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Strategy Of Attrition

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It’s a well-known fact that Kira hates waiting, as Odo is so fond of reminding her. Everything about it makes her miserable: the uncertainty, the empty hours, the strain it puts on her body. Her knuckles, for example, are protesting after three hours of gripping the armrests on the captain’s chair. She notices other things too, now that her mind is briefly distracted from the prospect of being blown up to pieces by Romulan warbirds. Her teeth hurt from too much jaw clenching. Her toes are curled uncomfortably in her boots. Not to mention the cold sweat on her brow and on her back.

This isn’t the first time Kira’s waited for certain annihilation, and for much lower stakes too. It’s unlikely that Senator Cretak or Admiral Ross ever had to hide from a Cardassian patrol by covering themselves in hay inside an abandoned barn.

For hours Kira had been sure they would track her down, and that every breath was her last, until Furel and Lupaza had finally found her.

She leans back into the captain’s chair. At least being in a ship beats the smell of moldy hay.

After Admiral Ross’ courtesy visit, Kira had downloaded in a PADD all the information that she could find in the Federation’s databases about the Romulan Star Empire. It had not taken long for the material to turn as dull as the pictures of the Romulan homeworld.

The Empire’s bloated military apparatus was nothing she hadn’t seen before, with all her dealings with Cardassia. The Empire’s politics were just as complex and full of machinations as she’d heard, but nothing she hadn’t already become accustomed to during Bajor’s post-occupation years. Kira had deposited the PADD on her nightstand with a yawn and proceeded to ignore its existence for the following days, too many other pressing issues fighting for her attention.

The months following Sisko’s departure are a blur in Kira’s mind. The sudden weight of command, the promotion, the gruesome reports from the front lines, the absence of both Emissary and Prophets. All the friends that can’t or won’t come back.

She clings to her habits like a lifeline: the morning service in the temple (the prayer is short for the early risers, and Kira has no time to dwell on what happened here), reading the updated list of the casualties, the briefings with Odo, the meditation in front of the altar in her quarters before dragging herself to sleep.

Senator Cretak shows up to read the casualty report the day after she arrived with her entourage. Kira stops in her tracks as soon as she notices the Senator’s grey uniform and the unmistakable ears; Cretak holds her hands tied behind her back, the ridges on her brow accentuating her scowl while she reads the board in front of her.

The Senator could’ve easily read the report on her desk, and yet she’s here. To be seen in this room like she’s just another member of their colorful alliance is a smart political move, but Kira can’t tell whether the worry on her face is just an affectation or actually sincere; her alien features make her look — intense at all times.

It doesn’t matter, anyway. The Romulans are on the station to stay, and if the Senator wants to play the part of the dedicated ally Kira won’t stop her. She walks up to Cretak’s side, acknowledging her with a nod, and they continue to read in silence the growing list of people lost or injured in the war. Romulan names jump out to her attention more than usual while she scans the board.

That night she gingerly picks up the PADD from her nightstand and summons up the file for Romulus itself. Kira had overlooked it, and Cretak made her wonder if she had missed something important about her home planet and its inhabitants.

A Romulan eating a jumja stick — not a sight Kira can easily forget. She can’t help but mention it again the next time she and Cretak meet in the Captain’s office.

“You mean to ask why I am less disdainful of your culture than my compatriots, Colonel,” the Senator comments with a raised eyebrow. Kira regrets talking at all, but Cretak just smiles at her chagrin. “Don’t worry, I’m well aware of the image the Empire has in the rest of the Alpha Quadrant. I’m willing to admit that it’s not entirely undeserved.”

“But you don’t share the same disdain,” Kira insists, wishing she could ask outright if it’s all just an act.

Cretak sits back on her chair, her face difficult to read. “There are many distinguished citizens on Romulus who have no idea that the Empire is not, in fact, the homogeneous entity they believe it is. I just happen to know better.”

Kira tilts her head, wondering. The files on the Romulan Empire had only mentioned very little of planets other than Romulus and the few ones trapped in the Neutral Zone. Any information about the Empire in its entirety was fragmentary at best. She doesn’t doubt Cretak’s words however: an imperialist state can only tell itself self-serving lies to continue existing.

“So you don’t mind seeing things for yourself,” Kira says, to keep the conversation going. “Should I expect you to visit the Klingon restaurant on the Promenade as well?”

Cretak raises a hand, reacting to the remark with a self-deprecating smile. “That may be too much even for my curiosity, I’m afraid. But who knows, if this alliance lasts a little longer I may be swayed to drop my assumptions about the Klingons for a couple of hours.”

Kira can’t help but grin. The thought of someday being able to see the Senator in front of a plate full of wriggling gagh keeps her in a good mood until the evening.

Kira remembers the jumja stick again before sending Cretak’s request for the hospital on Derna to the Bajoran council of ministers. Obviously the Senator has been studying Bajor for some time, and is aware which moons were uninhabited or not already used by the Bajorans. Cretak probably knows more about Bajor already than Kira will ever learn about Romulus.

Or about the Senator herself, for that matter. Kira couldn’t even guess Cretak’s age without accessing her file; she has reached that point in the lives of Romulans and Vulcans where they could be either forty or one hundred years old. As it turns out Cretak’s age is slightly over the latter and her experience just as considerable, though the details are locked behind several levels of Starfleet security clearance.

Kira hesitates, the message she has written for the council only waiting for her to hit ‘send’. She is in the weaker position — the younger, less experienced official, fresh from a promotion and on her first posting as commanding officer. Cretak however has never been less than respectful of her rank, always talked to Kira as an equal. The image of the Senator with a jumja stick in her hand won’t leave her mind; coming from a Romulan, however eccentric, it must’ve meant something. Romulans don’t lack a sense of honor completely, do they?

She hasn’t consulted Odo about Derna, she already knows what he’d say: do not trust the Senator at face value. But then again he’d say that about anyone. Kira sighs and leans back on her chair, massaging her forehead with a hand.

The Captain isn’t here to warn her to be careful. Jadzia won’t hide a smile behind her cup of raktajino and offer suggestive anecdotes about the Romulans. Ziyal can’t listen to her describing her frustration with politics. Even Keiko is on Earth, where she can’t tell her about the times she encountered the Romulans while Kira does her best to entertain Kirayoshi.

Kira closes her eyes for a moment, takes a steadying breath, then hits send.

Has she been too trusting? And since when is she letting an acquaintance with a politician from an alien empire become a liability?

“Is there something wrong?”

Kira raises her head to look at Odo, who has returned to his unofficial post beside the captain’s chair.

“You mean, except from the flotilla of warbirds that will enter the system in a few hours.”

Odo harrumphs. “Your scowl was scaring away the crewmen.”

Kira leans with her elbows on the armrests. She might as well say it out loud. “Somehow I don’t think we’d be in this situation if I was still the same woman that just came out from the occupation.”

Odo gives her a long look. “I’m not sure I follow.”

Kira frowns. “I was too quick to trust Cretak. There would be no torpedoes on Derna if hadn’t been so accommodating with her.”

“Probably. But antagonizing her would have had consequences too.”

“Past me wouldn’t have had so many doubts about which path I should’ve taken,” Kira insists.

Odo chuckles. “I’m afraid past you wouldn’t have lasted one day as acting commanding officer of DS9.”

Kira twists her mouth at that. “And yet here I am, trying to scare away a much stronger foe with a handful of impulse ships. Sounds familiar.”

Odo doesn’t have a reply to that.

“So, Colonel.” Sisko emphasizes her new rank as he sits down behind his desk. Kira glances towards the baseball that has returned to its rightful place as well. Being once again on the other side of the Captain’s desk after so many weeks is dizzying, both an enormous relief and yet another adjustment to make at the same time.

Unaware of her wandering thoughts, Sisko continues: “I hear you’ve had some — disagreements with our allies.”

Kira sighs, and sits down on the chair in front of him. “You could say that.”

“Admiral Ross tells me you managed to outsmart our resident Romulan Senator.”

“‘Outsmart’ is an exaggeration,” Kira replies with a frown. “It was naive to believe that Senator Cretak had no ulterior motives in asking for the use of Derna. I fell into her trap, and I had to come out of it somehow. I won’t let another empire claim territory on Bajor any time soon.”

Sisko acknowledges her version of the facts with a nod, then leans in with his hands on the desk. “I believe the Romulans have received the message loud and clear. And you gained an insight into the way the Romulans operate, as well.”

“Or they just have gained an insight on how much the Federation is willing to risk to maintain their alliance with Bajor and control of the station,” Kira observes grimly.

“That may be true, but I don’t think we need to worry about it now. The Empire has tested the waters, but there are more pressing issues for all involved.” Sisko gives her a long look, then relaxes his posture somewhat and smiles. “I doubt they will underestimate you again.”

“I almost let them build a military outpost on one of Bajor’s moons,” Kira protests.

“‘Almost’ being the keyword here. They didn’t succeed, and now they know that crossing you is very dangerous. With the Romulans, that’s as much as a victory you can get,” Sisko concludes, his expression turning somber. “Trust me Colonel, you did well.”

Kira can’t help to smile a little at the Captain’s praise.

Kira bumps into Senator Cretak only a couple of weeks later, in Quark’s. She had been too busy scanning the thick crowd looking for Odo to notice the Romulan talking lively with one of her compatriots.

Cretak’s voice pins her to the spot before she can make a hasty retreat in the crowd. “Colonel,” she says simply, but her tone is impossible to ignore.


Cretak’s eyes narrow at Kira’s obvious hostility, but she keeps her voice pleasant. “I heard you will join us again in next week’s meeting.”

“That’s correct,” Kira confirms. It had been Sisko’s idea, that she’d resume managing most of the station’s day-to-day business while he was occupied with Starfleet’s role in the war efforts. Continuing the work she has begun in his absence is a welcome opportunity, but that doesn’t mean that Kira is looking forward to this particular reunion.

“I’m glad,” Cretak replies, and Kira bristles. Why, she wants to ask the Senator. Why are you pleased? Because you can trick me into falling for one of your schemes again?

But Cretak is waiting for her to speak, and the other Romulan woman is also observing her with some curiosity, green eyes scanning her from head to toe. With some effort, Kira unclenches her fists.

“I’ll see you next week then,” Kira forces herself to say. “Excuse me.”

She takes her leave without looking back.

“This situation is completely unacceptable!”

Kira stops in her tracks as soon as she enters the Constable’s office. Cretak is standing in front of Odo, back ramrod straight, more furious than Kira has ever seen her. Kira suppresses a smile; anger makes the small Romulan look taller.

“Tell that to your assistant, Senator. She shouldn’t have carried this blade on the Promenade, much less threatened someone with it,” Odo retorts from his chair, unfazed, then glances at Kira. “Colonel, I see you’ve joined us.”

Cretak turns toward her, her face a fierce, green-flushed mask of indignation. She acknowledges Kira with a curt nod, and Kira walks up to Odo’s desk.

“Mind bringing me up to speed?” Odo’s call had only asked for her presence.

Odo swings on his chair to address her. “I arrested the Senator’s assistant after she threatened a Klingon with this blade in the middle of the Promenade.” He picks up a long knife with an ornate handle from the desk, then looks at Cretak and continues: “The Senator disagrees with my application of station law.”

“That Klingon was drunk and throwing increasingly disturbing slurs our way. He had every intention of attacking us.”

“That’s precisely why he’s also spending some time in the brig.”

“Zetha acted in self-defense.”

“With a weapon that she wasn’t supposed to carry in the Promenade.”

“Oh please,” Cretak rolls her eyes, clearly not going over this for the first time. “On this station you force Romulan citizens to leave their honor blades in their quarters, while Klingons are allowed to carry their precious warrior knives without consequences. These are blatant double standards.”

Odo shrugs. “Not my fault your blades are at least five centimeters longer than the law allows. The d’k tahg on the other hand are usually within limits.”

“Do you know why your assistant was carrying one anyway?” Kira interjects.

Cretak sighs. “Zetha did not come into possession of her blade in the — usual fashion. Carrying it is perhaps more important for her than it is for the average Romulan.” The Senator turns her attention entirely towards Kira, her brown eyes glacial. “And I can assure you, Colonel, not carrying one isn’t a small concession to this station and the alliance that I’m making.”

Honor blades are family heirlooms, Kira remembers hazily from the Starfleet files on Romulan culture. Everyone on Romulus carries one and is trained to use it. Ritual combat is still an acceptable way to solve a dispute.

“Was the Klingon hurt?” Kira asks Odo, trying to not shudder at the kind of wounds those knives could inflict when wielded by an expert.

Odo shakes his head. “He was too drunk to do much more than trip on his own feet. He’s lucky he didn’t land on his own weapon and hurt himself.”

“Is he going to press charges?”

“When he wakes up I’ll be sure to ask him.”

Cretak’s mouth twists in distaste. “I can’t claim to understand Klingons, but I doubt he’d like to draw attention to his pathetic display. And I’m willing to forget about the whole unpleasant business as well, Constable, if you release Zetha now.”

“Senator, I can’t just let her go before I know what the Klingon will do.”

“I don’t want to turn this into a diplomatic incident, but you’re forcing my hand,” Cretak warns him, her voice menacing.

Odo smiles, mock-pleasant. “My job is to uphold the law. You can direct your grievances about the law itself to the Colonel here.”

Kira barely resists the urge to roll her eyes. It’s not the first time she has acted as a buffer between Odo and the many alien representatives on Deep Space 9, but having to bargain with Cretak of all people... And yet, not even Odo could deny that the Senator and her assistant had been the victims in this situation.

“Odo, couldn’t you just release the Senator’s assistant on the condition she won’t leave the station for the time being?”

Odo gives her a long look. “I suppose I could, if I had any concrete assurance she won’t disappear on the next cargo freighter that leaves the station.”

“You have my word that she won’t,” Cretak interjects.

“Your word isn’t quite concrete enough,” Odo retorts.

Kira can see a muscle jump near Cretak’s jaw. “Contrary to popular belief Romulans honor their promises, Constable.”

“Do they,” Kira comments softly before she can stop herself, and Cretak’s cold eyes are immediately on her again.

“Are you questioning my honor too, Colonel?”

“You gave me very little reason to believe in it, Senator,” she seethes, with the full force of her anger about Derna behind her words.

That shuts Cretak up, her frown deepening but her gaze still carving holes into Kira. Sustaining eye contact with Cretak isn’t an easy task but Pah-wraiths take her, Kira isn’t going to back down first. She didn’t do it under the threat of being blown up to pieces by Romulan torpedoes and she isn’t going to do it now.

In the end it’s Cretak who exhales, nostrils flaring, and turns again to address Odo. “Would the blade be enough to convince you that Zetha isn’t going to leave at the first opportunity?”

Odo considers the proposal, index finger curled on his chin. “She seems to care for this knife a great deal, I had to force her to surrender it.” He pauses, eyes flickering towards Kira for a brief moment. “Very well. I will allow her to go for the time being, and keep the blade.”

“I trust you not to lose it, Constable. I’m sure I don’t have to warn you about the consequences if such a thing should occur,” Cretak says, observing Odo as he opens one of the safes under his desk and deposits the knife in it.

“Everything in this office is under my personal supervision, and I don’t lose things,” Odo says, rising up from his chair. “Is that all?”

Cretak purses her lips, then nods briskly. Apparently satisfied Odo leaves, disappearing behind the wall that separates his office from the holding cells.

Alone with Kira, Cretak places a hand on the worn-down surface of Odo’s desk. The silence is still charged with the tension of their standoff.

“I’m not proud of the deception regarding the hospital on Derna, Colonel,” she mutters after a few moments. Kira almost scoffs at that, but then Cretak’s eyes are suddenly on her again. “Believe it or not, I wasn’t completely aware of the scope of that operation. But I did what I had to do.”

“We all did, it seems.” Kira doesn’t try to keep the bitterness out of her words.

“And you prevailed.” Cretak focuses again on her hand. “In my long career it hasn’t happened often.” She pauses, then glances sideways at Kira and continues: “I breathed in relief when the only option left was to retreat, an even rarer occurrence.”

Kira blinks, not sure if she’s heard the Senator correctly. Before she can put her confusion into words however, Odo reappears with a young Romulan woman in tow. By her long hair and green eyes, Kira recognizes her as the woman that was with Cretak in Quark’s a few nights earlier.

“Senator,” she says, as soon as she’s in front of Cretak. “I’m sorry.”

Cretak shakes her head. “You have nothing to apologize for, you did what you thought was best. And I’m the one who is sorry; I’m afraid I had to promise to leave your dathe'anofv-sen with the Constable, in exchange for your freedom.”

The woman’s eyes widen in fear, and she lowers her head in defeat. “It’s only for a few days,” Cretak quickly adds, then looks at Odo threateningly, “You will have it back very soon.”

Zetha raises her head, then nods. Surprisingly enough Odo doesn’t clarify that that is going to happen only in case the Klingon doesn’t press charges against Zetha. Perhaps Kira isn’t the only one affected by Cretak’s commanding demeanor.

“If that’s all Constable, I think I will go back to my quarters.”

Odo shrugs. “Further documents and forms will be sent to your office.”

Cretak’s face is unreadable when she addresses Kira again. “Colonel, we’ll see each other next week.”

Kira nods, and with that the two Romulans leave without further pleasantries. After the door hiss closed behind them, Odo talks first. “Interesting woman.”

“Who, Cretak?” Kira asks with a smirk. “I wouldn’t have guessed she was your type.”

Odo assumes the long-suffering look of a changeling who has had to deal with the solids’ assumptions for far too long. “She’s stubborn and clever, and wouldn’t budge one bit. Before I called you in, that is.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“That at the very least she considers you someone worthy of her respect. Maybe she even regrets Derna, because she yielded very quickly once you arrived.”

Kira frowns. “If she regrets it, she has a strange way of showing it.”

“She is a proud Romulan, and a politician as well. I don’t think you can expect an official apology from her.”

Kira sighs in resignation. “While you weren’t in the room she told me something like ‘I breathed a sigh of relief when I had to retreat from the standoff on Derna’, if I heard it right,” she confesses.

Odo looks at her knowingly. “I think she’s trying to make amends, Nerys.”

“But the point is, I’m not sure I want to forgive her. She took advantage of the trust I had in her to stab me in the back, and Bajor almost lost one of its moon because of it. I’m still not even sure she was ever honest with me.”

Ezri nods, playing with her empty glass as she listens to Kira. Talking to Ezri is a learning curve in itself, but they’ve been going out a few times now and Kira has missed Dax and her point of view. Not that Ezri would say the same things Jadzia used to tell her — she stops the thought right there. She’s had enough of her confusion about Dax.

“You don’t have to do anything, you know,” Ezri is saying, voice barely audible over the background noises of Quark’s. “You don’t owe Cretak your forgiveness.”

“I know. I just wish I could tell if she was sincere or not.”

“That means a lot to you,” Ezri says raising an eyebrow.

“Shouldn’t it? At least I’d know that she didn’t use me from the start, and that she isn’t planning to do the same now.”

“I don’t think you can find out for sure though.”

Kira almost groans in frustration. “What I hate the most is that I have so many more important things to think about. But every time I see her at the station meetings, or on the Promenade... it all comes back to me, and I’m angry all over again. Even if she regrets it, it doesn’t change what she did.”

Ezri remains silent for a while, turning around the glass in her hands. “You have the upper hand in this situation, I think,” Ezri begins, shooting a brief look at Kira before her eyes return on the glass. “and for a woman like the Senator this situation must be as uncomfortable as it is for you, if not more.”

Kira considers her words for a moment. “You’re probably right.”

“So it’s up to you, I think. You either do nothing or you can talk to her, to see if it’s worth to try to salvage something from your friendship.”

“I’m not sure it was ever a friendship,” Kira points out, “we’ve never been more than colleagues even before Derna.”

Ezri smiles. “But you care for her opinion, and you’re sorry that things between you didn’t work out.”

“She’s a Romulan, Ezri,” Kira retorts. “A politician from a violent, expansionist empire, as she proved with Derna. I can’t just ignore that.”

“I know. You still have the option to do nothing, and your mixed feelings will probably fade with time.”

Kira leans on the table with her elbows and lowers her head. “In the meantime I will have to deal with her on a weekly basis.”

Ezri doesn’t reply to that, and Kira can’t blame her. There is just no easy way to resolve this impasse, it’ll be awkward no matter what she decides to do.

“Wait,” Ezri suddenly bursts out. Kira raises her head to find her sitting straight, looking at her with wide eyes. “I get it. You like her.”

“What? No!” Kira says immediately, but Ezri’s expression is already turning smug.

“I should’ve guessed it sooner, but I remember now. The pointy ears, the greenish complexion — and Cretak is a willful woman with lots of experience. Plus she’s not opposed to learning more about other people and cultures, and has a sense of humor. But especially her ears.” Ezri’s grin gets even wider. “No wonder you’re so intrigued by her.”

Kira covers her eyes with a hand, blood rushing to her cheeks. “Of all the discussions between me and Jadzia you could remember—”

“Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. But I’m right, am I not?”

The question makes her head spin, and Kira has to take a long breath to steady herself. “I— never really though about it before. But I can’t deny that I find her intriguing—”

“— and attractive.”

“Ugh, fine. And attractive. But she’s still a Romulan,” Kira concludes forcefully.

“I think that’s why you find her so interesting, and no I don’t just mean because you like the shape of her ears,” Ezri adds quickly before Kira can protest. “She’s a powerful, proud woman that comes from a distant and huge empire, but here you’re equals.”

It’s more because of her eyes than her ears anyway, Kira thinks wildly. The stray thought makes her heart stop; Ezri’s intuition is clearly right on the nose about everything else. Kira closes her eyes, fighting the urge to throw her hands up in the air.

“This is so much worse than I thought,” she admits. “I won’t be able to even look at her in the eyes next time I see her.”

A snicker coming from Ezri’s general direction reaches her ears, and Kira opens one eye to find Ezri covering her mouth with a hand, trying very hard not to laugh. “What,” Kira asks.

At that Ezri starts laughing in earnest, and even Kira can’t keep from smiling for long — her situation is so absurd, the only thing she can really do is laugh about it.

When the moment passes Kira sighs deeply. “I guess I know what to do now. There’s no way I can allow this to continue, from now on I’ll just have to ignore Cretak outside of what is required from my job.”

“I’m sorry.” Hesitantly, Ezri reaches out to squeeze Kira’s hand, and she smiles at the gesture.

“It’s alright,” Kira reassures her.

“I wish you could just throw yourself into a clandestine relationship with a cunning Romulan politician, but that sounds like a plot from the novels Jadzia used to read.”

“That’s not too bad, considering some of the books Odo lends me.”

“Are you tempted to try it out yet?” Ezri suggests ironically, leaning in.

“Not one bit,” Kira replies amid laughters.

The latest alliance meeting has dragged on for hours, as it often happens when General Martok is in attendance. It makes Kira appreciate Worf even more. Anyone with such a long experience with both Federation and Klingon Empire and who is smart enough to be an efficient intermediary between the two deserves all the praise, as far as Kira is concerned.

She has been talking to Worf near one of the portholes in the conference room, in an attempt to draw out something useful from the unproductive meeting. Kira is too tired to be of much use and they’ve been exchanging little more than monosyllables for some time, but before she can excuse herself Worf speaks again in a low voice.

“It seems that the Senator is waiting for you, Colonel.”

Kira peeks over her shoulder. Cretak is sitting at the table alone, shuffling PADDs to give the impression of being occupied. Kira’s stomach drops.

Worf’s gaze is still on Kira. “Do you wish me to escort her out?”

“I— don’t think so,” Kira replies, uncertain.

“I ask because I know you’re not on the best of terms after the incident regarding Bajor’s moon. I don’t trust her.”

Kira smiles at Worf’s concern. “Believe me Commander, I don’t trust her any more than you do. But I don’t think she poses any threat, she probably just wants to talk.” She would have every reason to, considering the nonexistent results of the meeting.

Worf nods curtly, and Kira responds in kind before he takes his leave and exits the conference room. As if on cue, Cretak rises from her chair and joins Kira near the porthole, hands tied behind her back.

“Senator,” Kira begins. “I trust you assistant got her honor blade back with no further complications.”

Cretak nods slowly. “Indeed. The Constable seemed as eager to get rid of it as Zetha was to have it back.” She turns toward the black expanse in front of them. “You seem to trust him implicitly. I admit, I’d have had a much harder time accepting his terms if it hadn’t been for your presence.”

“You mean, because he’s a changeling,” Kira says, purposefully ignoring the remark about her.

“Yes. It was nothing more than an unfounded prejudice of course, but we are at war and I’m sorry to say I let that influence my judgement once again.”

Kira blinks in confusion. She wonders if the Senator is referring to Derna again; even with Kira’s attempt to steer the conversation towards less fraught topics they keep going back to that. This is exactly why she shouldn’t be talking to Cretak at all, but at the same time she can’t afford to be rude with the Senator.

Cretak saves her from having to come up with something to say in return. “Admiral Ross tells me Quark makes a good hasperat, but I’d rather hear the opinion of a Bajoran.”

Kira’s eyebrows go up at the abrupt change of topic. “Well— I wouldn’t say that it’s the best I’ve ever eaten, but it beats the replicated version easily.”

Cretak faces Kira now, the corners of her mouth lifted in a half-smile that doesn’t quite extend to her eyes. “I don’t suppose you would be interested in having dinner with me? It’s late, and I’d like to discuss with you a few things that came up during the meeting.”

Kira inhales sharply; the ‘no, thanks’ she should say is on the tip of her tongue, but Cretak’s expression stops her from going forward with it. There’s a hint of confrontation in her narrowed eyes, heightened by the starlight slanting on her brow and cheekbone. Daring her to accept, to see what could happen. Kira suddenly pictures Cretak struggling with a plate of spicy rolls.

“I’d like that,” Kira hears herself say, “and my presence should be an incentive for Quark to serve better food.”

Cretak’s smile widens, showing her teeth. “I’m sure you have him firmly under your thumb, Colonel.”

The Senator is far more used to spicy food than Kira gave her credit for, but she doesn’t mind. Cretak keeps her word, only talking about work throughout the night; despite Kira’s mounting exhaustion she discovers that she enjoys the challenge of staying ahead of the Senator in their conversation.

“Well Colonel, I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough about ship repairing schedules for one day,” she says, unceremoniously tossing her napkin on the table and leaning back on her chair.

Kira smiles despite herself. “I agree with you.”

“I won’t hold you any further, it must be well after 2400 hours now.”

“It’s been a long day,” Kira concurs, then adds: “but you don’t look tired at all.”

Cretak laughs. “It’s only a front, I’m afraid. I learned to dissimulate fatigue in the Senate; it’s not wise to let your opponents know you could drop out of the debate at any moment.”

Kira watches her more intently, and realizes that what she’s saying is true. The lines around her eyes and mouth are more pronounced than usual, and her posture a bit more sluggish, but she wouldn’t have noticed if Cretak hadn’t told her. Her eyes are as alert and bright as always.

“I’m not as young as I used to be, or you wouldn’t be able to find cracks in my deception,” Cretak comments with a smirk, then takes a sip her glass of springwine.

Kira sighs. “I’m sorry, that was rude. I admit I’m a little envious, I wish I could hide my feelings better. It would prevent a lot of misunderstandings.”

“I don’t exactly hide my feelings,” Cretak explains, looking into the glass of wine she’s holding with both hands. “In the Romulan Senate strong opinions and feelings are the norm. Required, even.” She raises her gaze towards Kira now, half-smiling. “It’s more a matter of not letting others see your weaknesses. I believe you have that almost down to a science already.”

“I take it you can still tell my weaknesses then,” Kira retorts with a raised eyebrow, refusing to acknowledge the backhanded praise.

Cretak laughs again, then empties the contents of her glass. “What I can tell,” she says, her stare suddenly so intense that Kira has to control the urge to sit straighter on her chair, “is that your weaknesses are also your strengths.”

‘Your weaknesses are also your strength’, such a politician’s statement. It tells Kira very little of what Cretak actually thinks while being sharp enough to catch Kira off-guard. Which was probably the Senator’s intent all along.

Kira knows rationally that it was just a phrase designed to capture her attention, but that doesn’t stop her to wonder about its meaning for days.

At the next alliance meeting Cretak invites her to dinner again, another defiant smile on her face. Kira can’t bring herself to say no.

“I haven’t seen your assistant around the station in a while, Senator” Kira says conversationally. They’ve exhausted any work-related topic for the night, but Kira is reluctant to leave the neutral ground of Quark’s so soon.

Surprisingly, Cretak lowers her eyes at the inquiry. “She left the station a couple of weeks ago, not long after the incident with the Klingon.” She raises her head, looking straight into Kira’s eyes. “To be honest with you, Colonel, that situation had left us both rather shaken. So I let Zetha go.”

Kira’s stomach sinks. “I’m sorry to hear that. The Promenade is usually a safer place.”

“It’s not about the insults and the confrontation, really,” Cretak replies shaking her head, “though it wasn’t pleasant. It’s more about what happened with Zetha’s dathe'anofv-sen. She’s not precisely my assistant, you see. I gave her that blade. By doing so I adopted her into my family, to use Bajoran terminology, though that’s not usually done on Romulus.”

“Oh.” Kira is taken aback by that, and at the same time wonders why Cretak is telling it to her.

“She’s been an invaluable help in the past, despite not being tied to me by anything more than a few favors I did for her, which she had repaid in abundance. Making her a Romulan seemed the only appropriate thing to do.”

Kira twists her mouths at Cretak’s turn of phrase.

“I said ‘make her a Romulan’ because that’s how my homeworld sees it, Colonel,” Cretak explains gravely. “I gave her a family name, and her honor in the form of a blade. That’s what being Romulan traditionally is about.”

“I’m afraid that’s not something I understand. On Bajor we don’t make these kind of distinctions.”

“It’s my understanding that Bajor had a caste system before the Cardassian occupation,” Cretak counters.

“It did.”

“Then Bajor wasn’t very dissimilar to the way Romulan society is stratified now. And upward mobility, especially from the lowest caste, isn’t very common.”

“So giving a blade to Zetha was another favor to her,” Kira retorts, anger already boiling in her veins.

“I told myself that I was just correcting an unjust situation, but part of me must’ve believed in my self-righteousness.” Cretak pauses. “Right until after the Klingon incident, when Zetha pointed out to me that I couldn’t just revoke her citizenship whenever I saw fit.” She shakes her head, like she can’t believe her own actions. “She was right of course, I shouldn’t have given away her blade, even temporarily. It was her decision to make. I regret my conduct deeply.”

Kira remains silent. She had no idea their encounter in Odo’s office had had so many repercussions, but Cretak’s point eludes her. Unless she’s expecting some kind of congratulation for having realized the obvious? But Cretak doesn’t strike her as the kind of woman who asks for forgiveness.

“You remind me a lot of Zetha,” Cretak finally explains. “You’re unafraid of challenging me, and you don’t back down, Colonel.”

The rest of Kira’s indignation melts away like morning frost under the sun. This, out of all the oblique praise Cretak has given her, is what makes Kira break her resolve entirely.

“My name,” she whispers, “is Nerys.”

Being Romulan, Kira knows, Cretak hears that just fine. “You may call me Kimara, Nerys.”

They’re circling around each other, Kira knows that much. There is just— too much history and resentment, maybe even regret between them, and there isn’t any solid middle ground to stand on.

It’s ridiculous. Kira should have put a stop to it, but even clinging to her justified anger at the Senator’s past actions she is still vulnerable to her. And yet, surrender is not an option. She suspects that even Cretak herself would be disappointed if Kira let herself trust again so blindly like it happened before Derna.

“Are you up for another shot at the Alamo tomorrow?”

Julian’s voice barely registers in Kira’s ears, preoccupied as she is with tracing the edge of her empty glass with a finger. She hasn’t really paid attention to anything that’s been said tonight. Perhaps recognizing her pensive mood, the others have mostly left her alone.

“I wouldn’t mind being Santa Anna again,” Odo grunts.

“Oh wait. Can’t.” Miles interjects. “I told Duarte to take the day off, I have to fill in for their shift. No holosuite for me tomorrow, sorry.”

Julian groans. “What, have they called in sick again?”

“No,” Miles says, half-laughing. “They’ve decided to drop the pretense. Now it’s just plain and simple heartache.”

Ezri snorts. “Theirs and Tagana’s is one of the most melodramatic relationships I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve seen a lot.”

Odi et amo.” Julian starts reciting, extending his right arm in front of him. “quare id faciam fortasse requiris. nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

“Either you’re mispronouncing that very badly,” Kira deadpans, “Or you’re talking in a language that isn’t in the database of my translator again.”

“Colonel, you wound me,” Julian replies, but at Kira’s skeptical glare he returns serious. “It’s Latin. It roughly translates to ‘I hate and I love. Why do I do this, you ask. I don’t know, but I feel it happening and I’m tortured.’”

“Describes Duarte pretty well, if you ask me,” Miles says, eliciting a round of laughter from the entire table.

Kira’s laughter is only hollow and short-lived.

If the others knew that I'm here and why, Kira thinks, they’d say that I’m crazy.

She is in fact in front of Cretak’s — Kimara’s — quarters, the PADD she clutches with both hands containing several last-minute changes to the ship deployment schedule that require the Senator’s approval. Kira was still in Ops when the news of a Jem’Hadar surprise attack in the Chin’toka system reached the station, and despite the late hour she has taken upon herself to inform Starfleet, the Klingon contingent, and now the Romulan representative.

The Senator is the last one in her round. It is a relatively urgent matter, but in all honesty Kira could wait until the morning and meet Kimara in her office. No one expects her to make house calls. At the same time it would be impolite to leave the Romulans unaware when she has already relayed the latest news to Starfleet and the Klingons.

Kira raises her head to look at the bulkheads above her, then closes her eyes. She wanted this to happen, to be somehow forced to pay a visit to Kimara outside one of their verbal springball games over Bajoran food. She jumped at the first legitimate excuse she could find, and now she can’t pull out of this situation no matter how much she regrets it.

She inhales and exhales a few times, slowly, until she is confident she can keep a steady rhythm. Then she rings the bell of Kimara’s quarters.

While Kimara pores over the reports and the proposed schedule changes, Kira can’t do much else except standing beside her and waiting while trying to not let her discomfort show. She didn’t know what she expected, but her quarters aren’t much different from the other ones in the guest sector. Kimara apparently has no interest in decorating, except for the huge metallic emblem of a bird of prey that dominates one of the bulkheads.

Kimara herself isn’t very different here in her quarters then she is during office hours. She’s still dressed in the severe clothes she usually wears during the day, and judging by the many PADDs scattered on the table behind her, she was still working when Kira rang at her door. Even the scowl on her face as she reads is already familiar to Kira.

“These aren’t good news at all,” Kimara comments eventually, raising her gaze to Kira.

“I know. I’m sorry,” Kira replies simply.

“For what it’s worth, the schedule changes can have my approval,” she says, returning the PADD to Kira. She hesitates, very aware of Kimara’s hand holding it, then takes it.

Kira really needs to get out of here. “I’ll inform Ops so the changes will be effective immediately.” She pauses. “Thank you for your time.”

Kimara shakes her head. She is uncharacteristically pale under the neon lights of her living quarters. “I’m glad you stopped by, I would’ve just analyzed communiques all night if it hadn’t been for your report.”

Kira remains silent, her own heartbeat so loud in her ears she can scarcely form a coherent thought. She should just turn around and walk out of this room. There aren’t any more scruples strong enough to save her if Kimara decides to call Kira’s bluff.

“Well then,” Kira forces out, looking directly into Kimara’s eyes, almost daring her to drop the pretense they’re both trapped in. “I’ll see you at the meeting.”

Kimara only nods. Kira turns around, legs like wood.

“Good night, Nerys.”

Kira bites her lips, hard. She’s tired of staying on the defensive. It’s never been her best tactic, not at springball, not in the resistance, not as the station’s First Officer.

She spins around and with a couple of brisk paces she’s right into Kimara’s space, who inhales sharply at the invasion. Kira hesitates for a second. Romulans don’t kiss on the mouth, a voice suspiciously similar to Jadzia’s reminds her inside her head.

Instinctively she grabs the left hand of the wide-eyed woman in front of her, then she lifts it up and kisses its back, then its fingers. Kimara’s hands are warm even to the touch of Kira’s lips, and her skin drier then most Bajorans. Kira glances briefly at Kimara, and she is rewarded with the sight of a flushed, utterly dumbfounded Senator, but not for long. Her bright eyes narrow, and she smiles.

Kira’s PADD clatters on the floor as Kimara seizes the hand that was holding it, then proceeds to kiss her palm, then her fingertips. A jolt of electricity runs down Kira’s spine, and she exhales a shaky breath. Her head is suddenly very light on her neck.

Kimara stops, and gives her a long look, pinning Kira on the spot. “You seem bent on confounding me utterly, Nerys,” she murmurs.

“I could say the same,” Kira breathes.

Kimara places Kira’s hand on her neck, and frees her left one from Kira’s grip to touch Kira’s cheek, then her jaw, then her lips in a trail so warm it feels like it’s leaving red marks on her skin. Kira closes her eyes, overwhelmed.

Romulans may not kiss on the lips, but this Romulan in particular seems to welcome her touch, and there is far too much distance between them for Kira’s taste. She draws Kimara in, her hands on the nape of her neck, and then she’s kissing her bronze-green skin on her cheeks, on her brow ridges, on the tips of her ears, while Kimara keeps tracing the features of Kira’s face. The texture of her skin, Kimara’s scent, the sensation of her fingertips on Kira’s face — it’s all so alien, so different from what Kira has ever experienced, and she just wants more of it with an urgency that leaves no space to think of anything else.

Their bodies pressed together, Kira’s hands wander down Kimara’s back as she keeps kissing her neck and jaw. Kimara chuckles lightly in her ear, her own hands moving from her face to her back, her sides then her hips. Kira shudders, unsteady on her feet; even with her uniform in between her skin and Kimara’s hands she can only feel the hot trail of her touch. Retaliation is required, so Kira bites experimentally on the pliant skin just under Kimara’s jaw. The deep guttural sound she lets escape is reward enough and Kira smiles, inexplicably pleased with herself.

“I think,” Kimara whispers in Kira’s ear, slightly out of breath, “we should continue this elsewhere.”

Kira just nods, not trusting her voice to work. Letting herself be guided to Kimara’s bedroom is only a small concession in the grand scheme of things.

Kira can’t say whether Kimara is actually sleeping or only pretending to, but either way she’s far more relaxed than Kira has ever seen her, almost peaceful. Her hair is hopelessly tousled, such an unusual sight for a Romulan, and the duvet only covers half of her back. Kira can make out some of the darker marks on her skin even in the low light; the memory of how Kira has left them there is enough to make her blush.

Sitting on the bed, Kira brings her knees near her torso then rests her chin on top of them. For so long she has wanted to catch a glimpse of Kimara without her carefully cultivated front, to see her unravel. She had hoped it might happen in front of a plate of unusual food; never in her wildest dreams Kira had imagined she could be the cause of the unraveling. Now that Kira has seen her come undone under her touch, she only wants to do it again, if Kimara will allow it. The thought alone almost compels her wake up the other woman and start all over again.

But Kimara is more alert than she thought, because she opens one eye and gives a sleepy smile. “Keeping watch?” she says.

“Sleep doesn’t come easily to me,” Kira replies, voice hoarse.

Kimara blinks a couple of times, then slowly sits up leaning against the head of the bed. “I assume that’s a consequence of the war against the Cardassians.”

Kira smiles humorlessly. “Not many people still call it a war.”

“Am I mistaken in calling it that way?”

“No. You aren’t.” A Romulan, especially a Senator, would know several words for it, all of them misleading. Occupation, annexation, conquest. Kira can only appreciate the irony of the situation.

“I have to go,” she says, swinging her legs on the mattress until her feet are on the floor.

“Nerys,” Kimara says.

“I can’t be seen coming out of here, and it’s getting late,” Kira replies, picking up her pants.

She hears Kimara sigh. “I don’t want the Tal Shiar to know, either.”

Kira stops to turn toward Kimara with only half a leg inside her pants. “The Tal Shiar,” she repeats, incredulous.

“I have no reason to believe they’re surveilling me on this station, but I can’t discard the possibility that one of my assistants may decide that I’m a traitor to the Empire if anyone finds out about us.”

Kira grits her teeth, finishing to put on her pants. “Then we do what we have to do, as usual.”

“Nerys,” Kimara says, her tone imperious, making her stop mid-motion again. “I’m not your enemy.”

Kira locates the rest of her uniform, then puts on her tank top. Finally she sits on the bed, with her back towards Kimara.

“Aren’t you,” she murmurs. “Haven’t we been enemies ever since Derna.”

She hears Kimara shuffle on the mattress until she’s at Kira’s side. “I can’t blame you for holding that against me. You have every reason to.”


Kimara raises an eyebrow. “I don’t believe you’d be here if you didn’t want to.”

How did that poem go? ‘I don’t know, but I feel it happening and I’m tortured’?

“I can’t ignore what happened back then, Kimara.” Kira begins. “And I can’t ignore what happened tonight either. So you see my problem.”

“I’m not asking for your forgiveness.”

Kira turns to face Kimara. “How can you be so calm about this! Didn’t you just say you could be labeled a traitor for sleeping with me?”

“I most certainly will, if rumor gets out,” Kimara corrects her, then sighs. “This is not as — easy for me as you believe. But as I said, I’m not your enemy. I’m not trying to deceive or undermine you.”

Angry tears are welling up in Kira’s eyes, and she grits her teeth to rein them in. “I don’t know if I can trust you, Kimara.”

Kimara stares at her for a long moment, unblinking. “You don’t need to trust in me,” she says eventually. “Can you trust that sleeping with you represents a huge risk to my career, even my citizenship? That any ulterior motives I might have are far outweighed by the consequences I may face?” When Kira doesn’t reply, she continues. “I’d like to believe that I’m being that much of a fool for a good reason, not some ill-concocted scheme.”

“And that good reason would be?” Kira asks, little more than a whisper.

Kimara smirks. “Why, a beautiful, fierce Bajoran Colonel of course.”

Kira chuckles despite herself, wiping away her tears with a hand. “When you say stuff like that— you always manage to disarm me completely.”

“Oh that’s good to know,” Kimara laughs. “I was beginning to think nothing worked on you.”

“It worked all too well,” Kira replies, then reaches out to touch Kimara’s cheek with her fingers. “And you knew that already.”

Kimara mirrors her gesture. “Perhaps I did. But I wasn’t lying when I said that you always manage to surprise me, Nerys.”

Kira leans in until her forehead is touching Kimara’s ridges, then closes her eyes.

“If you’re not my enemy, then what are we?”

Kimara’s fingertips brush lightly on Kira’s lips. “Allies, I hope.”

Allies. Kira appreciates Kimara’s honesty for once; they might be lovers now, but they’re not close enough to be friends. There’s a chance they never will be. For the moment, though, they have something in common.

That, Kira thinks, may be enough after all.