Actions

Work Header

Black Mercy

Chapter Text

It had all started unexceptionally enough. It had started with a typo in Julian’s records. The date of his admission to Starfleet Academy, a year later than he knew it had been. He’d sent a message requesting the information be altered, and been informed that according to records at the Academy, the date on his file was entirely correct. Anyone else might have put it down to poor memory, but Julian didn’t have that excuse. He remembered every moment of every day from the age of seven so perfectly that sometimes even now a stray word could set off a chain of – usually unpleasant – memories, and he knew he’d entered the Academy in 2359, at the age of eighteen, as soon as he was legally allowed to leave his parents’ house after yet another furious row with his father. He’d sent another message, only to be sharply informed that the computerised record system knew its business and if it said 2360 it had been 2360. It hadn’t been, and it was driving Julian mad, but there wasn’t very much he could do about it, and enquiring any more deeply might spur people to look into other things more closely, and that he couldn’t afford.

He’d complain to Garak about it, he thought, once he got back to the station. The Klaestrons’ new burn treatment was almost beyond belief, but already he was starting to miss Deep Space Nine. He could almost picture Garak’s face when he heard about this, almost hear the rant about the laxness of Federation record-keeping, or the fallibility of human memory, or possibly just about Murder on the Orient Express – Julian was rather looking forward to hearing Garak’s thoughts on Poirot – and maybe it was his distraction that let it happen. He’d been between seminars, thinking idly over the plot of the enigma tale Garak had lent him for the trip. Like the Regnar was the first Cardassian mystery novel Garak had lent him. The first that wasn’t a grand dynastic epic, honestly – apparently Garak had been holding out on him. It was a little like Murder on the Orient Express, at least where the twist at the end was concerned, so at least Julian knew he’d hit the mark with that one. Although, he was starting to suspect that Garak wouldn’t tell him even if he did like a novel – he’d lambasted Jane Austen at some length last time they’d spoken, but Julian had still caught him re-reading Persuasion during a slow day in his shop the last time they’d had lunch together. All of which was distracting enough that Julian really couldn’t be blamed for not noticing the woman with the long spoonlike ridge down her nose – not a species he recognised, unless possibly some Cardassian subspecies he hadn’t heard of – until she was close enough to touch, or for not realising, when she reached out to touch his wrist, the hypospray she had concealed in that hand.

The next thing he knew, he was waking up, slowly and groggily, with the confused half-awake awareness that he had been drugged. He sat up in a scramble, peering through the dimness of the room.

“It’s all right,” the woman with the odd facial ridge said at his shoulder, “You’re safe.”

“Who are you?” Julian demanded, trying to rub at his eyes, though the skin of his hands felt odd, rough and cold and alien, and there was some sort of bump over his eye – they hadn’t actually hit him hard enough to form a lump, had they? “What is this place?”

He stared around wildly, taking in the dimness of the room, the shelves lined with odd trinkets, the low, hard bed…the mirror. When his eyes fell on the mirror, he couldn’t keep himself from staring. The face that stared back at him was not his own. Ridged, scaled, his unmanageable hair slicked back and shining, his eyes ringed around with scaly ridges, a gracing of scales down the centre of his nose. His eyes were still the same, though, brown and wide and panicked. They were the only thing he could still recognise.

“…no,” he said, weakly, desperately, unable to tear his eyes away. He was dreaming, hallucinating, someone was playing an awful practical joke, this couldn’t be- he felt his face, felt the bumps and ridges there, and saw the Cardassian in the mirror do the same. He could have screamed, but all that came out was a pained, strangled sound like the air being let out of a balloon.

“What…” he babbled, “How did you- What did you-”

“We’ve brought you back home,” said a new voice, a man’s, cool and urbane with just a trace of accent, and Julian saw, out of the corner of his eye, the voice’s owner stepping out of the shadows in a scene straight out of a spy holo. “To Cardassia.”

No. No. This was…impossible, absurd, he didn’t have a word strong enough to describe what this was. “That doesn’t make sense!” he snapped, “I’ve never set foot on Cardassia before in my life, why would you do- do this to me if all you wanted was-”

“Calm down,” the Cardassian man said, holding his hands flat in front of him, calmingly, as if Julian was a skittish animal that needed to be soothed. “We’re here to help you.”

“I have trouble believing that,” Julian managed, eyes flickering around the room. No guard at the door, but with two people inside the room there hardly needed to be one, and if he really was on Cardassia there was a whole planet’s worth of defences to get back through, even assuming there was a way for him to get off-world. “I won’t tell you anything,” he said, as defiantly and as steadily as he could, “If that’s what you want, you might as well kill me now and be done with it.”

The Cardassian spread his hands a little further, “We have no intention of hurting you,” he said, with a warm sort of laugh that suggested that Julian was being absurd, but it was all right, he’d get the hang of things soon enough. “Why should we? You’re one of us.”

“You are insane!” Julian said, not as an accusation, just because there could be no other explanation for any of this. “Aren’t there easier ways to get information than this?”
There had to be – Garak had alluded to a few of them, and even if the thought of torture wasn’t one Julian exactly relished, he could at least understand it.

“If we wanted information, we have a hundred other ways of obtaining it,” the Cardassian said agreeably. “But, as I have tried to explain, we don’t.” He sighed. “I know this is difficult for you. We’ve seen it before. I’m sorry. I wish we had a better way to prepare you for what you’re going through. Sometimes, I do question the wisdom of our infiltration methods. By altering the memories of our long-term operatives, we ensure that they’ll never be discovered, but it makes reintegrating them back into Cardassian society much more difficult.” He paused. “Still, it’s hard to argue with success.”

Julian nearly laughed, “Very good,” he said dryly, “You’d have had anyone else convinced with that, but you don’t know me nearly as well as you think. There are things in my personal history that no-one would’ve included in the backstory of a deep-cover agent.”

Deep-cover operatives were meant to be unremarkable, weren’t they? People you wouldn’t notice. An augment in hiding was about as far from that as it was possible to get. There had to be some other reason for this whole charade – Julian just hadn’t found it yet.

“I don’t expect you to believe me,” the Cardassian said, still maddeningly calm. “At least, not yet. We’ve given you medication to reverse your memory loss, but it can take some time to take effect.” He stepped closer with an insinuating smile. “Until your original memory re-emerges I don’t expect you to believe a word I say. But it still can be difficult watching someone you care about suffer.”

Julian raised his eyebrows. Well. Orbital ridges. He had orbital ridges. He could feel another awful wave of wrongness sweeping over him, and just then he wanted nothing more than to scratch off all the new scales that itched on every part of him. “You can stop this any time you like,” he snapped, “I still don’t believe you, and I’m not going to, and sooner or later the excuse about the medication-”

“Will have proven true,” the Cardassian said, with a smile that reminded Julian for a moment of Garak. “But then, you always were stubborn.”
“How would you know?”

“I supervised your training,” the Cardassian said, with another very false-seeming smile. He sat down opposite Julian, and clasped his hands in front of him. “You are an undercover operative of the Obsidian Order named Cesnil Ghemor,” he began. “Ten years ago, you volunteered for an undercover assignment in the heart of the Federation. At the time, we needed an agent within Starfleet in the case of a resurgence of hostilities with the Federation. We did toy, briefly, with the notion of placing you with the Maquis, but as we already had a number of agents there, it was decided that to let you remain on Deep Space Nine would be rather a waste of resources and so you have been recalled to Cardassia.”

“So…what?” Julian demanded, almost amused now at the lie. “You killed the real Julian Bashir and had me replace him?”

He could almost have laughed at that. If they had only known...

“There never was a ‘real’ Julian Bashir.” The Cardassian smiled. “If the Federation has a weakness, it’s the oversimplification of their documentation. Everything is computerised, no paper records, nothing to check against if the digital records are falsified. An undercover agent of ours patched your information into the system, and you were placed within the Academy ready to begin the next academic year.”

Julian blinked. “That’s ridiculous, surely my parents-”

“When was the last time you spoke to your parents?” the Cardassian interrupted.

Julian froze. “We don’t get on,” he said stiffly.

“Eleven years, is that correct?” the Cardassian answered for him. “You have gone, in fact, to a great deal of trouble to ensure that they would not be able to contact you even if they existed. They do not. We were very thorough, Cesnil.”

Don’t.” The word was out before Julian could stop it. He drew in a breath, and tried to think. How long before he was noticed missing? He was due to return to the station in a matter of days, but the conference organisers would probably want to keep track of him. By the end of the week, then, someone would have noticed. They’d come after him. Or…would they know where he had gone? If he’d been taken from the conference to Cardassia…that was five days at warp nine. Deep Space Nine had probably already reported him missing. He’d been out for days. How long before they found out where he was?

The Cardassian smiled. “You don’t believe me,” he said, and stood to pace off across the room towards the window. “But, you’ll remember. It will just take some time. Being here should help,” he added, turning to look at Julian.

“…here being?” Julian said carefully, his eyes flicking over every detail. It didn’t look like any hospital he’d ever heard of, or like any government building, but they did things differently on Cardassia, Julian knew. It looked, honestly, like nothing more or less than a private home, or possibly a very comfortable prison. What he didn’t understand was why they had troubled to make it comfortable.

The Cardassian’s smile faded a little. “You don’t recognise it? Well, you wouldn’t yet, but there’s usually something by now…” He shook his head. “This is your room, in the house where you were born. Your home.”

It was certainly hot enough for Cairo in the summer, Julian thought. Those long, hot days when he’d still been Jules, the Nile so wide and so blue seen in the distance from the window of his parents’ flat in the Garden City. That had been before the surgeries, before they’d moved a continent away to London, grey and rainy and unprepossessing. He had never seen Cairo through augmented eyes, and so it was in his memory more a series of images, sensations, half-remembered flashes than a full place. But it had been home, in a way London never quite managed, and so he would never go back. The notion of the house where he was born as a place that might still be standing there thirty years on was almost laughable. But he couldn’t say a word of that out loud.
“Here,” the Cardassian said, producing a data rod from an unseen pocket. “This contains a personal statement you recorded before you were sent to Earth. Watch it. It should help explain things.” He held it out, and Julian took it in steady fingers. The Cardassian smiled again, and this time it looked satisfied. “If you have any questions,” he said, “Just ask. We want you to feel at home here.”

“Very kind of you,” Julian said dryly, trying to summon up some of the false confidence of the holosuites. This felt like a holo – he’d been given a role to play, and a briefing. The trouble was, he didn’t seem to have the option to opt out of it.

After that, they left him more or less alone.

He wasn’t guarded, Julian found out early on. There was no-one outside the door to the room he had woken in, which opened onto a large and comfortable sitting-room. The worst part about that was, Julian could actually imagine himself living in this place without too much difficulty. It was spacious, airy, the walls lined with books, the furniture dark and solid and comfortable. It was also, inescapably, Cardassian, from the clean triangular lines of the furniture to the odd, overcomplicated shape of the window. All that was really left for Julian to do was stew in his own worries and think over what he was supposed to do. When he tried to touch the glass of the window, his fingers came up against a containment field, but there was no such effect when he tried to stick his head out of the door into the rest of the house. There wasn’t even a guard outside the sitting-room door, but Julian wasn’t fool enough to think he was unobserved.

He had not yet watched the recording. He kept meaning to, but somehow he never actually did. He paced the whole of the suite of three rooms that were apparently supposed to be his, running hands over the furniture, picking up novels off the rack and reading them, never for more than a few pages before his attention wandered again, he stared out of the window over the city of swooping curves and jagged angles outside. He even, briefly, contemplated having a bath in the large and sumptuous bathroom, but decided against it. He did not want to see how far the Obsidian Order’s changes had gone. He could feel some of it – different genitalia, the brush of scales against his clothes, a new, startling sensitivity around his collarbone – but seeing it, somehow, would make it real. And he was on edge, every moment, waiting for Entek and his people to return. It had taken hours for him to learn the Order agent’s name. In fact, it had taken until nearly daybreak, when there came a soft chime at the door, and a matronly Cardassian woman in civilian dress, who had to be seventy if she was a day, entered the room.

“I’ve brought your supper, sir,” she said, with a polite little nod, looking at Julian as if it pained her to see him somehow. Probably she knew what it was they had planned for him, Julian thought, and swallowed.

“Uh…thank you?” he tried, forcing a smile. “There’s no need to call me ‘sir’, by the way,” he added hastily. “My name’s Julian, you can just call me that.” He’d have preferred to be called ‘Doctor Bashir’, but this was another thing he’d read about. The first name made him a person, or that was the idea, made him harder to dismiss as expendable, not really the same as other sentients. It didn’t work like that, though. If anything, the woman’s expression grew even more pinched, and Julian realised to his horror that he hadn’t pronounced it properly. Chu’lien, not Julian. His own name, and he couldn’t even say it, what had they done to him? “And you?” he added hastily – make a connection, that was the first thing they taught in the Academy, telling you how to deal with being taken prisoner. Funny, it had all seemed so much drier then.

The woman’s eyes darted away from Julian’s. “My name is Korina.”

He nodded. “Korina,” he repeated. “Thank you. Um…do you know what’s going to happen to me? That man before, he wasn’t especially clear.”

“Gul Entek says you aren’t to leave the house,” she said, setting the tray down on a low table and twisting her hands in her skirts. “It’s only to keep you safe until you remember,” she added, almost reassuringly.

“And if I never remember?” Julian asked, just to test it. She hadn’t a reply to that, but her eyes flickered up to the far left corner of the room, above the window, so that was where Julian looked after she was gone. His instinct hadn’t been wrong. There was a delicate little bug tucked into a recess where two walls met, so small that he wouldn’t have noticed it even at this range if he hadn’t been looking. He stared at it. If he destroyed the bug, they would place another. Or, worse, he had been intended to spot this one, to draw attention away from a less obvious one elsewhere. Garak had mentioned the technique once, in passing, in a discussion about John le Carré. On the other hand, whether he destroyed it or not, now, they’d know he knew about it. In the end, it took a few minutes with a heavyish ornament – a bone-carving in the shape of a sort of large animal with a cheetah’s long, lean build and a sighthound’s long muzzle – to completely destroy the bug, and then he sat down on the chaise near the door and waited for Entek to arrive.

It didn’t take long. The chime sounded again within half an hour, but Entek’s tone when he entered was almost jovial.

“Ah! There’s someone here who wants to see you,” he said, as if Julian hadn’t just smashed his surveillance device and dragged him all the way up here over nothing.

“And not before time,” another man grumbled, out in the corridor. “I don’t appreciate being kept waiting in my own house, Entek!”

The speaker, when Julian saw him, was another Cardassian, his hair gunmetal-grey from root to tip, his forehead scutes deeply pronounced with age, dressed in the armour of a full Legate, if Julian was remembering the rank markings right. Julian nearly scrambled to his feet – if this was the prelude to the actual interrogation, he’d rather stand to face it than be caught by surprise.

“As I explained, Legate,” Entek said, in a tone that was probably intended to be soothing. “The initial debriefings can be difficult. We couldn’t allow any interruptions.”

The Legate made a dismissive gesture, with a low, frustrated grunt, then turned to face Julian. A change seemed to come over him then. He was stock-still, his eyes running over Julian as if he couldn’t stop looking, as if he wanted to look forever and even that wouldn’t be enough, as if he were saving up the sight of Julian to last him for the rest of his life. Julian tensed, feeling the automatic rush of shame that always came at times like these, the knowledge that he would be weighed and measured and found wanting. He swallowed bile, and tried to speak.

“You know,” he said, “If you wanted to talk to me, you could’ve just asked. Something of a novel concept around here, I know.”

“It is you,” the Legate said, sounding oddly choked, “I hadn’t thought to hope-”

“Remember,” Entek interrupted, “His memory hasn’t returned yet. He’ll be confused, possibly combative.”

“I understand.” The Legate still had not taken his eyes off Julian. “Cesnil, I-” he shook his head. “I wish I could tell you how much this means to me.”

Julian frowned, his eyes flickering from Entek to the Legate and back again. This was a trick, he reminded himself. Some old mentor or friend or acquaintance of the identity the Order had invented for him. The Legate was another Order agent playing a part.

“I suppose I’m to believe we know each other?” he asked, his voice staying steady only by an effort of will. It was ridiculous, he told himself, to feel guilt at the way the Legate’s expression twisted with pain at that. All it meant was that the Legate, or whoever was playing him, was a very skilled actor indeed. No different from hurting a character in a holosuite, except that Julian had never really been able to bear doing that, either.

Entek leapt in then to smooth things over – of course, wouldn’t want his prisoner causing too much of a scene too soon – “Cesnil, this is Legate Tekeny Ghemor. He’s your father.”

Julian froze. “No…” he said. “No. That- that’s cruel, even for you!”

Entek knew how many years it had been, exactly, since Julian had spoken to his father. It wasn’t something he’d ever mentioned to anyone. Even with Palis, he had evaded the subject as far as possible, lied, when he felt he had no choice. Had done everything he could to present the face the world wanted to see. If the Obsidian Order had uncovered that much, they probably knew just how bad things had been before he left, even if not precisely why. He’d never thought of it as a weakness that could be exploited this way. Plenty of people had parents they didn’t get along with, it had never affected his life much before, not since he left home. It shouldn’t be affecting him now.

“What, Cesnil-?” the Legate cut himself off again with a harsh intake of breath that made it sound as if he were in pain. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t remember me-”

That was right, Julian thought savagely. There was nothing to remember. He shouldn’t feel guilty for not buying into this illusion the Order had crafted for him, for not giving them what they wanted. This wasn’t like trying to fit in at the Academy or put his best foot forward on Deep Space Nine – not that he’d done brilliantly there either – this was a deliberate trap, designed…something cold shot through him. Designed to play to his weaknesses. Enabran Tain had known everything about him, down to how he took his tea. It wasn’t impossible, that he had seen this too, seen the pretence for what it was – a shallow attempt to mimic, to please, to make himself into what he thought his audience wanted to see. Even then, he usually got it wrong – went too far, overplayed the role, made slips and mistakes and managed to annoy people despite his best efforts – but that had helped him before, made him easier to overlook, easier to dismiss. Tain must have seen it, though, mustn’t he? Seen it, and passed it on to be put to…to whatever use Entek or his superiors thought they’d get out of this charade.

“-but I’ve been waiting for this for so long,” the Legate was saying now. It was a good performance, Julian thought, in the awful clinical part of his brain that winced at his own tastes and muttered snide comments in Richard Bashir’s voice. Very convincing. The slight tremor in his voice, the way his eyes kept raking over Julian’s face, the careful stillness of his hands…it was all just what you’d expect. Or at least, what a human would expect. Most Cardassian novels, and everything Julian had ever heard from Garak, had suggested that Cardassians weren’t what you’d call affectionate parents. It was a cultural thing, Garak had explained, rather haughtily. Loving one’s children overmuch, or showing it overmuch, was considered…rather déclassé. Commander Sisko and Jake’s closeness, or how plainly Miles doted on Molly, would all have been considered quite shameful things to show in public, and barely more acceptable in private. What Cardassian Legate, then, would display this much, this openly, with Entek standing right there?

“Sorry to disappoint you, then,” Julian said, with as much apparent indifference as he could summon up. “But one father is more than enough.”

The Legate for a moment looked as if Julian might have punched him in the gut with less effect, then made a jerky, dismissive gesture to Entek. “Please, leave us.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?”

“He’s my son,” the Legate said simply. “He’s not going to hurt me.”

Entek gave a shallow, insincere little bow and withdrew, leaving Julian and the Legate alone. Julian almost wished he’d stayed – however little he trusted Entek, he was an opponent Julian knew what to do with. Legate Ghemor, or whatever his real name was, was an entirely different story. He swallowed. What would they do to him, if he kept being stubborn? Julian was…well, yes, he was afraid of pain. Desperately afraid, not least because he did not know his own limits there. It would be just like his luck for him to feel pain as acutely as anyone, but for his body not to give out until well past the point any other human would be unconscious from it. He could endure pain, or he thought he could. He had before. But torture? Real torture, not what passed for it in the holosuites? Julian didn’t know how long he could last. He liked to present himself as brave, or at least not an utter coward, but he knew better than anyone the slithering fear underneath all of that, for all that he tried his best to hide or ignore it, to shove it down into the depths of his subconscious where he wouldn’t have to deal with it until the danger was past.

“I’ve missed you, Cesnil,” the Legate said, all warmth and apparent sincerity. Just a convincing actor, Julian reminded himself. Those were not real tears in the Legate’s eyes, the softness of his expression was all false.

“I’m not-” Julian started, but there was the fear again. And what was there to be gained, really, from defying them on this? Treat it like a holosuite, he told himself. You’ve been given a part to play, now play it. Why not? He’d done it every day of his life since he was fifteen – since before that, really. His parents had gone to great trouble about that, making sure he knew how to behave and what to say, because apparently one thing no amount of augmentation could fix was Jules’ inability to understand other children.

“I’m sorry,” he lied. “I…It’s just…a lot to get used to, I suppose.” He nearly winced at how thin and unconvincing his voice still sounded. “I mean…you try finding out- being told your whole remembered life is a lie, that you’re not even the same species you thought you were-” he let his voice crack on ‘species’, putting a bit of the old pain in his voice, the memory of a life, a past, a future cracking and crumbling around him.

“Of course,” Legate Ghemor said, his voice rough, “I should have thought…” he shook his head. “Maybe Entek was onto something in keeping me away,” he muttered, “You need rest, time to recover, but I just had to…I just wanted so badly to see you again. You- You can’t imagine, what it’s been like these last ten years, not knowing-”

“They…they’d have told you if your son died, wouldn’t they?” Julian asked, feeling a stir of pity. This was a fiction, he reminded himself. There had been no son. There was probably no Legate Ghemor.
Ghemor shook his head. “I don’t know. Most Order agents don’t retain many ties to their families.”

“And yet he did?”

“Not…as many as I might have liked.” Ghemor didn’t look Julian in the face. “You were forbidden from seeing us for most of your training. You only spent the last few days here, before you left, and even that would not have been possible, if I had not-” he broke off. “You’re not the only Order member in the family. Your cousin Alin was able to pull a few strings. Do you remember her at all?”

Julian shook his head. “I don’t really have much extended family.”

He’d had grandparents, two aunts and an uncle in Cairo, and more cousins than Jules could count. He’d never been allowed to speak to them again after he turned seven, and hadn’t dared try after he turned eighteen. Probably they’d been told he’d died, if they’d been given an explanation at all. If they existed at all. No. No, they had to. He could remember their names, if he concentrated. It had all been so long ago, and his life before the augmentations seemed so faint, sometimes, so distant. He realised, with an awful heavy sick awareness, that his breathing was faster, shallower than it should be. His hands were not shaking, he didn’t think there could be any other outward sign, but he could feel panic clawing at his throat, twisting in his chest. What motive could there possibly be for kidnapping one junior-grade lieutenant? And a doctor, at that – someone of the same rank in command or engineering might have more valuable secrets, a Bajoran Militia officer might know more pertinent ones – but Julian couldn’t think of any reason anyone might have to kidnap him. Or why, having done so, they would go to the trouble of constructing this whole elaborate scenario to keep him from escaping unless…the hairs went up on the back of Julian’s neck. No. No, there was no way they knew about that. The hospital on Adigeon had kept no records, there was no way anyone could know what Julian was unless he gave himself away, and he hadn’t- Had he?

“-Cesnil? Cesnil!” There was a hand on his arm, steadying him, and Julian sucked in another desperate breath.

“I’m fine,” he said dully. “I just…”

“No, no,” the Legate’s eyes were hazel, a few shades lighter than Julian’s own, and smaller, and just now they looked concerned. “I quite understand. It must be difficult, after so long…”

Julian swallowed, and looked away, trying not to calculate the rest of it. Their faces were shaped differently, Julian’s scales – scales, the thought still felt strange – were a few shades darker, though the ridges around their eyes were shaped the same way. If Julian’s altered appearance was really the same as that of Ghemor’s missing son, he found himself thinking, Cesnil must have taken after his mother. 

The Legate brushed a hand over Julian’s hair. It felt…strange, more like smoothing feathers than stroking hair, a parental, soothing sort of gesture that set Julian’s teeth on edge.

“I should let you rest,” Ghemor said quietly, “You’ve had a difficult night, I expect.”

Julian shook his head, his mouth running almost on autopilot. “No, no, it was fine. Although I fear my sleep schedule has been warped beyond repair.”

“Not here.” Ghemor stepped away, carefully telegraphing his movements, “You will remember,” he said, his voice low and oddly gentle. “In time. Until then…please, consider yourself a guest in this house.”

“Do you normally keep guests under surveillance?” Julian said, glancing at where the bug had been. What did he want to bet that there was another, better-hidden?

Ghemor looked, for a moment, almost guilty. “Entek and his men will leave this house tonight,” he promised. “Until you regain your memories, they can have no business with you.”

That was smart, Julian thought distantly. Give Ghemor time to soften him up before they tried to get information out of him, that was sensible. Now if only he could figure out what it was they wanted.

He watched Ghemor go in silence, and after he was gone crossed over to the window to look down at the city outside. The sun was rising now, red and impossibly vast over the river, and outside the streets were all but deserted. Was there a curfew in place? Or was it just that the desert heat really was as bad as Shadows Over Kardasi’Or had said? There was a copy of it on one of the racks against the far wall, when Julian looked. Along with Meditations on a Crimson Shadow and a whole row of stories by an author called Relem that looked like nothing so much as the Cardassian equivalent of pulp thrillers. In a way, that just made the whole thing worse – that someone had painstakingly analysed Julian’s taste in literature in order to create this trap for him. Why bother with something like that? Unless, of course, they hadn’t.

The thought arrived in the back of his mind unwanted, and would not leave him. Because, really, who would do this? Who would care enough to do something like this? And even if they did, where would they get the information? Spying on a Starfleet officer on a backwater station, like hundreds of others? Or- A shock ran through him. Garak. Had Garak helped set this up? He didn’t want to believe it. But who else knew his tastes so well? He’d not talked to anyone else about how much he’d liked Meditations – a taste for Cardassian literature wasn’t something to advertise on a Bajoran station – and who else knew him that well, could inform on his habits and his history in such detail? Not that he’d ever precisely told Garak most of it, but that didn’t mean much, with him. On a whim, he picked out one of the Relem stories and slid it into the provided data-reader.

He put it aside inside ten minutes, feeling oddly unclean. It was…well, ok, it was definitely Cardassian but also…very much the sort of thing Julian would read. Not even the sort of thing he’d recommend to Garak. Just…the sort of light entertainment Julian liked when he didn’t want to think too hard. All right, there was slightly more ‘duty to the state’ in there than he was used to, but only about as much as you’d find in your average Bond novel, and it was…the word ‘rollicking’ suggested itself, if it weren’t quite so old-fashioned. Worse yet were the lines that were highlighted – wry comments, witty observations, sudden, strangely sad meditations on the Cardassian condition. Someone had gone through this book with a will, saving all their favourite bits, and Julian agreed with at least half of them, even if the other half left him…slightly puzzled, conscious of a joke he didn’t quite understand yet.

Outside the window, he could see all the way to the river. Kardasi’Or itself seemed to stretch to the horizon, all soaring towers and swooping, dizzying silhouettes. Not without beauty, in its harsh, sharp-angled way, and even the heat was not as stifling as he had been led to believe. Garak had told him that much truth, at least. The river was called the Tarlak, he remembered. The central district of the city through which it ran was named for it. Looking at it now, it was difficult to believe it was anything but a natural formation, even knowing it had been blasted and dug out of the desert four centuries ago by Cardassian hands to feed the newly-built city of Kardasi’Or, diverting the river hundreds of miles across barren desert in defiance of nature and common sense. It was, Garak had said during their last lunch together, when they had discussed Shadows Over Kardasi’Or, one of the most abiding symbols of the Cardassian spirit in literature or in art, and looking at it now, Julian could see why. There was something to be proud of in that, wasn’t there? Not in the conquests, not in the destruction, not in all the pointless cruelties of the Occupation…but this city, Kardasi’Or itself…he shook his head. Clearly, he’d been spending far too much time around Garak. He could see even from here the viewscreens spouting propaganda, the too-quiet, too-orderly streets. All the beauty in the world couldn’t make that bearable.

He wouldn’t find a way off Cardassia by staying in this one room, Julian knew. And he wouldn’t know if Entek and his men were really gone, and if they were, how far, if he didn’t look. Slowly, carefully, trying to make as little noise as possible, Julian edged over to the door the Legate had entered by, and stepped out into the corridor.

He had expected, on some level, for there to be something preventing him from leaving the room. A guard, a containment field, something to remind him that he was a prisoner here. Instead, he stepped out uninhibited into a long stone-flagged corridor in what looked disturbingly like an actual home. He’d almost been hoping for an obvious government facility, to remind him of how artificial all of this was, but apparently the Obsidian Order was every bit as thorough as Odo had claimed. What was worse was that there were no windows here, no way of knowing where to look for…something, anything, a way out, information about what they wanted with him, anything.

He had not been provided shoes, and every step he took made a soft click as the new, bone-hard claws on the four long, flexible Cardassian toes he’d been left with tapped against the floor. It wasn’t an unpleasant sound, exactly, but every tap of claw on stone had the same effect on Julian’s concentration as fingernails scraped down a blackboard, and every piece of art, every book left abandoned on a table, every little bit of disorder that spoke of an actual life being lived here put him more on edge.
He’d turned up another corridor and down a flight of stairs when he heard voices outside a doorway, and went still at the sound, straining his ears to listen.

“-no. No. He’s…” a low sigh, and then Ghemor’s voice again. “I don’t think he believes a word any of us have said, and that only shows good sense, but…” his voice cracked a little. “I haven’t told him yet. About Kaleen. I don’t know if it wouldn’t be better to tell him now or wait until he remembers. Whether it will just hurt him more…”
There was someone else’s voice then – Julian couldn’t hear what they were saying – and then Ghemor again.

“…I only hope he can forgive me, then,” he said, in a voice that was thick with pain. “For all we’ve done since he was sent away.”

Chapter Text

Julian hadn’t wanted to sleep, but his body had given out on him in the end, and so he’d passed an uncomfortable day on the sofa. He hadn’t wanted to go back into the bedroom that had been provided for him. He didn’t want to see whether everything there, when he looked at it, was as eerily well-suited for him as the rest of the rooms he’d been provided. He’d given in to the need to wash and relieve himself, too, once he woke, trying to get it over with as quickly as possible without thinking too much about just how thorough the anatomical changes inflicted on him had been. He’d had an awful shock in the sonic shower – running water didn’t seem to be used here – when he’d tried to scrub the spoon-shaped ridges on his chest and belly and his knees had nearly given out under him at the feeling. Something to avoid in future, he’d thought then, and had to remind himself sharply that that wouldn’t matter because he wasn’t Cardassian. He just had to play along enough to let them think he believed it, and then…and then what? He’d escape the Obsidian Order, somehow find a shuttle and fly back to Deep Space Nine and then somehow convince everyone that this strange Cardassian he hardly recognised in the mirror was, in fact, the Julian Bashir they knew? It was entirely possible the Cardassians had slipped in a ringer anyway. That there was, this moment, a Cardassian agent disguised as Julian, living his life while Julian was trapped here and nobody – nobody – had noticed the difference. Except possibly Garak, and Garak…Julian didn’t want to believe that Garak would do that to him, but the whole business of the implant had done a lot to disillusion him. He would lay good odds on there being some truth in every lie Garak had told him, and all of them pointing to the greatest truth of all: that Garak loved Cardassia, and would do almost anything to go home again. He’d sold out friends before, if the last of his stories was to be believed. Much closer friends than Julian, even. It would be pure arrogance to presume that he had somehow made a greater impression on Garak in twenty months than someone who had been his friend for years. Even if the rest of the command crew realised he was gone, what were the chances of them finding out he was here? He was trapped behind enemy lines, with no reason to hope for rescue and no prospect of escape. What could he do? Where could he go? What did they want of him? It always came back to that, in the end.

By nightfall, Julian had almost recovered himself. Korina would be in soon with another meal, and she had an open face, the most open he had ever seen on a Cardassian. She might give something else away, the way she had with the surveillance device, and Julian would…do something. He still wasn’t sure what. Whatever it was she gave away, it wouldn’t be enough to save him, but everything in Julian revolted at the idea of giving up now. Play their game, try and find a way to win, even if the game was rigged, and try not to think about the consequences of losing. But Korina never came.

Julian was pacing when the door opened. He couldn’t help it. He’d never taken to stillness and inactivity with any grace, and though he’d tried to read he couldn’t concentrate on the words, couldn’t sit still long enough to get through more than a page or keep the thread of a plot even that long. Everything in him was tensed, waiting for the next round of interrogation – they’d left him long enough to soften him up, hadn’t they? He didn’t like the idea of an interrogation, but it would be easier to stand than this waiting. He wheeled when he heard the door, but it was only the Legate.

“Where’s Korina?” Julian asked, startled. Please, he thought. Please, don’t let them have punished her for what he’d got out of her yesterday. He wouldn’t even have tried if he’d known and, plant or not, he didn’t want anyone killed over him.

The Legate stopped, his expression turning softer, concerned. “She’s all right,” he said soothingly, “I thought you might want some breakfast. I’m afraid I don’t know much about Federation food, except that I always found it rather bland, so it might be a little rich for you now…you remember Korina, then?”

Julian shook his head jerkily, and moved over to sit down by the table as the Legate set down a breakfast-tray. Some of what was there he recognised – regova eggs, with a slightly lighter sauce than what Garak usually used; red leaf tea; tefla broth – but others, such as a sort of thinly sliced, translucent blue-grey meat, or the thick black cakes of something that looked like a cross between bread and pancakes sitting in a rough hank at the edge of the plate, were unknown to him.

“She’s been with the family since before you were born,” the Legate said quietly, “Your mother brought Korina with her from her family in Lakarian when we were married.”
Julian swallowed. “I…it was my fault, about the bug,” he said, “She didn’t give anything away by choice. I don’t think I’d have noticed if I weren’t so keyed up. It’s- She shouldn’t be punished for me destroying it.”

The Legate blinked. “You…” he looked up at the window, and shook his head. “Don’t worry,” he said, “They’re not on. I’m a member of the Central Command, they’re only activated at my request. And that also means that the Order would need to have solid proof of wrongdoing before taking anyone from this house,” he added, when Julian still looked doubtful. “Korina won’t be going anywhere. Not while I can prevent it.”

“Can you rely on that?” Julian asked. The Obsidian Order had at one point held so much power that not even the Central Command dared challenge its head. A little unauthorised surveillance of a powerful man seemed like nothing in comparison.
The Legate smiled. “I don’t,” he said, and held out a hand, pulling back the sleeve of his padded uniform undershirt to reveal…it looked a little like a wide, tight cuff bracelet, but when Julian looked closer…

“…you have a jamming device,” he said, startled, reaching out to lay fingers on it, to feel the hum of it. It was on, working. Why would the Order fit a plant with something like this, Julian’s doubts whispered. Why do any of this when they could have extracted information so much more quickly, so much more easily? Why design this whole comfortable, homelike place for the sake of one prisoner? Why-? “…you’re real,” he breathed, staring at the device, his heart in his throat, all his certainties crumbling to dust around him.

He wasn’t quite certain of what happened next – it was difficult to breathe, difficult to think, nothing made sense, nothing was right – except that it ended with the Legate’s arms around him, so tight it was almost painful, Julian’s head against his chest, his arms crushed against his sides. Julian didn’t remember the last time he’d been held like this. He’d begun shying away from hugs before he had even known what his parents had done to him, and after that they had been almost impossible to stand. He’d got out of the habit, somewhere down the line, didn’t know what to do with himself.

Ghemor let out a pained noise, almost a sob, muffled in Julian’s hair. “Oh, Cesnil…yes. It’s real.”

“I thought-” Julian started. “Maybe a holosuite. Or-”

It hadn’t felt like a holosuite. Julian could always hear the hum underneath the simulated background noise, there was always a moment’s shock whenever you touched anything, just subtle enough to remind you of the unreality of it all. There had been none of that feeling here.

“I had to fight Entek tooth and nail for you to be allowed to recover here,” the Legate said in a low, fierce voice, “It isn’t precisely procedure. I had to call in a few favours to have you brought here and not Order headquarters, but I had to know…”

Julian swallowed, and pulled away. He needed space, he needed air, he needed not to have to hear the catch in Ghemor’s breathing that spoke of pain and hope and truth in all of this.

“…they might have found the wrong person,” he said hoarsely. “Even if- With the surgery, who would know if I wasn’t. It’s not…” his voice was shaking.

The Legate had gone very still now. “You’re as stubborn as your mother,” he said, in a voice that might pass for controlled. “She could never do anything the easy way. You don’t remember her either, do you?”

Julian swallowed. It was- He was allowed to feel some guilt for the pain he was causing, now he knew, now he could be sure that it was real pain there. But that Tekeny Ghemor existed, that Cesnil Ghemor had existed, was no proof that Julian was him. “My mother’s name is Amsha Bashir,” he said dully, more to himself than Ghemor. “She’s from Cairo. Her parents were Youssef and Mariam Khalifa. They might still be alive too, for all I know.”

“Your mother was Kaleen Dakal,” the Legate said, in a voice that was harsh with pain. “An inquisitor at the Central University. This is my fault.” He brushed past Julian to stare out of the window, over the sweeping silhouettes of Kardasi’Or, glittering with lights. “I never should have let you go on that mission.” He turned to look up at Julian, who couldn’t meet his eyes. “I could have prevented it. A well-placed word here, a favour from a friend there. You never would have known. But you were so determined to go, so proud that you’d been chosen, that I didn’t have the heart to stop you.” His voice broke. “Your mother never forgave me.”

Julian’s answer died in his throat. It was, in some oblique way, what he had always wanted. An apology, an admission of wrongdoing, that there was something to be forgiven. It was the most maddening thing about his father – if he had ever admitted, even for a moment, that he had behaved wrongly, that he had, in some fundamental way, killed Jules Bashir when he sent in the surgeons, Julian would have forgiven him easily. He never had, had mocked Julian for even suggesting that his actions had been anything less than the right, the only thing to do. Julian had never even known how much he needed that apology until now.

“Kaleen…” he could hear the pain in Ghemor’s voice now, plain as anything. “I’m sorry. It was…maybe three years ago now.”

“She’s dead.” Julian’s voice was toneless. He ought to be able to manage something better, but somehow, he just…couldn’t muster anything past pity. He hadn’t known Kaleen Dakal, he reminded himself. He wasn’t her son. There was no reason to feel guilty for not mourning her death.

“Yes.” Ghemor’s eyes closed. “I hoped, when the war ended, that they would let you come home.”

“Entek said they were thinking of sending me to the Maquis,” Julian said, rather awkwardly. If this were true, which, he reminded himself, it wasn’t. “I don’t see how. I was never…uh…I don’t really have many ties to their movement, and I never particularly supported their goals. I wouldn’t make the most convincing Maquis fighter.”

“What did they have you doing, then?” Ghemor said, with a wry, disbelieving sort of smile, and even with the jammer, Julian wasn’t going to give that up so easily.

“Chief Medical Officer,” he said, with a vague little shrug. “On Deep Space Nine – Terok Nor, as was. I suppose it’s lucky Entek wasn’t after information, given how little of it I’d be able to give him – my security clearance isn’t especially high if it isn’t directly related to some sort of medical emergency.”

Ghemor blinked, then stared. “Terok Nor?” he repeated, sounding quite taken aback.

“Well…yes,” Julian said awkwardly, not sure what was so important about that. It wasn’t as though he didn’t have to have been in this sector for the Obsidian Order to have brought him here so quickly. “Mind letting me in on the secret here?”

“I…believe you may already remember a friend of mine,” Ghemor said, “Kotan Pa’Dar? He spoke quite highly of you, upon his return from the station.”

It took a moment for Julian to place the name. “Rugal’s father?” he asked, disbelieving. “You know each other?”

“He was one of your mother’s protégés,” Ghemor admitted, “But still a friend of the family. It seems an odd coincidence, that you played such a part in returning his son home.”

Julian looked away uneasily. He still wasn’t certain he had done the right thing in that case. At the time, it had seemed the only thing to do, given the captain’s testimony on Rugal’s treatment, but from the moment Dukat’s intentions had been made clear to him, he couldn’t help but wonder if that had been a plant, if he had, unwittingly, been party to removing the boy from a perfectly safe and loving home and returning him to…he didn’t know what.

“Is…is Rugal all right?” he asked, “I can’t imagine it was an easy adjustment.”

“It hasn’t been.” Ghemor said solemnly, “Kotan does his best, I think, but Rugal returned to us convinced that we were little better than animals. Whether that is prejudice deliberately inculcated or simply the effects of having grown up under occupation, I do not know. But Kotan is one of the best men I know, and he is doing his best to ease the transition.”

“I didn’t really see much of him,” Julian admitted, rather awkwardly. Miles had handled most of the issues surrounding Rugal’s day-to-day care, while Julian and Garak did the detective work on Bajor. “Just the hearing itself, really.”

“I could introduce you, if you like,” Ghemor offered, “Once your debriefing is over.”

Julian stopped still. “And what do they expect to hear at the debriefing?”

“I don’t know. My influence with the Obsidian Order only goes so far. If they believe you have information…”

“Then they’re much more interested in Federation medical advances than I gave them credit for,” Julian cut him off. “I’m only a junior-grade lieutenant still – uh, a very junior glinn, I suppose that would be…”

“I am familiar with Federation ranking systems, Cesnil,” Ghemor said wryly, though he still looked concerned. “You were a fairly new gil in the Order before you left.”

Julian paused for a second. “And if,” he said carefully, “That was as high in the Order as I ever intended to rise…”

He was arrogant, he’d been told that often enough, but even he knew that infiltrating the Obsidian Order was beyond him, and in any case, he didn’t think he’d much like the person he’d be at the end of it.

“The Order…may not accept a resignation gracefully,” Ghemor said carefully, “It has been rather weakened since its height. Enabran Tain’s retirement and the loss of his first choice for a successor were a blow to the Order’s power, or else I could never have arranged for this. They may feel they cannot afford to release you.”

“If you’re telling the truth, they’ve had very little use out of me for ten years,” Julian said steadily. “And I hardly think they’d want to keep an agent with divided loyalties, even if I do turn out to have been useful somehow.” If they’d created a Federation doctor, they could hardly complain that that was exactly what they got, he thought mulishly. Thought they’d created one, at any rate.

“You’ll get no argument that you ought to stay from me,” Ghemor said, rather stiffly, “I never wanted to see you join the Order to begin with. You…you said you were a doctor, on the station?”

“Yes.” Julian said, “I can’t imagine being anything else.”

That was a lie too. His parents had been keener on him playing pro tennis than he had been, but he’d still entertained the idea, for a year or two in his early teens, when the thought of being a doctor seemed like too much work for too little recognition. It had been him announcing that tennis was fun, but he still wanted to be a doctor in the end, that led to them telling him what he was. What they’d done to him. He always told people it was the other way around, that he’d given up his dreams of playing professionally because they’d disapproved – as if Richard Bashir’s disapproval meant a thing to Julian after what he’d done.

Ghemor smiled, “I’m glad to hear it suited you,” he said quietly, “You were always…so uncertain, about what you wanted to do, before the Order. Art school, politics…even the sciences, though it would’ve been a difficult route if you’d chosen it.”

“Men don’t, usually,” Julian said quietly, remembering Garak’s comments on the subject. “And if I wanted to continue practicing medicine?”

He’d have to re-learn a lot – treating one Cardassian with the information Tain had released wasn’t the same thing as running a practice – but he’d always been a quick study, and on Cardassia who was to know about his enhancements? Who would care? None of which mattered, he reminded himself yet again, because he wasn’t going to be staying on Cardassia any longer than he absolutely had to.

“I would, of course, offer my support.”

Julian blinked. But there was no sign of the sort of smooth deceptiveness he was used to in Ghemor’s face. His gaze was level, his face open. Was this…Julian couldn’t imagine a Cardassian surviving to be a Legate in the Central Command if he were like this all the time, and now he felt strange and intrusive for having witnessed it, this private face of a public man.

“Even if I never remember?”

“Even then.” Ghemor’s voice was slightly sad now. “You were in place for far longer than any of Entek’s agents, I always knew the chances of your return were…” he shook his head, his voice not breaking, but Julian could tell it was only an effort of will that kept it steady. “You’re home. That’s all that matters. And…well. It’s a rare individual who is the same at thirty as they were at nineteen.”

Julian snorted, “I hardly feel the same person I was when I arrived on Deep Space Nine, so excited to be out seeing the frontier – Major Kira looked as if she wanted to skin me alive when I put it that way to her the first time we met.”

“Well,” Ghemor said practically, “Perhaps you’ll choose to see more of Cardassia. I know a few people who would be jealous of the chance to see Lake Masad again for the first time.”

Julian glanced around. “At the moment, I’d settle for seeing more than just this room.”

The Legate smiled. “Well, that can be arranged.”

Julian was stretched out with a book in the courtyard when Entek returned, just a few hours before dawn. Not Relem, this time, but more Preloc, who had apparently written Meditations on a Crimson Shadow fairly early in a fifty-year career before her final book was banned and Preloc herself imprisoned for suspected dissident sympathies. The title of this one was very nearly untranslatable, referring to a sort of Cardassian flower that had, for centuries, been used as an emblem of the Cardassian spirit, in much the same vein as the Tarlak river, or Kardasi’Or itself. The plot was…actually, fairly unexceptional. People fighting in the desert, struggling to survive, wars over water and over fuel. You could find much the same story in several periods of pre-Federation human history, and the beats felt familiar, even though Julian had never read the book before. Familiar, but no less arresting for that, and he thought it might well become a favourite, if he was ever given time to finish it. Tekeny hadn’t wanted to leave him alone, but even on leave, a Legate of the Central Command had many demands on his time, and a call from Gul Macet had demanded Tekeny’s immediate attention. Julian still wasn’t precisely sure when Legate Ghemor had become ‘Tekeny’. It had been at some point over the course of the night, when the effort of carefully not calling Tekeny anything at all had finally become too much. Even that was too distant for the Legate’s liking, Julian could tell, though Tekeny hadn’t said a word about it. Still, ‘Father’ was a step too close for Julian, and it seemed cruel to pretend to buy into this when, soon enough, the deception would be made clear.

When Tekeny returned, he was in his armour again, and Entek was with him, making Julian scramble upright, nearly knocking his data-reader into the fountain he’d been lazing by. Entek didn’t seem to notice, and Tekeny looked stiff and pained, his face closed off and harsher than Julian had yet seen it.

“-doesn’t remember anything?” Entek was saying as they entered the courtyard.

“Not yet.” Tekeny’s voice was clipped, brusque, openly hostile. It fit unnervingly well with the dark armour, the upright military bearing, and not at all with the man who had spent most of the night in this courtyard with Julian, talking about Cardassia and about Deep Space Nine, about all the parts of Julian’s life he was allowed to talk about. He had felt guilty at first, but it was difficult to see what the Cardassians had to gain from knowing about Palis, or about his time at the Academy, or even about the difficulties he’d had in adjusting to station life. There had been nothing classified there to feel guilty about.

Entek drew in a hissing breath. “That’s unfortunate,” he said softly, “It would have made things easier. I’m afraid,” he went on, addressing himself to Julian now, “I’m going to have to ask you some questions.”

“So soon?” Tekeny said, sounding panicked, interposing himself between Entek and Julian, as if it would do any good. “I thought he’d be given time to regain his memory.”

Entek gave Tekeny a pitying look. “He was given time. The desegranine injections should've worked by now. Memories usually begin to resurface after only a few hours. It's been two days.”

There was a long, still, pained pause.

“And what if the injections never work?” The Legate said, his voice hard.

Entek paused again, and turned to face Tekeny. “Your son has some information that we need,” he said, almost coaxingly. “I’m sure in time he’ll see the wisdom in cooperating. So, if you’ll excuse us…” he made a sweeping gesture in the direction of the doorway back into the main house, and Julian stood, setting his data-reader down beside the fountain. He’d rather walk than be dragged, and they’d ask their questions either way.
Tekeny’s eyes flickered between them before settling on Julian. His expression softened, and Julian tried not to feel a stab of guilt and…no. He wasn’t sorry that expression wasn’t meant for him. That was for Cesnil, who was very likely dead. It would hurt, when they told the Legate that. He’d lost his wife already, and how much family did he have? This house, deserted but for the Legate and his housekeeper and Julian, did not tally brilliantly with the great, sprawling families of Cardassian dynastic epics, so complex that even with Julian’s memory he’d had had to start keeping a character list to keep them all straight.

“I’ll be in the next room, if you need me,” he said, quite gently. Miles would have a field day, if he knew how kindly Julian had been treated here, after what he’d gone through with the Cardassian justice system.

Entek gave a put-upon little sigh. “Legate, your concerns are baseless.” His eyes met Julian’s. “He’s one of our own people. We have no reason to harm him.”

Tekeny’s glare was quelling. “And I’ll be nearby,” he said sharply, “To remind you of that. In case you forget.”

Another little sigh from Entek, which seemed to convey quite well that he was getting quite tired of all this foolishness. “As you wish, Legate.”
The questions started as soon as they had Julian pinned down, in a small, dark, quiet room just off the courtyard that had probably started as some sort of private sitting-room, lit with red lamps and unsettlingly cosy-feeling for what it was.

“I…uh…don’t suppose there’s any chance of tea?” Julian said, rather weakly, because he had to say something. It was easier to pretend when he was talking, easier to choke down the fear and pretend this was all a holosuite, all a game he was playing, that it would all go away if he just…said the right words.

“You can have something once we’ve finished,” Entek said, sounding quite revoltingly reasonable as he gestured for Julian to sit. “You do understand why we need to do this, don’t you, Cesnil?”

Julian nodded. “I’ll tell you whatever I can,” he lied. “Although I don’t know how much that’ll be – I’m only a medical officer. Not even a very senior medical officer.” He forced a smile.

“I was given to understand you were the chief medical officer of Deep Space Nine.”

Julian shrugged, “But still a junior-grade lieutenant. And, honestly, with one doctor between two thousand people I’m overworked just from that. I…they don’t really let me in on most of the security-critical stuff. Apparently I talk too much.”

It was, broadly, true. That was a trick he’d picked up early on – tell as much truth as you could to bolster the lie. Almost the reverse of Garak’s usual technique, to lie as much as possible so that even his truths would not be believed or even spotted.

“There are still some things you can tell us,” Entek said, smiling. “How many Starfleet personnel are stationed on Deep Space Nine?”

Julian blinked. “Bajoran staff is only about…oh, two hundred?” Truth. “Everyone else is Starfleet, except a handful of civilians – no-one wanted to stay after the end of the Occupation.” Lie.

“I see,” Entek said. It might just have been paranoia, but he didn’t sound convinced. “And your duties there?”

Julian raised his eyebrows, “Treating any and all injuries and illnesses that came to me. It really isn’t that interesting.”

“Any particular medical needs?”

“…I’m assuming you’re not asking about Captain Sisko’s nut allergy?”

Entek frowned at him. “Cesnil, please. I'm trying to give you a chance. Even if you don't remember who I am, you are still one of my operatives. We know there is a changeling on Deep Space Nine. A species from beyond the wormhole. How much do you know about it?”

Julian frowned. “I thought you had Constable Odo first.”

“We did. Answer the question, please.”

“I…yes, Odo is on the station, but I hardly know more about him than you do.” Julian swallowed. “All my medical information on him comes from the Occupation period, he doesn’t really seem to get sick, I’ve never seen him injured…he certainly won’t allow further study of his physiology. Isn’t that why you decided to bring me back? Because I was useless?”

Entek’s lips thinned. “You ought to have heard more than this, even so. You certainly seemed to have more than enough time to interfere in that business with Kotan Pa’Dar last year. Cesnil- I have only one way to convince you to take what I say seriously.”
Julian went still. “…and that is?”

“Adigeon Prime,” Entek said, and Julian’s heart almost stopped in his chest, and then started beating triple-time to make up for it. “The hospital. You remember that?”
Julian’s fingers twitched. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“When you were six,” Entek said mercilessly. “You were taken to a hospital on Adigeon Prime for a treatment called accelerated critical neural pathway formation, to correct your development before you fell any farther behind. You remained there almost a month. During which time, your IQ jumped five points a day for a fortnight, you enjoyed a dramatic increase in height and weight, your strength, reflexes and hand-eye coordination were brought up far above the human average. You surpassed humanity.” He smiled, rather coolly. “Or at least, so you presently believe.”

Julian couldn’t breathe. The walls of the room seemed to be closing in around him, he wanted to bolt, as far and as fast as he could go. If the Cardassians knew, Starfleet would know soon enough. If he kept resisting, they’d make certain he had nothing left to go back to. How did the Cardassians-?

“…the records were destroyed,” he said through numb lips, “Places like that don’t keep records. They’d be opening themselves to-”

“Yes, they would,” Entek said, “If they existed. We implanted these memories in your mind, Cesnil. Just like we gave you every other memory you have. It was an absolute necessity for the mission we intended you for. Surgery, you see, can only go so far. Your strength, your reflexes, your night vision, your stamina…your mind. None of these could be supressed by surgical means without causing irreparable harm, and so we had to ensure that you would suppress them for us.”
Julian’s breath was coming in quick and shallow now. He felt dizzy, light-headed, the world around him seemed oddly distant. He had never spoken of this. Not to anyone. Not to Palis, whom he would have married. Not to Felix, his best friend for years.

Certainly not to Garak. His parents would never have breathed a word of it, had not in twenty years. The hospital had not kept records of any such illegal surgery, and Julian knew because he had looked. He’d had to be verbally informed of what had been done to him, because no physical evidence remained in the galaxy to attest to the fact that Jules Bashir had ever existed.

He had almost doubled over now, arms wrapped tight around his chest as if protecting him from a physical blow. There was a sharp, sudden pain there. His heart? He was too young, but if the stress of this were not enough, what could be? There was something constricting about his throat, but as he scrabbled at the scales and ridges there he could not find it, and though he tried desperately to inhale, his chest would not let him. He was going to die here, he thought, as his back hit the back of the chair, his eyes open but unseeing.

He was- It was- They’d been telling the truth. This whole time, it had been the truth.

The arguments came in on him, between frantic gasps for air.

If the Order had wanted information, there were better targets to choose and more effective ways of acquiring it.

If the Order had wanted to ensure Tekeny’s loyalty, they could have brought his son home, alive or dead. No other reward would work with him.

If they had needed something from Julian, they need not have involved Tekeny, not when they would have had – might still have – a freer hand at Order headquarters.

If he were Julian Bashir, they could have no motive for taking him.

All the arguments he had been trying not to think too long on came on him just then, and it was only with difficulty that he raised his head, still panting, tasting salt, to see Entek looking at him.

“Ask yourself two things, Cesnil,” Entek said, soft as the first flakes of snow before an avalanche. “First, is there anything that I've said we've done that's beyond the capabilities of the Obsidian Order? I assume you know there isn't. Second, if you're not my operative, if you're not who I say you are, why would I be playing this game? Believe me, if I wanted to extract the information from you, I'd have it already.” He paused. “I don't want to do that. I care about you. You were one of my best students.” He sounded almost choked on the last few words, before he blinked, and looked away. “Watch the recording, think about what I've said, because the Order won't wait much longer, and if you can’t tell them something that convinces them you haven’t been turned by the Federation, even the Legate’s influence won’t be able to protect you from the consequences of that treason.”

 

Chapter Text

Julian had been fourteen years old, the last time he went a day without telling a single lie. On his fifteenth birthday, he had been told where he had come from, what had been done to him, and from then on, he had not gone a day without deceiving someone, somehow, until lying became second nature, so easy he almost forgot it was a lie at all. Every friendship he had, every relationship was twisted by it, warped, and sooner or later they all ended. Julian would leave, and then never speak to them again, if he could help it, no matter how often he promised to stay in touch. Felix was maybe the only friend he’d made in the Academy who still talked to him, and Julian still wasn’t precisely sure why. No-one who had known him before that had spoken to him since he left London. He’d never questioned why. The fewer lasting connections he had, the fewer awful scenes he would be forced to bear, the fewer people he knew would be there to be disgusted by him when the truth of what he was, and what he’d done, came out. And now, it seemed, all of that had been…what? A cruel joke? An expeditious means of preventing him from giving himself away? A means of limiting his emotional connections to the Federation, easing his transition back into Cardassian society? If that were it, it hadn’t worked. The thing was, Julian had never been able to stop getting attached to people, even if they didn’t often reciprocate. Miles and Jadzia and Rij and Jabara and even Garak, if he hadn’t bought his way home with Julian’s secrets after all, and maybe even if he had. He couldn’t sell them out, and- and even if he’d been a spy the whole time after all, he had made his oath to Starfleet, and another before that. First, do no harm. Did they have anything like the Hippocratic Oath on Cardassia? Julian had never thought to ask. And even if he wasn’t supposed to…he’d meant it, when he’d said it. In both cases. And he’d believed he was doing the right- well, no, he’d assumed he was doing a right thing, by joining, even if it was illegal. He could help a lot of people, in Starfleet, who might not get help otherwise. The fact that it had been one way to almost guarantee no-one would look too closely at his successes if he was careful had been…well, no, it hadn’t been a secondary consideration, but it hadn’t been the most important reason. And even if there were parts of Cardassia that fascinated him, that he might want to know better…the information Entek had asked for would hurt people on Deep Space Nine, probably, if it were used properly. And whatever Julian’s feelings on the Federation as a whole might be, confused and complicated and twisted so many ways it was hard to know where he stood, he had made friends on Deep Space Nine. Learning the truth would be betrayal enough, to them. He wouldn’t add another to that tally.

Once Entek had gone, Julian had been left alone, to ride out the worst of his panic until he could stand. He’d stepped out into the courtyard, one foot in front of the other, almost mechanically. The courtyard was just the same as it had been before, his data-reader sitting innocently by the fountain, the sky…maybe just a touch lighter, though it was hard to tell from here. After a while Korina had come, and then the Legate, looking worried. His father, worried about him. Concerned not that Julian had given away more than he ought, but that the interrogation had been too much for him, that he’d been hurt somehow, even though Julian was untouched, unharmed, clearly about as fine as it was possible to be. How long had it been, since Julian had been able to say that? Had he ever?

“I won’t tell him anything,” Julian said, before the Legate could speak. “I’m sorry.”

He was, too, was the worst of it. Tekeny Ghemor had suffered enough grief on his account already. What must it feel like, to have Julian standing here with Cesnil’s face, maybe Cesnil’s mind too, depending on how thorough a job the Order had done, but none of Cesnil’s memories?

There was a long, soft, painful pause.

“Korina,” the Legate said quietly, “Leave us alone, please.”

There was another long silence as the housekeeper gave a shallow bow and disappeared, her eyes flickering to Julian as she left. He could not stop thinking of himself as Julian. It was the name he’d used for the last ten years of his life – maybe the only ten years of his life as he had known it – and there was nothing unnatural about being attached to it, he tried to tell himself, but ‘Cesnil’ still felt strange, ill-fitting, like an old coat he had long since outgrown. Not that it mattered much. He doubted anyone would care what name he answered to, when they finally brought him to Order headquarters. The thought felt strangely distant now. It was very nearly a relief.

“…I still have some connections in the Order,” Tekeny said, rather grimly, “I don’t know how much they’ll be able to do for you, but they won’t hurt you while I’m alive to prevent it. Not…not again.” His voice nearly cracked on the last two words, and Julian felt a prickle of tears.

“And what would that cost you?” he demanded, “If they’re this set on getting something out of me – even if it’s something I don’t have-”

The Legate favoured him with a very droll look. “Cesnil. Do try to remember that I was not, in fact, hatched this evening? And…” he sighed, and looked away. “I do understand. The Order is…extreme…in its methods, but you said it yourself – you were only a very junior officer, and not in the most security-relevant division of the Federation Starfleet. There’s only so much use the Order can make of that.”

“Of the medical records of every person on Deep Space Nine?” Julian challenged. “I’m sure they’d find a way. I have every faith in the Order’s ability to cause as much trouble as possible for everyone but themselves.”
Perhaps everyone including themselves – they’d certainly treated Garak very shabbily – but that was a step too far. He’d been in the Order, once. Why had he joined? What had he meant by it?

“…I think much of the Detapa Council would agree with you, there,” Tekeny said lowly, reaching out to hold Julian’s hand in both of his. Large, rough hands, palms like leather, but very safe-feeling, somehow, those hands. Julian’s own slim grey-brown fingers were almost lost between the Legate’s great grey paws. “Please, Cesnil. Don’t throw your life away for nothing.”

“Two thousand people aren’t nothing,” Julian said sharply, but he couldn’t quite ignore the tug of pain, or of warmth beneath it, in his chest. He could guess what the Order would want with something like that. A rash of silent deaths, perfectly natural-seeming causes, no apparent link from one to the next. They’d most of them done something to get the Cardassians riled – Miles’s trial, Major Kira’s work for the Resistance, Commander Sisko and his judgement against Dukat when he’d given Rugal back to his family…Garak, and whatever he had done to get himself exiled – and how many of them would survive such a purge?

“I never said they were.” The Legate looked away and said, rather stiffly, “But if it comes to it…you aren’t without friends on Cardassia. I won’t let them hurt you, and there are others, too, who might take this amiss. Your mother’s family still has some little influence…among others.”

Julian huffed out a sigh. “I suppose if I try to leave, I’ll be stopped, and that’ll be it,” he said dully.

“You wouldn’t get three streets away,” Tekeny agreed, “And then there would be nothing I could do but agitate for your release, and who knows what they would do to you before I managed to see any results at all.” He looked away. “I’ve seen Order re-education at work before. It’s not-” he looked, for a moment as if he might be sick. “It’s nothing I would wish on you. Not even on my enemies, but least of all on you.”

No, Julian imagined not. The word ‘re-education’ was ominous enough on its own, without the memory of Garak’s cool professional critiques of the Party in 1984 to give him some idea of what it might involve.

“I know,” he said quietly, “But I can’t- I can’t give up two thousand people.”

And he couldn’t give up the oath, either. He couldn’t unsay the words. First, do no harm. How much harm had he already done?

“No,” Tekeny said heavily, “I suppose you can’t.”

He had left the house not long after – Julian had watched him go – presumably to find and speak with the people he was hoping to lean on to ensure Julian’s continued freedom. Julian couldn’t say he had much hope for that idea’s success. He hated this, hated his forced inactivity, hated that there was nothing he could do but pace and wait and watch Cardassia’s three moons track slowly across the sky. It was that frustration, in the end, that had him pick up the data rod, slot it in, and settle down to see what Cesnil Ghemor had to say for himself, because right now Julian was quite out of patience with him. He'd had everything Julian wanted, his future had been limitless, and despite all that, he’d chosen to become Julian. He didn’t know if he’d ever forgive Cesnil for that.

The face on the screen was…it was not quite his own. Younger, his features sharper, his hair longer than he’d worn it since. Not looking into a mirror so much as looking at an old photograph of himself from before the Academy…which, thinking about it, was exactly what this was. If he’d been in any doubt before, this would have quelled the last of it.

“Hello, Cesnil,” said the face on the screen, and the voice was his own. The accent was different, closer to the Legate’s than his own, and it was only then that Julian realised what it was that had been bothering him this whole time. He’d been speaking Kardasi. He hadn’t even noticed that, before. “Welcome home. I’ve been asked to make these recordings for myself – for you – to help my memory recover when I get back. I go in for surgery tomorrow. I’m going to miss Cardassia, but I know what I’m doing is right. This war…it can’t continue. The Federation expands its borders every year, and there’s no place for us in the world they’re trying to create. Father doesn’t want me to go. Mother…just looks unhappy all the time. I hope someday they understand. I want them to be proud of me, but Cardassia has to come first. I can’t put that aside, not even for them. I hope you understand that, at least – I don’t know how thorough my reconditioning will be-”

Julian couldn’t listen to much more, after that. He could understand the sentiment, at least. How much grief would Tekeny Ghemor feel, losing his son again, to his own people this time, so soon after getting him back? Very Cardassian, he thought, which just made matters worse, because hadn’t he just been making the same argument about Deep Space Nine? How much of his mind was really his own? How much of it had been implanted by the Obsidian Order, how much was Cesnil Ghemor…how much of it would he have left, by the time this was over? The desegranine hadn’t worked yet, but something else might. He was already, irrevocably, cut off from the life he had had, and those hints about re-education had been disturbing enough. Dying defiant to the last, still refusing to breathe a word of what he knew was a nice thought in principle…but he got the feeling that wasn’t what was going to happen to him.

 In any case, he didn’t have long to think about it. Entek and his men arrived before Tekeny had returned, bearing yet more questions Julian couldn’t answer.

“What are the processes used in creating bio-mimetic gel?” Entek was saying now, and it was almost as if he was asking the hardest questions on purpose, trying to ensure Julian would be taken away. Julian had had a few teachers like that, in his time, who he’d annoyed by being too loud, too mouthy, too clever for his own good, and who’d got their revenge by trying to ask him questions he should’ve got wrong so they could laugh at him for it in front of the rest of the class.

“Not my area,” Julian lied, “I can requisition it, I have clearance to replicate it, but I can’t make it. You’d need someone with more biochemistry experience than me for that.”
It wasn’t even really a lie – he had no particular professional reason to know. He’d just been curious, and made a lot of excuses to the librarians at the Academy about not being sure whether or not he wanted to go into medical research instead of going out into the field. But then…if he’d been a deep-cover agent this whole time, who was to say he hadn’t been assigned to get that information? But then, why didn’t the Order already have it?

“That is not acceptable,” Entek said, pacing away. “As Chief Medical Officer of a frontier station, you would be the only possible source of bio-mimetic gel for the area.”

Julian tried to sound put-upon, but wasn’t sure he managed. “As I said, I have clearance to replicate it. It just takes a great deal of energy and, since my clearance codes have probably been revoked by now, I can’t imagine I’ll be much use for that. I can’t make most other pharmaceuticals from scratch, either.”

“All right, then. Something simpler. What are the names of the Starfleet ships deployed along the Demilitarised Zone?”
This time, Julian didn’t even have to lie. “Above my security clearance, and not relevant to my work,” he said crisply, “You probably ought to have thought of that before assigning me to Starfleet Medical.” 

A muscle was going in Entek’s cheek now. “I had enough trust in your abilities to assume you might have been able to uncover more than this!”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Julian said dryly. He could, in fact, make a few guesses – he’d seen a few of those ships coming in for shore leave, or to refuel and resupply – but that, too, was off. If he’d been able to pass information, Entek would have the answers. If he hadn’t been, Entek had no reason to know Julian knew as much as he did and this question was absolutely pointless. There was something missing here, but before he could think what it was, Entek was talking again.

“-their names, Cesnil. Give me their names.”

“I think you’ve asked enough questions for today.” It was very nearly a bark, and Julian looked around. It was difficult to really describe the strange, startled warmth that the sight of the Legate brought to his chest. It was like…he would have said it was like nothing he had ever felt before, but that wasn’t true, was it? He remembered so little about being Jules – the people who had designed his memory must not have put very much work into it – but he remembered a day, when he’d wandered off from his grandparents one afternoon, lost in the souk in the oldest part of the city, and the way he’d felt when he’d seen his grandfather storming through the souk and almost beside himself with worry. Except that memory had never happened. For all Julian knew, there had been no Youssef Khalifa, just the vaguest recollection of dark eyes and grey beard and a deep, scratchy voice at the edge of memory. But it was that same, desperate relief he felt now, to see Tekeny standing there, immovable in his Legate’s armour and looking as if he might like to strangle Entek.

“Legate, you can’t come in here!”

“You presume to tell a member of the Central Command where he may or may not go in his own home?” Tekeny snapped back, bristling.

“This is Obsidian Order business, our autonomy-”

“Is a privilege granted by the Central Command, and is revocable at any time.” Tekeny’s voice had dropped now into something low and dangerous. “Don’t you agree?”

Julian could see Entek’s face smoothing out, and knew, with an awful lurching feeling somewhere in the pit of his stomach, that it wouldn’t be as simple as that.

“Of course, Legate,” Entek said smoothly. “Cesnil, I’m afraid the next time we talk, it will have to be at the Order's facilities.” He gave a thin, rather cold smile. “Good day.”

And then they were left alone, Julian’s mind still twisting in on itself, trying to find the part of all this that didn’t fit.

“Cesnil?” his father said softly somewhere behind him. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Julian replied automatically. “…no. I don’t know.”

Tekeny’s expression was closed-off, unreadable as it hadn’t been before. “I should have known,” he said, softly, furiously. “They were always going to move before I could force concessions. If they take you to Order headquarters…” he shook his head, and set a hand on Julian’s arm. “We must get you away from Cardassia.”

For a moment, relief threatened to make Julian’s legs give out beneath him. Then, sense reasserted itself. “What about you? When they find I’ve gone-”

“Let me worry about that.” Tekeny’s face was set, grim. “I’m a selfish old man. I can’t keep you here, no matter how much I want to. Entek will never rest until he’s broken you.” He looked away. “I have…contacts…who know how to deal with these things. Good people. They’ll get you away from here.”

It was everything Julian had wished for when he’d first arrived here, and now…what did he have to go back to? The most basic scan would reveal the truth, and if he went to Deep Space Nine and tried to reclaim his former life…Entek had found him easily enough the first time. Besides. He knew too well what Miles or Major Kira would make of it, and Commander Sisko would be no less difficult to persuade, when every scan they could perform would show him for what he was.

“If Entek thinks you had anything to do with it-”

“Then he will strike at me in any way he can,” Tekeny finished for him. “I know. It doesn’t matter. You’re my son, Cesnil. Entek may make no end of political trouble for me about your disappearance, and I will consider it a price well paid to see you safe.”

“It’s not political trouble I’m worried about – it’s the chances of you ending up dead for it!” Julian said awkwardly, still uneasy with the warmth of those words. It still felt wrong, not meant for him, to be loved that much. Maybe that would go, in time, or maybe just being away from Cardassia would help. Julian was good at reinventing himself – he’d done it half a dozen times since he was fifteen. Every change of school, then the Academy and his first posting, he’d become someone entirely new. Or…had any of that ever happened at all? He couldn’t imagine much of what he remembered had any place, in Cesnil Ghemor’s life.

Tekeny lifted his brow-ridges. “There are ways to make a disappearance look like a suicide,” he said, quite gently, “Entek may suspect, but without hard evidence he cannot have me interrogated, and my position should protect me from the worst of it.”

The worst part was, Julian could picture it quite well. One disruptor set to disintegrate, and this was a military family, presumably there would be weapons somewhere, even kept under lock in case of…well, exactly the scenario Tekeny had just described.

Still, it meant he was left alone again, to spin his wheels until the promised rescue arrived. There was something wrong here. He knew there was. The question was – what? The facts, as he knew them, were these: that he had been asked questions he shouldn’t have been able to answer, or which the Order should have known the answers to already. That he had been brought home because he was not useful to the Order where he was. And that he had not been taken straight to Order headquarters because his family had intervened and insisted on his being allowed to recuperate at home. Entek had not pressed his advantage in the immediate aftermath of the revelation of Adigeon Prime. Why not? Julian had been in such a state then that he might have told Entek anything, questioned the right way. Was this a test, then? Of his loyalty, of the effectiveness of the drugs?

It was almost morning, in the end, when Tekeny returned. Julian had tried to access the Cardassian planetary data network twice, but hadn’t been able to access anything more relevant to his situation than listed side-effects of desegranine – headaches, nausea, mood swings, in some species, including humans, anaphylactic shock, which he supposed was one last nail in the coffin of his hopes, although he hadn’t felt particularly nauseous these last few days either. Everything else – details of neighbouring neutral planets, the public news, information on Cardassian medical training – was heavily redacted, where he was allowed to access it at all. He was pacing again when his father came in, looking greyer and more careworn than Julian had yet seen him.
“Cesnil.” He was holding something, Julian saw now. It took a moment to see it was a book, an actual, ink-and-paper book, bound in scaly green-golden leather and with a title picked out in gold. It looked old, well-worn, well-loved. “Here,” Tekeny said, pressing it into Julian’s hands. “For you.”

The leather bindings were soft and faintly hooked beneath Julian’s fingers. He ran one along the title. He thought he spoke Kardasi, the ordinary sort, fairly well. This was not the ordinary sort. The words were unfamiliar, possibly archaic - he'd have to look it up to be sure - but more-or-less decipherable, if he was careful about it. "Ah - desert-wind-vision? I never- I don't know if I ever learned High Kardasi."

The Guiding Winds,” Tekeny corrected him softly. “It was your mother’s. I…I don’t know if the desegranine will ever work, now, but in case it never does...it’s as near as I can come to giving you her back. To remember her by.”

True enough, there, on the spine, was the author’s name. Kaleen Dakal. His mother. He could not stop seeing Amsha Bashir’s face when he thought of that word, her mild, frazzled smile and desperate reluctance to make trouble for anyone, even when it meant standing by and letting them ruin themselves and everyone around them. Had Kaleen been like that too? Or- No. He couldn’t picture it. After all, nothing of Tekeny Ghemor had made its way into Julian’s memory of Richard Bashir.

He opened it, saw the flyleaf, and the message there, written out in looping, untidy Kardasi script to ‘Tekeny’, and signed with a flourish, ‘Kaleen’. The pages were soft to the touch, the edges slightly softened too, and Julian thought this must have been handled a hundred, a thousand times to wear it down this much, leafed through and pored over until it looked a century old, not the less than twenty years the date on the flyleaf confirmed.

“I can’t take this-” he started, because he couldn’t, not when it had been so obviously treasured by someone who remembered its author, and had a right to mourn her passing.

“There’s no use arguing,” his father cut him off, “I can be as stubborn as you. It runs in the family.”

“Legate,” said another voice, and another, younger man rounded the corner, dressed in Gil’s armour and looking worried.

Tekeny’s expression became rather pinched. “Cesnil,” he said stiffly. “This is Ari, he’s…a friend. He’s going to help get you off Cardassia.”

“You never told me how,” Julian said, “Apart from the ‘make it look like a suicide’ part, which doesn’t explain how I’m going to leave.”

“I have friends who can arrange things,” Tekeny said repressively. “Friends who think the same way I do.”

“The Obsidian Order and the Central Command have been given too much power over our lives,” Ari added, the look in his eyes almost challenging. “We’re going to change that.”

And, all at once, the last few pieces of the puzzle, of why this had all felt so strange, slid into place.

“…you’re a dissident."

Ari nodded, but Tekeny’s expression was wary. Of course. Cesnil had been Obsidian Order, had believed duty to Cardassia lay in serving the state there was now, not trying to change it. How would he, at nineteen, have reacted to news like this?

“Your father is a great man,” Ari said, almost eagerly, “He has everything any Cardassian could want, yet he’s willing to risk his life for what he believes.”

Tekeny made a dismissive gesture. “People like Ari are the heroes. My position protects me. The real risk is theirs.”

“If the Order ever finds out what you’re doing-” Julian started, his eyes flicking to Tekeny’s wrist, where the jammer-bracelet lay beneath his sleeve.

“Legate, I have to get your son to our next contact,” Ari cut him off.

Tekeny nodded, his eyes not leaving Julian’s face. “Goodbye, Cesnil,” he said heavily, “I love you.”

Julian swallowed around the lump in his throat. He couldn’t seem to find words, so actions would have to do instead. Cardassians didn’t generally go in for public demonstrations of affection even between family, but…if he was only going to have a father for these three days, Cardassian propriety could make an exception for one hug before he had to go.

“Sir, we have to go now,” Ari pressed, sounding quite embarrassed by this sentimentality, “We don’t know how long we have, the Order could return at any moment.”

“Wait.” Julian had finally found his voice. He had it now. He had it! “…there’s something wrong here. Entek-” More pieces falling into place. “…I don’t think he gave me the desegranine at all.”

No nausea, not a hint of headache, and if he’d had mood swings, they’d been perfectly explicable by his circumstances. Entek hadn’t wanted him to remember. Or…no. No.

“Without the desegranine, you’d never remember, what could he mean by-” Tekeny said, his expression hardening.

“What if the Order suspects you’re part of the movement,” Julian interrupted. “I know, your position puts you above prosecution without hard evidence. But if they put you in a position where you had to rely on dissident connections for whatever reason…such as, say, the threat of the Order coming after your family…” He swallowed. “We have to go, now, all three of us. If I’m right, then Entek will be-”

“Right here,” Entek’s voice finished for him, and as one, the three of them turned to see Entek and a pair of heavily-armed Order operatives “Very astute, doctor. I can see why my superiors wanted you so much.”

Tekeny’s hand went to his comlink. “This is Ghemor, three to beam out, now!”

Nothing happened.

“It won’t work,” Entek said smugly. “We’ve got a transporter suppression field over this whole area!”

“No!” Ari cried, and lunged at Entek. It took one shot, and he was dead.

Entek smiled. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this day. Imagine – in one bold stroke, the Obsidian Order will unmask a traitor in the Central Command, shatter the entire dissident movement and gain a quite useful new tool into the bargain.”

The hairs on the back of Julian’s neck stood on end. “If you’re talking about me, then having my father executed isn’t the best way to gain my loyalty,” he snapped.

Entek blinked. “…now, that is unexpected,” he said, “I had thought you might be more perceptive. Besides, this was your work. Everything the Order has achieved today, and we have you to thank for it.”

“The movement will survive without me,” Tekeny said harshly, glaring at Entek.

Entek huffed. “You underestimate your importance, Legate. With your help, we’ll be able to purge the government of all disloyalty. The enemies of Cardassia will be destroyed.”

“The enemies of the Order, you mean?”

“The Obsidian Order is Cardassia,” Entek said levelly, and nodded to his men. They advanced on Julian and Tekeny, disruptors raised, one forcing Tekeny down into a low chair with the disruptor at his back, while the other held his on Julian.

“What are you doing?” Tekeny demanded, his eyes flickering from Entek to Julian to Ari’s limp corpse.

“I think you know,” Entek retorted. “Doctor, my orders were to take you alive…if possible. And your testimony would certainly make for a more dramatic trial…but that can be dispensed with, if you give us any trouble. ‘Alive’ and ‘in possession of your full faculties’ are two very different things.”

Behind Entek, the door hummed open.

“Believe me,” said a very cold voice, “The good doctor is the least of your troubles.”

Julian stared, his heart doing a funny little leap in his chest. “Garak!”

Commander Sisko was there behind him, throwing something that sounded a bit like a rough cloth bag into the room, but Julian’s eyes were all for Garak, who looked, for a moment, a bit like he’d been hit over the head with a wrench at the sight of Julian. He didn’t know, Julian realised then. Whatever was happening here, Garak hadn’t known. It was more of a relief than he’d thought it would be.

“I suggest you lower your weapons,” Commander Sisko said, his phaser trained on Entek.

“Do as he says,” Garak chimed in, looking away abruptly from Julian. “Now, Entek!”

It was only out of the corner of his eye that Julian saw the bag Sisko had thrown coalescing into Constable Odo before he was fully solid and plucking Entek’s disruptor from his hands, “I’ll take that, thank you,” he said gruffly, and Julian took the opportunity to elbow his own captor in the gut and twist away, her disruptor going off, uselessly, and hitting the ceiling with an electric hiss before it, too, hit the ground. By then, Odo had already disarmed the operative threatening Tekeny.

“Garak,” Entek was saying now, “What are you doing here?”

“I got homesick,” Garak snapped, “Doctor, I really think we had better be going.”

Tekeny started out of the chair, but Julian laid a hand on his arm, “Don’t worry,” he said quickly, catching Garak’s eye. “He’s on our side. We should go.”

“Yes,” Tekeny said, sounding a little shell-shocked and, together, they made for the door.

“Doctor,” Garak said as they drew level, “More beautiful than ever, I see. And, ah, who is this?”

Typical. Even when Garak was saving Julian’s life, he had to be sarcastic about it. “I’ll explain later,” Julian said quickly, “Er…commander?”

“I’d be interested in hearing that explanation too, doctor.” Sisko’s lips thinned. “Are you all right?”

“…more or less, sir. How did you-”

“Suffice it to say,” Garak interrupted, “I still have friends on Cardassia. You will, no doubt, derive years of enjoyment trying to determine exactly who they are,” he added, smirking at Entek.

“We have a ship waiting,” Sisko said, casting a curious look at Tekeny. “Doctor-”

“He’s coming with us,” Julian said quickly. “I swear, he has as much to lose from this awful bloody mess as I do. Probably more. Definitely more.”

Sisko’s eyebrow lifted, but he didn’t protest, which was probably as close to approval as he was likely to come. Still he started away down the corridor. Tekeny lingered for a moment after him, not quite willing to leave Julian to his fate.

“Father, I’ll be fine, go!” Julian hissed, and entirely missed the way Garak’s eyes widened behind him.

“Garak!” It was Entek again. “I don’t understand. Ghemor is a traitor, an enemy of the Order.”

Garak looked back at Entek. “Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”

“You’re making a serious mistake,” Entek blustered, “Until now, the Order was satisfied to let you live in exile, but now…”

Julian hadn’t known before that people actually monologued in these situations, but the longer Entek kept talking, the more time in which Order reinforcements could arrive, and his faith in Garak’s abilities only went so far. “Garak, we need to go,” he said, tugging at Garak’s arm. “If you’re caught here-”

“Quite right,” Garak agreed, his eyes flicking over to Julian. “I’d almost forgotten what a pleasure it was to be with my fellow Cardassians,” he went on, almost meditatively. “And though I’d like to stay and listen to you bluster, I simply don’t have the time.”

They were nearly at the door when Julian heard the whir of a disruptor readying to fire, but before he could look around to see, Garak had turned and fired. When Julian turned to follow him, there was nothing left of Entek but his disruptor, lying there like an abandoned toy.

Julian had never seen Garak kill before, but if he had expected Garak to be as shaken by it as Julian had been, he would have been disappointed. Garak simply brushed past and left, leaving Odo and Julian behind and forcing Julian to jog to catch up with him on the long way back to the Defiant.

Chapter Text

They were back at the Defiant before there was another chance to speak, and Julian was grateful for it. He felt different, somehow, around his colleagues. As if he were waking up from a dream, or else as if he were falling asleep again. It had been easier than Julian expected for the three of them to reach the Defiant, but then, three apparently Cardassian pedestrians hurrying to get home before morning curfew blended in easily with the crowds, and this was not a high-priority area for Obsidian Order surveillance, at least according to Odo. The Coranum Sector was the oldest, the richest and the most prestigious area of Kardasi’Or, and under other circumstances Julian might have liked to stay and go sight-seeing. Maybe he’d bring it up to Garak at their next lunch together, he’d thought, just to make Garak smile, and then remembered that there was a good chance there wouldn’t be a next lunch together.

Now, sitting on the bridge of the Defiant and watching Cardassia shrink into the distance behind them, Julian didn’t know what to hope for. Entek had said…Entek had called him ‘doctor’. Not ‘Cesnil’. He’d seemed surprised, when Julian professed loyalty to Tekeny, when any Cardassian, or anyone who knew anything about Cardassians, could have told him that family was the most important thing in the world to them, so why shouldn’t it be to Cesnil? Unless…unless he had never been Cesnil at all. For a moment, his heart leapt – he could go back to Deep Space Nine, return to his life and his career and his friends and not lose a thing from his whole strange experience – but then his eyes fell on Tekeny Ghemor, and an awful coldness swept through him.

Even putting aside all other evidence – all Entek had known about him, the pointlessness of targeting him if he really were exactly who he seemed to be, the near-exact resemblance between himself and Cesnil Ghemor – there was still one flaw in that plan. Julian Bashir had no claim on Tekeny Ghemor. The Legate had thrown away everything he held dear for a lie. Would he resent Julian for it, if Julian he was? It hurt more than Julian was expecting, the thought that Tekeny might hate him for what had happened on Cardassia tonight.

If he were Cesnil Ghemor, Julian would lose everything he had built on Deep Space Nine, but he and his father would have each other, wherever exile took them. What was it like, to be able to rely on someone like that? Julian thought he wouldn’t mind finding out. But- but Garak. And Miles. And Jadzia, and Rij, and Jabara, and everyone he’d come to care about in the last ten years. He would lose them all.

“Well, doctor,” Commander Sisko said at last, once Cardassia had faded to a faint star in the distance and Tekeny and Garak had been shown to quarters by Odo, ahead of any Starfleet business being discussed. “I think we are all owed an explanation.”

Julian’s stomach twisted into knots. “…right,” he said awkwardly. “Um. Where do you suggest I start?”

Odo huffed. “You can begin with why I heard you call Legate Ghemor ‘Father’, down on the planet,” he said forbiddingly. “And why you are still speaking Kardasi when I hadn’t even known you knew it.”

Every eye was on Julian now.

“How do you know Kardasi, Julian?” Dax asked, sharing a look with Commander Sisko.

Julian looked down at his hands. His grey, scaled hands. “I started trying to learn it about three weeks after I first met Garak,” he admitted. “He’d lent me a Cardassian novel I didn’t much like and then claimed all the things I hadn’t liked about it were down to bad translators. I disagreed, so…”

“So you succeeded in becoming fluent in Kardasi in less than two years.” Odo’s voice was flatly sceptical.

Julian shrugged helplessly. “I’ve got a good ear.”

“I see,” Sisko said, “And the rest of it?”

Julian knotted his fingers together and avoided Sisko’s eyes. “I…I was taken from the conference and woke up on Cardassia Prime – I don’t know precisely how long ago that was – how did you know where to find me?”

“Mr Garak was very helpful,” Sisko said with a wry smile, “Suspiciously so, in fact. He very nearly insisted on accompanying us.”

“Oh.” There were probably ways to describe the sensation in Julian’s chest at that bit of news that didn’t make him sound like an infatuated teenager with their first crush, but he didn’t know any of them. Whatever his expression was, it must have been pretty ridiculous, going by Jadzia’s stifled snort and the way the commander’s expression had become suspiciously blank all of a sudden. Julian swallowed and tried to collect himself. “Um. How much did he know? About why they took me?”

“Almost nothing. Just a location, Entek’s name and that you had been brought there at the request or on the orders of Legate Ghemor of the Central Command. Quite why did you insist on bringing your kidnapper back with us, doctor?”

“He isn’t-” Julian started, then saw the looks on their faces. Wonderful. Clearly they thought this was some sort of brainwashing or traumatic-bonding incidence, and that wasn’t it at all. He sighed, and started again. “They were going to take me either way. He asked that I be allowed to…” ‘Recuperate’ didn’t seem like the right word in this particular situation. “…that I stay with him instead of going straight to Order headquarters.”

“And the surgical alterations?” Odo put in gruffly. “What was the purpose of those?”

Julian swallowed. This was the tricky bit. “I…I don’t know whether or not to call them alterations,” he said carefully. “The thing is, I- He- Um.”

“Go on, doctor.”

“According to the debriefing Entek gave me when I woke up, it was how I looked before that was the alteration,” Julian said quickly, not looking any of them in the eye. “I was…a deep-cover agent, apparently. For the Obsidian Order. Named Cesnil Ghemor. The Legate…may or may not be my father.”

The silence that followed was absolute, and terrible.

“And why,” Odo said into that awful silence, “Do you believe that?”

“I don’t know that I do.” Julian swallowed. “But if it isn’t true…Entek knew things. About my personal history. Things I haven’t told anyone and I don’t think anyone could have told him.”

There were maybe three or four people in the galaxy who knew the exact details of what had been done to Julian, and none of them would have been easily found if Entek hadn’t already known what he was looking for.

Odo’s frown deepened. “What sort of things?”

Julian swallowed. He wrapped his fingers round his wrist, trying to feel the pulse there, his fingers drumming irregularly against the scales. “I…It’s nothing I want to dredge up again,” he said, a little shakily. “Nothing- Nothing relevant to this, anyway. He just…knew too much. About something I don’t like to remember and nobody else would mention. It’s a family matter. Sir.” He’d said too much, he knew it already, could see it in the way Jadzia and Sisko looked at him now. It was this whole situation that had put him off-balance, made him slip, made him forget how much he still had to hide after three days of being more open than he had been in years before that.

“I think we can let that pass, Constable,” Sisko said, and Julian couldn’t read the tone of his voice. “Doctor, I take it a deep medical scan when we return to the station should be enough to clear this up?”

Julian nodded. “Almost certainly.”

It wasn’t as if he’d taken many – almost none, in fact, and the one he had taken he’d faked – with his parents’ paranoia about his augmentations coming out having been passed down to him. How did the poem go? The one that started ‘they mess you up, your mum and dad…’ Maybe he’d recommend it to Garak, and see how affronted he became at the suggestion of this very human disregard for family ties.

“Then I suggest you undergo one, upon our return.” Sisko’s tone brooked no argument.

Julian swallowed. “Yes sir.”

“But why were they trying to arrest him?” Jadzia interrupted, “Er…they were, weren’t they? That was what it sounded like when you got here.”

Julian nodded, guilt twisting in his stomach. “He was. I. Um. After the Order’s patience ran out, he tried to get me off-planet. That was the point of all this. They wanted…wanted him to have to use his connections with the dissident movement to try and- try and save me, so that they’d have evidence against him, enough to take him in for interrogation, make him give up the names of the other major dissident leaders. It sounded as if he was pretty integral to the movement, from what Entek was saying.”

“I see.” Sisko stood. “I will expect a full report on this, doctor. If you let anything slip…”

Julian nodded. “Yes, sir. Um. As in, you will have that report, not as in-”

“I know what you meant, doctor. Dismissed.”

Honestly, Julian was glad to leave the bridge. Getting back to familiar territory ought to have made things easier, not more confusing, and honestly it would be a relief just to lie down for a while.

On balance, he ought to have known it wouldn’t be that easy, and it wasn’t. He wasn’t more than halfway down the corridor from the bridge when he was accosted.

“Doctor!”

“Hello, Garak.”

Garak looked very nearly buoyant now, but it was difficult to forget the sight of him with the phaser on his hands, set to ‘disintegrate’, even if he had probably just saved Julian’s life by doing it. His eyes lingered for a second on Julian’s collar before he dragged them up to his face.

“Commander Sisko just told me you told them where I was,” Julian said, a desperate, relieved smile spreading across his face. “Thank you. I don’t know what we’d have done if you hadn’t turned up.”

Garak blinked. He seemed almost dazed – Julian hadn’t seen him take a head wound, but then, getting to the Ghemor house could not have been easy – “You’re quite welcome, doctor.” He cocked his head very slightly, to the side, his eyes flicking again to Julian’s throat. “Ah. We?”

“You mean you don’t have the Defiant bridge bugged?” Julian teased. “Y- The Legate and I. We’d both have died if you hadn’t told Sisko what happened.”

“Well,” Garak said, smiling, and setting a hand on Julian’s shoulder, the weight of it tangible through Julian’s tunic in a way it had never been when he was – or looked – human. “You’d already missed one lunch because of the burn conference, and I was rather hoping to talk to you about Murder on the Orient Express.”

Julian brightened, “Oh! Yes! What did you think of it? I thought you’d like it – it’s very like Like the Regnar, with the twist at the end-”

“Twist?” Garak said, blinking, politely puzzled.

“Everyone being guilty of the murder?” Julian prodded.

Garak looked taken aback. “…doctor, all the suspects being guilty is the only possible solution. Indeed, one might call it an indication of Ms Christie’s lack of imagination that she neglected to come up with a greater range of crimes. And that ending!”

Julian frowned. “You didn’t like it?”

“This individual, whom we are meant to believe is charged with bringing the criminals to justice, lets them go in the end due to some-”

“Well, you can’t deny the victim deserved it,” Julian said, laughing.

“That is not the point, doctor, the fact remains that the responsibility for proper judgement of criminals should, in any sensible society, rest with the state.”

“And when the State falls short?” Julian challenged. “Or is too corrupt to do anything?”

Garak paused, “Has this often been a problem in human culture?”

“Considering I’ve just had an up-close and personal experience of the problem in Cardassian culture, I hardly feel you’re in any position to judge.”

“Entek was hardly corrupt, doctor…although I do see how you might not entirely appreciate his…fervour…given the situation we found you in. I must ask, though-”

“Cesnil.”

Julian looked up, and there was Tekeny Ghemor. He was suddenly acutely aware of just how close he and Garak were standing, and the pressure of Garak’s hand on his shoulder.

Garak blinked, and then glanced from Julian to Tekeny, and back again. “…ah,” he said, and for the first time since Julian had known him looked almost nervous.

“Regnar,” Tekeny said frostily.

“Legate Ghemor,” Garak returned, with his widest, friendliest, most harmless-looking smile. It was the look he tended to use on Major Kira, which made Julian snort and shake his head before Garak pulled away, leaving Julian feeling slightly cold, and more than a little confused by just how far across the corridor Garak had retreated.

“It’s all right,” he said, forcing a smile, “I…Commander Sisko’s insisting on a full anatomical scan when we get to the station, but he…hasn’t taken it too badly, so far.” Whether that was because the captain didn’t believe it wasn’t really relevant, yet, although it might become so at some point in the near future. “Um…you two know each other?” he added, as Tekeny was still glaring at Garak.

“Only by reputation,” Garak said smoothly. “As you might imagine, my former mentor was not a great admirer of Legate Ghemor’s…beliefs…on government.”

“I cannot say I thought very much of him,” Tekeny said sharply. “Cesnil, you do know who this is?”

“Elim Garak, formerly of the Obsidian Order, now exiled from Cardassia,” Julian reeled off matter-of-factly. “I know. But considering you have one son and one nephew in the Order as it is, and that we’re both likely to end up exiles after this, it seems a little hypocritical to hold it against Garak.”

Garak shook his head, “Really, doctor, quite why you insist on believing these absurd rumours…”

“I suppose breaking into heavily-guarded buildings under the nose of the most efficient state security agency in the quadrant is an ordinary part of any tailor’s training, then?” Julian asked, trying not to smirk.

“Oh, of course – one never knows when a powerful client might conveniently forget to pay for their purchases.”

“Tailor?” Tekeny said, in the tones of a man being informed that the large, vicious, sharp-toothed creature presently using a whole humanoid skeleton as a chew toy was, in fact, a complete softie when you got to know it.

“I run a small clothing shop on the station,” Garak explained, with another untrustworthy smile. At what point had Julian started to view that expression with more fondness than worry? “That was how I met Doctor…how I met your son, rather, upon his arrival at Deep Space Nine.”

“You walked up to me in the middle of the Replimat and grabbed me by the shoulders,” Julian felt obliged to point out, which made Garak’s eyes widen and flick to Tekeny for a moment in something that, on anyone else, Julian would have called panic. “Tailoring had very little to do with it.” He blinked. “And I thought you said you weren’t listening in on the bridge!”

“I never said any such thing.” Garak said primly. “Although if I were to engage in any such criminal behaviour, I certainly wouldn’t inform a serving Starfleet officer that I had done so.”

That was a blatant lie, and Julian was about to say as much, when Tekeny interrupted them.

“Cesnil, may I speak with you? Alone?”

Julian blinked. “Um. Of course,” he said, stepping away from Garak – he hadn’t even noticed them drifting closer together during their argument – “Garak – we’ll talk, later? I really do want to hear about what you thought of the book.”

“Of course, doctor. Legate.” Garak gave a polite little nod, that reminded Julian eerily of Entek for a moment, and was gone.

Once Garak had disappeared down the corridor, Julian turned back to his…to Tekeny, who looked grim.

“How well do you know that man, Cesnil?”

Julian shrugged. “About as well as anyone does. He was my first friend, on the station – it’s all right, I do know I can’t trust him as far as I can throw him,” he added hastily, not that it had ever stopped him from trusting Garak anyway. “But I don’t think there’s any harm in just…meeting up and having lunch together a few times a week.”

For some reason, this did not make Tekeny look any less dismayed. In fact, it might’ve made things worse.

“And has he made any other…unwelcome advances…in that time?”

Julian stared. “Advances?”

Tekeny’s expression was, if anything, even more uncomfortable now. “The ridges around one’s neck and shoulders are…significant. Culturally, as well as physiologically. I suppose you wouldn’t know about that part of it, with your memory still…” He made a slight, uncomfortable noise, partway between clearing his throat and hissing through the nose. “Among the political class on Cardassia, laying hands on those ridges in a public place is tantamount to a formal request for a courtship, ending in enjoinment. It hasn’t been customary on a first meeting since the days of state-assigned enjoinments.”

“…oh.” Julian found himself staring at the far wall, thinking back. It hadn’t exactly looked like an innocent gesture even to Julian, although he’d lacked the concept to explain it. Then, with the whole business of the wire, he’d been able to find out more about Cardassian anatomy and learnt about the sensitive nerve clusters at certain points of the neck and shoulder ridges, and assumed it was the Cardassian equivalent of grabbing someone’s rear or some such and Garak had been considering seduction as a way of getting Julian to pass him information and Julian just hadn’t noticed.

“…we just meet up every week and argue,” he said helplessly. “I didn’t even know what it meant – it doesn’t mean the same thing, with humans. He might just have…misunderstood…” He trailed off at the look on Tekeny’s face. “…is there something I’m missing?”

Tekeny paused, “Maybe this would be a discussion best had later,” he said, with an audible effort at calm. “But…don’t trust him. Regnar had a reputation for being one of Tain’s most dangerous agents. He wouldn’t hesitate to betray you and all your friends if he thought it would help him.”

“And yet, he’s just caused himself a great deal of political trouble with his former superiors, put himself in no small amount of danger and killed someone who used to be a colleague of his while trying to save both our lives!” Julian retorted, irrationally stung, “Commander Sisko says he was the one who tipped Starfleet off about where I was and who had me, and insisted on coming personally when the rescue was being organised. And none of that benefited him at all. I know what he used to be. He told me…well, not everything, but enough. If he really was willing to sell us all out for his own advantage, that would have been the perfect time to do it.”

“Not doing anything wouldn’t have benefited him either,” Tekeny said dryly.

Julian crossed his arms. “Maybe it wouldn’t! Can- Can you at least trust my judgement? I know what he was, and I know what he is. I’ve had to think far too much about it recently, and I’m still glad to know him! You can tell me I’m being- being naïve or gullible or-”

“I have no intention of doing any such thing.” Tekeny said steadily. “You’re a grown man, and if this ordeal has shown me anything, it is that you are quite capable of judging your own dangers. I only ask that you be careful. I- I can’t lose you again. Not now.”

Some of the tension drained from Julian’s shoulders. He was being paranoid. Tekeny wasn’t Richard Bashir, there was no reason to assume he’d resort to the same tactics in an argument, no reason to half-expect a sneer, a jibe about how easily Julian trusted, how foolish his desire to see the best in people was.

“I can’t promise you won’t,” he said quietly, “It’s…I’m in a dangerous job, I can’t promise I won’t end up on a casualty list one day. Garak isn’t the most dangerous thing in my life, even if I’ve run risks for him before.” He’d really thought he might be killed, when he’d gone to Enabran Tain looking for Cardassian leukocytes, and a dozen times before and after that. “I nearly got myself killed a few months ago, trying to save his life-”

That was, undoubtedly, the wrong thing to say, from the pained, stricken look on Tekeny’s face then.

“It wasn’t…” Julian sighed. “I didn’t have a scratch on me, afterwards, even before I got to the infirmary.”

“But you were nearly killed.”

Julian sighed. “Nothing happened. I had to speak to Enabran Tain-”

“Tain?” Tekeny had gone stock-still. “What did he say to you?”

“Nothing I want to repeat. Most of it was about Garak – how his punishment wouldn’t be complete if he was allowed to die quickly.” Julian grimaced. “Awful man. I’d never met anyone quite that hateful before. But he gave me what I needed, and Garak recovered well enough.”

Tekeny still looked troubled. “Tain was still head of the Order when you joined. Is it possible he might have recognised you?”

Julian’s stomach turned over. “…I don’t know. Is it? I mean, he was the head of the Order, how much would he have known about individual assignments?”

“Tain prided himself on knowing everything,” Tekeny said darkly. “If my activities had come to light while he was still head of the Order, I would have never lived to see you come home.”

What would that have been like, Julian wondered. To wake on Cardassia, not in Tekeny’s house, under the protection of someone who cared for him, but at Order headquarters, where no-one would have felt any compunctions about extracting any information he had out of him by any means necessary. Would it have happened at all? Now that the doubt was there, it was difficult to be free of it.

The journey back to Deep Space Nine took maybe a day and a half at full warp, and it was, without a doubt, the most uncomfortable thirty-six hours of Julian’s life. Neither Jadzia nor Commander Sisko seemed to know quite what to do with him, now the possibility that he might be cashiered from the service had been raised. All these years of dreading that very eventuality, and now it had come for reasons completely other than those Julian might have expected. Garak too seemed to be avoiding him, even if Julian had known what it was he meant to say, and he and Constable Odo had never exactly been friends. He’d read The Guiding Winds cover to cover by the time they reached the station, even trying to make it last. He hadn’t entirely understood it, but he’d read it, and could only wonder at the fact that it hadn’t been banned. Some of the messages he’d found there were not at all of a sort the Obsidian Order would have cared for. It reminded Julian a little of Les Miserables, and he resolved to find a copy for Tekeny as soon as they reached the station. If he could. If the scan turned up the right – or was it the wrong – way. If he really was Cesnil Ghemor, and Tekeny could still stand to look at him.

It was more of a relief than he would have thought possible when they finally docked, only for the look on Major Kira’s face as he and Tekeny followed Jadzia off the Defiant to spell the end of any hopes he might have had of keeping a low profile until all this was sorted out, one way or another.

“What the hell? Commander-”

“Stand down, Major,” Sisko interrupted. “Doctor Bashir, with me.”

Julian swallowed, and slipped up through the group to join Commander Sisko. He wished he were a bit less conspicuous, but a Cardassian on a Bajoran station was about as subtle and easily missed as a windmill on a sand dune, positively crying out for someone to notice, and take offence.

The Major blinked, then stared. “No. No. This isn’t…what did they do to him?”

“Surgical alterations,” Julian said quickly. “Um. I don’t know how thorough they were.”

Well, no, he was quite certain they’d been very thorough – he had a whole new range of anatomy he was trying very hard not to think about to prove it – but ‘I may or may not be Cardassian’ wasn’t really the sort of thing it was safe to say to a heavily-armed ex-Bajoran Resistance fighter, even Julian could figure that much out.

Commander Sisko gave him a very sharp look at that, but let it go for the moment.

“And the other Cardassian?” Kira demanded.

Is Cardassian,” Julian said helpfully. “Legate Tekeny Ghemor. He’s. Um. A leader in the Cardassian dissident movement, actually. Trying to destabilise military rule on Cardassia. He got exposed as a dissident trying to save my life, so…”

Kira’s expression softened a little at that, although the difference was only that between, say, granite and marble.

“Hard to believe a Legate really wants Cardassia to change,” she said sceptically.

“I didn’t, in the beginning,” Tekeny admitted. Julian nearly jumped – he hadn’t noticed his father coming up behind him. “But change must come, if Cardassia is to be ruled as its people deserve.”

The Major gave him a suspicious look, then turned to Commander Sisko. “You realise he can’t stay here? Garak is difficult enough to justify to the Provisional Government, but a Legate-”

“I understand,” Tekeny said. “If you will allow me to stay long enough to find a planet on which to claim political asylum?”

“That sounds entirely possible,” Commander Sisko agreed. “Just until then. Major, could you accompany Doctor Bashir to the infirmary? I would rather not see a repeat of the unfortunate incident with Mr Marritza.”

There were open stares and whispers on the way to sickbay. Julian hadn’t realised quite how bad it would be – after all, he had lunch with a Cardassian every week, and received hardly any stares at all, now – but they were difficult to ignore. Major Kira, for her part, didn’t seem to want to look at him, and Julian couldn’t quite blame her for that. He didn’t much like looking at himself right now, either.

Nurse Rijal actually dropped her tricorder when they entered sickbay, and the Bajoran patient she was treating bolted upright, looking furious.

“What in the-”

“He’s Doctor Bashir, the Cardassians did it, no, I don’t know why,” Major Kira reeled off. “I think that’s everything. Doctor, tell me this is reversible?”

“Not by me,” Julian said, wincing. “I’ll have to ask someone else to come in to do the surgeries, even if-” Even if there was anything to reverse, he had been going to say, but broke off quickly. There was no point in causing any more panic than he already had.

Kira scowled, “Then…I don’t know, maybe invest in a name tag or something, because there are a lot of people who aren’t going to take being treated by a Cardassian – or a human that looks like one – that well.”

“I’ll think of something,” Julian assured her, or tried to. The Major snorted, but didn’t say anything, at least, and left Julian alone to explain himself to Rij and Jabara and all the rest of his nursing staff.

“…doctor?” Jabara said cautiously, once Kira was gone, staring distrustfully at Julian.

He rubbed his eyes. “I…it’s a bit complicated,” he said, rather lamely. “I’ll explain it once you’ve finished with Lieutenant Pela’s arm, there’s no sense in explaining it six separate times because I didn’t tell you all at once, and I don’t think my presence is doing much good right now.”

Indeed, he was more likely to make Lieutenant Pela have a post-traumatic stress breakdown than help him if he hung around in the main part of sickbay any longer – the Bajoran was already looking more than a little green about the gills.

Jabara nodded, still looking quite alarmed, and Julian went through to his office, sat down, and tried very hard not to a panic attack.

It was ridiculous, panicking now, once he was home and on his own territory and the ordeal was safely over. Still, now he was, Julian’s mind wouldn’t stop whirling, all the different ways things could have gone truly, disastrously wrong playing themselves out in front of his eyes. He tried closing them, but that only made it more vivid. No. Think about the scan – he’d need to do it himself, there was no-one else on the station who could, and the odds of being able to even get someone in for the cosmetic part of the surgeries to put him back within a week weren’t brilliant, to say nothing of reversing any of the other obvious changes – and the future. The future…he must’ve thought more about that in the last few days than in fourteen years before that. He’d always had it all planned out. Starfleet, and then whatever prison they sent him to for entering Starfleet, and whatever mental hospital they sent him to for his augmentations after that. He’d always known he’d get caught one day, the same way he’d always known he’d die one day. He’d planned around it, tried to get as much living into however much time he got as he could. And now, all at once, the prospect of a meaningful life after Starfleet was opening up in front of him. It all hinged on this one scan.

“Doctor?” It was Jabara.

“Yes?”

“We’re all here. And I think we all need that explanation now. Sir.”

Julian sighed, and raked a hand through his hair, setting it out of that careful Cardassian order. It was actually uncomfortable, was the worst of it – apparently the comparison to feathers was fairer than he had thought – “I’ll be right there.”

There were a few gasps, a lot of winces, and any number of horrified looks when Julian left his office. Julian tried not to flinch, and failed. It was too close to the scenario that had appeared in far too many of his nightmares over the years. The explanation was pared down to as little as he could get away with, but still, there were some things he couldn’t justify hiding, even if he hadn’t wanted to be the one to explain them to Major Kira.

“So…you’re actually…” Rij said, once it was over, looking faintly ill.

Julian shrugged. “I might be. Or I might not. I don’t know. The commander has asked me to do a deep-scan to find out for sure, but even that might not be conclusive. My future on this station depends on the results.”

No-one had said so, admittedly, but Starfleet would want his head on a plate if he really had been a Cardassian spy this whole time, and the Bajorans wouldn’t want a confirmed Cardassian in any position of authority over Bajoran officers, and they weren’t wrong to feel that way.

“So, you aren’t,” said one of the younger nurses, looking desperately relieved.

“I don’t know,” Julian repeated. “If I am…I expect I’ll be asked to resign.”

He didn’t think he was imagining the general air of relief at that. Julian liked to think the nurses liked him well enough – at least, they’d always been professionally friendly, and he’d done his best to be decent to them, even knowing how easily he seemed to annoy people. Still, well-liked as a human and well-liked as a possible Cardassian on a Bajoran station were two very different things.

The scan. It all came back to the scan, and really there was no way to come out ahead. If he was Cesnil Ghemor, he lost everything he had built here, his friends, his home, his world, maybe even his identity, if he chose to take desegranine for real, and gained…a life in exile, but with a family who cared about him, however small it might be. If he was Julian Bashir, he kept all he had, but lost what he was only now starting to find he wanted. He hadn’t thought of himself as someone in need of a parent-figure before. Honestly, he would have taken offence at anyone who said he did, but here he was, paralysed with doubt and fear at both alternatives before him – alternatives which, had this come to an actual decision, had one clear winner in a strict list of pros and cons. Julian Bashir had everything he’d worked for, and Cesnil Ghemor’s future was already effectively over. And yet…and yet. Julian hadn’t spoken to his family in eleven years. Nearly twelve, now. He didn’t miss them, he didn’t mind. Most of his extended family had thought he was dead since he was six years old, and he couldn’t change that without risking exposure. Cesnil had a dead mother, a cousin in the very organisation that had nearly killed him…and a father who had been prepared to sacrifice everything so that the person he thought was his son could escape. If only- If only he didn’t have to…choose was the wrong word. If only there were a way for him to have both lives, be both people. If only he wouldn’t lose people whichever way this test turned out. And then there was the other threat. The one he did his best not to think of. Genetic augmentation was subtle enough that most wouldn’t pick up on it…but a deep scan might. A few abnormalities in the brain, noticed by the wrong person in his medical file, could mean the end for him. If that were so, then whatever happened, his career was a dead loss, and he would likely face charges. Life imprisonment, one way or another.

It would be a very quick, very simple procedure. Ten seconds, and then he’d know, and yet…and yet he couldn’t quite bring himself to it. Later, he would characterise it as a moment of madness, but at the time, it seemed the only logical thing in the world to sabotage the scanner, and then to work, quickly and efficiently, to hide all signs of that interference. Then he called Commander Sisko, and did his best to sound abashed by his failure.

“Inconclusive?” the Commander demanded, once Julian had finished his explanation.

Julian shuffled his feet. “Yes, sir. I can try again-”

“That’s hardly going to change the results, doctor! How can it be inconclusive? I’m quite sure Cardassian and human physiology isn’t similar enough for there to be much confusion.”

Julian shrugged. “I suppose the Order might have predicted something like this would happen,” he suggested. “Going either way, theoretically. I…” he braced himself. “If you want my resignation because of this…”

“No.” Sisko’s voice was steady. “I suppose attempting to contact your family – your human family – isn’t an option?”

“I don’t even know where they are.” Julian admitted, for the first time in years. “And I don’t know how much truth there was in Entek’s story anyway – they might well have replaced a real person.”

“I see. I didn’t want to have to resort to this, but, doctor, you have a choice in front of you.”

Julian nearly fumbled the comlink. “A- Commander, Starfleet is never going to-”

“Let me worry about Starfleet.”

Julian drew in a breath. “Can I have a bit of time to think about it?”

There was more understanding in Sisko’s voice when he replied. “As much as you need.”

“Thank you, sir.”

If they’d rated a station counsellor, Sisko would probably have tried to send Julian to them, and probably he wouldn’t have been wrong. From a purely logical standpoint, there was no choice to be made at all. There wasn’t, really, even so. Julian had sabotaged the test to be allowed to stay on Deep Space Nine, even knowing what that would mean. But he couldn’t leave Tekeny without a word, and even if he could, he didn’t want to.

He ended up finding Tekeny at Garak’s Clothiers, which was the first surprise, although perhaps it shouldn’t have been. By the look on Garak’s face, it hadn’t been a pleasant conversation.

“Doctor! I see you’re still…”

Julian shook his head. “Unfortunately, no-one has yet devised a technology that lets me carry out any extensive surgery on myself. I’ll be waiting until a consultant can be called in from Bajor.” In a pinch an Emergency Medical Hologram could do the job, but as the technology wasn’t really compatible with the station’s systems it wasn’t really any use thinking about that.

Tekeny’s fingers tightened on the edge of Garak’s counter. “You- You aren’t Cesnil, then,” he said in a low, pained voice.

“I…” Julian rubbed at his wrist again. “I just got the test results back. Inconclusive. Commander Sisko…has asked me to choose which identity to use, going forward.” He shrugged, and forced himself to look Tekeny in the face. “This…it’s the only life I remember. All my friends are here, and-” he shook his head. “I’m sorry. It’s…”

“I understand,” Tekeny said, although it came out raw, as if every word hurt. “And your superiors, they have accepted this?”

“I don’t know if Commander Sisko plans to tell them,” Julian admitted. “He probably will, just…making it sound more cut-and-dried than it is.”

“The Commander is generally quite honest in these matters,” Garak said sceptically.

Julian rubbed at his eyes. “It doesn’t matter now. I can’t- can’t change the results. And at least this way I’ve got a chance at staying here.” He looked at- he couldn’t call Tekeny his father. Not now. He wished he could. “Where will you go?”

“Mathenis,” Tekeny said, in a tone that was obviously trying its hardest not to sound as bleak as it would have liked. “The Mathenite government has offered me political asylum. I intend to accept it.”

“Good. And you’ll-”

Tekeny gave a faint, sad smile, “I should be safe enough. Away from Cardassia, I’m no longer a threat to the Obsidian Order.”

“Good.” And then, before he could lose his nerve. “I…er. Wonder if I could visit. I don’t have leave for a few months, but when I do-”

“I think,” Garak said quickly, edging his way out from behind the counter, “I just remembered I have a commission that needs finished in the back room. If you two will excuse me-”

Tekeny barely seemed to notice him. “You…you don’t need to,” he said hoarsely. “Please. I’d rather you didn’t feel obliged to-”

“It isn’t that,” Julian said quickly. “I- I don’t know if I’m your son or not. Probably I never will. And if that’s…I don’t know, too painful, or too difficult, and you’d rather be shot of the whole thing, that’s your prerogative. But whether I am or not…I think you’re the nearest thing to family I have.”

Tekeny stared at him for a moment, then stepped forward, and this time, Julian was prepared for the hug.

“I- I’ll return the book,” he said quietly, “If…I’ve already finished it, and it’s all you have, from Cardassia. I can’t keep it.”

“No.” Tekeny drew away, “Cesnil- Julian-” It was, Julian thought, with a sick little lurch in the pit of his stomach, the first time Tekeny had called him by his own name. “I’ve memorised every page. And…it would comfort me, to know you had it.” He smiled, and if there was pain in that expression, there was also more joy than Julian had thought possible, under the circumstances.

It felt strange, unnatural. He had not done anything, he hadn’t earned this, and even the defiant thought that he shouldn’t need to, that the way things had been in his childhood was not the natural order of the world, was not enough to tide him over. But here he was, all the same, loved and forgiven and accepted, not for anything he had done, any prize or success or grand achievement to justify his place in the world, but just for…being, he supposed. Not even for being who he was, but just for the fact of his existence, and that Tekeny had thought he loved Julian for a few days and now found that love a difficult habit to give up. It was a dizzying feeling, and not one Julian was quite sure he liked. It made him want, desperately, to be worthy of that love, and that pride in him. Probably he never would be. That didn't mean he wouldn't try.