Dani slipped on her sneakers and proceeded to stretch her muscles. She had been on Prime for three weeks, now, and had been sitting around the house for far too long. She’d taken to reading novels and had already worked her way through ten. She was just itching to get some kind of exercise.
When she made it downstairs, Rowat was already there. She didn’t usually see him this early in the day. His quarters were located in the house, but he usually didn’t come down until after Dukat had left.
“Goodmorning, Rowat,” Dani greeted cordially. “You’re down early, aren’t you?”
“Only a little,” Rowat replied dryly. He noted Dani’s attire and took on a look of surprise. Running shoes and athletic attire? It wasn’t what she usually wore to breakfast. “Are you going somewhere?” he asked.
“After breakfast, I’m going for a little run,” Dani told him matter-of-factly.
“I’m sorry. I can’t allow you to do that,” was Rowat’s reply.
“It’s too dangerous.”
“That’s what I have you for.” Dani tried to side step him, but he blocked her path. She sighed, annoyed, and stood there, her arms crossed.
“Good morning,” Dukat’s voice rang out. Dani turned to see Dukat walking out of his office, a PADD in his hand. He noted the dismayed looks on Dani’s and Rowat’s faces. “What seems to be the problem here?”
“She wants to go running,” Rowat complained.
“Well, then you’d better make sure you’re all stretched and warmed up,” Dukat said.
Rowat looked quizzically at Dukat. “What?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t want you to pull a muscle,” Dukat said, as if that would clarify everything.
Apparently for Rowat, it didn’t. “I don’t understand.”
“While you’re running. I wouldn’t want you to injure yourself,” Dukat said slowly, as if he were speaking to a child. He smiled. “She’s fast. Be sure to keep up with her.” He offered one final smile before walking off toward the kitchen.
Rowat looked at Dani, a scowl on his gray face. “I’ll be ready to go in 15 minutes,” she gloated. She smiled sweetly, mocking him, and followed Dukat into the kitchen.
“If Rowat doesn’t keep up with you, be sure to tell me,” Dukat said, as Melba placed a light breakfast in front of him. He plucked his neatly folded napkin from the table.
As Dani’s own breakfast was placed before her, she asked Dukat, “You don’t have a problem with me going for a run, do you?”
“No, of course not, my love,” Dukat said. “In fact, I’m quite pleased to see that you’re doing something you enjoy. I want to see you happy.” He smiled at her.
“You don’t think there’s any real danger, do you?”
“Oh, of course not. As long as Rowat stays with you, you should be fine.” He watched Dani nod, albeit with some apparent degree of uncertainty. “Don’t worry yourself with this. Go, and have fun. I only wish I could join you.”
“Maybe soon,” Dani said optimistically. She gave him a smile of her own.
“We’ll see,” he said. “What time do you think you’ll be ready to go tonight?” he asked, moving on to the next subject, which was the formal ball he and Dani were to attend that night.
“Whatever time you need me to be,” Dani replied. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “Do you really think this is such a good idea? I mean, dinner is one thing, but this? I don’t even like formal engagements in the Federation. I know this one is going to be much more trying than any of those.”
Dukat reached across and covered Dani’s hand with his. “I know that venturing into another room full of Cardassians is probably the last thing you want to do, especially after what happened at the restaurant,” he began. “However, I would greatly appreciate it if you were at my side tonight.”
“You know I will be,” Dani assured him with a weak smile. All she really wanted to do was stay in and enjoy a night alone with Dukat. But if he had to go to this state function, and he wanted her with him, she would be there.
“Wonderful,” Dukat said. He pulled his napkin from his lap, placed it on the table, and rose. “I have to get going.” He leaned down and kissed Dani. “I’ll see you this evening.”
“I love you,” he told her.
“Love you, too.” She kissed him again before he left.
Dani felt like pure energy while she was running. She hadn’t exercised vigorously in weeks, and now that she was doing it, it felt like she was taking a long, deep breath. She felt like she could go on forever.
Rowat, on the other hand, was having a harder time. He felt like he wouldn’t make it much longer. His breathing was getting ragged, and he was falling behind Dani.
Finally, Dani slowed to a walk. Rowat was more than relieved. He felt like his lungs were about to burst. He didn’t know how long they had been running. It seemed like hours.
“Twenty minutes,” Dani breathed. Her breathing was heavy but nowhere near the degree of Rowat’s.
Rowat looked at the woman in disbelief. Twenty minutes?! he thought. That was all?
Dani continued. “I guess that’s enough for today. We can do more tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Rowat rasped.
“Wouldn’t want to wear myself out on the first day,” Dani said, walking past the hunched over, exhausted Cardassian.
All heads in the room turned to them when they entered. It was a large, grand room, and it was filled with people dressed impeccably in formal dresses, suits, and uniforms. Dani Janeway would never again complain about being stuck in a room full of admirals. That was a piece of cake compared to this.
Dani and Dukat hesitated momentarily at the entrance. He turned to her, flashing a reassuring smile as he covered her hand with his. He knew she didn’t like this, but having her here was for the best. It was high time these people got used to seeing her around, because she was here to stay. There was no way he was going to let them railroad her into a reclusive existence. They glided gracefully into the room, arm-in-arm.
As the couple made their way across the room, they left a wake in the crowd, as a boat does in water. Dukat waved and nodded at various individuals as they walked. Where they were going, Dani had no idea. She wasn’t exactly the tallest person around, so she couldn’t see over the scores of people who lined their path and stared while they passed by. After a few more moments of walking, though, Dani could see a long, table seemingly elevated and looming at the front of the room. She looked up at Dukat, questioningly.
“Let me guess – that’s our table,” Dani surmised.
“You are correct,” Dukat replied. “We’re supposed to mingle with the other guests until Damar arrives. Then we can all take our seats.”
Dani nodded. Damar had been the leader of Cardassia since the Dominion War ended, which was about eight years ago. Dani wondered what it was like for Dukat, having to serve under a man who had once been his subordinate. From what Dani had learned, Cardassia had suffered under Damar’s leadership. His intentions had been good, but a society couldn’t be run on intentions. In nearly a decade, Cardassia hadn’t yet completely recovered from the war. Terrorist cells lurked in both the colonies and the anonymity of the large cities, attacking sporadically. And the economy was a mess. The treaty with the Federation was a small step, and it could be a while before any significant gain from the alliance would be visible. Cardassia needed solutions now. In the meantime, the general attitude toward the Federation remained resentful. People on Cardassia didn’t like the idea of asking for help from the Federation and outwardly scoffed at the idea of one day becoming a member planet.
“So, who else sits at the table?” Dani asked Dukat.
“Damar, of course,” Dukat began. “And Reyal. I’ve told you about him.” Dani nodded, and Dukat continued. “Then there are a few other legates and guls. When we have guests of the state, they usually sit with us.” Dukat’s eyes roamed the room before focusing in on a group of men a few feet away. “There’s most of our group, now,” he said, pointing out the group. He led Dani over to the group.
“Gentlemen, allow me to introduce my guest, Lt. Danielle Janeway,” he said. “Danielle, these are our table companions.” He pointed to each one as he introduced them. “Legate Reyal, prefect of Prime’s Eastern Hemisphere, Legate Maroll, and Guls Evek and Madred.”
“How do you do?” Dani greeted. This was her first time meeting all of them in person, but she already knew the names Evek and Madred.
“I’ve been reviewing your service record, Lieutenant,” Evek said. “You served under Picard.”
“That’s right,” Dani replied. “In fact, I was onboard a few times when you visited the Enterprise.”
“Really? The last time my ship encountered the Enterprise was years ago. You don’t look old enough to have been an officer then.”
“I wasn’t. I was a little girl then.”
“Well, you certainly are a woman now,” Reyal said, admiring Dani with a smile. Dukat regarded his colleague with great annoyance. Who the hell did he think he was? Then again, only a few short weeks ago, Dukat had tried to convince the man that Dani Janeway was little more than a housekeeper. Dukat had to admit, he had left himself exposed on this one.
Dani turned to Reyal. She would’ve gotten mad, but Dukat had told her that Reyal was generally a good person. He was only serious when there wasn’t any other option. He was a few years younger than Dukat and only two or three inches shorter. He was handsome with a sort of boyish charm. Actually, Reyal reminded Dani of Will a little. “Very good,” Dani said, responding to Reyal’s statement with mock praise. “You’re very observant.”
Reyal smoothly took Dani’s hand. “Lieutenant, allow me to formally welcome you to Cardassia and our little party,” he said. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it before speaking again. “And might I add that you look absolutely lovely tonight. That dress … ” Reyal’s gray eyes roamed the length of Dani’s body, clad in long, scarlet gown that clung and hugged in all the right places. “Red really is your color.” Reyal couldn’t have cared less about the color. It could have been the ugliest shade of pink; it wouldn’t matter. The view would still be the same. He looked over at Dukat, who didn’t look at all amused. What reason did he have to be upset, though? After all, he was helping convince everyone that there was nothing going on between Dukat and his ‘guest’, Reyal thought with an silent laugh.
Reyal turned back to Dani. “I hope that we can get to know each other better and that your time here on Prime is well spent,” he told her, letting go of her hand.
Dani wanted to break into a laugh, but she held it back. Reyal was just being nice. Maybe a little too nice, but it was a welcome change from all the hostility Dani was becoming used to encountering on this planet. “Well, Legate Reyal -”
“Please – call me Dorien,” Reyal requested.
“Dorien,” Dani acquiesced. “I thank you for the very warm welcome.”
“Reyal is a very cordial person,” Dukat said, finding the perfect opportunity to finally jump in. He looked at Reyal. “Sometimes he goes a little overboard.”
Madred spoke up. “I would also like to welcome Lt. Janeway to Cardassia,” he said.
Dani looked up at Madred. She remembered his name vividly. How could she ever forget? The man who had personally interrogated and tortured Captain Picard during his captivity on Cardassia. He was the reason Will hadn’t wanted Dani on their mission to Cardassia.
Madred peered down at her. “And also, send your captain my regards – when you see him again, that is,” he said. “We’re old friends.”
“I know,” Dani said coldly.
Madred grinned a little, satisfied that he had gotten underneath Janeway’s skin. It was regrettable that he had never actually gotten the chance to interrogate her. He imagined that the procedure probably would have been interesting.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Legate Damar,” a male voice announced. All heads turned to the room’s entrance. Damar walked in, a beautiful young Cardassian woman on his arm. Her dress was intensely elaborate and complicated, and her hair did it all justice.
Dani leaned in close to Dukat and whispered, “I didn’t know Damar was married.”
“He isn’t,” Dukat whispered back. “She’s temporary.”
“Oh,” Dani mouthed, nodding.
It didn’t take Damar long to make his way over to the group. “Good evening gentlemen,” he greeted cheerfully. He noted Dani’s presence and added, “And lady. This must be the guest I’ve been hearing so much about.”
“Yes,” Dukat said. “Damar, this is Lt. Danielle Janeway. Danielle, this is Legate Damar – our leader.”
Dani could see the sarcasm behind Dukat’s eyes even though it didn’t come through in his voice.
“A pleasure, sir,” Dani said politely.
“Likewise,” Damar said. He turned to the rest of his companions. “Shall we take our seats?”
Everyone began to follow Damar to the table. Dukat hung back a little with Reyal. He spoke quietly to the other man so that only the two of them could hear. “Laying it on a little thick, aren’t we?” Dukat asked Reyal.
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re referring to,” Reyal said innocently. Then with mock realization, “Oh, do you mean Lt. Janeway?”
“Yes, I mean Lt. Janeway,” Dukat said pointedly.
“Dukat, you’re lucky to have such a beautiful woman working in your house,” Reyal said. He looked at Dani, who turned around and looked at Dukat, probably wondering why he wasn’t behind her.
“Okay, you’ve made your point.” Dukat took his eyes off Reyal momentarily to cast a reassuring look to Dani. Then he turned back to Reyal. “But I’d appreciate it if you’d quit making passes at my guest,” he said before walking off to join Dani.
Damar sat in the seat at the center of the table, with Reyal and Dukat on either side of him. Dani was beside Dukat. Beside Dani was Evek and then his wife. Maroll and his wife were beside Reyal. Madred was at the end. Without delay, a unit of servers began to bring out the food and kanaar for the table.
Dukat turned to Dani. “I apologize for Reyal’s behavior,” he said. “He was trying to prove a point.”
“Really? I could’ve sworn he was just trying to help you out,” Dani said, taking a sip from the glass of kanaar that had just been poured for her.
“By illustrating the fact that you and I aren’t a couple,” Dani explained. “No man in his right mind would just stand by while another man made blatant come-ons to his girlfriend.” She smiled behind her glass.
“You enjoyed it, didn’t you?” Dukat questioned.
Dani placed her glass back on the table. “Maybe I was a little flattered,” she admitted. A smile was on her face, but there was hysterical laughter in her eyes. Dukat realized that she was teasing him. He took a sip of his drink and returned her smile.
“I’m going to the little girl’s room,” Dani told him. “The restroom,” she clarified upon seeing the questioning look on Dukat’s face.
“Do you want me to go with you,” Dukat asked.
“I didn’t think you were that type,” Dani quipped before standing.
Dukat watched her walk away, a lopsided grin on his face. The woman had no shame.
“Dukat, are you attempting to bring back the tradition of comfort women?” Maroll asked with a mischievous grin.
“Yes, Dukat – what’s the truth behind Janeway?” Evek inquired.
“Gentlemen, I know that I am not the only one at this table who’s ever borrowed from the prison population to take care of household labor issues,” Dukat said. He took an innocent sip from his glass of kanaar.
Maroll, a rotund, older man with graying hair, chuckled. “Come now. Surely, you don’t expect us to believe that you have a girl like that in your house for purely professional reasons?”
Dukat kept up the act. “Why not?”
Evek narrowed his eyes at Dukat. “Didn’t you have some kind of romantic liaison with this woman a little while back?”
“No, Evek – I appeared to have a romantic relationship with Janeway.” Dukat rested his elbows on the arms of his chair and clasped his hands. He prayed to whatever gods could hear him that his story was believable. “Can’t you see? The relationship was a ploy to lure Janeway here,” he lied. “Gentlemen, you have to agree that with Janeway in our custody, we have an excellent bargaining chip with the Federation. Janeway will give us the opportunity to negotiate different terms for the treaty, terms that could possibly give us the upper hand in this deal. We have something they want, and we want something they could give us.”
“That’s a good plan,” Evek commented.
“Yes, it is,” Maroll admitted. “But I still find it difficult to believe that your relationship with Lt. Janeway hasn’t returned to its romantic roots. A man has needs, you know.” He turned and smiled knowingly at his wife, who returned his grin.
“It’s all purely physical, I assure you,” Dukat said.
“Does she know that?” Damar asked, entering the conversation for the first time.
Dukat looked at Damar. “What purpose would that serve?” he asked.
Dani walked out of the restroom and immediately wanted to run back in. Madred was there, and he was looking right at her. She wondered if he had coincidentally gotten up at the same time as she, but she doubted that was what had happened. It was more likely that he had followed her and waited.
She began to walk but he immediately moved to block her path. “So, you know who I am, do you?” Madred confronted her.
Dani looked up at him with an unwavering stare. “I’ve heard of you, yes,” she replied.
“I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of stories about the nasty things I did to your captain,” Madred said.
Dani nodded defiantly. “I have.” She wasn’t going to let Madred intimidate her.
“Well, let me tell you something,” Madred began, “Picard got what was coming to him because he violated the law. He was a criminal – just … like … you.”
“Would you kindly step aside?” Dani requested. “I’d like to return to the table.” She tried to side step him, but he was quick in blocking her. He grabbed her by the arm.
“Careful, dear,” Madred said. “If it weren’t for your boyfriend out there, you’d be in the same situation your good captain was in all those years ago.”
Dani tried unsuccessfully to squirm out of his grip, but he was stronger than he looked. He moved closer to her, and all of a sudden, she wasn’t sure what he was going to do next. She was revolted when he traced his finger along her collarbone and down her chest. With strength that was rooted in her anger, Dani snatched her arm away from Madred. A guard stepped up seemingly from no where, and Dani wondered where the hell he had been two minutes ago.
“Would you like me to escort you back to your seat, ma’am?” he offered.
“No,” Dani said, looking from Madred to the guard. “I’ll be fine.” She finally stepped past Madred.
Dukat nodded to the server who refilled his kanaar glass. When she moved away, he took a small sip of the liquid and looked over the vast room, wondering what was keeping Dani. She should have returned by now. When his eyes reached the room’s entrance, the expression on his face fell. Dani was returning, but Madred was with her. What was he doing? Dukat hadn’t even seen the man get up from the table. The man was an efficient and effective interrogator, which was exactly why Dukat didn’t want him anywhere near Dani. Dukat’s eyes never left Dani as she made her way back to the table.
“What happened?” he whispered to her as she took her seat.
“Nothing,” Dani replied quietly.
“You look troubled,” Dukat observed. “What did he say to you?”
“Nothing. We just had a little talk. That’s all.”
Dukat looked down at the end of the table where Madred was seated. Madred smiled sweetly at him and Dani. Dukat turned back to Dani. “Why don’t we discuss this when we get home?” he suggested.
“There’s nothing to discuss. Can we just leave it alone?”
Dukat was a little taken aback, but Dani obviously didn’t want to talk about, so he would let it go. He still wanted to know what Madred had said to her, though. It looked like he would have to find that out on his own. Underneath the table, behind the cover of the silk tablecloth, Dukat took Dani’s hand. He looked at her and offered a gentle smile. She did her best to smile back.
Dani was glad that Dukat was content with letting the matter drop. She didn’t want to dwell on it anymore about it than she had to, because Madred was right. If it hadn’t been for Dukat, Dani would have ended up in front of Madred’s desk, just like Captain Picard had. And gods only knew how what would have happened to her then.
She sighed. It was an unsettling thought. Dani looked at Dukat. Was he really all that was standing between her and a tortuous, imprisoned fate? No wonder everyone here hated her. In their eyes, she was just a no-good criminal who had gotten off.
The next day was a lazy Saturday. Rowat had the day off, and Dukat and Dani had spent the day at home. They had hoped to spend a relaxing day together without having to deal with life’s little annoyances, which is why when the doorbell rang, neither of them worried about it because they were certain that Melba or one of the other house workers would take care of it and send whoever was at the door on their merry way.
At least, that’s the way it should have happened. When Dani, on the sofa with Dukat in the living room, heard talking in the entrance foyer, she wasn’t sure things were going to go exactly as planned. Soon, Melba appeared in the living room doorway. “Sir, you have a visitor,” she said.
“I’m not seeing anyone today, Melba,” Dukat dismissed. “You know that.” He never even looked up from the book he and Dani were sharing.
“Won’t you make an exception for an old acquaintance?” It wasn’t Melba who had spoken. Both Dani and Dukat looked to the doorway. A middle-aged Cardassian woman slid past the maid and glided into the room as if she owned the place. Dani had no clue who the woman was, but it was evident by the look of utter shock on Dukat’s face that he knew the identity of the woman. He sat up straight, closing the book.
“Sarai … ” he said, coming to his feet. Following suit, Dani uncurled her legs and planted them on the floor, standing.
“It’s been a long time,” Sarai Lataan said, slowly approaching Dukat. She had a sly smile on her face.
Dukat was less amused. “That it has,” he said. “What are you doing here, Sarai?”
“My, how you’ve changed. You didn’t used to be so frank.”
Not wanting to change the subject at all, Dukat persisted. “Why are you here, and what do you want?”
“Can’t a wife come and visit her husband if she so wishes?”
Dukat turned to Dani. “Could you give us a few moments?”
Dani glanced at Sarai before nodding reluctantly. “Sure.” She grinned up at Dukat before she walked out of the living room, leaving Dukat and Sarai alone.
Once Dukat was certain that Dani was out of earshot, he turned angrily back to Sarai. “How dare you march into my house in this manner!” he scolded.
Sarai looked exaggeratedly taken aback. “Is that anyway to greet your wife?”
“Oh, darling, I’ve missed you so much over these past few years.” Sarai proceeded to throw her arms around Dukat.
Dukat, very confused and equally angered, promptly disentangled himself from her and took an instinctive step back. “Sarai, what is going on?” he asked her.
Sarai laughed and regarded him as if he should already know. “Why, Marac … you always were adorable when you tried to play dumb.” She moved to close the gap between them, but he put his hand up to stop her. For the first time during her visit, Sarai’s smile left her face. “Marac?”
“This is all just a bit too convenient for my taste,” Dukat said. “You and everyone else in my life on Prime cut me loose when I brought Ziyal back to live with me.” He saw something within her flicker momentarily at the mention of Ziyal. “Now, after I’ve been back for a while, have my position, my status, I’m … worthy again?”
“Now, Marac … don’t be so paranoid. I simply realized that people make mistakes, and they shouldn’t be condemned forever because of them. I want us to be able to look past the … bad times and get back to the relationship, to the life that we had before. Reconciliation, Marac.”
Dukat almost couldn’t believe that the woman had the guile to actually be saying this. But she had been married to him. Perhaps she had learned it from him.
“While your offer certainly is lucrative and quite tempting,” Dukat said, dripping with sarcasm, “I’m afraid I’m just going to have to decline.”
“Decline?” Sarai sounded positively surprised.
“Yes. I’m quite happy with my situation as it is now.”
“Happy? How could you possibly be happy? Isolating yourself from your fellow Cardassians by fraternizing with a Terran, a Starfleet officer at that. Wouldn’t you much rather enjoy the pleasures a true Cardassian woman can provide.”
“Ah, Cardassian pleasures … it’s regrettable that they’re only available when the situation at hand is overwhelmingly good.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you left when things became a little too warm for your liking,” Dukat hissed. “You were my wife; you were supposed to be by my side, no matter what.”
“As were you,” Sarai countered. “But as soon as I was out of site, I was out of mind, wasn’t I? It didn’t seem to take you too long to find comfort in the arms of Bajoran filth. How many were there, Marac? Ten? Fifteen?”
“That is none of your concern,” Dukat said. He was quickly tiring of the conversation.
“Okay. So, now I see you’ve moved on from Bajorans. You now prefer the company of Terrans, do you?”
“Quite frankly, yes. Especially over you.”
The pair were silent as Sarai let Dukat’s words sink in. Her expression softened, and she looked away from him, as what he said had the chance to take full effect. “What went wrong with us, Marac?”
“Plenty of things,” Dukat replied. “Too many to name.”
“Maybe we can make some of those wrongs right?” she said hopefully.
“I’m afraid it’s much too late for that, my dear,” Dukat informed her. There had been a time when he would have jumped at the opportunity to patch things up with his former wife. He had once loved her very much, but she had cut all ties with him, even reverted to using her maiden name, when Ziyal’s existence became public. He didn’t blame her for being upset about his affairs. He understood that. But to refuse to continue to recognize him as the father of the seven children they shared … that was what had turned Dukat away from her. “We’re past any possible reconciliation, Sarai,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Sarai looked down at the floor. “I suppose you want to see the children,” she surmised.
Dukat rolled his eyes. Most of their children were adults, and the ones that weren’t were in their teens. “I’ve already seen the children, Sarai,” he said. “They came to visit my first week in office, and I correspond with them on a regular basis.”
Sarai looked at Dukat, shocked. The reaction brought a smile to his face. She didn’t have anymore cards to play.
“Sarai, I think it would be best if you didn’t come back here again,” Dukat said.
Sarai inclined her head slightly. “I think that’s a good idea.”
Dukat nodded. “Yes, so you should probably leave now.”
Sarai let out a laugh and shook her head. “So frank … it was good seeing you again, Marac.”
“The feeling isn’t mutual,” Dukat deadpanned.
A funny little grin appeared on Sarai’s face. “Goodbye, Marac.” She turned and left the living room. Dukat’s smile grew wider. After all these years, he’d finally succeeded in getting under her skin.