V. Wrongs Darker than Death or Night
Meru was, as both her friends and enemies would agree, a gentle woman. She
had not known what it was to hate until she was given the news about
Taban's death. Oh, she believed she had hated the Cardassians in her old
life, and the man who had scarred her face, but it had been an almost
perfunctory feeling when compared with the rage that consumed her when she
heard about Taban, hanged in that newly regained home, with the letters
"The rewards of collaboration" written on the wall next to him.
Her hate was fuelled by guilt. Someone in the Resistance must have managed
to find out where the money for food and medicine Taban was receiving came
from, must have investigated his story about her death at the camp and
tracked her to Terok Nor. Given the attempt to kill Dukat and herself only
a few weeks ago, she should not have been surprised. She knew all too well
that what Luma, her white face stricken with disgust, had told her was what
most people would think. But she had never, not even in her wildest
nightmares, imagined that someone would hold Taban responsible.
His message, his kind, loving words, telling her he and the children owed
their life to her, that he was proud of her and understood, had both broken
her heart and soothed the pain. And now he had paid for this kindness with
his life. "You killed him, you bitch," his sister had said, who had only
learned that Meru was still alive when Meru in her panic had contacted
everyone she knew to find out where the children were. Of course, she
refused to tell Meru about the children.
"You don't deserve to be their mother. Do you want to ruin their lives as
Once, she would have taken this as she had taken Luma's condemnation, as a
judgement from the Prophets. But Taban's death changed everything. She did
not believe the Prophets walked with the Resistance any longer. Anyone who
killed a good man like Taban, anyone who approved of such an action, had
lost their right to pass judgement on her.
When Meru trusted her voice again, she went to Dukat and asked that the
children be brought to her, by force, if necessary.
"Are you sure that's wise, Meru?" he replied gently. "I have two children,
I know how you must miss yours, but if they were living with me here, they
would be targets as well. And this would be true of your children, too."
"Maybe," Meru said, feeling the salt of her dried tears burning on her
face. "But they are not safe on Bajor, either, and I do not want them with
these people anymore."
Sometimes, she was still shy about touching him on her own initiative. Not
now. She stretched out her hand and let it linger on his cheek.
"Please," she said. "I want my children."
For a moment, there was something measuring her in his eyes, but then he
turned his head, caught her hand and kissed it.
"Whatever makes you happy, my dear."
The children were afraid and confused at first, of course. Taban had not
exaggerated in his message; with the regular food, they had already grown.
They looked blessedly healthy, but losing their mother and then their
father had left their marks. When the Cardassian soldiers brought them to
her, they cried. Meru showered them with kisses, but it took hours to calm
them down. Pohl and Reon were not able to speak yet; Nerys, though, was.
"The 'oonheads made Aunt go still, so still," Nerys finally whispered in
her ear. Meru could find no pity in her heart for the woman who had danced
at her wedding.
"It's alright, pet," she soothed. "It's over."
"Will Dada come back, too?"
A comforting lie was on her lips, something like "one day", or that the
Prophets would reunite them eventually. But there was something in her
little daughter's gaze that demanded to be told the truth.
"No, Nerys," Meru answered.
The child's lips trembled, but she did not cry again.
"Bad people took him from us", Meru declared with renewed bitterness. She
hadn't heard Dukat entering behind her, but now she heard his voice saying:
"That's right. Bad people did. But that will not happen again."
He knelt down next to her, so his face was on a level with hers. Some part
of her wondered whether his own family had taught him that speaking to
children from a great height only intimidated them, or whether it was
"Your mother will be safe, and your brothers, and yourself. This I
"Safe" wasn't a concept any one of them was familiar with, and Meru doubted
her little Nerys had learned the word yet. But the girl stared at Dukat in
fascination. She had seen Cardassians before, though Meru and Taban had
always taken care to keep their children as far from them as possible. Meru
was almost certain that no Cardassian had ever been that close. Nerys
"Bring Dada back!" she demanded.
"Ah," Dukat said in that low, calm voice which had been the first thing
that she had liked about him, which had stopped the frightened terror in
her own heart when she met him and started to kindle hope as well as
fascination. "That is the one thing which I cannot do, I'm afraid."
The child scowled at him.
"But I did bring your mother back, didn't I?" he said, smiling at the girl.
Nerys looked confused, but slowly, the scowl vanished and made room for
curiosity. She tilted her head, and her arms, which had been clasped around
Meru's neck, relaxed a bit.
"What is her name?" Dukat asked Meru. Before Meru could reply, the girl
Meru was amazed. Nerys was usually so shy about talking to strangers; it
hadn't been so many weeks ago that the girl had not dared to address Luma
directly but had whispered her questions into her mother's ear. Dukat
really was good with children.
"Kira Nerys," Dukat said, "you and I are going to be the best of friends."
When Pohl and Reon grew older, they had no memories of Taban, though Meru
took care to tell them about the good man their father had been. Nerys, on
the other hand, did remember, but when she was ten, she told Meru she
didn't want to talk about him anymore. This saddened Meru, and yet she
understood. Nerys loved Dukat with a fierce, jealous devotion that made the
girl resent each time Dukat went to Cardassia to visit his other family.
She wanted to imagine herself as his only daughter, and him as her true
father, and did not want to remember a time when this had not been so.
"Why does he have to go back to *them* all the time?" she once asked Meru.
"They are not really his family. We are. It's not fair!"
Maybe if Nerys could have had friends and a larger family, she would have
been better at sharing. But as things were, Meru and her children were
envied by the other Bajoran women who were kept by Cardassians. Most of
them would never have dared to bring their children to their fathers'
attention, let alone live with them. As for the other Bajorans, the workers
in orb processing and *their* families, the only thing that kept them from
spitting at the sight of Meru *or* the children was fear of punishment.
Then there was the constant, nagging threat of assassination. Nerys might
not want to talk about Taban, yet she knew very well who had been
responsible for his death.
"I hate being a Bajoran," she told Meru, after there had been yet another
bombing which led to Dukat being summoned to Cardassia and a series of
reprisals after his return. Walking through Terok Nor afterwards was
walking through a thick, heavy silence.
"They are not all terrorists, Nerys," Meru replied, and distantly wondered
when she had started to automatically speak of "terrorists" rather than to
call them the "Resistance", and of "them" instead of "us".
"They might as well be," Nerys declared darkly. "All they can do is kill
Cardassians and other Bajorans, and then even more of them die. It's
Meru made an effort.
"It will be over one day, Nerys. And Bajor has a heritage we can be proud
Nerys hugged her. Soon, she would turn eleven. She wore her long, red hair
in a complicated braid, Cardassian-style, with needles Dukat had given her
as a surprise after his last journey.
"I know you think so, Mother. And I love your icons, I really do. But I'm
sorry, I don't think that superstition about the Prophets is anything to be
"They walk with us," Meru said, somewhat shocked though she only visited
the temple very rarely these days. The silent accusations in everyone's
eyes when she did were not easy to bear.
"If they walk with us, they haven't done anything for us, have they?" Nerys
said fiercely. "The only one who ever did that was Father."
She did not mean Taban.
"I'm worried about Nerys," Meru confided to Dukat when they were in bed
that night, which by itself was an amazingly regular event, even after all
these years. She knew that, leaving his wife aside, he wasn't completely
faithful to her, but she also knew he would not dream of installing another
woman in her place. When she had first become his mistress, one of the
other women, who had been on the station for a longer time without ever
managing to get one Cardassian officer to keep her for more than a few
nights, had told her she was lucky.
"Not just because he's the prefect," the other woman had declared, hungry
envy in her voice. "That one absolutely wants to be loved and believe
himself to be in love. He'll never kick you out; that would destroy the
Years later, as he held her in his arms and she felt enveloped by the only
warmth and security she had ever been able to trust, she couldn't say the
woman had been wrong. And yet it had been too easy an assessment. There was
a saying in Dakhur province about seeing someone's true face if his life
was threatened. During the first weeks with Dukat, she had been afraid,
attracted and desperately eager to believe, but she had not started to love
him until Luma, the woman she had trusted as her friend, had tried to kill
both of them. When the bomb exploded, Dukat had not sought to save himself
first. He had cried out her name and covered her with his body, and
afterwards, he had checked on her before doing anything else. In a way,
Meru supposed that Luma had sealed their union.
It had been a long time since then; she had seen him go from the young
prefect who believed he could make a difference to a more cynical man who
had repeatedly stated it would take a miracle to end the ongoing cycle of
attacks and retribution. She had seen him show weaknesses; she had
experienced him make mistakes. But she had never known him to stop caring
about her or her children, and for that, she would always love him.
He could still manage to surprise her, though. She had expected him to tell
her not to worry, that Nerys was a fine girl. Instead, he murmured:
"So am I."
„I'm not blind, Meru,"Dukat said. "Nerys and her brothers are not really
part of Bajor *or* Cardassia. Now as long as they are children, that will
not matter. But only a few more years, and Nerys will be grown up. With her
spirit, she will not be content to live as a Bajoran on Bajor. Yet on
Cardassia, they would only ever see her as one. They would see the ridges
of her nose and think of the terrorism, instead of valuing her as she
should be valued."
"What can we do for her, my love?" Meru asked, feeling his hand stroke her
hair. His voice came floating to her in the darkness as he replied,
"Your daughter is the embodiment of the new Bajor, Meru. Bajor as it should
be, Bajoran beauty married to a Cardassian soul. Why not give her the
freedom to reflect that?"
"What do you mean?"
He explained it to her. She had not known Cardassian surgeons were capable
of something like this, but Dukat told her that the Obsidian Order prided
itself on far more difficult transformations, and that one of their agents
owed him a debt he would be only too glad to call in for Nerys' sake.
Still, Meru could not help her first instinctive reaction, which was to be
revolted. It went against everything she had ever been taught about the
will of the Prophets.
Then again, as Nerys had put it with the blunt cruelty of youth, the
Prophets had never done anything for her.
Meru resolved on leaving the decision to Nerys. They did not tell her
immediately; obviously, eleven was not nearly old enough to make such a
choice. But when Nerys was close to completing her thirteenth year, Meru
felt a knot in the stomach which turned out to be far more serious than she
had believed at first. After several diagnoses and operations by the best
physicians Dukat could find, it was obvious that this was something she
would not escape from. There would not be much more time to watch Nerys
grow; she would have to tell her now.
"Do you understand what this would mean?" she asked Nerys, after Dukat, who
was always better at these things, had finished explaining. "Do you think
you could do it?"
Nerys, who did not know yet about Meru's own fate, beamed at her and in her
impulsive way threw her arms around both of them.
"Oh Mother, Father, of course I could! It's what I've always wanted. Thank
you! Oh, thank you!"
She was so young. But what had been said two years ago was still true, and
this way, at least one world would be open to her.
"I will miss your red hair," Meru said wistfully, and took the long braid
into her hands.
The boys were somewhat disturbed when they saw their sister again. But the
doctor treating Meru, a Bajoran scientist named Tora Naprem, quickly
distracted them by offering to show them the new discovery of Dr. Mora's
everyone was talking about, a strange substance that could change its
shape. When they were gone, Meru, the pain in her body somewhat lessened by
all the medication and the sight of Nerys and Dukat smiling at her,
stretched out both hands to them, and they knelt down beside her.
"Are you happy, Nerys?" Meru asked, looking at her daughter's gray face
with the faint blue spot in the middle of the girl's forehead, the black
hair falling down, elegantly braided, the neck ridges forming a curve as
Nerys laid down her head in her mothers' lap.
"It's Iliana now," Nerys murmured. "But yes, I am. If you get better soon."
Over her head, so familiar and yet so strange in its Cardassian shape,
Meru's and Dukat's eyes met.
"It might not be possible, my darling," Meru said gently. "But you will
have your father to look after you."