Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed it! We loved writing it. As always, this pairing, ignored as it was by TPTB, gave us much to think about, analyze, and enjoy. Here's the final chapter. Thanks for all the wonderful reviews and encouragement.
By The Collaborators
Dukat poured Kira some more spring wine. The last bottle of the season, perhaps the last one they'd ever share.
"I'm glad we have resumed our dinner engagements," he said. "They meant much to me. More than I realized at the time I made the suggestion."
"And yet you called them off?" she said, raising her glass slightly to facilitate his pouring.
In the old days she would never have cooperated with him even to this small extent.
"I never would have thought it back then, but I missed them. I missed… you." His glance at her was open, very warm, very blue.
"I never wanted to end them," he said. "It's just that for a while there I thought I would have to. I couldn't hold you to anything I had pushed you into. You've had enough of Cardassian oppression -- and frankly, so have I. I wanted you with me -- but not like that. Not like... just another captive..."
She smiled a little, stroking his hand resting loosely around the stem of his glass.
"And am I not your captive now?"
A quick flash of blue -- annoyance?
Yes, he did not like to be reminded of the early beginnings of their long acquaintance. But the irritation subsided as quickly as it had flared.
"Perhaps I was fearing captivity too..." he reluctantly admitted. "I never dreamed you could..."
"'If you love something, set it free'," she quoted. "'If it leaves, it was never yours in the first place. If it comes back, it's yours forever.'"
He looked up with interest. Eager to learn, as always. "Where is that from?"
She shrugged regretfully. "I wish I could remember. It's something Terran. I think it's out of one of O'Brien's never-ending supply of stories..."
He did not want to talk about O'Brien. Or any of her Starfleet associates. He wanted her all to himself. For however short a time they might have...
"We should make the most of our dinners now..." he mused aloud.
"What do you mean?" she almost whispered, fearful of any implications that she could lose him again.
"Haven't you heard? No, I suppose you haven't. Someone must have considered you a security risk, under the circumstances. The Defiant is on her way, Major. Accompanied by enough Starfleet vessels to try and take the station."
Much as she deplored the suddenly formal 'Major' she was too professional to disregard the signal. Also, her first reaction to the news was undiluted joy. Her second was -- confused, and she did her best to mask her first delight, although she could see from the fleeting pain in those dark blue eyes that he had missed none of it.
"Coming from Cardassia?" she asked neutrally. "Does that mean you have lost the war?"
"Not at all," he snapped. "And I have every intention of winning the battle. This is just a small force that the fleet commander no doubt felt could be spared for as long as it would take to reclaim an insignificant space station."
His voice dripped sarcasm, the way it used to do before... before their relation changed. And Kira felt her old antagonism rising. He had been right, after all. Their relationship might have changed, but they had not -- nor would they ever do so.
"Maybe it was done as a favour to Captain Sisko," he went on. "To grant a request, to humour him..." his adaptable voice was now a study in indifference. "I have left word with Damar to call me when they approach firing distance. I don't foresee any problems." A quick glance at her, and his next words were spoken low, still arrogant but with genuine consideration. "I presume you would not wish to see your friends shot down, Major. For your sake, I'll do my best to capture them alive, but you must understand that..."
The door chimed. Kira closed her eyes briefly, thanking the Prophets that she had been spared the outburst she had felt coming. The nerve of him! How could she ever have... but the agony of it was that she knew perfectly well how she could have. In the midst of his condescending arrogance she still loved him -- though she was wondering if she would yet come to hate herself for it.
On Dukat's brief command, the door glided open to reveal Damar himself, not a mere messenger. Dukat shot him a quick glance, taking in the significance of that.
"I take it Starfleet is now with us?"
"Not quite yet, Gul," Damar responded briskly. Then, with some difficulty, he added, "the Vorta has left."
Dukat nodded. "I know that. Weyoun was going on another expedition to attempt dismantling the mines in the Wormhole."
"Yes, sir," said his first officer, "we thought so too, at first. But he took rather too many ships with him -- and then we discovered that there was not a single Jem'Hadar left on the station..."
He briefly considered adding that it was hard to put a tractor beam on what amounted to a small fleet -- but he thought better of it. Excuses would serve no purpose. Kira found herself admiring the swiftness with which Dukat's eyes changed from bafflement to decisiveness.
So fast… she thought.
That's why we never really defeated them. Whatever we keep telling ourselves...
Dukat rose, throwing his napkin on the table. "Well, good riddance," he said, as if he had waited a long time for an opportunity to say it.
"Battle stations," he added calmly, without either shouting or barking. "Red alert."
Damar saluted without comment and spun around to follow orders.
"Dukat!" Kira called out, rushing to stand in his way.
For a moment she thought he'd walk right over her, but he stopped.
Much too close, as was his wont.
"Don't try to stop me, Major," he said calmly, without resentment. He clearly did not believe she could.
"You can't fight a well-trained Starfleet force with the men you have left!" she argued. "With the Jem'Hadar too you might have stood a chance, but now..."
"I assure you, Major, my all-Cardassian force is quite well disciplined also," he said, actually sounding amused. "We're more than a match for Sisko's troops."
"You can't seriously hope to win!" she argued. "You're outmanned to begin with, and your people are still working to get all the weapons systems up -- which means you're outgunned too. Even with all of them up, it's more than likely you'd come up short. Dukat please -- if you won't think of me, then think of Ziyal!"
"Ziyal?" he said. "She'll understand. If the worst comes to the worst -- and I must say I'm quite confident that it won't -- then at least I know that much. She herself said that we must settle for understanding. It may be all we have these days, but we do have that. She'll understand, you can be sure of that, Major."
Kira sighed in frustration. "Don't you think you'd be better off leading the Cardassian troops around Prime?" she tried. "You may not think you're losing the war, but if the Federation feels it can spare ships to retake a space station -- however strategically placed -- in the midst of battle, then it can only mean one thing. That battle is going their way. It must be."
"Don't try to make up my strategy for me, Major," he said coldly. "I have every confidence in my generals."
Then his gaze softened, ice to aquamarine. He put his hands on her shoulders, and for the life of her she could not move away.
"Nerys," he said softly, looking deeply into her eyes. "I won't give up Terok Nor. Not to anyone, ever again. You know that."
She did know, and she knew the implications.
Even if it were to cost him his life.
Well, she had tried. Now war tactics and Resistance guile was all that remained...
"Well, I won't be here to share your glory," she said lightly. "Prophets know I'd do almost anything at your side, but I can't fight on it. So -- will you let me leave the station, or am I a prisoner of war?"
Smiling, he stroked her cheek with a single finger. "Contrary to what you may have heard, Major, I've never held a lady against her will. Do what you must. Join your friends if you have to. I'm happy enough to have had your love. I never counted on your loyalty."
She surprised herself by saying, "It's hard not to love such an insightful enemy" -- and he laughed, delightedly.
"We'll make a Cardassian of you yet, Major."
He sobered at once, seeing her expression. "I have to go, Nerys," he said regretfully. "There's a battle waiting..."
She nodded. "I'll call you when I'm ready to leave. If you can spare the time, please come and see me at the airlock. I… would like to say goodbye properly."
He inclined his head slightly. "It's a promise, Major."
But just in case, he did not pass up the opportunity to kiss her thoroughly before he left.
Dukat lifted a hand and lightly brushed his fingertips against his lips as he left her quarters. They came away smudged with that patented crimson of her lip-color. Bending his head as he strode into the turbolift that would take him to Ops, he shared a secret smile with himself.
There you go, Major.
The last time, perhaps.
That, for whatever it was worth, may have been the last time I would feel the touch of your lips against mine.
The last time, perhaps, that I would feel the touch of that yearning -- that burning soul-fire those old Kardasi legends sang of so very eloquently.
The last time, perhaps, and for the shortest of whiles, that you and I would be on the same side.
Of exactly what -- he did not know. Or care. But it had felt so right, so good -- that it had made him a bit dizzy. A bit afraid. A bit forgetful. In her arms, with the feel of her warm body against his own, her softened, impossibly tender, voice in his ear -- he had forgotten too many things he needed, desperately, to remember. He had forgotten his place in this beast of a war he had helped unleash; he had forgotten his duty to his war-ravaged homeland; not the least, he had forgotten his own avenging soul. And he had almost, almost, forgotten that moment -- just before Terok Nor had assumed its rightful name -- seconds before his triumph; Cardassia's triumph.
It had all come together for him -- in that moment of utter, terrifying, clarity. Yes, he had almost forgotten that moment, only weeks ago, on that Jem'Hadar ship... when, prompted by Damar's youthful arrogance, he had contradicted Weyoun's plans for the Bajoran-Dominion Non-Aggression Pact... the manner in which the subtle warning in those pale eyes and whispery voice were reinforced a thousand-fold by that single Jem'Hadar soldier circling in to wait at attention -- with such quiet, chilling menace -- behind the Vorta.
It was only after Dukat had deferred quietly, and sullenly, to Weyoun -- "where the Dominion leads, I will follow" -- that the soldier had finally, deliberately, turned on his heels and left.
At that moment, Dukat had known -- his fate, along with Cardassia's, had been sealed.
Oh, he had no intention of going down without a fight. One does not leave the Dominion. But, one could try. Or die trying, perhaps. Today, after he had finally begun to acknowledge the possibility -- the irrevocability -- of that moment... one thought had crept, entirely unbidden, into his mind: if she knew -- when she knew -- would she weep? Would she, despite all her continued, and justified, hatred for his cause, resolve to avenge his death? Or, would she accept it as her Prophets' Will?
He smiled. Or would she do something unbelievably drastic, delightfully unexpected, totally implausible?
Something he would, or anyone else for that matter, never expect her to do?
Would she be the Kira Nerys that he had always respected, parried with, even feared a little?
These past few days had yielded a maelstrom of unbridled emotions for them both. Emotions long suppressed -- something he had lived long enough to realize -- on both sides. He also knew better than to second-guess her ability to act as she damned well pleased. That, quintessentially, was her.
She was, he knew, as unpredictable, emotional, impulsive a creature as he had ever encountered.
His smile turned mocking. Even in this, they were alike; and however much she hated this obvious, undeniable fact -- it was a truth, he suspected, even her precious Prophets would confirm. That is, if she ever had the courage to ask them.
As he walked into the controlled mayhem that was now Ops, Dukat had one last, ironic, immensely comforting, thought: in the coming danger of the war and its fallout -- his Major did have someone who would protect her, defend her, and yes -- love her -- to the best of his abilities.
And the best of his abilities far exceeded that of his own -- that of any humanoid.
Yes -- Kira had Odo.
Dukat entered his office, perhaps for the last time.
No, she would not avenge him.
And yes... she would, perhaps, weep a little.
But, in the end, she would be loved.
And that thought, Dukat knew, would sustain him through whatever fate those Sweet Prophets of hers had in store for him.
"Kira to Gul Dukat -- preparing to depart from shuttle bay 6."
She knew she was not fooling anyone, least of all Damar, but neither did she have to flaunt her relationship with the current station commander over an open commlink.
"Stay right where you are, Major," he answered in kind. "There's a message I'd like you to take to Captain Sisko. I'll be down in a moment to brief you."
It sounded thin, but at least he had given an official explanation for letting Kira go -- and the official explanation was after all, all that mattered. Down at the airlock, Kira prepared. Checking the setting of the phaser she had brought from her quarters. In honour of a rule the Chief of Security was no longer in a position to enforce, she did not often go armed on the station. Except when circumstances dictated otherwise...
She heard him coming. There was no mistaking those long, confident strides.
And that's why they never defeated us, she thought.
No real talent for skulking and sneaking.
Devious Cardassians might be, but as for understanding guerrilla warfare...
He came into view -- and she could not do it. Could not deprive him of one last chance to control his own fate. She knew she had to act fast, but she had not done it, and the moment of surprise was lost.
He stopped short, looking at her phaser which was aimed straight at him. "So it has finally come to this?" He said, as if he had always known it would.
"Are you really going to use that?"
"Only if I have to," she said. "Please leave the station -- now. The shuttle is waiting. It's over, Dukat. You can't hope to win this one. Tell your men to stand down, to surrender. Federation captivity isn't so bad, but I'm giving you a chance to escape nonetheless..."
… Because I don't want to see you defeated, she added in her thoughts though she did not say it.
"Please go, narai," she pleaded. "Live -- to fight another day, if you must, but live!"
He smiled a little ruefully.
"The great Kira Nerys, singlehandedly retaking the station?" He shook his head. "I love you, Nerys, but I never took your orders, and I never will. I dare you to use that thing, because it's the only way you can ever keep me out of this battle."
Well, he had said so himself. Reluctantly, she took a better aim with her phaser. Why did he have to make this so hard...
"I thought you said you would never shoot me in cold blood," he said sadly. "Well, perhaps it's a good thing that I only half believed you..."
Like a Dahkur blood viper he moved, whipping out his own phaser and dropping low, before finishing his sentence, before the slightly steeled tone of his last words could alert her to his intention. But he never fired, and she would always wonder if it was by choice -- or if her own Resistance-honed reflexes were still that good. Her beam caught him before she knew she had fired, let alone changed her aim to catch up with his new position. The instant before oblivion, he looked straight at her, and she realized he had not really expected her to fire after all. Those indigo eyes of his held an unmistakable gleam of -- admiration?
For an insane moment, she nearly laughed. Cardassians... well, it was good to know she hadn't let him down, she thought wryly.
He was lying rather gracelessly, his long limbs sprawled over the deck. She ran up to him and checked his pulse. She had checked her heavy stun setting five times, and yet she could not avoid a deep sigh of relief. But now she'd have to be quick. As she put her arms under his and started to drag him over the deck, she wished she could have risked saying a proper goodbye before holding a phaser on him. One last hold, one last kiss...
But long experience had taught her never to take any risks with Cardassians. Not even to save their lives...
Damn, but he was heavy. Those long legs... she looked wildly about her for something to put him on, wishing for an antigrav sled although she knew they did not work on the station, but what the abyss, wishing was free. Perhaps because of her fervent wishes, she did not think it odd to find a trolley standing around nearby, like a forgotten afterthought. The Prophets moved in mysterious ways...
With grunting effort, she managed to load the unconscious Dukat on to the trolley, which she then rapidly pushed through the airlock and over the ramp to the waiting shuttle. She considered strapping him into the pilot's chair for dignity's sake, then decided she did not have the time. Better be practical than courteous -- after all, he wasn't a Klingon, to stand upon ceremony to the exclusion of all else.
Gently, she laid him down on the deck, and kissed him. "Sorry, narai..." she said. "But there's no way you could win this battle, and I just couldn't let you die trying."
She stood, with the sobering thought that he might well consider her deed treason after all, when he woke up. Well, then it would make no difference if she did a little more...
After a few precious minutes spent with the plasma core, she was finished. With a last, lingering look at the prone form on the deck, she pushed the trolley ahead of her down the ramp, and then left, closing the shuttle's airlock. The trolley crashed into the rounded edge of the stationside lock, tipped over, and fell out into the corridor beyond. Kira followed it, closing the inner lock. She turned -- and jumped, as she saw the discarded trolley begin to float upwards like molasses reversed, to change from steel grey to gold, to become... the Station Chief of Security.
"Ouch," he admonished. "Your regard for station property leaves much to be desired, Major."
She gaped at him. "Odo! What are you... never mind, we'll talk about it later."
She tapped her commbadge, turning half away as to sound at least distant if not sufficiently obscured by intership connections. "Kira to Ops -- permission to depart station."
The pause was longer than she had expected.
Then, Damar's voice: "I'm sorry, Major, but I cannot grant your request without the Gul's confirmation."
Odo smiled slightly, as Kira flipped her channel closed.
"Loyal and intelligent," he said.
"A rare combination, except in Cardassians. The worst kind, wouldn't you say, Major?"
There was an edge to his voice she did not recognize, but he had helped her get Dukat on board the shuttle, hadn't he? Presumably, he was still her friend.
"Odo," she said, "Can you imitate Dukat's voice?"
"I think so," he said. "It should be mainly a matter of configuring a larynx to match his closely enough."
She closed her eyes, trying not to think of Dukat's prominent larynx right now. "Then do so -- quick! The shuttle is set to start within five minutes, docking clamps or no. Besides, he won't stay out cold for long..."
Odo folded his arms, waiting.
"Odo! Didn't you hear me? What's the matter with you?"
He did not answer.
He nodded. "There. That wasn't so hard, was it? Yes, I'll do it. But you'd better give the First Officer some reason for the delay first."
Kira breathed a silent 'whew!' and tapped her commbadge.
"Kira to Ops -- Damar, could you repeat that? I seem to have lost you for a moment..."
"I said I need the Gul's confirmation of your request."
And Dukat's well-modulated tones broke in on their conversation-- "It's all right, Damar. The Major has received my message for Captain Sisko and now has my permission to leave."
The imitation was almost too good. Even the slight derisiveness was the same.
Kira couldn't very well blame her changeling friend for doing too good a job of it -- but she wished she could have.
This time, the pause was very brief.
Then, "Docking clamps released. A good trip to you, Major."
None too soon, for the minute the clamps were retracted, the shuttle took off in an impatient flare of light. The timing had been perfect.
"I disabled the warp core," Kira said thoughtfully, as she watched the spark that was the shuttle vanish in the black distance. "It'll get him out of range of tractor beams, and far enough out to make it a long journey back on impulse -- then it'll die. After that, he only has sublight until he can repair it."
"That should keep him safe," Odo agreed to her unspoken concern. "Where is he headed?"
"Well, I wanted him out of Starfleet's way, so I couldn't send him home. Besides, he might not have been too popular there, after what I'd done to him. Nor did I want him on Bajor -- too close. So -- I headed him in the general direction of the Gamma Quadrant."
"The Wormhole is still mined," Odo reminded her.
"Oh, I didn't aim him towards the Wormhole. I don't think anybody knows where Weyoun went, but I didn't really want the Jem'Hadar to be the ones to pick him up. I sent him -- the long way."
Odo nodded understanding. "Ah. Space is a big place, as they say."
"Big enough. He'll never get anywhere unless someone picks him up. Until he repairs the warp core, of course. Even so, I doubt the Gamma Quadrant would be his first choice."
"Not the long way around," Odo agreed.
She looked at him thoughtfully for a while. He was standing very erect, staring out into space. She wondered briefly if he was homesick, but for once, she felt too shut out to ask.
"How did you know about Dukat's excuse for meeting me here? The alleged message for Sisko?"
That odd, changeling smile. Fleeting across his features. "You could say I was a fly on the wall."
"Still keeping an eye on me?"
"An eye -- or whatever it takes."
She had one more question.
"Odo," she said slowly, almost reluctantly, "why did you help me?"
"Before I answer that, Major," he said, "perhaps you'll tell me why you chose to do what you did. Was it to help Dukat -- or the Federation?"
She stared at him briefly -- then she gave in.
"Both, I guess," she admitted. "I couldn't join him, but I couldn't just leave. I couldn't stand by and just watch, but above all I couldn't let him waste his life in a meaningless battle he was bound to lose."
"Above all. I didn't want him to die."
"It didn't occur to you that you may have played right in the hands of his enemies on Prime? With Dukat gone, they may well seize the opportunity to stage a coup."
"I believe they already have," she said. "The Federation is winning, or they wouldn't be here. Dukat must have realized it too, though he tried to deny it. But I think that was the main reason he wanted to stay. He hoped he could hold the station against Sisko's forces, for there was every possibility he would soon have to hold it against his own people. He wanted to consider this battle a drill -- but it isn't. It won't be. At least this way he's still alive, and still free. He may never speak to me again, but I gave him the chance to come back."
She glared at the shapeshifter. "What do you mean, why? I told you I didn't want him dead. I told you that I… that he means an awful lot to me."
"You're trying to say you did it for love?"
"YES, I did it for love!" she snapped, almost crossly.
"What of it?"
"Nothing," Odo said, still standing very erect, arms folded, keeping his distance from her -- but also still smiling that odd little smile. "But there you have my answer."
"Your answer?" She gave him a bewildered look. "I'm afraid you've lost me."
His lips quirked a little. "I know I have, Major. I've always been your best friend. It's just my luck that you prefer your worst enemy. But you did want to know why I helped you."
"Oh, Odo," she groaned. "I'm sorry... I didn't mean..."
"No," he said quietly. "You rarely do, Major. That's one of your most redeeming traits."
This aloof judgment.
Often passed on others, never on her -- until now.
He is a Founder, she thought -- and berated herself for it instantly. Well, at least he's alien...
Strange, how she had never thought of him as alien before. Despite knowing what he was capable of. Like wiping out a civilization -- all for the love of her...
"Shouldn't you throw me in jail for what I've done?"
"For love? I don't think so. I may not approve, Major, but I do understand..."
And then he smiled -- as mischievously benign as ever.
"Shall we go, Major? I think we'd better talk to Damar before he finds out who was on that shuttle. Who knows -- perhaps I can convince him not to fight this battle without his commander."