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Unguarded Doors

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Stardate: 48315.6

The man who walks through her door is not the man she remembers. Too much colour, she thinks at first. The blue of his overshirt is garish against the brown of his vest, utterly alien to the memory of the lifeless uniform greys and blacks he’d always sported with a smile. The next thing to come up at odds with her memory is the rest of the outward dressings — gone is the greyish complexion, layers of scales and hard ridges of cartilage. Now, there is an abundance of smooth, unmarred skin to replace it, boasting the glow of peaches and cream with a falsified pride. An outrageous mane of blond curls crowns his head, and it’s a marvellous touch, she thinks.

The segmented nose and slicked-back ears does wonders to further the illusion, but as soon as he turns her way, leaving Chakotay and Tuvok by the door, she can’t help how every length of muscle in her body pulls. An involuntary reaction to that manic glint, she knows. The PADD clinks to the table top before her. Her fingers curl around the edge of the desk. She raises a single brow at the wide-eyed smile she sees, and steels herself for the confrontation ahead. 

"Garak, Elim. Bajoran, male. Age: Thirty-eight." She folds her hands and tucks them beneath her chin. "Liar." 

“My dear Kathr—! Captain Janeway. My, how far you’ve come. I'm honestly flattered that you should remember me."

“Well… I honestly thought this day couldn’t get any worse,” she manages to grouse back, and those too-blue eyes flash in… what she’d forgotten is veiled respect.

By the bust of Odysseus, her newly-minted first officer shifts as though his new boots are too tight, and even Tuvok reacts to the unease. Chakotay’s confusion is evident, and a sense of pity surfaces for him — not only was he plagued with a Starfleet operative aboard his ship, but a Cardassian one as well. It is unfortunate she has to break the news to him like a glass vase over the head.

But, maybe, she can ease it to him somehow — bludgeon him with the gentle hand of a caring Captain.

“Commander, Lieutenant. If you don’t mind, I’d like a word with Mister Garak, alone.” She gestures to the door, but it seems neither men are willing to exit without a tailored, bespoke order for each of them. Tuvok eyes the interloper with an intensity that is uncommon for him, but it is Chakotay who speaks.

“I’m sorry Captain, but I was Garak’s commanding officer. If you’re going to question him, I think I have the right to remain.”

And there it is, the passion of a devoted man, loyal to a fault for a cause he believes in. The trait of a good commanding officer — every man, woman and child under his care will be looked after. The words written on his service record stand before her in person. She admires his tenacity, really… But he’s only making this harder on her, and for himself.

Yet, that look of steadfast resolve steals the breath from her lips before she can give the order. Maybe it would be best to not ease the vase, rather just get it over and done with — club him with the news before he has time to register the anticipation. Maybe that is how it will be between her new first officer and herself — no lies, no secrets, no attempts to save the other from pain.

Very well, then.

“Alright, Commander. I was hoping I could make this eas—"

“Thank you, Commander.” She isn’t expecting Garak to cut in. But cut in he does; he turns, a note of seriousness gripping him as he dips his head. “But I believe it would be best if the dear Captain and I were to discuss this in private first.”

It’s obvious Chakotay doesn’t know what to make of that — is it a flash of betrayal she sees on his broad face, or another bout of confusion? Whatever it is, it’s short-lived.

“Fine. Suit yourself then, Garak. Captain.” A brusque note colours his capitulation, and Chakotay is soon nothing more than a pillar of angry red and black disappearing back onto the bridge. Her chief of security lingers though, his gaze still plastered on the newest security risk onboard. While Garak’s all-knowing smile is an arresting sight, Janeway manages to win the Vulcan’s gaze. And while he does hesitate to do so, he finally leaves at her raised hand of dismissal.

The closing hiss of the door seems to cast her current situation in a new light — while she doesn’t recognise the mop of blond curls, the slope of his spine and the broad shoulders are an all-too-familiar sight. In the slow moment it takes for Garak to turn back to her desk, she immediately begins to second guess her decision to hold this conversation here and now, and in the absence of an armed security officer. Blue meets blue with a burning challenge. God, after all this time, she’s still trusting enough to lock herself in behind closed-doors with this man.

Yet, she has to face him, demand the truth and assess his agenda. She knows this, he knows this. Now comes the game.

“To think, I almost feel bad for the Commander. I think I do have the beginnings of respect for the man — delusional, suffers from a debilitating hero complex; too trusting, and rather naive. Yet, somehow…”

Janeway shakes her head, resisting the urge to drop her forehead to her awaiting hands. “I’m sure he’d be glad to know you think so highly of him.” She groans, feeling the edges of her mind beginning to rear up in arms... Not now

“Now, Tuvok though…” Garak backs away from her desk, and begins the task of pacing the expanse of her ready room. He taps a finger against his chin with every step he takes. "He did surprise me, I must say. I really did believe I was in trouble when I stepped foot in Chakotay's little band of rebels, only to find myself standing toe-to-toe with your precious Lieutenant. I honestly thought he'd recognise me — but then I realised, I'd heard everything there was to know about him, but he, nothing about me." He stops by her bonsai plant to inspect the wilted leaves beneath the green. Another grin is shot her way as his head tilts to that familiar, haughty angle. "Starfleet really did do everything to keep that little secret, didn't they?" 

She frowns, ignoring the hot needle that pricks at her temples. “Tell me. Was it a last minute change of heart? Or did you get tired of the chauvinistic lifestyle?”

"My dear Kathr— Captain. I really have no idea as to what you could be suggesting." 

“Mister Garak, I don’t have the patience for games today.” The steel in her voice holds him for a beat, and he finally leaves her bonsai alone. 

“Oh, that is a shame. Though, wholly understandable with what has transgressed.” He smiles. She doesn't. "What a dilemma... Are you sure you made the right choice?" 

“Tell me. How long have you been operating out of Chakotay’s cell?” She plants her hands on the flat, cool surface of her desk, resolute in her desire to not give him an inch. He sees her display, and the smile twitches.

"Oh, not that long, I’m afraid. I’m fairly new to the terrorist lifestyle.”

“What are you doing with the Maquis, Garak?”

They are playing this game, and neither of them are willing to give in first. And somehow, she just knows he's relishing in this. Even with the change of face, it is still written in every laugh line and the unrelenting whites of his eyes.  “Isn’t it obvious? Oh come now, Kathryn. There is no possible way the past fifteen years have dulled your mind that badly.”

“No, you’re right." She arches a well-manicured brow. "I must say, you look remarkably different to the last time I saw you. The surgeons employed by the Obsidian Order have surely outdone themselves this time. You make a rather dashing Bajoran.”

Garak, to his credit, has the graciousness to look somewhat abashed at that. “Thank you.” The red flooding his cheeks is intriguing. "Though personally, I think they outdid themselves a bit too much with the blond hair." 

Janeway breaks a smile. "Yes, that is quite jarring, but rather effective. Whoever was in charge of the cosmetic touches must surely have earned themselves some sort of congratulations." She pauses, and finally rises from her desk. "It's far more convincing than what they managed last time." 

"Yes. I'd have to agree." 

She paces to her replicator, passing him on the way up. Garak allows her to glide pass without encroaching on her personal space (decidedly an improvement), and she intends to use the distraction of the replicator to give herself the time to think. 

"Coffee, black. And one red leaf tea, spiced." 

The replicator whirs to life, fabricating the beverages... and the scorching hot mugs to accompany. "Hss!" She snaps her hands back, sucking away the burning pain between pursed lips as she eyes the traitorous cups. 

"Kathryn? Are you alright?" The sudden show of concern comes from behind, and she sighs. 

"Yes, I'm fine... I just..." She catches her tongue between her teeth, surprised when she tastes blood — all to stop herself from opening a floodgate she'd definitely come to wish she hadn't. Resting an elbow on the console at eye level, she massages away the amounting storm behind her eyes. Don't let him do it, Kathryn. She can blame the minor slip on the stress of the day, surely — not the venture of having to adjust to seeing and talking with a frie-

— An acquaintance she'd thought she'd left in the forgotten annals of her life. 

"It's just another system that needs straightening out." She reels back from the replicator, leaving the innocent-looking blocks of hot lead to cool before she tries risking her hands again. "According to Carey, we're looking at a complete systems shutdown if we don't replace several gel-pack relays along decks three and seven immediately. But even then, there is no way to guarantee—"

"— that your Federation replicators can produce a hot beverage without searing your hand in the process? My... That is a conundrum."

"Garak, please spare me from your usual snide... Just this once, at least." She turns back around, and finds the Cardassian operative has replaced her by the replicator. His back is to her, and silently, he works the console. 

 "That is odd. This ship is barely out of dry-dock, is it not?" He asks over his shoulder, and Janeway lets the coffee table cut into the backs of her calves. She works away the tension in her jaw with her still smarting fingers, watching the ribboning stars beyond the bulkheads. 

"Yes. But there are bound to be a few glitches here and there, even without the events of the past two days."

The soft humming of the replicator gains her attention again, and she finds Garak turning around — with two mugs, and a wholly unsolicited smug expression to greet her with. 

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Captain, but a complete systems shutdown usually denotes something of a more serious nature." 

The smell of freshly roasted coffee coaxes her closer, and she shivers. The perfectly heated mug is soon tucked into her palms. "Thank you."  

"As always, you are most welcome." 

She takes a sip, and doesn't hold back the sigh of relief that comes. Garak's glare threatens to burn holes into her temples, and she shakes her head to ward off his gaze. "It's nothing we can't fix. Carey's got teams assigned right now, but it's going to take a while to work through the damage the Kazon dealt." 

Her Cardassian (Bajoran?) companion doesn't bother with his tea. The steam billows his face, and plump lips remain fixed in that overzealous, tight-lipped smile. His gaze is unrelenting, as if she is the most fascinating thing in the room. And in this moment, she supposes she is — some little psychological problem that will be fun to pick apart and strip down to its bare components. "Anyone with a shred of competency in the art of subterfuge, Kathryn, can conduct an interrogation without ever letting the suspect realise they're being picked apart piece by painstaking piece."  The sudden, intrusive memory of cold nights and deserted alleyways has her cringing back from him. 

"And to think... All this for one pocket of civilisation on some backwater planet on the far-flung side of the galaxy. If I had any doubts before... You haven't changed at all."

He steps away, finally taking that sip from his tea as he reaches the railing that separates the split level of her ready room. He turns back around, the sudden absence of his smile unsettling. "Still just as foolish... just as naive. In some ways, it's refreshing. But still..." 

"Garak, I frankly don't care for your opinion on the matter." Her jaw sets, and just for an instant, he falters. "I made a command decision, in the interest of an entire civilisation. It is my duty, as a Starfleet Captain, to protect and uphold the sanctity of life. That decision may bother you, but trust me... I'm quite content in the knowledge that the Ocampans now have ongoing protection against the Kazon." 

"Yes, but are you content in the knowledge that you have stranded your entire crew, and the crew of the Val Jean, on the other side of this galaxy, with at least a seventy-five year journey ahead of us?" He surges forward, teeth gnashing; strange that she should notice his teeth of all things. Perhaps it is the way his tongue lashes against the backs of those once-sharp fangs, adding a strange hiss to his words that only reveals yet another aspect of his true ancestry. 

But she'll be damned before she shies away from any attack, especially one from Elim Garak. 

"Garak, I told you before, I don't much care for your opinion right now, and I don't have time for your games. So I'll ask again; what are you doing with the Maquis?" Her coffee mug finds a tense home by her thigh as every length of muscle in her body tightens. Her gaze turns to cool steel, her mouth sits in a terse line. 

And finally, Garak retreats. Not visibly, no. He guards himself too well, but she'd taught herself long ago to read every flicker of emotion that crosses his face — and suddenly, it's far more easy without the hinderance of cartilage and endless scales. His chin lifts, and she sees his tongue pinch against the edge of his teeth — she's won this round. 

"Fine. You know very well what I am. As for my being a member of Chakotay's crew, I'm sure you've come to the correct conclusion somewhere along the length of this conversation, Captain. So why prolong this woeful interrogation for any longer? I haven't had the chance yet to peruse your brig. I'm sure your chief of security is just dying to throw me in. And as for Commander Chakotay..." He stops, and that infuriating smile is back again. "Well, once he discovers the truth, you might need a separate holding cell for him." 

Janeway holds his gaze, just below the fall of her brows. And she feels a sliver of sadistic pleasure when she's met by a flash of uncertainty, a brief flicker of panic in Garak's mustered bravado. 

"... No. I'm sending you to Sickbay. I want our EMH to have a look at you." She finally breaks the staring competition they'd locked themselves into, and moves away to her desk once more. "Janeway to Tuvok. I need you in my ready room.

"Acknowledged, Captain.

"Sickbay?" The Cardassian-turned-Bajoran splutters, suddenly trying to step around the railing without bruising his hip in his haste.

"Yes. I'm supposing you've dodged the mandatory physical I've ordered for all the Maquis crew members so far. It'd be the perfect opportunity for you to formally join the crew, Garak. Once we have all your files in the appropriate databases, that is." 

He's rendered to a gaping fish-out-of-water, trying to splutter around the new development. He's never given the chance, though. The door to her ready room chooses that moment to swoosh open, and Tuvok glides into the room, phaser at the ready. Janeway raises a hand. "It's alright, Lieutenant. I want a security team to escort Mister Garak here to Sickbay. Inform the EMH that he'll be dealing with a series of very sophisticated dermal regenerative procedures. He'll undoubtedly find our Bajoran crewmate here to be Cardassian, and I want the procedures reversed." 

The phaser is immediately trained on Garak, and to her (well-concealed) amusement, he rolls his eyes. "Really, Lieutenant Tuvok. If I were to put up a fight and somehow incapacitate you, where would I go, hmm?" 

"Please, follow me." The phaser doesn't waver, however. And neither does Tuvok's glare. Instead, Garak acquiesces with the demand and walks to the door. "It will take some time for... all this elaborate work to be undone, Captain." 

"I know." 

"And do you expect me to stay in Sickbay until the procedures are complete?" 

"I can have him put in the brig, Captain, once the EMH clears him." Tuvok offers, and she can see the expectant glint in Garak's eyes. There's the welcome he's been expecting; Tuvok is quite prepared to throw him into the nearest holding cell for the next seventy-five years back to the Alpha Quadrant, and he'd have good cause to do so, she knows. 

She'll probably regret this. Oh, God knows she's going to regret this.

"No. Have him assigned quarters, and post guards on his door, around the clock." 

It is hardly the response either of them are expecting. Tuvok hesitates, and Garak... she knows exactly what that opened mouth shock is. He clamps his jaw shut, and spares her one final look. "It is lovely to see you again, my dear." He says, before he is gone from the room with Tuvok tight to his back. 

"God." She says to the sudden quiet of her ready room. "Damn." A hand rises to work away the obligatory migraine setting it. Coffee. Now.

But not even the warm rush of caffeine can ease the steady thrum now pounding behind her eyes. She's only delayed the inevitable. ... And she has yet to tell Chakotay. 

"Gosh." The empty mug clunks to her desk, and she follows it down. A hand pulls at her jaw and she works over the events of the past half-hour... she's going to ignore the rest of day until she has the fortitude granted by downing another several cups of coffee.

Garak had ladened her with half-truths at best. There is always more than meets the eye with Elim Garak (a lesson hard-learned at a tender age). And strange... why continue to use his true name when infiltrating a Maquis cell, when clearly he'd have thoroughly investigated every member of Chakotay's crew before even considering stepping foot within their number. He'd have found and memorised every detail of Chakotay's Starfleet service record, and Tuvok... Garak knew of the mythical Lieutenant Tuvok through the running mouth of a once very tired, and very lonely ensign. It would not have been hard for the Obsidian Order to put two and two together. For Garak, the possibility of being discovered was too great... so why keep his name? 

Kathryn... You're missing the bigger picture.

And unfortunately, that bigger picture at the moment is a crew of a hundred and forty-seven needing her guidance and leadership. 

... And that will probably have to start with Chakotay. "Janeway to Chakotay." 

"Chakotay here, Captain." 

"Could you come to my ready room?" 

"Of course, Captain." 

Kathryn gets up to order another round of much needed coffee. This is certainly not a conversation she is looking forward to, and she needs to cushion it with something. Her usual coffee-crutch will have to suffice until at least 2000 hours.