2366: Terok Nor
"Oh, I should probably…" she started, faltered, and her words faded away. She hadn't wanted to say anything, she hadn't meant to say anything, but the words had tried to come out all the same. Against her will but not against her better judgement.
Damar shifted away from her slightly, took his hand from hers, tried to still the feelings, the needs, that were so close to being satisfied.
"If it's my mention of Legate Mardek that—"
Daphne smiled, and in a second, she had touched a finger to his lips. "No," she said softly, shaking her head. "It's not that."
"Then what is it?"
She couldn't provide him with an answer; she didn't know what to say. So, gently, gingerly, she reached a hand up to his neck, her fingertips but a hair's breadth away from the delicate, sensitive ridges that adorned the skin there.
"Can I…?" she asked, her words hushed.
He inclined his head slightly, his nonchalant response belying what he truly felt, wanted. He turned his head as her fingers touched his neck, softly, caressing. She had expected them to feel rough, coarse, but they didn't.
"You feel cold."
He shrugged. "I am cold."
Daphne hadn't known it, or hadn't cared to have known it, but she was sitting much closer to him than she had been before, their thighs almost touching, her hand continuing its curious stroking of his neck, shoulders. He grunted, nearly jerked his head away, and she stared at him, alarmed.
"What did I–?"
But he only laughed. Then he had placed a hand to her cheek, and an arm snaked around her waist.
There was no fear, no disgust, in her eyes. She didn't care what or who he was; that he was a Cardassian, it seemed, made no difference to her. His grey face wore a handsome, thoughtful expression, and his jaw was firm, set.
Then she let him pull her closer to him, let him put his lips to hers, briefly, almost intangibly. She pulled away, became guarded. And she hated herself for reacting like that. Before she knew it, she was standing up.
She heard him but she didn't say anything. Until he came over to her, and his hands were on her arms, holding her, but she knew that she could've shrugged his touch off easily. She didn't, though. She wanted him to hold her.
"I can't," she muttered, looking him in the eye.
"I'm not telling you to."
"No, and that's what the problem is," she said, as the reality of those words twisted in her stomach. "You see, I've got this image in my head of what Cardassians are, what they should be. They shouldn't care. They should take advantage." A bitter laugh escaped her lips. "Legate Mardek. That's my view of all Cardassians."
That was when she shrugged off his hands.
"At least, that was the idea. When I was brought to this station, Damar, I'd already made my mind up that all Cardassians were going to be like that, like the officers who had captured me and brought me here. But… but… it's not like that." Then she held him in her gaze and she wasn't going to let him go, to even let him look away. "You're not like that."
Damar seemed unsure of what to say, unsure of even what she was saying. "You're saying I'm not like other Cardassians?" He had adopted a dangerous tone. "You're saying that I'm less than a Cardassian?"
Furiously, she shook her head. "No, I'm saying that you're so far from my original idea of what a Cardassian would be like. And Damar, please, don't take that as an insult. You're a Cardassian, a true Cardassian, in so many ways."
He raised an eyeridge, looked slightly offended.
"I'm sure you're arrogant, you're obsessed with serving your people's military. But I think that there's more to you than that."
"I could say the same for you." There was the bitterness of the kanar on his breath.
Oh, she thought ruefully. It's a mess. He was now holding her face in his hands, his eyes watching her intently, curiously. Her chest was heaving, her heart was beating a million times a minute. Then she stood on her toes, kissed him, fully, as if she hadn't wanted anything else at that one moment, just him. His hands travelling down her body, her waist, her hips, and only the station's low humming engines could have interrupted them then.
The engines and the commpanel.
Daphne stepped back, a smile already on her face, as her hands left the flushed ridges on Damar's neck. She caught her reflection – and his – in the window, and smoothed down her hair.
"Yes?" she called out, taking a breath.
The door slid open to reveal three Cardassians. The two at the back were tall, heavy-set, brutish-looking soldiers, with disruptor rifles in their hands and solemn looks on their faces. Stood in front of them was someone who Daphne – and Damar – knew all too well. Whether she liked that fact or not.
Gul Dukat swaggered in, after waving an impatient hand at his entourage. Bodyguards.
"Damar," he said smoothly, his voice dangerous. "I've been wondering where you are."
"Dukat," Damar said genially, regarding his superior officer. "I'm not on duty until tomorrow."
"No, I know that," Dukat retorted. "Still, I wondered."
"Is there something you need me for, Sir?"
A smirk curled at the corners of Dukat's mouth, as his gaze flashed over at Daphne, before settling on his officer, on his right-hand-man. There were a million questions that Dukat could've asked then, that he longed to ask. And he knew that he could've made a demand out of it but he didn't.
Turning on his heel, he made for the door, returning to his bodyguards.
The manufactured smile on Daphne's face disappeared as soon as Dukat had left, and she groaned, pressed a hand to her forehead. She was going to say something but she looked over at Damar and saw that he seemed to feel nothing but pride for his superior.
"I wonder why he didn't mention the fact that I'm no longer in the holding cell," she mused.
Damar shrugged, rubbed the nape of his neck. "I requested that Dukat let you go. He obviously agreed. Why would he mention it?"
She pursed his lips. She knew that that made sense but she also knew that she would've rather owed her freedom to Damar, than to Dukat.
Before silence could wash over them, she cleared her throat. "Well, I was going to—" She broke off, stuttered, giggled. "I was going to make some dinner, before… well, before…" As she faltered and stammered yet again, Damar made for the door.
"I guess," she said as he walked away. "I'll see you—?"
Damar could've held her, kissed her, there and then but he didn't. He nodded and it told her all she needed to know. This time, she watched him leave.
"I don't think I should."
The Cardassian officer watched her, regarded her, scrutinised her, even, as he stood in the doorway to Daphne's quarters.
"It wasn't a request," Belen returned simply, holding her firm in his watchful gaze.
Throwing her arms up in despair, she came over to him, parted her lips, sighed. "I don't care if it's not a request. I'm not going."
"Well," Belen began dangerously, narrowing his eyes. "It's up to you."
"So I do have a choice?"
A grim smile took over his features; he laughed. "No, you don't have a choice in this matter. But you do have a choice about how you behave. Either you come quietly, obediently… or you're kicking and screaming as I pull you to Ops."
She knew which of those options she preferred. And she also knew which of those options would've gotten her killed. Pursing her lips, she nodded solemnly.
"That's a hell of a choice," she murmured. "I go willingly as a good comfort woman should, ready to serve my Cardassian masters, in which case I'm a collaborator or as good as. Or I act as if I've still got some shred of dignity left and defend myself to the last."
Belen snorted. "Very poetic." He edged closer but she didn't shrink away from him. "You know, I requested that I escort you to see Gul Dukat."
"You requested?" She raised an eyebrow. "Why?" She knew why.
"Yes," he said simply, matter-of-fact. "Turak was scheduled to take you up to see Dukat but I had the feeling that… well, that his way of doing things would involve a few…" He faltered. "Detours."
She nodded, and everything was now abundantly clear, if it hadn't been already. She could've thanked him but she didn't. A slight, genial smile was all that she was prepared to give him at that moment. On the other hand, she thought before she could contain herself, she would've thanked Damar.
"After you," she said with a sigh, waving Belen to walk in front of her.
"You really ought to change."
"I ought to change?" she repeated, staring at him, raising an eyebrow.
"You can't seriously expect Dukat to entertain you looking like that." He looked her up and down.
She crossed her arms. "I don't want him to entertain me. Besides, what's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
He looked at her, his mouth a flat line, at the loose-fitting trousers that were cinched in at the waist and the low-neckline top. "You look fine to me. But Dukat might not see it that way."
"Then he can see it how he wants," she said shortly, snorting. "Go on, then. Lead the way."
With a contentious groan, Belen finally relented. The door slid shut behind the two of them and she proceeded to follow him on the slow, tedious walk to Ops.
Belen scowled. "Don't look around."
But she couldn't help it. She could look away, of course. She could look down at the floor, away to the vastness of space that hung through the windows. But then she would still be able to hear the anguished cries of Bajoran workers as the heaved ore and begged for food. And she would also still be able to hear the disgruntled mutterings of the Cardassian overseers, and the blasts of the disruptors.
Ops was a large, circular room, in which a dozen or so Cardassian officers were busily manning various consoles and looking at various displays. Daphne had no idea what any of it meant but it seemed to be positioned at the centre of the station, which, she gathered, attached to it a serious degree of importance.
The Cardassian workers stopped what they were doing, raised their eyes from their work, and held the human woman firmly in their confused, intrigued gazes. Their grey hands ceased typing furiously on their consoles, were now paused, waiting.
Belen was a small, slight man, and Daphne had no trouble in keeping up with his strides as the two of them went up some steps. The metal clanged underfoot, and Daphne realised instantly where they were going.
Self-consciously, she tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ears. She cleared her throat. There were only a few steps, and when at the top, she stole a glance through the window in the door. Sullen-faced, eyeridges drawn together, stroking his chin, was Gul Dukat. There was an officer in there with him, whose back was facing the door.
Belen grabbed Daphne by the arm, pulled her back and away from the window. She glowered at him but before she could've done or said anything else, Dukat spoke.
She let Belen shove her into the office, and Dukat leant forward, steepling his hands on the desk. Then he waved at the door and the other officer in the room turned to leave.
Daphne looked up, her eyes falling on – and clinging to – Damar.
Damar nearly faltered but caught himself. He cleared his throat. "Sir, I'll see to those casualty reports right away."
"You shall," Dukat replied smoothly.
And with that, Damar pulled his gaze away from Daphne, though he let his eyes rest upon her, on her beautiful, watchful face, and on her body, for longer than he knew.
"I was under the impression that you wanted to see me," Daphne said quickly, unapologetically, once Damar had gone.
Belen stepped forward, was about to chastise her, but Dukat raised a hand.
"Then you were under the right impression," Dukat said smoothly, not at all concerned by her challenging tone.
"I do hope that Glinn Belen here didn't give you any trouble on your way up here?" he asked but there was no concern in his voice.
Daphne raised an eyebrow. "He was fine. Is that it?"
"Now, Daphne," he began, slowly, seriously, leaning forwards even more. He nodded to Belen, who grudgingly took a step back.
She shuddered when he said her name.
"You are aware of the circumstances under which you're here?"
She could've laughed. She wanted to laugh. Circumstances. What a word for it, she thought ruefully. "Yes."
"Then you know what is expected of you?"
"I'm not an idiot," she snapped. "But I do have some degree of self-respect. I suppose I should apologise for that. I know what a comfort woman does, or is meant to do, and I also know – and you had better, too – that I've got no intention of doing that."
"Oh," he hissed. "Intention doesn't even come into it. Belen and his comrade made a decision when they encountered you. You were trespassing, you know?"
She opened her mouth to protest but he had already continued talking.
"They could've shot you there and then as an enemy spy. But they didn't. They saw some worth in you, that you deserved more than simply being treated as a war criminal. You've been given a chance here, don't you see that?"
"A chance?" she echoed, almost thinking that she was dreaming the entire conversation. "A chance to what? To be touched and used and assaulted by you and your men? To be treated as if I'm nothing? To be paraded around at those hideous little soirees that you hold?"
For a split second, Gul Dukat's face was unreadable. His eyes were narrowed, his lips were pursed. He was thinking, of course, but thinking about what, Daphne had no idea. Her words had wounded not him but rather his sense of self-importance, his pride, and he came very close to punishing her for that.
"Do you know who let you out of the holding cell?"
She blinked. "I—Yes. Gil Damar did."
"Yes and no." Dukat sighed. "He keyed in the codes, yes. But I was the one who agreed to let you go."
"And he's the one who asked for me to be let go. I'm rather more thankful for that."
"Oh, you're thankful?" Dukat asked, and a slight sneer twisted upon his features.
"As thankful as I can be, considering that I've just traded one cage for another."
Dukat shook his head. "Terok Nor is not a cage. For the Bajoran people… it's not viewed in the best light, despite my best efforts to improve their living and working conditions. However, I digress. You, Daphne, are a human. You are alone here, and I suggest that you remember that sombre fact when you next try to challenge my authority."
"I don't have to listen to this," she muttered, turning on her heel, only to have Belen glare at her. She stayed put, bit her lip to stop if from quivering.
"You don't have to," he agreed. "But you should. I'm betting that your days are looking quite free? You're not too busy?"
She laughed silently. "I'm busy figuring out a way out of here."
"If that's not taking up too much of your time, can I suggest that you at least try and control your behaviour for the get-together that I'm hosting tonight?"
"Get-together?" She was about to shake her head but then she remembered and she simply just stood there, accepting. "You can count on it."