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Major Kira handed the First Minister the PADD she had prepared, leaning across his desk to hand it to him. It contained the statistical data she'd gotten from the station's computer, information about the war with the Dominion that was normally Starfleet eyes only, but that she convinced Sisko to clear for use in this meeting. Shakkar was, after all, the First Minister of Bajor, and had a right to know what was really going on out on the front. Kira leaned back in her seat, and let Shakaar read, noting the frown that was growing deeper and deeper as he read. Kira knew what she'd handed him was tough to look at, but she kept her tone neutral, bringing what positive news she could to the statistics. 

“Captain Sisko said if the Deltoi maintain their blockade on Kelp space, Starfleet will intervene," Kira said. "The Kelp are Starfleet's chief supplier of iltridium 7. They need that ore for new ships, so they won't let the Deltoi play games forever.”

The First Minister raised a brow at Kira over the PADD she'd given him. “Isn't it funny how if the Federation wants something, the Prime Directive isn't so prime anymore? But looking at this, I get it.” Shakaar tossed the PADD down on his desk. “I'll be honest, Nerys. The statistics you've shown me here are pretty grim. Starfleet has been hiding a lot from us.”

“Can you blame them?" Kira asked. "If people knew how badly this war was really going, they'd turn tail and run.”

“Reading stuff like this makes me think they should,” Shakkar returned, wiping a weary hand over his face.

“Shakaar Edon, listen to you,” Kira chided. “Weren't you the leader of one of the most notorious resistance cells on Bajor? Since when did you give up so easily?”

“I was a resistance leader. Now I'm a solid and serious head of state, with solid and serious concerns, like the preservation of my planet's population, and these kinds of numbers...” Shakaar sighed, and looked away from her, out the window of his office and onto the city view beyond. “In the resistance we had blind faith, Nerys, not statistics," he said. "The whole 'what we don't know' factor kept us going, gave us hope.” He swung back to her, and gestured at the PADD. “That is damned near hopeless.”

“Well, don't throw it in just yet, Shakaar,” Kira replied. “Starfleet's not done yet. I'm not done yet.”

“Oh, well, so long as you're still on the job, I feel safer already.”

Kira rolled her eyes at him.

“I'm serious,” Shakaar said, smiling. “Who in the universe is brave enough to take on Kira Nerys? During the second occupation, I think the Dominion ended up wishing they'd just blown up DS9 instead of dealing with you. You should have seen some of the complaints that crossed my desk. You really annoyed the hell outta them, Major."

“Good," Kira said. "I'm glad I annoyed them. They had no business here.”

A steely look hardened Shakaar's features, a look that told Kira there was a less of 'was' in Shakaar than he realized. “No,” he agreed, "they didn't.” His look softened, growing warmer as he gazed at her across the desk. “Are we done talking shop, Kira? Can we just talk now? Nerys to Edon, not Major to First Minister?”

“Sure,” she smiled. “Besides, Major Kira has nothing else to report. And Nerys would like a cup of tea.”

“Comin' up,” Shakaar said, and hit the comm panel on his desk. “Send in tea service. For two, please.”

Yes, Minister. Right away.”

“'Yes, Minister,'” Kira mocked. “Just like that, at the snap of your fingers, a whole staff of lackeys to do your bidding. What is that even like, for a former farmer?”

“I always had lackeys to do my bidding. You were one of them. Actually, you still are, or do you forget you work for the Bajoran government? I am your boss, you know.”

Kira chuckled. “That'll be the day.”

Shakaar returned her laugh, letting it fade as their eyes locked across the desk. “Nerys, I've missed you. Thanks for doing this. For seeing me.”

And there it was, just like she'd predicted on the transport. He was going to bring up what she didn't want to talk about. Didn't you just point out that you're my boss?" she smiled, trying to ignore the nervous flutter in her stomach. "I had to come.”

“You know that's not true,” he said. “I wouldn't have made you come here. We could have done this on the comm. I really expected you to say no when I called. We haven't seen each other since...you know.”

“No,” Kira said, looking down at her folded hands, “we haven't.”

“Nerys, I...I asked you here to tell you that I'm sorry. I was a jerk, I hurt you, and you have every right to hate me.”

“Edon, don't," Kira said, looking up at him. "I don't hate you. I forgave you for all of that, over a year ago.”

“Still, I owe you an apology. I humiliated you, and there's no excuse for it.”

“It's in the past," Kira said. "It's done.”

“Yes, but our break wasn't clean, and I can't move passed it. I need your full forgiveness.”

“And I just told you, Edon, you have it. Why are you bringing this up?”

“Because you were my friend first, Nerys, and while I did not make the best boyfriend, I have always been a loyal friend. A good friend. When I betrayed you, I betrayed myself, and it isn't like me to do either. I'm ashamed of what I did. And I owe you an explanation.”

“What is there to explain, Edon?" Kira replied. She gripped the handles of her chair, trying to keep her voice and her temper from rising any futher. "I found you in bed with someone else, literally caught you in the act. I think that statement was clear enough, and needs absolutely no explanation from you. The message was pretty clear, and if you don't mind, I'd rather not rehash this. The first time was bad enough." 

"But, Nerys, we need to talk about-”

Shakaar's secretary entered with a gentle knock, and he bit off whatever he was going to say. Kira watched her cross the office with the tea service. The girl was just the type she would expect Shakaar to choose, young and pretty. As the girl set up the tea, Kira noted that she also moved with a compact efficiency that said there was more to her than a pretty face. This kid meant business. Maybe there was hope for Shakaar after all.

“Will there be anything else, sir?” the girl asked as she handed Shakaar his cup.

“That's all, Miranna. Thank you.”

The girl moved silently out of the room, shutting the ancient wooden doors to Shakaar's office carefully behind her.

Shakaar took a sip of his tea, and set the cup down with a grimace. “Too much kava." He reached for the pot. "Anyway," he said, adding more tea to his cup, "as you said, you were the one who found your lover in bed with someone else, which was all on me, my fault. But you didn't do anything about it, Nerys. And that's what I want to talk about. There were no fits, there were no hurled objects. You just walked away, like it was a minor annoyance.”

Kira tested her own tea, buying herself some time to reply. He was right about the kava. She reached for the pot and thinned her tea out as Shakaar had done. "I didn't want to make a scene," she said. 

“Oh, c'mon, Nerys” Shakaar returned. “I'm supposed to believe that? I'm supposed to buy that Major Kira Nerys of Bajor, no-bull-tolerating, dragon-tempered, acid-tongued terror of Deep Space 9, who even gave the Dominion a turn with her hell-cat ways, had nothing to say about catching her boyfriend with another woman? And not only that, you made up a cover story involving the Kendra shrine to save his sorry ass from the court of public opinion...Did you ever ask yourself why, Nerys? Why you didn't get righteously and justifiably pissed about me and Grinnelle?"

What was Shakaar trying to do? Make her righteously pissed now? "That cover story was as much for me as it was for you,” Kira replied, still holding her temper in check. “Do you think I wanted everyone to know what happened, what you did? And I was angry, Edon. I still am.”

“Yeah, but not like you should be, or you wouldn't be here now...I'll tell you why you didn't care, Nerys. Because you'd already been unfaithful yourself.”

“WHAT!” Kira slammed her cup down on the desk. “Edon, that better be some kind of joke, because that is utterly ridiculous! When I'm in a relationship, it is exclusive. I know how to keep it in my pants, unlike some people.”

Shakaar was as nonplussed by Kira's temper and her outburst, as he ever had been. “You weren't unfaithful in body," he replied, chin in hand. "That's true, but in your mind, in your heart...you did betray me.”

Kira heaved a breath. “What are you talking about?”

“Nerys, you were never mine, not truly. There was a barrier between us, all the time, a shadow that hovered over our relationship, always there, always following. Like some kind of vapory bodyguard making sure we didn't get too close. Are you gonna tell me you didn't notice?”

“Edon, what are you saying?”

“I'm saying, Nerys, you never loved me. Not really. Prophets know, the deck was stacked against us to begin with. I'm the First Minister. I haven't got time for lunch, let alone a girlfriend. But we made it work. We made the distance work, we dealt with your surrogacy, with the threats, and elections, and assassins, even an intergalactic war. We conquered all those things, but none of them, strangely enough, were the problem. The problem was you, and your shadow.”

“What is this shadow business?” Kira said, running a hand through her hair. “You are making no sense.”

“You can't do that, Nerys, not with me. I've known you for too many years. This thing you do, the walls, the barriers, the refusal to open your eyes. You know damned well who the shadow is, what his name is, and why it was you could never really let yourself fall in love with me. You know why I was driven into someone else's arms-” The look Kira shot him would have melted metal. Shakaar held up his hands. “Not that I'm blaming you for my behavior...But why was I even tempted at all? It was because the woman I loved, even when she was with me, always had someone else on her mind.”

Kira slammed her fist on his desk, heedless as her teacup jumped and sloshed its contents on the aged wood. “The only other man I ever loved was Antos! I won't have you tarnish his memory by-”

“I'm not talking about Bareil Antos, and you know it. He's buried, Nerys, and neither one of us is sentimental about the dead.”

“Then who the hell are you talking about?”

“I'm not gonna say his name for you. It only got dropped, oh, about a thousand times when we were together, so I know it's not so hard for you to pronounce.”

Kira fell back in her seat, the spine-stiffening haze of her anger dissolving. Now she knew who Shakaar meant. She did talk about Odo a lot, and she could see where Shakaar could draw conclusions like this, but that still didn't change the fact that he'd cheated on her, and how could he blame that on Odo? She'd never pegged Shakaar as the jealous type.

Holding the two side by side, Kira could see every mistake she'd made in choosing Shakaar Edon for a mate. Odo would never cheat, and if for some reason he did, he wouldn't blame it on someone else. He was too honest, but Shakaar wasn't, not when it came to his personal life. She had known that, though, hadn't she? She knew exactly what Edon was like, she'd heard the rumors, but she'd dated him anyway. How could she give a man like Shakaar three years of her life, but couldn't bring herself to ask a man like Odo to dinner?

Kira decided she wasn't discussing her chief of security with the First Minister. Ever. “Look, Edon, I don't want to argue about this. The bottom line is, I've lost enough friends over the years. I don't want to add you to the list. Can we leave this alone?"

Shakaar heaved a frustrated sigh. "Obviously, I'm not gonna get through to you, not today, anyway. And I don't bring these things up to make you angry, Nerys. I just want you to be happy. If you're going to keep denying how you feel, you won't be...Do this much for me, and for yourself. When you go back to your station, take some time, and meditate on what I've said. When you do, ask yourself this. Who in the universe is brave enough take on Kira Nerys?”



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