Cardassian Heat

DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns the Star Trek universe, complete with characters, runabouts, etc. I've just borrowed their characters to put them briefly through the wringer for fun - no infringement intended.

RATING: This story is rated NC-17. If your national law or your mother would object, please don't read.

FAIR WARNING: This is an erotic romance involving Major Kira and Gul Dukat so - to those whose sensibilities would be deeply offended by this sort of thing: please feel free to stay away also.

TIME: Somewhen shortly after "Return to Grace" while it is still uncertain whether Dukat is a covertly imperial pirate or has gone freelance. The epilogue is much later, probably after season 5. Inconsistencies will be merrily blamed on alternate currents in space. :)

FEEDBACK: Yes, please! :) You can reach me at the address given on my top page.


CARDASSIAN HEAT

by

Eliann SleepingCat



"... but as First Officer to a Starfleet captain, in effect deferring to the Federation presence, now that is something I had not thought..."

Kira leant her head back against her pilot's seat and closed her eyes, tuning him out. He had been talking a blue streak since they left Deep Space Nine, all through the Wormhole and a good part of the Gamma quadrant, and he was still at it. She weighed her two choices against each other - develop a fullblown headache, or tell him to shut up. As usual, the more outgoing alternative won out.

"Dukat", she said, skipping his title as usual - something he rarely did with hers. "Don't you ever keep silent?"

He smiled at her. "Only when it's required, Major. Is it?"

She glared at him. "Well, you could let me get a word in edgewise for a change."

An oddly graceful deferring gesture of his hand - a movement better in keeping with his reptiloid nature than his military existence. "By all means, Major. What would you like to talk about?"

"Our mission, for instance. Why did you come to us?"

"It would seem", he said, staring at the front viewscreen, "that if there is indeed a highly advanced weapons factory in Dominion territory, the Federation - and Bajor - would want to know about it."

"So you just decided to serve us their location on a platter?" Kira said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"I don't know that I'm in a position to serve you anything", Dukat pointed out. "I haven't found it yet."

"Correct", she acknowledged, nodding vehemently enough that her short brush of red hair bobbed in counterpoint. "That's what we're here for. To find it. If it exists. I'm more than half convinced this is another of your tricks, Dukat. Question is, what are you up to this time?"

He sighed. She could be quite annoying at times. "I told you. I want to find the factory. So does your Captain Sisko, now that he knows about it."

"All right, let's try this from another angle. Who sent you to us?"

He closed his eyes, in an effort to keep the lid on his exasperation. This trying Bajoran female..

"Nobody sent me, Major." His voice was unusually light, like leaves rustling.

"Then", she persisted, "you're on your own. Let me guess, your government - whatever part of it counts at the moment - doesn't know about this. This is your own initiative. You're hoping, for your own obscure ends, to strike a bargain directly with the factory, cutting out all middlemen."

"I doubt the factory will deal directly with anyone but outlaws", he said tiredly. "It has stayed hidden for so long only by avoiding traps. But I hear it is supplying the Maquis from time to time."

"Outlaws", she mused. "What's your position with Central Command these days, Dukat?"

"Quite good, thank you, Major."

She nodded to herself. "But no expectations. So if - no, when - you are declared free as the birds, I believe the expression is, you'd rather know where to arm both yourself and whatever group you managed to drag down with you this time. And if you could get the Federation to back you up somehow - it won't work, Dukat. The Federation will never take sides in a Cardassian civil war."

"Who said anything about a civil war?" he spat, then he sank back against his chair again, tranquillity itself. "My commendations on your vivid imagination, Major. No offence, but your paranoid speculations bore me to tears. Let's talk about something else, shall we?"

"Very well", Kira said, all innocent complacency now that she had him on edge, "How's that seven-head brood of yours these days?"

"My children are quite well, thank you", he replied. "How are things with the First Minister?"

She fell abruptly silent. And realized too late that she had given him a clue that he would worry to death, unless she told him the rest. "Shakaar and I.." she began, then suddenly did not know how to continue.

"Ah, I see", Dukat said. "Whose was the decision to break up?"

"We haven't broken up!" she flared, "that is, not exactly.. we just felt.. it might be a good idea not to see so much of each other for a while. After all, we're both very busy and.."

"We?"

"He", she finally admitted. "Satisfied?"

"My sympathy, Major", he said lightly. "However, for what it's worth, I'd say you're better off.." something on the screen caught his attention. "I see we're coming up on our destination. Or the most likely place for it, as far as we know."

Kira scrutinized her panel. "That's no weapons factory. It's a perfectly rural, class M planet, no heavy industry at all. Assorted lifeforms, several humanoid ones, farming, villages or small towns. Understandable, because the equatorial and temperate zones form one wide, lush belt all around the planet - quite a paradise. Climate a bit harsh in the polar regions though - nothing lives there. All settlements - indeed all humanoid lifeform readings - are contained within the green belt, but it's certainly wide enough to accommodate them. Humanoid population only one billion - I'd say this used to be somebody's colony, a couple of generations ago."

"Or else those in charge are not humanoid."

"There is that of course. But it's definitely not a weapons factory. It's not a factory of any kind - unless you count manufacturers of farming tools and the like."

"I'm not so sure, Major. It stands to reason that a weapons factory would be hidden - perhaps underground. With, perhaps, a rural camouflage over it."

"Scanners come up with nothing. If they kept anything as complex as that underground, we would scan it."

"That, Major, would depend on their level of sophistication, would it not?"

"Dukat, you're being paranoid. Again. Entering orbit.."

"Merely less ready to underestimate - "

The runabout lurched violently, as if it had just run into something. After a brief, tugging shudder it continued on its way around the planet.

"I don't believe it!" Kira gasped. "Our shields are down. Completely. The generators are still running, but nothing comes out of them. Some sort of a beam.. it peeled us like a Bajoran parsimmon!"

He nodded. "Now do you believe me?"

Kira did not answer. She was busy apprehensively piloting the little runabout along her chosen orbit, preparing to break free of it and move farther out.. on the other hand, there was no knowing the range of the planet's weapons systems.

She was spared the decision. Something far beyond any power specifications she had ever seen, hit the runabout's engines and navigational controls with eerie precision, sending the small vessel spinning into the atmosphere - and towards the surface.

"This will be a hot ride", she said between clenched teeth. "But we should avoid getting fried, if the insulation holds up. Of course, then there's still the impact with the ground.. I think the stabilizers are out too.."

"Let me take the controls", he said calmly.

For an insane moment, she wanted to. He sounded so absolutely unruffled, so used to be in control that he must have been born - hatched? - into it, so utterly, naturally - protective? She shook her head, blinking. There'd be none of that here. "I'll manage. You just sit tight."

"What are you going to do?" The question was very soft.

"Well, we have to go down. And I don't care to be shot at again. I have just enough navigation left to head off for the uninhabited areas before we crash.."

"NO!" he shouted, rising. "Give me the controls, Major - now!"

"Sit down, Dukat", she ordered irritably. "And secure yourself, unless you want to be smashed on impact."

He did. Good, at least he was not immune to reason. But he kept staring at the viewscreen with an expression she could not quite make out.

If she had not known better, she would have called it - fey.

* * * *

Of course the hull ruptured, but Kira prided herself on her landing all the same. After all, they were both unhurt, which was the main thing, wasn't it? She unclasped the straps fastening her to her seat, and stood. The wind howled through the cracks in the hull. Life support could no longer preserve the temperature, now that the little ship was broken. Best get the survival gear out of its compartments.

Dukat was kneeling by the bulkhead, examining the rifts, his teeth clattering.

"What d'you think you're doing?" she asked. "Help me get out whatever we may need around here."

He looked up at her, his eyes still holding that expression, as if he had seen his own ghost. "I was merely looking for a way to mend these cracks. It would appear, there is none."

"Never mind the cracks. Let's get our gear, then we can either stay or leave, whatever seems best. We can't get this bucket off the ground again, so we'll have to wait for someone to miss us and come to pick us up. We'd better try and get comfortable while we're waiting."

"Get comfortable? Major, it's minus 34 out there. Not counting the winds.."

"So what? The great Gul Dukat, afraid of a little cold? Oh, I remember when you boasted to me about how much sturdier Cardassians are compared to Bajorans, how condescending you were even in the middle of the desert.."

"Major?" His quiet voice stopped her more efficiently than any shout. Major, I'm reptiloid.."

They huddled in the crashed runabout for a long time. Hoping against hope that it would prove sufficient. There was no knowing if any other shelter was to be had. Supplies were no immediate problem; the onboard replicator had given out when the power did, but the survival kits contained the much joked-about field rations as well as warm clothes. Still, when the night came on, the temperature kept dropping. And the wind still continued to rise.

Kira dozed a couple of times, but she had the impression her Cardassian companion did not. Once, she asked him if he could not sleep.

"Major", he said, "If I ever fall asleep here, I won't wake up again. My species has gained much over the millennia; it now enjoys a much more active life - but it has also paid the price. Somewhere along the line, we lost our ability to hibernate."

She tipped her head back, to rest on the heavy hood of her jacket as well as the backrest behind it. She smiled contentedly. "Well, it only goes to show, doesn't it? All species have their vulnerabilites. Even Cardassians.."

"Don't rub it in, Major!" he hissed. His teeth were clattering again, and he seemed unable to stop them. "It's so - ghrsstkth cold!", he complained.

Her ears perked up at the Cardassian curse. Strange, she did not think she had heard that one before. "Keep whining", she said drowsily. "At least you'll know you're alive.." 'And so will I', she added in her thoughts, before falling asleep again.

Sometime in the middle of the night, she awoke with a start. At first she thought she had heard him groan, but all was silent now. He had stopped complaining, then. Come to think of it, she could not even hear him breathe. Quickly she moved over to him, pushing her hand underneath his armour to feel his heartbeat - wildly wondering just whereabouts Cardassians kept their heart. She should have known, but - they had rarely used precision weapons in the Resistance..

She had some trouble at first, until she remembered the thermovests she had got out of the survival kits for them both. His armour certainly had not made him any more comfortable before that - and yet he had put it back on, over the vest. As further insulation, maybe.

She snaked her hand in under his vest - his body temperature was lower than she had expected; she wondered how far it could drop, in life.. Then she felt his heart - still beating, but so slowly it could not possibly be his normal heartrate. Could it? She fervently wished Julian had been along on this ride. He would have known..

A hand - oddly scaleless - closed suddenly on her wrist. "Find shelter, Major", he hissed urgently. "Somewhere we can build a fire."

"There might not be any such place", she said. So this was on the level then. This was none of his tricks. Somehow she felt strangely sad to be the one to have brought him to this. If she had known.. if she had stopped to think.. Then again, if she had set down in an inhabited area, they would most likely both be dead by now.

"Please.." he said, so low that she had to lean close to hear him at all, "Please try, Major."

She listened to the raging winds outside. Winds that would take her breath away in seconds and sweep the snow over her tracks in minutes. And the dark.. darkness like a wall beyond the feeble range of a standard issue searchlight.. "Can you hang on till morning?" she asked. "I promise to try at first light."

He sighed - almost a sob of frustration, and let his hand fall back. Well, there wasn't much to do but wait. She could not go out now. Not yet..

* * * *

Toward dawn, the winds died down. But these were also the coldest hours of the long night. Kira stood, drawing thermovest and parka closer about her. Dukat's thermovest had not helped him much. When a Cardassian was cold, he was cold. Well, she had always known them for a persistent race..

She checked his heartbeat again - it was even slower now, but it was still there. Then, for a long moment, she contemplated letting him die. Why not - he was her enemy, wasn't he? At the very least, he had been. She owed him nothing - nothing at all. Not even his life..

But she had not meant to kill him. If she had had to, she would have preferred it to be in an emergency, in self-defence, or in any way premeditated. Not like this, out of sheer - sloppiness.. Also, she suspected that the captain would not thank her. A known enemy was always preferable; who knew what unproven hothead Cardassia might put in Dukat's place, to harrass them? She had a feeling Sisko would think this was her own personal revenge, that she had been planning it all along..

In addition to it all, she had never liked being alone. Dukat might not be her company of choice, but even he was a step up from being left alone in a snow desert, not knowing when - or if - anyone would come to her rescue. Surrounded by the dark, the winds, and soon enough every weird demon ever thought up by Bajoran folkloristic tradition..

Besides, she was cold too.

As she pressed open the hatch - just a little, against a drift of snow - he stirred, perhaps in reaction to the inevitable draught, or else to some sound she might have made.

"If you can't come back, Major", he whispered, "don't let it eat you. This death is not - unpleasant."

She thought in the faint morning light that she saw him smile, only a shadow of his usual, teasing smile. Fighting a sudden urge to strike him, she merely shook her head and pushed past the hatch.

There was no wind now, but the gentle, persistent snowfall worried her. A Breen on the run from his homeworld had once told her that one did not enter into foreign terrain in a snowfall, however light. Not into any terrain that was not clearly marked. Well, there was nothing for it; she had nothing with which to blaze a trail. Nothing that the snow would not cover. Well, she would not go far this first time. Just reconnoitering, just checking out the terrain. Maybe if she moved for a certain number of steps in eight spokes of direction, always coming back to the runabout at the centre.. yes, that might be the best she could do. She picked a direction at random, and started counting her steps.

After a hundred steps, she turned - and could not see the runabout. So this was what that Breen had been talking about.. odd, the snowfall did not seem that thick at all.. With a sigh, she turned her tricorder in the direction she had come from. It had not found anything ahead of her, but at least it could lead her back to the runabout.

Once back, she did not enter - telling herself she had no time to waste; daylight would not last long here. As ill luck would have it, she had picked the winter hemisphere - at the other pole, they might at least have had light.

Plodding outwards again, she wished she had learnt to build igloos in the Resistance. But Bajor's climate was never this fierce, not even on the moons..

On her sixth spoke, her tricorder gave out, frozen solid - at least the controls were, and the display was all but unreadable. She turned in the direction she thought she had come, and saw nothing. Nothing at all, except little coloured spots. Damn. She had forgotten about snowblindness. Or like a fool not expected it in clouded weather. Now her eyes were hurting, producing tears which froze on her cheeks. Perhaps she had better go back in, try to do something about her face.. she had already lost all sensation in it, but at least it had not started to feel warm as yet..

She was no longer sure if she had come this way before. Certainly not quite this far.. with a shock, she realized that she had lost count of her steps. The cold seemed somehow to numb her mind.. apparently one did not have to be Cardassian for that. No tricorder, no footsteps, no direction.. well, even Dukat had said that this death was not unpleasant..

Her head bumped into something hard. She was standing right by a rock wall - at least she hoped it was rock and not just ice; rock could be heated, theoretically. She might have turned back just two steps short of it and never known it was there; she could not see her hand in front of her in the agonizing, colour-speckled whiteness.

She began to feel along the wall for some kind of shelter - a crack or crevice deep enough to keep her from the snow and let her heat some stones in front of it. To her mild, by now quite dimwitted surprise she fell flat into what could only be a cave.

She lay on the stone floor for a long time, relishing the darkness before her eyes. Her head still hurt, but the world was no longer cruelly white with scintillating, fluorescent confetti. Even her numbed mind was slowly coming back online.

Her situation was not that much better, not yet. There was no way of knowing how deep the cave was without sufficient light or a tricorder - or at the very least unimpaired eyesight. And she still could not find her way back to the runabout. But she could stay here, gather some stones, chip more loose with her phaser if there weren't enough, heat them, and live off emergency rations. The one advantage of a snow desert over a sanddune one, the Breen had said, is that you have all the water you can drink. Whatever happens, you'll never thirst.

No, she thought, you have all the time you need, to go insane before you die..

She sat up, and shook herself angrily. This wasn't leading anywhere. If she had decided to stay, she had better see about building a heat source. She still could not see much, and did not know if it was because her eyes were damaged, or because dark was already falling outside. Well, whatever, she needed to eat to preserve what strength she still had. She started rummaging in her backpack, taking inventory again, although she knew what was there.

Standard issue flashlight - maybe when she had her eyes back.. Medkit: regen unit missing, it must be back in the runabout. Well, she could feel some sensation creeping back into her cheeks - maybe it wasn't all that bad as yet. A short supply of mild painkillers - she considered it, then settled for a ration bar instead; better not have medication on an empty stomach. Two thermoblankets - might see her through the night if she managed to heat enough rocks.. her phaser was at her belt, and she had one extra power pack, no more. She knew there were plenty aboard the runabout. In the end, she would have to go back there. But not now, not until tomorrow..

She never knew what prompted her to turn back immediately. Several yards out in the nondescript dusk, her feet desperately feeling for imprints she might have made before, she still had no idea why she was risking even this faint promise of life-saving shelter on the odd chance that she might find her way back to the runabout on pure instinct. She told herself she had to make sure that he was dead. That all he could come back for in the future, would be to haunt her dreams, never to seek revenge. And if he was not dead yet? Well, unless this death by cold was really as pleasant as they said, she would have to kill him, quickly and mercifully. There was no other way; she could not hope to drag him all the way to the cave - or even to find it again.

It wasn't until she was already clearing snow from the hatch of the runabout, enough to start forcing the door open, that she realized it had stopped snowing.

* * * *

She had another ration bar and one of the painkillers - her eyes were clearing up some, though her head still hurt - and touched a regen unit to her nose and hands before she even looked at him.

His eyes were closed, not staring; she had seen enough dead Cardassians to know that they were likely to look the same as most humanoids in death. Not like this, almost peaceful, long lashes down, so incongruous in a reptiloid. She tried to feel for his pulse, but his neck ridges were in the way, protecting him, and she had to search for his heart again.

She could not be sure. Maybe it was there, maybe it was just her own pulse, relayed through numb fingers. She walked aft, to find a working tricorder.

There was only one, and it was not the medical variety. No fine points then, but she should be able to tell if a Cardassian was dead or alive, shouldn't she? After fumbling with the settings for a while, she managed to get an obscure reading that could mean anything in a species that was once capable of hibernation. How much of that ability was still there? How low could his lifesigns dip? She had seen enough dead Cardassians to last her a lifetime, but never one that had died of cold. Rather the opposite usually, come to think of it..

With a sigh, she switched off the gadget, deciding that a geological tricorder might come in handy. It could be worse. She was glad Keiko had not been the one to oversee emergency supplies. A botanical tricorder would have been really useless here..

She got a grip on herself and stopped laughing before going hysterical. Vedek Bareil had once told her that the little meaningless actions are sometimes all it takes to keep a humanoid sane in adverse circumstances, but she had never believed him. She was far too practical-minded for that nonsense, always had been. Now, she had better see to it that this particular Cardassian really was dead before she left him again.

She stood pointing her phaser at his head, when his eyes flew open. He wasn't looking at anything, indeed she doubted he was really seeing at all, but his eyes were not frozen as she had come to assume, and his gaze, for all that it was focussed on nothing that she could see, was still focussed. She did not - would not? - believe it was a death spasm. Firmly snapping her phaser back on her belt under the parka, she turned to gather supplies for two.

* * * *

Dark was falling fast, but the snow no longer was, nor had the winds risen. Kira knew she had been granted that one small sliver of luck that just might make survival possible after all. She actually paused to thank the Prophets, even while vaguely wondering if it was really still their jurisdiction out here..

Her eyesight was getting better as the glare of the snow subsided, though she had brought sunshades this time, determined never to leave them behind again, even in the black of the night. With the capricious weather, there was no telling if she would ever make it back again before dawn.

But she could follow her tracks, and that was exactly the Prophet-granted, incredible luck she needed, the one circumstance that would make all the difference. For it to happen, the snowfall and the winds had to be absent at the same time; she had already come to realize how preciously rare such an occurrence must be in this place.

She inflated a strong-bottomed emergency sled and loaded the supplies on it. There was an off chance she might have used an antigrav sled, but she could not be sure the controls would not give out in the cold, and besides, she wanted broad, deep tracks that she could follow even in complete darkness, using only the standard searchlight. That was the reason she reluctantly decided to drag the supplies over first. Trying to rescue Dukat first would avail neither of them, if she lost her tracks in the dark. And it would be dark before she could get to the cave. She brought the geological tricorder, determined to use it only in an emergency, lest it freeze up like the other one.

She allowed herself fifteen minutes rest, half a ration and some water - recycled, from the runabout, although she suspected that the snow was just as safe, and considerably fresher. But she had not wanted to risk it just yet, so she had taken some from the runabout's tanks before they too would freeze up, now that life support was down. She sat in the opening of the cave, trying to concentrate on resting, staring out in the darkness.

Then she switched on her light and made her way back.

Getting Dukat out of his seat was not the easiest thing she had done, and for a moment she wondered if his parka was frozen stuck to the backrest, but in the end she decided he was just too heavy for her to lift out of so cramped a place. It took her a while to fit the antigravs right, but once she had, they worked. She got him out on to the sled that way but dared not rely on them alone in this climate, so she took them off and refitted them to the sled. After that, they no longer worked. With a sigh and a Bajoran expletive, she started pulling the sled.

She was five metres from the cave when the snow started falling again, and once inside, she heard the first howls of the wind. The sound keened eerily through the cave. Thankfully, she could not feel the wind itself in here. There had to be a crack somewhere far overhead, probably winding enough that the wind was not actually led down into the cave, just the lonely sound of it.

She used her searchlight to determine that the cave was wider than the immediate range of the light. She contented herself with this for now; no need to look for predators in an area where nothing lived. She dragged the sled in over the rock as far as she could, at least it was well inside the opening. It must be fifty below out there now - a rough estimate, but she did not waste a tricorder reading on it. Too cold was an acceptable value for all immediate purposes.

She had started gathering rocks on her previous two trips, now she moved them further in, and added others. There were enough loose ones to make her wonder about the stability of the cave - the walls could well have grown brittle over millennia in this cold. Well, she had no choice. She fired the rocks, and to her relief, they heated quickly. Now then..

She brought the sled as close to the heated rocks as she could, and carefully started unwrapping her luckless companion, examining his face and hands closely, regen unit at the ready. But his skin seemed quite intact, even where it had been exposed. Apparently, predestination for frostbite was not a Cardassian weakness. She brought out her inadequate tricorder instead, and ran it over him. As before, it showed nothing conclusive, but at least the readings had not changed. Perhaps it was even accurate at this point, she thought wryly, his life functions seemed to have slowed to the level of a rock's..

She switched off the tricorder and thought for a while. For all she knew, he might still be dead, but something at the back of her mind refused to believe it. Cardassians did not die that easily, she thought irrationally - against better knowledge, since after all, cold was their nemesis. Well, she was not about to give up now; she'd just have to warm him up and see. How best to do that..? Heated rocks in his clothes? No, spotwise heating would do no good, he'd have to be warmed all over. Suddenly resigned to what she had known all along that she would have to do, she started to undress him.

The armour was so cold it burned her hands and she quickly put her thermogloves back on before removing it. Fortunately, it seemed less cold on the inside, where it had lain flush with his thermovest.

As he lay nude in the orange glow of the rocks, she paused for a moment, regarding him. He had a slim, elongated body, less muscular than she had come to expect, but wide-shouldered, and with almost disproportionately long legs. Scales ran lightly all the way down his sides, leaving his chest and belly free, as in a serpent. She suspected that his back was scale-covered as well, but he was lying on it, so she could not be sure. Cardassian ridging described an intricate, decorative pattern on his chest. The strong, yet graceful neck ridges went all the way out on his shoulders and down his arms to the elbow, tapering to a barely discernible ending beneath the joint. The damn things were even replicated on a lesser scale - elsewhere. Well, she had always known that, and she did not care to dwell on how she knew. She had expected - perhaps willed herself - to feel revulsion at the sigh of him, but to her mild surprise, she did not. Most Cardassians she had seen were stocky of build, strong and compact, this uncharacteristically elegant slenderness somehow took the edge of his Cardassian form, while at the same time accentuating the reptilian aspect of it. Her impression of his people was usually one of fat, squarish lizards - now, if toads had been reptiles.. - but this one was clearly a serpent. Or perhaps even a dragon, out of one of O'Brien's fairy tales - the width of his shoulders somehow elicited an idea of wing span.

She shook herself. At least he did not look dead, which was the main thing. She got out the thermoblankets, well knowing that those alone would not serve. He had no surface body heat to store in them. Making a face, she rapidly took off her own clothes and lay down close beside him, wrapping the blankets about them both. The things I do.. was her last conscious thought before falling asleep.

* * * *

It took a whole day before he showed any sign of improvement, enough that she could be certain he was alive after all, and two before he moved. All he did then was turn over on his side, without waking up, but he was facing her, and for a moment she panicked, as his arm encircled her and drew her close. But he was not awake, and after a while her rapid breathing stilled enough for her to slide out of his grasp and reheat the stones which had begun to fade again. Each time they cooled, she would wake up and reheat them; she had not overslept once.

She got back down, behind him this time, to be on the safe side - literally, she thought grimly. While she did not exactly expect him to rape her in his sleep, she could not be sure that he would not lash out violently now that he could move again.

The scales did cover his back - and they were mildly abrasive. Also, she had the feeling he could not absorb her body heat as efficiently through them as through the scaleless parts of him. She crawled down a bit to warm his lower legs and feet - she had to do that now and then, as he was too tall to cover all at once. Then, she cautiously crawled over him again, to lie in front of him. A memory of a story Bashir had once told in Quark's, came unbidden to her mind. Something about someone who had crossed a river by stepping on some sleeping Terran creatures called crocodiles. She had never seen one, but she had gathered from the story that they were dangerous and reptilian.

She kept her back to this particular crocodile and tried hard not to panic as his arm closed about her again. She also tried not to think of the term spoon fashion..

She spent most of the night and the next day in this way, waking up now and then to fire the rocks and check the chronometer from her backpack. Four times she ate, and when the water she had brought with her was up, she dressed perfunctorily, got a field pan from the supplies and went outside to scoop up some snow to melt on the rocks. She was out only a moment, but she staggered back quite out of breath from the wind, and colder than she had ever been. She sat for a while by the heated rocks before undressing once more to crawl back down under his blankets, her back to him as before. She could feel every detail of his body against hers. But for the first time, she could also feel his own body heat rising.

The next time he moved, she carefully poured some snow-water between his lips. He coughed a little, and it occurred to her that she had better use the unmelted snow; it might be unpleasant to him at first, but he was less likely to choke on it. She wished she had thought of it sooner. On the other hand, his metabolism had been so low that it seemed he had not needed even water. Perhaps there was a lot to be said for the reptilian basic design after all.

Thirteen hours later, his temperature had risen to where she was beginning to feel the scent of him. That's when she moved out, making her own camp on the other side of the heated stones, by the cave wall. This had already been hard enough on her senses. She did not need Cardassian pheromones to complicate matters..

She had slept a lot these past days and nights. Now she started to keep watch. She kept the rocks heated, and she checked on him at regular intervals, now and then crawling back down with him to see that his body heat stayed up. But she no longer fell asleep in his arms.

* * * *

There came another black morning on which he reacted to the cold of the snow she fed him, and she switched to water, deciding he had shown enough awareness to take it. He swallowed without coughing, but he did not seem aware of his surroundings or anything but the drink itself. Hours later, he showed signs of restlessness, and she threw a thermoblanket about him and led him by weak, indirect daylight to a passage off the main cave. The passage was long and deep, and she had already chosen it to be their latrine. Going outside for that purpose was unthinkable, and this place was distant enough. He still did not seem fully awake, and for a moment she wondered if he could really walk, but it seemed that with her support he could. But he could not stand on his own, and in the end she had to - help him. It disturbed her more than she had anticipated. She had never expected - or wanted - to see one of her old enemies in so weakened a state.

As they walked back, she felt him straighten a little, taking some of his weight off her. His eyes were wide open, and she was glad she had decided against the searchlight. The daylight from the winding crack in the ceiling was barely enough for her, but it would be easier on his eyes than the 'standard issue'..

He did not speak, and she could not sense that he was really there, not fully conscious by a long shot, even though he was clearly getting there, level by wafer-thin level. She wondered if he would ever get all the way back to his characteristic, laser-sharp wit, keen even by Cardassian standards. And just briefly, she wondered if she would miss that wit if it failed to return. But he had been a long time sinking. It stood to reason he would be a long time rising. Cardassians were renowned for their resilience. He would not - let her down?

He came awake four times after the faint daylight had gone, and she was beginning to see a distinct difference between his wakeful and unconscious states. Perhaps recovery would be swifter than she had come to expect. She stopped crawling down with him altogether; after all, it should no longer be necessary. The fifth time he 'awoke' she gave him one of the field rations. He ate it without help.

By next daylight he ate another. He seemed hungry but not starved, and in his condition it could hardly be discipline. Apparently he had no problem going without food for a week in an emergency. Especially with his metabolism drastically lowered. Reptilian genes sure had their advantages. Relieved that the crisis was finally over, Kira leant back against the wall. Just to rest a little.. it would not do to let her vigilance slacken now..

* * * *

He awoke because he was cold. Nothing new, but he had learnt to take it as a good sign. The first few times he had been awake, he had not felt the cold. Nor had he stayed awake for long.

The glow from the heated rocks was still strong to his eyes, but he could feel the heat subsiding, moment by chilling moment. Had she gone to sleep and left the rocks to cool? No, once he looked, he could make out her silhouette easily by her body warmth. Sitting up, framed by the cold dark wall behind her. Keeping watch. He smiled to himself. There was no one around, perhaps not a living thing for leagues and leagues. If she had taken to sit guard, it was against him. He took that as a good sign too. It meant he must be getting stronger.

He was chilled to the bone, though. Body heat.. he knew what she must have done. There was no way he could have survived on this wavering heat from the rocks; he did not know how much time had passed, but it seemed to him that both their phaser packs would have all run out unless she rationed. Her present wait also seemed to indicate she was rationing power, waiting as long as possible before replenishing the heat.

He wondered when she had started leaving him out in the cold. A night ago, perhaps two? Yes, he was definitely getting stronger. She was taking precautions. Then why had she gone to such lengths to save his life? She wasn't even human. Humans frequently became all mushy in weird circumstances and then called it strength. But a Bajoran? She could have been rid of him for good. So why? As if he didn't know.. but he had to ask, had to hear her rationalization.

"Why didn't you let me die?" he asked. His voice was a little raspy after so long disuse, and it annoyed him for some reason.

"Strange thanks", she said. She sounded fully awake, just as he had surmised.

"I am grateful of course. Just a little - bewildered."

"Then stay that way and go back to sleep. You still need it."

"Did the Prophets suddenly appear to say sorry, they couldn't beam you out, but if you were a good girl and saved me, they might reconsider?"

"Do you always mock other people's religions?"

He turned on his side to look at her - though most likely she could only see him as a dark shape. "You know why you did it, don't you?" His voice was getting clearer now.

She sighed. "You can't be awake and silent at the same time, can you?"

He ignored that too - with a smile she could not see. "You did it because the universe would be a duller place without me."

She threw back her head - nearly hitting the wall - in one short bark of laughter.

"Or are you beyond such insights?" he continued. "You're a sweet girl, Major, but you don't know yourself. At all."

"Go back to sleep - and don't call me a sweet girl."

"Do you?" he insisted, as if she had not spoken.

"There was pretty little time for introspection during the occupation", she spat.

Good, he had finally got her to answer. "Come out of the past, Major", he said softly. "There is plenty of time now. Possibly the rest of your life."

A very brief pause, but he caught it. Then, "Go back to sleep, Dukat. I won't listen to you."

He rolled back to his previous position, the full chill of the rock underneath him eating into his back. "I would if I could, Major", he said. "But truth to tell, I'm cold."

With a sigh of resignation, she turned her phaser beam on to the rocks between them, heating them to a glare which subdued his night vision and brought his eyes up to what he considered well within the daylight range. The heat was quite comfortable. Perhaps she was right; he might be more tired than he knew. He was about to say something more, but fell asleep in mid-sentence.

Nights were long at these latitudes. The next time he woke up, the rocks showed only a red glimmer, even to his eyes. Kira was no longer sitting by the wall, but he could make out her form lying down on her side of their artificial heat source. Asleep. How could she keep so warm still? Bajorans must have an internal furnace - in her case, he could well believe it.

Gradually, he crept towards her, an almost slithering movement over the rock. Her phaser was lying beside her head, and he reached for it carefully, well knowing that he'd probably be dead in an instant if she woke up at this moment.

Of course she did, and he sat back quickly. "Easy, Major", he said, raising his hands. "The fire has cooled again, and I did not want to disturb you."

Muttering something he assumed was far from complimentory to Cardassians in general and him in particular, she fired up the rocks and turned on her other side, her back to him. He took it as a sign of contempt and exhaustion rather than trust. Besides, she probably had a firm grip on her phaser.

The cold of the dawn hit him fiercely. He could tell the time by it - the raw, merciless chill heralding the break of the pathetically brief day. He was still in the mist of sleep and maybe would never get out of it now, perhaps this time the warning bell had sounded to late. In that mist, shadows moved. Childhood friends, relatives, long gone. Some lost to circumstances, others to his own machinations. Siblings lost early, rarely consciously remembered. He had seven children, yes, but there should have been eight. The first one lost back on Prime while he was far away on a campaign. Unfortunate.. Naprem.. and Ziyal. Their ship lost on its way to a better life for them, years of not knowing their fate, little hope of ever finding out. Unfortunate..

Shadows, not conscious memories. Shadows far beneath multiple layers of pleasantries and deceptions that had become not second nature but first - an artform he excelled at and exulted in. Always moving on, cutting losses in his wake - following orders and expectations, then going above and beyond their call. Hiding heart-rending secrets behind an untroubled face, then pursuing his ambitions with a fury for all to see, one they praised as commendable - at first. Accepting condoleances of 'Unfortunate..' in his stride, a pleasant nod in acknowledgment for the losses that could be talked about in public. Seeking a secret revenge on life for the others, yet never falling into the trap of bitterness, never slipping, never a crack in his armour, never a glimpse of his heart lest an enemy's fire find it - or a friend's. Finally taking pleasure in his own skill at the devious game, indulging in it, exhilarated by the feeling that nothing could hurt him now..

Shadows, well trained and disciplined not to haunt him, ever. Except perhaps in that demilitarized zone between life and death, where no discipline holds, and no rules apply..

He would not let go. In this cold mist of confusion he might not know much, but he did know that. He would cling, he would survive, as always before. If only he could figure out how..

Heat. He must have heat - at least enough to be able to think. Through the haze of lost ghosts and past disasters came one clear perception of the phaser-heated rocks - only glowing now. He felt for his phaser but had none.. no armour either, what had happened to them? No time to remember that now, not before he found a heat source.. There was one, over by the wall on the other side of the glowing rocks - yes, he suddenly recalled, Kira. She had warmed him before, he seemed to know that somehow. Well, she would have to do it again. Sliding quickly around the fading glow between them, he got over to her, diving in among her blankets, hugging her close to him, absorbing her heat like a Chorolean vampire cat.

She became wide awake in an instant, though long years of practice in the Resistance kept her still - not even a start - and silent. What was he up to? There was the obvious, first to enter her mind, but was he really strong enough for that? And would he really go so far? He had always held back before - for some unfathomable reason of his own.

Her phaser was lying just by her hand, she could always threaten him with it - or more. She knew well the stun setting for Cardassians. There was no imminent danger. But his nearness bothered her more than it ought to. It had from the start, every night she had had to hold him close, to keep him warm. That lean strength.. She hated herself for reacting to it, but it was hard to avoid. Especially now that he was apparently awake, his arms tight around her, and his scent..

"And just what do you think you're doing?" she said, careful not to move.

"Seeking heat", he hissed, the sound of a viper rustling over sand, so unlike his usual soft, teasing voice. "And I shall have it. I'm not about to die in this dismal place just to please a Bajoran!"

The fact that the Bajoran in question had rather gone out of her way to preserve his life, momentarily slipped his mind. His capacity for logic was not yet back on line.

She kept still for so long that he almost had time to fall asleep again. So long that the indirect light filtering through the deep, winding crack overhead fell in to turn off his nightvision to the advantage of his daytime one. Close to noon then, probably. The light was faint but unmistakable. He was pleasantly warm now. Enough so that his thought processes were back to normal. Except..

Damn. He was too close to her. He could feel autonomous parts of his body starting to act up, and he imagined she must feel him too. Probably felt threatened..

He had never meant to threaten her, more than just to tease, just as an undercurrent to his words in the kind of bantering he so often used with her. His ambition had always been for her to come willingly, to enhance his victory, make it perfect. And after their last run-in, he had sworn to himself that he would not touch her until she begged him to. She would have to plead. Then, graciously, he would condescend to.. part of his mind told him it would never come to that. The rest of him yearned for the possibility against all reason - while he kept up his usual light banter, ostensibly as unaffected by his emotions as a Terran scorpion.

Suddenly, she moved, turning from her side to her back, and he pinned her before he thought, by reflex, fully convinced she would try to kill him. Insanely, unable to stop himself now, he continued beyond merely holding her down, his hands closing hard on her rounded breasts, those breasts that she had so often seemed to flaunt in his face, keeping him on the painful but exquisite razor edge between impossible, total control and a chasm of raging passion.

He clung to her as to life itself, never intending to hurt her, yet not caring all that much if he did either. This was already beyond control - the dams of a lifetime of discipline opening, showing only chaos beneath. He forced his hand between her thighs, his finger grazing her long clitoris right through her uniform. How often had he dreamed of that - did she even have an idea how well he could see every shape of her through that pasted-on outfit?

She moaned, twisting, and he held her down as a matter of course. Then, gradually, it dawned on him that she did not seem to be fighting. Not as hard as he would have expected, anyway. He could not hold all her limbs simultaneously while paying her attention elsewhere, and he was not armed. He might be stronger than she was, even considerably so, but she had been in the Resistance, there were techniques, there was still a lot she could do - could have done.

Momentarily, he paused, looking into her eyes for a reason. And for one insane moment, he thought she was actually about to beg him not to stop. She did not, but the look in her eyes - so intense that he briefly mistook it for the undiluted hatred he would have expected - was filled with a raw, animal need, for once bypassing all her background, shunting it out of her consciousness. A passion disregarding her perpetual battle yet in all likelihood fired by it. She had crossed a line too, and a still intellectual remnant of his mind quickly decided that this was as close to begging as she would ever come.

He acted on it instantly, tearing her uniform off her shoulders, ripping the flimsy blouse underneath that he had seen before and then wondered if it was cut that way just to torture him. He fell on her breasts, sucking and fondling roughly, yet for all his fervour he stopped short of biting. Somewhere at the back of his head he wondered if she was afraid he would, and for some reason it gave him pleasure to be the only one to know that he would not.

Somehow he got rid of the rest of her uniform as well as his own clothes - that tiny, analytical part of his mind noting every moment of distraction she could have taken advantage of but did not - then pinned her under him again, relishing the softness of her skin while fully realizing that his coarser one was probably giving her a few abrasions, especially where the lightly scaled areas happened to graze her.

Well, nothing to be done about that, ignore it for now. His hand sought quickly between her legs, to find the point of entry. She moaned again, almost sobbing, twisting a little under him, apparently quite oblivious to any abrasions herself.

He found the entrance, perfectly oiled, and yet - it took more discipline than he could remember ever having used in his life, and he had applied a lot, but he managed to hold back before simply plunging in at full force. He knew their species were fully compatible of course - to the point of having offspring - but he also knew there was a definite difference in size. She would be able to take him, but if he simply rammed her he might rupture her, and he did not want her disabled. Also, there was the matter of structural differences.. Bajoran men had their ridges on the upper side of their male organ - his were along the sides, probably intended to flare out the circumference, or else just mimicking the cartilege protecting the long sinews on either side of his neck. Much the way the 'Bajoran baffles', as he had heard executioners call them, could be said to mimic their nose ridges. Or the other way around.

He forced himself to take it slow - agonizingly slow. Once in, however, he forgot about his greater length and gave her a couple of thrusts that struck deep enough to make her call out in pain rather than pleasure. Damn. Well, it couldn't be helped. He had circled around her too long over the years, like a fool allowing himself to be brought closer and closer to this instant. Now, there was no time. He vaguely hoped the flared ridges at the root of his irrepressible member would take some off his length, but he had a feeling they were mainly straining her, and he could not tell whether that was painful or not. Never mind - it would soon be over anyway.

It was. With a final deep thrust that forced such a sharp scream from her that he wondered with his last piece of consciousness if he had drawn blood - he filled her with a searing hot eruption of that special kind of lava he had kept to himself far too often of late. It had been a long time. In a way, this was defeat, not victory. It had been over far too quickly. In his need, he had not bothered to impress her with his real talent. He had not made the most of the moment. And it would not come his way again..

He drew back a little - to take some of his weight off her, not enough to slip out of her. He was startled to see her burning eyes on him, but then, she was not one to ever avert her gaze, and surely she must hate him now. Nothing to be done about that. Pity. Yet another loss he would have to cut. One that might prove singularly difficult. But he would manage. He always did.

"Are you hurt?" he asked.

She looked at him for a long while, and for once he could not interpret her usually so readable face.

"I suppose there's no Cardassian word for sorry", she said, finally.

He did withdraw then, seeing her press her lips together in sudden agony as his ridges were torn out of her by his abrupt exit. Sitting back on his haunches, he reached for her phaser which lay discarded quite close to her head. Wordlessly, he adjusted the setting - upwards - and handed it to her.

She took it, hating him for being so sure he was gambling safely. No, she could not kill him, sitting there like that unarmed, his lean yet powerful reptiloid body nude, unshielded by the armour she had discarded for him. And it was not only because she had so recently worked hard to keep him alive. She knew him for the falsest creature she had ever met - yet, sitting there nude in the faint, indirect light, he was almost - beautiful.

She stared at the phaser for a moment, then put it aside - well out of his immediate reach. "Then again, maybe there is", she said.

His lips twitched a little - barely a hint of a smile. "Would you really have me apologize?"

"It would make for a nice change."

"Then - for what? For hurting you, or for wanting you?"

She shook her head impatiently. "I'm not hurt. I may not be Cardassian, but I'm not fragile. Sorry to disappoint you."

Not believing her, he forced her legs apart for a closer look. She took a swipe at him, but he ignored it. No blood. "Well, that's a relief", he said lightly. "I was rather under the impression I had caused you pain - a couple of times."

"No more than I could take", she said with studied indifference. "On the other hand, you didn't cause me any pleasure either." It just flew out - afterwards she liked to think she had only meant to humiliate him.

She failed. His eyes lit with unholy delight. "Well then", he said slowly, "just give me a little time and I'll make it up to you. Always glad to be of service."

"You'd dare!" she said, trying to snap up into a sitting position, but he placed a firm hand on her leg, keeping her down. He nodded to himself. She had spoken before she moved. And she had not gone for her phaser. How was it that he knew her so well, and she did not know herself? Not that he had ever expected to get past her Bajoran barbed wire. But it would indeed seem that he was - in. He would have to be careful though. This could well turn into her victory rather than his.

"Of course", he answered her challenge blithely. "But not right away. And - I think I'd like to be invited this time. I gather that would be preferable to you as well. So - why don't you ask me nicely?"

Her eyes widened. "You really got a lot of nerve, haven't you?"

"As of everything else..", he bantered.

She shook her head. "I don't believe this. Now let me up, will you. I've had quite enough of you."

He kept her firmly down. "Pardon me, Major, but you just said that you had not. At least give me a chance to remedy that."

She glared at him, her leg definitely stuck. "Not on your life. You'd have to force yourself on me again."

He bowed his head in mock acceptance. "If that is what you prefer. But - did I, Major? Is that truly what I did?"

She did not deign to answer - and he took that as answer enough. "Deep down you like me, Major", he quipped. "Why not admit it?"

"If we ever get off this planet, I will kill you, Dukat", she said calmly, her dark eyes very clear, and menacing.

"Or I you, Major", he said with equal composure. "Circumstances change, life comes with no guarantees. But I don't have to tell you that. So, it's quite possible that we will be at each other's throats one day. Still, I hope not. And, for the moment we are not - are we?"

"You're awfully sure of yourself, aren't you?"

He smiled slightly. "I could say the same, Major. Only, I would mean it as a compliment."

In a lithe, almost sinuous movement, he stretched out beside her. He still held her leg down, using his own now, but he did not put any more of his weight on her. He just lay there at her side, propped on an elbow, looking at her, well aware how much his nearness bothered her.

She turned her head, so as not to have to meet those hypnotic, burning eyes, not to see that strong, lean body. She could not shut off her nose though, and the scent of him was wreaking havoc with her control. It was the worst aspect of Cardassian males - and quite possibly their best weapon. Though she had noted that it seemed to elicit rage in their male enemies of most species, increasing the savagery of the battles. When she saw her first Cardies at a distance, she had expected them to smell bad - but they did not. Sweet Prophets, they did not.. and this one in particular.. A lot of everything - including that accursed fragrance, and especially now that all his pheromones were released..

She felt his fingers idly trace circles around her breasts, then brushing lightly over her nipples. Damn him.. He must have had mistresses of every description all over the known universe - he was quite probably good at this, when taking his time for once. Her animal side was betraying her; it would rather just close her eyes and give in, but she could not allow that. Should she try to fight him? That would probably make his day. Should she ignore him? That might..

Suddenly he flicked a finger hard against her left nipple, with just enough force to put her precisely on the slender edge between intense pleasure and pain. She gasped and turned involuntarily to look at him, her eyes luminous.

"Just to get your attention", he smiled. Then he repeated the procedure on her right nipple, and then - oh, Prophets - on her clitoris. She nearly came right there, but managed to clamp back at the last moment.

"Where did you learn that?" she asked, trying her best to sound sarcastic though her voice was unusually raspy and not quite steady. "On Risa?"

"So you just came up with it yourself?" She was getting a bad feeling about this.

"Not that either", he smiled. "Ssshhh.."

He took to stroking her all over, slowly, soothingly, as if to flush the questions from her mind if he could. Gradually he made the transition then, back to his usual technique. It was very simple really, he thought, but it worked every time. He had never been an inquisitor, but like every Cardassian officer he had received the basic training in interrogation methodology. Practical, because not every prisoner of war could be brought back to Prime for questioning; some would have to be questioned on the field, or on ships..

He knew the pain spots of most species Cardassia had ever dealt with. And he knew exactly what to do to those spots at every stage of questioning. But he found the work demeaning, below him, so when he became Gul he largely stopped doing it himself, and delegated it to his less fortunate underlings. But he still knew how to go about it, and he had extrapolated on that knowledge. By using less force, he could induce pleasure rather than pain, or something enticingly in-between. It did not work with all species, some of them kept their pain and pleasure centres distinctly apart, but it worked with most. And with them he soon achieved what he was after - a reputation for excellence, in this field as in so many others.

But - he knew better than to tell a Bajoran where he had acquired his skills. Though he suspected that this one had guessed it on her own - she wasn't dense that way. She might be deaf to her own feelings, but she had a keen, practical mind.

Slowly, he went over her body, concentrating on her special areas. A jab to the nipple would have caused her intense pain - had he been interrogating her. He was not about to use that now. A pinch was out in either case - it would have left her numb. Instead he pulled, lightly but insistently, occasionally twisting a little.

He had her groaning now, helplessly pressing against him, finally forgetful of herself and the past that had so far held her mind in the rigid clamps of unforgiveness. He smiled to himself. The final victory - for her too, if she could only see it. Why did Bajorans have to be so - consistent? Rigidity was something he would probably never quite understand.

He saw how close she was - well, so was he, brought there by his ministrations to her, his erection raised like a Terran cobra, hood fully extended. He flicked her hard on the clitoris three times to set her off, and she screamed, a high-pitched, clear note like that of a queen cat in the same situation. He positioned himself to enter her, and she reared up as if she were herself a cobra, striking. She sank her teeth deep into his neck, closing on the cartilege-shielded sinew.

He had been about to enter her carefully, but the sudden pain enraged and enticed him, and he plunged in full force, no longer caring what he did to her. He could have hurt her badly, but in her half-sitting posture she escaped the full impact, receiving just enough to trigger her again. She let go her grip and screamed, then she sank back spasming, setting him off in turn.

The size of him at climax was almost too much for her to take, but he was back in control now, taking care to move slowly as he filled her. He collapsed on top of her but rolled off instantly, yet staying within her, taking her in his arms and holding her close. She opened her mouth to speak, but he pressed her tighter to him, nearly cutting off her air. "Ssshhh", he said again, a soft hiss, rustling over sand..

She fought a little, and he relaxed his embrace enough to let her breathe. But right now he did not want to hear her sarcasms. Suddenly he remembered something. Gently, he put his lips to hers, seeking her tongue, playing with it for a while before releasing her mouth.

"I thought Cardassians didn't kiss", she muttered against his chest.

The brief light had gone. He smiled into the increasing darkness.

"We can learn."

* * * *

She awoke to see him sitting on his side of the thoroughly fired rocks. He was fully clothed short of his armour, though his shirt was open wide at the neck where he was awkwardly trying to apply a regen unit.

She chuckled. "Sorry 'bout that. Here, let me help you." She wrapped herself in one of her blankets and moved over to him, taking over the regen. He did not argue; she had the better overview.

Relaxing under her touch, he still could not refrain from asking, "Why did you bite me? Was it a hostile act, or something you've picked up from the Klingons?"

She had been about to claim the former, but then - what the Hole.. "I just realized it was the only thing you would ever let me do to you.. ah-ah - don't turn your head just yet.."

"It was most - interesting", he said. "But maybe you had better give me some warning next time, lest I tear you apart in the heat of the moment."

She put the regen unit aside, her work finished. "There won't be a next time", she said, slapping his shoulder lightly.

Of that, she was suddenly absolutely sure.

He sighed. "You may be right", he said. "Your Captain Sisko has contacted us. Apparently, he came looking for you when we did not report. The Defiant is in orbit now."

"Why didn't you tell me?" she accused, suddenly all anger again.

"I just did", he said innocently. "I asked him to give us some time to get decent."

"You didn't! You didn't actually say that, did you?"

"Why not? Who would believe me, Major?" he teased.

"Just don't rub it in - I'll kill you", she warned him while searching among the rest of her blankets for her uniform. Hauling it out, she sat back on her heels, looking it over while the blanket she had on started slipping gently. She had her back to him. The blanket settled softly in a heap about her, concealing nothing but her legs and the lower half of her ass.

He closed his eyes as if in pain. Luckily, she did not see what she was doing to him.

"Oh Prophets", she said disgustedly, her attention on her uniform. "Did you have to tear it like that? What am I supposed to blame this on? Arctic brambles, hidden in the snow?"

"I don't think you can hope to keep this incident secret, Major", he said lightly, his composure almost back to normal. "But if you are concerned about revealing it untimely, I suggest you keep a blanket on and pretend that it is for warmth."

"On a runabout?" she challenged.

"You're chilled to the bone", he said with conviction born of experience. "However, I also suggest you take a quick bath first - the water should be about ready."

He extended his hand in the direction of one of their field pans, standing precariously on top of the phaser-heated rocks. She realized that he must have been out to the entrance of the cave, gathering snow to melt. Knowing what the cold had done to him before, she found it hard not to be moved. But she clamped down on the feeling. He was at his old tricks, and all his deeds were for a pretzel of convoluted reasons.

He was right though. Trying to hide a torn uniform under a blanket was one thing, but those Cardassian pheromones.. She took the pan of water.

"You could at least look away", she told him.

He did not take his eyes off her. "I used to study history", he said conversationally. "There was this story of a beautiful queen who was dethroned and cast in prison, awaiting her execution. Her 'cell' was quite fashionable, a whole suite of rooms, and there was no door. There was no need for one. Her guards were always on hand, always keeping a protective eye on her. Always.. They must have been especially vigilant during her bathing times.."

Kira glared at him. "Typical Cardassian practices!" she snapped.

"Actually no", he said. "Human. 18th century Earth, to be precise.."

Then he gentlemanly turned his back on her.

* * * *

Back in uniform and boots, she felt better. Except for the rather unwieldy thermoblanket which was light enough to appear to have a mind of its own concerning where it was going. Well, she would adjust. She had made do with bare necessities before, and while this might be a strange sort of emergency, it was one all the same. She could hear Sisko's sarcasms in her mind - how he had never asked for a liaison officer to Cardassia, for instance. No, he would hardly say that. Still, he would probably think it.

What if she accused Dukat of raping her? No, it would damage relations with Cardassia - DS9 relations certainly, and perhaps Bajoran, if Shakaar found out. He might not care personally any longer, but he would make it his business to care officially.

Besides, however much it pained her to admit it, it was not true. Dukat might have come close, but he had not actually raped her. Seduced her, certainly, and it might not have been her intention to ever take anything like this from him, but she had not disabled him when she could have, and - this was the worst part of it, the one she still had not quite faced - she had enjoyed him. Too much. More than she ever had Shakaar, more even than poor, late Bareil - perhaps more than any.. She knew she had a hard time in front of her, learning how to live with that.

"Where's my commbadge?" she asked him.

He handed it to her. "I was sleeping on it. Sisko woke me up.."

She snatched it out of his hand, wishing he would stop reminding her of their positions only an hour ago. At least he was convincingly clothed now, he had even found his armour. And his phaser - she realized he had probably used his own to heat the stones this last time.

Her blanket slipped again, exposing an exceptionally revealing tear across her left breast. She cursed.

"Allow me", Dukat said lightly, replacing the blanket around her shoulders with a decidedly protective gesture.

"Keep your hands to yourself", she spat. Or I'll catch your pheromones again, she thought, but she did not say that. Then a thought struck her. "Dax isn't with him, is she?"

If there was a scandal brewing within twelve parsecs, the Trill would sniff it out. It would be bad enough once they got back to the station, but having to face Jadzia's perky curiosity before there was even time to change clothes.. Somehow Kira suspected her Trill friend would not even realize the serious implications of this particular scandal. Dax took few things seriously. She claimed it came from having lived a long time..

"Not that I heard", Dukat reassured her. She barely had time to sigh in relief before he added, "The young doctor is, though."

Kira moaned. Almost as bad.. Well, if Bashir wanted to look her over, she would fight him every step of the way..

* * * *

Back at the station, everything seemed so normal, Kira could almost repress the memory of having been away, of anything untoward ever happening. Perhaps she would do just that, simply forget, never think about it again. After a quick change into a freshly replicated uniform, she could almost believe it was a dream. A nightmare? No, not quite.. better not think about it as anything. Anything at all..

On her way to Ops, she ran into Garak on the Promenade. She sincerely hoped her guilty start - and disappointment? - at meeting another Cardassian had not shown.

"I'm glad to see that your new uniform fits", he greeted her amiably. "It was a rush order, called in by Commander Dax, I believe, as soon as it was confirmed that you were on your way. Fortunately, it's a standard pattern, one I have kept in store since before the Federation came. Very few improvements have been made on it over the years, more's the pity.."

She wished he would stop chatting. Why was it that every Cardassian she knew always talked a blue streak? Every Cardassian she knew..

"Tell me, Major - if you have a minute - what happened to your old uniform? Perhaps it can be mended.."

"Brambles", she said curtly, trying to push past him. "I threw it in the recycler, I'm sorry. It did not occur to me that it might be repairable."

"Ahh, careless", Garak said, somehow managing to stay in her way, performing that little ridiculous dance of two people trying to pass each other on the same side at the same time. "But - brambles? I heard you were caught in a polar region..?"

Suddenly the laughter bubbled up in her, he was sure to notice, but why not? Making him wonder was better than telling him anything. "Polar brambles", she said. "Concealed under the snow."

She could feel Garak's eyes in her back, as she started to run for the safety of Ops.

"Gul Dukat is leaving", Dax announced calmly from her console as soon as Kira appeared, "but he wants a word with you first. Docking bay 8, he'll meet you by the airlock."

"I know which docking bay!" Kira spat before she thought. "Unless you moved his ship while we were away, that is.."

She spun out of Ops with rather more energy than was warranted by the few steps to the lift. Meeting Sisko's puzzled gaze, Dax shrugged, her own eyebrows raised. Something was clearly eating the Major.

Kira stormed down to the airlock, ready to give Dukat a piece of her mind. The nerve of him - he could at least have snuck off with nothing but an official request to leave. Maybe he was right, maybe it would prove impossible in the end to conceal their brief liaison - but he certainly wasn't helping any.

He was leaning against the bulkhead, arms crossed, waiting. Fully armoured as usual, ready to leave. He looked just the way he always did - and how his appearance had always annoyed her! - but this time, in the moment before he turned his head, she saw that tall, reptiloid frame as if with new eyes, and felt a quick stab of - something. Damn him, no Cardassian had the right to look so good..

Then he turned to greet her, all his wonted arrogance in place, setting her comfortably back on edge.

"You couldn't just leave, could you?" she accused him. "You had to call me down from Ops to say goodbye? Just in case there might be someone not wondering how we spent all that time marooned in a polar region.."

"Why, they can just read your report, Major", he said lightly. "I trust you filed one? Or that you are going to?"

"I did file a preliminary report", she muttered. "and I left a few things unaccounted for. Torn uniforms for instance.. They're bound to wonder. And this isn't helping. You aren't exactly discreet, you know."

"I have been told so before", he smiled. "But actually, I was going to ask you about Ziyal. I had hoped to meet her before I left, but I hear she's still on Bajor. Are you sure she's all right there?"

Kira relaxed, some of her anger defused by the reasonable question. "Couldn't be better. She's visiting some friends of mine."

"Friends from the Resistance, Major?" His tone was very light, but there was something under it that she could not quite define. A threat? Or just concern..

"They used to be in the Resistance, yes", Kira cheerfully admitted.

"It does seem odd that she did not come to see me at all.. was she told that I was lost?"

Kira shrugged. "If she was, she can't have had any idea when you would be back again. Though she'd probably assume that you would be."

He nodded, but did not seem quite convinced. For a moment, he was more serious than she had ever seen him since they found Ziyal.

"We're two of a kind, Major", he said. "You would not betray me, would you?"

She shook her short mop of hair impatiently. "We have nothing at all in common, Dukat", she said, "and the sooner you realize that the better. I don't even know what you're talking about."

He sighed, then smiled a little. "No, I don't suppose you do. I should know better than to listen to your - tailor." He spat more venom into those two syllables than should have been reptilianly possible.

"Garak? What has he said now?"

"Oh, only that one who does not know herself, will always prove fickle. And I do not think you know yourself, Major. Not at all.."

She bristled as if on command, as he had known she would. No longer willing to give him an inch. "I knew myself well enough in the Resistance. I wouldn't have come through it otherwise."

"Ah, but Resistance is a thing of the past, wouldn't you say, Major?" he teased her, pleased to see the flames smoldering in her eyes.

"Don't flatter yourself, Dukat!" she snapped. "And if you think you can hold this incident over me, think again. I may want to keep it secret, yes, but not badly enough that I'd ever let you blackmail me about it. Now, if there's nothing else.."

"There is", he said softly. "Just one more thing. Thank you for saving my life."

Her rage collapsed. He always had to do that, didn't he? Annoying her to the point of apoplectic combustion or whatever, then say something perfectly reasonable and sincere - then annoy her again. Briefly, irrationally, she wondered if any other man had ever done that to her. Played her feelings up and down like a Buineate accordeon. She could not think of any offhand.

"You're welcome", she said tiredly.

"Am I, Major? Really?" There, he was at it again.

"Figure of speech. Don't get your hopes up."

He nodded. Then, without warning, he reached out and pulled her close.

A few years ago he could never have done that; she would have been on her guard at every moment with a Cardassian in the room. Somewhere along the way, she had grown used to him. To the fact that whether he was threatening or amorous, he never touched her. She had assumed he knew better than to tackle a Resistance fighter like that. Then again, a few years ago, she would have fought. Kneed him for a start, then..

She couldn't feel that she was fighting now. For a fleeting fraction of a second, she simply wanted to stay there, in his arms, enjoying all the protection she had never had, that she decided long ago that she would never need.. to let the wounds of past battles finally heal and vanish into the depths of history, to finally seal the peace.

But she could not. Safety in a Cardassian's arms was always an illusion, it had to be, or her world would crumble. She had to protest. "Ow", she said, hoping her voice would not tremble. "You're crushing me. That armour isn't exactly comfortable."

He released her at once. "It shields my heart", he said. "But only in the most physical sense.."

She shook her head, this time almost smiling. He never gave up, did he? "Don't start, Dukat. Now, be gone with you."

He took her hand and for a moment she feared he would kiss it in mock chivalry, but he just held it. "I will", he said. "But, Major, please drop the diplomats. You're not for them."

"What? I can't remember asking your advice on my personal life, Dukat."

"I know. I'm simply asking a favour. Please be honest enough with yourself to believe me - we are two of a kind." He hugged her again, briefly, then released her and stepped through the airlock. One last, teasing smile, then the hatch rolled shut.

She stood for a moment composing herself. She felt as though he had run a steel brush over half of her emotions and the Prophets knew what he had done to the other half. Well, it was not a new sensation whenever he was around - only a little bit worse. She shook herself and started to walk back through the access tube.

"Major?"

The soft, yet raspy voice made her jump. Of course he would have come after her. Keeping an eye out for her safety, while maintaining his usual surveillance of Dukat.

"Constable", she acknowledged, her voice not quite steady. He could hardly have heard anything from where he stood, but - how much had he seen? 

E P I L O G U E



"Anything else, Chief?" Quark diligently built up the crown of foam on his customer's glass of ale. Hopefully, the Chief Engineer would decide to have something to eat as well.

"No thanks, Quark, not today. Just poppin' in after me shift - Molly will have dinner ready in 'bout half an hour."

"You daughter can cook?"

O'Brien smiled fondly. "Not that hard with a replicator. Oh, she can't do new programming by herself yet, but she combines the meal and punches most of it in, with a little supervision from Keiko. She's gettin' there, Molly is.."

Quark was only half listening. His penetrating eyes surveyed the bar, always on the lookout for newcomers.

His gaze settled thoughtfully on a lone Bajoran woman in red, nursing a glass of spring wine at her singleseat table. In fact, Quark stared so intently that O'Brien noticed.

"Good thing, that about Major Kira", he said, nodding in her direction. "I'm glad for her. 'Bout time too.."

Quark looked momentarily disoriented. "What are you talking about?"

"Why, her and Odo finally gettin' together, of course. The way the poor lad has been hangin' around her all these years, a shame she never noticed, it was fairly obvious to everyone else, I'd say - but now.."

"Yes", Quark said hesitantly, "it's a good thing, all right.."

"But?" O'Brien prompted, suddenly realizing that the bartender did not sound all that convinced.

Quark sighed. The constable was his friend, though they would both rather die than admit it. "I only hope Odo isn't about to get hurt again", he said.

"Ah, come on, man!" O'Brien gushed, "She loves 'im. Anyone can see that."

"Yes, whenever they are together, anyone can see that, I agree", Quark confirmed. "They make a perfect couple.. both equally stubborn and rule-ridden, unforgiving.." he added under his breath, then caught himself. "But then why does she come in here all alone sometimes, to drink spring wine all by herself?" He threw up his hands as if to avert any objections O'Brien might voice. "Not often, mind you, not often at all. But - now and then she does."

O'Brien shrugged. "Maybe she's waitin' for 'im."

"She always picks a singleseat table, making it clear she doesn't expect - or want - company."

"Ye sure he isn't the table?" O'Brien tried to joke. He was beginning to feel uneasy - Quark wasn't usually this serious; he might be a worrier, but not often with so little financial provocation.

"Quite sure. She never comes in here like this except when he's - offline. When she's off duty and he's a puddle, that's when she comes. If he were on duty and she's off, she'd pick a table for two, and she'd look much happier, expecting him to drift in sooner or later to keep an eye on me."

"There ye go then. She's happy with 'im." O'Brien shrugged, to indicate that the matter was settled.

"She never drinks spring wine when she's with him", Quark said.

O'Brien looked uneasy, but shrugged again, letting out air through his mouth in a dismissive snort. "Och - that shouldn't mean anything?"

"Of course not", said Quark. Whatever. The customer was always right. At least as long as he paid.

O'Brien stayed for another glass of ale, seemingly forgetful of his dinner at home. Softly, he started crooning to himself, as he so often did. Quark's Ferengi ears had no trouble picking up the words.

"... People are saying, no two e'er wed, but one has a sorrow that ne'er was said..."

"A sweet song if a bit sad", Quark remarked. "What is it?"

O'Brien came to with a start. "Oh, it's just an old ballad", he said. "She Moved Through the Fair. Irish traditional.."

"Ah", said Quark. Then he walked over to Major Kira. She glared at him. No, she definitely didn't want company. "Another glass of spring wine?" he asked blandly.

"Go away, Quark", she said, though he could see she was almost finished with the glass she had. He hesitated. Chances were she'd smack him topside the head, but..

"You know, Major", he said, "sometimes an acquisition that cost you dearly, was still worth its price."

She stared at him as if he had just floated up out of a drainpipe. "You don't know what you're talking about, Quark."

"Oh, I don't, do I?" he replied. "Well, it's the truth. Nevertheless, the cost can be hard to live with, especially when you have to pay after the delivery. I'd say you're under the pressure of an instalment plan - for something you could not pay for in advance and be done with it."

Kira shook her head. "Now I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

Quark nodded, slowly and repeatedly. Then he walked back to O'Brien.

* * * *

"Quark says you nearly bit his head off last night.." Dax' opening was perfectly innocent, not even a question.

Just a probe, Kira thought. They were walking leisurely to Ops to begin their morning shift, content to be early enough to have time for a friendly chat on the way. At least they used to be glad of these moments, Kira mused. When had she started dreading them?

"He's an obnoxious little troll", she said in explanation.

"He says he was only asking to serve you."

"And proceeded to give me advice that I hadn't asked for."

"What? For free?" Dax' eyebrows flew up in mock astonishment.

"Free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it", Kira quoted.

Her companion nodded. "Robert A. Heinlein, 20th century Earth. Among others.."

"Quark should mind his own business", Kira said between her teeth.

So should I, Dax thought, but I'm not about to, am I? "Had a falling-out with Odo?" she asked aloud.

Kira stopped in her tracks, staring at her friend. "Whatever makes you say that? Odo and I never seem to quarrel any more, things couldn't be better."

"But you're missing the quarrels you two had before you got together?" Dax ventured innocently.

"Not at all", Kira snorted. "Odo is a dear, I'm glad we don't fight any more."

"Then what is it, Nerys?" Dax asked, lowering her voice sympathetically. "Come on, you can tell me."

No, Jadzia, Kira thought. You, I can tell least of all.. "Just my back pages", she said aloud. "I once did something that left a thorn in my conscience."

But the Trill was not so easily fooled. "Are you sure that thorn is not in your heart?"

Kira glared at her. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. And I don't think you do."

Dax sighed inwardly. "After 300 years", she said, "I think I'm beginning to." 


* * * The End * * *