A/N: wow, chapter 24 already! Again, thanks to everyone who's read so far - - hope you're enjoying it. Also thank you to the Guest for your review - - I can't wait either... And I've got the feeling that we won't be waiting for too long even if it has been over a year or so! :)
Slowly, tentatively, she looked up. That was when she noticed that she wasn't alone. That there was someone else in the room. The cell. Whatever it was. The brightness of the room was beginning to make her eyes hurt, sting, water. Wiping away the sharp tears, she gradually began to focus on the figure – the owner of the voice – standing solemnly towards the back of the white-walled room.
They were moving closer, towards her. And she knew that she had nowhere else to go. She hadn't seen him in so long, hadn't even heard from him, despite her months-long search to find him. Yet here he was. She was delighted, angered, confused, all at once and yet not at all.
"No." The word was barely spoken, barely uttered; the word fell from her mouth, past the air. It hung uncomfortably between them, waiting, expectant. She backed away, felt the cold wall pressing against her back, felt the palms of her hands come into contact with the metal. She would've said something else, would've thought of something else, but she had nothing. She tried, started, faltered, failed.
He was still, silent.
"I don't understand," she eventually said, shaking her head and looking around. "It can't be... I just-"
"You never did." It was said so harshly, so coarsely, that she had a hard time believing who was saying it. It made her feel unwelcome, unsure; she hated it.
"What?" she started, barely even aware that she was talking.
There was quiet for a time and then he gave a short, low laugh. He didn't sound happy, however; the laugh was harsh, cold. It was so unlike him.
He took a step closer, arms folded behind his back. "I suppose that you've always had trouble with understanding, haven't you, Corina?"
She was trying to formulate responses, to ask questions, but she couldn't. she was frozen. "I— What?"
"Let's face it," he continued smoothly, beginning to pace. "I've done something with my life. I've joined Starfleet. I was fighting for a noble cause, for the Federation, for us!" He sneered. "And what have you done?"
He shot his hand up, held it there, silenced her. "I don't want to hear it. I can't hear it anymore."
Confusion settled on her face; it became anger. "What the hell are you talking about? Charlton, this isn't you..." she started, thinking back, thinking hard. "How dare you talk to me like that? How dare you blame me? It's your fault."
"It's my fault?" he repeated, spitting the question out.
She wondered if she should have backtracked, if she should have apologised. "Charlton... I've fought to get here. Wherever here is. This is a Starfleet ship, isn't it?" She'd never been onboard one before, but she, of course, knew what they looked like. The grey-white interior, the spacious design. The ship was travelling at warp; the streaked stars told her that. And yet the craft wasn't struggling; it wasn't jittery and uncomfortable like Bratif's ship had been, like the Cardassian shuttle had been.
"There's no point in telling you."
"There doesn't have to be a point," she snapped.
He pursed his lips; his face, which she had always remembered as being kindly and considerate, seemed wicked. "The… the Maquis… they've given me a purpose. A purpose that Starfleet never let me fulfil."
Corina took this in, or at least tried to. The ship's engines hummed, silenced only by the dull beating of her frantic heart. "The what?"
"Oh, you'll hear of us in time."
"Charlton, listen to yourself," she said, exasperated. "Stop with the riddles and the silly games. Just tell me what this is. I'm your sister. What the hell do you think you're doing imprisoning me?"
His silence infuriated her.
"If only you knew what I've done, what I've gone through. Do you know what? I'll enlighten you." She paused, ran her fingers through her hair. "I've been kidnapped, assaulted, framed for murder—" Breaking off, she glanced to the side, then down at her hands. "Do you know what I'm supposed to be doing today? Being tried. For murder. A murder that you committed."
"I didn't ask you to come looking for me."
"Oh, I hardly had a choice in the matter. But I didn't care at the time. You were my brother and I loved you and I was prepared to almost do anything to get you back. But now… now, I'm not so sure. You've killed someone, Charlton. And I need to know everything."
"This is about Gul Telok's son?"
The straightforwardness of his words caught her completely off-guard. She could only stare, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, at him, as he relished in her confusion.
"Glinn Tirol," Charlton said. "What a worthless soldier."
"You murdered him, Charlton. Setlik III. I know all about it."
He shook his head, came to stand right in front of her cell. It was him, it was her brother, but he was different. His gaze was wild and mean. "Then you'll know that Tirol was wounded in crossfire, crossfire caused when those damned Cardassians invaded our research base. When they aimed barrage after barrage of phasers and photon torpedoes on the planet. You'll know that their soldiers came by the droves and butchered more people, more of my friends, than I could care to count. They shot the men where they stood. They took the women."
Corina's heart was beating wildly in her chest, her lower lip was quivering. She didn't want to hear any more, but she knew that she had to.
"Corina." This time, his voice was stern, simple, not arrogant. "I shot Tirol as a mercy. The man was in agony. One of my men had fired a Cardassian disruptor at his chest; the plasma burn was fast, moving, destroying every part of his body. I took my phaser and fired it at his head. He suffered no more."
For a long, long time, she was silent. "What?"
"I'm no more a killer than you are a good liar."
A Liar? She frowned. "Charlton, please, let me get this straight. You didn't ambush him? You didn't-?"
"No, I didn't ambush him. The Cardassians were the ones who ambushed us. On Setlik III, I killed so many Cardassians. They were all the same to me. Just point the phaser and fire. It's actually quite easy." He seemed to notice her sickened expression, but he continued nonetheless. "But Tirol was different. You see, it's different when a man begs you to end his suffering, when he pleads with you to kill him."
"Part of you wanted him to suffer."
"A large part of me," he added swiftly. "But the gore on his chest and the shrillness of his cries… it was too much. I shot him as much as a mercy to myself as a mercy to him." He had spoken the words so quickly that they ran into each other; his hands were fidgeting at his sides; his eyes were wide and wild.
"I don't hate you, Charlton," she began softly. "I don't understand and I wonder if I ever will. But… you acted out of mercy and surely that's a good thing? I'm not a fan of politics and I resent this stupid war." She bit her lower lip, considered, looked away. "Nothing is ever straightforward. And I'm certain that the answer to this question is far from simple: what am I doing here?"
"There is no trial."
She didn't know what to say to that. Something that she had been worrying about, preparing for, for months. It wasn't happening. Dukat was lying to her. There was no trial. She thought… What did Damar know?
"I don't understand. I mean, of course, there's no trial if no murder was committed. But… why was I told that there would be a trial? That I would be on trial?"
"I'll tell you that, of course," he said quickly, perhaps a little bit too quickly. "And, Corina, you're free to go whenever you please." Saying that, he turned away; she would've shot her hand out and grabbed him by the arm then – and possibly slapped him across the face – if it wasn't for the forcefield.
He was now standing by the door, his fingers poised, hovering over some sort of a control panel. "But, first, I think that you'd like to talk to our other guest. I'd thank you if you could make the visit brief and preferably, final."
Charlton pressed something on the comm panel. "Bring him in."
Dread settled in her stomach. She saw the door slide open, saw her brother walk away. Heavy boots dragged themselves along the floor, their wearer supported by two dark figures. They appeared to be soldiers, with phase rifles slung on their belts. They wore a uniform of sorts, but it wasn't Starfleet.
He walked in. Or, rather, he was shoved in, the two soldiers holding each of his shoulders. He was thrust to the floor. His gaze settled on the ground; he did not even look up as the soldiers left. Before she knew it, Corina was rushing forwards, her hair hanging over her eyes. She fell to her knees, to the crumpled man, held his face desperately in her hands.
"Damar," she whispered, her eyes frantically searching his.
He was quiet; it was almost as if he hadn't heard her, or didn't want to hear her. But he had been waiting to hear her voice for so long, too long. And yet, he didn't want to listen. He didn't want to accept what would happen.
There was a still, quiet desperation in his gaze. He seemed detached, confused, concerned. It was some time before he lifted his eyes and regarded her.
"You mustn't say anything." His words had been so short, so sharp; she knew that he was being serious.
There was nothing that she could so that would help, that would make things better. And so, without thinking, without caring, she touched her lips to his. The kiss had been so brief, it was almost like it wasn't ever there; he felt the ghost of touch and it reminded him.
His voice was low, rushed. "Corina, you can't believe anything that they tell you."
She wanted to kiss him again; she wanted to be held in his arms. "I don't know what to believe." The Maquis. Her brother. Telok. None of it made any sense. "But, Damar, you're not yourself."
He was no longer swaggering, self-important. He wasn't the arrogant Cardassian that she had first met; he had changed, was more sombre, was more thoughtful. The change somewhat unnerved her, but she knew that there would be a reason. There had to be.
"You're hurt, aren't you?" Gently, she put a hand on his shoulder, the shoulder that he had injured in the shuttlecraft during its crash-landing on Pirithous Prime, then sighed.
"No," he grunted. "Not like that."
Her slender fingers still stroking his shoulder, as the pair of them sat on the white-washed floor of the unknown room, she smiled. "What happened on Magnus IV? What happened with-?"
"With Telok?" He noticed her confusion, then hauled himself up onto his feet, was slightly unsteady. He started to pace. "I know who it was. 'Borik' was just an invention."
But she found that she didn't much care about that. "No, Damar, what happened when he had you imprisoned?" She stood up, went over to him.
"It doesn't matter," he said, nearly snapping at her. He turned away from her.
His tone of voice, his aloofness, told her that it did matter. "I won't… I won't pry. But—"
"Corina, please, don't." Then it seemed as if he had turned away for good. He was leaning against a wall, using his arm for support, resting his head against his arm. He blew air through his lips, was silent.
"Damar…" She had said it so gently, so delicately, yet he didn't move. Gingerly, she took a step closer to him. "Please, we have to work together. My brother, he isn't right. He's acting strangely. And as for Telok, well, I don't really know where to start."
"That damned Telok," Damar spat, suddenly turning around. "Corina, I don't care what he did to me. It's what he did – what I think that he did – to you that angers me."
She came to him, took him by the shoulders. "What do you think he did?"
"Listen, Damar. Telok didn't harm me. There's no need for you to worry about that." Yes, Telok had come close, so very close. But he hadn't. For the briefest of moments, she had… but that was beyond her control. Damar didn't need to know that.
He saw her fierce gaze and dropped his guard. He opened his mouth but did not say anything. At that point in time, he was thinking of nothing else – not, Cardassia, not Dukat, nothing – but her, of her resolute mind, her beautiful face, her kindness, her compassion. She had seemed so small, so delicate, to him, yet she was holding him firmly, her slender fingers curled round his arms, willing him not to be rash.
As pride, desire, caught up in his mind, he relaxed, pressed a hand to her face as if she would fade away there and then. The room was bright but it may as well have been dark, unseen; they may as well have been alone.
In a moment, he had kissed her, suddenly, powerfully. He tasted the salt of tears and drew back, their foreheads touching, to see that she was crying. He had not seen her cry, but she was weeping now; he kissed her between each sob. She began to wonder why she was crying; with his hands at the small of her back, holding her, she had never before felt safer.
"I haven't got a trial," she said, hushed. "Damar… what are the Maquis?"
He seemed to falter then. He pursed his lips. "The name is familiar. They're terrorists."
Terrorists. She considered. She didn't want to be thinking about that now; surely, she didn't have to? It had been a week, or perhaps two, since she had last seen Damar but it could've been a lifetime. It was the agony of not knowing, of not knowing he was alive or dead, if that insufferable Telok had kept his word. He had. Barely. But it would not be enough.
She remembered her brother's words. Brief. Final. She had the realisation that she could lose everything. That she had got Damar back only to lose him again. And it would be at her brother's hands.