“While I’m away today, why don’t you go into the city?” Dukat pulled on his uniform tunic and turned to Dani, who was sitting on the bed, wrapped in the covers. “You haven’t been out much since you’ve been here,” he said, walking over and sitting on the bed in front of Dani. “I know that being here this past month has been difficult for you.”
“It isn’t all that difficult when I’m with you,” Dani cooed. She reached up and stroked Dukat’s face.
Dukat took Dani’s hand. “I want you to enjoy yourself, have a good time. Don’t let these fools corner you into this house.”
“I know,” Dani said. “I’ll try to go out and have some fun, but I was hoping to have some of that fun with you.”
“I thought we had plenty of fun this morning,” Dukat said with a devilish grin. He moved in to kiss Dani, but she stopped him momentarily with a hand on his chest.
“That wasn’t what I was talking about,” she told him.
“You mean you don’t like it?” Dukat asked, mock skepticism playing in his voice.
“I didn’t say that.”
“That’s what I thought.” Dukat proceeded to peck at Dani’s neck and then her lips. “I know I’ve been busy lately, and I apologize.” The past few weeks had been a little full for him. Starfleet was still making steady attempts to negotiate for Dani’s release; Dani still didn’t know about it. It was lucky for him that she hadn’t seemed to have an interest in reading the news lately.
But it wasn’t just the Federation Dukat was dealing with. He was also working on numerous other projects. “I promise you – I’ll take a few days off, and we’ll do whatever you wish.” He leaned forward and kissed her, which made her smile a little.
Dukat rose and continued to get dressed. He spoke while examining his reflection in the full-length mirror that comprised the closet door. “You realize, of course, that I’ll be sending Rowat with you,” he said, commenting on Dani’s impending trip into the city.
“Of course,” Dani said. She leaned back against the headboard. “I’m actually glad that you are.”
“Oh?” Dukat questioned. He studied his reflection more closely, his eyes trained on his jet black hair. Was that a gray hair?
Dani pulled her knees to her chest. “I’m not so sure people around here would take kindly to a Terran walking around freely,” she said.
No gray hairs, yet, Dukat concluded. He smiled and looked at Dani in the mirror. “You know Cardassians well.” He wished she wouldn’t hide herself under the sheets.
Dani smiled back at him. “Well, I am in love with one after all.”
Dukat turned to Dani briefly on his way to the bathroom. “Get whatever you want while you’re out, my love,” he called to her. “Tell them to bill it to my account.” The light in the bathroom went out, and Dukat emerged. He walked over to the bed and sat in front of Dani once more. He took her hand into his and kissed it. “I want you to have a good time today.”
“I’ll try,” Dani promised. She leaned forward and delivered a full, lengthy kiss on Dukat’s lips. He pulled her close, and she gently pushed him onto his back.
“I just finished dressing,” Dukat protested mildly.
“Getting undressed is the fun part of getting dressed,” Dani quipped. Sitting on top of him, she kissed him again.
Dukat wanted more than anything to slip back between the sheets with Dani and make love to her all day long … but he had to get downtown. He gently pushed her away. “I should leave,” he said. “I don’t want to be late.”
“Aren’t you one of the bosses?” Dani asked. She kissed him again, working her hands underneath his tunic, but he pushed her away again. She moaned and slouched, frustrated.
“Darling, I can’t,” Dukat protested. “I really must go.” He would’ve kissed her again, but if he did it again, he wasn’t going to be able to get up from the bed and away from her. “I love you,” he added before getting to his feet. “I’ll see you at dinner tonight.” He stroked her disappointed face before walking to the door. He stopped short of walking out, though, and turned to look back at the Dani. Then he realized what a mistake that one action had been. The vixen had pulled the covers back from her nude body and now lay there innocently staring up at him with those big brown eyes. Now, he truly had no choice. He marched back over to the bed, climbed in, and kissed Dani. He knew he was thinking with the wrong head, but to hell with it anyway. Dani was right – he was one of the bosses. He could be late if he wanted to be.
A smile came to Dani’s face as memories of her morning with Dukat came to mind. She sat in a cushy leather seat, staring at the sights of the city through the tinted windows of one of Dukat’s personal ground transports. She sighed. Dukat had been like an animal that morning. So primal, powerful. It had been a far cry from the refined gentleman he presented himself to be in public. They’d tossed and rolled … the bed had been a mess when they were finished. It was almost too much for her to think about. A part of her felt like telling the transport operator to forgo the shopping trip and go to Dukat’s office. But no – it could wait until this evening.
“Are you all right?” Rowat asked. Dani, pulled from her thoughts, looked from the window to Rowat. He eyed her curiously. “Your color has changed slightly. You’ve turned red.”
“Oh,” Dani said. She hadn’t realized that just thinking about Dukat would have that big of an effect on her. “I’m fine. It’s … a bit warm in here.”
Rowat nodded. He activated the comm link to the transport driver, who was separated from him and Dani by a transparent divider. “Lower the temperature a few degrees,” he instructed the driver.
“Yes, sir,” the driver obliged. A few moments later, Dani felt a noticeable change in the temperature inside the vehicle. Rowat looked at her expectantly.
“That’s much better,” Dani said. “Thank you.” She smiled a little and turned back to the window.
The transport arrived in the retail district 10 minutes later. As Dani filed out of the vehicle with Rowat and two other guards, she secretly wished she had someone else to go shopping with besides three burly Cardassians. She was certain anyone would make better shopping companions that these three.
The first shop Dani thought looked interesting, they stopped at. But before she could enter, Rowat had to ensure that the store was secure. That involved making sure no one was in the store except the store’s employees, checking all the back rooms for unlocked outside doors, and looking for any object that looked suspicious or out of place. All this, the guards had to do at each place Dani wanted to stop at.
“It’s all clear,” one of the guards reported.
Rowat nodded and turned to Dani, who was waiting impatiently. “All this is a little excessive, don’t you think?” she asked.
“Just following orders,” Rowat informed her. “Legate Dukat gave explicit orders that each establishment was to be completely secure before you entered.” He gestured to the door, indicating that she should enter, which she did.
When Dani walked in, she immediately wished she hadn’t. The racks and shelves were filled with clothing that she wouldn’t want to be caught dead wearing.
“Oh, gods,” Dani muttered. There was no way she would ever want to wear any of the clothes in this store. They were all flamboyantly colored and designed. Before Dani could turn and leave, though, a middle-aged Cardassian woman, presumably the store manager, approached her. She wore an apparently condescending expression on her face despite the smile that also appeared there. She looked Dani up and down a few times before speaking.
“Goodmorning,” she began. “I’d like to be the first to say that we’re all so delighted that you decided to grace our store with your presence today. We hope you’ll find everything to your liking.”
Not damn likely, Dani almost said. But, she decided, since the woman was appearing to make an effort to be nice, so would she. Instead of her initial response, she merely replied with, “I’m sure.”
“Please – allow me to show you our merchandise,” the woman said.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Dani lightly protested. “I was just planning on browsing -”
“I insist,” the woman pressed.
Dani acquiesced and let the woman lead her to a nearby shelf. Folded on the shelf in neat little stacks were articles of clothing with the most hideous color combinations she’d ever seen in her life. Greens with blues. Reds with pinks. It was all awful.
“These are some of our best designs,” the woman said holding up an absolutely criminal yellow and red number. It almost hurt Dani’s eyes just to look at it. She wondered if it glowed in the dark …
“It is the must-have for the season,” the woman was saying. “This dress is a design that is sure to show up at all the major social events.” She turned to Dani, who quickly covered the dismay on her face with a pasted-on smile.
“I don’t think it’s my color,” Dani said politely.
“True,” the woman said, replacing the dress on the shelf. “Then again, I don’t quite know what would be your color. It isn’t often that we get many customers with such dark skin.”
Coming from just about anyone else, Dani might not have taken offense at what had been said, but because it came from this woman, who seemed to have a bit of an attitude problem, Dani couldn’t accept that it was just an innocent remark. She’d held back earlier, but now it was time to bite back with a few words of her own.
“That’s okay,” she said. “I don’t usually shop at places were employees are as ugly as the clothes.”
The store manager appeared shocked that anyone would dare speak to her in such a manner. She regained her composure and looked down her ridged nose at Dani before moving on to another shelf, stocked with what Dani guessed were blouses. They weren’t as loud as the dresses had been, but they still weren’t anything Dani would actually wear. The manager picked up a lime green one.
“These are a key wardrobe component for any woman of status,” she said. Then she looked at Dani, in her jeans and tee, and appeared to re-think her statement. “Then again, that probably wouldn’t apply to you.” What was that written on the girl’s shirt? ‘Take a dive’? What was that supposed to mean?
Dani was getting pretty fed up with this woman’s sour attitude. It had been emanating from her since Dani had first set foot in the store
Dani looked around the room a few times, then took a few steps toward the manager. “I’m glad it doesn’t apply to me,” Dani began. “Truly. I don’t want to be a woman of status if it means I have to wear these ugly clothes your store sells.” She looked down jeans and tee she was wearing. “I think I’ll stick to my own clothes, thanks.” She looked at Rowat, indicating that she was ready to go, and they walked out.
“Well, that was thoroughly unpleasant,” Dani said, once she and Rowat were outside the building. She didn’t know where they were going. She didn’t care. She just wanted to get the hell away from that woman and her store.
“I would tell you not to worry because it isn’t personal,” Rowat said. He turned to Dani. “But it is personal. She doesn’t hate you because you’re Terran. I’d bet my right hand that she doesn’t have a problem with Terrans when she visits other places. But you’re here, and that’s what she hates. She hates you because you’re not Cardassian, and you’re here.”
“I’m sorry she feels that way,” Dani said.
“It isn’t just she who feels that way,” Rowat hinted.
“So, I’ve noticed.” Dani walked with Rowat and the other guards for a few silent moments. “Is that the way you feel?” she asked him.
Rowat continued to look straight ahead of him. “If that were my attitude, I would not have accepted my current assignment.”
Dani looked over at Rowat and smiled. His expression softened a bit, and he seemed to smile, too – a little. Dani looked up at the building they were approaching and stopped walking. “I want to go in here,” she told Rowat. From what she saw of the window displays, the clothes sold in this store might actually be worth having a look at.
Rowat afforded a glance at the building before nodding to her. With a point, he directed the accompanying guards to enter the building in order to secure it. In the meantime, Rowat’s eyes darted around the area where he and Dani were standing, ever alert to anything remotely suspicious.
Neither of them saw where the first shot came from. It had whizzed past Dani’s head and burned a hole into the wall behind her head. In an instant, amidst additional fire, Rowat had shoved Dani into the store and onto the floor, covering her body with his own. The two guards who had moved into the store to secure it were now outside attempting to disable the shooter or shooters with a counter-attack.
Rowat had drawn a hand phaser from somewhere on his body. Dani hadn’t even known he’d had it. He looked down at her. “Are you injured?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” Dani maintained.
“Stay down,” Rowat instructed. He listened intently to the phaser fire that was being exchanged outside, hoping it would come to a stop soon. Those damned terrorists …
Dani nodded. A patch of red caught her eye. Her eyes landed squarely on the side of Rowat’s neck. The skin there was singed, red and black in color. It looked very painful. “You’ve been hit,” Dani realized aloud.
Rowat didn’t even reach up to feel for the spot Dani was talking about. He already knew where it was because it hurt like hell. But that didn’t matter right now. He had to keep Dani safe. “It’s just a graze,” Rowat claimed. “Just stay down. This should be over shortly.” He looked back at the door, holding his weapon so that he could effectively shoot anyone who tried to enter.
Half an hour later, Dani and Rowat sat in chairs in the store, being treated for injuries resulting from the attack. Rowat, as Dani had indicated, had received a phaser wound to the neck. Dani had only suffered a few minor bruises when she’d hit the floor.
Dani looked over at Rowat. A medic was using a dermal regenerator on his neck. That burn had to hurt, Dani surmised. She knew that the cartilage that lined Cardassians’ necks were particularly sensitive. The blast that had grazed Rowat had clipped him right on those ridges. Burns hurt like hell anyway; a burn like the one Rowat had received was probably excruciating. However, Rowat was handling it very well. He looked remarkably calm considering what had just happened.
Dani, on the other hand, was more rattled. She suspected it was the surprise of it all that had her so unsettled. She’d been shot at before, and she’d been in dangerous situations before. The difference this time was that she hadn’t been thinking in that mode. Getting shot at had been the last thing on her mind. She was glad it hadn’t been the last thing on Rowat’s mind.
Something inside of Dani breathed a great sigh of relief when a distressed Dukat entered the store. Dani stood and walked to meet him.
“Danielle – thank goodness,” Dukat breathed, relieved. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. I’m fine,” Dani said. She turned to look at Rowat, who nodded to the medic who’d just finished treating his injury. He stood and joined Dukat and Dani.
Dukat looked at Rowat, irate. He wanted answers, and he wanted them now. “Rowat, what the hell happened here?” he demanded.
“Someone attacked from a nearby building,” Rowat explained. “He was killed in the exchange with our guards.”
Dukat was angry, that much was obvious to anyone within a ten-mile radius. Dani wanted to make sure that anger wasn’t misdirected. “Rowat saved my life,” she told Dukat. “He deflected a shot that probably would have gone right through me.”
Dukat looked at Dani, visibly calming a bit. Then he returned his gaze to Rowat. “Very good, Rowat. You’ve done your job well.” Rowat nodded, and Dukat continued. “I want all of these buildings searched for any accomplices or evidence. I want to know how this happened. I’m taking Danielle home. Contact me the minute you find something.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll see to it,” Rowat said obediently.
Dukat and Dani walked into the house, glad to finally be home. Dani walked to the living room and sat down on the sofa. Leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, she closed her eyes for a relaxing moment. Dukat watched her from the doorway. “Are you feeling well?” he asked her.
Dani opened her eyes and looked up at him. “Yes. I’m just a little … tired, I guess.” Dukat nodded. “Are you going back to work?” she asked him.
Dukat shook his head. “No. No, of course not.” He walked over and sat beside her on the sofa.
“Why do you say it like that?” Dani inquired.
“Like I should know that you’re not going back to the office,” Dani clarified.
“I didn’t think it would be such a big surprise, Danielle,” Dukat responded. “Someone just tried to kill you.”
“I don’t think it’s anything to make a big deal about, Marac. It was an isolated incident.” Dani stood. “Besides, Starfleet may not want me back, but I was a Starfleet officer. I’m not some helpless, fragile creature who doesn’t know how to conduct herself in a firefight. I went through combat training just like any other officer.” She walked over to one of the windows and crossed her arms.
Dukat stood and walked up behind her. “I didn’t mean to imply differently. I know you can take care of yourself, but I have to make sure that I do everything I can to make sure that you’re safe. That’s why I send Rowat with you, and all those guards.” He reached out and gently turned her so that she was facing him. “I love you, and I’m going to do everything that’s necessary to protect you.”
He sighed. What Dani had said about Starfleet had hit a nerve with him. This had gone on for too long. He should tell her what was really going on because it was obviously still eating at her. She was going to be mad, for sure, because he hadn’t told her earlier, but maybe she would take into consideration that he was actually telling her and not letting her find out from the media first. If he could just explain his reasoning …
“Danielle,” Dukat began. “There’s something … that you need to know. It’s about Starfleet. And it’s about you.” At the puzzled look that arose on Dani’s face, Dukat urged her to sit back down on the sofa again. He sat beside her. “I have a confession to make. Starfleet has been attempting to negotiate the terms of your release. They do want you back.”
Dani couldn’t find any words. They wanted her back? She looked at Dukat, a million questions racing through her head. He continued to speak.
“They’ve been contacting our government ever since we let Hea Starr go, and you took his place,” Dukat said.
Dani shook her head. Took his place? “What are you talking about?” she asked. “I didn’t … there wasn’t any kind of exchange. I told you that. My staying behind had nothing to do with Starr’s release.”
“That isn’t what Starfleet believes,” Dukat informed her. “When they debriefed Starr, he apparently told them that you offered yourself as insurance for his release. You are a hero. I apologize for not telling you sooner.”
Dani stood and wondered in the direction of the doorway. Her back was still turned to Dukat as she said, “You apologize … you know how this has been eating away at me almost from the moment that I made the decision to stay here.” She turned to him. “How could you not tell me? I guess it’s pretty convenient for you that I haven’t been reading the newspapers. All this time, I’ve been thinking that my career was over, that my family … and you let me think it. And these ‘negotiations’ – you’re probably the one they’ve been trying to negotiate with, aren’t you?” She was silent while the implications of what she’d just said sunk in.
“I didn’t know how you would react,” Dukat tried to explain. “I didn’t know if you would want to go back.”
“So, you would just let me stay here, probably for the rest of my life, thinking that all the people I loved hated me?” Dani didn’t want to believe that Dukat was still capable of manipulation of that magnitude. She had wanted to believe that he really had changed. Holding on to that belief, though, was hard with something like this staring her in the face.
Dukat stood and walked over to her. “I didn’t want you to leave. If you had known sooner, you would’ve gone back.”
“You don’t know that because I don’t even know it.” Dani took a few steps away from him. “I can’t believe you would let me suffer like that. You’ve manipulated Starfleet, and you’ve manipulated me. Right now, I don’t-I can’t be around you right now. I need to think.” She turned away from Dukat and walked out of the room.
Dukat swore. He should have just told her that night they’d taken that walk after dinner. He would have avoided all this drama. This was his fault, there was no doubt about that, but how was he going to fix it? She probably wasn’t going to ever trust him again, or believe anything he said. And he didn’t blame her. Now, she would probably want to leave Cardassia, and what could he do? He could, of course, keep her there against her will, but what good would that do? She would just hate him even more.
Rage boiled up inside him over the situation and his lack of options. He picked up the nearest object, which happened to be a flower-filled vase on the table beside him, and hurled it at the wall. The colorful glass shattered into pieces at impact and fell to the floor, leaving water and a few red petals trailing down the wall.