Dani’s eyes scanned the news report she had downloaded into the PADD. She sat comfortably on the sofa in the living room reading. She had learned from the mistake she had discovered nearly a month ago – always keep up with the news. She looked up when Dukat entered.
“Hello,” she greeted with a smile.
“Hi,” he said. He walked over and sat down beside Dani. After he kissed her, he asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” she said. “How was your day?”
“Enlightening. I’ve got some news for you.”
“Me?” Dani sat up a little straighter in her seat. “What is it about?”
“Some Starfleet representatives want to meet with you. In order to ensure your welfare.”
“Do you know who?” Dani asked.
“Yes. Captain Picard, Admiral Janeway, and Commander Riker.” Dukat watched all the color drain from Dani’s face. “What’s wrong? I thought you would be happy.”
“I am,” Dani said, “but it’s just a little … weird.” What perfect timing, Dani thought acerbically. At least she wasn’t showing that much, yet, as she was only two months pregnant.
“Now, don’t get worked up over it,” Dukat said. “If you don’t want to meet with them, I’ll come up with an excuse.”
“No, I do. Believe me, I do. When?”
“Will next week be too soon for you?” Dukat asked.
“No,” Dani replied. “It’ll be perfect.” How could she not get worked up, nervous, anxious about this? It was easier said than done. She took a deep, calming breath. She had a whole week to prepare herself for this encounter. Would that be enough?
Will Riker didn’t like the look of this place. He didn’t like it two months ago, when he was last there, and he certainly didn’t like it now. He looked at his two companions, Admiral Kathryn Janeway and Captain Jean- Luc Picard, and could tell that they didn’t like it either.
All of them sat on one side of a rectangular table inside a visiting room at Plakar Labor Camp on Cardassia Prime. They were there to visit Dani.
Will didn’t know why they were all meeting at the camp. He along with both the admiral and the captain knew that Dani wasn’t living at the camp. She probably hadn’t set foot inside it since that day when she’d made that fateful decision, the day when she’d chosen Dukat over him.
The three of them, Picard, Riker, and Janeway, had been waiting in the uncomfortably warm room for almost an hour when the large double doors on the other side of the room slowly swung open toward them. Two armed guards entered, first.
And then, there she was. The three Starfleet officers stood as Dani Janeway walked toward them with a guard who appeared to be unarmed at her side.
When she’d crossed half the distance to the table, Dani stopped walking and looked at Rowat. He nodded and remained where he was as Dani began walking again. She sat in the chair opposite Riker, Picard, and her mother, who all reclaimed their seats once she was seated.
Dani smiled at them, though she didn’t really know what to say. “Hi,” she said.
Riker, Picard, and Janeway looked at each other, not certain of what to say either. Janeway spoke first. “Hello, Dani,” she began. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” Dani replied. “Really.”
“How has Legate Dukat been treating you?” Picard asked instinctively. Despite the passage of time, his experiences as a prisoner of the Cardassians was still a clear memory. He had no illusions as to what they were capable of.
“They’ve treated me very well here,” was Dani’s reply. She almost wanted to say she was happy but didn’t, thinking better of it.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Will said. His eyes fell to her left hand, and he saw that she no longer wore his engagement ring.
Dani followed Will’s gaze to her hand and realized what must be going through his head. She self-consciously clasped her hands together.
“Where are you staying?” Will asked.
“I can’t tell you that,” Dani said apologetically. She saw the three officers across from her look at each other, alarmed. “It isn’t as if he would ever hurt me. He would never dream of it. In fact, he takes a number of precautions to ensure my safety. It’s just … it’s really for the best if I don’t tell you.” Dani realized that they probably didn’t know how difficult it was for her to tell them that.
“Dani,” Picard spoke up, “we just want you to know that we are doing everything in our power to negotiate for and secure your release.”
Dani looked at the captain. Release? But … she didn’t want to leave. “I appreciate that, Captain,” she said.
The captain continued. “We all realize the sacrifice you made for the ambassador’s welfare, but Ambassador Starr is now safe and at a secure location. The Federation and Starfleet are eternally grateful for what you’ve done, Dani. Offering yourself to the Cardassians as a trade-off … I must say, that was a stroke of brilliance.”
“You can expect a warm reception when you return,” Kathryn said.
Right now, Dani felt like the biggest fraud in the universe. She was in this situation for purely selfish reasons, and people were making a hero out of her for it.
“Dani, we’re working on a way to get you out,” Picard said. “We’re exploring every possible avenue. We’re going to get you back to Federation space.”
Dani stared at him blankly. “Thank you for your efforts,” she said. That was all she had to say on the subject. It was all she could say while remaining honest. She shifted gears and went on to something safer. She looked at her mother. “How is everyone? How’s Dad?”
“Your father’s fine,” Kathryn said. “He’s worried about you, of course, but now that I can tell him you’re fine, I’m sure that will make him feel a little better.”
“I’m glad,” Dani said. “Send him my love, okay?”
“Of course,” Kathryn agreed.
Dani nodded and slowly stood. “I guess we’re finished then?”
Janeway, Riker, and Picard stood, all obviously surprised by the brief nature of encounter. Cardassian officials had told them they wouldn’t have very long with Dani, but Picard wondered if five minutes had even passed since Dani first entered the room. He wondered if Dani had been given special instructions to keep their meeting brief, possibly to prevent certain things from being discussed, he surmised. “Yes,” Picard said. “I suppose we are.”
Dani walked around the table to her mother. “Chin up,” Kathryn told her daughter. “We’ll have you out of here in no time.”
Dani managed a weak smile as she hugged her mother. The two parted, and Dani looked to Captain Picard next. She shook his hand, and then looked from her to his first officer.
“We’ll be outside,” Kathryn told Will and Dani.
Dani looked at her mother and started to tell her that the time alone with Will wasn’t necessary, but the admiral and the captain were already heading for the double doors. Dani turned back to Will. Maybe they did need some time alone. Completely alone. She looked back at Rowat. He nodded and left the room, taking the two guards at the door with him. Dani turned back to Will. She sat down in one of the nearby chairs.
“How are you doing?” Will asked. “Really.”
“I’m doing very well,” Dani replied. “Really.”
“He’s good. He treats me very well.”
“What happened to your ring?” Will asked.
Dani looked down at her bare fingers. “I didn’t see any reason to keep wearing it,” she said honestly. “I didn’t … I thought my life in Starfleet was over.”
“The ambassador made sure that wasn’t the case,” Will commented.
Will sat on the table. “Dani, I don’t really know what to say.”
“You and me both.” Dani stood, turning her back to Will and taking a few steps away from him. “I don’t exactly know where this leaves us, Will.”
“You would be better-suited than I am to address that. You’re the one holding all the cards.” Will stood and walked over to her. “What do you want to do?”
Dani shook her head and turned to face him, finally. “I don’t think it would be very fair to you.”
“You don’t think what would be fair to me?”
“It wouldn’t be fair to you if we tried to continue with our relationship,” Dani said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the piece of jewelry that had been her engagement ring. She turned around, picked up Will’s hand, and placed the ring in it.
“I lose, then, Imzadi,” Will said looking at the ring.
Dani couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t bear to hear Will call her that even one more time. She had hated it from the moment he started it. It was time to set the record straight. “I can’t do it, Will. I’m not your imzadi. But I think you know that already.”
Will nodded. He knew. That didn’t mean he hadn’t wanted it to be true. “Deanna … ” Will trailed.
“Will, you two have a connection,” Dani told him. “We have one, too, but it isn’t like the one you share with her. It’s different, and you know it. What are you doing with me?”
Will knew she was right. Admitting to himself that she was right was difficult. He’d wanted to make their relationship work, but what he should’ve been concentrating on all this time was Deanna. It had taken Dani being away from him to realize that.
“Besides, there’s something else I want to tell you,” Dani said. She walked over and sat down again. “I don’t really know how I should say it, though. It’s going to be quite a shock for you.”
Will sat down in a seat next to Dani’s. “Just say it. Whatever it is. What do you need to tell me?”
Dani took a deep breath. Why was she doing this? She couldn’t answer that question; she just couldn’t keep it a secret from everyone. She already felt bad about not telling her mother. Someone should know. “Will, I’m pregnant.”
The first question that sprang into Will’s head was ‘Who’s the father?’ Dani answered the question before he could ask it.
“It’s Dukat’s,” she said.
Will’s heart sank. He had hoped that maybe it was his, possibly conceived before this whole mess had started. But he’d also known that the chances of that were slim to none. “How far along are you?” he asked.
“About two months,” Dani said. “Will, please don’t tell anyone about this. I want to do it when I’m ready. That’s why I didn’t tell my mother today.”
“You know I won’t say anything unless you want me to,” Will said. “Does Dukat know?”
“How did he take the news?” He figured the last thing Dukat needed was another half-Cardassian child. Will knew it would probably wreak havoc in the man’s professional life.
“He’s elated,” Dani said with a smile.
Will’s eyebrows rose at the statement. ‘Elated’ hadn’t exactly been the word that he’d expected to hear. So, that was it then. Dani and Dukat were just going to be one, big, happy family. “Is it safe to say that you don’t want to leave here, then?”
“I can’t answer that. I don’t know. It’s like…” she sighed. “I do because I want to come home, but I don’t because this has kind of become my home. It isn’t as easy as simply saying that I want to stay or go. Does that make any sense?”
“Surprisingly it does,” Will said. He stood. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Dani stood. “I’m glad you can understand my situation, and I want to thank you. For everything.”
Will pulled her to him in an embrace. “Good luck, Dani.”
“You, too.” They parted, and Dani watched him walk away from her and out the double doors across the room.
“Danielle!” Dukat called out. “I’m home!”
“I’m in the kitchen!” Dukat heard her call out. He walked across the living room to the kitchen entrance. Dani was standing at the counter sipping something out of a mug. The aroma was too faint for Dukat to put a finger on exactly what it was.
“Hello,” he said, stepping into the kitchen.
Dani watched him stroll into the room with a confident smile. She grinned when he bent down to kiss her. “How was your day?”
“Delightful,” Dukat replied.
Dani offered her mug to him. “You wanna try some?”
Dukat looked at her, unsure about the substance. “What is it?”
“Raktijino,” Dani replied.
“Ugh!” Dukat scoffed. “Why are you drinking that awful Klingon excuse for coffee?”
“Because it’s good. You should try it some time.” Dani took another sip of the drink.
“No, thank you. I think I’ll stick with my tea.” He watched her drink from the mug again. “Will that concoction have any effect on our child?”
“Well, usually the caffeine would be an issue, but this is decaf,” Dani explained. “The only effect I could foresee is eventually having someone else around here who likes raktijino.”
“Wonderful,” Dukat deadpanned. “I have a surprise for you.”
“What kind of surprise?”
“A good one.” Dukat relieved Dani of her mug and placed it on the countertop. He took her hand and led her into the living room. “Wait here,” he instructed.
“Okay … ” Dani said. She watched Dukat walk out the front door. After a few moments, the doors slid open, but it wasn’t Dukat who entered the house. Instead, a small brown and white puppy with floppy ears sprinted into the house. Dani smiled and crouched down to meet the puppy, which ran right to her and immediately proceeded to lick her face excitedly. Dani looked up at Dukat, who was standing near the front door. “What is this?” she asked him?
“He’s for you,” Dukat said. “He’s the surprise.”
“Oh, Marac … ” Dani looked down at the dog, stroking his shiny coat. “He’s adorable.”
Dukat walked over and crouched beside Dani. “His name is Sherlock,” he informed her. “He’s already been house broken, and is here purely for your comfort and enjoyment.”
Dani gazed down at her new furry companion. “Sherlock … ”
Three days later, Dukat regretted ever having laid eyes on Sherlock. He sat on his bed, looking down with dismay at the mangled boot in his hands. It was the third one in two days. That dog was supposed to be housebroken. When the trader had told him it was, Dukat had naturally assumed that included knowing the difference between a chew toy and a shoe. That’s what he got for doing business with a Ferengi.
Dukat huffed with frustration. He would have to replicate a replacement shoe. He hated wearing replicated clothing. They were so inferior to handmade goods.
Dani walked into the bedroom and stopped short when she saw the gnarled shoe in Dukat’s hand. “Another one?” she asked.
“I don’t know what is wrong with that dog,” Dukat fumed.
“He’s probably just getting used to his new surroundings,” Dani defended.
Dukat stood and walked over to the recycler. He tossed the remains of the shoe into the little cubby hole and punched in some commands on the console. The shoe disappeared as its particles were broken down and reintegrated into the system’s resources.
Dani walked slowly over to Dukat. “If he’s so much trouble, which he seems to be for you, we can always get rid of him,” she offered. “We could put him up for adoption or trade …it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I haven’t gotten that attached to him anyway.” Dani could see how much trouble Sherlock was for Dukat and even though she had fallen helplessly in love with the dog, she would be willing to get rid of it, unfortunately, if it meant she wouldn’t have to endure anymore of Dukat’s rumblings about him. Almost from the moment the dog had entered the house, he’d been a source of irritation for Dukat.
Dukat knew Dani’s proclamation was a lie. Over the past three days, Dani had nearly been inseparable from that dog. She’d be crushed if he told her they had to get rid of it. “No, no,” Dukat said. “I suppose I’m just being a bit of a grouch. He isn’t going anywhere. He’s your dog, now. He makes you happy, so obviously he has to stay.”
Dani smiled and delivered a kiss to Dukat’s mouth. “Rowat and I will go into the city today and pick up some more shoes for you,” she told him.
“Thank you, my dear,” Dukat said. Dani walked out of the bedroom, and he turned grudgingly to the replicator and input specifications for a new pair of shoes, size eleven.