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After three years, Ben liked to think that he knew his second-in-command a little bit.

It shouldn't even have been that hard: Major Kira wasn't exactly one to keep it close to the vest. She was more than willing to make her feelings heard from Ops to the outer docking ring if the situation called! Ben liked that about her; it was good to have a 2IC so direct, nice offset to the Federation and Bajor politicians he dealt with. He hadn't always appreciated the way Kira challenged him, at first, or how she went off with no regard for his wishes or Federation policy, but after three years he thought they'd found a way to work together smoothly. He knew what to expect. She knew how to balance her feelings with a modicum of protocol.

In short, Ben thought they'd fallen into a great, smooth rhythm, and even the daily chaos of running a hard-won Cardassion station on the mouth of a disputed wormhole couldn't perturb it.

Except every now and then Major Kira gave it her best shot to prove him wrong.

Maybe she saw it as part of her duties, keeping Ben on his toes. Reminding him that it's not safe to get too comfortable there at the edge of nowhere. Or maybe she just derived some sort of perverse enjoyment out of pulling the rug from under his feet every once in a while. Maybe she and Dax had a bet running: Ben wouldn't put it past either of them. Whatever the reason, the fact was that Kira was still finding new ways to remind him that this wasn't Kansas anymore, and she wasn't your standard Starfleet-issued 2IC.

Ben had learned to recognize the red flags, by now. The words "Bajoran political crisis", "former resistance", "vedek", "kai" and "Cardassians" came across his desk thirty times a day in news and reports - but when several of those words appeared in the same report, Ben had learned that Things were imminent. Usually bad things. Things that involved guns and shields and probably at least two loud arguments with Kira, if not three.

When he'd read the news that First Minister Kalem Apren had died, there'd been a tingle of apprehension. As he'd scrolled down and read that Kai Wynn was to replace him, that tingle had become a mild itch.

And when Kai Wynn came to ask Kira to go talk to her former resistance cell leader on behalf of the government, the mild itch had turned into full-blown hives. Ben casually asked Odo to run a couple of planet-side drills with the station's security officers, and mentioned to O'Brien to do a system check on the shuttles.

He'd offered Kira to take a security force with her, when she went. Her response had been about what he'd expected. No, with a side of "these are my friends" and "when we were fighting Cardassians" and "how could you even".

She went. She couldn't get whatever Kai Wynn wanted her to get, which came as no surprise to anyone.

He sighed. "Sisko to Odo."

"Odo here."

"Constable. How are those drills coming?"

There was a short pause on the other side. He could hear Odo's gooey brain wheels turning. Did Odo even replicate a brain? Or did he just take a human shape on the surface. "We've completed the first drill. There's another one scheduled for this afternoon." Another pause. "Is there a reason for these drills, Commander?"

"...No."

"This doesn't happen to have anything to do with Major Kira's trip to Bajor, does it?" Odo also kept a close eye on the proceedings, evidently. He'd known Kira for longer even than Ben had. Ben wondered if Odo had any insight into how things would go.

"You anticipate problems with that, Constable?"

"...No." The same flavor of 'no' that Ben had offered earlier.

"Very well, then. Carry on."

"Understood."

Ben picked up his baseball, turning it in his hands. Soil reclamators. How much trouble could there be over a handful of soil reclamators? Maybe he could try to procure another dozen from someone in the area who was selling them, and resolve the whole thing before it started.

Of course with how things were going, he'd probably end up purchasing new reclamators made of highly explosive irridium alloy, from a group secretly funded by Dukat.

Ben put the ball back and, with a sigh, got up and walked out into Ops. "Any news from Major Kira?"

Dax looked up from her console. She was also wearing her 'I anticipate trouble' look. It wasn't quite the same that Curzon had worn (Jadzia was the cause of the anticipated trouble slightly less often than Curzon had been), but it was clear enough. "She's gone back to arrange the meeting between Shakaar and Kai Wynn. Hasn't checked in since."

"Ah."

Dax's eyebrows rose."I haven't heard of any trouble in Dahkur province, but I could try to contact the authorities and check..."

O'Brien looked up from one of the other stations. "It's just a farming dispute, right? Even Kai Wynn can't turn this into civil war."

"I don't know..." Dax shrugged, "A lot of wars throughout history started over farmland disputes."

"And poor leadership," muttered Sisko. "No, old man, don't contact the Dahkur authorities. I'm certain Major Kira will let us know if there is trouble..."

Or at least, he was certain she would consider letting him know. Which was something, he supposed.


 

When the trouble in Dahkur province started, and Kira failed to check in hour after long hour, only to have Kai Wynn send a prickly message after a few days about "regrettable circumstances" and "misunderstanding" and "wrong message from the Emissary" because his second-in-command had run off to join the resistance again, Ben could say, in all honesty, that at least he wasn't entirely surprised.

Nine times out of ten he could guess Major Kira's pitch and react on point. And then the tenth time he found himself swinging at empty air.

Terrific.

When Kai Wynn came to complain after another week that she was having trouble getting Kira and her resistance buddies to heel, Ben was also not surprised. He was worried, because this was escalating more each day and it wasn't going anywhere good, and he was unbelievably annoyed at the short-sighted Kai, and he was a little spitefully proud at Kira's antics. But he was definitely not surprised.

When Dax informed later that she'd picked up chatter about the militia getting reinforcements and concentrating forces in some Dahkur hills canyon, he became more worried. He'd called again on Wynn to back down, but she was wearing her First Minister hat too proudly to give it up. She was ready to massacre her opponents, Kira included, and though Ben did try to contact the Dahkur province himself to express concern, it was too late: dozens of militia officers were already out on the manhunt and they couldn't be called back. For a while Ben became convinced that by the end of the day there'd be a bloodbath in Dahkur province, and civil war on Bajor.

And then the leader of the Bajoran government forces had contacted him to tell him that they'd reached consensus with the rebels-turned-farmers-turned-rebels-again, and Kira had asked for a security escort to the capital just in case, and Sisko had let out a long sigh of relief and let himself be surprised all over again.


 "Commander."

"Major."

Kira was biting her lips. She was back to 'what you see is what you get' - her thoughts displayed clearly on her face, her unease in the way she was gripping the communication screen, the half-apologetic twist to the corner of her lips. Why, if Ben didn't know better he'd think there wasn't a thought in his Major's head that he couldn't read on her face!

Ha. And yet here she was fresh off a couple of weeks of guerilla warfare in the Bajoran wildlands, and having just toppled Kai Wynn's government.

She hadn't even changed clothes! She'd put in a call to him the second she'd gotten to a comm station in the capital - which Ben might've thought a nice touch of contrition, if her scuffed, charred uniform didn't send him the message of "I'm aware that I've endangered my career and life, but I'm still willing to throw it all away at the drop of a hat and go right back to running around hills with a phaser rifle in my hand because something pushed my fairness buttons"...

Ben sighed.

Alright, so he was mad at her. He'd been too busy these last two weeks worrying and sympathizing and convincing himself he understood Kira, that he hadn't spent much time being pissed off that his supposed right hand had jumped head-first into a major kerfuffle without so much as a 'by your leave'.

He watched her shift uneasily on her feet, and he decided it was time to have this argument out loud, not just in his head.

Apparently Kira had decided the same. "Commander, listen, I -" She cleared her throat. "About my uh...well, my going into hiding with Shakaar and the others, I just - I want you to know, I didn't plan on that. It was a spur of the moment thing. Those militia men showed up to arrest them and - I couldn't - I mean Wynn was going to have them thrown in jail! For nothing more than wanting to stick to the deal that she'd made with them in the first place...!"

"I'm familiar with the details of the situation." Ben arched an eyebrow. "I've followed it with some interest for two weeks, as you might imagine."

"Right. Commander...you have to understand that I couldn't just let Shakaar and the others go down...they're my friends, and they hadn't done anything wrong! If I'd just stood by and let Wynn arrest them for fighting for their right to survive, I'd be no better than - than a collaborator! And I couldn't - it wasn't right, and I'm not going to apologize...!"

"Oh don't worry Major, I'm under no illusion that this is an apology."

Kira cleared her throat. "Right. Well - but I am sorry I left you like that. I know I have a duty to you as well, Commander, and to this station, and I didn't mean to take off without telling you. And I definitely didn't want to get you involved in any of this. If there's any fallout from Starfleet, I'll tell them that you had no knowledge of my actions-"

"The only fallout you need to worry about, Major, is precisely from the fact that I had no knowledge of your actions!" Sisko glowered at her. "Do you have any idea how much time and energy everyone on this station wasted trying to find you those two weeks? I didn't know if you were alive or dead! I had Kai Wynn asking me to send in Starfleet personnel to hunt for you-"

"What?!"

"-and I had half a mind to oblige her! I can't have Deep Space Nine's second-in-command running off with no notice to get involved in what almost amounted to a civil war, Major! Not to mention my personal feelings about this situation - I gave you leave to go comply with Kai Wynn's request, and you dropped off the face of Bajor!" You don't call, you don't write. He almost snorted under his breath. Somehow his anger was gone. He hadn't been all that angry in the first place, he guessed. He did understand why Kira had done what she'd done - and he was not fool to think Kai Wynn hadn't orchestrated at least half of it with great intent. A good part of him was satisfied that Kira had taken the Kai's plan and shoved it up Wynn's condescending behind.

If only she could do that without disrespecting her commanding officer and all her other friends in the process. "Everyone on this station relies on you, Major. I rely on you. And that means you can't pick up and become a resistance fighter all over again when it suits you."

She winced. "No, I understand, Commander."

"I need to know that if it comes to it, you'll be here when you're needed. Major, I'm not condemning your personal loyalties to your former resistance friends, and I understand why you did what you did, but I thought we'd already had this conversation before. I need a reminder that you can put the interests of this station and the Bajor-Federation relationship first, before your personal interests."

Kira frowned. It seemed he had reached the limits of her contrition.  "Commander, my duty on the station is to defend the interests of Bajor. And I believe that means defending the Bajor-Federation relationship and the people who've worked so hard to free Bajor and bring it where it is today. And that includes Shakaar, and Furel and Lupaza and the others - and it includes you, Commander, and everyone on Deep Space Nine as well. But in this case I wasn't just trying to keep friends out of trouble - I was fighting for Bajor's right to choose, for its right to a leadership that doesn't just lie to its citizens then use force to shut them up! I thought you'd understand...!"

Ben growled. That was the problem: she thought he'd understand, and he did understand, but it wouldn't have killed her to check in every once in a while, instead of just assuming he'd just trust her to do everything right and then come back when she was done!

"But, I am sorry," Kira hurried to add. "I wish there'd been time to talk things over with you. I -uh...I value your input, Commander, and I know you also want what's best for Bajor."

Sisko rolled his eyes. How generous.

"If you feel that you can't rely on me after this, I'll understand."

Damned if she didn't manage to sound both sad and mad about it at the same time. Ben scowled. There was only so much they could argue over a comm station, and his belligerent second-in-command looked like she hadn't eaten in a month. And beside, they both knew perfectly well that if he hadn't truly been on her side in this, he could've had Starfleet security digging up those hills and put an end to it.

"Expect a longer discussion on this issue during our weekly meeting, Major," he said wryly.

Kira put her hands behind her back. "I'll look forward to it, Commander." She was smiling at him. Ben sighed.

"Should I send Doctor Bashir down?"

"What? Oh - no, no we're fine. Nobody was hurt, worst we got were some sprained ankles and a lot of sunburns..." She glanced over her shoulder, "Commander, I'd like your permission to stay on Bajor another day or so. Just to make sure everyone's...on the same page, with the elections and the reclamators and everything."

It was nice that she was asking. Ben wondered what she'd do if he said no. He honestly had no idea. But it didn't matter, because they both knew he'd say yes, just like they both knew he'd been on her side on it all along. "You have another couple days of your personal leave left, I believe. After which I expect to see you back on this station. And Major." He waited for a beat. "If you wouldn't mind regular check-ins until then. Just to make sure we're on the same page."

Expiation,he decided. She could deal with making a two-minute call a couple of times a day, if he'd dealt with two weeks of her going AWOL.

And it'd keep Kai Wynn from further acrobatics,he supposed. Whatever the Kai said, she'd sent those men to arrest Shakaar knowing that Kira was still there, and Ben guessed Kira's response to her little power game hadn't endeared the Major to her any.

"Understood, Commander."

"And tell Mr. Shakaar congratulations on his nomination for the post of First Minister. I wish him the best of luck with the election."

Kira smiled. "I'll let him know."

"And tell him he'd better look elsewhere when he's forming his new government." He reached for the screen. "You've already got a job. Sisko out."

He ended the call on Kira's surprised laugh. Nice to know she couldn't anticipate him all the time, either.

He'd have to think some more on how to discuss what had happened with her. There were a lot of factors there. But, he supposed, at the end of the day she was right about one thing: they did both want what was best for Bajor, and after all this time they wanted what was best for the other, too. They just had to iron out the kinks, for the rest.

And he was serious about Shakaar looking for help elsewhere. Not that Ben thought Kira would take a government job (see, he knew her well enough by now to trust that she wanted to be on Deep Space Nine, occasional AWOLs notwithstanding) but First Ministers, as he'd learned, wielded a lot of power. So he figured he'd warn Shakaar early. Go find your trusted advisors elsewhere, buddy. Ben intended to keep his, kinks and all.

The door chimed. "Come." Quark. Ben's eyebrows rose. This should be good. "What can I do for you, Mr. Quark?"

"Commander...I heard there were news from Major Kira. Is she alright? What happened with the militia...?"

Hm. "Major Kira and Mr. Shakaar reached an agreement with the head of the government forces. The manhunt is over."

"Excellent! And - the soil reclamators?"

"Are you running another betting pool?"

Quark shrugged. "People want to bet, who am I to stop them? I got odds three-to-one on the reclamators going to Rekantha province, and two-to-one that they stay in Dahkur. And then there's the pool about the Bajoran elections..."

Ben sighed. "How do you run a betting pool on an election with an unopposed candidate, Mr. Quark?"

"Pfft. Please." Quark waved a hand, "I've had Shakaar in the betting pool from the second Kai Wynn sent Kira to talk to him. Well it was obviously the easiest choice! Major Kira wanted someone to oppose Wynn, and Shakaar is popular with most Bajorans from the resistance days...Ah, he had it in his pocket before he even ran for it." He waved a hand again, "Now about those soil reclamators, now there's a real race..."