She remembered—on Earth, in her cell, that night, as Sarina Douglass questioned her. Ezri had brought up the other girl’s superiors—at SI. And…and Sarina’s reaction, so brief, barely noticeable—as though she were caught off guard…
She remembered Simon—and what he
had said, after the Breen mission: “I’m just concerned for him, about the whole thing. Just—something about that girl…”
Ezri looked up, across the desk at Cynthia. “So—second time, or something?”
Holland blinked. “I…beg your pardon?”
“Sarina Douglass—she’s one of yours, isn’t she?”
Cynthia stiffened. “I—Captain, you must understand, I cannot speak for the rest
of the Bureau.”
“I’m an agent of Section 31, Division Seven
Ezri blinked. “There…are divisions?”
Cynthia chuckled. “Surely you didn’t think we were one giant…cluster
Ezri shrugged, “Well, I…don’t really know.”
“We’re divided into divisions—cells
, if you will—one director apiece. Each one runs their division as their own…and every time we discover a significant threat to the Federation—”
“All the directors meet, and the problem’s brought before ‘The Commission’,” Ezri said, dryly.
Holland shrugged, “More or less. But the point is, Captain—assuming that Miss Douglass is
with the Bureau…” she smiled, “Officially—I
would not know of it, unless our paths would be required to cross.”
Ezri returned the smile. “Well, officially
, you people don’t exist in the first place.”
Holland beamed. “As you say, Captain.”
Holland shrugged. “Well—some of us have our suspicions, but—really, I cannot say.”
Can’t—or won’t? But then…it’s like she
led me here, to this conclusion about Sarina—in the first place. I…I wonder…
Was this just a red herring? After all—with what could well have been Holland pressing to know the extent of Ezri’s feelings…could this just be Section 31 using those feelings for their own agenda?
And yet…and yet, looking at this woman, Cynthia Mirabelle Holland—if all of Ezri’s instincts, all her skills as a psychologist, if all that meant anything
…there was a certain something in this woman’s eyes. Something…which told Ezri Dax that she could be trusted.
But…but Section 31! The darkest of the dark—surely the innocence is only an act? Surely…surely she was trained in this “look”—by someone with as firm, if not
more firm, a grasp on psychology as I have—or had
But something—in her heart, as well as her head—nonetheless was sure
, and certain, that Holland was, Bureau or no, being truthful.
And this led Ezri to narrow her eyes slightly, as she stared at Holland. “Why are you telling me all of this?”
Cynthia met her gaze, “Why indeed? Perhaps, either way, your connection with Julian is what we need for…our agenda, perhaps?”
“What—but…” Ezri paused for a moment, “If Sarina is
who you say she—I mean…who she might
Holland smiled. “Confusing, isn’t it?”
Ezri held up a forefinger. “If she is
…then why would you want me
to know about it?”
Holland’s smile faded…and her features seemed to harden, for the first time. “I understand, Captain, the—first host for Dax was…a politician, was she not?”
Ezri nodded slowly, frowning. “Yes…?”
“My director is—concerned…that a certain colleague of his is…assigning the agent—assuming she is
an agent—to effectively succeed…where, as far as the colleague is concerned, I
“Wait—” Ezri held up her hand. “Let me get this straight. Sarina’s supposed to recruit
“Not directly. The intention—again, Captain, this is merely speculation—seems to be that Miss Douglass, assuming she is
one of us…is to behave as an SI operative, and therefore have Julian work for the Bureau without his knowledge.”
Ezri scoffed, shaking her head. Fool me twice…!
“How long do they expect that
to work out?”
“That was my
question, Captain, when I first learned of the…possibility.”
“Right—with you, it only took…how long?”
“The end of our second day together.”
“For what it is worth, I…would imagine the other director is counting on their past together to dispel suspicion on—on the doctor’s part.” Cynthia sighed, “As it stands, I would wager she may be correct. To a point.”
Ezri nodded, her mind filled with a bitter memory: “I remain…
attracted to her—and interested in her. My feelings for her go beyond mere infatuation.”
Oh, Julian…I—what have I done to you? Had what happened, all those years ago—did it hurt you
that much…so much, that you’d fall so eagerly, so
desperately, for a “lost love”? And…and to think, I was just getting ready to accept it—accept that maybe it was for the best…that Sarina would help you heal.
But—but now, I discover
this? She’s just playing you for a fool—or…or is she? It’s all on the word of this woman, who claims to have known you—who works for Section 31! How on Trill can I trust her, so quickly?
When she could bring herself to speak, Ezri asked, “What’s…your point?”
Cynthia pursed her lips for a moment, and said, “It is our concern that…were Ju—Doctor Bashir…to discover Miss Douglass’s true intent—”
,” Ezri said, almost desperately. “He can’t
just let himself be played for much longer—not without him…suspecting something
“Perhaps not,” Holland said quietly. “In that situation…it would effectively backfire for the Bureau—drastically.”
“Overreaching,” Ezri said.
“Precisely. To be blunt, Captain, targeting his heart—especially in that
manner—is potentially the most drastic measure we could ever attempt, for that purpose. My director’s concern is…that it will prove excessively
“So…” Ezri’s eyes narrowed, “This is just to make sure the door doesn’t close—and you don’t lose your chance at him.”
Holland stiffened. “I assure you, Captain, my past feelings for him are irrelevant
Ezri blinked in surprise, and replied, “I was…talking about Section 31.”
Cynthia froze—and let out a nervous laugh. “Right—I…”
Ezri sighed. “Look…I don’t want to see him—crushed again. Believe
me, I don’t.”
Cynthia nodded, serious again. “If things proceed as they are…he will be.”
Ezri returned the nod, staring down at the desk. “I know. But…I can’t just—turn him over to you. And that’s what I’ll be doing if I…”
She frowned, looking at Cynthia in confusion. “What…would
I be doing?”
The look in Holland’s eyes intensified. “That
…is your assignment, Captain. Should you—take all of this seriously…you must work to be the ‘other woman’.”
Ezri felt her blood run cold. “The…what
Holland narrowed her eyes. “You must compete for his heart
, Captain—and win. You have begun to reconcile your friendship. Now…you must reconcile your love.” Cynthia leaned forward, and her voice softened—but her gaze did not. “And I know you do
love him, Captain.”
Ezri stared at her in shock, her mouth open in a silent gasp. She shook her head, and managed to whisper, “How…how can you ask
you love him, Ezri Dax?”
“But…but that’s not the—”
this! If you truly care for him, you will not
allow Sarina Douglass to gain a greater hold on his heart than she already has.”
“But—won’t that just—?”
“Leave the rest to the Bureau. If it eases your conscience—no, you will not
be like her, deceiving him. Your feelings for him are true
. Unless you think hers are, as well?”
Ezri’s gaze fell, as she fell into her seat. “I…” she whispered, “I don’t know….”
Cynthia stared down at her, palms pressed on the desk.
Ezri shook her head, and looked up at the other woman. “I don’t even know if she is
—well, what you say she is. If—if she isn’t
Cynthia nodded. “I understand,” she said. She looked off for a moment…and something seemed to go on in her eyes—a clearing, as though a thought suddenly occurred to her.
She turned back to Ezri, with a warm half-smile. “Perhaps…you should go to them.”
Ezri blinked. “Visit them?”
Cynthia nodded again. “See for yourself—as a psychologist, and as a woman. Talk to them—talk to him
. See how close she is, to his heart…and whether, for you
, it is…worth it.”
Ezri felt her teeth clench. “Worth
A look of regret passed Holland’s eyes—probably at her choice of words. But it passed, and she held firm. “All right, then…I’m sure you still possess your skills as a counselor…do you not?”
Ezri felt her eyes simmer.
Cynthia nodded. “Look for manipulation, on her
Ezri shot to her feet. “Listen, Holland
,” she said, in a low near-whisper, her voice struggling not to break, “I don’t know who you think you are, but I am not
…” she swallowed, “I am not
going to treat Julian like…like a—”
“Trophy?” Holland’s eyebrow shot up. “Is that what you fear, Ezri Dax? Are you afraid that if you ‘win’ him, he’ll have had no say in it?”
Ezri felt herself trembling, her eyes blazing. “You
Cynthia let out a light sigh. “Forgive me, Captain. I’ve forgotten…the truth can make one miserable, if stated too bluntly.”
She nodded, straightening up. “Of course…. I have overstayed my welcome, as it is.”
Ezri watched the woman turn, and confidently walk to the door out of her quarters.
But before she reached it, Cynthia turned to face her.
“I’m a woman as well, Captain,” she said. “And I should warn you—as a woman…if Julian does
discover Miss Douglass’s true intent—he will
be crushed. He wasn’t, with me—because we’d had no past. But here
…what do you think he will do?”
Ezri said nothing, staring across the room at her.
“I’ll tell you,” Cynthia took a step back to her. “He will fall into a more desperate loneliness than he’d fallen, before. And he will lunge for the one
escape.” Her gaze hardened once again. “You
Ezri felt her eyes widen, as Holland’s meaning became clear.
go to you—but not out of love. He might think
that he is, but…you and I will know the truth, Ezri Dax.” Her lip tightened...and it seemed as if her own eyes were moistening. “You will be a substitute
, Captain—for the ideal that, as far as he’ll be concerned, he can never find.”
Ezri’s gaze fell to somewhere in front of the other woman’s shoes.
“Ezri Dax—as a woman
…could you ever accept that?”
Ezri swallowed, and closed her eyes…and from her lips escaped a silent, whispered, “No
No, I can’t—not as a friend, either. I couldn’t let him kill himself inside, like that—I
couldn’t! And…and…oh, Julian, she’s right. So help me—she’s
She looked up, to meet Holland’s eyes. And suddenly, despite herself…Ezri chuckled, shaking her head.
Cynthia frowned, staring at her questioningly. But the truth was…Ezri wasn’t laughing at her
She sat back down, and gestured to the chair across from the desk. Cynthia hesitated, but she walked over, and sat back down.
“You know,” Ezri said, “I deserve all of this, don’t I?”
She shrugged. “Well—I started it, after all, didn’t I—his loneliness, the ‘hole’ in his heart….”
Holland sighed. “For…what it is worth, Captain Dax—”
“Ezri,” Ezri said, smiling, “You can call me Ezri. It’s all right…for now
Cynthia gave a smile of her own, and continued, “When I left him, Ezri, I told him: we both knew that—well, that what had bonded us was…not love. Not really. It came close, but…not quite.”
Ezri frowned. Maybe we have even more in common than I thought…the same fear, ‘resolved’ in the same way
…. “How could you be sure of that?”
Cynthia looked her in the eye, and her smile grew. “We were both…already taken.”
Ezri felt her eyes widen. Then again…maybe not.
Holland shrugged. “At any rate,” she said, “That is the past. Presently, the question is—will you take this assignment?”
Ezri sighed. “Look…again, I don’t even know if Sarina really is
doing what you…imply
“Of course—again, that
is why you’ll go to them.”
“And—how do you expect me to do that, without…causing more than a few people to ask what the heck am I doing, flying over to DS9, when we’re currently…?”
Holland smiled. “Leave that to us, Captain. Quite soon, the Aventine
will be ordered to bring supplies to the new station. It’ll be enough for you to authorize shore leave for your crew…?”
Ezri chuckled. “You people think of everything, don’t you?”
Cynthia beamed, and gave a light nod.
“Okay,” Ezri said, “I’ll do that
. But—just so we’re clear, Cynthia, I am not
going to agree to anything more, ahead of time.”
Cynthia nodded again. “That is all we ask, as of now, Captain.”
Ezri returned the nod, and rose to her feet. “Is that all, for now?”
Cynthia also stood. “For now. I’ll return, when you finish your observations.”
She finished her cup, setting it down. And then she turned, and walked out into the hall—where, Ezri knew, she’d beam back to who-knows-where in the nick of time.
Ezri sat back down, leaning back with a sigh. “I sure hope I don’t regret
this,” she muttered.
And somehow, she knew all too well that, whether it turned out for the best or not…that wouldn’t make the next few months—or however long this “assignment” would take her—any easier.
She shook her head, and turned to her console, activating the screen. It worked.
Ezri paused, and thought for a moment. Finally, she entered the commands…and leaned back in her seat, as a song from 20th-century Earth filled the room.
“Suspicious Minds”: somehow…it seemed appropriate.
* * *