For the first time in his life, Dukat was left speechless.
Not just speechless. Completely frozen. Every molecule of his body had turned to ice and stone, and he could not have even moved his eyeballs, let alone breathed.
Unacceptable. Unbelievebale. Impossible.
And so Goddamned unnecessary!
The world began to spin around him; and from that moment on he knew it was going to do so many times more…if he survived today. Disbelief was replaced by pain, at first slowly, gradually, then it began to advance at the speed of light. Emotional pain became physical; Dukat soon felt as if he had been beaten with Klingon painsticks.
„Elizabeth." He whispered, but was certain he was yelling, „Elizabeth, where are you?"
In his mind, he moved forward, he looked all over the bridge, behind every corner…but she was gone. He refused to believe it again, but everything pointed to it…yet it could not have actually been happening…! Only a few seconds ago, she was here, by his side, holding his hand, smiling at him, batting those eyelashes, throwing back that irresistable hair…and now…gone? Together with her self-confidence, her arrogance, her charm…no…no, impossible!
Had she truly died, the world, the universe, would not have been here…for it was ungraspable to him how the universe could have survived without Elizabeth.
Yet fact pointed towards the fact she was dead.
„No…" He whispered again, „No…"
Not my Elizabeth! His memories flew back to the charming young Lieutenant that had tangoed with him…that had captured his heart that very night. The lovely young woman that had saved him from the Maquis. Who had betrayed everything, every principle, broken every rule, destroyed every liasion, just to be with him. And now, the woman that had ruined her entire career just to rescue him. The woman that had died just to prevent his death,
Elizabeth had died for him.
Because of him.
When that hit him, he so no point in living anymore.
It had been easy for him to live with the deaths of four million Bajorans on his back, it had been easy to live with the death of every person he had been responsible for, with all he had done.
But he could not ever, under any circumstances, have lived with the death of his one and only Elizabeth.
Forgiveness? Why was he asking for forgiveness? Could she have possibly forgiven him for this…for killing her? Yes…she could have and she would have. She had probably already forgiven him. Elizabeth had always known how to forgive…It was not your fault, she would have said. She would have sooner died than had him experience any pain…as she had.
Could he ever forgive himself?
Had I only caught her…had I only stopped her from touching that console…had I only done something! If I could only turn time…
He was too shocked, too numb to close his eyes. And he did not even have the desire to try.
Tears came, one by one.
For the second time in his life, Gul Dukat wept openly.
For the first time, it had been for Ziyal.
Now, it was for Elizabeth.
Back then, he had forgiven Damar. He had forgiven him because Ziyal would have wanted it so. He had asked Elizabeth to forgive them too. Elizabeth would have wanted him to forgive himself…she would have wanted him to go on, to think clearly and…
That cut into his mind, and for a moment he reflect upon the events.
Why had the console vaporized Elizabeth? Why had it been so dangerous?
The answer came to him. And when it did, he knew exactly what he was going to do.
It was Janeway's fault. She had…somehow made the console dangerous…she had killed Elizabeth.
Rage consumed him entirely. Janeway had destroyed it all, she had destroyed their hopes, their dreams, their love.
He was going to be damned if he was going to let her get away with it.
Staggering, he got up to his feet, heading to the control panel. The readings were normal, even his blurred mind recognized that. He made a move to head to the console on which he had last seen Elizabeth…but changed his mind. The first thing he was going to do if he survived this was going to be to destroy that wretched piece of technology.
He moved to another panel, and just then the ship shook. It had been hit by a phaser. Their propulsion had taken only slight damage, thanks to the shields.
„Keep trying, Admiral…" He murmured, „Keep trying."
Janeway was going to be destroyed…together with the Bajoran wormhole. He did what he had tried to do before…when he'd last tried she had still been alive…
The polaron charges were dropped, and the ship was at the entrance to the wormhole.
„Farewell." Dukat said, igniting the charges and maneuvering the ship into the wormhole.
Kathryn spun to face Chakotay.
„What's happened?" She asked hurriedly.
„I don't know." Chakotay shook his head, „They are still moving…towards the wormhole again…gaining on speed." He looked up, „It must have not worked. They must have been able to defend themselves against the radiation."
„My scans cannot penatrate their shields." The tactical officer said.
„Try hailing them again…and keep at their tail---„
Kathryn turned towards the voice of the Chief Engineer, Marla Bales.
„Commander Bales?" The other woman displayed slight shock. Kathryn braced herself for even more bad news.
„Admiral, there has been a malfucntion in our systems..nothing serious!" She added when she saw the Admiral's worn look, „But according to my sensors, it had resulted in the double quantity of radiation being sent over to the bridge of that ship."
Kathryn froze; „Meaning?"
„Meaning they could not have defended themselves against it in any way…and that the only way they could have increased their speed was if a humanoid had come in contact with the radiation particles on technology….and been vaporized in the process."
„Are you trying to say…" Realization hit Chakotay, „That we have killed someone?"
„Precisely, sir." Bales was a straightforward woman.
All eyes flew to Kathryn, who stood, stupefied, deep in thought. In a couple of seconds, she twirled to face everyone.
„Everyone," They all knew what she was thinking…they all were thinking the same thing. What if it had been the children, „We have never intended on killing anyone. A malfunction is hardly our fault. Let us not blame ourselves."
Looking at the screen again, she knew that the latter was never going to happen.
„They are releasing polaron charges!"
And that it was very likely she was forever going to remain in darkness concerning whom exactly she had killed.
„Igniting them! Admiral, unless we move away…"
„Reverse engines, full impulse."
Not even that helped them against the massive shockwave, the result of the collapse of the Bajoran Wormhole. Their ship was spun for many times before it finally came to a halt, about a light year away.
The bridge was in a chaos, people lying down on the floor, some wounded, some unconscious.
Kathryn got up, blood oozing down her forehead. Limping, trying to ignore the pain in her leg and her head, she moved over to the control panel.
„The wormhole…" She breathed, „Has been destroyed. Effects throughout the system…heavy damage to an inhabited part of Bajor." She heard Chakotay curse, „We have been tossed a light year away from our last position."
Time came for her to say the last part, but she did not…yet. Because she was not sure of the certainity of it herself. Instead she let her crew get up and around again, listening to the moans and the groans of the wounded.
Finally, when all grew relatively silent, she said it.
„They have succeeded. We have failed."
The worm of guilt had already begun to feed on her soul, though…who had succeded? Who had survived?
Admiral Kathryn Janeway sat in her ready room…her home away from home, to call it so. Strange, it always did bring her more peace and comfort than her own hom ever had. Especially when she was debating with herself over moral issues or any problems at all. That old saying was true for Kathryn; one is theirselves worst opponent when it comes to the affairs of the human heart.
The deuterium mining colony assignment had been postponed…after the true nature of her mission had been uncovered publically. Perhaps that was for the better…she, for one, knew she could not have borne to keep that secret within her much longer. Mining deuterium for a couple of weeks certainly would not have helped her.
One of the many reasons she felt so bloody guilty was also the fact that she had betrayed Jake Sisko's trust. How hard it must had been for him to have all of that bottled up inside him for thirteen years…and longer! All his hard work going to waste because of her…it made her experience vast remorse.
Jake had contacted her, and after listening to her short, but well-composed apology(like everything that came from Kathryn), he merely shook his head.
„It is, I think, for the best. It was bound to happen one day…we all should have forseen it. And I somehow breathe more easily with all of it out in the open."
How she agreed with him.
What she mostly reflected upon was the mission itself, though.
Such a frivolous little mistake…a sensor malfunction, Bales had later informed her. One sensor malfunction that was going to haunt her for the rest of her life.
In her eyes, killing, force itself, was primitive on the whole.
The fact that she could have avoided it…and the fact that she did not know who had she killed…whose life had she taken…was going to haunt her forever.
After some time of thinking, she had managed to come to the conclusion it could not have been one of the children. They had most likely not been on the bridge…or at least she had not seen them when communicating with Bashir and Dukat. She had played that very conversation for countless times in her mind, always struggling to find the slightest detail she had missed.
For a few moments that had made her feel relieved. It still was the fundation of her fortress against this unnerving sensation of blame. But when she had given it better thought again…who had she rid those children of? Their mother? Their father? Both?
She closed her eyes, remembering the words of Elizabeth Bashir.
"Do they not deserve to have him back? Do I not deserve to have him back? Does he not deserve to live?"
There was a chime at her door, and Kathryn raised her eyes, full of uncertain heaviness, to them.
Chakotay stepped into the office, feeling exhausted himself. Both on the inside and on the outside. The moment his eyes met those of his wife, he saw she suffered from the same disease as himself. In spite of human logic…it did not make him feel any better.
"Chakotay." Her voice was velied in the same emotion he had recognized earlier, "I am at your disposal."
"I just stopped by to see how are you doing." Chakotay placed his arms behind him. The question appeared quite ordinary on the surface, but deep down Kathryn felt its true meaning, just as he had expected her to. Their connection had not been scarred at all.
With a sigh, she swirled her chair, looking at the stars.
"To be frank with you…I don't know myself." Again her eyelids shrouded her orbs. For the first time in years, she looked her true age to him…if not older.
"I try to tell myself that what we did was right. That they were criminals after all…and we were working for justice, no one can deny that." The long pause had him waiting for a 'but'. It came.
"But…you have told me their story…their whole story, Chakotay…and the more I think of it…" Again she was facing him, "They were in love. Had they really committed such atrocious sins that they deserved treatment like common criminals?"
"All are equal in the eyes of justice." Chakotay pointed out.
"I suppose you're right." Kathryn forced a stiff, sad smile. For a moment, Chakotay thought it was going to remain at that, the rest left hanging in the air. But…
"After all, it is not as if I would have destroyed half the quadrant just to resurrect you…"
This time, the both chuckled sincere laughs.
"I'll pretend I did not hear that…if you buy me dinner tonight."
"Deal." Her glance moved back towards the system of Bajor again, though. There was something more on her mind…
"I just can't stop wondering…" A defeated exhale came, "There are plenty of things I can't stop wondering about. For example…who did we kill?"
The last part had been whispered, as if she had not the strength to discuss it out loud. Chakotay knew this not to be true. Kathryn had the strength…for both that and worse. She had been through worse. However, she was saying those things more to herself than to him. He was here to listen…and offer the best possible comfort for Kathryn by remaining silent until everything was out.
"And then there is…what happened to the rest of them? What will occur to them in the Gamma Quadrant…where they are all by themselves?"
"I doubt it." After she had been silent for long enough, he found it apt to speak, "As far as I have managed to get to know Admiral Bashir, she has more than just a few aces up her sleeve." He beamed, "My best guess would be that they are resting at a nice Jem'Hadar resort as we speak."
"Oh, Chakotay." Kathryn laughed again, "How could this have happened? How could two people…two people…and one factor known as love…have caused all of this havoc? And had it really been their fault? Or had the world been against them at the very beginning?"
"This is not a full answer…But love is more than just a factor. It is the force behind it all, what drives as all…and it all comes to love in the end."
Her eyes searched for his.
"I know." They stood like that for a second or two, when she moved, "But I also know that there are questions better left unanswered…just as answers better left unquestioned."
"We have encountered both during these few days." Chakotay spotted.
"Indeed." She smirked, "It has been an eventful few days. I'll certainly never forget them…" Her gaze wandered aimlessly before landing back on him, "We can still try to get them out of our minds. How about that dinner?"
"It's a deal."
Together, hand-in-hand, they walked out of the ready room…leaving long lost loves, painful affairs, deathly affections dancing in the air. Dancing, not hanging, for they moved with the skill of a fencer…so attractive…yet so deadly.
Four people were gathered in what appeared like a smaller mess hall.
Only that it was completely dark. Everything, the chairs, the tables, the walls, wrapped in unbroken black. The dimmed light was the only thing that kept the small group, also shrouded in black, from sinking into the picture. This way, they stood out almost awkwardly.
Their heads were bent, and they were obviously in mourning.
Illari had not even tried to conceal her emotions. The moment her father had entered her quarters, crushed, and gently told her that her mother was dead, she had been unable to stop weeping. Even though she had only seen her mother three times per month, she had loved her greatly. She had been her role model, the person she wanted to be when she grew up. Why had the world taken her away? It was something Illari could not have understood. When it had brought her her father, the universe had allowed her less than a day of having both of her parents…and complete happines. Her dream had come true. And now it was gone again.
For so many times, she'd said this to herself, and now it had come to her again. Her eyes sought her father, whom she'd only scarcely gotten accustomed to calling so.
"Father…do I not deserve both you and mother?" She whispered weakly.
It took him a few seconds to answer it.
"You do, Illari. You deserve that and a lot more."
She nodded her head vaguely, distracted by her own pain again. Why was she unable to believe him?
Procal fought the sadness within him…or at least he tried to. Since he had met his father, he knew he had been like him for most of his life…and now, he wished to be even more of his copy…to impress him, perhaps? He knew not. But he knew that he was failing.
He had taken the news with a strong blow. His mother…he had adored her much, even though he had never truly been the one to express that. Not even now, after all the time, could he have stopped the tears from coming. Ashamed, but yet understanding that it was unavoidable, he gazed vacantly into space.
Marias was not as deeply saddened by Elizabeth's death. She had hardly known her..they had been more among the lines of acquaitances than true friends, in spite of the thirteen-year service. However…she understood the effort, the pain, everything both Elizabeth and Dukat had…must have…gone through…and yet, in spite of it all, their love had survived.
To be destroyed by a reckless act. A moment of bad concentration, a tiny lapsus.
The mere thought of that happeing brought tears to her eyes. The fact that it had happened…or rather was happening…to someone she knew…made her weep like a small child.
Throughout the funeral…it could not have been called burial, since there was no body to bury…she had watched Dukat rather closely.
He appeared firm, stoic like a tree, not a single emotion displaying on his face. She watched him in admiration, applauded him for self-control…but she was also certain deep inside that the Gul had cried out his tears long before.
Just as she was certain he had not cried out all of them yet.
Whatever he chose to do next, she was going to be there for him. Marias knew how it was to lose a spouse, and she also knew that no matter how he appeared on the outside, he was broken on the inside.
"We should go." She addressed the children, "And carry her in our hearts."
Procal and Illari obeyed wordlessly, the latter still sobbing. Dukat looked at Marias.
"You go ahead. I shall…catch up with you soon."
Marias understood. As she walked the children out of the room, she threw one last glance at Dukat. He needed to be left alone in his grief.
Dukat waited until the door closed, and then made a step towards the window. The sparkling stars stood out amidst the vast blackness. Each star…one hope. One life. All of which they should have explored together.
"Elizabeth…" He murmured, "My Elizabeth."
And maybe because of his natural eloquence, one that she had always so loved and cherished, he began a speech…a euology for his dearly departed.
"What is there to say? What is there to do? No matter how hard I try to see a deeper meaning in all of this, it constantly keeps evading me. Why should I speak, when you are not here to hear me? Why should I smile, when you are not here to see me? Why should I breathe, when you are not here feel that breath on your lips, and what, what is the point of my existence if I am never to feel those lips press upon mine, if I am never to hear your charming laughter and your lovely voice, if I am never to experience all the passion with which your enitre being burned? If my eyes are never to land on your beautiful features? Why should this universe…no, how does it exist with its centre being gone…forever?
I will never forget you, Elizabeth…for my entire life revolves around you. How gladly I would have gone instead of you…I would have given up every single aspect of my life just to save yours! I would have given my all…just to see you alive and well. I will always remember you, my love…I will remember the Lieutenant on Terok Nor that had stolen my heart…and now taken it to her grave. I will remember all the obstacles we had been forced to cross, and all we have crossed, until coming to this, unavoidable one…death. With us, it had indeed been, 'til death do us part'. But what I would add…is…and beyond. For I swear to you, Elizabeth, I will love you even in my death. Loving you has been the purpose of my life. Without it, it would have been plain senseless.
Yes, I do feel guilty…and I always will. I know, I know that you would ask me to let it go if you could, that you would not want me to torture myself…you would even say it was not my fault. I am glad because of that…for it shows that my love was returned. Still, I will never forgive myself. All of my dreams…all of my hopes… had disappeared with you, my love. The light of my life…the point of my very existence…had been vaporized together with you. I could have saved the only woman I ever truly loved…but I had not. . I have never experienced such remorse…not for the four million for whose death I've been responsible on Bajor, not for anyone. I forgave them for Ziyal, but I will never forgive them…nor myself for you. I never could.
I have been without you for a day, and already I miss you like air to breathe! An entire existence like this seems unbearable. In a way, your presence is still here…and it always will be, but out of my reach forever. The only thing that keeps me going…are our children…and the thought that you, in spite of all, would have wanted me to live. That you had died to prevent me from sharing that fate. I would feel even guiltier if your sacrifice proved to be in vain. Yes, you have succeeded in outwitting me again, my dear. I am only pained…by the fact that you will never be able to outspeak me again. Oh, how I would vow revenge! How I would make an oath to kill those who are to blame for your death! But you have prevented me from doing that, too…for in order to fulfill that oath, I would have to take my own life.
I am watching the stars right now…once, you have told me that each star represented a hope. Well, then one of them is the hope that somewhere in time…I will find you, and love you once more. That star should shine eternally, whatever comes upon the universe. Elizabeth…I have told you that I love you for countless times. But have I ever told you that, to me, you were like no other? Have I ever told you that I have never loved a woman as I loved you? As I love you still? All the power I used to have…all the might…I would have gladly exchanged for one of your kisses, or even a friendly look. In spite of all the titles I had, in reality, the only thing I ever was was your slave. Words themselves cannot portray how I feel, for whatever I say seems insufficent, small. Yes, our love is the only thing that I cannot describe…and never will be able to. Our love and you.
Goodbyes…there is nothing good about them, and we have been through plenty. This appears to be the last and the final one, though. I could say that I will try making it brief…but I already know in advance I would never succeed. Every moment with you, whether you are really here, or just in my imagination, is the greatest treasure I have right now. That and my memories. Thank you, Elizabeth, for the memories. I have never possessed anything as precious…if I count you out. To try putting it simply…you were my everything, Elizabeth. Life without you is going to be living hell…burning slowly and painfully. I will miss you…and I will always keep you locked within my heart. Forever.
Farewell, my only one. Farewell, queen of my heart…empress of my life."
Gul Dukat turned around and walked out of the mess hall. At the door, he bestowed another glance over his shoulder, and for a moment he thought he had actually seen her, heard her chortle, and even smelled her perfume.
Then it was all gone.
And he walked away, leaving pain and sadness hanging in the air.
Taking an even greater part of that sorrow with himself, in his heart, where it had made a permanent residence.
Had she been there, Elizabeth Bashir would have been truly struck by what she left behind.
Tears glided down Delilah's pale cheeks as she slowly closed the manuscript. No matter how many times she read it, this tale always reached to the very bottom of her heart, pulling out the deepest of emotions. Bracing herself for it was out of question; firstly, it would have been unsuccesful, and secondly, it would have completely earsed the charm of it. She would not have been able to read it conveying all the vigorous feelings to her listeners.
They, too, seemed to be recovering, some merely dazed, some openly crying like herself, and some holding back their tears. The young woman smiled gently at them. There was no need to be ashamed…this story simply had that kind of effect on people.
„I hope you liked it." She said softly. Murmurs of agreement came from the crowd, „Just for your information…Dukat's euology to Elizabeth has been translated to millions of languages, and is considered one of the most fascinating romances ever. If you have any questions…" She added, wiping her tears, „Please, do not hesitate to ask."
Initially, one hand flew into the air.
„Thousands of authors have written about Elizabeth Bashir and Gul Dukat. How do you know that this manuscript came first?"
Delilah chuckled, her dark eyes piercing the young man who had asked; „Have you ever tried reading any of the other works? If yes, compare them to this one."
„This has been in my family for years…centuries, to be more exact. It is a sort of an heirloom."
Another hand flew up, and Delilah nodded her head.
„You are a descendant of Elizabeth Bashir, if I am not mistaken?"
She nodded once again, beaming proudly.
„Yes. And of Gul Dukat. Their daughter, Illari, had married a human explorer, Edgar Rice, apparently in the Gamma Quadrant. Therefore my family line was created…although the only Cardassian trait I have inherited is paleness, I think."
The mass laughed, while Delilah gave the word to another young woman.
„Miss Rice, what became of Dukat and the children after the death of Elizabeth Bashir?"
Delilah let out a small sigh.
„After a few years, Dukat married Marias…the governess. I do not think he ever loved her, though. I am pretty certain she knew that, too. I've told you about Illari…as for Procal, when the Bajoran wormhole had been reopened, he chose to remain in the Gamma Quadrant, in the end becomming Legate, and the Gamma Quadrant Ambassador. He was killed in Second Bajoran War, though."
This time, Bajoran woman stepped forward, determination all over her.
„Why do you take pride in being descended from the people who had destroyed the Prophets, and given the reign to Pah-Wraiths?"
Delilah's face hardened, and everyone grew silent. The Bajorans still did condemn the galaxy's capturedness by this tale. Even 500 years after the events had occurred.
„I do take pride in it." Finally she spoke, icily, shooting the Bajoran with her look, „Because whatever they had done, however it had affected anyone…it had been because of love."
The Bajoran was taken aback by the firm boldness in her voice, which made her own disappear. She drew back, looking defeated.
„I believe that the conclusion we can all make today," Delilah was now addressing all preset, her gaze meeting theirs, „Is that we should not all begin to destroy planets as a display of our endless love. But we should understand those who did so. Who were forced to do so. I believe that Admiral Janeway had been right when she had said…the world had been against them at the very beginning. You cannot blame them for putting their love ahead of it."