The Time of Hagalaz, Presumed Guilty Part Two

Chapter Thirty

Over. Sisko stood there in the amphitheater.

"Yes!" O'Brien was up out of his seat, the place in an uproar; it sounded that way to him anyway, a veritable din. "I'm free! Is she serious? I'm free?"

"Yes," Sisko answered, feeling the Chief tugging and pulling on his arm; Bashir pounding and shouting in triumph behind him. He stared at Ch'Pok, the Advocate quietly and dutifully gathering up his collection of data padds, a pleasant, satisfied smile on his face.

"Dismissed?" Anon repeated, poised to spring from the witness seat. "What does she mean? I can get down?"

"You can get down," Odo busied himself in collecting up his own assortment of padds he had little opportunity to use as the Gul swooped down to collect Lange.

"Janice!" She was in his arms, collapsed and breathing heavily in his arms. For the first time in three days he was holding her while the Federation slowly turned from their celebration to watch them in amazement; he didn't even notice them. If he noticed, he gave no indication. "I'm sorry," he swore. "I tried, Janice. I tried."

"You were wonderful," she gasped against his shoulder.

Wonderful? No, he wasn't wonderful. They hurt her. He hurt her; O'Brien, Hawk, someone. "No, she's all right…she's all right," he shooed away the lingering concerned hands of his brother and Tan.

"Yes, she's all right," Odo excused himself past Leeta trotting up to ask the same question. On by Garak stumbling by in frozen shock, with a call for Quark.

"What?" Quark halted with a whine. "I put in a public service announcement, all right? I put in a public service announcement. I think there's a limit to my responsibility for what goes on if no one's going to bother to listen."

"Yes, well," Odo grunted. "Recommended maximum exposure for Humans and other beings comprised of 65% water? That public service announcement?"

Quark thought about that; he should have thought harder. "We're talking adults. We're talking two consenting adults. That doesn't figure into someone's equation?"

Odo supposed it could. "In some other universe."

Quark nodded. "Sounds better all the time. Look. I tried to tell him she wasn't a spy. She told her he wasn't a jerk. I already knew he wasn't a lover. Anything else you want to know, ask Garak."

"I suppose I should have known that as well," Odo admitted, ogling Leeta introducing Rom to Pfrann, Tan, and the Bajoran Sian, all three of them gracious enough to feign an interest in meeting him in return. Odo shook his head. Not quite sure he could, or wanted to understand where Leeta and Rom might fit into the scheme of things. For some reason it seemed simpler, if not safer to meander his way for Sisko with an offer to hold his hand; if the Captain wanted it held. He probably did. Metaphorically anyway.

"Are you all right?" Anon gingerly touched the neural transmitter. "Where did they hurt you? Your throat? Your head? Bashir's reports said all these things I couldn't begin to understand. I need you to tell me what they are."

"I'm fine," her smile promised him. "Perhaps just a little more absentminded?"

He sighed. His arms wrapped protectively around her, staring over her shoulder into the silent attention of Sisko. "Now will you come to Cardassia with me?"

She laughed. "Do I have a choice?"

"No," he said. "You have no choice; none."

"Then I guess, yes," she kissed his cheek.

His eyes closed, his head dropping to bury itself against her neck; his hand supporting the back of her head. "I love you," he said before he kissed her, there for all the worlds and galaxies to see.

"Like father, like son," Bashir ventured in amusement to Sisko's involuntary shudder.

"Actually, Doctor," Sisko answered quietly. "I was about to say he has a courage his father could only hope to have." He took a step forward, and then two. Dukat was waiting for him. Insolent. Arrogant. Honest. Fascinated on one hand, Sisko had to admit, it was unbelievable on the other; impossible to accept as true.

"You want your conference, come to Cardassia with Shakaar to speak to me; six months. Janice's prognosis for recuperation."

It was more of a challenge than an invitation. Dukat doubting him as much as he doubted the Gul. Sisko accepted it anyway. "We'll be there," he promised.

"We'll see," Anon strode off on a quick march up the aisle and out the exit. His arm around his wife, his brother in step at Lange's side, the Bajoran, the Sorges, and his small army following. Damar left alone to follow last, alone, or not at all.

"Dukat," the Emperor snorted with a chuckle. "You know Dukat, Sisko, as well as I."

Sisko knew Dukat. And that was not Dukat; in name only. "Words of advice, Legate. Rather than destroy that young man's career, if I were you, I would do what I could to preserve it. You just may find he is exactly what Cardassia needs; exactly."

The chuckle was louder, a mocking guffaw. "Threats, Sisko? Federation threats? You shock me."

"Words of advice, Legate," Sisko shook his head. "Words of advice, that's all."

"Like Dukat," Damar's parting nod was sharp, his stride up the aisle heavy and alone.

"As neither would I," Sisko agreed, "even dare to blink wrong in Doctor Lange's direction, you're so right about that." His next stop was Ch'Pok.

"Was that necessary? Was that even necessary?" Sisko fists struck the table in fury, anger, rage; he could not see for the fire blinding him.

The Advocate's placid smile remained. "We have a proverb, Captain…"

"Damn your proverbs! The sins of the father are not the son's; not that one's. That young woman is innocent -- "

"Of any salacious act I care to attribute to her?" Ch'Pok interjected; Sisko stared at him. "As you have a saying," Ch'Pok picked up his attaché with a nod, unperturbed and not at all dismayed. "If you can't take the heat, it's probably wisest to stay out of the kitchen."

"Get off my station," Sisko's finger thrust itself toward the door. "And make it a long time before you're back!"

"Oh," Bashir said when Sisko stepped away to approach Dukat. "Oh, well, yes, I suppose if one wants to look at it that way," he agreed charitably. "I could see where one might attribute some form or another of courage to Dukat…I guess," his grin returned with a shrug. His hands finding their way into his trouser pockets, his heels starting to rock as he rocked and he swayed, bobbing his head up and down in the face of Commander Dax.

"Good gracious, Julian," Garak could feel himself growing dizzy, wondering if Bashir wasn't apt to rock himself right off his feet and end up in a crumbled heap on the auditorium floor.

"Five strips says someone helps him," Quark quipped.

"Five strips it's possible they do," Garak breathed. "Merely a wonder which one?"

"Six to one, half a dozen to the other," Quark shrugged. "My latinum's on the Klingon."

"Mine, too," Garak agreed. "Oh, yes, mine, too."

"Maybe?" Bashir teased Dax. "I don't know, what do you think? Is it courage? Does it take courage to cross those forbidden territorial zones and interracial lines? Much? Little? None at all really?"

"I would say…" Dax began carefully, tactfully.

"You disagree?" Bashir interrupted to look up into the groaning, growling face of Mister Worf baring down.

Worf blinked, surprised to be confronted, surprised to be caught reacting to Julian's harmless, though certainly flirtatious taunt of Commander Dax. His shoulders straightened, his retort, while ludicrous, was appropriately contained. "I was not even aware Humans and Cardassians could mate."

"Oh," Bashir said. "Well, I rather suspect it's less a question of can they, rather than a question is it morally, socially, or for that matter politically acceptable that they do? Actually," he said, "I've often wondered if we were to remove the stigma associated with inter-species mating, or marriage, we just might find it startling the sheer number of races who can quite successfully inter-propagate. Yes? No?"

"Oh, well, yes," Garak nodded. "Yes, I would have to agree with that, Julian, to extent. Ziyal, clearly an example of what you say to be true."

"None better," Bashir agreed. "And then there's Kira and Chief O'Brien…"

"Don't even…" O'Brien threatened.

"What?" Bashir said. "Don't even what? All I'm saying is Kira's ability to carry a Human child in surrogate with little, very little intervention, actually, is another example of cross-species compatibility. I'm hardly up to suggesting anything else; certainly not anything provocative, or even close -- what on Earth is the matter with you?"

"Nothing," O'Brien assured. "Nothing's the matter with me. I'm just sick of hearing it, okay? I'm sick of hearing it, listening to it, anything, everything, especially you."

He was lying, of course. He was angry. Very angry. Janice's romantic allegiance with Dukat prickling his sense of decency the same as it prickled Kira's; tormented hers. "Oh. Well, you'll get over it," Bashir smiled. "I've called Keiko, by the way, explained everything; she's en route. I'm telling you so that you can be as angry with me as you feel is appropriate and necessary and then we can go on from…complete the cycle," he nodded to O'Brien's hardened expression and blanched drawn face. "Bury the hatchet. That's important to me for reasons other than it's entirely possible neither of us will ever know to what physical extent you are responsible, if you're responsible at all. With induced psychosis and the convenience of Janice's holographic implant, it's plausible who you attacked in a rage, thought you were attacking, was Keiko. We can explore that option, if you like. I'm inclined to suggest we do explore it, if only to set your mind at rest. But then I know you Miles Edward O'Brien. Beneath that rough, gruff, hardworking, no-nonsense exterior you're a man of principles. And I'm not confident you're confident you are innocent; which you are…

"Utterly…" he reached to help himself to a glass of the Chief's water. "Except, of course, in the instance of disobeying a direct order and going to Janice's quarters in the first place, thereby putting yourself in the situation to begin with. Though, I rather suspect Captain Sisko's more than inclined to overlook that minor transgression, if not wash his hands of the whole damn nightmarish week, the same as the rest of us, and move onto bigger and better things…

"Definitely inclined," he nodded to the interruption of Sisko's fists pounding down onto the table and his demanding order for the Advocate to take his leave now, then, and on high.

Ch’Pok left. Bashir sipped his water, smiling down into the cup, watching the prancing departing figure of Gowron's legal counsel. "Quite. Wouldn't you like to tell them all to go to hell? Klingons, Cardassians and the like…present company excluded, of course," he reassured, continuing on to the Chief. "Still, I wouldn't gamble on being so lucky Keiko's as apt to overlook all aspects; why should she? Confident her husband's not a murdering rapist, doesn't guarantee she's as confident he's not stubborn and hotheaded…" he started to chuckle and then laugh. "For that matter, harbor some secret desire to be a philanderer however inept. If I were you I'd be on my best behavior for the next millennium or so; I would."

"No more nights out with the boys," O'Brien walked off. "I'll remember that."

"Yes, well, I remember that also," Bashir called after him. "There's no reason to get carried away. That's the whole damn point. There's no reason to get carried away… true or false?" he verified.

He was met by silence; momentarily. "Um, yup," Rom nodded. "Yup, I would say that was true."

"And people wonder with my lobes why I'm a bartender," Quark bemoaned to Garak. "At least when they're drunk you know they're not supposed to make any sense. Go figure, huh? Go try and figure out the rest of them." He walked off.

"Yes, well, I wouldn't say I wasn't making any sense," Bashir protested.

"Julian…" Dax shook her head in an effort to discourage him.

"Actually, I thought I was making a great deal of sense…"

"Julian!" her hand clapped over his mouth.

"Oh!" Leeta squealed with a pleased hop up and down. "She did it! She did it! I've been waiting for years for someone to do that!"

"Glad to oblige," Bashir gently removed Dax's hand from his mouth. "No, I'm not angry, not even annoyed…"

"You just don't seem to know when to stop," she explained.

"I know," Bashir planted a light, and certainly daring kiss of forgiveness down on the back of her hand. "Worth it even sometimes."

"Yes, well…" Odo cleared his throat as Dax tried very hard not to react.

She failed. "Oh, you!" she snatched her hand away with a hammering strike to his sternum.

"What me?" Bashir laughed in between gasps for air and stabbing pain. "I was only kidding."

"No, you weren't kidding," she insisted, starting to laugh herself. "You know you weren't kidding. Julian Bashir, you are impossible." She continued to laugh. The two of them like two fools; giddy, hysterical, contagious. It felt good to laugh. Even Garak was starting to chuckle. Rom giggling beside Leeta's girlish cackle.

"Something I missed?" Quark was back.

"Yes, well…" Odo delayed only to conduct a brief, though thorough search over Worf's solemn face for any signs of true trouble; there wasn't any. "No. Not really."

"Oh," Quark said. "Well then I guess I won't be raining on anybody's party if I ask about the bunch of dead guys you've got lying out in the corridor?"

He was correct about the lying around part. Dead, Odo wasn't so sure about. "Special Forces," he identified to Sisko what was obvious. Namely the group of Bajoran Special Forces responsible for maintaining security of the corridor and the apparent reason why they failed to respond to the siege beyond the hallowed doors of the amphitheater. A failure Odo had, out of sheer habit, attributed to the appearance of Dukat's group; he probably still attributed it to them. "Still, I suppose I should make a report to keep things tidy."

"Yes, Constable," Sisko said. "Doctor?"

"Heavy stun," Bashir confirmed Odo's impression, reporting what appeared to be the general rule with about half of them. The remainder, while likewise living though unconscious, had apparently been downed from the introduction of some gaseous mixture or another. Odo picked up one of the ruptured cylinders likely responsible, as well as likely related to those short, bursting explosions they had all heard on the heels of the Bajoran Sian and his vaulting entrance into the amphitheater.

"One would hope, anyway," Odo grunted, not seeming to recall any of the Cardassian sentries sporting breathing apparatus.

Quark nodded. "That's what I'm saying. Forty-seven people left before me and count, I'm the only one who came back. It's not like you can't see them…"

"No," Odo agreed.

"But," Quark said in all fairness, "it's also not like you can't get around them. Through them. Over them. By them…" he stopped to sniff the air. "What's that smell I smell?"

"Harmless," Bashir answered. "Perfectly. More a tease…not to say there aren't distinct residuals of some organic biocide, because there are. I can probably have it isolated for you in about an hour. In the meantime apparently the interest wasn't to cause death or any significant injury…"

"I'll trust you to verify that, Doctor," Sisko said, far less concerned with Shakaar's forces than he was with the station's ventilation system.

"Quite," Bashir shelved his tricorder in preparation of calling for transport. "We've had a number of discharges, so why not see what we can do about filling those examining beds again?"

"As well as the morgue," Dax's cool touch needlessly reminded him of the one or two security officers inside who hadn't fared as well as the others.

"As well as the morgue," Bashir agreed. "Yes, well, there we can simply stacked them up with the others."

"Ready the Defiant to escort the Tir, Mister Worf," Sisko directed, the instructions not meant to convey disinterest. Get Dukat and the rest of them out of there was the best idea. He retreated back into the amphitheater to do just that with the army waiting inside and the remains of their one or two brothers.

"Yes," Worf turned in anticipation of Dax's immediate accompaniment; she hesitated.

"No, it's all right," Bashir said generously. "I can manage."

She smiled, more interested in seeing what could be done about forestalling retaliation from the Bajoran sector rather than the proposed Klingon; at least until the Tir was safely across their side of the border.

"Yes, well," Odo was reading her mind, "security's probably a good as place as any…any number of empty beds available there for the dead or the living."

"We'll take it," Bashir activated his com badge.

"Yes," Dax stepped quickly after Benjamin to stop him from ordering transport to the morgue.

Odo ogled Worf. "Yes," he said. "I will ready the Defiant."

"That's the idea," Odo agreed.

Benjamin was standing absentmindedly at the defense bench. He looked up with Dax's quiet approach. She smiled in her trademark pleasantry. "Julian's confident the security squad doesn't require medical intervention. Odo's concurs in recommending we transport them to security for now to sleep it off rather than the Infirmary…and, yes, rather than the morgue," she said. "For the purpose of at least attempting to offset any further conflict, at least until the Tir has embarked."

"That's acceptable, yes, Commander," he nodded.

"Thank you," she said. The bodies of Shakaar's downed security personnel were gone in moments. The squad she requested they adjourn to security as well to await the orders of withdrawal. They just sort of looked at her and filed out, little interest in arguing the point. Benjamin was still just standing at the defense bench. Dax hesitated but then smiled again before departing. "I'll be with Worf aboard the Defiant…Or…" she paused to acknowledge half in jest, "I'll be with Julian attempting to talk him out of stowing away aboard the Tir."

A faint smile cracked Sisko's drawn lips. "Doctor Bashir can be passionate," he agreed, no more or less annoyed with his Chief Medical Officer than he was with any of them, the Chief, or Kira's show of defiance.

"He can be," Dax said and exited. Sisko continued to stand there alone in the amphitheater where he had watched and argued and fought in what turned out to be little more than a vain effort to prevent the systematic destruction of the reputation and career of a young and earnest archaeologist by the name of Janice Lange. There was no reason, none. Other than the usual. The old and familiar all is fair in love as all is fair in war. He heard the sound of movement behind him, presuming it was Odo; he was wrong.

"I had one of those days once." Rather like the one Sisko had just weathered. The wily and mysterious Bajoran Town Elder offered his combined years of wisdom and experience to the watchful Federation Captain when Sisko turned around.

Noticeable inference from the station's shielding threatened the stability of the holographic projection waiting for Sisko. Still, the projection was clear enough for him to be able to decipher the Bajoran's features and confirm what he could hardly believe he was seeing; and it explained Martok's bridge crew, if it explained little else. There was something much more than simply familiar about the celebrated face watching him in return with its shock of white hair and soft blue eyes faintly crinkled with their first early signs of growing older.

"Anar..." Sisko quietly savored what was supposed to be the Bajoran's name, mentally inverting it, dissecting it, until with the aid of what was so obvious it could not possibly be denied, it dawned on him. "Adon Shakaar…" Even through the distortion, the Shakaar family resemblance was as stark and unmistakable as the one between Dukat and his son Pfrann. An older brother perhaps? A young uncle? Cousin? Sisko estimated there was about twenty years difference in age between the elder calling himself Anar and Bajor's First Minister Shakaar Adon.

"The not so honorable uncle," Anar congratulated Sisko's powers of deduction, inclining his head in homage to his far more distinguished nephew, his namesake. "My sister sought to honor me upon her son's birth, born in my image, he was blessed with my name. It was a symbol of greatness among us and greatness to come; a sign from the Prophets, what else could it have been? I have occasionally felt sorrow that I was unable to live up to her belief in my divinity."

"Indeed." Audacity Sisko believed the Bajoran meant. Cowardice, the projection confirmed. "I talk to men," he snapped, condemning, charging Anar to show himself, not some wavering picture.

"Yes, well…" Anar supposed safely aboard the bridge of the Tir, if, in fifty years, he had never shied away from the challenges of Cardassians and the Federation alike, it was probably reasonable of Sisko to expect him not to shy away from this one. "Fine. You talk to men." The holographic projection aboard the station vanished, a moment later replaced by the transported figure of the 'man' Anar neatly, cleanly cutting through Sisko's shields.

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