the night sky besides Vrilla (Soura, the second, smaller moon, hadn't risen yet) was the bright red splotch of the Nebula. Weyoun had been given to understand that if one got far enough away from city lights, the galaxy itself was bright enough to be visible, though he'd never done it himself. The idea of being able to see stars, even as one indistinct, hazy smear across the sky, appealed to him, but he'd never been out of Tira City. And in Tira City, light pollution and weak Vorta eyesight combined to make for a starless sky. Most Vorta, throughout their entire lives, would look up at night and see only the two moons, Vrilla and Soura, and the Nebula.

It made him wonder, for the first time, if stars would be visible from space. Weyoun narrowed his eyes a little, then asked abruptly, "What do you think about sending a Vorta to Vrilla?"

"Vrilla?" Eris asked in surprise, glancing from her padd to him. "Why?"

Weyoun furrowed his brow but kept staring at the moon. "I don't really know," he admitted. "To live?"

"Isn't there enough room here?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

For a moment, he didn't answer. He hadn't thought much about Parnon's desire for manned spaceflight over the last several weeks, his priorities being otherwise engaged, but the senator had brought it up once or twice and so Weyoun knew he was serious about it. Finally, he said, "Parnon wants to send Vorta to space. He wants to build…bases on the moons. I think. Especially Vrilla. I don't understand why, but then, I don't really have to."

"The life of a political aide," Eris remarked dryly.

"Someday I'll be the one making the policy decisions."

"And your aides will ask their significant others what they think about those decisions in the same bewildered tones."

"Do I sound bewildered?"

She kissed him lightly on the temple. "Slightly. I enjoy it." When he raised an eyebrow at her, she added with a smile, "Even you need to be confused some of the time. It's healthy."

"Hm. I don't know about that," he replied, arranging his features into a less befuddled expression. "Anyway, I've told Parnon that people don't care about space, but he doesn't listen."

Eris tilted her head thoughtfully. "Maybe we don't care about space because no one's ever made us think about it."

Scoffing, Weyoun said, "Don't tell me that you're advocating politicians telling Vorta what to think."

"Not telling people what to think. Giving them a chance to think about it themselves." Her gaze drifted to the window. "There's nothing there for most of us to see—Vrilla, Soura, the Nebula—I've met people in Tira City who don't even know what stars are." Weyoun resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably at her words, remembering his own awe when he'd been taught, upon arriving at the exarchate school, that the washed out purple-black of the night sky was actually the vastness of the universe, and that it was filled with trillions upon trillions of suns just like theirs. Either he was successful at hiding his reaction or Eris didn't notice it, because she went on, "Maybe Parnon's right and we should go to space and build bases on the moons. I have a feeling that if anyone can convince the voting public, it's you."

For a long moment, he watched her, until she tilted her chin upwards as though daring him to challenge what she'd said. Then, he smiled. "You may be right. But I had no idea you found me that persuasive."

She pursed her lips in a smile. "Of course I do. You're here right now, aren't you?"

With a tiny laugh, he said, "True." Then, he said, "It's not that I'm opposed to the idea. And even if I was, it doesn't matter, because Parnon wants to do it. I just don't understand it."

Eris reached down and put her padd on the floor, then shifted so she was sitting up straighter, crossing her legs and folding her hands in her lap as she did so. Her new position forced Weyoun to sit up as well, and she fixed him with a serious look. "Why don't we eat meat?"

Taken aback by this rapid change of subjects, Weyoun asked, "What?"

"Why don't we eat meat?" she reiterated. "You do that every day. Do you understand why?"

Weyoun blinked at her, but then said, reciting by rote, "After Kurill saw the cruelty with which the other Solids were treating the wounded Founder, he realized that hunting wasn't any different—"

"Right—and wrong," she said. When he gave her a nonplussed look, she went on, "We developed our immunity to poisonous foods because the Vanta had always out-competed Vorta for land that was suitable for growing everything else. We were forced into the forests where the nutrient-poor soil was only good for growing weeds and toxic plants."

"I know that."

She arched an eyebrow, then continued, "Because early Vorta were confined to the forests, they were also confined to food sources in the forest. And every other animal living there had that same immunity to the toxic plants, since it was the main food source. Now, the toxin that most of those plants contain magnifies through the food chain, so that by the time Vorta were killing and eating these animals, the level of poison in them was high enough to be toxic. So Vorta stopped eating meat, and we never started again, even after we had access to non-toxic foods."

Weyoun stared at her for a moment. "Thank you for the lecture. The moral of the story, I assume, is that I'm perfectly capable of doing things that I don't understand?"

Smiling, she said, "It was more of an illustration."

"All right, I get the point. I should try to understand Parnon?"

"It can't hurt, can it? And it would probably make you a better aide."

For another second or two, he just looked at her, and then a smile twitched onto his face. "Didn't you say you needed to finish that cataloguing tonight? Because you don't seem to be working all that diligently on it."

Tilting her chin upwards, she replied, "That's because I'm giving you advice. I was just about to go back to it—"

He caught her hand before she reached for the padd again and brought it to his mouth, holding her gaze as he kissed the inside of her wrist lingeringly. "And how can I ever thank you for the advice?" he asked in a low voice.

Eris's smile grew secretive. "I can't tell you how tempting it is to say 'let me finish my work'."

"Oh, I know you better than that."

At that, she leaned forward and twined her arms around him. "In that case, you can repay me by helping me to recover from the month of celibacy that I endured."

That was a proposition that was easily fulfilled. It would have been a very bad and blatant lie to say that he hadn't missed the sex while he and Eris hadn't been together. But now that he spent every day besieged in his office by people doing their best to destroy his career—sometimes it felt like his life—he found that he not only wanted Eris, he needed her; needed that visceral emotional connection to another Vorta. To her.

Things had been awkward between them when they'd first reconciled. Regardless of their strong feelings for each other, Weyoun was fully aware that he had wronged her, and that her trust might not be as freely given as it had been before. At first they hadn't even known exactly what to talk about, but gradually the ease between them had returned; perhaps with a certain maturity that had been missing before. His actions lent themselves to thinking about the future—maybe quitting his job with Soltoi and beginning one with Parnon had been done partly on instinct, but instinct wouldn't have driven him to make such a sweeping change in his life if part of him hadn't known that he wanted Eris in it for a long time.

The difficulties that both of them were facing because of his…inter-office move, at least, weren't an issue between them. He worried after the first time she was hounded by reporters that she might regret rekindling their relationship; when he nonchalantly mentioned this to her, she snorted in laughter and kissed him. As far as his own harassment went, he preferred to keep it to himself, and she never pried. Her sympathy was always boundless, though, when he told her anything—and he confined himself to the mildest of what was said about him, because he didn't want her dragged into it. Or, if he was honest with himself, her pity.

Several weeks later, there was a bad moment that he couldn't keep from her, as he was called as a character witness to his brother's trial. There was no avoiding the association with the slums, then—which was exactly the point. Law required him to appear, and he knew that Soltoi was the one who had made sure that his presence had been requested. Ostensibly he was there at the defense's request, though he knew that whatever he said wouldn't matter; the mere fact of him admitting that his brother was a slum criminal was enough to be damaging.

He barely recognized his brother—in fact, the only reason he did was because the younger Uldron was sitting in the defendant's chair, looking sullen and a little baffled. It was no wonder—the crimes he'd been brought in on were the sorts of things that people got away with every minute of every day in the slums, and yet he'd been caught and charged. Weyoun's evidence was utterly useless; he hadn't seen his brother since he'd gone to university at the age of sixteen, and his brother had only been nine years old at the time. Everyone in the room knew it was a charade—politics at their most malicious—everyone except Weyoun's brother, who looked befuddled first, and then hurt when Weyoun's testimony was vague and impersonal.

After the trial, Weyoun got out as quickly as he could, ignoring his name when his brother shouted it across the chamber. Sending money was one thing—and he'd kept sending the same amount, despite the decrease in his salary—but he didn't need interaction with this part of his past that he'd cut off a long time ago.

He was glad that no one was able to track down his sister, whom he knew had been, as of several years ago, making a living—if one could call it that—in one of the slum charnel houses. Prostitution was most definitely illegal, and the sorts of things that went on in the charnel houses crossed every line of decency. Weyoun spent one sleepless night certain that she'd be found and that his career would come crashing down around his ears the next morning. She never was. It made him wonder if she was dead. When he finally stopped feeling ill about Soltoi's people finding her and wondered aloud to Eris if his younger sister was still alive, she looked at him mildly and asked, "Do you care if she's dead or not?"

Weyoun paused and thought for a moment, then answered, "I suppose it would be better for everyone if she was."

Eris looked unsurprised and untroubled by his callousness, and that was the end of the conversation. It was the last time he'd discuss his siblings with her.

It wasn't just Soltoi's campaign of slander that took its toll on him in the Complex. He was a political aide and he loved the work, but since coming to work for Parnon he'd barely had any opportunity to do what he was good at. As the next election drew closer and closer, Weyoun's patience began to fray, and finally, on yet another day that his employer cheerfully told him to stay in the offices, it snapped.

"Senator," he said in frustration, "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I can't stay shut up in this office indefinitely. If you want me to conduct your re-election campaign, I'm going to have to make an appearance once in awhile. In a month your challengers are all going to declare their candidacies and you're not going to have a head start on any of them." He stopped to draw in a breath. "This is not how one wins campaigns, but it's exactly how one loses them."

"Weyoun," Parnon interjected, his tone more severe than Weyoun had ever heard it, "I shouldn't have to tell you how long Soltoi's reach is." Weyoun had been about to interrupt, but he abruptly shut his mouth at this, allowing Parnon to go on, "I'm pleased that you're so enthusiastic about my campaign, but this is about more than me winning this seat again. If she succeeds in slandering you, it's not going to matter how tirelessly you're working for me—no one will listen to you, and at that point I'll likely be so tied to you that they won't listen to me, either. But more importantly for you, if any of the mud she's throwing sticks, you'll never be anything more than an aide. You'll never have a political career in this Complex." Parnon gave him a serious look. "And not only do I know that you want a career in the Complex, I know that you deserve one. I don't want to see Soltoi destroy your chances of a Senate seat."

Too surprised to say anything for a moment, Weyoun just stared. Then, finally, he asked, "Why?"

Parnon's customary easy smile swept back onto his face and he said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, "I like you. Always have. I always wondered what you'd be like once you got out from under Soltoi's thumb—and now I'm about to find out."

After a moment, Weyoun gave him a wry smile. "If you let me get you re-elected."

With a chuckle, the senator replied, "Let's give it another week or two. It's already dying down, but I want to be sure."

Weyoun sighed. "Most senators would have already fired me for being half this much trouble. Soltoi certainly would have."

"And that's why you came to work for me, isn't it?" At Weyoun's inarticulate noise of agreement, Parnon went on, "Anyway, you'll be worth it, once this dies down. Especially considering the pittance of a salary you agreed to."

With a derisive snort at his own expense, Weyoun remarked, "Don't remind me." Then, immediately realizing it had been inappropriate, he glanced swiftly towards Parnon, his mouth already open to apologize.

Parnon waved him into silence. "Stop. That was good. You're learning."

Weyoun shut his mouth immediately and stared at Parnon. "Learning?" he finally asked quizzically.

"To not be so uptight." With that, Parnon clapped him on the shoulder. "Now, I'm sure you have some kind of work to be doing?"

There was always work to be done for a senior aide, and Weyoun said as much before busying himself with it. That, in fact, was the one other thing that kept Soltoi from destroying Weyoun's career—he had run her office for five years, and without him she was scrambling to keep everything in order. It gave him a perverse pleasure to hear that paperwork wasn't being submitted on time, or that a junior aide whose work had been consistently sub-par, leaving Weyoun to pick up his slack, had been fired. Parnon's prediction that within a few weeks the scandal would die down proved to be true, and Weyoun finally was able to get to work on the re-election campaign.

Up until that point, he'd been working on the senator's pet project—manned spaceflight. He finally stopped by Deimos's office to discuss it, and his friend was immediately intrigued, promising to look into the feasibility of it. Weyoun assumed that meant some information might be coming his way in a week—or whenever Deimos found some time.

Instead, he received a padd full of cost analyses the following day, and when he showed it to Parnon, the senator said, "Ah, you must be getting me on good terms with the science lobby." Weyoun inclined his head in agreement and watched while Parnon studied the figures. "I'd like to present this to the Council," he said slowly.

"I can prepare a speech for you," Weyoun said immediately.

Parnon looked as though he was going to object and insist he could do it himself, but then he nodded. "That would be helpful, thank you."

It took him two days to write it, and he had Deimos look over his final draft before bringing it back up to Parnon's office. "Inspiring and informative," Deimos proclaimed once he'd read it.

Weyoun, his arms crossed as he leaned against the wall, asked, "Can I count on your support if we get the votes to introduce legislation?"

"Of course. And have you stopped by geology? They're finishing up a new report that says Pegrill's dilithium deposits will be depleted within the next fifteen years, and I'm sure you're aware that Soura's deposits are abundant enough to last centuries."

"Possibly depleted," Weyoun said, cocking his head slightly. "I thought there was some question about that."

"Are you a politician or aren't you?" Deimos asked.

Weyoun grinned ruthlessly. "I have an appointment with them tomorrow."

Holding the padd out, Deimos said, "Good. I think the rest of the lobby will fall into place. Well, maybe not oceanography, but they're alienating everyone with their insistence on trying to convert that algae into fuel."

"Still?" Weyoun asked, taking the padd back and thumbing it off.

Deimos rolled his eyes. "Exactly." With another grin, Weyoun turned to go, but then Deimos said, "By the way, you might want to warn Eris that Soltoi's people have been sniffing around here looking for support to reopen the Hellad case."

He paused in the doorway and grimaced, unsurprised. If Soltoi couldn't get to him, then Eris was the next best thing. "I will. Thank you." The news wouldn't shock Eris either, but it would certainly spur her to work even harder than she already was. She'd already off-handedly remarked that she doubted she'd have another full season at the site, and though she hadn't explicitly singled out Soltoi as the reason, she hadn't needed to.

Upon returning to Parnon's office, Weyoun, distracted by thoughts of his appointment with the science lobby's head geologist the following day, dropped the padd with the speech on it on Parnon's personal assistant's desk, saying absently, "Can you look over this for me?"

The young woman, Leto, picked it up and swiped her fingers across it, then read, "'Manned spaceflight: economics and impacts'. What's this?"

He stopped in the doorway to his office, catching one hand on the doorframe as he turned and stared at her in surprise. "It's a speech. For Parnon to give in the Council tomorrow."

"And you want me to look it over for…?"

"Flow," Weyoun replied impatiently. "Content. Mistakes."

Leto stared at the padd, then looked back up to him. "Foros always writes his own speeches."

Founders, did they all call him by his first name in this office? "Be that as it may," Weyoun said, refusing to turn entirely back around to face her, "I wrote this one."

"Hm." She lowered her eyes to the padd again and Weyoun, assuming she understood what he was asking, removed his hand from the doorframe and continued into his office. Then, Leto's voice stopped him as she asked, "Is that what you did for Soltoi? Write speeches?"

The challenge in her voice was unmistakable and Weyoun shut his eyes briefly in irritation. He didn't have time to deal with this, but if Parnon's staff viewed him as an interloper on their territory, then he needed to deal with it immediately. None of them had been forthright about it, but he'd sensed a certain resistance to his presence on several occasions. In addition to Leto and Weyoun, there were three other staff members in the office: Rayik, Sitka, and Bethyun. Sitka and Bethyun were both junior aides, both in their middle years, and both had children and older parents living in their homes. Apparently both had refused to take the senior aide position on the basis of the time that it demanded. Rayik was in his thirties and was Parnon's publicity staffer, though he'd never had much to do. With any luck, that would change soon.

It was a small staff, but not unheard of for a senator of Parnon's stature. Unquestionably, the strongest personality in the office was Leto. She couldn't have been more than nineteen but she was clearly used to running things to the extent that she'd been able to. There were a few times that Weyoun had suspected that her background was similar to his, but he barely knew the woman beyond her name and never would have asked. Besides, she'd been vaguely hostile to him since he'd taken up his position there, and it seemed that the rest of the staff followed her lead.

Turning around and slowly approaching her desk, he replied, "I was Soltoi's senior aide. I did whatever she needed me to do."

Leto brushed a strand of her dark brown hair out of her eyes and gave him a distrustful look. "You always had a reputation as being Soltoi's heir." The note of challenge in her tone strengthened. "What are you doing working here, now?"

He studied her. "You can't possibly think I'm here as some sort of saboteur on Soltoi's orders," he said. "Not after all the effort she's spent trying to get me out of the Complex."

Bristling at the mockery in his voice, Leto replied, "I don't know why you're here. This office functioned just fine without you, and now that you're here you're trying to take over."

Weyoun glanced around. Parnon was out, and Bethyun, Sitka, and Rayik were at lunch. Taking a step closer to the desk, he said, "You were all going to be out of jobs in six months. No one wanted the senior aide position because they all knew what a hopeless cause this office was."

"And you're going to save us," Leto said sarcastically.

"Not to put too fine a point on it," Weyoun replied coolly.

She scoffed. "I should have known you'd be so arrogant."

"And would you rather I was a spy for Soltoi or here to make sure Parnon keeps his seat?" he shot back. Leto glared but didn't answer, and Weyoun forced himself to tone down the exasperation in his voice. "We're on the same side, you know."

"Why, thank you; I hadn't noticed," she said.

So much for dealing with her hostility. The two of them glared at each other for another minute, and then Weyoun asked coldly, nodding towards the padd, "Are you going to look that over or not?"

She snatched it up and glared it him over the top of it. "I'll have it back to you by the end of the day," she snapped.

With a curt nod, he turned his back on her, went into his office, and shut the door to work on the campaign. With Leto's resistance to his presence, he doubted that her thoughts on the speech would be useful, but he'd already asked her to look at it and couldn't rescind that request without alienating her further. It had been a reflexive gesture to ask her to read it, anyway; something he'd done in Soltoi's office. But Leto was too young to have a university degree, and what kind of political acumen could she possibly have without one? No, he doubted her advice would be helpful, but there was no harm in letting her read the speech. It was easier to ignore anything she might say than ask for the padd back at this point.

When, at 18:00, Leto knocked on his door, entered, and dropped the padd on his desk, he was even a bit surprised that she'd bothered reading it at all. He thanked her and then glanced back down to the work that he was trying to complete before he left for the night. Then, he realized Leto was still standing there, her hands on her hips as she stared at him. He lifted his eyes to her again, and she asked, "Do you really think all of that?"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "All of what? What I wrote in the speech?"


"Does it matter?"

Leto stared at him without responding for a moment, then replied, "I was just curious," before turning and walking out, shutting the door behind her harder than she needed to.

Weyoun blinked in bemusement for a second, then picked the padd up, fully prepared to disregard Leto's suggestions on the speech.

Instead, when he arrived the following morning, early as usual but not early enough to beat her there, he said sincerely the moment he saw her, "Leto—thank you for your suggestions. They were…quite constructive."

She looked at him warily for a minute, searching his face for any disingenuousness. "You're welcome," she finally replied, sounding begrudging. "I'm glad it was useful. I want Foros to have the best chance of introducing the manned spaceflight legislation."

The use of Parnon's given name annoyed him and he almost said something to her about it, but then he stopped himself. He was the newcomer here. What they wanted to call Parnon in the office wasn't, in the end, any of his business. As long as the staff represented him well outside the office, it didn't really matter. So he bowed his head and said, "This will certainly help."

Leto held herself still, then nodded. "Good." After a hesitation, she added stiffly, "Please tell me if I can be of any more help to you."

"I will, thank you." A day ago, it would have been a lie, but now he meant it.

For another moment, the two of them stared at each other, both of them measuring the other while trying to be as discrete about it as possible. There was a grudging look on her face, not quite of acceptance, but certainly closer to that than he'd been with any of Parnon's staff so far, and she nodded to him again before he continued into his office.

The speech went well; so well, in fact, that a simple majority vote on whether or not to introduce legislation was scheduled. Another speech would be required; a certain amount of debate would occur—it was a hearing in miniature, conducted in the space of half a day. It would take place in three weeks, which was just enough time to be deceptively distant, though of course it wasn't—it gave Weyoun fifteen days to provide the necessary evidence, write the next speech, and develop a plan of attack with Parnon, all of this in addition to the work he was doing on the re-election campaign.

Several days later, Weyoun put the finishing touches on the week's campaign schedule that he'd been working on for his employer, then brought it over to Parnon's office, entering with a knock and putting the padd down in front of the senator before he sat down. "You're going to have a busy week," he said as Parnon picked up the padd and scrolled through it.

"Three speeches at Tira University?" Parnon asked, sounding amused.

"In three different departments. Rayik helped me set them up so they look like normal policy speeches." He clasped his hands and planted them on the edge of the desk. "We want the academic vote. If Soltoi's candidate becomes the frontrunner he or she will go after them—and they've never been all that fond of Soltoi, so you can depend on it being an aggressive bid for their support."

Parnon was still scrolling through the list of speaking engagements. "This is quite a few campaign speeches considering campaign season doesn't begin for three weeks."

"And when campaign season does begin in three weeks, you'll already have all of the people who hear these speeches thinking of you first, and the rest of the candidates will need to give them a reason to change their votes." He paused and added, "That's the theory, anyway."

"It's a sound one." Parnon looked distant for a moment. "The intellectuals voted for me five years ago because they projected all their hopes and desires onto me, just like the rest of the exarchate." When Weyoun raised his eyebrows, Parnon's mouth quirked upwards in a smile. "I preyed upon Tira's surge of idealism last time, not entirely disingenuously, but I'm afraid I haven't been able to live up to most of the lofty expectations the people had for me."

"Well, as you say, they were projecting," Weyoun replied, studying Parnon. The two of them had never discussed his campaign of five years ago. It had been a fluke victory, just as Soltoi had observed, and it was interesting that Parnon realized it as well. Interesting and encouraging, because it meant that the senator knew that a different strategy would be needed this time. "Conditions were…favorable, five years ago, for your election. No one liked Soltoi or Nesenoi's tax reforms—"

"Which I've failed to roll back," Parnon interjected thoughtfully.

Weyoun smiled thinly. "Not for lack of trying. You plagued Soltoi about those reforms much longer than she'd been prepared to deal with and she hated it. It's a good enough start to narrative. And as I'm sure you know, so much of politics is establishing the right narrative."

"Leto's been saying the same thing for months. I'm afraid I've repeatedly disappointed her by displaying a persistent pessimism about the efficacy of her suggestions."

"Really?" Weyoun asked, surprised by this bit of information about Leto. Then, realizing how dismissive that sounded, he amended, "I…didn't realize she was interested in those sorts of details."

Distantly, Parnon replied, "She'll make someone a good aide someday." Then, his gaze snapped back into focus. "I assume I can rely on you to have these speeches prepared for me in a reasonable amount of time? I'd like to go over them and make any necessary changes."

"Of course, Senator," Weyoun replied. Parnon gave him a look of resigned amusement at the honorific, but he pretended not to see it. He refused to cross that line. He was an employee, not a friend, and he was perfectly content that way.

There was no doubt about it, Parnon was an inspiring speaker. Weyoun accompanied him to each of his Tira University engagements, sitting unobtrusively in the back of the room each time, and he was consistently impressed by the senator's ability to draw in a crowd of disparate people and make them act almost as one; leaning forward in their seats at the right time and back in others, drawing laughter and sometimes, it seemed, making them breathe in concert. People listened to Parnon, just as they listened to Soltoi, and Weyoun paid close attention, because he wanted to draw the same focused attention someday.

"You're very good at this," he said after the third and final speech, when Parnon had finished several private conversations with attendees and the university's technical staff was beginning to clear the room. The speeches had grown progressively better attended throughout the week, pleasing Weyoun. Classes weren't in session, since it was the dry season, but by the third speech, quite a few students were in attendance, as well as academics and other intellectuals. The mere fact of their presence was heartening, but the fact that they'd seemed interested and engaged in what Parnon had to say was even better.

Parnon smiled at him. "Plenty of the credit goes to you for writing the speeches."

Weyoun inclined his head in thanks, but said, "No amount of clever rhetoric can do what I've seen you do all week. People like you, Senator. At least, they want to." The challenge was taking that instinctive attraction and turn it into electoral support. He wished he had some idea of who they'd be running against, but Campaign Control was being very tight-lipped this campaign season.

That reminded him of the work he needed to do on building that narrative for Parnon, and he resolved to speak to Leto, the ally he hadn't even known he'd had, as soon as he could. He was hoping, in fact, to find her at her desk when he returned from Tira University, and he was rewarded by the sight of her dark head bent over something on her desk when he walked through the door. Drawing a breath, he slid a plate onto her desk that held a spiced vegetable roll, still steaming from the canteen, where he'd stopped before coming up. "I thought you might want something to eat," he said.

She looked up at him, and then at the plate, a wary expression already on her face. "I was about to go to lunch."

"Well, now you don't need to waste your time in the canteen," he said pleasantly.

Her eyes narrowed. "What do you want, Weyoun?"

The smile on his face widened fractionally. "Leto," he said, leaning against her desk, "I wonder if I might ask you for a favor."

"It depends what it is," she replied, her expression still wary. "If you have to bribe me with food you must think I'm going to say no."

"The food was a peace offering."

"Appeasement, you mean."

"I wouldn't go that far," he said, a wounded note in his voice.

"What's the favor?" she asked impatiently.

Leaning his arms on her desk, he said, "Parnon mentioned that you've been giving him campaign advice."

"I suppose you have a problem with that—"

"On the contrary," Weyoun interrupted smoothly. "From what he says you were giving him exactly the right advice."

This seemed to surprise her enough that she was reduced to suspicious silence for a minute, until she asked, "What do you need?"

"I need you to go back through Parnon's legislative record from the past five years. I need a strong narrative for our employer. A storyline that we can present to the voting public. I'd prefer it to be his valiant struggle against the entrenched interests of Soltoi and her cohorts, but I'll take anything. Oh, and if you wouldn't mind pulling the access codes for any science related case files, that would be helpful as well." Weyoun took a breath. "Is that all right?"

Leto stared at him for a moment, and then she nodded. "Yes. I'll start working on it right away. And I'll have the access codes for you this afternoon." Glancing wryly at the vegetable roll, she added, "Just as soon as I finish my lunch."

Weyoun put his hands together in front of himself. "Thank you." Two weeks until campaign season officially began. Parnon's office would be ready.

"Loura Thelesoi," Weyoun announced, brandishing a padd as he walked through the office door, slightly winded from having rushed up to the fourth floor from the Office of Campaign Control. Two of the three lifts had been out of order and he hadn't wanted to wait for the functioning one with every other senior aide involved in the election cycle. Campaign Control had released the full list of declared candidates at 7:00 sharp, only minutes ago, and Weyoun had been on hand to receive Parnon's allocated padd. "She's the one you're going to have to defeat," he added. Leto, the only one in the office besides Parnon at such an early hour, glanced up at him as he put a hand on her desk, trying to catch his breath.

Parnon offered the pot of kava on Leto's desk to Weyoun, who waved it away. "You know her," Parnon said.

"I worked with her for years." Weyoun handed him the padd that contained the list of declared candidacies. There were six names on it, including Parnon's, but most senate races became, in the end, a contest between three candidates; sometimes only two. "She replaced me as Soltoi's senior aide."

Leto stood and craned her neck to peer at the padd that Parnon was now scanning. "How do you know she's going to be the frontrunner?" she asked.

"Soltoi will make sure of it," Weyoun said darkly. "This is personal for her now. She wants Senator Parnon," he nodded to his employer, "out of the Complex for hiring me."

"And she probably sees this as her last chance for a shot at you, too," Leto said, meeting his eyes.

"Oh, I very much doubt that it will be, but I agree that she's thinking in those terms," Weyoun said, leaning nonchalantly against the desk.

Parnon's eyes flicked over the padd. "What do you know about the rest of the candidates?"

"Not very much. One is a businessman. There's a former cleric. And Rousoi, fifth down—she's a perennial candidate. Runs every chance she gets and has never had any hope of winning."

"Yes, I recognize the name. I think she was one of my opponents five years ago," Parnon said, then added, "I see the head of the Department of Agriculture is running."

"He could be a challenge," Weyoun admitted.

Shaking his head, Parnon said, "I don't think so. I know him. He's good with apiaries and dairy cows—people, not quite to the same extent."

"I wonder why he's running?" Weyoun mused.

Leto raised her eyebrows at him. "Does it matter? We just need to beat him."

"I find people's motivations fascinating," Weyoun replied, but inclined his head in acknowledgement of her point.

Pouring himself another cup of kava,Parnon said, "So then, here we are. I suppose I'll have to give a real speech later to everyone, but just so the two of you are aware: for the next three months, this office is your life. Your personal lives will be nonexistent; your families will wonder if you're still alive. I'm not interested in losing this election, and I'm counting on my staff to do everything that they need to do to ensure that outcome. I assume you're both aware of what you'll be facing, because you're still here." He paused to look at them both in turn. "But you'd better tell me if there's a problem now, because I don't want to find out on the night of the first debate that you're not up to doing your jobs."

"What's the real speech going to be like?" Leto asked, raising an eyebrow and flashing a smile at Weyoun, which he returned.

Parnon seemed to relax. "I'll take that to mean you're able and willing to get through the next three months."

At that moment, Rayik walked through the door, cutting off what would have been two avowals in the affirmative, and Weyoun turned to him, saying briskly, "Good, you're here early. We need to schedule campaign speeches this morning."

Offering Rayik the kava, Leto remarked to Parnon, "You don't need to worry about Weyoun. He'd work himself to an early death in your service."

"I have a job to do and I plan to do it," Weyoun replied coolly, though without malice.

Rayik looked vaguely overwhelmed to be faced with this so early in the morning, but he gamely offered, "I sent a message to one of my friends in Telecorps to see if we can't get a press conference by the end of the week. Good morning, by the way, Foros."

Parnon returned the greeting and then held out the padd to the other man, saying, "The field of candidates. Take a look."

Running his eyes down the list before handing it back, Rayik noted, "Thelesoi. I suppose that's not surprising."

"You know her too?" Leto asked.

"I know of her through Soltoi's publicity staffer. We're friends," he added defensively when he caught Weyoun rolling his eyes.

"Yeroi's engaged," Weyoun informed him.

"I know," Rayik sighed.

"And as pressing as your unrequited passion for Yeroi no doubt is," Weyoun said unsubtly, "I really need to arrange these campaign events with you."

Parnon chuckled and said, "I'll be in my office preparing for today's Council session, if any of you need me."

They bid him farewell for the moment, and as Weyoun impatiently watched Rayik go through his briefcase, readying his padds, Leto remarked with a wicked grin, "You shouldn't force your self-imposed lovelessness on others, Weyoun."

"He isn't loveless," Rayik said, preempting Weyoun's response. "You date that Hellad anthropologist, don't you? Everyone said you threw the case because of her."

"Telecorps said I threw the case," Weyoun replied dryly, "because Soltoi told them that. And your friend Yeroi, no doubt." Rayik's head stayed buried in his desk and he said something muffled in response, but Leto was staring hard at him. "What?" Weyoun asked.

"You really do date that anthropologist?" she asked.

He raised his eyebrows. "Does that surprise you?"

For a second, she didn't answer, but then she shrugged. "I assumed it was just a story that Soltoi came up with to discredit you."

"Throwing the case was a fabrication." He hesitated. "I do have a personal life, though, difficult as that may be to believe." Then, feeling uncomfortable, he sighed, "Rayik, what are you doing?"

The other man got to his feet, his arms full of padds. "I'm ready." When Weyoun gave him a flat look, he added, "Oh, right, your office."

Weyoun glanced at the pot of kava and finally relented, pouring himself a cup. He was going to need it for the next three months—no use pretending otherwise. By the end of the season, the whole office might require the caffeine on an IV drip.

As campaign season progressed, Parnon began drawing larger crowds and more media attention. His poll numbers slipped at first, an expected occurrence that owed more to increased engagement from the voting public than a reaction to policy. Parnon continued to work on not only his manned spaceflight legislation, but also a number of other projects, but most of his attention had to be focused on the election. His aides did what they could to shoulder that workload, but ultimately, it was the senator who was running, not them, and he had to devote almost as much of his time to it as they did.

The first debate was a great success: Parnon and Thelesoi were the undisputed winners, and a few days later, the head of the Department of Agriculture dropped out of the race. Media had taken to hanging around Parnon's offices, sensing that, somehow, he'd resurrected his chances of winning his seat back, after years of accepted Complex wisdom saying he'd be a one-termer.

One night, two months into campaign season, Leto appeared in the doorway to Weyoun's office, pulling on a jacket and holding a stack of padds and simple paper prints. Weyoun finished what he was entering into the interface and glanced up at her, his eyebrows raised questioningly. "You look busy, but I was curious if you'd like to canvas with me," she said. "I'm going to Kiyu."

"Kiyu?" Weyoun asked, the district name startling him. "You're joking."

"No, why should I be?"

Giving her an incredulous look, Weyoun asked, "You canvas in the slums?"

Leto nodded, untroubled by his tone or his expression. "How else would those districts be told who to vote for?"

Weyoun crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back, ignoring, for the moment, the fact that members of a senator's staff didn't canvas at all. "Those people don't vote."

"Don't they?" Leto retorted. "I know they don't vote for Soltoi, but they voted for Foros in the last election. You've looked at the district statistics, haven't you?" At the flicker of consternation that passed over his face, she raised her eyebrows. "Oh dear, Weyoun. Ignored the gutter districts, did you?" She leaned closer to him, giving him an intense look. "I come from there, too. That's why I want to make it better for 'those people', as you call them."

"A bleeding heart," he said with an arched eyebrow. "Why am I not surprised?"

Leto snorted at his tone. "What do you want to change?" she asked.

"Who says I want to change anything?"

The young woman cocked her head. "So all of your ambition and drive is just for maintaining the status quo?"

Shifting his crossed arms, Weyoun replied, "I've done very well by the status quo."

She rolled her eyes. "I don't know why you're lying, but fine. I won't pry any further."

"That strikes me as the best course of action." He eyed the padds and prints in her arms. "And yes, I'm far too busy to go canvassing in the slums."

"Fine," she said. "Don't stay too late; you look half-dead already."

With a wry smile, Weyoun said, "Thanks for the concern. Be careful in Kiyu." It wasn't the most dangerous, nor the most destitute of the gutter districts, but it was still a slum, and anyone who looked like they didn't belong there was at risk for pick-pocketing at the least.

She waved away his concern and Weyoun returned to his work, losing himself in it until the words on the interface blurred together and he realized that unless he was planning on sleeping in his office, he should probably go home.

He had granted access to his building and flat on Eris's ID disc some time ago, but it still startled him when he walked into his flat and found her sitting in the living room. Padds and paper documents— there was a certain air of antiquarianism to the latter that somehow suited her—were spread out on the low table in front of her, and she looked up at him as he entered. "Do you get home this late every night?" she asked, straightening up.

"Yes," he replied. "That's why you haven't seen me in weeks."

"I know, and I needed to remedy that."

He glanced at his wrist chronometer. Almost 25:00, and he'd be at the Complex by 6:30 tomorrow to prepare for the season's second debate between the field of senatorial candidates, which had been winnowed down, in the preceding two months, from six to four. "What are you working on?" he asked, dropping down next to her on the sectional.

Showing him the padd she was holding in her lap, she said, "Occupation levels at Hellad. There's been a lot of disturbance at the site so it's been difficult to pin down what dates to when. But," she added, "I'm still sure about those footprints."

Weyoun put an arm around her shoulders and leaned back, letting his head fall against the seat back and closing his eyes. "How's your paper coming about that?"

"Ploddingly. It's a big subject." She put a hand on his leg and asked, "Have you eaten?"

"Oh, most likely. It's difficult to recall that sort of prosaic detail these days."

Eris laughed. "Then I'll leave the leftovers I brought in the cooler for you to consume at some later date."

Her concern for him was probably more than he deserved, and all he could do was smile and take her hand, raising it to his lips to kiss it. "Spend the night," he said, turning his head, opening his eyes and meeting hers.

"Obviously," she replied, curling her fingers around his.

Nervous excitement thrummed through Weyoun as he stood backstage in Tira City's largest performance hall, waiting for the debate to begin as he absently fiddled with his headset. It was a week before the election and this, the fifth and final debate, was Parnon's last chance to reach a large number of voters with his platform. It was also the most demanding test of a candidate's knowledge and understanding—both of current and archaic issues that faced not only the exarchate, but the entire planet. Each candidate was allowed one staffer back stage—usually his or her senior aide—who was equipped with an earpiece and microphone to provide information, if needed. The candidate couldn't request specific information, so it was up to the aide to find what was needed quickly enough to be useful. It was nerve-wracking for the candidate, but it was just as much so for the aide. A poor performance in a fifth debate had been the end of many an aide's ambitions.

Weyoun was utterly in his element.

On the other side of the room, one of Soltoi's junior aides, now apparently acting as Thelesoi's senior aide, kept his eyes studiously averted from Weyoun. The third candidate remaining in the race was Gelnon Eron, a private businessman, and his senior aide was muttering rapidly into her headset, one hand pressed over the earpiece and the other resting on her hip. She shot a quick smile to Weyoun and he returned it, pleased that someone else in this campaign had some decorum.

He tapped a button on the headset. "Ten minutes, Senator."

After a second, Parnon's voice sounded in his ear. "The crowd looks excited."

With a smile, Weyoun replied, "They should be; this is politics at their finest. Do you need anything, by the way?"

"No," Parnon replied. "As long as you can hear the proceedings up here?"

"Very clearly; we've done three sound checks." A tech on the other side of the room signaled to him at that moment and Weyoun caught his eye and nodded, adding, "And we're doing a final one now. Good luck, Senator."

"Thank you. You too."

The connection cut, Weyoun gestured that he was ready for the last sound check before the debate began. Though the room was insulated, it couldn't quite block out the dull murmur of the crowd on the other side of the wall. The final debate of the campaign season always drew a large audience, but with the race so wide open, it sounded even larger than usual.

Once the sound check was completed, an aide from Campaign Control bustled in and read them the rules of conduct for the debate, wished them luck, and strode off again, speaking in clipped tones into his headset. The three aides nodded to each other, both to wish each other well and to acknowledge the opposition between them, before decamping to the tables that had been set up for them and their materials. Weyoun's shoulders tensed and he rolled them back, trying to relax, then took a deep breath and put his palms flat on the table. The room was completely silent—all three of them were sitting utterly still, not bothering to try to cram any last minute information into their brains.

There was a noticeable swell in the noise level from the other side of the wall, and then the feed in Weyoun's ear went live as the debate started. For the next two hours, he had no time to think, he could only reel off facts and figures to Parnon, which he either knew by heart or had to locate quickly in the padds spread across the table. It was draining, exhausting work; he felt, at the end of it, as though he'd been awake for days, and that his mind needed nothing so much as to shut off any higher brain functions remaining and operate solely from the brain stem.

Thelesoi's and Eron's aides looked as shell-shocked as he felt, but through his weariness he could feel one shining fact: Parnon had won the final debate. With the election in one week, he couldn't have hoped for anything more.

No one could sit still on election day, let alone work. There was an anxious edge to everyone's interactions with each other—Leto even snapped at Sitka—while they waited for the voting plazas to close. When the end of the working day came around, the Complex stayed lit up and noisy, as senators and their staffs awaited the results of the election for themselves or their colleagues. Everyone in the building was invested in some race or another. Rayik brought dinner up from the canteen for everyone, though at first no one ate much of anything. Finally, though, most of them wandered towards the tray, piled high with by-then lukewarm food. Rayik and Bethyun got drawn into a loud discussion about journalistic ethics while Sitka, Parnon, and Weyoun discussed the now-confirmed finding that Pegrill Exarchate's dilithium reserves—the most extensive deposits on the planet—would be gone in a little over a decade.

"Quiet," Leto suddenly yelled, waving an arm without looking at any of them. Weyoun, Parnon, and the rest of the staff looked in her direction and saw what had captured her attention—early election returns were scrolling across the telecast feed that they'd set up in the middle of the office. Immediately, they clustered around the screen.

"Gelnon Eron already got more of the vote than we thought he would," Rayik said worriedly.

Weyoun waved a hand dismissively. "His home district always reports in first."

Leto's hands were planted on her hips as she stared at the screen. "But he's probably siphoning off our voters."

"Let's not spend time worrying about it when only four percent of districts are reporting," Parnon said, one hand on his chin.

That quieted everyone for awhile, though it wasn't long before conversation started up again. Rayik, in particular, had a tendency towards nervous chatter that he couldn't rein in for very long. Leto kept her attention on the telecast feed with single-minded focus, and Weyoun couldn't stop himself from keeping almost as close an eye on it.

As districts reported in and the vote tally inched higher, silence fell on the office again. Even Rayik stopped talking. Parnon's eyebrows stayed drawn together, Leto kept her arms tightly crossed over her chest, all but glaring at the telecast feed, and Weyoun had to stop himself several times from nervously clenching and unclenching his fist. They wouldn't know the break-down of the votes until after every one had been counted, and the wait had never been so torturous, maybe for any of them.

Then, suddenly, the feed went blank, and the six of them collectively held their breaths until information blipped back onto the screen.

For a moment, none of them said a word. Then, Leto broke the silence, crowing, "One hundred percent of districts reporting! Forty-nine percent of the vote—that's a plurality!" She whirled and flung her arms around Weyoun, kissing him loudly on the cheek, and then did the same to Parnon, who laughed with relief.

Rayik opened a bottle of wine and slopped it into enough plastic cups for all of them. Weyoun downed his in one swallow, as did most of his co-workers. When their cups had all been refilled, Parnon raised his and said, "Thank you, all of you, for your work these past years, and the past few months especially. I think you know I couldn't have possibly done this without you, but I'll say it anyway."

They drank to that, and then the staff broke into chattering groups. For a moment, Weyoun and Parnon stood separately from everyone else. Parnon glanced at him, then remarked, clapping him on the shoulder, "I suppose I'll have to give you a raise."

Weyoun looked at him, then grinned. "I suppose you will," he said, then offered his hand to Parnon, a wide smile still on his face. Parnon accepted his hand and matched his grin. The raise wasn't important. Only one thing mattered: they had won.