Off the Record by eponymous_rose
Summary: History would take care of the Occupation's story. What Jake needed to do was find its heart.
Categories: Deep Space Nine Characters: Ensemble Cast - DS9
Genre: Drama, Friendship, General, Humor
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 3884 Read: 1429 Published: 20 Jul 2010 Updated: 20 Jul 2010
Chapter 1 by eponymous_rose
Once upon a time, watching the ebb and flow of the sea of people on the Promenade, feeling like just another bit of driftwood, Jake turned to Nog and said, "You ever feel like there's something you're meant to be doing with your life?"

Quark leaned in close, hunching his shoulders conspiratorially. In response, Jake moved to the edge of his barstool, feeling his fingers clench against the edge of his padd. This could be it – even the Dominion wouldn't be able to stop him if he got in on what Quark knew. This could be the breakthrough he'd been waiting for, his way in, the story he'd tell-

Quark waited for an appropriately dramatic period of time, then said, "No comment," and resumed polishing his glass.

Jake slumped back in his seat. "Come on, Quark. Just one quote! You must have heard something." Jake's journalistic acumen suggested flattery – Quark had certainly been susceptible to it in the past. "After all, nothing happens on this station without your knowing about it."

Quark snorted, apparently unimpressed by journalistic acumen. "Yeah, and I've used my amazing observational powers to notice the incredibly subtle fact that the station's changed hands. Trust me, that tends to change things."

Jake pounced on that, padd at the ready. "So are you saying that you equate the Dominion presence on the station with the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor?"

Quark looked at him, then spoke with exaggerated slowness. "No, what I'm saying is that I was here the last time the station changed hands." Jake sighed again, and Quark's expression softened very slightly. "Look, Jake, I don't know what you're trying to do, but-"

"-there's no profit in it," Jake said, a bit more harshly than he'd intended. "I know, I know. I'll just keep trying to write my articles, and the Dominion will just keep letting nobody read them, and that'll be the end of that. Eventually, I'll give up hope and start writing Dominion propaganda. Got any good rhymes for 'dictatorial'?"

But Quark was already distracted, watching as a couple of thirsty-looking Cardassians meandered toward the bar. "I'm sure you'll think of something," he said. "It's always great chatting with you and all, but-"

Jake pocketed his padd and headed for the door, barks of Cardassian laughter ringing in his ears. On a whim, he stopped before he hit the Promenade, turned back to see Quark watching him go. "If I do find a story in all this – a real one, the kind that'll get told no matter what the Dominion does-"

Their eyes met, and there was a quiet moment, stranger still for all the noise around it: the whirl of the dabo wheel, the clink of glasses, the murmur of conversation, the echoes of footsteps belonging to people far away-

"I'll be here," Quark said, then pulled a couple bottles of kanar from under the bar. "Now go away. The Federation News Service is bad for business."

It wasn't a victory by any definition, but Jake felt a new spring in his step as he navigated the Promenade, nodding to the familiar faces, avoiding the cold glares of the Jem'Hadar. All he needed now was a story.

"It's like that time with Dr. Bashir," Jake said. "That was a perfect story in the making – the war on the ground, the doctors trying to save lives – but when I was right there, in the middle of it, the words wouldn't come. Only this time, I know the Dominion is what's holding me back."

Kira looked preoccupied – no, more than that, she looked exhausted, like she hadn't been sleeping at all, like she'd been reliving some terrible nightmare. It had been a while since they'd made time to have dinner together, and now it looked like she'd rather be anywhere but here. Jake could relate.

After a moment, she lifted her glass, stared into it, sloshing the liquid from one side to the other. "Maybe you just need to look at it from a new angle, Jake. So the Dominion doesn't want you advancing the Federation's cause. So what? There's more to an occupation than politics."

Jake laughed, but it was without humor. "Yeah? Like what?"

Kira glanced up, and somewhere in her haunted expression, he found a glint of life. "People, Jake. There's still people."

The Replimat wasn't doing very good business – the grapevine had it that someone had managed to temporarily rig the machines so that every time they were asked for a Cardassian dish, they spat out featureless globs of protein and carbohydrates instead. Jake figured that explained why Damar was being so especially charming lately: he'd given Jake even more of a hassle than usual when he'd tried to dig up a quote or two for his rapidly growing stockpile of thoroughly unread news stories.

Jake liked the relative quiet of the Replimat, though, no matter how short-lived that silence might be; it made for a good writing environment. He was so engrossed in his latest project – a daring exposé exploring the way the Cardassians treated the Bajorans on the station when their Dominion masters weren't around, which he figured might sow some discord, if nothing else – that he didn't even notice someone standing next to his table until that someone cleared her throat. He glanced up from his padd, and froze.

"Uh," he said. "Hi."

Gul Dukat's daughter smiled down at him. "Hi."

They stayed that way for a second, until Jake managed to shake off his initial shock. "Um," he said, brilliantly, and managed to follow it up with something a bit more coherent. "Would you like to sit down?"

"Do you mind? There hasn't been a whole lot in the way of good conversation around here." When he shook his head, she sat down across from him, still smiling in a way that was weirdly discomfiting. At first he thought he was being reminded of her father, and then he realized the smile was still more familiar – in fact, it seemed an awful lot like Garak's. "I'm not sure we were ever properly introduced," she said, and held out her hand. "Tora Ziyal."

"Jake Sisko." They shook hands, and Jake found himself marveling at the strange texture of her skin. "I'm, uh, I'm the captain's son." He liked describing himself that way – it was simple, the sort of description that provoked the kind of reactions that reminded him why he loved writing so much. It let other people construct their own impressions of him, build him up as a character in their mind, which was the sort of thing he could use while interviewing them, playing on sympathies, empathizing, that kind of thing.

Of course, Ziyal knew perfectly well who he was, so all he'd succeeded in doing was making her think he was an awkward kid. Somehow he didn't think he'd manage to use that expectation to great advantage.

To her credit, she maintained her composure in the face of his fumbling, though her eyes were laughing. There was no cruelty involved – it was a gentle, teasing expression – and he felt himself blushing under the weight of it. He was so off his game today. "So I've heard. Father was saying that you'd stayed behind to write news stories for the Federation."

He felt himself tense up, but her remark seemed genuinely innocent. "Oh, I've written plenty of stories, but they're being censored. As far as I know-" He paused, thought better of bringing Dukat into the conversation. "-Weyoun hasn't let anything through."

Ziyal frowned, and Jake was surprised at her reaction, like she hadn't known, hadn't even suspected. "That doesn't seem right," she said. "I mean, I can understand that they're trying to keep classified information from leaking out, and maybe they're being a little over-sensitive, trying to keep public opinion-"

It was as though he'd been bottling everything up for the past couple of weeks; when he spoke, Jake's voice was way too loud, and it was shaking, and he felt like he was listening to someone else doing the yelling, because there was no way he'd lose control like this, no way, and he had no idea what he was saying, just that the words were tumbling out, just that there was venom and pain and fear in them, and even though he was talking about freedom of expression and censorship and dictatorial regimes, all he could think was how much he missed his dad, and how much he hated the Dominion and Starfleet and Bajor and all the rest for keeping him away-

When he was finished, his throat was hoarse, and he was shaking, but his eyes were dry, and his mind felt clear for the first time in a long while. The few people in the Replimat had gone silent, but, after a few moments, they gradually resumed their conversations as though nothing had happened. They'd probably seen stranger things happen, lately.

Ziyal looked stricken, but only for a moment, and then her face closed off, and a faint smile appeared, though it seemed to take a conscious effort to keep it there. Jake was mortified. "I'm sorry, Ziyal," he said, and stood up. "I don't-"

"Don't apologize," Ziyal said, and laughed, a bit nervously. "I think that's the most honest thing anyone's said to me in a long time. Please, don't leave, Jake."

He hesitated, then sat back down. "I don't know what-"

"Do you write fiction?"

The question was so incongruous to the situation that it took Jake a second to remember to do more than just blink at her. "Sorry?"

Her smile broadened a bit more. "I know you're a journalist, but do you write fiction as well?"

Jake realized he was clinging to his padd with white-knuckled force; he made his fingers unclasp, set the padd on the table while he flexed his hand, and then he took a deep breath. "I want to, more than anything, but writing news articles isn't a bad way to learn more in the meantime."

"I only asked because I paint, and when I'm-" Ziyal frowned, as though searching for the word.

"Conflicted?" Jake offered, automatically.

Her smile returned. "Exactly. Yes. When I'm conflicted, I find there's some solace to be had in art for art's sake."

"Maybe," Jake said, and then, just like that, he knew what he had to do next, and the certainty of it was making his head spin, like every time he'd ever had a really great idea for a story, every time he'd dug characters out of an impossible situation, every time he'd managed to find the angle, the spin, the way to communicate his ideas. "Yeah. You know what? You're right. And so's Major Kira. It's not about politics. It's about people."

Now Ziyal was staring at him with an amused bafflement, and he wondered what kind of first impression he was making, first railing at her, then babbling like this. But she leaned closer. "What are you thinking?"

"The Dominion won't let me publish anything to the Federation News Service. I'll keep trying, but that doesn't mean I have to sit around waiting for them to get tired of holding my stuff back." Jake picked up the padd again, wiped the screen and opened a new file. "The people on this station have stories to tell. Doesn't matter when they get told, or who they get told to. I'm going to be the one to tell them."

And he sat with her, as the day waxed on, listening to Tora Ziyal tell her story. A lot of what she told him was off the record, and while he knew he'd honor that, he held out hope that someday she'd want everything brought to light.

For now, Jake was content to write.

After that, it was easy; he sought out the people he knew, the people he didn't know, the people who held lives in their hands and the people who weren't particularly important in the grand scheme of things. And he listened.

Loritz Sanwell had been orphaned as a baby during the first Occupation, and, through a series of unlikely events, had wound up being raised by human parents on Mars. She talked to Jake about how she'd felt an obligation to her people, about how she'd returned home and joined the Militia, about how she'd only been stationed at DS9 for a week when the Dominion had arrived. Her passion was music, and she had a flair for composing pieces that drew on the signatures of the great virtuosos of both human and Bajoran culture. She gave him a recording of her latest work.

As he was leaving, she said, "Thank you."

The sentiment surprised Jake at first – he'd expected people to react the way they had when he'd pestered them with questions on behalf of the Federation News Service, with annoyance and mistrust. But the more people he talked to, the more he realized just how badly they needed someone to listen.

Morik Taren, a Bajoran security officer, had recently been married to John Marshall, a human Starfleet lieutenant who'd evacuated the station with the rest. Taren spoke to Jake about what it was like to lose his family the first time, during the Cardassian Occupation, and how he was now worried about losing his new family so soon after it had come together. But the more he spoke, the more his anger and fear melted away, and the more he talked about the small things, about how he and John had met and fallen in love, about how they'd had their first fight over their differing tastes in the old two-dee entertainment features, about how they'd talked long into the night about anything and everything, about how they'd never had the same conversation twice.

His smile, which had been closely guarded at the beginning of the interview, now seemed genuine.

As time wore on, Jake reclaimed his father's quarters – the Dominion had left them unoccupied, and Weyoun still seemed inclined to keep Jake happy in order to make nice with the Bajorans, to a point – and started cooking again. One night, he made Major Kira his variation on hasperat, and they talked about his latest project.

"I think it's a great idea, Jake," she said, and while she looked more tired than ever, he thought her smile looked a bit more alive, somehow. When he asked, though, she told him she didn't have time for a personal interview, and he knew enough not to ask about Odo.

Jake hit Quark's just as things were starting to heat up, just as their little underground resistance was beginning to bear fruit. His personal interviews were starting to get him attention throughout the station; people knew that he was someone who'd listen, and he'd found himself at the beck and call of everyone who had a story to tell. The whole enterprise had wound up having the unexpected effect of gaining him access to more useful, political lines of contact than he would ordinarily have imagined – and the Dominion didn't have a clue. They all seemed content to let him run around playing biographer to the station's population, which made it much, much easier to keep communications open, to coordinate plots and schemes. He guessed that they might be able to set up regular under-the-wire communiqués with Starfleet sometime in the next year, though he suspected by then the whole thing would be over one way or the other.

It was with some surprise, then, that he found himself sitting at the bar in Quark's, just before closing time, with no ulterior motives: he wasn't here for information, or to pass on meeting coordinates, or to find out more about subspace communications than he'd ever wanted to know. He was here to talk.

Quark caught his eye almost immediately, and set a root beer in front of him without being prompted. "How are you holding up, Jake?"

Jake shot him a sidelong glance; there was definitely some hidden avarice there, probably owing to the large amount of personal information Jake now held on most of the station's Bajoran contingent – knowledge was latinum, after all. But for the most part, the question had been genuine.

"As well as can be expected," Jake said, and held up his padd. "You told me to come back when I had a real story."

Quark held up his hands. "Oh, no. You're not gathering information on me."

Jake grinned. "Is that what you think this is?"

"Of course. You've got one of the best data-mining schemes I've seen in a long time. Taking the Dominion's emotional losses and turning them into a blackmailer's goldmine of gain. Wish I'd thought of it first." There was a smile at the corner of Quark's mouth that indicated he was at least half-joking, which Jake took as an encouraging sign.

"Nothing that'll cost you anything," Jake promised, and leaned across the table. "Come on, Quark. It's a show of support for the Bajorans, your most loyal customers. Don't you remember the fifty-seventh Rule of Acquisition? Good customers are as rare as latinum-"

"-treasure them," Quark finished, and glowered. "I wish you'd stop quoting the Rules at me. Your father does that, too."

Jake sat up, padd at the ready. "Does that mean you'll answer a few questions?"

Quark stared at him for a long moment, then groaned theatrically and leaned against the bar. "I've been around you humans too long. Okay, fine. But I decide what goes in the padd."

Jake opened his hands, tilting the blank screen in Quark's direction. "You're the boss."

They had a few false starts – Quark was instantly suspicious of anything that could be construed, or even misconstrued, as having any bearing on his reputation, his current or former clientele, or his profits – but eventually they managed to settle into a rhythm, and Jake was soon recording a variety of stories, each more salacious and unpublishable than the last. Some were unquestionably funny, but most of them weren't exactly what Jake was going for. No matter what happened in the end, history would take care of the Occupation's story – what he needed to do was find its heart.

"And then-" Quark said, and paused for breath, which Jake took as his signal to interrupt.

"How do you feel about Nog being off the station?"

There was dead silence for a second – the bar had cleared out ages ago, and Quark had already even sent most of his staff home, having extracted a promise from Jake to help clean up, pro bono. For that second, Jake thought he might have been too abrupt, that his tactics to get Quark off-balance were going to make him even less likely to reveal anything of emotional value.

He was just about to backpedal and ask for more of the story about a piece of artwork that Dukat had acquired and bragged about to anyone within earshot (he'd assumed it to be something abstract when it had actually been in the shape of an unmentionable part of Tholian anatomy) when Quark's face changed. The smile faded, the laugh died in his throat, and he looked at the root beer still sitting in front of Jake. "How do I feel about it? Not good," he said, finally.

Jake was so prepared to change the subject that it took him a moment to recover. "I'm sure Nog's doing great on the Defiant," he said, and tried a smile, though it felt weak even to him. "He's probably busy building whatever amazing device they'll use to get the Dominion out of this Quadrant for good."

"Yeah," Quark said, and reached down, pulling a second bottle of root beer from under the bar. He stared at it thoughtfully. "Did I ever mention that it was smart of you not to go into Starfleet? It changes people. Not always for the better." He seemed to snap back to himself, and put the root beer away with a grimace. "Rom and Leeta are so thrilled to bits that Nog's out there, Fleeting the Stars or whatever it is they do. And it's not even about profits anymore, you know?"

He looked up to Jake, as though waiting for a response, but Jake only nodded. He'd listened to enough people unburden themselves lately that he was starting to recognize the glazed-over look they got when they were talking mostly to themselves, ranting, shrugging off their worst troubles without being fully aware of it. It was exactly what he'd done when Ziyal had sat down with him for the first time, after all.

Apparently satisfied with Jake's non-response, Quark kept talking. "It's reckless, is what it is. I mean, if you hear an explosion, you run away from it, right? Starfleeters run toward it. What's wrong with someone that they'd actually run toward something that could kill them? Nog would-" He swallowed, paused, then looked at Jake with something approaching respect in his eyes. "Oh, you're good."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Jake said, blinking in what he hoped was an innocent expression.

"You sure you're not half El-Aurian or something?" Quark still seemed discomfited, but he managed a crooked smile. "Because if you are, you and I could make a fair amount of latinum-"

"Pretty sure, yeah," Jake said, laughing. "Sorry."

The conversation drifted back into safer waters after that, and Jake called a halt to the interview when he realized he could barely keep his eyes open – and, as Quark politely reminded him, he still had to clean the holosuites.

As he turned to do just that, Quark called out to him. "Jake."

He turned, and saw that Quark had pulled the bottle of root beer back out from under the bar, was clutching at it like it was some sort of lifeline. "I think I understand what you've been doing for people." He grinned. "I can't in good conscience actively support such an unprofitable endeavour, but I think I understand."

Jake smiled back. "Thanks, Quark," he said. "This'll all be over soon, one way or the other."

"Yeah," Quark said, softly. "One way or the other." He pointed up toward the stairs. "And, one way or the other, those holosuites aren't going to clean themselves. Make sure you scrub behind the holoemitters – you wouldn't believe how filthy they can get."

"Oh, I believe it, I believe it." But as Jake jogged up the stairs, he was still smiling.

The padd in his hands felt right, now, as though something had shifted in its weight to signify that the book was almost finished. It was the station's life, the heart still beating beneath the weight of whatever occupying force held it, and for a silly, sentimental moment, Jake found himself stepping away from the holosuites, leaning against the railing that overlooked the Promenade, imagining the sea of people ebbing and flowing below him, picturing the rush of life through the twisted, grasping shape of the station, always changing but with a rhythm that stayed constant, that thrummed just beneath the threshold of hearing.

"Thank you," he whispered, and then he turned away from the past, toward the uncertain future.

The book was nearly finished; all it needed was an ending.
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