Chapter 1: Necessary Evil
I. NECESSARY EVIL
There was a vague familiarity about the girl which he could not quite identify. It would come to him soon, Dukat had no doubt about. After all, they had started to train his memory when he was five.
Still, there she was, having been identified by his new chief of security as the one who had murdered the apothecary. Which proved that Dukat's judgement about the shapeshifter had been right. Odo was wasted in the Bajoran laboratories, or as a performer entertaining the troups. All that intelligence and almost Cardassian sense of order could be put to better use. Odo looked most uncomfortable next to the young Bajoran, to be sure. She ignored him, radiating contempt.
"Excellent work," Dukat said, and tried out the new title he had come up with, "Constable. A good start for what I hope will be a long and mutually beneficial collaboration."
He didn't miss the small flinch in Odo's figure, though that odd, unfinished face remained immobile.
"She committed a murder," the shapeshifter said primly. "She deserves to be punished. Nobody else should be punished in her place. That is all. I do not intend to work for you."
The contempt Dukat sensed coming from the young woman deepened. Her lips curled ever so slightly, and she said, not looking at either of them:
"Aren't the two of you finished yet with your little play? Should I applaud now or later? Just shoot me and be done with it."
Now he had it. She reminded him of the woman he had seen years ago, at Meru's side, not too long after taking command of the station. It had been a brief encounter, but given that this woman had in all likelihood been trying to kill Meru and himself, only reconsidering at the last moment, her features had remained with him, albeit buried with all the other memories of people trying to kill him. Too many. He felt a brief touch of weariness.
That woman had looked several years older than this hellcat, just the right age to be her mother. He would find out soon, undoubtedly. The name this prisoner had given to Odo was almost certainly a lie, but the cool, level- headed way the apothecary had been executed pointed to experience. If she was with one of the resistance groups, they would have a file on her.
"But I am in no hurry," Dukat replied to the young woman, smiling at her, then motioned at Odo. "You can go now, Constable", he said. Odo curtly nodded and, after a final glance at the prisoner, turned and went, without, Dukat noted, another protest against the title. Yes, Odo would serve him well.
"You shouldn't have sent him away," the woman said, and the contempt in her voice was mixed with aggression and a certain challenge now. "Not without calling more of your minions in. I'm to die anyway, so I might as well try to take you with me, and *you* certainly couldn't stop me."
It was an empty boast. Odo had left her handcuffed, and the energy barrier she had passed when entering his office had made sure she carried no weapon. She was still trying to provoke him into killing her swiftly, and it was not hard to understand the reason. No matter how much she had prepared herself for an interrogation, she must know that they all broke, sooner or later, and she didn't want to betray her comrades.
"If that was your intention," Dukat said slowly, looking at her as she refused to avoid his glance, "you wouldn't have told me. You'd have just attempted it."
"I would have done it," she corrected, her eyes narrowing, which was a pity. They were one of her most attractive features, he thought, shaped like Cardassian Tiranis and sparkling with a rare vivacity. He had her complete attention now, and all that hostility directed at him was flushing her cheeks. For a terrorist, she was remarkably unscarred. Such a thin, fragile thing, Bajoran skin, hardly suited to protecting blood vessels at all. He remembered how startled he had been when he had first touched the cheek of a Bajoran woman, having subconsciously expected it to break at the mere contact.
"I don't mean to disparage your skill as a murderess," he said to her, amused. "After all, I have seen your work. But I think you would have found I can protect myself."
"That is what you have your minions for," she returned sharply. "And you are the murderer here. What happened to that traitor was justice, and saved a lot of Bajoran lives."
He had heard similar things from dozens of people, hundreds, certainly, and not all of them Bajorans. "You must not mourn for your father," his old superior had told him, when wild grief and hate every bit as burning as the loathing he saw in the Bajoran terrorist had nearly choked him. "What happened to that traitor was justice, and saved a lot of Cardassian lives. Thank the Gods for the Obsidian Order."
Dukat had not believed in universal justice ever since. He did believe in his own laws.
"You do have an interesting concept of justice, my dear," he replied. "It obviously would have allowed you to stand by and let others die for your...noble deed, if the good Constable had not caught you."
"They would have died for Bajor," she declared, unerring in her zeal. Suddenly he felt weary of the whole thing again. She would die, and then the next terrorist would come, kill his share of Cardassians and Bajorans, be arrested, make similar proud speeches and die as well. Sometimes he wished he had never heard of the planet.
And yet there were ways to reach the Bajorans, at least some of them.
"What if I gave you a chance?" he asked suddenly.
"A chance to do what?" she shot back. "Declare how sorry I am so you can use it in your propaganda to discourage other patriots? A chance to become a collaborator like the apothecary or that pathetic shapeshifter?"
"A chance to kill me," Dukat said. "Since you are so sure you could do it."
For the first time, he saw her looking stunned. She didn't say anything. The unguarded surprise in her face suited her as much as the anger and zeal earlier had done. Suddenly he wondered how she would look if he were able to make her laugh, not in mockery or defiance but in genuine amusement. There was a softness in a woman's face which only laughter seemed able to evoke, though he doubted there was anything soft left in the young red- headed woman now silently staring at him. He wasn't even sure whether he wanted it to be there. He rose from his chair, circled the desk and stepped closer to her, stopping when he was just out of arm's reach.
Slowly, her eyes still flickering in hate and disbelief, she held out her cuffed wrists.
"Ah, no," he said. "First things first. If by some remote chance you could manage to kill me now, you would be able to wreak all kind of havoc in my office, and we can't have that now, can we? We'll have to find a more suitable environment for this particular little experiment."
This close, he could smell the scent of her; sweat, the dirt and grime of the orb processing she had pretended to work at, but also, unmistakably, traces of a spice mixture he recognised. She must have eaten hasperat before Odo had arrested her. He wondered what she would smell like if someone gave her a bath and washed her hair. Not that he would ever find out, even if things went his way. He was curious, somewhat interested and yes, attracted, but hardly suicidal. Keep her alive for longer than a few hours at most and she *would* kill him.
"What kind of environment?" she asked, sounding suspicious.
He let his smile reach his eyes.
"What do you think?" he asked.
With a bat of her eyelashes, her uncertainty was gone and her boundless contempt was back.
"I'd rather die," she spat.
"Oh, your life is not at stake here," he said. "At least not in the way you seem to assume. Nor, just to make this perfectly clear, is anyone else's. I'm not offering you a collection of Bajoran prisoners or your own freedom as a reward for spending the night with me. Just a competition."
Now she looked irritated, but obviously would not deign to ask for more explanations.
"You. Me. No weapons," he said. "And no witnesses. You might manage to kill me this way. But then again, you might learn a thing or two about life before you do."
"You are sick. Even for a Cardassian. Do you always play such elaborate games before raping somebody?"
"This is getting tiresome. Let me spell it out to you again. I will not force you to do anything, no matter what you decide. But in one case, you will have the chance of playing the Bajoran hero one more time, and in the other, you get executed right here and now for murder. So, do you want to become a martyr now, or try to kill another Cardassian, the prefect, no less, before you do?"
"You aren't just sick, you are insane," she declared, and he knew she wasn't able to resist the opportunity, or the challenge.
He had originally planned to let her go in front of him - handcuffed or not, he certainly didn't trust her at his back - but she fell into step with him as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It was an arrogant presumption of equality, but he found he did not mind. They walked back to his quarters in silence. His officers, if they reacted at all, shrugged; he was hardly the only Cardassian with a fondness for Bajoran women, though he was one of the few who had not even tried to bring his Cardassian wife with him. The Bajorans who spotted them undoubtedly would gossip, which was not bad, either.
Making an example out of the girl by letting her go through a trial would have exposed some of his sources among the population, so that was out of the question, and if he had had her executed on the spot, she would have been one more martyr for the Bajoran terrorists, one more flame to fuel their insane, bloody, and unending resistance. To some, she would still be this tomorrow, to most, her martyrdom would be flawed after a night in his quarters, even if they spent that night just staring at each other. Zealots had no taste for any kind of ambiguity, or doubts. This woman at his side was too young to understand that, or to understand how quickly a reputation was tarnished, how easily a single doubt about motives and results could overshadow a lifetime of service.
Dukat, on the other hand, understood only too well. He was his father's son.
In his quarters, he gave orders not to be disturbed for the next few hours, and sealed the door with a series of codes which presumably the resistance hadn't gotten its hands on, but then one could never be sure about these things.
"That's nothing I couldn't have cracked when I was seventeen," she commented acidly. He shrugged, and removed her handcuffs, which were similarly coded. They fell to the ground, but any noise they made was swallowed by the thick carpet he had had installed.
He had expected her to use the first opportunity to attack him, but she must have been aware of this, or maybe she suspected another trick. His respect for her as a tactician grew.
"No immediate attempt to break my neck?" he asked. "You *are* full of surprises, my dear."
"Just death is too good for you," she said coldly. "You do need one lesson before you die."
"Now that does sound interesting," Dukat said, letting the words linger on his tongue while he tried to guess what her next move would be.
It was her turn to step closer, her arms wide spread in a mocking gesture of harmlessness. He still expected her to make a sudden attempt to snap his neckbones, and was prepared for this. Instead, she took another step towards him, her hands still wide apart. He had not really noticed how small a woman she was until she tilted her head towards him. Somehow, she had managed to convey the impression of height. His own arms as uncommitted as hers in anticipation of whatever she was planning, he permitted himself to react to her move, bowing his head slightly.
Her mouth was a surprise, not least because he had not really expected her to let things go that far. He had imagined her lips to be dry and hard, because Bajorans needed time to adjust to the heat of Terok Nor, which had been build for Cardassians, and because somewhere between her declarations about justice and death for the cause he had decided this woman could never have been kissed properly in her life. Instead, he found her moist and driven by an angry hunger, not the bitter little virgin he had imagined at all. Somewhere between noticing yet again an odd sense of familiarity and wondering, as her tongue teased him, whether he shouldn't keep her alive after all, he nearly forgot to pay attention to her arms, which were still wide open.
And that was when she used her legs for a quick, decisive kick that had him double over in pain. Before he could recover, she had him falling on that thick, sound-absorbing carpet. Fibres and blood mingled in his mouth when she did break his neck, and he heard her voice, sharp and clear, floating over his head.
"It's a very simple lesson, really. You. Are. Not. That. Good."
Chapter 2: Indiscretion
"So who was she?" Kira asked, more to break the bizarre moment she found herself entrapped in than because she truly wanted to know. So far, being on a mission with Dukat of all people had not been the complete nightmare she had feared it would be, but it was uncomfortable enough with his constant switches between condescension and unwelcome admiration. She did not need him to suddenly become this stranger who sat between graves, in silence, and cried.
Once, she had lived for making Cardassians cry. Tears of rage, to pay for all the tears Bajorans had cried during decades of horror. For her own tears, when her father told her that her mother would never come back. For the tears they had made her incapable of shedding, when her father died. But what Dukat was doing right now had nothing to do with being made to pay for his crimes. There was the tiny hope that this was all some kind of strange mind game, a trick for her benefit, but then again she had found him like this when he hadn't even known she was there. He still ignored her completely.
"Dukat," she prompted, without getting a reaction. She looked at what he held in his hands, thought of the two civilian names she had found on the Ravenok's passenger list, and it all fell together.
"I recognise a Bajoran child bracelet when I see one," she said.
"Her name was Tora Ziyal," he said slowly, his voice filled with a kind of numb disbelief she was all too familiar with. Some petty part of her wanted to ask him what it felt like, the loss thousands of Bajorans had to cope with. "She was...the daughter of a friend."
It was so good to be able to despise him again.
"Don't bother, Dukat," she said scornfully. "Ziyal is a Cardassian name. You are hardly the only Cardassian who had a half-blood child and then abandoned it. Our orphanages are full of them."
He didn't even flinch.
"Very well," he said. "She was my daughter. And I did not abandon her."
"Actually, I was being diplomatic," Kira returned. "There are a lot worse words one could use for sending a child and her mother to a prison camp."
That brought him to his feet.
"They were *not* on their way to a prison camp," he declared. He was no longer crying, but the rage that held his face was too raw to be familiar on this smooth-talking monster either. "The Ravenok was supposed to rendezvous with a freighter, which would have taken Naprem and Ziyal to Lyseepia. I knew the occupation was coming to an end, I knew there wouldn't be a place for them on Cardassia *or* Bajor. They could have lived their lives in some sort of peace there, at least. Now if you don't mind, Major, I'd rather not talk about this any longer."
He gestured to the small pile of earrings he had collected on one of the burial mounds.
"The earrings you asked for are there."
She quickly found out that her friend Lorrad's wasn't among them. Neither, she noticed, was another earring with the family crest for Tora. She gave Dukat a look. He was kneeling again, next to the burial mound that had held the girl's remains, and was slowly returning the rocks to their original place.
"If Lorrad is dead, he's not buried here," she declared.
"Neither is Naprem," Dukat said distantly.
Kira made a quick decision and told him about the possibility of tracking Lorrad through isotopes. He nodded without saying whether he was still interested in finding the remaining survivors from the Ravenok, but when she started to leave, he marched at her side, silently, his earlier boasts about the insufferable heat gone completely.
She didn't quite know what to make of it. Her own feelings for the women who had shared the beds of Cardassians were clearly defined. Those who had been raped, she pitied; those who had shamed their people by voluntarily giving their bodies to men who raped their planet, she despised. There had been ugly scenes after the occupation had ended; many of the women had been dragged through the streets in public, their hair cut off, with the people spitting and cursing at them. Kira had not joined in, but neither had she done anything to stop it. These women had sold more than their bodies; they had sold their souls. They had sold out Bajor for some luxury at the side of their Cardassian masters, who, naturally enough, had not bothered to do anything to protect them once the occupation was over, and they could return to whatever entertainment awaited them on Cardassia.
That Dukat had kept Bajoran mistresses wasn't exactly news. That he would have feelings for one of them years later would be surprising, but she couldn't be sure about this. He might only have come on this trip to find his daughter. Well, even predators had parental instincts. It didn't make them less dangerous.
They spent the night in a cave. By then, he had become restless, but still not talkative. Finally, Kira decided that his silent pacing irritated her more than his usual endless ramblings and told him to sit down.
"You never had a child, did you?" he asked.
What was left of her restraint snapped.
"No," she said. "I was too busy making sure other children could live instead of being dragged to your labour camps. I'm sorry for that dead girl, Dukat. It wasn't her fault that you were her father. But do not ever expect me to pity you."
He stood still. Standing in the entrance to the cave as he did, she could see the setting sun outlining his shape, the familiar, long-necked figure of a Cardassian in body armour which still instinctively made her wanting to grab the next rifle.
"On the contrary, Major," he said, and his voice was very cold. "If anything, I would expect you to congratulate me. You see, if Ziyal had not died, I would have had to kill her. And life was kind enough to spare me that."
That was the end of the conversation for the evening.
In the morning, when they ate their field rations, she could no longer hold back and told him exactly how despicable she found a father who would even consider for a single moment killing his own daughter.
"And if you think I'll let you kill her mother just so your precious status won't be endangered, you can think again. I'd rather kill you first."
"I see," he said, and the familiar sarcasm in his voice was back. "Well, Major, I salute your nobility. Too bad you didn't show it before."
"What do you mean?" she asked before thinking better of it.
"There is no need to protect Naprem from me," he said acidly, "but I can think of many other women who could have used your protection. Can't you?"
Again, she recalled the women with their cut hair, the furious screams of the mob.
"They were collaborators," she stated, but for the first time since she had seen him cry over the graves, she felt unsure.
"And collaborators," he finished for her in flawless if accented Bajoran, his mockery evident, "deserve everything they get." Continuing in Cardassian, he added: "In which case there would be no reason for you to be concerned about Naprem. However, I meant what I said. There is no need to protect her from *me*. As you said, a Bajoran mistress is not that unusual. A half-Bajoran child, on the other hand, people wouldn't have forgiven, not anymore."
"People?" she asked automatically while trying to shake the uncomfortable feeling he might actually have a point by picturing instead these women sharing cocktails with Cardassians when their entire planet was brutalized beyond forgiveness.
"My wife, for one."
"You should have thought of that before you became involved with Naprem."
"You are right," he said unexpectedly, "I should have."
"So what will become of her once we have liberated the prisoners?" Kira asked, almost against her will. She couldn't imagine Naprem wanting to return to Bajor. In theory, things had settled down a bit since the end of the occupation, but once word got out that she was the mistress of the prefect, Naprem's life would make this hellhole of a planet look like a vacation spot. And she couldn't see any Bajoran wanting to live on Cardassia, either, not even someone who had lowered herself to spending years with Gul Dukat.
He didn't reply. She couldn't tell whether this was because he did not want to talk about it, or whether he could not imagine an answer, either.
The liberation itself went as smoothly as one could hope for. One could accuse Gul Dukat of many things, but he was a competent fighter, and Kira decided that in a battle situation, it was better to have him at her side than with a knife to her back. Once the remaining Bajorans and Cardassians had helped them deal with the Breen, it was not too hard finding Tora Naprem. Kira didn't know what she had expected, but the wiry, middle-aged woman who turned out to be Naprem hadn't been it. If she didn't look like the glamorous, well-dressed and well-kept whores the Cardassian officers had loved to show off, she didn't look like the pathetic, scared and helpless women running through the streets at the sunset of the occupation, either. The loss of her daughter and the years in prison had visibly left their mark on her and might have made her look older than she actually was, but mostly she resembled nobody as much as Winn Adami, if one imagined Winn in prison drab instead of her fine robes. She exuded a certain sense of authority, and some of both Bajoran and Cardassian prisoners automatically looked at her for clues on how to react.
Naprem did not acknowledge Kira and Dukat beyond a nod and the acceptance of some quick instructions before all the Breen guards had been killed. Only when this was over did she go to Dukat. Kira told herself it was only distrust of Dukat that made her linger and watch. The first thing she saw Naprem do was hit Dukat in the face, not a gentle slap but something hard enough to draw blood. But Naprem's whisper was of a harsh yet undeniable intimacy that stifled the flicker of amused approval in Kira.
"Where have you *been*?" Naprem hissed. "All these years, where have you been? I waited every second of every minute of every day. *She* waited while she bled to death in my arms."
"I saw her grave, Naprem," Dukat said, and then they silently stood together, till Kira turned away and busied herself with the other survivors.
Sharing the small space of a shuttle with Dukat and his mistress made the first part of her trip look relaxed in comparison. Kira couldn't shake off the suspicion he knew how deeply uncomfortable it made her, and doubled the numbers of casual, intimate gestures reaching from a hand on Naprem's shoulder to a lingering kiss on the woman's neck because of it. Then there were times when she was sure she was mistaken, that, disgusting as the notion was, this was simply the natural behaviour of two long-parted lovers who didn't really notice the third presence that much at all. But each time she had convinced herself of this, he gave her one of his cool, amused looks that made her want to leave the room. There were other moments, too, moments in which the fact she was finally free seemed to catch up with Naprem, and she started shaking, while Dukat held her, or moments in which she turned aside when he touched her and stared out through the windows, trying to catch the bizarre, fleeting colours of space.
Finally, Kira had the opportunity to talk with Naprem on her own. Once they were back on the station, Naprem had asked to visit the temple, in order to pray for Ziyal. On the way, Kira decided that Naprem probably knew what she was thinking anyway, so she might as well say it.
"Why did you do it?" Kira asked. "For the food and the security? Or did he somehow blackmail you? Or did he rape you, and leave you with no other place to go?"
Naprem did not react offended, or for that matter remorseful. Instead, she looked amused.
"You're such a child, Major," she said, which strengthened the similarities to Kai Winn to no end. Kira found herself bristling.
"Even when I was a child," she replied, "I would have never been so naïve to trust a Cardassian when he talked to me of love."
"Did he?" Naprem asked, interested. For a moment, Kira didn't understand what she meant. Then the implication let her go cold.
"No," she said icily.
"Well, you *are* flirting with him," Naprem stated placidly. "As Cardassians understand it. To answer your question. I did not love him, not at first, but no, he did not force me, either. I did love him well before Ziyal was born, though."
"Was that before more than a million of your people were dead, or after?" Kira asked, the rage in her slowly building to a boiling point.
Naprem looked at her, her face unreadable.
"As I said," she stated. "You are a child. Now if you will excuse me."
Before entering the temple, she did turn her head around one more time and asked:
"You are Kira Meru's daughter, aren't you?"
Confused, Kira nodded.
"Prophets help us," Naprem said, and vanished into the temple.
When Dax quizzed her about her trip, Kira hardly knew what to say. She was rescued out of this rare loss of words by Dukat, of all the people, who turned up and caused Jadzia to make a discreet exit.
"Major," he said.
"One of these days, I will have to decide whether your insistence on calling me by my name instead of my title is an insult or a compliment," he said. "But it is not this day."
Against her will, she recalled what Garak last year and Naprem only the other day had said about him flirting with her, so she immediately said the worst thing she could think of.
"Does Naprem know you were planning on killing Ziyal?"
"No, and I do want to thank you for not telling her," he returned. "She would have understood, but it would have pained her unnecessarily."
"Pained her... what kind of a mother is that?"
"If it is any consolation to you, if I had done it, she would have killed me in turn. But she still would have understood."
"Well, I hope the two of you are going to be happy together," Kira declared disgustedly. Somehow, she had ended up standing so close to Dukat that she could see the faint wrinkles on his forehead and the deepening corners of his mouth as he smiled at her.
"I'll let you know."
Chapter 3: Behind the Lines
III. Behind the Lines
She hadn't known. All those years, and she had not understood that she loved Odo until he managed to betray her more devastatingly than anyone else in her life.
Kira sat in her quarters, staring at the bottle of spring wine she had brought with her in order to get drunk, at the untouched glass, and wondered whether there was a connection.
Odo had been her friend for a long time. She had believed they knew each other, trusted each other, cared for each other better and deeper than anyone else on this station. Then he had told her what his older self had done. Eight thousand people wiped into non-existence because he loved her. She hadn't felt comfortable around him ever since, but still it had not occurred to her that she saw him as anything other than a friend, not until the moment when she realised that he had failed her, failed them all, that Rom had died for it. And that Odo didn't even care.
It wasn't important whether it had been some overeager Cardassian or Jem'Hadar who had pulled the trigger when they had caught Rom. It might as well have been Odo. And now their chance to keep the minefield intact was gone. The Jem'Hadar would get their reinforcements through the wormhole. Still, there had to be a way to beat them, even with these odds. She would think about it tomorrow, together with a way to kill Odo for what he had done. Right now, all she wanted to do was to forget.
Distantly, Kira wondered whether Quark was having better luck at getting drunk. She had forced herself to tell him about what had happened to Rom before he heard it from station security. From station security. There was a joke. Her whole life was a joke. If someone had told her a few months ago that she would find more integrity in a couple of Ferengi trolls than in her best and dearest friend, she would have told him to get his head examined. But then, if someone had told her then that in a few months, she would be Dukat's first officer and working with Cardassians on a daily basis, she would have spat in his face.
She wanted to drink. She wanted to drink herself into oblivion, until tomorrow, when she would have to take up the fight again, and face Odo. And yet her glass remained untouched.
How could he have done it? Oh yes, the Great Link. Currently embodied in an oh-so-serene female form. How could he even bring himself to touch that creature, that... thing who was responsible for the slavery and death of thousands, if not millions of sentient beings? Odo, who had prided himself on his innate sense of justice, who despised criminals, who had dedicated himself to seeing them punished?
She didn't want to imagine the two of them together, yet her mind refused to cooperate. She remembered what she had seen in the Gamma Quadrant. Odo and that creature melding together. Linking. There was a nice expression. Just the other day, Dukat had called her his "link to the Bajoran people", smirking as usual, and it had taken all the discipline she had not to go for his throat right there and then.
The idea that suddenly rose up in her made her go utterly, completely still, so still that she could hear her own heart beat.
It would be just one more abomination in a series of abominations. But then she would at least *know* how he could have done it, and she might even be able to...
Dukat wasn't in his office anymore; he had retired to his quarters. Ziyal wasn't there, the one thing Kira felt grateful for, but Damar was, undoubtedly being busy collecting congratulations from his superior on his oh so brilliant idea to disable the minefield. If Damar had been content to be a simple thug, all of this might not have happened, but no, he had to prove he had an intellect.
"Out," she hissed at him.
Damar spluttered in indignation. Dukat merely looked surprised, then interested. She addressed him, not Damar, as she added:
"I'm not repeating myself. I want to talk with you alone, Dukat, so get rid of your flunky."
Damar visibly drew breath for a thunderous denunciation of her Bajoran presumption, but Dukat, never taking his eyes from her, said, sounding amused:
"I believe the Major has something to tell me, Damar, and as Weyoun is so fond of pointing out these days, we're all friends in the Dominion now. A little discretion for our dear ally, if you please. We'll speak further in the morning."
Giving her a scathing look which she hardly noticed, Damar left. When the doors hissed behind him, Dukat smiled at her. He sat on the couch where they had looked at Ziyal's drawings together, looking relaxed, as if he had not a care in the world. As well he might, with the minefield disabled, and the Founder off his back because she was busy with Odo's. Kira's fists clenched.
"So, Major," Dukat said. "My strictly limited sympathies on the failure of what was undoubtedly *your* latest strategem."
"You bastard," she said tonelessly. "That's all it is to you, isn't it? A game. Rom is dead, Dukat, and I don't want to know how many more will die because of it."
One of his eyeridges rose. "Well, you can hardly expect me to show grief because my side will win the war, Major. And please don't insult my intelligence by pretending you cared for the Ferengi. I've watched the way you act around the species."
"Get up," she said.
A note of warning entered his voice. "I'm only willing to indulge you so far, Major. You would do well to remember certain hierarchies here."
"This is your one chance, Dukat," Kira said, and couldn't believe how factual, unbroken her voice sounded. "Take it or leave it."
He wasn't slow in understanding her meaning. When he did rise, moving towards her, his slow, deliberate movements only served to fuel her fury and need.
"Why now?" he asked.
"Because," Kira said between clenched teeth, grabbing him by the shoulders and pushing him against the wall, "I want to know what it tastes like."
*Being with a murderer*, she thought, while his cool, practiced hands took hold of her and slid round her waist. *Being with a warlord drunk on power. What does that taste like, Odo?*
She knew how to get rid of a Cardassian body armour. There had been enough occasions, though never like this. When Dukat kissed her, she bit him. He hissed in pain, but he didn't let go, and she felt his own teeth, felt those sharp Cardassian nails grazing the skin of her neck, her belly, her breasts.
But no matter how hard she tried, how much pain and pleasure she took from him, how furiously she tried to destroy any sense of self she had left, the one taste she had come for, the one which Odo must have been consumed by, that single taste escaped her.
Chapter 4: The Darkness and the Light
IV. The Darkness and the Light
He found her in what looked like a cross between someone's laboratory and a deserted factory. Obviously, a fight had taken place; she leaned against the wall, shivering. Judging by the look of her, her pregnancy was in its final stages. The body of the crippled Cardassian was not too far away.
"Siluren Prin, I assume," Dukat said, nodding towards it, and knelt down next to Kira to check on her. She swallowed and visibly struggled to get her body under control, to assume that confident, self-sufficient attitude she so prided herself on. He felt his usual mixture of admiration and irritation.
"Dukat," Kira asked, "what are you doing here?"
"Not rescuing you, it seems," he replied, satisfied that she was unharmed. "Since you did that yourself with your usual efficiency. To tell you the truth, Major, after what both Constable Odo and Ziyal told me, I thought I would find you carved up by this supposedly brilliant assassin."
The request to join in the search for Kira could not have come at a more inconvenient time. But "I am in secret negotiations with a representative of the Dominion" clearly had not been an excuse Dukat could use, and besides, the thought of Kira being killed by some lunatic was revolting to him. He had no illusions; she would neither understand nor forgive him for the method he had found to rescue Cardassia from its current position as the favoured meal of the Klingon Empire, for ending his own existence as a pirate with some pretence as a resistance fighter in favour of becoming once more what he was meant to be, a leader of men. A leader of Empires. No, she could not understand. But he had enjoyed their time as allies, and the last time he had seen her, she had actually relaxed enough towards him to tease him about the father of the child she was carrying. There was no reason not to end this alliance the way it had started, with a rescue mission. She would be grateful, he would escort her home and still be in time for his meeting with that Vorta Weyoun. The next time they saw each other, she would undoubtedly curse him and some reminders of owing her life to him would then taste sweet in his mouth.
"He was... sorry for me," she said slowly, disbelieving. "He gave me a sedative. Because he wanted to separate the darkness from the light."
"A madman, obviously," Dukat said, helping her to rise with the practise of a man who had been around pregnant women countless times. She did accept his help, but as soon as she stood, a little jerk of her shoulders made it clear he was to let go. Dukat sighed, then added: "Such a thing is impossible."
He spoke into his communicator, and they were transported to his bird of prey. Once he had escorted Kira to what served as their sickbay on that Klingon inconvenience, he returned to the bridge, contacted Weyoun and told him he would be able to keep the rendezvous after all. After finishing the conversation, he was about to order Damar to open a channel to the Defiant so they could tell Sisko he had found the missing Major, when he heard her voice, as cold and hard as it had ever been.
"You Cardassian filth," she said.
He looked at her, barely holding herself together enough to stand in the frame of the lift unaided, and the irony became clear to him: she had probably forced herself to come to the bridge in order to thank him.
"You really shouldn't have done that, Major," Dukat said.
Damar looked shocked. "We can't let her go now," he declared. Damar was a good man, if somewhat too fond of stating the obvious. Kira tried to dive for the next bridge officer to get at his weapon, her body, swollen with the child as it was, failed her. After that, it was easy to bring her back to sickbay, in handcuffs this time. Dukat hadn't forgotten what she had said about Siluren Prin giving her a sedative. Obviously, she had some sort of immunity against these things.
"So now what?" she asked, glaring at him when he established an energy field between her bed and the rest of the medical facility, filled with potential weapons as it was. "Are you going to finish Prin's work before or after you betray the entire Quadrant to your new friends?"
As challenges went, this was one was not one of her most efficient, tired and drained as she looked. She reminded him of nobody as much as of Naprem shortly before Ziyal had been born. But she was still Kira Nerys, and he had never underestimated her.
"That depends on you, Major," he said. "You know I can't let you go back to the station now. But it's going to be only a few more weeks anyway. Try to be sensible. Once Cardassia has officially joined the Dominion, there is no reason for me to hold you captive any longer. I will let you go then. But if you insist on displaying your usual brand of heroism and make any attempt to stop me before then, I shall be forced to execute you."
"You *would* do that," she said contemptuously. "Kill a pregnant woman. I was a complete idiot ever to believe you were something more than a Cardassian butcher."
Strange; usually her insults alternately amused him or left him cold. But he had not known that she *had* seen him differently. He wondered whether she realised the implication of what she had just said. Still, Dukat prided himself on being a practical man first and foremost.
"I, on the other hand, was never foolish enough to believe that you are anything but the most dangerous warrior I have ever met, Nerys," he replied. "I don't want to kill you. Believe it or not, I much prefer the universe with you in it. But I will kill you if you leave me no other choice."
"Don't call me Nerys," she said, then refused to talk to him anymore.
Dukat put on a good performance when talking to Sisko. No, he had found no trace of Kira, but obviously someone had killed Siluren Prin. Either she had been there, and wanted to be alone now, or Prin had been killed by the true assassin, who was still at large, as was the Major. Did Sisko want him to investigate the other names on Odo's list?
"No," the Captain growled. "Yes. Look, Dukat, we need all the help we can get. We have to find her. For her sake, and the sake of the baby."
When he went on about Chief O'Brien and his wife, Dukat mentally stopped listening, though he made the appropriate noises and nodded when necessary. Even when he had still believed he could make a difference with a single bird of prey, and that being allied with Sisko and his lot was a good thing, he couldn't have cared less about O'Brien. Now Sisko was an equal, Odo he had always appreciated as an able and useful investigator, Garak was despicable but, as the fate of Dukat's father had proven, to be underestimated at one's peril, and the Doctor was interesting because Garak was interested in him. But O'Brien? Dullness personified. One could even blame him for the current mess, since he and his equally dull wife had not managed to do the natural thing and instead had somehow burdened Kira with their child. If Kira hadn't been pregnant, she would in all likelihood have tracked down Siluren Prin much sooner and dealt with him without a problem, their paths wouldn't have crossed, and everything would have gone as planned. Most importantly, Dukat wouldn't have been in a situation where he could be forced to kill a woman he had admittedly certain feelings for.
The first two days, Dukat gave Kira her food and drink while Damar stood guard with a phaser as long as the energy barrier was lowered. On the third, she had apparently realised that Sisko and her other friends had no idea where she was and would not come to her aid and deigned to talk to him again.
"Look," she said. "If it were just me, I wouldn't care. No, that's a lie - if it were just me, I'd have nailed your treacherous hide to the wall long ago. But I am responsible for this child. So until I have given birth, I will agree to your terms."
"Hm," Dukat returned. "And I should trust you because...?"
"You - trust me? That's a laugh, Dukat. You are the most untrustworthy, lying...," she flared up, and would undoubtedly have continued, if he had not cut her off.
"If you were in my place, Major, would you let someone like yourself roam about the ship, even with an escort?"
"I would never be in your place."
"Which is undoubtedly why I am about to become the leader of Cardassia, and you are wasting your talents playing Sisko's good little handmaiden."
"Is that why you're doing this?" she asked scornfully. "Dukat, all the ruling positions in the Dominion are already occupied by the Founders. Anyone else is a slave, with or without a title. You're selling everyone out for nothing."
"You have seen what has become of Cardassia," he started, then noted that against his better judgement, he had let himself be drawn into a political discussion with her. Abruptly, he turned away, gave Damar the signal to restore the energy barrier and left.
The meeting with Weyoun went as well as one could hope for, but it left him oddly unsatisfied. There was something in the Vorta's ingratiating manner that smacked of condescension. As opposed to what Kira might have thought, he was well aware that the Dominion was not exactly motivated by Cardassia's best interests. But they would cling to the pretense for a while, wanting other allies in the alpha quadrant as they did. The power of the Jem'Hadar would be available to push the Klingons back, and then to restore Cardassia to her former glory. And more. No more humiliating scraps from the Federation's table, oh no. Within a year, the Federation would be the one begging for scraps. And as for the Dominion, well, the Jem'Hadar were simple, if efficient thugs and a Vorta intellect could not compare to a Cardassian's. Of course, there were the Founders. One must be careful not to underestimate them. But Dukat had been able to deal with Odo, the only shapeshifter he had ever met. He would be able to deal with the others as well.
Still, there were some doubts, and they all sounded as if they were spoken in Kira's voice.
He had not told Weyoun that the Major was his prisoner, but somehow the Vorta had found out anyway. It was the first time Weyoun lost something of his pleasant façade.
"How *interesting*. And *why* haven't you killed her yet? I hope we didn't ally ourselves with a sentimentalist, Dukat."
"Hardly," Dukat replied. "She will be my messenger to Bajor and the Federation once everything is over. My... emissary."
"What a *charming* idea," the Vorta said. "But I still think eliminating an unnecessary risk would serve *all* our interests better."
"I will kill her if she makes a nuisance of herself. Not before."
"It might not be necessary," the Vorta said meaningfully. "Perhaps she dies in childbirth. What a messy, unpleasant way to give life. Cloning is a much safer process."
Bajoran women birth easily, Dukat wanted to say, but then thought better of it. Let the Vorta believe what he wanted.
Naturally, they had no midwife on board, and Roget, who served as their doctor, had lost his family due to a terrorist bombing during the occupation and flatly refused to help a Bajoran give birth. When Dukat told Kira, she bit her lips, but said:
"I don't want any of you to touch me anyway."
"Ah, but we don't always get what we want, Major," Dukat said. "As it turns out, the only two men on board who are married and have children are Damar and myself, and Damar was not present during a birth. Which means..."
"You have to be joking."
"This isn't how I imagined the two of us becoming intimate, either, Nerys," he said, amused.
"Anything you imagine makes me throw up. And don't call me Nerys."
It was a calculated risk. She was capable of trying something even after labour had started, but he had actually believed her when she said she felt responsible for the child. She would wait until it was born, and then... well, then they would see.
He had hot water prepared, sterilized instruments, and found himself sorely tempted to pace up and down while she rubbed her freed wrists and started to recite some Bajoran prayer he vaguely recognised. Which was ridiculous. It wasn't his child which was being born. It was not even her child, in her only because of some perverse trick of fate.
"Dukat," Kira said, "nothing must happen to this child. If anything goes wrong, you will wish I had killed you. You'll long for it."
It wasn't that different from what both his wife and Naprem had said under vastly different circumstances, and he found himself smiling.
"That's not funny."
"It is from this perspective," he said, quoting her own words back at her as he watched her carefully lying down. "Calm yourself, Major. I have no interest whatsoever in the baby."
"That's just it," she returned, and her usual aggression faded into deep seriousness. "There is something lacking in you, don't you sense that? Tell me, Dukat, did you ever care for anyone who wasn't your family or your lover?"
Somehow, a glib reply would not come. Wordlessly, he started massaging her back as he remembered his highly paid physician had done for Naprem. She did not snap at him, but for once, he saw no other implication in the fact she permitted his touch than the obvious one: this was a woman in labour who was tired and stressed out, without anyone at her side who should have been.
It took her a little more than three hours to give birth. During that time, they did not speak with each other very much, except for some questions he asked her about Ziyal, and which she answered. It did occur to him that Ziyal, who admired Kira, was probably mourning for her right now.
"I am grateful that you took care of my daughter," he said suddenly.
"I didn't do it for you, I did it for Ziyal."
When the child came, he heard her laughing, and wondered how often he had heard her laugh about something which made her happy. He still didn't understand why it should be this child, which wasn't hers and which she would have had to give up in any case. But he cleaned the baby from all remains of the <Icarini</I. The human skin felt soft and very alien under his fingertips. He was about to hand it to her, when he heard something, only a slight noise, hardly anything at all when compared to the soft mewling of the baby. But he was a Cardassian, and he heard it. Rising his head abruptly, he saw her taking the scissors he had used.
"Don't," he said.
Sweaty and exhausted as she was, she looked worse than he had ever seen her, and that fire he noticed each time they met had never burned brighter in her eyes. They looked at each other in silence. Slowly, carefully, Dukat took a few steps back, away from her, put the baby down, and laid it in the bowl where there had been some water to wash her and it earlier.
"You would have killed me anyway," she said, and threw the scissors at an angle that would have cut the artery running through his neck if he had not reactivated the energy barrier when he had stepped back. She watched the scissors bouncing off, and the fleeting expression of surprise on her face made her look very young.
"Probably," he said, opened a drawer, and pulled out the gas filters he had prepared for such an occasion. After a heartbeat of hesitation, he took up the baby again, opened the door and handed it to Damar who had taken it upon himself to stand guard there. Damar's surprised expression hardly registered with Dukat as he sealed the doors again, and put on the filters before pushing the button that would flood the sick bay with the lethal gas that was part of the security system he had installed soon after capturing the ship. Then he took down the energy barrier.
She did try to throw herself at him, but again, her body failed her. The gas was quick; it was also designed to dissolve into harmless particles within an hour. She was supposed to die after only a few minutes, but she held on for almost thirty. During that time, she didn't ask for his help even once.
"Dukat," she whispered at last, when he held her again as he had done during her labour, "promise that you will bring that baby back to its parents."
He could have asked her what explanation he was supposed to give, but found himself not caring anymore.
"Yes," he said, then realised she had tricked him into opening his mouth before the hour was over. It was unlikely to harm him permanently, as the filters attached to his nose did dispense a counteragent the entire time, but it would cause severe hurt. A slight smile curled her lips as he watched her eyes break while she looked at him.
"Can't separate the two," she gasped. Before he could ask her what she had meant, she was gone.
Chapter 5: Wrongs Darker than Death or Night
V. Wrongs Darker than Death or Night
Meru was, as both her friends and enemies would agree, a gentle woman. She had not known what it was to hate until she was given the news about Taban's death. Oh, she believed she had hated the Cardassians in her old life, and the man who had scarred her face, but it had been an almost perfunctory feeling when compared with the rage that consumed her when she heard about Taban, hanged in that newly regained home, with the letters "The rewards of collaboration" written on the wall next to him.
Her hate was fuelled by guilt. Someone in the Resistance must have managed to find out where the money for food and medicine Taban was receiving came from, must have investigated his story about her death at the camp and tracked her to Terok Nor. Given the attempt to kill Dukat and herself only a few weeks ago, she should not have been surprised. She knew all too well that what Luma, her white face stricken with disgust, had told her was what most people would think. But she had never, not even in her wildest nightmares, imagined that someone would hold Taban responsible.
His message, his kind, loving words, telling her he and the children owed their life to her, that he was proud of her and understood, had both broken her heart and soothed the pain. And now he had paid for this kindness with his life. "You killed him, you bitch," his sister had said, who had only learned that Meru was still alive when Meru in her panic had contacted everyone she knew to find out where the children were. Of course, she refused to tell Meru about the children.
"You don't deserve to be their mother. Do you want to ruin their lives as well?"
Once, she would have taken this as she had taken Luma's condemnation, as a judgement from the Prophets. But Taban's death changed everything. She did not believe the Prophets walked with the Resistance any longer. Anyone who killed a good man like Taban, anyone who approved of such an action, had lost their right to pass judgement on her.
When Meru trusted her voice again, she went to Dukat and asked that the children be brought to her, by force, if necessary.
"Are you sure that's wise, Meru?" he replied gently. "I have two children, I know how you must miss yours, but if they were living with me here, they would be targets as well. And this would be true of your children, too."
"Maybe," Meru said, feeling the salt of her dried tears burning on her face. "But they are not safe on Bajor, either, and I do not want them with these people anymore."
Sometimes, she was still shy about touching him on her own initiative. Not now. She stretched out her hand and let it linger on his cheek.
"Please," she said. "I want my children."
For a moment, there was something measuring her in his eyes, but then he turned his head, caught her hand and kissed it.
"Whatever makes you happy, my dear."
The children were afraid and confused at first, of course. Taban had not exaggerated in his message; with the regular food, they had already grown. They looked blessedly healthy, but losing their mother and then their father had left their marks. When the Cardassian soldiers brought them to her, they cried. Meru showered them with kisses, but it took hours to calm them down. Pohl and Reon were not able to speak yet; Nerys, though, was.
"The 'oonheads made Aunt go still, so still," Nerys finally whispered in her ear. Meru could find no pity in her heart for the woman who had danced at her wedding.
"It's alright, pet," she soothed. "It's over."
"Will Dada come back, too?"
A comforting lie was on her lips, something like "one day", or that the Prophets would reunite them eventually. But there was something in her little daughter's gaze that demanded to be told the truth.
"No, Nerys," Meru answered.
The child's lips trembled, but she did not cry again.
"Bad people took him from us", Meru declared with renewed bitterness. She hadn't heard Dukat entering behind her, but now she heard his voice saying:
"That's right. Bad people did. But that will not happen again."
He knelt down next to her, so his face was on a level with hers. Some part of her wondered whether his own family had taught him that speaking to children from a great height only intimidated them, or whether it was intuition.
"Your mother will be safe, and your brothers, and yourself. This I promise."
"Safe" wasn't a concept any one of them was familiar with, and Meru doubted her little Nerys had learned the word yet. But the girl stared at Dukat in fascination. She had seen Cardassians before, though Meru and Taban had always taken care to keep their children as far from them as possible. Meru was almost certain that no Cardassian had ever been that close. Nerys squinted.
"Bring Dada back!" she demanded.
"Ah," Dukat said in that low, calm voice which had been the first thing that she had liked about him, which had stopped the frightened terror in her own heart when she met him and started to kindle hope as well as fascination. "That is the one thing which I cannot do, I'm afraid."
The child scowled at him.
"But I did bring your mother back, didn't I?" he said, smiling at the girl. Nerys looked confused, but slowly, the scowl vanished and made room for curiosity. She tilted her head, and her arms, which had been clasped around Meru's neck, relaxed a bit.
"What is her name?" Dukat asked Meru. Before Meru could reply, the girl said:
Meru was amazed. Nerys was usually so shy about talking to strangers; it hadn't been so many weeks ago that the girl had not dared to address Luma directly but had whispered her questions into her mother's ear. Dukat really was good with children.
"Kira Nerys," Dukat said, "you and I are going to be the best of friends."
When Pohl and Reon grew older, they had no memories of Taban, though Meru took care to tell them about the good man their father had been. Nerys, on the other hand, did remember, but when she was ten, she told Meru she didn't want to talk about him anymore. This saddened Meru, and yet she understood. Nerys loved Dukat with a fierce, jealous devotion that made the girl resent each time Dukat went to Cardassia to visit his other family. She wanted to imagine herself as his only daughter, and him as her true father, and did not want to remember a time when this had not been so.
"Why does he have to go back to *them* all the time?" she once asked Meru. "They are not really his family. We are. It's not fair!"
Maybe if Nerys could have had friends and a larger family, she would have been better at sharing. But as things were, Meru and her children were envied by the other Bajoran women who were kept by Cardassians. Most of them would never have dared to bring their children to their fathers' attention, let alone live with them. As for the other Bajorans, the workers in orb processing and *their* families, the only thing that kept them from spitting at the sight of Meru *or* the children was fear of punishment.
Then there was the constant, nagging threat of assassination. Nerys might not want to talk about Taban, yet she knew very well who had been responsible for his death.
"I hate being a Bajoran," she told Meru, after there had been yet another bombing which led to Dukat being summoned to Cardassia and a series of reprisals after his return. Walking through Terok Nor afterwards was walking through a thick, heavy silence.
"They are not all terrorists, Nerys," Meru replied, and distantly wondered when she had started to automatically speak of "terrorists" rather than to call them the "Resistance", and of "them" instead of "us".
"They might as well be," Nerys declared darkly. "All they can do is kill Cardassians and other Bajorans, and then even more of them die. It's so...*stupid*!"
Meru made an effort.
"It will be over one day, Nerys. And Bajor has a heritage we can be proud of."
Nerys hugged her. Soon, she would turn eleven. She wore her long, red hair in a complicated braid, Cardassian-style, with needles Dukat had given her as a surprise after his last journey.
"I know you think so, Mother. And I love your icons, I really do. But I'm sorry, I don't think that superstition about the Prophets is anything to be proud of."
"They walk with us," Meru said, somewhat shocked though she only visited the temple very rarely these days. The silent accusations in everyone's eyes when she did were not easy to bear.
"If they walk with us, they haven't done anything for us, have they?" Nerys said fiercely. "The only one who ever did that was Father."
She did not mean Taban.
"I'm worried about Nerys," Meru confided to Dukat when they were in bed that night, which by itself was an amazingly regular event, even after all these years. She knew that, leaving his wife aside, he wasn't completely faithful to her, but she also knew he would not dream of installing another woman in her place. When she had first become his mistress, one of the other women, who had been on the station for a longer time without ever managing to get one Cardassian officer to keep her for more than a few nights, had told her she was lucky.
"Not just because he's the prefect," the other woman had declared, hungry envy in her voice. "That one absolutely wants to be loved and believe himself to be in love. He'll never kick you out; that would destroy the game."
Years later, as he held her in his arms and she felt enveloped by the only warmth and security she had ever been able to trust, she couldn't say the woman had been wrong. And yet it had been too easy an assessment. There was a saying in Dakhur province about seeing someone's true face if his life was threatened. During the first weeks with Dukat, she had been afraid, attracted and desperately eager to believe, but she had not started to love him until Luma, the woman she had trusted as her friend, had tried to kill both of them. When the bomb exploded, Dukat had not sought to save himself first. He had cried out her name and covered her with his body, and afterwards, he had checked on her before doing anything else. In a way, Meru supposed that Luma had sealed their union.
It had been a long time since then; she had seen him go from the young prefect who believed he could make a difference to a more cynical man who had repeatedly stated it would take a miracle to end the ongoing cycle of attacks and retribution. She had seen him show weaknesses; she had experienced him make mistakes. But she had never known him to stop caring about her or her children, and for that, she would always love him.
He could still manage to surprise her, though. She had expected him to tell her not to worry, that Nerys was a fine girl. Instead, he murmured:
"So am I."
„I'm not blind, Meru,"Dukat said. "Nerys and her brothers are not really part of Bajor *or* Cardassia. Now as long as they are children, that will not matter. But only a few more years, and Nerys will be grown up. With her spirit, she will not be content to live as a Bajoran on Bajor. Yet on Cardassia, they would only ever see her as one. They would see the ridges of her nose and think of the terrorism, instead of valuing her as she should be valued."
"What can we do for her, my love?" Meru asked, feeling his hand stroke her hair. His voice came floating to her in the darkness as he replied, thoughtfully, slowly:
"Your daughter is the embodiment of the new Bajor, Meru. Bajor as it should be, Bajoran beauty married to a Cardassian soul. Why not give her the freedom to reflect that?"
"What do you mean?"
He explained it to her. She had not known Cardassian surgeons were capable of something like this, but Dukat told her that the Obsidian Order prided itself on far more difficult transformations, and that one of their agents owed him a debt he would be only too glad to call in for Nerys' sake. Still, Meru could not help her first instinctive reaction, which was to be revolted. It went against everything she had ever been taught about the will of the Prophets.
Then again, as Nerys had put it with the blunt cruelty of youth, the Prophets had never done anything for her.
Meru resolved on leaving the decision to Nerys. They did not tell her immediately; obviously, eleven was not nearly old enough to make such a choice. But when Nerys was close to completing her thirteenth year, Meru felt a knot in the stomach which turned out to be far more serious than she had believed at first. After several diagnoses and operations by the best physicians Dukat could find, it was obvious that this was something she would not escape from. There would not be much more time to watch Nerys grow; she would have to tell her now.
"Do you understand what this would mean?" she asked Nerys, after Dukat, who was always better at these things, had finished explaining. "Do you think you could do it?"
Nerys, who did not know yet about Meru's own fate, beamed at her and in her impulsive way threw her arms around both of them.
"Oh Mother, Father, of course I could! It's what I've always wanted. Thank you! Oh, thank you!"
She was so young. But what had been said two years ago was still true, and this way, at least one world would be open to her.
"I will miss your red hair," Meru said wistfully, and took the long braid into her hands.
The boys were somewhat disturbed when they saw their sister again. But the doctor treating Meru, a Bajoran scientist named Tora Naprem, quickly distracted them by offering to show them the new discovery of Dr. Mora's everyone was talking about, a strange substance that could change its shape. When they were gone, Meru, the pain in her body somewhat lessened by all the medication and the sight of Nerys and Dukat smiling at her, stretched out both hands to them, and they knelt down beside her.
"Are you happy, Nerys?" Meru asked, looking at her daughter's gray face with the faint blue spot in the middle of the girl's forehead, the black hair falling down, elegantly braided, the neck ridges forming a curve as Nerys laid down her head in her mothers' lap.
"It's Iliana now," Nerys murmured. "But yes, I am. If you get better soon."
Over her head, so familiar and yet so strange in its Cardassian shape, Meru's and Dukat's eyes met.
"It might not be possible, my darling," Meru said gently. "But you will have your father to look after you."