Duty to Cardassia Supersedes All – 3 - Closure

The necessary formalities were concluded within barely an hour as all procedures had, of necessity, been greatly simplified. In the present situation, no one had the time for complex research into the respective background of couples who wanted to join. That the Chief Archon knew Garak and Melset well was enough. Chief Archon Jenol gave her imprint on the documents, followed by Garak and Melset, then saved them in the couple's file. With a smile, she said, "You are now joined, are uniting two families. Serve Cardassia in unity, both in duty and in family."

"That we shall do," the couple answered together. With that, their union was formalized and registered.

As they walked through the corridor of the provisional building of justice, Garak quickly looked over at Melset; she had the same view of their union as he did: the final step of their cooperation which had developed into mutual trust and the wish to be together. In a few days, Melset would return to DS9.

"Every few months I have to come to the station because of my own negotiations," he broke the silence.

"Six weeks of home leave a year, they can be split up." After a moment she added, "Much as it was in the military, except that at SFHS, leave is rarely called off unless there is an emergency."

Garak did not answer, recalling that she had been within weeks of marriage when Kovar, later Renor were lost to her. We have both experienced painful losses; for me, Palandine and later, Ziyal.

In her innocence and her total acceptance of him, Ziyal had touched Garak more than he would have ever admitted. He suppressed the memory of their last parting which had become a final one because of Damar. This must never influence me. Melset is totally committed to her duty to Cardassia as am I, accepted her own losses like a true Cardassian, and is not responsible for her brother's deed. But the memory was still painful.

He did not notice her look at him covertly when she sensed his brief tension.

Unexpected Information

"Dr. Bashir, you are the only person I can ask about this. There is more to Ziyal than her friendship with Commander Kira, her gift for painting and that she was killed by Damar." Remembering Federation law, Melset added, "If you are authorized to do so, of course."

"The details that are general knowledge, definitely."

In the meantime, he knew the Cardassian woman relatively well. As a military, it was inevitable that she had lost comrades, seen countless battles, and yet for all he knew the information could prove disturbing so, very carefully, he asked, "Have you lost someone you … valued in the course of your career?"

The answer was even, "A fellow officer, two months before our joining, and another a few years later."

"Ziyal dearly loved Garak; in the beginning he tried to convince her that her feelings were misguided, were due to loneliness, but finally responded to her honest, unconditional affection. When we retook the station and she was not there, waiting for him, he came into sickbay and found her lying on a biobed. Dead. In spite of his typically Cardassian self-control, we could see he was devastated.

"Kira told me Damar considered her a traitor, executed her in front of her father," Melset whispered, not trusting her voice.

The doctor nodded.

"Do you have … visuals of her?"

"Yes." He turned to request access to the files he needed.

For a moment, she considered one of the visuals. That is why he looked so stunned when he came here the last time. I was wearing the same style of dress except for the colors and had chosen a Bajoran hairstyle! Physically, we are different, but it must have been startling

However, when she saw the visual of Ziyal, dead, she stared at it in disbelief, then, with a barely audible sigh, passed her fingertips over the screen in a caress before crying out, "Ahaï, Ziyal! Ahaï Garak!" in Kelani Cardassian mourning.

"What's wrong?" Dr. Bashir was surprised by her reaction.

"Look, doctor." She indicated a scale that, in full-blooded Cardassian females, was blue. It looked normal to Bashir. "No, here, doctor," she pointed at a barely noticeable bluish mark on the scale below. "She was…." Melset could not pronounce the word. Damar committed an unforgivable crime.

Their glances met, words were unnecessary. Melset knows, he thought. May as well address the fact directly. "Neither the Commander nor I have told him. We associated with Garak, but did not know how he would react to this additional loss. He is Cardassian, and your ways are different to ours."

"It cannot be done so directly," she agreed, "But at least now, I know what Ziyal meant to him." She turned to look at Dr Bashir, "It is best you know we have joined. He does not hold Damar's deed against me."

He was so surprised he could only say, "Congratulations," but nothing more as he could see the woman was perturbed by the information.

An Unusual Request

Some days later, Navri was startled to see the Cardassian female waiting for him just inside the shrine and was unable to hide his resentment. "What business do you have here, Cardássian?"

There was no reaction to his phrasing, only a calm reply, "There is a matter I must discuss with you; it is important to me and especially to my husband."

"Then go to your own people."

"I cannot! Vedek Navri, it concerns Tora Ziyal," her gesture of pleading was spontaneous, not calculated, that he recognized at once.

"Then I will make the time." Much against his will, he gestured at her to come with him. My fellow vedeks Serad and Yarim would want me to do this. He saw her incline her head and make a gesture of reverence when they passed the Orb. That snake has made the ritual gesture. Where has she learned that?

When they had entered one of the side rooms, Melset briefly described the problem, "Vedek Navri, it was my brother, Damar, who killed Ziyal because he believed she was a traitor. She loved Garak, and he did her, more than he allowed himself to admit. He has not had closure as there was no funeral ceremony, only a quick burial on Bajor, her true home, which he could not attend due to circumstances, nor did he have a period of mourning in either your way or our own."

"Are you sure he would have wanted this?" Navri couldn't help asking.

"Yes. We have recently joined, but I know without his telling me that he has not forgotten her, that the recollections are still painful. There is more." She hesitated, then whispered, "She carried his child, would have given him something I cannot."

He recognized the subtext, thought Who knows what was done to this Cardassian… then replied more gently, "You wish to grant him closure according to our ways as she was more of Bajor than she was of Cardassia." Navri added, "And his relationship with her would not have been accepted by your people, especially not as he is one of the New Cardassia's leaders."

A quick nod, "It is most important for me that he should find peace and healing; this is not for my sake, but for his alone."

She is sincere, is not looking for a weak spot or trying to ridicule our ways… "Let me consult the Texts as this is an unusual request."

"You grant me a kindness."

With slight trepidation, he gave her the ritual greeting, then watched her leave. Vedeks Yarim and Serad have told me she is as fanatic as all her kind, can be vicious, brutal and treacherous, but respects us and seems to have a belief system that parallels our own.

She went directly to Medana's shop and, after some time, came out with a carefully-wrapped packet with which she entered the shrine to place it on the table near the ritual brazier. Navri would recognize its purpose and provenance at once as the symbols for atonement and guidance were inscribed. How like our shrine in the underground city this is…. Melset did not notice she was being watched while she briefly stood in front of the brazier and, at turning away, made the Kelani gesture of worship, then smiled when she saw a reflection on the side of the brazier. Before leaving the shrine she said, "When he returns, I shall inform you."

Navri started, then came over to her. "How did you know I was watching you?"

"Your reflection in the brazier."

He risked another question, "And… the donation?"

"Many of my ethnicity who have preserved the Old Ways have this custom, an offering to the Bringers of Light, so I thought it appropriate."

A month later Melset was notified, "In two days. Negotiations will take roughly four days so we can discuss further procedure."

"I will be waiting for you." She added, "There is a matter which has to be resolved."

When Garak arrived, she already was near the air lock; they exchanged formal greetings then walked slowly along the Promenade before entering the corridor leading to the habitat ring. Once in her quarters he briefly pressed his palm against hers before settling on the sofa to tell her about various developments, among them negotiations with Ferengi scrap peddlers who had collected metal from ships that had been destroyed within the Cardassian Union's space. It was to be clandestinely transported to the Orias System, he gave her this information detail in a barely audible whisper.

Melset understood at once, but said nothing. There still were listening devices on station. We have to recreate our military power, or remain dependent on others even to our survival as a Union.

Garak leaned back and said, "Now, what about the matter you mentioned during our last conversation?"

"When you arrived on station a year ago, I was waiting for you; for some seconds you stared at me in disbelief, and seemed withdrawn for some time afterwards. Then, after our joining, on our way to the glider, you recalled something … unpleasant, were tense."

"Ah, have you trained to be a counselor?" Garak asked sarcastically, grinning, but his eyes cold.

She did not rise to the bait. "Garak, you know I am Kelani, you are part-Kelani through Mila, know a little about our ways."

His attitude shifted, became suspicious, nearly defensive as he waited in silence for her to continue.

"Tomorrow, go to the door next to the shrine and request access. This is a secondary entrance. Ziyal was of Bajor, so only Bajor can offer you closure and healing." She was apprehensive, yet spoke as though she was suggesting nothing unusual.

Garak's expression became derisive, "So your kind are still clinging to your primitive superstitions after all this time; my dear, the Lissepian Attack was over 150 years ago." He laughed, "Vedek Navri, of all Bajorans!"

"Listen to me, Garak." She met his eyes, saw he was irritated and explained, "I have found out about Ziyal, how she felt about you and … your own feelings for her. The Dominion War made a period of mourning impossible, there was no one you could trust enough to join you in Seclusion. When I lost Kovar, I at least had Medic Jeskor's company for a short time. You only had recourse to your Order discipline, but discipline is not always enough."

He looked at her, "How did you find out about this?"

"Order-trained, like you, and revealing my sources would mean losing them," she said with a smile.

His reply was contemptuous. "So, my dear Iníki, you think I need counseling to get over what happened? That I am weakened by the loss, cannot serve Cardassia as determinedly as before?"

"No more than I was at learning that everything done to me to force me into the Order was based on forgeries and lies," she hissed. "Did you join with me for the sake of my contacts on Earth and Bajor, or to get revenge, as you know of my status?" She called out, "Whatever I do, Elim, I do for Cardassia alone, and our union serves Cardassia!"

"So much is obvious. Your connections are indeed invaluable and you possess the flexibility and talent for obfuscation and pretense the Order values. Revenge is not my goal, and I even tolerate your Kelani superstitions as long as they are not intrusive."

"Cardassians and Bajorans have the rite of Seclusion in common, differ only in the rules. Neither you nor I had the time for this ritual, you because of the ongoing war, me, because I was a Gul during the Border Wars, could not be accorded home leave." In a low voice, she said, "Garak, I know you still miss her even after five years. Do this in her memory if for no other reason."

She really believes in this, for her the ritual is not only a custom, but a spiritual duty. Her negotiations with Navri must have been interesting… He nodded once, "You have arranged everything, so may as well see what happens."

Remembering

Early the next day, he touched the panel of the door Melset had indicated and was admitted at once. Garak could recognize that Navri was mortally afraid of him, but hid the fact well.

"You … are alone!" Navri said in surprise.

"Indeed. Melset said that her presence is unnecessary."

Navri disguised his unease about the phrasing. She is right; it is for her husband alone.

He only dimmed the lighting, as he had decided to forego the incense as well as the chant for the dead, sat down next to Garak and said softly, "I knew Ziyal well. She was gentle and kind, always saw what was good in everyone, even saw it in her father, Gul Dukat."

"Surprisingly enough, even in me. Kira and Dukat had warned her, told her the truth about me, that I had done things in the past that were horrific by any standards…. to serve Cardassia." Garak fell silent, closed his eyes, remembering Ziyal. "Her friendliness, her acceptance of me as I was initially made me distrustful of her motivations, used as I was and am to encountering distrust, hatred, contempt, and enmity. Only three aliens had become friends of sorts, but remained suspicious. Ziyal? The total opposite."

"She regularly attended services in the shrine. I wondered why she, a hybrid, was here on the station. Kira then told me about Ziyal's history." He appeared lost in thought. "She was very spiritual, was like Bajorans in that regard, did not let Dukat's contemptuous remarks about 'primitive superstition' influence her."

Garak nodded once. "She did what she thought was right. When we spoke for the first time, she revealed her strength, a strength formed in a labour camp together with Bajoran and Cardassian prisoners as her mother had died in the crash. She… had the gift of insight, recognized the true nature of an individual."

Navri inclined his head, "She told me about her time there, how hard it was to help the others support the conditions, of her wish to make things easier for the other captives; finally she helped her fellow prisoners by collecting water for them."

"That was her way," Garak said. "At first, we met regularly as we were the only Cardassians on the station. She asked me so many questions about Cardassia, was always honest in her reactions, and as for me, I…. gladly told her about the Union. It made me feel less isolated, closer to home." He hesitated, "Slowly, we began to trust each other, I anticipated our meetings and the contact, which gave both of us the feeling of having a home away from home. It became…" He could not bring himself to pronounce the word, not in Navri's presence nor in that of anyone else. Had unsuccessfully tried to deny what he was feeling even to himself.

"You need not fear this word, what it expresses. You learned to love her as you recognized she was a truly good person who saw beyond your past actions."

A mute nod. "When I left the station for the first time to find and save Tain, she promised to wait for me, disobeyed her father to keep her word to me, was cursed by him. Upon my return I found her at the Replimat, waiting." His voice trailed off at remembering her joyfully calling his name, then rushing over to embrace him in her happiness, a public display frowned upon in Cardassian society. I'll always be waiting for you to return. He swallowed at feeling his breath catch at the memory.

"Ziyal spoke to me about her feelings, said you were important to her, that she loved you."

"We…," He briefly fell silent. "I wanted to join with her after the war, in spite of the difference in age, in spite of her being a hybrid and Dukat's daughter. The new Cardassia that is being created will possibly be more tolerant and accepting than the old."

"She never addressed this, but trusted you fully, trusted in your sense of honor and of justice."

"When the station was taken by Dominion forces I believed she was safe as Kira was there, her father was there. But our parting was … difficult." Garak remembered her frantic embrace, her expression before she kissed him, her reluctance to let him go; he had blinked away tears before turning away to board the Defiant. True to Cardassian custom, he had not looked back to see her one last time. He was The Cardassian to whom duty superseded all else…

Feeling revulsion at the very thought of touching a Cardassian, Navri nevertheless reached out to briefly touch Garak's hand. "She often came here to pray for your and your friends' safety. Waited anxiously for every bit of news. In the end, she chose her friends over Cardassia, did what she felt was right, even though it meant her death at Damar's hand."

As if he hadn't heard, Garak whispered, "Everyone was met by family and friends … But Ziyal, she wasn't among them. I had an odd feeling, ran to Sickbay, desperately hoping against hope to find her talking to Dr Bashir or Kira…. But… she was lying on a biobed, lifeless." Suddenly he saw everything as clearly as if it had happened but hours ago, felt the same emotions of disbelief, sorrow and profound loss.

"A double loss, Elim," Navri said gently, meeting his eyes. "Dr Bashir and Kira knew, and your wife, being Cardassian, recognized the signs in the last visual Dr Bashir showed her. Make them no reproach for keeping this from you. They did so out of friendship and … love, not wanting to cause even more pain."

The Cardassian was incapable of reaction, only stared at Navri, stricken. A double loss… she was carrying my child. "I never knew. It was unexpected as she was a hybrid."

"To a Bajoran, I would say that everything, even final justice, is in the hands of the Prophets. For you, a Cardassian," he hesitated, "I say to mourn for her, mourn for what could have been. I'll stay here or leave; this is for you to say as I do not know the ways of your people. I only ask of you not to make Iníki pay for something she has not done." He added, "Whatever is said here remains here. The Prophets alone witness what happens and is said here."

With an effort, Garak replied, "She already has my assurance and we trust each other." He turned away saying, "Vedek Navri, … I would prefer to be alone."

Wordlessly, Navri rose and, at walking past the Cardassian, quickly grasped his shoulder in a gesture of understanding and acceptance, then closed the door. A strange, frightening people... never showing feelings in public; they are arrogant, vindictive, cruel, commit horrors on occupied planets, yet are capable of great affection and even love, place family above everything except Cardassia.

After nearly half an hour, Garak came out of the room to see Navri lighting the candles in preparation for the service.

"Vedek Navri, you are most kind," Garak inclined his head, "Be strong."

Navri answered the greeting with, "May you be guided by the powers you believe in."

Facing The Past And The Future

Slowly, Garak went to Melset's quarters; he felt slightly dazed by his experience and bemused by the fact that he had spoken to a Bajoran Vedek, of all things. But Navri had not been intrusive, was neutral but kind, had helped him confront what he had suppressed for so long. Iníki may already be in her quarters, unless there has been an emergency. He realized that he needed her presence.

At entering, he saw that she had already arranged her affairs for the next day and imagined her doing so quickly and efficiently. Still military in your habits; civilian life has not changed you. Fortunately.

When he went into the living area, he saw Iníki sitting in front of the terminal, relaxing over a game of Kotra. "I am back." She turned to him, nodded at him in welcome.

"My dear Iníki, wouldn't this game present far more of a challenge and be more pleasurable if played with a living partner who is treacherous, uses subversive tactics, executes unexpected moves?" He looked at her, head a little to the side.

"Indeed, but have you ever met a non-Cardassian who truly understands its principles?" She smiled at him, saying, "They play it like they do their own games of strategy."

"Then I offer my abilities in this and challenge you," Garak answered, taking the kotra board from a shelf and setting it up while Melset powered down the terminal.

After two games, Garak leaned back, "The session you arranged was most interesting, not unlike the first phase of our own Time of Seclusion. I could see Navri was uncomfortable, very apprehensive at facing a Cardassian, but he helped me face my feelings about that most unfortunate incident, told me more about Ziyal without being invasive."

Melset did not answer, there was no need to do so, but then he inquired, "Did you attend one of your own?"

"I have experienced no recent losses, only during the Border Wars and, of course, what we are all facing as a people, the loss of the Old Cardassia."

"When you had that dream during your first night back on Cardassia, you must have relived that experience, repeatedly called out a name. Oh, you were indeed giving orders, but I recognized…" he fell silent at seeing her expression of distress.

"After his suicide, I needed nearly a week of 'treatment'. Could not risk showing the slightest sign of weakness, not as a member of Central Command, not as the commander of the Orissá. Kovar and I met at the Academy, after the simulation, were together from then on."

"Tepek initiated that burst of static. Tain's orders. He spared no one, even joined couples were separated by all means at his disposal if either of the partners showed the potential to become an Order operative." And I repeatedly had to talk him into letting Mila live.

"How was your time at SFCCEI, with non-Cardassians?" Garak changed the subject.

"Difficult in the beginning due to propaganda, reports about the Border Wars and later Bajor, but some of the Humans who are now cooperating with me at SFHS, a Trill, Inari, whom you have met, later the Bajorans and Klingons stationed there became good companions, some even friends. That fact helped me perform my true duties by reducing suspicion and thus observation, besides making my time there more bearable." She laughed, "They even defended me, although I am well able to do so myself. The 'our very own Cardassian' syndrome."

"For me, life on Deep Space 9 was constant torment, the conditions, the distrust, contempt and hatred I unfailingly encountered, the isolation. I am a Cardassian, a member of the Order, but the situation wore me down so that even death seemed preferable to exile." He sighed, "Dr Bashir helped me through addiction, became a friend, Odo and I found common ground, and even Quark and I associated, strangely enough."

Very gently Melset added, "And Ziyal…."

"Dukat's daughter; had no desire to avenge her grandfather's death. In spite of her youth, she was strong, independent and yet vulnerable. She wanted to know about Cardassia so we often met as we were the only Cardassians on the station; soon we trusted each other." Garak could not suppress a smirk, "Dukat was outraged about our contact, wanted to kill me, but realized this would have cost him Ziyal's affection." He again hesitated before adding, "For some reason I'll never understand, she developed feelings for me, affection, even love in spite of Kira's and Dukat's warnings. When I was in her company my exile did not feel quite that bad; I tried to fight against my feelings, yet anticipated some hours in her company. When I left hoping to save Tain, she promised to wait for me, defied her father's wishes and was cursed by him for doing so." He waited for a moment, then continued, "Her joy when I returned… It was honest, gave me the feeling I had come home." Garak admitted, "Our last parting when the station was taken by the Dominion was… quite painful. I didn't know that this was the last time I would see her alive."

They sat together for some minutes, Melset thinking We have both lost so much. Our concept of duty is no compensation as we were often told. She said softly, "Turn your grief into anger, fight against your enemies, destroy them and thus derive both comfort and vengeance. We are Cardassians, accept all ..."

Garak looked over at her, "But some experiences cannot be overcome by obeying these precepts." His manner suddenly became that expected of a member of the Order as he rose, looked down at Melset who got up in turn, "Sentiment, as we have both experienced is a serious weakness that must be avoided."

"Indeed," was her response, "Our union is service to Cardassia alone, pooling our talents, abilities and training, sharing useful connections and reliable sources."

They briefly drew close and he pressed his palm against hers, then they walked out side by side. The past is the past. Our collective present demands our sustained efforts to recreate Cardassia.