Lt. Danielle Janeway sat staring at herself in the mirror. For the last four days, she'd done nothing but sit in the room Dukat had given her at his home and ponder what in the hell she'd done to her life. Only a few days before, she'd thrown away everything she'd ever worked for her entire life. Her career, her family, her relationship with Will.
"Gods," she said lowering her head to her hands. "What have I done?"
All this for a second chance with Marac, she thought. Was it really all worth it?
Well, it was too late to ponder over now, wasn't it? The decision had been made and sealed in the split second it had taken her to stand at Dukat's side. "No regrets," she said quietly. She cast a glance in the direction of the closet.
Marac Dukat sat at the dinner table of his dining room -- alone. He absently fingered the napkin resting in his lap, as the servers began to deliver his meal. This dining alone was becoming an unwanted habit. He'd dined alone for ages, since he'd taken this position as the prefect of the Western Hemisphere of the planet. He had hoped that having Danielle back in his life might change that. Apparently, he'd been wrong.
Her actions puzzled him. She had chosen to stay on Prime with him, yet, she hadn't left her room since he had taken her from the prison four days earlier. Dukat didn't understand it. If she wanted to be here, which he assumed was the case since she'd made the conscious decision to remain, why did she not behave as if she did?
He placed his napkin on the table. This was simply too depressing an atmosphere. He was about to tell the maid to have his meal sent to his room, but he looked up and saw that Danielle was standing in the entranceway to the dining room. She wore one of the gowns he'd had hand- made for her, and she looked extraordinary in it, just as he'd thought she would.
Dukat rose. "I'm pleased to see that you're joining me," he said, walking over to meet her. "You haven't been out of your room in days. I was beginning to worry about you."
"There's no need for worry," Dani said, stepping into the room. "I just needed some time to gather my thoughts. I'm fine now." She smiled at Dukat as he led her to her seat, across the table from his own seat. He seated her and walked around the table to his seat. The maid promptly placed a glass and eating utensils in front of Dani. "Thank you," Dani said with a nod to the woman. She pulled her napkin from the table and spread it across her lap. "What are we having?"
Dukat reclaimed his seat and replaced his napkin on his lap. "Bajoran," he said.
"Sounds good," was Dani's reply.
"I see you've found the clothing I had brought over. You look absolutely enchanting," Dukat complimented.
"Thank you," Dani said simply.
The maid and another servant emerged from the kitchen carrying two platters of some steaming Bajoran dish that Dani couldn't identify. The dishes were placed before Dani and Dukat.
"Thank you, Melba. You may take your leave of us now," Dukat told the maid. She and the other servant bowed slightly and left Dukat and his Terran guest alone.
When Dukat returned his gaze to Dani, he found that she had already taken a bite of the dish. "We haven't really been afforded the opportunity to get reacquainted with one another," Dukat said, sipping his drink. "We haven't talked much since we arrived from the prison."
Dani placed her glass on the table beside her plate. "I don't want to get in your way while I'm here. I know you're busy. I am only your prisoner, after all."
"I'm never too busy for you, my love," Dukat said. "And I prefer to think of you as my guest. You did, after all, choose to stay on your own accord."
Dani dabbed the corners of her mouth. "You're right, of course."
Dukat placed his glass on the table. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table, studying Dani. "May I ask you something?"
"Of course," Dani said. She wondered why he would feel the need to ask her if he could ask her a question. Whatever he was going to ask her, Dani concluded, must be heavy.
"Why did you choose to stay with me?" Dukat asked. It had been something that had been eating away at him for a week now, since that day when Dani had made the fateful decision to stand at his side while they watched Commander Riker and Ambassador Starr escape, as planned. "Why didn't you go with Riker and Starr?"
Dani had known the question would be asked eventually, but she hadn't expected it to be so soon. She pulled her napkin from her lap and placed it on the table as she stood. "It seems like a pleasant night," she said, walking around to Dukat's side of the table. "Why don't we go for a walk?" She held her hand out to him.
Dukat's eyes fell to her outstretched hand before rising to her face. He was both curious and annoyed with her. Curious because of her abrupt behavior, and annoyed for the very same reason. They had just sat down for dinner not ten minutes ago, and now she wanted to leave? He refused to allow the annoyance to register on his pale features. Instead he took her hand and stood.
"As you wish, my love," Dukat said. He left the dining room with Dani, and they crossed the large entrance foyer to the front door.
The air that greeted Dani when she set foot outside the large house was pleasantly warm and dry, a welcome change from the heat that usually characterized the daytime hours. The light breeze that played in the air made it all the more pleasant. Something caught her attention from the corner of her eye. She looked to her right and noticed that two men had appeared out of nowhere. Dani looked up at Dukat with questioning eyes.
"They're only guards," he explained. "Cardassia is a safe place, but given my position, one can never be too cautious."
Dani nodded understandingly. Even in the Federation, high officials had bodyguards. Dani and Dukat turned and began to walk down the long walkway that stretched from the front of the house. They walked for minutes without saying a word to each other, without touching each other, without looking at each other, all much to Dukat's chagrin. By the time they were halfway down the walkway, Dukat's lingering annoyance had grown so much that it prompted him to speak up.
"Danielle ... " he began, fighting the irritation that threatened to creep into his voice.
"I wasn't trying to get around the subject," Dani said. Reminding him, she added, "Earlier -- a few minutes ago, at dinner."
Dukat finally looked at her and instantly regretted that he'd turned his head in her direction. His feelings of annoyance immediately dissipated. He marveled at how the moonlight bounced off her and seemed to create a mysterious glow about her. He couldn't imagine, at that moment, how he'd ever thought he'd forget how beautiful she was. He turned his attention to other things, like grass, pebbles, and his feet, as Dani began to speak again.
"I know it could've seemed like I was trying to avoid the subject," Dani said. "It isn't that at all. I just needed a few moments to get my thoughts together on the matter." She looked up at his striking profile. "The question you asked me is one that I've been asking myself since I arrived here."
Dukat looked down at her and caught her gaze. "Is there an answer to that question?" he asked.
Dani stopped walking and turned to him. There was most definitely an answer. "I lost you once before, and there wasn't anything I could do about it," she said, remembering that awful incident when she'd thought Dukat had been executed. They had both been kidnapped and held prisoner on a Romulan ship almost two years ago. Dukat had been taken to a cell a few feet from her own, and she had heard what sounded like an execution. Dukat's execution. Trapped in the cell, she had been unable to do anything at all.
And now here he was, standing before her, perfectly healthy. The supposed execution had been a ruse by members of the Cardassian government to smuggle Dukat into a high-ranking post on Prime.
Dani continued. "This time, I actually had a say in whether you were lost to me or not." She took a step closer to him. "I wasn't going to lose you again, if I could help it. And that's what it all came down to." She began to walk again, as did he. She watched him and smiled. She had missed seeing that confident swagger of his.
"What?" Dukat asked upon seeing her smile.
"Nothing," Dani replied, a smile still on her face. She looked at the ground and walked.
Dukat allowed a little smile to creep into his features. He deftly reached over and clasped Dani's petite hand with his own. He looked at her to gauge her reaction, and was happy to see that her smile never wavered. They strolled in silence for a little while longer.
Dani looked up at the night sky. It was so strange for her to look up at the sky from the surface of a planet. She had spent so much time on starships and space stations. And she'd never seen the night sky from the vantagepoint of Cardassia Prime. She stopped walking, once again, and stared up at the sky more intently. Some of the stars seemed to form images, like the old constellations she saw from Earth.
Dukat followed her gaze to the sky and realized what had caught her eye. He pointed to the group of stars Dani was gazing at. "That one is called the Prophet of the North," he said quietly into her ear. "It's from our old Hebitian culture." Dukat's eyes roamed the sky. He pointed to a different spot in the sky. "That's the Prophet of the South."
Dani was in awe. She had always loved constellations. It had always intrigued her how the imagination could come up with patterns for certain groups of stars. Did the stars really form objects, or did the imagination make a person think they saw an object?
Dani turned to Dukat, who was closer than she'd expected him to be. He'd bent down slightly to speak directly into her ear. When she'd turned around, she'd been staring right into his clear, blue eyes. He stood to his full height, and her eyes never left his.
"You never answered my question," Dukat told her.
"I thought I just did," Dani said.
Dukat shook his head. "No, not that question," he said. "Last week, at the prison, I asked you if you still loved me."
Dani blinked, remembering the occurrence Dukat spoke of.
Dukat continued. "Do you? Do you love me still?"
"Do you think I would be here if I didn't?" Dani asked him.
"I wanted to know if your decision was influenced by your desire to free Starr," Dukat said. "I don't want you to think that I required some sort of exchange. I would have let Starr go even if you had decided to go with them."
"You think I'm here because of some mission? My decision had nothing to do with Hea Starr," Dani insisted. "I'm here because of you. My life as I know it in the Federation is over. Once Starr lets them know that I basically deserted ... "
She stepped closer to him. "Marac ... "
Dukat was sincerely surprised by what Dani had just said. She didn't know what Starr had told Starfleet? Hadn't she been reading the papers over the last few days? Should he tell her that she still had a life waiting for her in Starfleet, that they hadn't cast her out?
He pushed the thoughts from his head. Why did the matter have to be dealt with now, at this moment? It didn't, he decided, as he lowered his head and moved in to kiss Dani. He hesitated for only a moment, centimeters from her face, before gently brushing his lips against hers.
Dani's heart jumped as she returned his kiss. She literally felt like her legs were turning to jelly, and was grateful for the tree that was positioned behind her. If it hadn't been there to support her, she might have fallen on her ass, which wouldn't have been too good for the moment.
They parted. The kiss had left Dani overwhelmed and light-headed. Dukat, still very close to her, wanted to kiss her again, but she gingerly stepped out from between him and the tree before he had a chance to. He watched her walk away, back in the direction of the house. Had he done something wrong, something to upset her? Out of all things, he hadn't expected her to just walk away like that without even saying anything. He reluctantly turned and began to follow her back to the house.
Dani and Dukat stared at each other for a few moments. They didn't say anything. They just stood in the foyer after their walk, regarding each other rather uncomfortably.
"Well," Dani said, "goodnight."
Dukat nodded, still not sure what had just happened. He was now more confused than he had been before dinner. Giving up for the night, he said, "Goodnight."
It felt, to both Dukat and Dani, that they should each go their separate ways. However, after they had said goodnight to each other, they quickly realized that the notion to split had been premature, as they both had to travel up the same staircase to get to their respective rooms. They climbed the spiraled staircase in silence.
Once they reached the top, instead of bidding each other goodnight again, they merely stared at each other longingly for a few moments before turning and finally going their separate ways to their rooms.
The doors swished closed behind Dukat after he entered his room. It was more of a suite really, a large room with an ample sitting area, walk-in closet, and deluxe bathroom.
"Computer -- lights," he said pointedly. Now, what had he done? Everything had been going so well. And then he'd kissed her. She hadn't resisted and had actually seemed quite enthusiastic about it. He didn't at all understand her response to the whole ordeal. She'd walked away from him without a word until 'goodnight' in the foyer just now. He didn't understand the woman.
Dani sat at the dresser in her room, staring at her reflection in the mirror. Why was she doing this to him, sending all these mixed signals? She was screwing with her own head, too. It was just plain confusing, and it wasn't fair, to herself or to Dukat.
Dani sighed. She knew how she felt. She knew why she was here. The problem was fear. Fear of stepping into something like this again. But her fear was probably torturing him, she realized, which was the last thing she wanted to do. She just didn't know how to act around him anymore, she realized, standing and changing into a long, blue nightgown made of satin. It was so elegant. She didn't usually sleep in such fancy nightwear. She'd always found that a t-shirt and pair of shorts got the job done just fine. But Dukat had seen to it that an entirely new wardrobe, including sleepwear, was waiting for her before she'd arrived. She would still have to replicate some of her favorite items, like jeans and t-shirts, but Dukat's had been a nice gesture. All he wanted to do, it seemed, was make her happy. Dani returned her gaze to the mirror, studying herself in the blue gown.
When Dani approached Dukat's bedroom, she didn't expect it to be unlocked, but it was. The doors promptly slid open when she stepped up to them. She looked in. The room was dark, but she could see that Dukat was already in bed.
The sound of the doors swishing open and the pale light that entered the room got Dukat's attention. It didn't take him long to recognize the silhouetted figure in the doorway. He watched her as she entered the room. The doors slid shut behind her, and she walked to the bed. He sat upright, wondering what she was going to do. He hoped she hadn't suddenly had a change of heart and was now planning on stabbing him. He pushed the thought aside as she sat in front of him, perched on the side of the large bed.
"Danielle ... " Dukat murmured quizzically.
Dani traced her finger along the angles of Dukat's face, starting with the ridges around his eye and moving down his cheek to the ridges that lined his jaw and neck. Dukat breathed deeply. He only hoped she wasn't teasing him. It felt so good to feel her soft, warm hands on him again. It had been so long. Too long. He turned and kissed the sensitive inside of her wrist. In response, she leaned in close and locked her lips firmly with his.
So, she wasn't teasing him.
Dani slowly opened her eyes to the pale, early morning light that floated into the room. It took her a few moments to remember where she was, whom she was with ... what had happened the night before. She looked over at Dukat. He was still asleep, snoring lightly. Dani sat up, trying not to disturb him. He only sighed and shifted in his sleep.
Dani looked at the window. It had been so long since she'd last seen a sunrise. She gently rose from the bed and walked toward the balcony, picking up her nightgown on the way. She opened the balcony's glass door and stepped outside clothed.
The temperature was mild and breezy. It was early in the day, so the humidity hadn't set in, yet. Dukat's house was somewhat removed from the metropolitan area and stood on elevated land. Dani looked out at a magnificent view of Cardassia Prime's capital city, with its myriad of tall, sweeping buildings. She could see forever.
The gently creeping light of Prime's sun caught Dani's attention and caused her to look to the right, the side from which it was rising. She saw the slow sunrise beginning to occur, and she realized it one of the things she had missed most about being planetside. The early morning hours, particularly sunrise, was a peaceful time of the day. It was just before the day started, before people began the hustle and bustle of the day.
Dani watched the golden sunlight slowly envelop the city. It was so beautiful. She closed her eyes as another breeze caressed her. When she opened her eyes, she was being caressed by something other than the wind.
"It's amazing, isn't it?" Dukat whispered into her ear. He wrapped his arms around her.
"Yes," Dani replied. She sighed and kissed Dukat's arm. Looking back out at the city, she said, "I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy watching the sun come up." She turned around and looked up at him, wrapping her arms around him as she did so. He leaned down and kissed her.
"I'm very pleased that you're here with me, Danielle," Dukat said once he and Dani had parted.
"Me, too," she told him. She kissed him again.
Dukat cradled her face with his hand. "Oh, how I wish that I could stay here with you all day," he said. "But, I'm afraid I am needed downtown."
"You're needed here, too," Dani quipped with a grin.
"I'll be home as soon as I can," Dukat said. "You have my word." He took her hand and led her back into the bedroom. She watched him walk into the bathroom. "Do you have any plans for the day?" she heard him call.
Dani sat down on the bed. "I don't know," she called back.
"Well, if you get the chance, I would suggest that you take a look at the computer and replicator systems." Dukat stuck his head out the door. "You might find it interesting."
Dani raised an eyebrow curiously at Dukat's odd suggestion.