Return to Normal – Chapter 11

By the time the new year rolled around, Dani had finally established a daily routine that didn’t involve pet-sitting or a Q or being stranded on a hostile planet. During the day, Dani would go to the bridge, for her shift, usually breaking to have lunch with Will or Rane. After the end of her shift, she’d go work out in the gym or on the holodeck, depending on what kind of a mood she was in. She’d go back to her quarters, shower, and then dine with Will. After that, activities might include a variety of things, from poker with the senior staff to a quiet evening reading.

Dani was content with the leisurely pace at which life was moving for her right now. Something in the back of her mind, though, told her that this leisurely pace wouldn’t remain so leisurely for very long. She was, after all, on the Enterprise. Leisurely wasn’t exactly what it was best-known for being.

This day, however, it was, and having ended her shift, Dani was on her way to Will’s office. Once there, she chimed and entered when he beckoned.

Will looked up from his monitor as Dani was walking in. “Hello,” he said, watching her walk around his desk to greet him.

“Hi,” she said, kissing him and taking a seat on one of his knees. “What are you up to?”

“I was just looking over some of these venues for the reception,” Will said, indicating the computer monitor.

“Find anything good?” Dani asked, looking on with Will.

He sighed. “No. I’m beginning to think every acceptable place on the planet is booked up for the next year.” Will and Dani were shooting for a June wedding date on Earth, but reaching that day was proving to be more and more difficult. They were having trouble booking a place, they couldn’t find a caterer, and about a million other problems plagued their planning.

Dani brought both of her legs up and rested them across Will’s other leg. She placed both her arms around Will’s neck. “Why don’t we just elope?” Dani asked half-jokingly. Part of her was serious. It would be so much easier than going through all this mess.

Will looked up into Dani’s face, and she continued. “Maybe we could find a nice beach somewhere. We could trim the guest list down to close family and friends. We could just have a nice, intimate little ceremony right on the surf.” She ran her finger through Will’s beard.

“You know I would love nothing more,” Will said, “But your mother would never have it.”

“How stupid of me to think that I would be allowed to do what I want at my own wedding,” Dani said sarcastically.

“You know, the ceremony is for the mother just as much as it is for the bride,” Will pointed out, as if repeating a sacred mantra from the universal wedding manual. “You want to make your mother happy, don’t you? She did get you back to the Alpha Quadrant.” Dani rose and walked over to the viewport. “And besides, the invitations have already gone out,” Will said, rising and walking over to join Dani.

That was true, Dani thought. They’d been sent out the week before. The entire crew of the Enterprise had received invites, as well as Voyager’s former crew, half of Starfleet Headquarters, half of the Academy, and various friends and relatives who weren’t affiliated with Starfleet. Close friends and family had received real paper invitations, while everyone else received electronic invites. All in all, close to 4,000 people had been invited. It was truly supposed to be the Starfleet wedding of the year. And Dani and Will were stuck with the overwhelming task of planning it all, with the help of the prospective bride’s mother, best friend, and the Enterprise’s CMO and counselor. It all gave Dani a big headache.

Will turned Dani around so that she was facing him. “Imzadi,” he said softly. She looked up at him. There was that word again. He hadn’t used it often, but when he had, it’d never sat right with her. “It’ll all be over soon,” he continued. “And before you know it, you will be Mrs. Will Riker.” Dani pushed the Imzadi thought from her mind once again as Will leaned down to kiss her.

When Will’s commbadge chirped, the moment was broken. “Captain Picard to Commander Riker.” Will reluctantly tapped his badge. “Riker here, sir,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“Will, I need to see you and Lt. Janeway in my ready room immediately,” the captain said over the comm link. Will and Dani exchanged glances, noting the hint of urgency in Picard’s voice.

“We’re on our way, sir. Riker out.” Will tapped his badge once more, closing the link. Dani looked up at him. She just knew that the leisurely pace she’d been enjoying had ended with that message they’d just received from the captain.

“After you,” Will said with mock glee, as he gestured to the door.

Xxx

When Dani and Will entered the captain’s ready room a few minutes later, they both stopped short when they found Alynna Nechayev standing beside Captain Picard in front of his desk. Dani’s blood ran cold with fear and apprehension. The last conversation she’d had with the admiral remained a clear memory.

Will cast a questioning glance at the captain, who stepped forward, bridging the gap between the admiral and the newcommers. “Will, Dani – you remember Admrial Nechayev,” Picard said cordially. Will and Dani both nodded in the direction of the older blonde. “Have a seat,” Picard told his officers. Dani and Will exchanged uneasy glances before sitting down in the two chairs in front of the captain’s desk. Picard nodded to Nechayev. “Admiral,” he said, before taking his own seat behind his desk.

“Thank you, Captain,” Nechayev said. She sat down in a chair positioned beside Captain Picard’s desk.

Will and Dani were both nervous. They both knew this was a woman who disliked both of them for whatever reasons. She’d always reminded Will of his grade school principal. She made him feel like he was 10 years old again in the principal’s office waiting for a punishment to be handed out. Will resisted the urge to tug at his collar, which suddenly felt as if it were a size too tight.

“First off, I’d like to congratulate you both on your engagement,” Nechayev said.

That was not what Dani and Will had expected to hear from the woman sitting across from them. They looked at each other briefly. “Thank you, Admiral,” Will said, keeping his tone and facial expression professional.

“You do realize, however, that there are certain protocols concerning married officers serving aboard the same ship,” the admiral pointed out.

‘What was the point of even congratulating us if that was going to be the next thing out of your mouth?’ Dani thought.

Will sighed internally. He hoped that wasn’t the reason she’d come all the way out here, to rain on the parade that was to be his and Dani’s marriage. “Yes, ma’am. We’re well aware of them,” Will said, taking special care to keep the venom out of his voice.

“Good,” Nechayev said. “But that is not the purpose of my visit today. Are either of you aware of a man by the name of Hea Star?” Both Will and Dani shook their heads to the negative. “He was the Federation ambassador to Cardassia right before the end the Dominion War.”

Will looked at Captain Picard, surprised. “I didn’t know we had any people on Prime whose purpose was purely diplomatic in nature,” he said.

“We did,” Nechayev continued. “And we still do.” Dani and Will looked at Nechayev. “I doubt that I need to tell you what that means,” Nechayev said. Cardassia was a mess now, and after the war had ended, the Cardassians had never officially allied with the Federation. In fact, they were still considered a very real threat. Despite their current condition, they were growing in strength, and weren’t beyond allying with other stronger “former” enemies.

What all this meant was that Federation citizens that remained in Cardassian space were in grave danger.

“Is Ambassador Star still alive?” Will inquired.

“Our sources on Prime say yes, but he’s being detained in a Cardassian labor camp,” Nechayev replied.

“He won’t last long there,” Dani commented.

“Which is where you come in,” Nechayev said, earning surprised looks from Will and Dani. “The two of you will infiltrate the camp where the ambassador is being held, rescue him, and return with him to Federation space.”

“Pardon my asking, Admiral,” Dani began, “but wouldn’t Special Forces be better suited for this type of mission?”

“In any other situation, yes, but for this one, no. It looks like your history, Lieutenant, has come in handy for us.”

Dani was confused. What did her history have to do with any of this? Was Nechayev speaking of her time with Dukat? She hadn’t learned any kind of strategic knowledge from him.

“I’m not sure I understand, Admiral,” Dani admitted freely. “What does my past have to do with any of this?”

“It involves the manner in which you and Commander Riker will infiltrate the the camp,” Nechayev informed her. “Your past relationship with Dukat will gain you access to the inner workings of the camp.”

“Dukat?” Dani shook her head. “I don’t understand how that is supposed transpire. I didn’t gain any kind of strategic knowledge from Dukat when he was alive. Frankly, I still don’t see how I’m supposed to contribute to this mission, Admiral.”

“Lieutenant, Marac Dukat is still alive.”

Dani nearly fell out of her chair. He’d survived? How? Where had he been? A million questions such as these stormed through Dani’s head, and she wanted to fire them at Nechayev right then and there. “Alive?” she asked, shocked.

“When you infiltrate the labor camp,” Nechayev began, talking to both Will and Dani, “you will allow yourselves to be captured.” She turned her blue gaze on Dani. “We’re banking on the assumption that when you are captured, and it is made known who you are, Dukat will want to see you. You must convince him to release Hea Star into Federation custody.”

“Is he in charge of the camp?” Dani asked.

“No.”

Dani thought about that. If Marac wasn’t running the camp, even if she did convince him, there was no guarantee Star would go free. The words that came out of Nechayev’s mouth next changed her mind.

“He’s the regional head of government,” she said. “He has control over the entire western hemisphere of the planet, which is where the camp is located.” She stood and walked over to the viewports. “I don’t need to reiterate the importance of your mission. Ambassador Star is extremely valuable to the Federation. Getting him back is of the utmost concern. Before we continue, I need to know that the both of you will be able to complete this mission without the risk of suffering from impaired judgement.”

Nechayev may have been outwardly talking to both her and Will, but Dani knew that the woman was actually speaking to her. She wanted to make sure Dani wouldn’t become involved with Dukat, that emotions would be in check. All the while, she was supposed to be convincing Dukat to let Star go.

The admiral continued. “I don’t foresee any potential problems regarding this issue. I should hope that neither of you do either.”

“No, ma’am,” Will replied. Nechayev nodded at him approvingly. She looked at Dani next. The younger woman was a little longer in answering.

“Lieutenant?” Nechayev summoned.

“No, ma’am. No problems.” Dani lied. There was a big problem She knew in her heart that she still loved Dukat.

“Good,” Nechayev said, returning to her previous spot beside Picard’s desk, but opting to stand instead of reclaim her sitting position. “I hear you’re a pretty good actor, Lieutenant,” she said to Dani. “It looks like you’ll get the perfect opportunity to put those acting skills to use.”

Dani and Will’s orders had dictated that they leave for Cardassia as soon as possible. They left the Enterprise in a runabout bound for Cardassia early the next morning, at 0600 hours. It would take them three days to reach Prime from the Enterprise’s location. Their cover story, for anyone who inquired, was that they had been given temporary leave to scout wedding venues for their upcoming ceremony. That was the story everyone on the Enterprise, save the captain, received as to the whereabouts of Dani Janeway and Will Riker. Dani wished that were the real reason for their absence. She was nervous out of her mind about her and Will’s mission. The night before they left the Enterprise, she hadn’t slept a wink. That first night on the runabout, she’d had to take a sedative to even snooze.

She and Will were now on the second day of their journey, and her condition had changed very little from the days before. Dressed in civvies, she sat on a small sofa, gazing out of a viewport. Will, also in civilian clothing, walked over and gently touched her on the shoulder. She reacted as if he’d woken her up, taking a deep breath and tensing up. She looked up at him. As he sat down behind her on the couch, she went back to looking out of the window.

Will didn’t pretend not to know what was bothering her. He knew very well what it was and didn’t try to hide that fact. He placed both of his hands on Dani’s shoulders and began to massage.

“You’re so tense,” he said softly. Dani breathed in and out deeply and relaxed a little in his hands. Despite the fact that he knew most of Dani’s anxiety was being caused by her feelings for another man, this was still his fiáncee, the woman he loved. He was going to get her through this, no matter what.

Will was having problems dealing with this mission as well. He remembered very well the after-effects of Jean-Luc Picard’s last covert mission dealing with the Cardassians. Will had talked very thoroughly with Deanna and Beverly about what the captain had gone through, the condition he’d been in when he returned. Will could hardly get the image of Dani being tortured by the Cardassians out of his mind, and it was tearing him to bits, the very idea that she could possibly end up like the captain. But he pushed it away, that image, those thoughts. He had a job to do. He couldn’t afford to have his mind run away like that.

“Dani?” Will said. No answer. He said it again. “Dani?” This time she did acknowledge him.

“Yes?” she said quietly.

“Dani, this is one of those times when I’m going to have to be a commanding officer to you, rather than a fiánce,” Will said into her ear. “You’ve got a job to do, a duty to perform as a Starfleet officer, and I expect you to do it. You’ve got to put all these personal issues aside and get this mission completed. Do you understand?”

Dani turned around and looked at him. She nodded. “I understand,” she whispered. “We’ll get it done.”

Will returned her gaze. And he believed her. That was the last time he brought up the subject. Returning to fiánce mode, he kissed her.

“Was that my commanding officer, or my fiánce?” Dani asked.

Will smiled a little. “Fiánce.” Dani leaned back into him. He wrapped his arms around her, and they watched the stars streak by.

Xxx

A day and a half later, Will and Dani’s runabout was entering Cardassian space. The night before they’d left, they’d corresponded with covert missions specialists who’d given them a plan for getting caught. Actually, they all knew that it wouldn’t take much for them to be detained by the Cardassians. Their very presence in Cardassian space would be enough cause for arrest by the Cardassian government. The tricky part was making it look like they were trying to elude the authorities. Will and Dani had to make it seem as if they didn’t want to be caught when, in all actuality, they really did want to be caught.

The specialists had devised a method of evasion that would leave just enough clues to be caught by the authorities. Dani and Will’s runabout came out of warp momentarily, in high orbit above Cardassia, just long enough for them to transport down to an isolated area in the western hemisphere. Once they were clear of the ship, it was programmed to jump to warp. For the moment, the Cardassians would be preoccupied with investigating the mysterious ship. They probably wouldn’t realize that someone had transported down to the surface for hours, days maybe. Regardless of how long it took, Dani and Will both knew that they would be caught. They were counting on it and were willing to take the steps necessary to ensure that would be the case.

Dressed in all-black and wearing black ski masks that were to be worn at all times until their capture, Dani and Will were lucky to have beamed down to such an isolated spot. The specialists had done a good job in pinpointing their transport site. Dani and Will looked at each other. Dani wasn’t quite sure what they should do next.

Will took out a tricorder and scanned the area around them. “There’s a large settlement to our west,” Will read from the tricorder.

“The camp?” Dani asked.

Will recalibrated his tricorder to differentiate between species. He was picking up a number of Cardassian signals, a few Bajorans, a few other species…and one human. Concluding that this was an unlikely composition for a Cardassian city, he looked at Dani and nodded to the affirmative in response to her inquiry.

“I think so,” he said. He snapped his tricorder shut and slipped it into his bag. “Let’s go.” He and Dani began to move toward the west. They only got the chance to take a few steps, however, before a hovercraft of some kind descended from the sky, blocking their path. Will could distinctly make out the images of two figures sitting in an open side door with a rifles of some kind pointed at them. Dani and Will instinctively turned to run the other way, but when they did so, found a contingent of Cardassian soldiers, all of them armed, moving in on them.

Dani and Will looked at each other. They hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. They must’ve picked up the transporter signal and paid attention to it after all.

“Do not move!” one of the men in the hovercraft said over a loudspeaker. “You are trespassing in a restricted area. Put your hands in the air, and slowly turn around.”

Will and Dani did as they were told, raising their hands above their heads and turning around to face the hovercrafts. Before they could do anything else, they had phaser rifle barrels pressed to the backs of their heads, and their survival packs were being removed from across their shoulders and handed off to other officers. Then their arms were promptly secured behind their backs with wrist restraints.

At the sound of their bags being opened, Will turned his head slightly to see. “Head forward!” the soldier holding onto his arm said curtly.

“This is Federation property,” one of the men discovered. He looked up at the other Cardassians. “They’re Starfleet.”

The captors all looked at one another, surprised. The ones holding onto the prisoners ripped the face masks off the trespassers. Sure enough, they were human, they found, making another shocking discovery. The two men in the hovercraft, now resting on the ground, turned to each other, very satisfied with themselves. These would prove to be very valuable prisoners. Very valuable, indeed.

“Move!” Dani’s man urged, jabbing her violently in the back with the end of the rifle. She began to walk toward the craft. Will and the other man followed.

Xxx

Dani and Will were unceremoniously guided into a large, open room. Dani’s eyes immediately rose to the impressive glass-enclosed booth that loomed at the front of the room. A bright light was turned on and trained on Will and Dani, blinding them. They both squinted trying to make out the shadowy figures in the booth above them. There were two of them. That was all Will could be sure of. He squeezed his eyes shut. The bright light was beginning to give him a headache.

“Is that too bright for you…Commander?” the voice from the booth asked. Will opened his eyes once again. He couldn’t see who was addressing him, but somehow, that person knew who Will was. “I don’t know why you act so surprised. It isn’t as if you could actually pass as just another Federation face in the crowd. At least, not in these parts.” He paused a bit before continuing. “Commander William T. Riker – one of Starfleet’s finest. First officer on the USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.” Will could practically hear the smile forming on the hidden Cardassian’s face. “Oh, yes – we know all about you. And you also.” Will looked at Dani. He assumed the voice was being directed at her now. It continued. “Lt. Danielle Janeway, an Operations officer aboard the Enterprise. Daughter of Admiral Kathryn Janeway and Captain Chakotay. One of Starfleet’s darlings, if there are such things. Yes,” he hissed, “you along with the commander, here, and the ambassador will make excellent bargaining chips.”

After what seemed like an endless amount of time to the two Starfleet officers, but was probably closer to only a few minutes, one of the figures in the booth gave an order to the Cardassian officers on the ground below.

“Remove the clothing,” he said through a comm system.

Dani looked up at the booth with a start. “Like hell,” she said, beginning to struggle against the burly Cardassians detaining her as they proceeded to follow orders. One of them was about to deliver a hard blow to her head to quell any further resistance, but there was an unexpected intervention. The booth Cardassian who’d spoken earlier rescinded his previous order to remove hers and Will’s clothing. The individuals on the floor all looked up at the booth in disbelief.

“Take them to cells,” was the new order.

The Cardassian guards on the floor all looked at each other with uncertainty before carrying out the new order before proceeding to shove their prisoners out the doors through which they’d entered.

En route to their holding cells, Dani and Will were blindfolded, to keep them confused so that they wouldn’t know their way around in the unlikely event that they escaped.

Dani was guided around a corner and then was told to halt. She did as she was instructed and waited. When the blindfold was removed, Dani found herself in a cruddy cell with cruddy floors and a cruddy metal cot. She was also, she discovered, without Will. She was alone with two Cardassian guards.

She looked down at her wrists. She was surprised the guards hadn’t removed them, yet. After all she was already in the cell. It wasn’t like she was going to try to escape. Not with armed guards watching her every breath. She turned around and looked from one of them to the other and immediately noticed an anxious look in one of the guards’ eyes. ‘Uh-oh,’ Dani thought.

“On the cot,” ordered the taller guard, whose name, Dani would later learn, was Mudak.

“Why?” Dani asked.

xxx

Will sat on the metal cot in his own cell. His restraints had been removed, and the guards had already left him to himself. He shed the top layer of his clothing, revealing a black t-shirt. It was damn hot in this place, though he wasn’t surprised. It was a Cardassian prison. Cardassians preferred their environments exceptionally warm by human standards. Will attributed it to the fact that they were cold-blooded, literally. He stood and walked around his small, dirty cell. He was thinking about how unpleasant this whole ordeal would be when he heard what he thought was Dani’s voice. He wasn’t sure. It had been very faint.

xxx

“On the cot,” Mudak repeated, more forcefully this time.

“Mudak, what are you doing?” the other guard, Lekat, asked.

“Hold this,” Mudak said, pushing his gun in Lekat’s direction. Lekat obediently took it. Mudak advanced toward Dani.

xxx

Will heard this exchange more clearly than he’d heard Dani’s voice. This conversation was going on in the next cell, Will realized. He still wasn’t sure from which direction Dani’s voice had come, though. It was possible that she was in the same cell with this ‘Mudak’ and the other man whose voice Will had heard. He moved closer to the adjacent wall and listened.

“Mudak-” Lekat began in protest.

“Quiet!” Mudak ordered.

“Mudak, this isn’t a very wise course of action,” Lekat insisted.

“Fine. If you don’t want to watch, then go. Leave my weapon on the floor.”

‘Watch what?’ Will wondered, his curiosity aroused.

Mudak stared at Lekat, who was still standing near the cell’s entrance. “Not leaving?” Mudak asked. “I didn’t think so. Be patient, Lekat. This won’t take long.”

Dani’s eyes fell to the growing bulge in the front of Mudak’s pants, and she immediately knew what it was Mudak was after.

Mudak stopped walking. He was only inches away from Dani. He traced a pale finger along her jawline, and it took all of her strength not to throw up. Mudak was nearly Will’s size. There was no way Dani was going to be able to keep this from happening, not with bound wrists. She knew that much. She also knew that she was not going to make this easy for Mudak. She promptly hocked a huge lougie that landed squarely in Mudak’s eye. If he wanted her, he was going to have to work.

Mudak wiped the slimey liquid away from his face. Dani noted the look of utter disgust on Mudak’s face and, for an instant, Dani had a glint of hope, as she began to think that she might have disgusted the Cardassian so much that he’d lost interest.

Not so. Dani’s hope was dashed when she realized that she’d only succeeded in flaring Mudak’s anger. He was still horny, but now he was furious as well. His main goal had shifted from pleasuring himself to hurting Dani. With a beast-like growl, he back-handed Dani across the face, sending her reeling down to the cot. Momentarily stunned, Dani blinked a few times trying to regain her bearings. Mudak was on top of her in an instant.

xxx

Will heard what sounded like a punch followed by a startled cry he was sure belonged to Dani. Had this Mudak fellow just punched her? “Dani?” Will called out at the wall.

xxx

Dani perked up a little bit. “Will?” she called out. She’d heard someone distinctly call out her name. It hadn’t been Mudak, though, that was for sure. This person had been in another room or cell.

xxx

It was definitely Dani. Will listened carefully. It sounded like there was some sort of struggle occurring in the other room. “Dani!”

“Will!” he heard her scream out.

xxx

Mudak looked over at Lekat, with great annoyance. Lekat nodded and left the cell. Mudak turned his attention back to Dani.

xxx

“Dani!” Will yelled. He beat his hand against the wall. “Dani!” Will turned and looked at the entrance to his cell as the forcefield fell and guards entered. They pulled him away from the wall. “What the hell?” he said as he was being dragged away from the wall. “What’s he doing to her? Dani! Da-” His calls were silenced when a rifle butt made contact with his forehead. Will lost consciousness and slumped to the floor.

xxx

“Will?” Dani called out. She couldn’t hear him anymore and feared for his safety. “Will?” She was sure Mudak had sent the other guard to Will’s cell to silence him. Tears stung her eyes. She knew they probably wouldn’t hesitate to kill at least one of them. If they did, they’d still have the other one left plus the ambassador.

“Don’t fret, my dear,” Mudak hissed. “You’ll enjoy it.”

Dani kept good on her secret promise to make this as difficult for Mudak as possible. Unfortunately, a pair of bound wrists and the hands attached to them weren’t very much help in this situation. After a few seconds of struggling, Mudak was able to pin Dani’s hands to the cot. Dani still continued to writhe and wiggle beneath Mudak, trying to do anything that would hold off the inherent event to take place. At one point, Dani bit Mudak squarely on the ear. He yelped in pain and immediately awarded Dani another strike to the face for her troubles. Dani wanted to scream but didn’t see the point in it because, though there were plenty who could hear her, there was no one who could, or would, help her if they were capable.

That’s what she thought…until there was intervention, once again, as there had been earlier when she and Will had first arrived. As if he were some mutt, Mudak was picked up by the collar and literally tossed to the other side of the room. When Dani looked up into the eyes of her rescuer, she nearly fainted. If she’d been standing, her knees would have buckled. “Marac?” she managed to say.

Dukat was sitting over Dani, worried at the sight of the abuse she’d been dealt. “Danielle? Danielle? Talk to me. Are you all right?” He helped her to a sitting position, greatly concerned with her welfare.

“Dukat,” Mudak said, getting to his feet. His face had paled at least two shades.

Dukat ignored Mudak for the moment, examining Dani. There didn’t appear to be any broken bones, but her face was badly cut and bruised.

Dani was at a loss for words. Somewhere along the way, she’d convinced herself that she would be able to carry out this mission. She’d been wrong, she realized. How was she going to do this?

“Danielle, say something,” Dukat urged, apparently worried to death.

“I’m fine,” Dani finally said. “Just a few bruises.”

“I can see that,” Dukat said, his anger surfacing. He looked up at Mudak. “Just what did you think you were doing?” He slowly helped Dani to her feet. “Get these things off her,” he ordered, indicating the restraints on her wrists.

Lekat, who’d re-entered the cell at some point, immediately came forward and removed the wrist restraints from Dani. She began to rub her wrists where the restraints had dug into her skin.

“Dukat, do you think it is wise to remove the restraints when the force field is down?” Mudak asked, timidly. “She is a prisoner.”

“Out of the way,” Dukat growled, leading Dani out of the cell.

Dukat led Dani into a large suite, which she presumed to be his quarters in the camp. Dani could do nothing but stare at Dukat as he examined the bruises forming on her face. Two guards were standing by awaiting any orders Dukat might have.

“Get me a dermal regenerator,” Dukat ordered one of the guards without ever taking his eyes from Dani.

“Yes, Dukat,” said the guard, who scurried out of the room to meet Dukat’s needs.

“I’ll kill Mudak for what he’s done to you, for what he tried to do to you,” Dukat growled.

The guard who’d left to get the regenerator returned and handed the fruit of his labor to Dukat. Dukat activated it and passed it over the various bruises and cuts on Dani’s face. When he was satisfied that Dani’s face had been healed, he handed the little instrument back to the guard. Placing his hands on her arms, Dukat asked if she was hurt anywhere else.

Dani shook her head. “No. I’m fine.” She was lying. She felt very faint. The room was beginning to spin. Her body went limp and would’ve hit the floor had Dukat not been there to catch her.

“Leave us,” Dukat instructed the guards. His eyes never left Dani. The guards obediently exited, leaving Dukat and an unconscious Dani alone. “Danielle? Danielle – answer me.” Worried, Dukat picked her up and carried her to his bedroom. He laid her on the bed and hurriedly ran a medical scanner over her body. Dukat breathed a sigh of relief when it indicated that she was merely sleeping. She’d passed out from exhaustion and, possibly, the heat, realizing that the room was probably too warm for her. He ordered the computer to lower the temperature to the equivalent of 72 degrees Farenheit, as he began to remove her jacket. He would be a little chilly, but she would be comfortable at that temperature.

xxx

Will Riker sat calmly in his cell, trying to think of ways to escape. He and Dani were supposed to be aided by an informant, but he had yet to see or hear any sign of this person’s existence.

Will reached up and felt his forehead where the guard had hit him with his rifle. He brought his hand back down and found that he was still bleeding from the wound. He’d woken up only a few minutes ago and had a headache that was killing him.

It suddenly all came back to him, how he’d been rendered unconscious and left with this monster headache in the first place. “Dani…” he mumbled. He immediately rose, a little disoriented, and walked over to the wall he knew was adjacent to Dani’s cell. “Dani?” he called. “Dani!” There was no response. Will concluded that she was either unconscious or not in there anymore. If she wasn’t there, then where was she? He sat back down on the metal cot, remembering Dukat. If she wasn’t in her cell, Will figured she was probably with Dukat.

Will knew that Dani was a good officer and that under any other circumstances, she would do her job, but he just didn’t know about it this time. Had Dani’s mission involved ‘convincing’ anyone else, Will knew that she would do it without a second thought. But this was Dukat, a man she’d once loved dearly. And probably still did, Will thought grimly. Will and Nechayev had told her to follow through with the mission without becoming emotionally entangled with Dukat. At the same time, they’d told her to use anything and everything she had to convince Dukat to release Star. This included, but was not limited to, his emotions, their past relationship, the possibility of a future relationship, and her body, if necessary. They’d all asked her to totally separate herself from the man, but get so close to him as well.

Will shook his head gently, not wanting to aggravate his headache. What they’d asked of Dani was a lot, and while Dani had convinced everyone that she had a cap on her emotions, Will knew that this was a wildcard situation. The woman wasn’t an android. She couldn’t be expected to turn off her emotions like Data. Will sighed. He had no idea about how this was going to turn out.

xxx

Dani’s eyes fluttered open and she stared up into the blue-eyed gaze of Marac Dukat. She reached up and touched his face. Even after having known that this moment was coming, she still wasn’t prepared for it. She still couldn’t believe he was sitting right there in front of her. He looked exactly as he had that night he’d been taken from her. The only difference was that now, he wore a Cardassian military uniform. “Marac,” she began. “I thought you were dead.”

“So did I,” Dukat quipped.

“What happened?” Dani asked. She tried to sit up, and Dukat aided her.

“Easy,” he said, helping her to a sitting position. “You passed out about an hour ago. My medical scanner tells me you’re a very sleepy woman.”

“No,” Dani shook her head. “I mean, to you. What happed to you?”

Dukat knew what she was talking about. Where had he been over the past year? What had happened to him on that Romulan ship. “It’s a long story,” Dukat said. “You must be famished. Would you like something to eat?” He stood and moved to help her to her feet also.

“No,” Dani refused flatly. “I would like to know what happened that night.”

Dukat reclaimed his seat. He looked at her and, relenting, began his tale of what happened that fateful night over a year ago. “They took me from our cell, you remember, and took me to another just down the corridor,” he began. “What I’m certain you thought you heard was not what actually happened. You thought they executed me because that’s what the Romulans wanted you to think.”

Dani shook her head. She didn’t know what he was saying. “I’m not sure I understand completely,” she admitted. “You’re saying the Romulans simulated your execution?”

Dukat nodded. “They didn’t shoot me with a disrupter,” he revealed. “They read the execution proclamation, and then they shot me with a tranquilizer gun. I lost consciousness, and you heard me hit the floor. You assumed I’d been executed.”

Dani couldn’t believe it. All those haunting memories about that incident, and it hadn’t even been real. She shook her head. There was just one question she had left to ask. “Why? Why would…why?”

“After the war ended, Cardassia tried to rebuild its government using the same structure it’d held before,” Dukat explained. “But it wouldn’t work. Things were just too devastated. So, it was decided that a new method of government would be needed, with new leaders. Apparently, there must have been some fans of mine on these preliminary councils because it was decided by someone that I was needed for this new government.”

“But why all the secrecy? Why the ruse with the Romulans? Why not just summon you back to Cardassia?” Dani would certainly have preferred a simple summons. What she’d witnessed, what she’d thought she’d witnessed had been horrible, traumatic. It had taken her forever to get over it. She still wasn’t completely over it, and here she was staring Dukat in the face.

“Because at the time, the public hated me. Bringing me back to Prime in the public eye would have doomed any new government from the start. If the people hated me, they would hate the government for bringing me back. That isn’t good when you’re trying to revive a government. It is most certainly detrimental when trying to start a new one. If we didn’t have the people, we had nothing.”

Dani stood and walked to the nearest window, which offered a breath-taking view of the city a few miles beyond where they were. She had no idea what city it was, but it was beautiful. “So, what does this mean, now?” she asked. “Do you go back to being the arch enemy of the Federation now?”

Dukat stood and moved to a position a few steps behind her. “No,” he said. “It means just the opposite. It means that I’m in a position to help mend the ties between Cardassia and the Federation.”

“There have to be ties in the first place for them to mended.” Dani turned to face Dukat. “Right now, we’re looking at pieces of thread here. Hardly ties.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying don’t feed me any of your diplomatic rhetoric. Okay? It was easy for you to uphold these high and mighty morals and be the changed man that you claimed to be when we first met. You didn’t have to answer to anybody then. Now, everything’s changed.” She stepped around Dukat, who turned and followed her.

“Nothing’s changed,” Dukat insisted. “I’m still the same man you met on the station.”

“Then, prove it.” Dani’s back was still to Dukat. He approached her and touched her shoulder. She slowly turned to him. “Even if you are still the same man I met and fell in love with on the station, you won’t be for long. It won’t be long before they get to you, and you’re doing these terrible deeds again.”

“No. It won’t-”

“You probably already have,” Dani said, rolling over Dukat’s attempt to counter.

“It is going to be different this time,” Dukat said. He sounded as if he were trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince Dani. “Danielle – it will be different.”

“Then prove it, Marac. Let Star go.”

“Star?” Was that what all this was about? That’s why she was here?

“You don’t know why I’m here, do you? You don’t know what my mission was.” Dani walked back over to the bed and sat down once more. Dukat watched Dani from his current standing position. “Our mission was to come here and retrieve Ambassador Hea Star.” She shook her head. “Gods, I’m not supposed to be telling you this.” She looked at Dukat. “We were caught on purpose. That was our way into the camp. We knew we weren’t going to be able to break Star out, so my instructions were to convince you to release him, using any means that would work. Our way out, a Cardassian informant working for the Federation.”

Dukat became alarmed at that last bit of information. “Who?” he demanded.

“I can’t tell you that. I don’t even know.”

Dukat stood there and took all of this in. She’d come here to betray him, he realized. Suddenly, a million questions sprang into his head. What was her next step? Could he ever trust another word that came from her beautiful mouth to be true? Was she lying now in what she’d just told him? At this very moment, was he being manipulated? Then she looked up at him with those big, beautiful, rich brown eyes of hers, and he threw all his doubts to the wind. Eyes like those did not lie.

“Marac, say something,” Dani pleaded.

Dukat walked over to the bed and held out his hand to Dani. “Come,” he said. “Let’s eat.” He gestured to the living area beyond the bedroom door. Dani could see that a table of food that had been set out. She took his hand, stood, and let Dukat lead her to the table. He pulled out a chair for her and seated her, seating himself a few moments later on the other side of the table.

As they placed their napkins on their laps, Dani said, “That uniform – I’ve never actually seen you wearing one before in person. I’ve seen pictures, but never in person.”

“What do you think?” Dukat asked.

“Well, I can’t lie – I do prefer you in civvies, but the uniform is…nice.”

“That’s only a polite way of saying you hate it.”

Dani allowed a small smile crease her lips. “It just makes you seem a little…cold, distant. Unapproachable.”

“That is precisely its purpose.”

Dani sliced up her meat, which she recognized to be filet mignon. She placed a square in her mouth. It was so good. “Earlier, you were one of the men in the booth, weren’t you?” she surmised, after chewing and swallowing. “You’re the reason I’m still wearing my clothes.”

“Yes,” Dukat admitted.

“Did you know it was me when they first brought me in?”

“Yes,” he took a bite of his own dish, also filet mignon, and chewed and swallowed it. He looked across the table at her. Not much had changed about her. Her hair was a little longer, but everything else was the same. Same beautiful face, same beautiful skin, same beautiful body. Same beautiful Danielle. “With Star in our custody, I half-expected something like this to happen.” He took a sip of his drink and replaced his glass on the table. “I never expected them to send you, though.”

For the first time since she’d awoken, Dani’s thoughts found the subject of Will. “My partner-”

“Commander Riker,” Dukat finished for her. It left a bitter taste in his mouth, the name of his Danielle’s current lover.

“Yes. What’s happened to him?” Dani asked eagerly.

“He’s safe, in a cell. He won’t be mistreated any further. You have my word.”

Dani nodded and moved on to another course, the crescent rolls.

“Commander Riker…” Dukat said, earning a warning look of sorts from Dani. “I must say, I was quite surprised to learn that you and he were back together. The way you talked about him, I thought you were through.”

Dani looked down at her plate. “Well, it just goes to show that you never really know how these kinds of things will turn out.”

xxx

Click, click, click, click Those were the unmistakable sounds of the footfalls of a guard. Will quickly concluded that the guard was approaching his cell. Click, click, click Will looked up. The guard was standing in front of the force field now in full view of Will. The guard eyed the prisoner suspiciously for a few moments. Then he did something that Will hadn’t expected, but had hoped for-he turned off the forcefield. It was only then that Will realized the guard was carrying a tray of food.

Will stood and approached the guard to receive his food. Will expected the guard to level his gun at him and tell him to remain where he was, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he stood there with the food, waiting for Riker to retrieve it.

‘This is it,’ Riker thought. ‘My chance to escape.’ He had to figure out how to disable the guard before he re-activated the force field. He approached the guard and received the tray. Then, instead of immediately re-activating the field, he turned his back on Will. Needing no further encouragement, Will hit the Cardassian over the head with the tray. The contents of the tray hit the ground just as the guard did. Will noticed a folded piece of paper flutter to the ground. When Will scooped up the guard’s rifle, he picked up the paper as well, before starting off down the corridor. He rounded a corner, then paused for a second to review the paper he’d found. He unfolded it and realized that it was a map showing him the way to Hea Star’s cell. It also, he realized, revealed the route to Dukat’s personal quarters. Will looked back at the direction of his cell. That ‘guard’ must’ve been his informant. And he’d knocked him out cold. That was probably for the best, he figured. If there was surveillance, it’d look more authentic and less suspicious for the guard.

Will refolded the map. So, he’d been right. Dani was with Dukat. He resolved to go get Star first, then he’d move in for Dani. He checked the energy output for his weapon. Full. He looked around, making sure the way was clear before resuming his mission.

xxx

“I must admit, I’m more than just slightly jealous of him,” Dukat was telling Dani. He was speaking of Will, of course. “The man that has the privilege of being your husband is a lucky man.”

Dani didn’t know how to respond. What do you say to a statement like that without hurting someone’s feelings? She looked at him. It looked to her that his feelings were already hurt. The very fact that she was with someone else was probably enough to hurt. She knew that if he were with another woman, she’d be a little upset, herself.

“We aren’t married,” Dani pointed out.

“But engaged, correct, which is very close in my book.”

There wasn’t any contempt, hate, or anger in his words, Dani noted. Only deep sadness. It pained Dani to see him hurting like this, but she didn’t know what to say. She loved Will. She couldn’t honestly say that she was sorry for the relationship they had. They sat, eating in silence for a few moments longer, before Dukat spoke up.

“I thought you might like to know that I’ve arranged to have the commander escape,” Dukat said. Dani’s head shot up. “With Star, if you’d like,” he added.

Dani couldn’t believe her ears. That was it, just like that? Star was gone? Her mission, complete?

“I’m going to create a scenario that will allow the commander to break out,” Dukat continued.

“When?”

“Not long. Any moment now, probably.”

Dani nodded. “Oh,” Dani said, the picture of calmness. She looked down at her food. Now that the rescue part of this trip was taken care of, there was just the matter of her feelings to sort out. What would she choose: love with Dukat, or love with duty? “Are you expecting me to go with him?” Dani asked.

“Are you planning on it?”

“Would you let me?”

Dukat placed his napkin on the table. This was ridiculous. They were both skirting around the issue at hand, here. “You know I want you here with me,” he said. “I love you, Danielle. No matter how much changes, the fact still remains that I do need you. I will always need you.”

Dani placed her napkin on the table and stood, her thoughts drifting back to the conversation she’d had with Rane a few months ago. Back then, it had only been a rhetorical question – who would she choose? She’d known there was no chance of the situation actually occurring in real life. Yet, here she was faced with this exact predicament. And she still didn’t have an answer. She walked away from the dinner. “I can’t make this kind of decision.”

“You’re going to have to,” Dukat said. He rose and joined Dani, coming up behind her. “When Commander Riker bursts through that door looking for you, as I know he will, you’re going to have to decide who it is you want to be with.” He took a step closer to her. “Let me ask you something.” Dani turned to face Dukat. “Do you still have any feelings for me?” he asked her. “I just want to know.”

“I do,” Dani said honestly “Obviously, or making this decision wouldn’t be such a task for me.

“Do you love me?” he asked.

Dani looked up into Dukat’s intense gaze. She knew she loved him, but telling him was harder than telling herself. Telling him would be a verbal admission to the fact that she didn’t love Will as much as she thought she did. You couldn’t be in love with two people and love them both equally. It didn’t work that way. If it came down to it, and you had to choose, you would choose one over the other. That was the decision facing Dani right now. Did she love Will enough to walk out on Dukat and have love ripped from him a second time in their relationship? Did she love Dukat enough to walk out on Starfleet, her career, her parents…Will?

The sound of phaser fire in the corridor momentarily pulled Dani from her dilemma. She looked to the door and then back at Dukat. She knew what was happening. Her first, Academy-trained instinct told her to run to the corridor, and she was already halfway there when the doors slid open and Will entered, wielding a phase rifle. He aimed it at Dukat.

“Will!” Dani exclaimed.

“Dani, I’ve got the ambassador! We’ve got to get out of here!” Will said. Dani looked past Will’s shoulder. Hea Star was standing in the doorway, on guard with a phaser of his own.

Will afforded a quick glance at Dani to ensure that her health was intact.. He hadn’t believed that Dukat would’ve hurt her, but he couldn’t be too sure. Once he was assured of Dani’s health, he trained his gaze back on Dukat.

Dani looked back at Dukat and then back at Will. She had to make a decision, probably the most important of her life, within the window of the next few seconds.

Will thought Dani’s glance meant she was afraid of what Dukat would do if she moved. “Let her go, Dukat,” Will said sternly.

“She’s free to go, Commander,” Dukat said calmly. “If she so wishes.” He didn’t want to do anything threatening to the commander. He had a phase rifle trained squarely on him, and in the unlikely event that Dani did choose to remain with him, he wanted to be around to enjoy it.

Will watched Dani, it dawning on him that she was actually debating within herself about what to do. “Dani, come on!” he urged.

Dani looked at Will. The look in her eyes – that look – was one of such remorse and sorrow. It told him all he needed to know.

“Will…” she began. She started to take a few steps back. “I’m…” She slowly shook her head.

‘…Sorry,’ Will thought, silently finishing her statement. He lowered his rifle, emotionally defeated, and watched Dani take Dukat’s side.

“Commander, if you hurry, you and the ambassador can still make it off Prime,” Dukat said. “But you must go. Now.”

Will’s gaze was trained on Dani. “Will, go,” Dani pleaded. “Please.”

Will started to back out of the room. He looked at Dani once more, as if making very sure that this was what she wanted. She nodded slightly, and realized that his work here was done. He had the ambassador, and they were returning to Earth. He stalked out of the office, the ambassador in tow.

‘She chose him,’ Will thought, following his paper map to a waiting transport. ‘She chose him.’

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