“Ensign Janeway? Ensign Janeway?”
Dani, who was just leaving the replimat on her way to Ops for the start of her shift, turned to see Jake Sisko’s tall frame running to catch up with her. Once he finally caught up, Dani greeted him.
“Mr. Sisko,” she said resuming her course for the stations center of operations. “What can I do for you?”
Jake Sisko was the only son of the station’s former commander, Captain Ben Sisko. Jake was tall, a little taller than Dukat but not quite as tall as Will. He was slimmer than both of them, though, and despite the fact that he was a few years older than Dani, he still maintained a boyish appearance.
“Mr. Sisko?” he said, repeating the way she’d said his name. “That sounds so…old. Call me Jake.”
“Okay, Jake,” Dani said. “Can I help you with something?”
“You sure can,” Jake said. “I hear that you and Dukat have become awfully close in the past few weeks.”
Caught completely off-guard, Dani stopped walking, and looked up at Jake. “Where’d you hear that?” she asked him, taking extra effort to keep her tone neutral.
“It’s all over the station,” Jake told her. “Of course, they’re just rumors, for now. People are talking, Ensign.”
“What kind of rumors?” Dani inquired.
“Rumors,” Jake said, raising a dark eyebrow.
Dani swallowed. She and Marac hadn’t taken any extra precautions in order to keep their blooming romance a secret, but they hadn’t exactly gone about the station advertising it, either. Their public relationship was so ambiguous in appearance that they could very easily have passed for good friends. Many times, they’d both appeared with Ziyal, a common link between them.
Dani had known there would be talk anyway, though, and she’d expected the rumors to start flying. “I’ve been dealing with the public and rumors on a normal basis since I was nineteen,” she informed the young reporter. “This is nothing new.”
“Maybe,” Jake said. He lowered his voice and moved a little closer to Dani. “But the difference this time is that people are beginning to take those rumors and speculations for the truth. They’re not just rumors anymore. They evolved into fact. And it’s spreading.” Dani’s eyes rose to meet Jake’s. “Like wildfire,” he added. “The most popular and most believed thread is that you and Dukat are an item.”
Dani maintained her composure, despite the fact that she felt as if her legs had been kicked out from under her. Her thoughts immediately turned to the possibility that her parents were finally about to find out what their little girl had been up to. She suddenly felt helpless, like things were about to spin terribly out of control.
“Jake, I’ll be glad to talk to you,” she began, “but I’ve got to get to Ops for my shift. Why don’t we discuss this over lunch?”
“Of course. The replimat?”
“Yes, that’s fine. 1200 hours?”
“I’ll be there.” He turned and walked away with a smile on his face, knowing that he was on the brink of one of his best stories to date. A squeaky clean Starfleet officer and an infamous Cardassian traitor. Beauty and the beast. Forbidden love. It was classic!
Dani turned and resumed her journey to Ops, a heavy feeling of dread descending upon her.
Dani sat across from Jake, sipping on her mug of warm raktijino. She was trying to remain calm about this whole thing, but how could she possibly do that, when she knew that anyday now, her life could be turned completely upside down?
“Now, before you say a thing, I just want you to know that everything that’s said here today is completely off-the-record,” he informed Dani. “This isn’t an interview; it’s merely a…fact-finding mission.”
Dani nodded, indicating that she understood, and Jake continued. “First thing’s first – are you and Dukat involved romantically?” Jake asked with uncertainty mixed with curiosity.
That afternoon, after her shift, Dani went to Dukat’s quarters. She walked in to find him completely immersed in his work. He was seated at his desk, staring intently at his computer screen. He looked down at some PADDs that lay scattered on his desk and then back at the screen again. He looked extremely busy, and Dani was beginning to think she should come back later when he looked up from his work at her. His features, which had been wrinkled in concentration, immediately softened at the sight of her.
“Danielle,” he said, rising and walking over to meet her. He leaned down and kissed her.
“You seem very busy,” Dani said. “I could come back later.”
“No, no,” Dukat protested. “I’m never too busy for you. How was your day?”
“It was okay,” Dani replied.
“Well, I had an interesting discussion with Jake Sisko today.”
“Oh?” Dukat crossed the room and stepped up to the replicator. “Something to drink?” he asked over his shoulder.
“No,” Dani said.
Dukat requested a small glass of tomato juice. It materialized, and he received it. He turned back to Dani, raising the glass of bright red liquid to his lips to take a sip. Dani grimaced instinctively at the sight of it.
Dukat froze after the first sip and then lowered his glass. “You don’t like tomato juice,” he surmised.
“It’s like drinking ketchup,” Dani told him.
“Hmm, I’ve never tried ketchup before,” Dukat said.
“It’s a condiment. It’s good on things like meat and potatoes. But just because I like it on my meat doesn’t mean I want to drink it,” Dani explained.
Dukat sat down on the sofa, tomato juice in hand. “What did you and Mr. Sisko discuss today?” he inquired, tossing the subject of tomato juice aside.
Dani walked over and sat down beside Dukat. “Us.” She watched Dukat, attempting to guage his reaction.
He leaned over and placed his half-empty glass on the low table before him. “What did he want to know?”
“Marac, there are rumors around the station that we are romantically involved,” Dani informed him.
“I know,” Dukat said. “Ziyal has mentioned them to me.”
“Well, the problem is…I don’t know if it’s really a problem. I guess it just depends on how you look at it. The issue at hand is that these aren’t just rumors anymore, people are taking them for fact.”
“And Mr. Sisko wishes to provide us with the opportunity to set the record straight on the issues by conducting an interview and publishing it,” Dukat said, finishing for Dani.
“That about sums it up.” Dani rested her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.
“This is distressing you,” Dukat observed.
Dani lifted her head and looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Yes, it is.”
“Darling,” Dukat said, alarmed. He gathered her into his arms. “I had no idea this was such grievance for you.”
“I’m just so scared. What is this going to mean for my career? And my family – what is my father going to say? Or do? When he finds out-”
“Shhh…Do not trouble yourself with such thoughts. We shall deal with them if they occur.” Dukat calmly stroked Dani’s shoulder.
Dani let Dukat’s words sink in. She was overreacting again. Why was that always such a problem with her? She relaxed against Dukat, letting her head settle just under his chin. They were both content in the silence.
“Danielle,” Dukat said softly. There was something in the way he’d said her name that prompted Dani to look up at him. He continued. “I fear that you fail to understand just how much you’ve come to mean to me over these past weeks.”
Dani sat up. What did he mean by that? She watched as he rose from the sofa and disappeared into the bedroom.
Dani thought she’d been doing a pretty good job of gauging his feelings toward her. The truth of it, though, was that the only person whose feelings she could be absolutely sure of was her own. She enjoyed the time she spent with him. She would even go so far as to say that she was falling in love with him. She hoped, with all that was at risk for her, that he at least felt something akin to what she felt. The fact that he’d just told her she didn’t understand his real feelings caused a rising alarm in her.
Dukat returned a moment later with a small box in hand. Reclaiming his seat, he began. “When we embarked on this relationship, I know we fell into it, for lack of a better term, with no real goals for where we wanted to go, what we wanted to do. Somehow, we’ve grown. We’ve evolved. I care a great deal for you,
Danielle.” He handed the little box to Dani. Puzzled and curious, Dani accepted it and opened it. Inside was a beautiful ring with a bronze-looking metallic hue to it. It had an intricate design in it that Dani had never seen before.
“Marac,” she breathed.
“Do you like it?” Dukat asked her.
“It’s beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Dani handed the box back to Dukat.
“It’s made of pure gold-pressed latinum,” Dukat said, removing the ring from the box. He held it up and studied it, making sure that it was free of any type of flaw. Mistakes, especially on this ring, were not acceptable. “I had it made. There is none other like it anywhere in the universe.” He looked at Dani. “I had it made for especially for you.”
Dani looked at him, obviously surprised. “For me?”
Dukat took her right hand and slipped the ring on her middle finger. It looked perfect there. “I love you, Danielle,” he told her. He then brought her hand to his lips and kissed it.
Dani shook her head. “Marac, I can’t say those words to you right now because I just don’t feel ready.” She stood and walked across the room.
“I didn’t mean to place any pressure on you,” Dukat said. “I was merely stating how I felt.”
“But how do you know that you really do feel this way about me?” Dani asked. “It’s still so soon. It’s only been a few weeks. How do you know this is real? How do you know you aren’t just in love with the idea of being in love?”
Dukat rose and walked over to meet Dani. “Because I feel it,” he said. He pointed to his chest. “Here. I know because I don’t care what all those people out there will think when thy find out we’re together.” He placed his hands on her arms and let them trail down to her hands. “I know because being with you makes me feel good inside, like I can be a better person than I was without you. Danielle, you’re the only other person besides Ziyal who can do that for me. This isn’t the crush or silly infatuation I had when you first came aboard the station. This is real.”
Tears formed in Dani’s eyes, and she couldn’t explain why. As they began to trail down her cheek, Dukat reached up to wipe them away. “What is it?” he asked her.
She shook her head, and he persisted. “Danielle?”
Yet, she shook her head again and this time said, “No. I’m fine.” But the tears were still coming. Here he was baring his soul to her, and she couldn’t tell him that she felt the same. “I feel so bad. I don’t want you to waste your time with me.”
Dukat swallowed. He hated that she felt that way. Any time he could spend with her would surely not be counted as time wasted to him. “I know that your feelings toward me aren’t as strong as those I have toward you. But it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t change the way I feel. As long as I have the chance to be with you, I shall be content.”