...the Lies

 

Disclaimer: Characters not mine.

Notes: Been messing around with this idea for a little while, finally got to finish it. For Froot, whose ideas on how to construct this meeting are very much present here. I greatly appreciate her read through and encouragement of yet another crack pairing, for which I have no one to blame this time.

It's now part of a trilogy Cheshire dubbed "Truth and Lies" and I've linked to the other two below and on the main page. (You may want to check out Chesh's first as it occurs before this, chronologically.) 

 

Especially the Lies

 

~~G~~

 

It takes days to corner her properly.

She's aware of my fascination, I'm quite certain. She doesn't like it. In fact, she has sidestepped two separate attempts to maneuver her into private conversation. She would be wise to realize how useful I could be to her. I believe she does. If there is a spark of truth behind her infamous reputation, she is probably waiting to approach me on her own terms.

Unfortunately for her, avoiding me is not a thing so easily done, even among hundreds. Especially among hundreds. Eventually, I pin you. When I do, you will squirm under my lens all the more uncomfortably for making me work for it.

She will squirm with grace, I believe. Rarely have I encountered any creature so fascinated with truths and yet so dependent upon lies. Such a specimen is a rare find indeed. I don't intend to let the opportunity to engage her slip through my fingers. The elusive bottles of kanar I had to part with to arrange a seat directly across from her tonight will be sorely missed. There is nothing like the bite of a decent kanar after a hard day's work to remind you of your roots. After the Dominion War, it's scarcer than my people are.

I do hope she proves worth it.

I'm civilized enough to wait for her to force down a few bites of the banquet food which she so valiantly pretends to enjoy, but that courtesy is more selfish than not. She has eaten nothing today. Considering the heavy work in a climate warmer than she is used to, sustenance is something her human body must need. Calling my restraint kindness would be overly generous. After years of suffering cold and bright light living among her kind, empathy does not extend itself so easily. Her circumstances add to my interest, perhaps, but little more.

However, I do prefer a half aware opponent.

Bite five is an excellent marker. Clearing my throat would warn her prematurely, allow her to swallow too swiftly, so I dispense with it. "I must say, I admire your dedication to those almighty Federation principles."

The low lighting in the half-finished meeting hall obscures the falsity of her politeness. "I'm sorry?" she pretends to mishear.

It amuses me. The ridges around my eyes stretch approvingly. "My dear admiral," I croon softly across our shared section of table, "if there is one thing I know, it's how to read people. And you are a person who would much rather be anywhere other than here. I can only hazard the guess that it's your love of Starfleet ideals that keeps you here in spite of that distaste for your surroundings."

"On the contrary," she denies immediately. Politely and firmly. "The rebuilding of Cardassia Prime is a humanitarian cause I'm happy to lend a hand to. Your delegation has been welcoming. You've made us feel quite at home here."

The latter may even be half true.

Leaning in serves several purposes, not least of which is to allow me to lower my voice to a most conspiratorial volume. "Like a true diplomat, your lips can be seen forming the words. On the surface, you even appear to mean them. Bravo, Admiral. And yet, for some reason, the sentiment somehow rings…hollow."

The smile is forced, the slant of her blue, ridgeless eyes one degree cooler. "I have nothing against your people, if that's what you're implying."

"A sweet lie," I permit. "One kindly meant, I'm sure. Yet a lie it is, nonetheless."

"You seem unduly convinced of that." She eyes me closely, an intensity in her scrutiny that strikes a familiar chord. "Have I given you some cause to feel this way?"

A server approaches our position, an intrusion which could not have been more ill-timed. He's one of Enok's boys: a gangly little nobody lacking the discernment to conceal his contempt for serving a human woman as though she were visiting royalty. She pretends not to notice, politely takes one small slice from the tray of steaming meats her own people replicated, and I send an acidic smile several places down the long table to Enok, whose beady eyes are upon us. His warning glower insults me.

As if I'd do anything to make our illustrious guest uncomfortable. Really, what does he take me for?

For dear Enok, I have only the warmest of regards. It isn't my fault that something as polite as smiling incenses him further. Even so, waiting for the boy to leave is an exercise in patience. Enok clearly instructed him to be as obtrusive as Cardassianly possible.

Finally, he moves on, and my inquisition can continue.

"In answer to your question, Admiral, of course not. You're far too accomplished a diplomat to give any indication of your discomfort among us. At least to the untrained eye." She regards me warily now, pretending to pick at her food and I smile another smile entirely. "Perhaps it's your personal history that makes me sensitive to what you cannot entirely hide."

The small lines a full life has put into her fascinatingly pale face tighten almost imperceptibly. She certainly stiffens in her seat. "If you're implying that the members of my former crew have anything do with–"

"Oh no, Admiral." My hand touches my chest, testifies to my sincerity. "That's what they think. I meant nothing so insultingly obtuse, I assure you."

Another shift. Another swift appraisal, this one deeper, and she melts back into her overly large chair. "Of course not," she finally drawls with less focused disdain than I'd intended to elicit.

It catches my attention.

There is something more behind her resentment than there should be at my preliminary needling: some intangible element I hadn't expected. Her pursed lips chide me silently, but the slight frown as she studies me is more than annoyance. I'm forced to search my memory of human expression extensively to find some comparable image, some analogous response.

Hmm. Perhaps I remind her of someone else. Perhaps unconsciously?

With practiced patience, she asks almost evenly, "And just what exactly did you mean, Ambassador?"

I'm not one. She would know it. The position I bought myself – now that my most prominent enemies have met their grisly ends at the hands of the Founders – was only high enough to rank attaché, and my pinnings tell her this. The deliberate promotion, albeit in that grave warning tone, is an invitation to circumvent the malice she begins to sense in my intent.

"Duty alone keeps you here."

"What gives you that impression?"

"For one thing, you've done all you can to avoid deep conversation with our delegates. Either you're well aware that none of them has any intention of conveying meaningful information for you to take back to Starfleet Headquarters, or you simply don't like them. Which is it, I wonder?"

Her laugh is self-deprecating and superior all at once: two qualities I admire when properly channeled. I do admit she has done so now as she claims, "I'm afraid that's exhaustion, not reluctance. It's been a while since I've been given anything remotely physical to do."

And I'm suddenly reminded why Starfleet had stopped just short at boring the life out of me. They circle endlessly, with so much less skill than they proudly attribute to themselves. Every point of conversation worth having with any of them has to be drawn out with rajitak pincers. To pry into the deepest workings and weaknesses of her mind, they'll certainly be needed, I can see.

Fortunately, mine are always kept sharp and in good working order. A good tailor is never without properly maintained tools, after all.

That she tries at all does hearten me, I'll admit. At least she's astute enough to realize that engaging me might have benefit to her in the long run. It won't, but it could, in some alternate universe of mes. As hard as she's tried to avoid me, I'd begun to despair of her ability to recognize useful persons entirely.

"A plausible excuse. And yet I believe I sense a deeper causality behind your lack of enthusiasm." Pretending to think about the words I've so painstakingly rehearsed is a natural talent. "Something…intensely personal in that aggression you're striving so hard to keep reigned in this very moment."

"If there's any aggression being reigned in, at this point it's situational, not racial," she returns archly, tearing apart her small slice of bread with her fingers.

I smile behind a prong of hasperat, the Bajoran dish many of us have developed a taste for – and a cheap one, most importantly. "Ah, then it's only me you find unpleasant. Is that it?" The thought delights me. Anger will rip so many unintentional morsels from those angry red lips.

The wine swirls choppily in her glass before she sips deeply from it – a cheap tactic I allow her, since she has so few at her disposal, considering her surroundings. I watch her swallow, the muscles in her white throat moving rhythmically, and I do confess it's a more hypnotic sight than I'd anticipated.

"I didn't say that," the ingrained diplomat in her rises to deny.

My eyes track back up to her face. In this lighting, her eyes are not the clear blue I thought I'd observed earlier. They're more a murky grey, studying me almost like a predator I see now as I note, "But you haven't corrected my saying it."

She still doesn't. Those thin, stained lips purse almost disdainfully. Perhaps the diplomat is not strong enough to still the independent streak the Delta Quadrant has honed in her.

I chuckle appreciatively. "Is it possible then that I remind you of someone, Admiral?" She almost chokes on the second sip of wine but controls herself at the last moment. "Judging from the intensity of your reaction, I'd say someone you've tried very hard to forget?"

I could hazard several guesses as to whom it might be. I might do so aloud and watch the betraying emotion play across those bare Terran features. I might watch her lose composure right here at the banquet table, for all to see.

And yet that would end the dance far too soon.

She did make me wait to pin her, after all.

The information she must know that I and I alone may impart to her isn't enough to keep her in the hot seat, it seems. Not yet. I allow her to pretend Enok's constant strivings to secure her attention have just become noticeable. That will not serve her in her attempt to avoid me. As a gesture of goodwill, all security details were left outside the hall – Starfleet and Cardassian both. The only people she knows in this hall are those two of lesser rank in her own delegation. They are not great personal friends of hers, I have noticed. Mere colleagues. She is isolated here.

In some respects, it's probably that which draws me to her as much as the lies. Her exile may be temporary but it is no less acutely felt. It's something I understand, and I already know what her next moves will be. Essentially alone in a small space with strangers she does not care for, charged with a mission that was based on an ignorant and faulty premise to begin with, eventually she will seek solitude in an effort to recharge. To reconcile duty with superior knowledge of circumstance.

I doubt I will have to wait and watch for that moment for very long.

 

~~J~~

 

Even the night air of Cardassia Prime is stifling. Inside the hall, it's several degrees cooler in deference to our delegation's preferences, and it was comfortable for a time. Yet the warmer air out here is far more refreshing now. Pretending to be entranced by the grey moon looming overhead, I lean against the railing and hope it's sturdy enough to hold. Not all of the building is fully completed yet.

Voyager is late. Chakotay would never have done that if he could help it. In spite of what I said to him when we argued over my coming here, he knows me all too well. He knows how I really feel about this mission.

Don't get me wrong. It's a good cause – assuming the new Cardassian leadership is being truthful about having learned from Cardassia's tragic, militaristic past. It's a big assumption but not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Everyone deserves a second chance. A third. A fourth…

That Dorvan IV isn't yet rebuilt shouldn't weigh so heavily on my thoughts. That parts of Betazed remain unrestored after Dominion ravishing isn't the issue, as I assured Chakotay when we last spoke. No life is more precious than another. No one humanoid is more worthy of assistance than the next.

I'm not her. I haven't yet learned to rate life on a nice, convenient scale. I refuse to assign value based on origin or DNA. I hope I never do. It's a good cause.

There are enough resources being lent to Cardassia Prime to make my assistance unnecessary. Picking me to head this delegation was no accident. The image of the most prominent Maquis loving Starfleet admiral toiling in the barren plains of Cardassia Prime is worth its weight in PR latinum – or so I was assured when I received the orders to come.

There are unfortunate side effects of no longer being the top figure in the chain of command. A death glare that was legend in one quadrant is borderline useless in another.

A necessity of separation in one quadrant is ingrained habit at home. I'm starting to wonder if some barriers can't be broken after all. It never seems the right time. Circumstances always work against us. And this mission sure as hell isn't–

"Reminiscing, Admiral?"

Damn it, I hadn't heard him sneak up on me. It's entirely the fault of my surroundings that I jump before I can catch myself. Unfortunately, though I avoided him earlier, Elim Garak is possibly the one man who may be willing to part with the true motives behind this delegation's acceptance of our help. He's the only living Cardassian to have a track record of cooperation with Starfleet, however limited.

The question, according to the research I was able to unearth on him, is how many lies I'll have to sort through to get there. How much time it will take, and how many mind games he's going to insist on playing before sharing anything worth my while. If he shares anything worthwhile at all. There's no guarantee that he will. I'd intended to seek him out once I'd cleared my head, but he's taken the opportunity out of my hands. That he's well aware of all of this is obvious.

I force a cordial smile I don't feel, slowly turning to greet him. "Just getting a breath of fresh air."

The lie amuses him, like everything else I've said this evening. "It's been a while since I've lived among you, but I do recall your species preferring the chillier bite of the indoor air? If not, please do correct me. There are a dozen diplomats inside, freezing their official rumps off on your delegation's behalf. I'm sure they'd jump at the chance to correct the temperature variance."

My smile matches his for sincerity. "We appreciate the concession. I was simply admiring the view."

As soon as I've said it, I could kick myself. The view of infertile soil and rubble, I may as well have said. That's all that stretches below us after the Dominion War. The terraforming will take years to complete.

My companion only smiles that knowing smile. "Yes, the view," he murmurs. "And yet in spite of the splendor of our surroundings, I sense a certain tension at my arrival."

"You're mistaken," I lie.

He takes a calculated step I don't recognize for the test that it is until it's too late and I've made the backward shift to compensate. Damn him.

"You have no reason to fear me," he assures, halting abruptly. "I mean you no harm."

Physically, maybe. My brow twitches in poorly concealed irritation. "I didn't say I thought you did."

"Your posture says it for you."

I relax my shoulders, raising the entire brow with deliberation this time. The research, unfortunately, seems accurate. He clearly enjoys pushing buttons. Needling. That he posed as a tailor is probably a cosmic twist of irony, I think now.

"I'm quite harmless," he claims.

I can't help but half chuckle. "Somehow, that's not exactly a word I'd use to describe you."

"Is it possible you've checked up on me?" he asks, his blue eyes widening in delight at the prospect. "I assure you, whatever you've heard about me, it's all lies. Especially the documented facts."

"I've heard nothing," I say, smoothing the front of the dress uniform that seems to absorb too much moonlight. Somehow, I feel too exposed in such a reflective color. Why did they ever decide to do away with the standard black and red? The old colors were much more inconspicuous.

"Then it's my heritage that disturbs you," he presses relentlessly, and I can feel the pulse pounding in my temple already. "Of course. I apologize, Admiral. I imagine my proximity in such an isolated alcove is extremely unnerving."

He wishes.

Before I can come up with a more witty, diplomatically appropriate response to that, he says gravely, "I should have accounted for that before seeking you out on the terrace. But you should know, Admiral, that not all Cardassians are violent and raping bastards."

What?

My throat going dry isn't something I've had enough wine to combat. It makes the words hard to project with any authority, but I try anyway. "I know that."

"I suspect you do." His scaly head tips, and dark hair glints obscenely with highlights from the overhead moon. "Intellectually, perhaps. But emotionally? Viscerally?"

At the moment, I don't like his eyes on me. I don't like his tone or the eagerness he's barely bothering to conceal. He's implying knowledge of something he simply can't know and I won't let him get away with it so easily.

"Why would I have trouble distinguishing the documented actions of individuals against the logical knowledge that not all Cardassians can be judged on one standard?" I ask coolly, calling his bluff.

"I thought perhaps that a former captive of my people might have difficulty with that concept. So many do."

The fused rock under my boots loses structural integrity. No one knows that. Not even Chakotay, for God's sake.

Memory is a fickle thing. I hardly recall most of my last few promotions; they're a blur, and yet twenty years later, every second of time spent in one small box seems etched in stone. Pain. A throbbing headache. The thick taste of fear lodged in the back of my sore throat. Cold. Listening for footsteps, waiting for glinting eyes to appear. Screaming – that hellish screaming that seemed impossible to distinguish from my own.

Blinking dispels unwanted memory. So does a deep breath. Or two. I'm damned careful not to make the intake of air audible as the floor re-solidifies below me. The righteous fury isn't far behind my regained equilibrium, and it's directed squarely at the man responsible.

If I didn't know better, I'd swear that was intentional. All of it.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," I deny – too late to be believable I'm well aware, but that doesn't mean I'm letting his statement stand.

"Oh, but I think you do, Admiral."

He looks too damned sure of himself. His eyes glint with too much certainty to dismiss.

A hiss escapes my lips. "You said you weren't in the Obsidian order."

"A vicious rumor I can't seem to kill, no matter how hard I try," he smooths delightedly, "and you said you hadn't checked up on me."

My jaw works painfully to keep my tone something in the realm of neutral. "Whatever it is that you think you know about something that never happened is irrelevant. The only thing I'm interested in discussing with you is this newfound cooperation between our peoples."

He wags a taunting, scaled finger. "All in due time, Admiral. You of all people should know that in this universe, you can never expect something for nothing. And there are certain mysteries I'm interested in sorting through first."

He's really going to make me do this. I can only hope he'll at least be quick as I grate out, "Such as?"

"Unconscionable as their actions undoubtedly were, I'm curious as to whether you can appreciate the favor my unenlightened kinsmen may have done you all those years ago."

That suggestion is disgusting enough to make me forget what I was denying to begin with. "You can't be serious."

"I am always deathly serious, Admiral," he intones calmly. "You were young then. Innocent. Naïve. I'm sure your time among us was unpleasant, but what is it you humans are so fond of saying?" His head cocks while he makes a show of searching his photographic memory. "What doesn't kill us only makes us harder?"

"Stronger." I probably shouldn't bother to correct him. It was probably deliberate. But it feels important enough that I can't help making the distinction.

"Yes," he pretends to appreciate my input, "stronger. That's it. And here you are. Something tells me that a second meeting between you and your captors would not have the odds so stacked in their favor. Who can really say, Admiral? You may even owe that legendary strength that allowed you to lead your crew through the Delta Quadrant to us."

The sick feeling in my stomach has nothing to do with the alien cuisine I hardly tasted. "They never touched me."

For reasons I don't have time to identify, I want him to accept this.

He's not buying it. "Forgive me," he says, his blue eyes shining with false pity. "Perhaps it comes from intimate knowledge of the mentality of the era, or from your own reactions thus far, but I find that difficult to believe."

I don't give a damn what he believes. But anger is what he wants, and that's all the reason I need to refuse to give it to him. "I'm afraid that's your problem, not mine," I tell him flatly.

"Is it? Are you quite certain of that?"

The shrugging of my left shoulder is almost natural. "Believe what you like. I've already told you nothing happened," I repeat.

His eyes flash. I should catch it earlier than I do, before he's able to deliver the next blow.

"Odd. That isn't what the report says."

He may as well have thrown a bucket of ice water in my face.

 

~~G~~

 

There is something so beautiful about open-mouthed shock. Each time I manage to inspire it, I come away feeling more alive.

"What report?" If her voice were any louder than a rasp, I'm sure I'd hear the warning tremor underlying the steel.

My chagrin at being forced to reveal the indelicate truth is carefully constructed, painstakingly portrayed. "Why, the report that details the abuse you endured at the hands of woefully misguided Cardassian captors two decades ago, of course."

It's the pin that impales her, and she cannot hide how keenly she felt the slice of it.

"Then the report is false." While she is regaining her outward composure, that pulse beating so rapidly in her throat is disproportionately enticing. I'd like to see how much more rapidly it can thrum.

Silence is the best pressure point.

"They never touched me," she betrays herself by offering again, the cut of her words harder and more precise as she continues to regain her bearings.

I lean closer, noting that her anger doesn't allow her to retreat from me this time. "Allow me to impart some very good advice given to me by a Starfleet officer once. Never tell the same lie twice, Admiral."

She scoffs derisively. "No Starfleet officer gave you that advice."

"Well," I allow a small chuckle of acknowledgement, "perhaps not directly. Still, it's worth considering."

"I'll make a note of that," her arch, cool words war with the heat of her stare.

"I don't believe you will," I chide, drinking in the stormy eyes that would scorch me where I stand if they could. "Nevertheless, the fact remains that Camet was a notorious record keeper." She holds her composure admirably at the name, only the subtle working of the muscle in her jaw, a single deepening of the line above her brow this time. "He was…detailed to unnecessary extremes. I'm sorry to inform you that every second of your time with him was documented in his private files. Only fractions of his journals remain, but your encounter was one of them."

She no longer pretends not to be infuriated. "I fail to see how this is any of your business, Mister Garak. What is any of this to you? Why would you care about something that didn't happen over twenty years ago?"

Her evasion is borderline crude, though I'm sure she believes it adept. Still, it allows me room to expand my study, which pleases me immensely. "I thought you'd never ask. Allow me to tell you a story, Admiral. It's about the legendary Brothers Elim. Have you heard it?" She says nothing, her glare unyielding, and I smile. "I'll take that as a no. Two boys, both only children, found themselves in the same class at the training academy. They were ideally suited as playmates. In fact, from the moment they met, they were inseparable. Both were named Elim, and both were well liked by their peers and instructors. They excelled in lessons, often competing with each other for top marks. They had the same sense of humor and were evenly matched in physical challenges. They became brothers in every sense of the word. It was so clear to anyone who happened to observe them, that from then on they were known as the legendary Brothers Elim. They rose quickly through the ranks of the military together.

"Elim A was eventually drafted into the Obsidian Order as a spy on the front lines of the Romulan/Cardassian War, while Elim B went on to command the deep space military division along the Federation border. They lost contact while they were conducting their respective classified operations. Sometimes, years passed without them speaking, but each time they were able, they sought each other out again. Their bond as brothers never broke."

I never take my gaze from her face, which captures so much moonlight and shadow. She makes no single movement throughout my words, facial or otherwise.

Taking her silence for rapt attention, reveling in it, I continue my tale. "Eventually, Elim B came into possession of two very foolish Starfleet officers. Officers who were stupid enough to be found alone, infringing on our side of the newly-expanded border. They claimed ignorance of the recent expansion, but our government was not so sure. These two prisoners were of great interest to the military and to The Order, as well. We'd had so few Federation officers under our protection."

"Is that what you call it? Protection?" she finally breaks to ask. The acidity of her tone is downright scathing, deliciously so, and I cluck my tongue disapprovingly.

"Not quite yet, Admiral," I chide. "I'm almost finished. We were delighted at the prospect of gleaning every kernel of relevant information from those officers that we could. Elim understood this. The two prisoners, one admiral of considerable age and one young female ensign almost too young to be so deep in space, were held for three days of preliminary questioning before they were rescued by their people. Elim B did all he could to foil the rescue effort, but he failed to prevent their escape. Naturally, neither the military nor The Order took kindly to such a catastrophic failure on Elim B's part. So, to kill two birds with one stone, as a demonstration of Elim A's loyalty, he was dispatched to see to Elim B's execution personally – do you see where this is going yet, or must I spell it out for you?" She blinks coldly, her silence disdainful, and I scowl. "The man you and your rescuers made me kill by escaping was Elim Camet."

 

~~J~~

 

For the first time this evening, I manage to withhold every hint of the reaction he was hoping for.

Now I know who he reminds me of. And I know why I've stayed here as long as I have, listening to the smug son of a Cardassian– listening to Garak weave his little web of lies. As sick as portions of this exchange has made me, there's an element to lingual battle that I've always secretly enjoyed. I find his methods distasteful at best, but as soon as I make the connection, I come to understand more about his motives.

The sparring itself is what excites him. The manipulation: the prevarication, the vying for verbal and psychological supremacy. Most of the anger he inspires gives way to something like dark amusement as he finishes his touching little story.

"Interestingly, I'd heard a much different version of that tale," I assure him as he waits smugly for my shocked response. "One that has Enabri Camet living to the ripe age of sixty-five – and perishing in the Dominion War at the hands of the Founders."

I'm no longer so idealistic that I pretend to have shed a single tear for his passing, either.

My companion looks crestfallen at my not falling for the entire elaborate lie, but he rallies with an almost endearing chagrin. "In my defense, Admiral, that one usually works on you people."

"'We people' also talk to each other, Garak. And we don't tend to fall for the same tricks twice."

"A credit to your pristine organization," he effuses, and my head is shaking in disgust.

"You've been lying from the moment you stepped out on this terrace," I accuse.

"As have you, Admiral."

"I haven't lied about anything important," I dismiss.

"And neither have I." He absorbs my huff of disbelief with remarkable energy, if anything excited by my response. "What I said about the report was true, Admiral. It does exist. You asked what it meant to me, and the real answer is…nothing."

"Then why?" I can't get over it. "Why make up a story like that? It serves absolutely no purpose."

"Oh but it does!" he exclaims. "One can't fault a Cardassian in my line of work for wanting to hone certain essential skills."

"Lying?" I ask incredulously.

"A skill as necessary as any other," he affirms too passionately. "As I'm sure you would agree."

In point of fact, I do agree – but I'll never admit that to him. I'm certainly past the point of being shocked by his capacity for practicing the art, and we won't be left out here alone forever. "Then if you've finished practicing, I'll warn you that if all this has been some kind of elaborate threat to use information you can't even verify–"

"On the contrary!" His widening eyes begin to show whites all around the edges. "It's nothing of the sort, Admiral," he assures indignantly. "Quite the opposite, in fact. I only brought up these indelicate subjects in the first place to assure you that there are only a handful of individuals who could ever find those records. No one present tonight is among them."

"And you would never dream of using the information you think you have against me, of course," I state wryly.

His smile is exceedingly pleased. "Of course. We both know that you can trust me implicitly." The urge to roll my eyes isn't something I bother to repress. "Otherwise, there are three people left alive in the galaxy able to access those records. I can promise you that report will never find its way into any hands that would use them for ill purposes."

Straightening is more habit than any sign of remaining patience. "Your…honorable assurances aside, how could it? It doesn't exist."

I've been convinced of that for some moments now.

"Because it never happened," he plays along.

I nod approvingly, almost have the urge to pat him on the shoulder. "Now you're catching on."

"I see. And yet shortly after this incident – which did not occur – Starfleet effected an abrupt turnaround in policy. As I understand it, your father, who had been instrumental at initiating opening talks with my reluctant government, was the man who catalyzed this shift."

I guess I spoke too soon about the fading irritation part.

"In fact, the intelligence suggests that Edward Janeway began to counsel the Federation leadership to regard us with open suspicion instead of the usual naïve charity he'd been so dutifully spouting before."

Pointing out that I wasn't the first Starfleet officer to be captured by the Cardassian military is something I can't do without acknowledging it happened at all. He knows it. I settle for folding my arms across my chest, for the tangible security of the smooth uniform sleeve against my fingertips. "Your intelligence is false. My father believed in peace above all else."

"Do you think so, Admiral?" Garak taunts.

"I don't think it. I know it." I do.

"I confess, I could understand his change in perspective. If I were a father, I would have torn the limbs from the man who had harmed my daughter in such a fashion."

This again.

"You have a one-track mind, Mister Garak. I'm afraid I really don't know what you're talking about. And I'm beginning to suspect you don't either."

"It makes perfect sense that you wouldn't be aware of his change of heart," he insists. "It's all highly classified material, and at the time you were a mere ensign, I believe. It's not as if he could share these classified materials with you. Yet it's no wonder, given that report." He pretends empathy in a softer voice, "You and he must have been very close to have made him abandon those idealistic notions about alliances and peace you Federations hold so dear. I'm sure it hurt terribly to lose him so prematurely."

It's been a while since anyone has managed to push my buttons so relentlessly – and to be so infuriatingly good at it. In any case, the moment he brought my father into this, he sealed his own fate.

"We were close," I admit candidly. "Very." My head tilts by a few calculated degrees as I study him intently. "It's a shame we can't say the same for you and your father."

Direct hit. His reptilian expression flattens immediately, the glinting eyes going dull. "We aren't discussing my father."

"We are now," I inform him. This time, I take the forward step. This time, he's the one who shifts back. "Did it hurt to lose Tain, Garak? The man who could never be bothered to so much as acknowledge you as his son? Did he even acknowledge you on his deathbed, or was that too much to hope from him?"

The smile he'd been trying to effect thins against my assault. The dig penetrates, finds fleshier target than it should as he crows, "Very good, Admiral. Very good! Not only to have secured the information but to unleash it so ruthlessly…you do your Cardassian interrogators proud!"

Ouch.

"But tell me, do you think your father regrets how stupid acknowledging you proved, in the long run? According to the report, Camet was very much aware of who your father was, and of his position as one of the key Starfleet intelligence officers assigned to mapping the Cardassian border while pretending to entertain peace talks. It played a large part in the treatment you received."

That flexing muscle in my jaw is all the encouragement he needs.

"So you see, you have only your doting father to thank for being so eager to see you follow in his footsteps that he gave no thought to the kind of danger it might have placed you in."

"The only danger I was ever placed in wasn't my father's doing," I snap back. "And I've already told you that that report is false. If it exists at all – and I very much doubt that."

He feigns surprised offense. "Are you calling me a liar, Admiral?"

He's calling me one. "Are you willing to produce the report and prove that you're not?"

"But what would that accomplish?" he entreats. "If I were a man willing to invent so bold a lie, surely I wouldn't flinch from fabricating the physical evidence to support it?"

Not in a million years would he flinch from either, and I've officially tired of playing this game with him.

"If you were to show me this supposed original report, I could take it back to my ship and examine its authenticity."

"And conveniently lose it before you could return it, leaving me with only inauthentic copies instead – an excellent try, Admiral," he allows at my acknowledging smile, "but I don't think so."

It's not as if I really believed he'd go for it.

His chuckle is warm, maybe even genuine this time, but I'm not letting go of this so easily. That report doesn't exist. That report cannot exist.

"If you aren't even willing to verify your outrageous claims, then what is the point to this line of conversation? I'm afraid I fail to see one." My tone would warn a humanoid of lesser stamina. I've reached my limit. Pushing me further with vague threats and innuendo of reports that don't exist will yield explosive results, and he'd better be ready to handle them.

"Only an old man's curiosity," he defers, wisely sensing my depleted tolerance.

I can't help grating out, "Curiosity killed the cat."

His eyes gleam. "The toskanar, you mean."

Damn him.

This time the intake of breath is just barely audible. The temperature of the room drops several noticeable degrees when my eyes slowly lift from the railing to his expectant face. "Enough, Garak. What is it you really want to know?"

He studies me through slanted eyes. "Perhaps I've recently been wondering just how long old scars take to heal."

Then again, maybe he sensed nothing at all about fading tolerance. Through gritted teeth, I warn, "I told you, I'm not interested in discussing–"

"For instance…you're unattached, I assume?"

It never ends. I can feel my jaw tightening, the growing headache beginning to pound in my temples from the constant pressure. "I can't see how that's any of your business, either."

"Your former first officer, then? The ex-Maquis?"

"No," I lie firmly.

"That's reassuring," he drawls. "You can imagine how disappointed I would be to find the contradiction of the great Kathryn Janeway is nothing more than mirror and holoimage."

I take a breath that is very much meant for him to see – a long-suffering one. "Do you always speak in riddles, Mister Garak?" I ask, giving up.

"Only in the presence of such inspiring enigmas as yourself, Admiral," he claims, bowing as deeply from the waist as a full stomach will permit.

He has a certain charm, a wit unquestionable when he chooses to employ it. Try as I'd like, I can't deny him that. The faint smile tugging upward along one side of my mouth concedes it. "There's no enigma, I assure you. Just a Starfleet officer–"

"Following orders, yes," he interrupts. "Inconvenient orders which steal her away from adoring fans in the heart of the Federation and banish her to the broken fringes of an enemy's territory–"

"Our people aren't enemies. At least I hope not."

A wave of his bored hand hastens my dutiful interjection. "Orders she would rather not follow, for personal reasons she would rather not discuss. Yes, I do believe we've covered that."

"Then we can move on," I declare, dropping my shoulders back to relieve some of the tension being held in them.

"I prefer to step back. You avoided my question."

Blowing air through my lips is something I haven't had the urge to do since last encountering Q. "Which one?" I ask flatly.

I've avoided them all. Most all. He allows another small smile for it.

"The question I'm referring to was a hypothetical one. I had begun to ask you if you were unattached. My reasons for doing so were less salacious than they may have appeared."

God, I hope so.

"I simply wondered whether any moderately attractive Cardassian, genuinely interested in your person, would stand a chance in any hell of gaining your genuine consideration. Hypothetically speaking, of course. And assuming you were otherwise unattached."

"I–"

Have no idea, is the rest of that statement.

The question stumps me. I find I can't even give him an immediate answer, because I have no idea what that answer is.

 

~~G~~

 

No. After a moment, the answer bubbles up from somewhere deep within. She controls it well, but I am a man who owes his continued existence to the reading of humanoids, and humans are no exception.

The realization disturbs her. Greatly so.

"I ask again, Admiral. Why are you here, if not to demonstrate your absolute loyalty to Starfleet?"

She rallies herself well, self-loathing for the recent revelation aside. "I believe in peace, Mister Garak. Surely you can agree that peace and the spirit of cooperation is always a worthy cause."

"Some of your friends, even those in Starfleet, would argue that peace is a concept we Cardassians do not understand."

When she folds her arms across her chest, readjusts her stance, the moonlight hits her quite differently. Quite strikingly. "Maybe I believe in second chances," she claims. "And in not kicking a man when he's down."

"Not kicking him and extending a hand to help him rise and face you are two very different animals," I point out.

"Are you saying that's what Cardassia will do if they rebuild? Stand against Starfleet again?"

"Careful, Admiral," I chide. "You're tipping your hand."

"I've played your little games. Now give me something worth my while."

She is delightfully adorable in this determined mode, bluer eyes holding me in place until I sigh. "Between us?" I ask, hearing the glib tenor of my own words between swallows. "Or for the presses?"

"The truth, Mister Garak," she insists. "If you can bear the concept, that is."

Calling her a hypocrite would only extend a fascinating interlude that must now draw to a close. "The concept, yes. The consequences, no."

"Then the truth is something I won't like, you're saying?"

Her eagerness, her single-mindedness – both are such exploitable traits. Yet again, we simply don't have the time and it saddens me. "Ah, but that is the thing about truth, Admiral. One rarely likes the taste of it. Is that not the very nature of diplomacy, at its heart? Wrapping truth in layers of lies in order to make it more palatable?"

She grants me the benefit of considering my words. "I…suppose it is," she's forced to admit but holds up two stipulating fingers and adds, "in part. I prefer to look at it as a means of preserving the peace."

Gods below, but that is almost adorably childish. I will give her that the contradiction between the idealist and the woman who went directly for my jugular when I mistakenly pushed too far moments ago is almost appealing. I have the urge to punish her for that. "Does that help you ease your conscience late at night, when you're tossing and turning in your solitary bed?" I wonder.

Her eyebrow rises, a prelude to her scathing retort, "Does it help you ease yours?"

"But Admiral," I find myself laughing, "why would I bother carrying around something so heavy and detrimental as a conscience? They're for the young. The innocent and the unevolved. Neither of us is either of those things anymore. To someone in our positions, sentiment is simply something we cannot afford to lug around with us."

"Speak for yourself."

"I make a habit of it. Sadly, our time is drawing to a close." My neck extends towards the transparent alloy of the hall windows, where the occupants can be seen milling about inside. "I'm afraid Enok has located you." She follows my gesture, sees the idiot starting toward us from the far side of the room, murder in his extended ridges when he realizes who is with her. "Shall we get to the heart of the matter, Admiral?" I suggest.

"By all means," she agrees, turning her full focus to me.

It may be the sweep of her hair. Perhaps the moonlight, or the Terran wine. Whatever causes my eyes to focus in the right way on her face, it's been some time since I've found a woman physically appealing. Since Jadzia Dax, in fact. With her full focus on me and time running out, I find the curve of her white, ridge-less cheek almost…pleasing. It's an odd sensation to shove back into my subconscious, but I do manage it easily enough. "Will you deny that your reasoning for accepting this mission was to gauge our willingness to change our militaristic ways?"

"You can hardly blame me for having some reservations about your peoples' claims to the contrary," she says.

"True enough, Admiral. Will you deny that it was at least half of Starfleet's reasoning for sending you?"

Only a slight flicker of her one red brow. Its arch makes me very aware of the white skin of her cheek absorbing moonlight again as she flatly admits, "No." Her head cocks. "Will you deny that you have no intention of answering my question honestly?"

Because it's the last thing she expects, I indulge her with the truth. "No. I'm afraid I've lost my taste for not thinking of my people's best interests first. Any whisperings I might have heard were unsubstantiated and most likely idle boastings. There's nothing I would share with you that will satisfy your criteria."

"Well." The tension recedes from her shoulders entirely for the first time as her chin lowers marginally. "I'm glad that's settled. This was delightful. We should do it again sometime. I'm not sure what your schedule is like, but never works quite well for me."

I can't help but laugh – genuinely, and her half smile may have a glimmer of shared understanding in response as she shifts toward the door, a shaft of moonlight hitting her profile just right. "If you'll excuse me."

The compulsion is a fleeting one, but powerful. Before I realize quite what I'm doing, my hand has aspired to sentience, has inexplicably risen to her pale cheek, and my traitorous thumb has grazed a gentle line down her throat. She slaps me away too swiftly to complete the line, and I stare at my hand even as I jerk back in horror equal to hers.

"What the hell are you doing?" she growls, whirling and ready for battle so quickly.

I clench the offending hand in my other fist, blinking rapidly to try and clear my head. "Do forgive me." My voice sounds hollow to my own ears. "I'm not usually given to acting on my…impulses." Whatever that had been, it had been stronger than impulse. I certainly don't feel the impulse to repeat the action as I stumble to find some plausible excuse for my appalling behavior. "It must be your Terran wine. I never did have much head for it. I'll withdraw myself from the banquet now."

Given my odd behavior, I can hardly do anything else.

"Yes. I think that's best." She's silent for a moment, watching warily for any move from me.

It disturbs me. I don't like that it disturbs me.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be of more assistance, Admiral." Another lie, of course, but the sad smile is, for once, not a practiced façade but the genuine article. "Yet in spite of myself, I believe I may have wanted you to leave my planet with the memory of one Cardassian touch that did no harm."

She would be a fool to believe that or any other word that has left my mouth. Still, she quirks a brow severely against the deep frown. "Sentiment is a weakness you don't allow yourself, remember?"

"So it is. I'll be sure to remember that, in future."

We stare one moment longer. And Enok has reached the terrace doors. His hands are on the manual opening handle, and she locks laser blue eyes on me.

"They never touched me," she repeats, a forceful whisper crashing with finality into the stone walls around us.

She turns and leaves the terrace, greeting Enok at the entrance, forestalling his inclination to stride past her and threaten me, and I leave the lie standing where it lands between us.

We both know that, where it mattered, they did. Otherwise, I would never have been drawn to her in the first place.

She would die rather than admit it aloud; I can't say that I'm filled with warm thoughts to acknowledge it either, but I and the woman disappearing into the too-cold reception hall have something fundamental in common. Like me, she has been made by, is dependent on, both truths and lies.

Perhaps, even, especially the lies.

 

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End Notes: Two of my favoritest writers, Cheshire and Nynaeve, have both added on to this theme. I loved both stories and am linking them here. I do hope that if you liked this one, or even if you didn't, you will read those two, as well!

 

Cheshire's Establishing the Lie occurs before this story and stands alone.

 

Nynaeve's J/C Nothing but the Truth occurs right after. I'd say this one stands on its own too, but she does not say that ;)