The Ravenok

Ó1999 – 2000 by MDC-B

Title: The Ravenok

Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Ratings: PG-13

Summary: A day in the life of Dukat and Tora Naprem.

Disclaimers and other stuff like that - - Paramount owns most of the known Universe and I'm only borrowing the characters to tell a story. This is my story though, so please don't post or archive anywhere without my written permission. Please contact me through email at gracie@hushmail.com with crits, feedback or anything else.

CAVEATS and some background information: I started this story about a month before Star Trek: DS9 ended here in the States, but after watching the final episode I was so depressed and ticked-off by the ending that I shelved the story in disgust after what TPTB had done to all my scaly friends and most of the Alpha Quadrant (disgruntled muttering is heard). I do have the second part in draft, but I'm not sure whether it's ready for general consumption yet…

-Peace-

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It was a glorious Spring day on Bajor. The sky was a shade of blue that made her heart swell with love for all things. She mentally crossed off the Cardassians from her love-list as she idled a few moments more beside the stream. None of them were in evidence this fair day - not out here in the wild lonesome. Well, not so lonesome... her farm was but a short walk away from where she was, but she liked to pretend that it was just her and the sun this fair morning, keeping good company with one another. They might have the best of everything; the best food, the best houses, the best lives... but she had the sun and the sky above her and her heart was content to keep those treasure to herself.

Off in the distance she thought she heard a voice call her name: "Naprem! Naprem! Where are you?" But the voice was faint at best and easily ignored for the moment. Later on she'd smile, lie, and say that she hadn't heard the summons. The seductive call of the warm breezes and flowers was louder and didn't ask anything of her that she hadn't given freely already. Why go back down there - to the place where they were, and to the work in the fields? Her mother had always warned that her daydreaming would be the ruin of her; Get your head out of those clouds, Naprem! Poems and songs and absurd imaginings are not for the likes of us! Clouds don't work or put food on the table! Silly girl... She'd heard that, chapter and verse, since she was old enough to remember anything at all. Our place is on the land she recited under her breath. Our hands, hearts, and bodies belong to the good earth. Our caste is not of the poets, the balladeers, or the writers. We are farmers, born and bred. She felt so helpless in the face of such narrow designations. Before she was born her place and path were already laid out for her like a costume that she didn't really want to wear.

At least the Cardassian presence wasn't felt so strongly out here. Not out here in the highlands, not when the winter sometimes piled snowdrifts sometimes up to the door lintels. Ten or so, maybe, down in the village and another handful or two that lived off by themselves in an old house that no one had lived in for years anyway. The village elders had given freely of the village to those that had come. What else could they do? A few had nosed around, asked questions, sent in a few to live among them and they'd been a noxious presence ever since. She kept her dislike for them hidden deep inside of her self in a place so dark that sunlight seldom ventured there. It was better not to think of that. Why spoil her few stolen moments away from her everyday concerns?

That faint voice again, insistent: "Naprem! Naprem!" High enough to scale mountains it was. She couldn't ignore the inexorable pull of her mother's voice, but still she lingered.

She twirled around in a circle, spreading her arms wide as she danced down by the stream. Humming a dance song under her breath, she tried a few steps of a dance her cousin, Rin, had showed her just the day before. Tonight was the Spring Festival and she wanted to be ready. My lover has strong arms. They hold me so close that I feel his heart pound-pound-pound like a drum... A faint rustle in the tall grass behind her gave her pause, but she decided that her unruly dancing had frightened some small creature hiding there.

Best to return homeward, anyway. Arching her back, she stamped down hard on the ground, singing: "Don't you dare touch me there..." The rustle grew louder. "Please don't run... let's have some fun!" She ended her dance, whirled around and saw a man, a Cardassian, standing a scant few paces away from her, smiling. Her heart actually stopped in her chest: there was a whistling, whirling void that left her feeling as faint as sunlight on a Winter's day.

He stood there still as deep water.

"Don't be alarmed. I won't hurt you." he still smiled, pleased, it seemed. "I'd never seen a dance like that before. Is it for tonight's Festival?'

Speechless and frightened, she nodded. She tried to keep her eyes downcast, but she was afraid not to look at him. Best to see where he was. Best to see where the escape route was, if any.

"Thank you for that beautiful dance." He drew slightly closer... close enough that she unconsciously drew back a step, ready to bolt. He immediately became still again. "Your name? Might I ask your name?" He was so polite. Why should he be? Take take and take! That's all any of you ever do. Why don't you all just leave?

What was she going to do? Something terrified and weak tried to fly out of her mouth, but she clamped her lips tight and held it still. She wasn't going to cry. Trembling, she kept her voice as low and steady as possible. "My name..." her throat felt as though it was filled with hot cinders and dry sand. "My name is..." she unexpectedly burst into tears. It was all just too much to bear. Bad enough that she had been caught dancing. Worse, though, to be caught dancing alone by a Cardassian. If she got out of this mess in one piece... She silently promised the Prophets that she'd never stray from home or her chores again.

"It's perfectly alright. Really" She couldn't see a thing through her tears, but by the sound of his voice he hadn't moved to touch her. "Is it such a difficult thing to say - your name?" She sensed an undercurrent of concern that angered her. She wanted no pity from the likes of him. No meeting of the minds. Nothing. What she wanted to do was get herself under control. And fast. Cardassians were widely known for their capriciousness of mood; she'd seen enough random acts by their hands in her life to make her very wary of their motives. Straighten up! Get a hold of yourself Naprem! Good enough advice. But what would happen afterwards? She'd lost the only protection she'd ever had, and now that her cherished anonymity was gone forever she was deeply terrified of the consequences she'd brought about upon herself. Next time you'll listen, won't you? Her mother's voice echoed gleefully down through the years "Don't look at them. Don't 'see' them. Answer when spoken to, but never betray yourself in doing so." Truly wise words, indeed. And if she'd listened - instead of just hearing - she'd be safe at her home now instead out here alone with this unknowable force in the guise of one of the Cardassian occupying forces.

"I'm sorry," she couldn't seem to get her voice to rise above a low whisper. Her body was shaking so hard that it felt as though her bones were going to shatter. She wanted away. She wanted her mother. She wanted to be anywhere but standing front of him.

"Sorry? For what?" He took one careful step forward - reaching out his right hand to gently touch her cheek.

She flinched backwards, crying out: "Please! Please don't hurt me!"

An unknowable emotion crossed his face and was gone just as quick as it came.

"I see," She watched warily as he took a step backwards and bowed deeply. "We have not been properly introduced, have we? Shall I put you at ease and tell my name first?" She stood there, speechless with shock. No Cardassian had ever bowed to her before. She didn't even know they were capable of such social niceties. "My name is Dukat. Nelan Dukat." He had straightened up from his bow and was looking intently at her, smiling. "I truly mean no harm to you. I was merely passing by and saw you here. I'd never seen such dancing before and wished nothing but to complement your grace and beauty."

She felt herself blushing and dropped her head down to hide her red face from him. She shouldn't let what he said touch her one way or another. That was very dangerous to do. She could get hurt - in more ways than one - if she allowed anything he said to reach down deep inside where she really lived her life… where her secret heart was.

Best to get this done and over with although Naprem had no idea what the consequences were going to be – she doubted any good was going to come of it. The vision of her huddled in the bushes by the stream bleeding and crying flashed through her mind like a rogue comet.

Control Naprem. Control!

"My name is Tora Naprem."

He had let her go then, but would her remember her? Yes, she suspected deep down that he would. What that would mean to her or her family she had no way of knowing - only time would tell. She desperately wished time would stop.

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Her mother was in a fine rage by the time Naprem made her way back to their house. Her mother was angry almost all the time anyway. If things had been different maybe Naprem could have found some way to break through the walls her mother hid behind. She was too tired to try any more. Too much had happened today, yesterday and all the years before.

"Where have you been? Didn't you hear me calling for you?" Janna grabbed her daughter's arm tightly as she tried to sidle through the door and around the table. Naprem had been touched enough today, thank you very much, and with a nervous gesture brushed her mother's hand away.

"I didn't hear you calling, Mother. I'm sorry." Naprem felt faint for a moment as she tried to keep her thoughts from flying away from her. She'd wanted to compose herself before coming home, but the idea that Nelan Dukat was perhaps watching her from some vantage point made that impossible, so she'd headed right home.

"You lie." Janna said flatly and pushed Naprem against the table with a shove that rocked the crockery on top of it." Something has happened. Tell me now, girl."

"Nothing happened."

"Really? Then why do you look like you've seen a Pagh-wraith in broad daylight?" She almost tenderly plucked a flower petal from Naprem's hair. "Your eyes are red. Your face is pale. You take too long to come home. And when you do come home you act as though you've done something or been somewhere you shouldn't."

What to say? What could she say? If she told… if she told… what would happen then? Should she lie? Nothing had happened, after all. Maybe her mother could help her? But how? Naprem felt behind her for a chair and sat down as carefully as she could. Nothing had happened. It had been just one of those unexpected encounters. It's not like he had threatened her with bodily harm. He'd actually been quite nice… she pushed that thought away as too dangerous and concentrated all her efforts on calming her mother.

Distract her!

"I was down by the stream," Careful Naprem! "And I saw a wild-cat. I wasn't paying attention and it scared me."

"It scared you so much that it made you cry?" Janna's voice evened out to a smooth drawl. "You - nature's darling? Tell me another fable, girl. You're a good one for stories, aren't you? The family's own darling storyteller!" But the watchful look was leaving her face as Naprem sunk herself deeper in to the story she was fabricating.

"I was thinking about the dancing tonight and I didn't see the wild-cat. Truly, Mother, I am not lying." Naprem met her mother's stare with one of her own - one of hurt pride and injured feelings. She reached out a tentative hand and touched her mother's arm.

The watchful look was still there: Naprem could sense more than see it.

But it would be wise to remember it had been there – her mother most certainly would.

Janna sighed and turned away from Naprem with a shrug. "As you say. Just see, mind you that it doesn't happen again. Hear me?" She sounded tired and defeated all of a sudden. And old. "I've got enough on my plate without worrying about you too, Naprem."

"Yes, Mother. I understand."

Feeling as though she'd just escaped some sort of natural disaster - like an earthquake - Naprem left her mother and made her way back to the rooms she shared with her husband and their son. Hano had taken their son to see his parents who lived in a village a days travel south. It had taken him months to convince the Cardassian to give him a travel pass, and when he'd gotten it he'd left as soon as he could. Naprem had stayed at home to be with her mother and to help out on the farm. She didn't much care for his parents anyway - she'd once overheard his mother accusing her of being simple-minded.

She closed the door gently behind her and walked across the floor to the bed beside the window. She couldn't seem to get him completely out of her mind. She didn't want him there, but still he stubbornly remained. His eyes were so blue! Could their eyes be that color? She'd never looked before - never had a reason to. Never had wanted to. But she found herself trying to decipher the expression on his face when she'd been so afraid that he was going to do something awful to her. Can they feel as we do? Could they? The general consensus was NO. They were everywhere and into everything. She had been born into the Occupation and would more than likely die in it, too.

No one was safe and nothing was safe.

She definitely wasn't safe.

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Rin came over later to rescue Naprem from her mother. Naprem had avoided Janna the rest of the day by doing the chores and being a dutiful daughter. From time to time she thought she caught her mother eyeing her with suspicion. She doesn't know a thing! And she won't know unless you act stupid and tell her - or let something slip. Nothing happened out by the stream. Nothing! But as the day wore on Naprem found it harder and harder to keep Dukat's gray alien face from rising like smoke before her inner eyes.

"Naprem! Naprem! I'm here!" Naprem had been out in the garden, weeding, for most of the late afternoon. As the sun set her spirits began to rise. The dancing! The music! Naprem began to hum under her breath as she watched Rin make her way carefully over the garden wall.

"Hey! Don't step on that, Rin, or you'll not be dancing tonight!"

Rin gave her one of those oh-please-spare-me looks as she walked up and gave Naprem a hug.

"They'd have to prop me up, but I'd still try to dance!" she cut her eyes towards the house. "How's the dragon lady? Given you any grief today?" Rin smiled wide enough to catch the sun and gave Naprem another, bigger, hug. "She hates loud music and fun anyway. She won't go with us!"

"Where are your Festival clothes?" Naprem had hers already set out on the bed: a dark blue dress with a pair of shoes that were just made for dancing all night long.

Rin indicated a bundle wedged underneath one arm and wrapped the other arm around Naprem's shoulders.

"Let's get back to the house, change, do each other's hair and walk down to the square. Hear the music? They're getting it all ready... Let's go!" Rin's happiness was infectious and made Naprem smile.

They ran off to the house, laughing and calling each other sister.

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Her mother had begged off with a headache, but had urged that Naprem and Rin attend and enjoy themselves.

"Your mother insisting that anyone enjoy themselves is almost beyond belief, Naprem." Rin was busy coiling Naprem's hair into braids, sticking pins and chatting away. "What's with it with you two anyway? She looks like she's waiting for something to happen that she doesn't look forward to." She gave Naprem's hair one last twist and held up a mirror so that Naprem could see her creation.

"That's very nice, Rin." Naprem moved her head from side-to-side, studying the elaborate twists and braids. "Could you put a flower right there, Rin?" Naprem didn't feel like talking about her mother. That might lead to other - darker - subjects, and Naprem didn't want to go down that road just yet. Dukat was loitering at the end of that road - Naprem was certain of it.

"Too bad Hano and Jasi couldn't be here too." Rin applied pomade to her own hair as Naprem looked on. "When will they be back?"

"In two days, maybe three." Naprem had a sudden vision of Dukat slowly uncoiling one of her braids and allowing it to flow like water across the back of her neck. She blushed and looked away quickly.

"Now what are you thinking about?" Rin shook a finger in Naprem's face teasingly. "Don't be thinking about those farmhands and musicians at the festival, Naprem. Your heart - and other body parts - belongs to your husband!" Rin threw back her head and laughed as Naprem dredged up a laugh of her own. You just don't know Rin. What would you say if I told you? Rin had a big generous heart, but it wasn't big enough to include a Cardassian; not after what had happened to her father last year. Naprem's father had died of a usually curable disease - but without adequate medical facilities or even a steady supply of medicine he had just simply been burned away with a fever. That had been three, four years ago. Her mother had grown withdrawn and bitter since then.

Naprem had married Hano out of loneliness and a feeling that if she didn't have someone to talk to, someone to listen to her without one hint of anger, she'd go mad. She did love Hano, and she loved Jasi with all her heart - but she sensed that her life could've been different, brighter maybe, if things had been gone differently.

She looked off in the distance, feeling so lost and alone with the secret she was keeping inside that she felt like crying all over again. Stop it! Nothing's going to happen! He probably won't even be there!

Rin lightly socked Naprem on the arm to get her attention.

"Don't worry! They'll be back, Naprem. They'll be back soon, safe and sound."

"Yes, you're right." Naprem got to her feet and swayed back and forth with her arms over her head. "Sorry about my dreary mood, Rin. Maybe whatever my mother has is catching."

"I hope not!" Rin caught hold of Naprem's hand, squeezed tightly and said, "Let's go! I hear the drums and the singing! Come on!"

"Right behind you, Rin."

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As they made their way to the village square they were nearly overwhelmed by the crowds of people heading in the same direction.

"Who'd believe that there'd be this many people?" Rin marveled. "Wonder if they had more brought in just to confuse the Cardassians?"

Naprem snickered and then looked around warily as though she'd laughed out loud. She didn't see any Cardassians - although she knew they had to be nearby. They'd not interfere with the festival, she silently prayed. It's wasn't like the village was going to have a drunken revelry and rise up and kill all the Cardassians - although she suspected that's what the Cardassians were secretly afraid of. No, it was just the yearly rites of Spring, sweet music and good times. Naprem tried to ignore her anxieties and be as carefree as Rin was. Rin wasn't worried that a gray hand was going to reach out of the milling crowd and drag her off into the darkness. But Naprem seriously doubted that Nelan Dukat would act that boorishly; he had acted as though being polite was second nature. Yes, Naprem. Carefully consider that word. Acted. Keep that in mind

To her infinite horror she caught herself looking around for him.

This is too much! she shouted at herself. What is your problem? Stop it!

Rin, who'd been breaking trail through the crowd in front of her, whipped her head around and looked at Naprem quizzically. "What did you say, Naprem? Did you say something?"

"Oh! I said I was hot!" Naprem dug her fingernails into her palms.

"I'll bet you are!" Rin gave her one of those wide-eyed looks as though Naprem had said something too fantastic to be believed but she kept on going. "We'll stop by Panot's and see if he has a bit of last year's Spring wine! That'll cool you off!"

Naprem suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She'd seen him. He was standing with another Cardassian over by the fountain. They looked deep in conversation, but Naprem suddenly wished her secret childhood wish that she could magically become invisible. His back was halfway turned to her, but she'd have to walk right in front of him if she kept following behind Rin. That wouldn't do - that wouldn't do at all. She could tell it was him by the way he was standing - all loose hipped with his head tipped back. He was wearing that ubiquitous armor and his shoulders were so wide that it made his neck look extremely long, sinuous.

Suddenly, a hand did reach out of the crowd and grabbed hard at her hand; Naprem let out a muffled gasp of surprise. It was only Rin, looking put-upon and worried.

'What is your problem, Naprem?"

Hearing her own thoughts uttered aloud made up Naprem's mind once and for all.

"I want to go home, Rin. I don't feel too well."

"Sorry, but you can't get off that easily." Rin moved in so close to Naprem that her breath tickled her family earring. "You want to end up like your mother, all sad and alone? Go home and that's what will become of you, Naprem. I won't let that happen to you. You're going to come with me and have fun." Rin grabbed Naprem's hand even tighter and began to haul her along.

As they got closer to the two Cardassians, time sped up until it seemed that she was running towards them. Naprem decided that she was being foolish and lessened the drag of her feet across the cobblestones. Rin responded instantly by letting go of her hand - but she stayed close to Naprem just the same.

As they hurried past the Cardassians, Naprem caught a glimpse of Dukat's face in side view. He turned and looked at them, but gave no sign that he recognized her. Why was it that she felt that he was watching her and marking her passage? She regretted the dress she was wearing and wished for something less revealing - like a blanket or a large tablecloth. Her ears caught fire, her palms suddenly became damp, and her heart thudded in a pleasant way that made her feel light-headed and weak-kneed.

Rin was totally oblivious to Naprem's distress as they made their way to Panot's. Naprem felt on fire and was very glad that Rin was too preoccupied with navigating the cluster of people in front of the shop to pay her any mind.

Rin had to shout to be heard over the general roar as they made their way inside. "Just a drink, Naprem! And then to dancing!"

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It was standing room only inside the shop, so Naprem waited near the window as Rin braved her way over to where Panot was sitting.

I'll drink Panot out of his supply, Naprem felt slightly better, - though not entirely so. Now she was worried about when she'd see him again.

He's been here and he's been waiting here just for you and only you

She tried to dismiss the idea as absurd, but it was hard to do in light of recent events.

Rin came back with a small bottle of Spring wine and two large glasses, looking very pleased with herself.

"Look what I got, Naprem! As soon as Panot heard that you were with me, he went straight to the back and got this!" she held bottle and glasses triumphantly over her head. "This will make you feel a whole lot better. You'll be dancing in the streets after we finish this!"

The last thing Naprem wanted to do was dance in the streets. She suddenly didn't want the wine either.

Rin took one of the glasses, poured a generous amount of the wine in to it, and handed it over to Naprem. "We'll have to drink it in here." she said apologetically. "Don't want those two out there to see us with it." She looked over Naprem's shoulder and out the window. "Good - they've gone off somewhere else."

Naprem hoped it was somewhere far, far away from where she was. Maybe they'd all just pack up and leave her homeworld while she loitered inside Panot's, drinking this suddenly delicious wine. She noticed that her glass was empty at about the same time that Rin did.

"Feel better, Naprem?" Rin refilled her empty glass and poured what was left into her own.

"Yes, I do feel better, Rin. Thanks for making me come here!"

"Good! Ready to go now? Your old flame, Rori, is right outside. I think he wants to dance, Naprem. Let's go see, shall we?"

And off they went.

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Feeling slightly giddy and warm, Naprem left the dancing and went off to look for Rin, but she was nowhere to be found. Naprem hummed a song under her breath as she wondered what to do now. Rori had become one big bore; he'd kept trying to feel her up as they danced and Naprem had come within a hair's breadth of knocking him flat. Now I remember why I ended up not really liking him in the first place

She looked up at the moons lowering towards the mountains and thought again of Dukat. How his face had looked: the almost imperceptible scales on his lower lip, the intricacy of his ridges, the alien angularities of his face that really didn't look as alien as she'd first thought. I bet he wouldn't paw at his dance partner. Now why would she go and think that? She didn't know him. She shouldn't be even thinking of knowing him. It was wrong to think that way. He was the invader, the destroyer. He and his people were slowly grinding Bajor to dust. She should want him dead and all his people with him. She did not really live - she merely endured. Everyone did. Her father had died and her mother was half-crazy because of what the Cardassians had done.

She kept looking up at the moons sailing their way down the sky, serene and peaceful, and wished she out there in the great dark with them.

Without realizing it Naprem had walked off by herself. Someone had earlier that day placed a bench underneath a low arbor of trees. Naprem gratefully sat down. Even though she loved to dance like life itself, her feet were so tired that she had to rest. She sat down with a sigh and took off her shoes, rubbing the soles of her feet and stretching her toes out. Ohhhhhhh.... This feels so good!

A low voice came out of the dark, startling her. "Good evening."

She couldn't move. Off in the distance the festival lights seemed to flicker mockingly - taunting her with their promise of safety and sanity and light. She knew who was out there, cloaked in the darkness, and a feeling like doom crept around her heart and squeezed it tight. She opened her eyes wide and tried to look everywhere at once. She could hear nothing but the thump of her heart. This is crazy! Where is he? Naprem slipped her shoes on and got to her feet, ready to run, but the low voice spoke again, closer.

"I apologize for startling you."

"What do you want?" she finally saw him as one of the darker shadows detached itself from the night and stepped partway into the weak light cast by the setting moons.

"To talk with you," he stepped closer to her and gestured at the opposite end of the bench. "May I sit down?"

"Certainly – I was just leaving." Naprem made as if to walk away, but he reached out a hand and lightly caressed her face. The gentle contact started her and left her breathless with feelings that she couldn't begin to sort through or understand. The touch felt friendly, warm, and very, very intimate, but she didn't feel as afraid any more or threatened by his advances… if that's what they were. All this day she'd been afraid that she'd see him again, and now that she did she wondered what was happening to her, inside. Where was the hate and rage now when she needed them as a shield against him and his unspoken questions? Or his unvoiced desires that she knew as surely as if he'd spoken his heart aloud to her?

He stepped closer until they were nearly toe-to-toe.

Dukat inclined his head and lightly kissed her while he entwined her hands with his. His lips were soft and cooler than she'd expected. Deciding that since she'd already gone that far she might as well go all the way, she kissed him back, but did not make any other move, one way or another. She closed her eyes and thought of the moons lowering behind the mountains, and the beauty of the valleys, and tried to recall exactly what it was that she'd forgotten to remember about him.

Naprem suddenly remembered and quickly moved away from him, breathless, heart pounding like one of the festival drums.

"I wanted to ask you to dance earlier, but I couldn't find you." He sat down on the bench and looked up at her. "I saw you for a moment and then you were gone again." She caught a thread of amusement running through his voice as he said. "Somehow I thought you were avoiding me, so I waited just so that I could ask you now." Seeing that she wasn't going to sit down beside him he rose and held out a hand to her.

'Tora Naprem, would you care to dance?"

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He had wanted her from the first time he'd laid eyes upon her, dancing and gloriously free in the morning's tender light. Eyes closed, arms raised high over her head like she was about to take flight. His thoughts of her were of grace and poetry and all things beautiful and free. He had never seen anyone like her before – Cardassian or Bajoran – that had touched him so deeply or with such terrible force. He'd felt from the first that they had been fated to meet. He burned for her. Ached for her in a way that more than physical. Her wanted her body and soul, and expected to have neither in the foreseeable future.

His being out in this hinterlands province – this blip on the map – was a social call to his one-time classmate and long-time rival, Ghirry Ravak. They'd hated each other ever since school, and the rivalry had blossomed over the years to an ongoing struggle of epic proportions to out-do the other. Neither one truly succeeded in the bringing the other to their knees – but it was not for lack of trying.

He had seen her as he was driving across the bridge that bisected the road between the village and pass that led to the top of the region's mountain range. She was wearing a shawl against the morning's damp, but had flung it wide about her as she began to dance, and that's what had caught his eye and captivated his heart.

He had gotten out hurriedly, but still mindful of caution and restraint. So absorbed was she in her dance that she did not hear the quiet hum of the craft or his even more silent approach. He moved through the tall grass with great care and made his way to the point where he was so close that if she'd backed up five steps she would have walked right into his arms.

When she flung back her head and sang, his heart skipped several beats. She had sounded so happy; so confident as she stood there, singing and swaying, as though dancing with an invisible partner.

And when she had turned around and seen him… Her face had lost all animation and then fear had clouded her face and stilled her voice. He longed to reach out and touch her, tell her of his feelings for her, and to see that look of dread leave her face.

He knew what she thought of him. It's not like he walked among them blind and unfeeling. He could sometimes feel the pagh of the entire planet wishing him dead. It was a terrible weight that his countrymen didn't appear to feel – although they sensed something and saw to it that it whatever it was they did sense could never be physically carried out by any of the planet's native inhabitants.

He saw the logic of ruling with a firm hand – but found it such a waste when his people often crushed what they sought the control.

He had asked her her name and she had stood before him, dumb, and shaking. Not wanting to frighten her he had moved gently, carefully towards her, his posture and voice trying to tell her that he meant her no harm – no harm at all. But he could tell she was frightened and ready to run. The look on her face said that there was no passage through that wall of fear and hate. She saw him as just another Cardassian – on the prowl and looking for a little diversion.

"Don't be alarmed. I won't hurt you." He smiled at her and made himself remain still as he watched a series of emotions flicker like lightning across her face before becoming stiff and mask-like again. She did not look relieved or even reassured. He tried again to reach through to her.

"I'd never seen a dance like that before. Is it for tonight's festival?'

She'd nodded eyes downcast.

He drew closer to her, like a moth to a flame. He wanted her so badly that the feelings threatened to overwhelm him.

"Thank you for that beautiful dance."

And he trembled inside

An opening conversation gambit that might lead to something more, something he could make a connection to. Maybe. He did not like the sound of his own voice falling into the empty space between them. It lay between them, both wide and deep. He wanted to bridge the gulf of mistrust and hate between them and bring her into the circle of his arms where it was safe and warm.

He wanted – but he could not have.

He could take what he wanted; have her, but why do that? Taking a woman against her will never had appealed to him.

And, in the end, he would still not have what he truly wanted.

He'd made the mistake of asking her name again, and watched as her face dissolved into fright as she quickly covered her face and stood there before him weeping almost soundlessly. He resisted the desire to touch her again and clasped his hands behind him and waited for the storm to pass.

"It's perfectly alright. Really." He tried to calm her by speaking in a low, soothing voice.

No response.

He tried again.

"Is it such a difficult thing to say - your name?"

"I'm sorry," her voice rose barely above a whisper.

"Sorry? For what?" He was perplexed. He'd caused her distress and she was the one apologizing? He didn't understand.

She'd quickly come to herself again and stood silently before him, stiff and afraid. He could see the pulse beating heavily at her neck and the almost imperceptible trembling of her lips as she fought for control. It both excited and pleased him and when the desire to touch her again overwhelmed him, he impulsively reached out his hand and touched her face.

Flower petals hid among her braids as though she'd washed her hair with them that morning. She looked gorgeous in her fear as her eyes grew even wider and she took an awkward step away from him.

And that's when she'd really looked at him and begged him not to hurt her.

Dukat decided that a lighter touch was needed before she lost control completely and shamed herself before him. He knew that there was pride rooted deep within her by the way she'd moved and danced. He would ease her fears and try and forge a tenuous link between them. He intended to see her again. Soon, if he could mange it, and didn't relish the idea of doing a door-to-door search of the village down the road when all he really needed was a name. Her name. One that she would freely give to him, he hoped. If not he'd be sure to have her with him within an hour, but that was not what he really wanted. He wanted her to come to him of her own free will.

He looked down at her hands and noticed that they were rough and sunburned and realized that she wasn't from the village, but from one of the outlying farms in the area. He knew that she'd live the rest of her life as a captive to the land and didn't want that end for her. He briefly wondered why someone hadn't already taken her for a comfort woman, and then he decided that their lose was his gain. Once he got her, he did not intend to let go easily too easily. He would see to it and she would grow to understand it and desire it. There would be love and understanding between them and all would be well.

His father, now dead, had once accused him of being a secret romantic. He'd vehemently denied it at the time, but felt now that his father had seen through his lies even then. Not that he was soft. No one could accuse him of ever being soft – not when there were duties to perform. Not when he needed to get something done. Not when a special type of hardness was required.

But he'd also found that the smooth word and the gentle touch could open closed doors too.

So he stepped back from her, and said…

"I see." He bowed.

"We have not been properly introduced, have we? Shall I put you at ease and tell my name first?" Dukat smiled inwardly as he watched a look of astonishment settle on her face. She hadn't expected him to do that. She'd probably never had that done to her before by anyone – especially by a Cardassian.

The exchange of names was a serious matter back home, on Prime. It signaled trust. It spoke of tender feelings, sometimes. It showed respect. Or demanded it. He knew that it was probably the same for everyone, everywhere, to some degree, and so he told her his name.

"My name is Dukat. Nelan Dukat."

The look of stunned surprise almost made him laugh out loud. That wouldn't very well do, now would it? The light touch was definitely needed here. He looked down briefly at his chronometer and realized that he was almost 15 minutes late to see Ravak. He'd lose valuable points and have to endure the subtle digs and barbs of Ravak's minor victory, but it would all be worth it if the words trembling on this woman's lips would break their bonds and be free between them where that gulf of empty silence was.

She didn't realize that he would never raise his hand to her or whatever was dear and important to her. She did not see that. She could not see that. It was not within her realm of experience.

And then he saw a chink grow in her wall of hate and fear and heard a piece fall from of it when she whispered softly, "My name is Tora Naprem."

Enough… for now.

There would time enough later.

He left her then and walked back to his craft, got in and made a call to his aide - ordering a room readied and all the necessary things done before their return that night. He would have her then. It was only a matter of time. Before tomorrow's sunrise she would be on Terok Nor.

He would see to that.

When he saw Ravak several minutes later he was still in a fine mood and not even his adversary's snide remarks were able to touch him. He looked through the man sitting in the chair across the desk from him and thought instead of Tora Naprem.

"Will you be staying for the Festival then, Dukat?" Ravak leaned back in his chair and eyed Dukat warily. Something was absent today and he couldn't quite place his finger on it. He found himself missing the usual verbal fencing they'd indulged in over the years. Good enemies were hard to come by. "Of course the village's hospitality is open to you."

Dukat appeared distracted as he absently nodded and continued to look off in the distance.

"Trouble at home?" Ravak inquired hopefully.

"Hmm?" Dukat pried himself from his reveries and shook his head no. Ravak looked like a fat toad waiting for a tasty tidbit to creep by him. Dukat did not intend to be that delectable morsel Ravak so evidently desired. He firmly shut Naprem out of his thoughts and applied all his energies towards ending this audience with Ravak and getting on his way. He had a lot to do before the moons set and every minute was precious to him now. Soon he'd see her again and they would continue their conversation.

"Ah, I see," Ravak evidently didn't see a thing, but why should he help him to gain an advantage? That was how it was supposed to be, and he figured that Ravak could stumble around the truth and still not see it even if he tripped and fell over it. It amused him and he allowed a smile to surface - doubtlessly confusing Ravak all the more.

"Anything else you want of me, Ravak?" Dukat rose to his feet, impatient to be off and turned towards the door intending to be on his way.

"No, of course not."

Dukat walked outdoors glad to be free of Ravak's irritating presence. He'd been in no mood to banter and exchange mutual insults today.

He stopped for a moment and watched a group of Bajorans as they prepared for the festival. Watching them go about their tasks reminded him again of Naprem. He turned away, distracted, and headed towards the room that he'd be staying at until this evening. He thought absently of placing a call to his wife and decided against it. Too many complications lay like rocks between him and his wife – easily picked up and thrown at each other whenever they spent too much time together. He did make certain that he left her pregnant with another child when he did go home to Prime. The continuation of the State was why they had married in the first place. Each child was a national resource that was raised to serve the greater good of Cardassia. He knew that, she knew that, and that was the course of things. Their parents had sanctioned the marriage and love had nothing to do with any part of it. They each lived different, separate lives and that was how it was. He held no bitterness or rancor towards any part of it. When he was home his wife was there for him and his children were always overjoyed to see him again. He held nothing back emotionally from his children, but the relationship with his wife was strained at best and better avoided by taking infrequent trips back home.

He sat down at the computer terminal in his room and began making discreet inquiries concerning the Tora family. Doing so held the potential for public embarrassment if it was found out that he had anything more than a casual interest in a Bajoran woman. It was not encouraged, condoned, or permitted to have more than superficial contact with any of the natives. They were here to harvest the planet – not carry on sordid affairs or grow soft with feelings better left to the long-dead poets.

Of course, it never worked out in the best-laid of plans - or why would he be sitting here, then? He wanted her and would have her. That's how it was. No one would stand between him and his desires – those that did found themselves thrown off to the side, broken and bleeding.

As it should be, he thought as an image of Naprem came up on the screen. He went to the replicator, ordered a cup of redleaf tea, and carried it back with him to the desk. He quickly downloaded all the pertinent information about Naprem to his own private file and leaned back in chair to enjoy his tea.

The day passed like a slow dream. He didn't want to be seen accidentally by her and he most certainly did not want to pass the time with Ravak, so he had nothing to do but sit and wait until nightfall. It chafed at him to do nothing, but he could watch the festival preparations from his window and think about her. It passed the time as it was intended to do. He wondered what she was doing as the late afternoon sun began it's journey behind the mountains. He could hear the musicians tuning their instruments. Children calling excitedly to each other as they ran willy-nilly between the trees near the fountain, playing their own secret games. The few Cardassians he saw moved in their slow deliberate way among the Bajorans and the Bajorans made way for them as they always did.

It was peaceful here. Life was good. He thought of Naprem growing up around here, perhaps even playing at the fountain when she was a child.

At sundown there was a knock on his door. It was Ravak himself, beaming evilly and with a bottle of kanar under one arm. 'I thought we'd start the festivities off early." he said as Dukat opened the door wide enough to let him inside. Dukat found him a glass and got another for himself.

It smelled like he'd already fallen into a vat of kanar and bathed in it. He sat down heavily in the chair that Dukat politely indicated and poured himself a glass of kanar as he did so. He's had long practice at doing that, Dukat thought, as Ravak made himself comfortable.

"Didn't see much of you today, Dukat." Ravak looked at him expectantly.

"No, you didn't" Dukat replied pleasantly and took a drink of kanar.

"Busy?" the word hung heavily between them "Not any more so than usual," Dukat remembered Ravak as a young child - serious, studious and about as imaginative as a rock.

Ravak laughed loudly and reached across the table for the bottle. "Well, you can save all your work and put it away. The Bajorans know how to throw a party." He hitched himself into a better position in his chair and leaned slightly forward to confide to Dukat. "I can have a woman brought to you, if you want. Or you can pick and choose among them for yourself. We grow some beauties around here…" he leaned forward till his was almost within kissing distance of Dukat, and said "We have a rare treasure near here – a young Bajoran woman who enjoys dancing. I'm sure she'd put you on her dance list, if you ask. Or even if you don't ask. A rare find, that one." He smiled slyly at Dukat, waiting for an answer.

"Pity, but I'll have to decline such a generous offer," Dukat sounded regretful although what he really wanted to do was throw Ravak to the floor and pound his face in. Instead of decking Ravak he had another sip of kanar. Finally Ravak got the hint that nothing else was forthcoming on the subject.

Dukat watched as Ravak squirmed in his chair.

Finally, after nearly killing the bottle, Ravak had had enough.

"Well, Dukat, it's been a real pleasure spending this time with you, but alas - I must be off." Ravak got unsteadily to his feet, swaying like a tree in a high wind. 'Enjoy your stay here, but do please be sure to be gone by morning." With that he left, closing the door so hard behind him that everything in the room jumped and shook.

What a marvelous way to end my day, Dukat thought as he drank the rest of his kanar and got ready to go down and look for Naprem.

As he walked downstairs and out onto the street, Dukat wondered where to begin his search for the elusive Tora Naprem. Perhaps it would be best to just wait – she'd be along eventually. He made his way to the fountain and just stood there – taking it all in. It appeared as though half the province was here already; the streets were crowded with people seeing what sights the village had to offer or eating at the food stalls set up near the temple. Near the center of the village, underneath a tree laden down with paper lanterns, he saw that an area had been cleared for dancing. He almost expected to see Naprem to be there, but she wasn't. Maybe she won't show, he thought. Maybe he'd scared her off. But, no… there she was with another woman. Having done his research well he suspected the other woman was her cousin – there was a strong family resemblance and their earrings looked remarkably alike. Naprem was dressed in a long dark blue dress. The heat rose within him again and he saw himself slowly running his hand down her hip… He reluctantly shook himself free from that vision and tracked their progress through the crowds of milling people. He watched her walk with a lover's eye. She looked tired and sad – even though she tried to hide it. Her cousin walked in front and Naprem lagged behind looking lost and preoccupied.

A movement out of the corner of his eye gave him cause to turn and he found himself face-to-face with Ravak.

He was even drunker than before – if such a thing was even remotely possible.

"Dukat! Fancy seeing you again!" Ravak only managed to keep his balance by leaning up on one of the four pillars that surrounded the fountain. He looked as though a tiny breeze would send him over. Dukat found such drunken displays deeply distasteful. He turned as if to go, but Ravak's unwelcome hand on his arm stopped him short.

"What do you want?" Dukat allowed some of his anger to show and resisted the urge to push the man backwards into the water.

"I see that you were enjoying the sights, Dukat." The smile on his face grew until it was a leer. "You like the local sights, don't you? Have you asked our local celebrity, Tora Naprem, to put your name down on her dance card for later on tonight?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Ravak."

"Sure you do. Dukat." Ravak rolled his eyes and looked over Dukat's shoulder. "Here comes your charming lady now! Why don't you speak to her? I'm sure you'll find her to be a stimulating dance partner…"

Then it was Dukat's turn to get into Ravak's face and he was deeply satisfied when he jerked away from him.

Dukat hissed low so that only Ravak could hear, "I don't want to hear her name in your filthy mouth, Ravak. If you have any more unsavory comments, I strongly suggest that you keep them to yourself. Do we have an understanding?" Out of the corner of his eye he saw Naprem walk by and he turned only slightly to look at her. He gave no outward sign that he even knew her as she disappeared once more into the crowd. When he turned again to Ravak, he saw that the man was walking away as fast as his drunken feet could carry him.

Lucky you, Dukat thought savagely. You know better than to stand in my way, don't you - you drunken oaf? He thought of smashing something and wished again that Naprem was safely on the station and away from here. He'd see to it that her family was well provided for, of course. And he'd make doubly sure that Ravak kept away from them, too. Even if he had to pound him down like he used to do when they were children in school.

He'd make sure that Ravak kept away and stayed away.

Agitated, Dukat walked purposefully through the crowd, looking for Naprem. She had disappeared again. He had to find her. He wouldn't feel at ease until she was under his protection. Too many people swilled around him like water as he cut his way through the midst of them, going in the general direction she had taken. Where was she? Where WAS she?

He caught sight of her inside one of the shops. She was standing with her cousin. He fought the temptation to walk right in and take her with him right then and there. It wasn't like anyone was going to protest too loudly. If he did that then he would lose any ground he'd gained with her that morning. He'd prove himself to be just another Cardassian, taking whatever he wanted. He'd bide his time until an opportunity presented itself and then she'd go with him. She might not want to at first, but he'd use all his persuasive powers and convince her that going with him would be in her best interest. And his.

All he could do now was wait.

@----------@----------@----------@----------@----------@----------@----------@----------@----------@

Naprem was dumbstruck as he stood there waiting patiently for her answer. She didn't know what to do. There was no exit, no way she could just turn and walk away now. Would he just let me go? She felt like a traitor, a collaborator. She'd thought that anyone who cooperated with them had no scruples and only wanted some of the crumbs that their masters tossed to them. Now she wasn't so sure. Maybe she was reading too much into his acts of tenderness.

"I can't do that," she tried to make her voice firm.

"Why not?' he'd moved in closer again without her realizing it and rested his hands gently on her shoulders. "I've been waiting to dance with you since this morning." She wasn't sure what to make of that last remark and moved uncomfortably beneath his hands. He was so warm and the palms of his hands seemed to burn her through the dress's silky fabric.

"No, I can't…"

"Then what can you do, Tora Naprem?" Dukat was beginning to get exasperated. "You say one thing – then do the complete opposite. Tell me, please, Tora Naprem. Are you always this contrary?"

"No, sometimes I'm even worse." Naprem couldn't believe that she'd actually said that to him.

Dukat grabbed her up against himself and hugged her tight, laughing softly.

Naprem cautiously wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him back. Closing her eyes she thought she heard music playing softly as they slowly began to sway back and forth.

Dukat couldn't believe his good fortune. He pulled her tighter to him and rested his chin on top of her head as they danced. He could feel something building within him and wondered belatedly if she was aware of it as well. He pulled away slightly from her and looked deeply into her eyes as he bent his head to kiss her again.

"Come with me." He whispered urgently into her open mouth.

"Where?" Naprem could feel the heat burning into and through her. She felt drunk on the night. She felt so intoxicated with feelings that threatened to sweep all reason - and her - away with it.

"Away. With me." Dukat moved against her then, grinding their hips together as he took possession of her mouth again.

"I can't," Naprem pushed him almost savagely away and crossed her arms protectively, shivering. "I can't and you know why, don't you?" She found herself crying yet again and that just angered her all the more. "It's just so easy for you. You see something you like and you take it. What about my husband? My son? My mother? What about them? What are they supposed to think when they find out that I've just up and ran off with you?" she shook her fist at him. "And what about me? Maybe I don't want to go off with you, Dukat!"

'Please, Naprem. Your family will be well taken care of, I promise you. They will want for nothing…"

"Sure - until some Resistance cell finds out that they're receiving privileges and accepting gifts. Then one night my family will be killed. All of them. They won't spare anyone – not even my son." She thought of the village knowing and how it would affect her mother. The contempt and ostracism would never end. They'd all end up paying for what she'd done. Dukat might as well take them all along too.

He moved in close to her then and cupped her face gently. "I'll take care of them, Naprem." He tried to tell her so with his mouth as he kissed her again, tenderly this time.

When he kissed her she didn't close her eyes like she had before. This time she looked at him and into him, seeking reassurance and truth. He in turn held nothing back from her, and they when they broke the kiss they moved slightly apart, breathless.

"I shouldn't be believing you," she said almost sadly. "I don't even know you – or should even want to." She wiped distractedly at her lips and sat down on the bench again.

Suddenly out of the darkness there came the sound of running feet and Rori ran up to Dukat with a pitchfork held high. "Get away from her, spoonhead!" he lunged at Dukat with a low cry, driving Dukat backwards.

Dukat stepped lightly to one side and kicked out his foot at Rori, tripping him and sending him sprawling heavily to the ground. He bent down to finish him off once and for all when he felt a light touch on his face, and he looked up at briefly at Naprem before hitting Rori hard on the temple, stunning but not killing him.

Naprem stood there, arms at her sides and looked down at Rori. She felt hollow inside. No matter what happened next, she had no choice now but to go. Rori had sealed her fate although he had no way of knowing that. She doubted that anyone had heard – not with the loud singing she could clearly hear as the Spring Festival ended as the rmoons set. They would all be dancing and singing together, arms wrapped tight about each other as they circled the Spring fires. Her mother would even be there too.

"Naprem, we must go."

Without a word of protest Naprem nodded and followed Dukat through the darkness. She wondered what would happen to them, and if Hano would talk of her to their son.

She was silent while they drove through the early dawn towards the spaceport and Dukat's private shuttle. She looked out the window and silently said good-bye to all she knew. A lump grew in her throat and she gripped the armrests tightly as the land rolled past and under them.

Dukat in turn kept quiet and minded his own affairs, only now and then looking over at Naprem to see how she was doing. He desperately wanted to talk to her and tell her that it would all work out, but decided that might not be the best course of action. She was closed to him, remote and still in the dawn's reddish light.

"Where are we going?" she looked dully at him and then quickly out the window again.

'To Terok Nor. We'll be there in a short while,"

She'd heard of that place, that space station, and wondered what would become of her there. It was a rumored that Bajorans that went up there rarely came back down. She couldn't imagine a place without growing things or having to eat food that came from a replicator. She already missed the grass beneath her feet and the blue-sky overhead.

As they got out the shuttle car, Naprem looked around and then back along the road they had traveled, uncertain and afraid. Murmuring reassuringly in her ear, Dukat gently pushed her in front of him and up the stairs that led to the tall building that served as the region's command center. From there they'd go to the spaceport and eventually to Terok Nor.

"Everything will be all right, Naprem. You'll see." Dukat ushered her down a long corridor lined with closed doors until they entered a large room. Several Cardassians looked up curiously from their work before turning away and letting them pass through the room to another door, unchallenged. It was like she had achieved her childhood wish and had become invisible. They saw but did not see. She was just another Bajoran being taken away to parts unknown.

Half an hour later they were in Dukat's shuttle and in the air. Naprem kept herself from looking out till the very end, and when she did she saw that Bajor had become a large glowing blue-green jewel and wondered if that was why the Cardassians had come to plunder it. She was so far up that she couldn't see her of ever making it back down again.

She just sat there, hands folded into her lap and looked out the viewscreen. Anywhere but at Dukat. She was too close to him now and the pain inside threatened to overwhelm her once and for all.

Dukat got up from his seat and went to the ship's replicator, speaking so low that Naprem couldn't hear what he said. He came back to her and held out a small cup. "This will relax you and help you to sleep."

"I don't want to sleep. I want to see my new home," she said crossly. But she took the proffered cup and began to sip the contents slowly as she once again let her eyes drift out the viewscreen and into the starry darkness.

Naprem was quiet as the station loomed into view, filling the viewscreen with its alien angularities and dark brooding presence. She thought there must be others like her in there - lost among things they didn't understand and afraid. She absently put the cup down and looked over at Dukat. It was his fault for wanting her, but she'd wanted him, too, if only when she thought she'd never have pick and choose.

She stared at him, eyes filling with tears.

"When we get to the station I'll take you somewhere where you can rest, Naprem. You'll feel better after some sleep." He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently.

Naprem looked at him and nodded, but didn't say anything. Maybe after some rest she'd feel better, but she seriously doubted it. She leaned back in the seat and let her eyes drift shut, falling in and out of a light sleep, as Dukat piloted the shuttle into the docking ring.

He gently shook her out of her doze and went to one of the overhead compartments up along the shuttle's low ceiling. She watched as he pulled out a jacket and walked back to her with it. "Here, let's put this on." He waited patiently as she slowly got to her feet and then he carefully slipped the jacket on over her dress, covering her from neck to thigh. "Sorry about the fit, but it will have to do for now."

Naprem was past caring what she looked like, although she didn't tell him that. No one was going to care about her looks or anything else where she was going. But Dukat cared, she realized. At least someone does now…now that her family thought her dead or carried off. She was glad that they weren't here to see her like this. Would never see her like this or any other way.

"Come, Naprem," and he led out of the shuttle and down a series of corridors and elevators until they reached the last door and stopped in front of it. There was another Cardassian standing guard beside the door. She had seen more Cardassians in the last few hours then she had in her entire life and it was just too much for her to take in and accept all at once. She wasn't going to ever go home because, like it or not, her home was here now. Better for her, maybe. Worse for her family because they'd never be absolutely sure what had happened to her. She'd just disappeared one early morning without a trace and that was that.

Once inside, Dukat voice locked the door behind them and led her over to a long low couch. "I don't think you're ready for the bedroom yet, so you can sleep out here while I attend to some errands." She just stood there, looking lost, until he gently pushed her down on the couch and moved away from her. "I'll be right back."

Naprem looked around with some small curiosity at the room. Right beside the couch was a table cluttered with data rods and what looked like several small tablets of paper. A small crystal vase and a stoneware bowl jostled for room with a big Bajoran book that lay next to a holo-picture of a stern looking Cardassian she had no way of knowing. Her head begin to gently spin and she closed her eyes, feeling drugged and too tired to care. Something soft fell about her and she realized that he'd brought her a blanket just as her mind grew silent and dark and sleep carried her away from everything and everyone…

In memory of Gracie the Big Green Iguana, October 12, 1989 – May 11, 2000

She just adored having her eye ridges rubbed

"Good-night, Gracie"