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Old October 16 2009, 07:47 PM   #2
Nerys Ghemor
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Location: Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
Re: October Challenge Entry: Those Who Live in the Shadow of the Night

Garak felt the other's surge of anger. His body responded by tightening, preparing him for anything. He watched cautiously as the man rose and blinked in surprise at the length of his hair, which grew long enough to be drawn back into a queue that came a third of the way down his back. Every detail hammered home to him two things; this was real, and he was in some sort of parallel universe. It had to be. His mind would never be so fanciful in so many ways. The two spoke in low voices. He watched their hands, fearing the worst, but the man returned empty handed and began to explain, in a way. Skrain Dukat, and this time the unwilling half of the couple. They thought he reacted to her mixed race. They thought it was revulsion and fear. He found he didn't have it in him to hurt this Ziyal any more than he could her dead counterpart.

“You misunderstood,” he said softly. “I lost someone. The...the resemblance is uncanny. I'm glad she's loved. No child should be without.” He glanced toward the doorway where she had retreated. Now that he knew what to expect, would seeing her be any easier? He had to find a way back from this place before they stripped him of all control and sanity, most importantly, before he started to care for these people and their plight. His own needed him far too much. Oralius, of all people to find me, why these two?

As for Dukat…the stranger’s revelation heartened him somehow. Maybe it was just something in Ziyal’s manner, perhaps something about her voice or her figure—but maybe when he spoke of resemblance, it was something more. Perhaps he had loved someone like her. And while the thought of her leaving him to marry saddened and worried him on some levels, as a father, this also made his hope a little more real: that she would find someone worthy, someone who loved her…not just part of her…as she deserved.

A faint, wistful smile traced over Dukat’s lips. “I’m glad you feel as I do. And I hope you’ll accept my apology for assuming. Such things happen from time to time…but to be honest, I could see where you might have believed you were in danger, given the circumstances.”

Still, the stranger—growing a bit stronger, now—shifted a bit uncomfortably on the cushion, even with the reassurance that Dukat had not believed it to be malice. He met the man’s eyes and allowed that bittersweet smile to grow a little wider. Part of him wanted to rest a hand on the traveler’s shoulder, but now that he was stronger, he wasn’t sure how it would be taken. “Don’t be ashamed—‘tears, with prayer, are a salve to the soul.’ Even after all these years, I haven’t stopped feeling it when I see children the age of the ones I lost, or a woman who looks like my wife. So in my own way, I understand.”

The sad thing was that Garak believed that he did understand, probably more than most ever would. “She was with me so briefly,” he said, “like an ember.” He held his hand palm up and lifted it quickly. “Brightly rising and then gone.” He closed the hand to a loose fist, dropping it back to his lap. “I don't think I have any tears left, not after this year. I'm sorry for your losses.” He could say that these days with honesty. These days, he understood loss better than he ever had and wished it on no one else.

Dukat regarded his daughter’s visage with quiet pleasure. Now that he’d explained the real reason for the traveler’s reaction, the light in her eyes and the spring in her step had returned—though a bit subdued, at the thought of the man’s losses. He almost seems like a man whose entire cell was killed, Dukat thought to himself. No wonder he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Then, by instinct born of long experience, he turned his attention back to the bubbling pot over the propane stove. He gave the pot a final stir, then stuck in a couple of clean spoons. He offered the first to Ziyal, took the second for himself. “Taste this?” he invited, lifting an eye ridge as he awaited her judgment.

Ziyal smiled. “Pretty good,” she replied.

“Just ‘pretty good’?” he laughed, putting a hand to his heart. “Is that it? Why, I’m wounded!”

“Don’t worry, Daddy…I think he’s going to like it.” Ziyal stole a quick glance at the traveler—but just as quickly he turned away, and Ziyal did the same out of respect for whatever painful memories the man carried in his soul.

Dukat acknowledged Ziyal with a nod as he lifted the pot off the stove and carried it to the table, setting it down on the potholder Ziyal had already laid out for the purpose. Then he made his way over to the stranger, offering his hand…this was the first time the man would be standing on his own since his collapse. The man hesitated at first, unsure of—what, Dukat couldn’t quite tell. Ultimately pragmatism won out and he accepted. Dukat patiently allowed the recuperating stranger to set the pace, giving no sign on his face that this was anything other than normal.

Once the traveler was securely seated, he and Ziyal followed suit. “There’s not really a formal recipe for this,” he apologized. “I just had to put together what I could get enough of for three.” Then he smiled. “I call it Catch-All Stew—all that I can catch goes in the pot!”

Garak chuckled appreciatively. “Well, it looks and smells delicious. You must've had good hunting recently.” He could smell that the meat had been smoked, not surprising given the conditions he could see. The plant matter in the stew was the same as what he could find on Prime in the wilderness, at least before the Jem'Hadar bombardment. “You have my gratitude, both of you. You've saved my life. I only wish there were something I could give you in return,” he said.

He looked at each of them as he spoke, forcing himself to hold the girl's gaze as long as he did her father's. She was so beautiful and vibrant. She had the same kindness in her eyes as his Ziyal. In a small way, he found it comforting to know that this girl existed, that at least one universe had not lost such a bright light. “Do you have anything that needs repairing, or clothing that needs mending? I'm deft with a needle and thread.” Let me give you something, he thought fervently, before I have to leave.

That caught Dukat by surprise. He understood the tradition of giving a gift to one’s host to show appreciation of hospitality—but this was entirely different. This was no pleasure visit, where he as host could simply not have extended an invitation…in Dukat’s mind there was no obligation. And yet—there was something in the stranger’s eyes, which didn’t seem as cold or as guarded as they had at times before. “My own clothing is simple enough that I can care for it,” he replied slowly, giving himself time to think. “For Ziyal…I have a friend who helps me with what I can’t manage for myself.” And to ask that of him…I would feel horrible for being so selfish, he silently added.

Finally, he settled on something he hoped wouldn’t physically or spiritually tax the man. After wiping his hands with the utmost care on a spare napkin, he strode over to the altar, reaching for an embroidered cloth wrapped with great diligence around a metallic band. When he returned, he set it on the other end of the table, where no one had eaten, and gently unwrapped the cloth until it lay in a perfectly flat square with a silver bracelet set with one tiny diamond-shaped shard of jevonite. The bracelet was too small for Dukat’s wrist…he’d tried that before and dared not again lest he push the tiny links beyond their endurance. Instead, he wrapped it around the fingers of his left hand, curling his fingertips gently to his palm lest it fall to the table.

“My wife’s matrimonial bracelet,” he offered. “My own was taken from me, but a dear friend of mine…he risked far more than I could ever have asked to save this and to bring it back to me after I escaped. But this is what I was hoping you might be able to help me with,” he explained, gesturing with his right hand to the cloth. “My wife embroidered this for us after our third child was born. These are their names.

“Eral. Kadresh. Breka.

The traveler, of course, could have read the names for himself—but to speak their names aloud kept their memory alive, for him. For Ziyal, these were the ascended brother and sisters who had prayed for her from the very moment her father had named her and claimed her as his own.

“There have been times we’ve had to make a hasty escape,” Dukat said. “Sometimes there hasn’t been enough time to be as gentle as I’d like to be. For the most part it’s done fine, but a few of the threads have come loose, and frayed. I wish I could fix this myself…but I’m afraid I don’t trust myself not to make things worse. I don’t know how you feel about embroidery—but might you feel comfortable with this? It’s all right if you’d rather not,” he quickly added.

Garak, too, wiped his hands very carefully and stood, much stronger on his feet now with food and fluids in him. By morning, he'd be ready for travel. He closed the short distance and stood opposite Dukat at the other side of the table. “May I?” he asked, gesturing at the small cloth. As soon as Dukat nodded, he lifted it as gently as he might a delicate feather he didn't want to ruffle. He could feel the man's eyes on him, the girl's, too, not just protective of their treasure but assessing him. Yes, if this wasn't mended soon, it would be beyond even skilled repair. He was well aware of what he held in his hands and what it meant. “It's not beyond my skill,” he said truthfully. He would never even attempt it if he believed for one moment it was. “I'd be honored to do this for you.”

He paused, wrestling with an idea and completely unsure if it would be appropriate or not. “I could...I could even add your daughter's name, Ziyal,” he offered tentatively, “or...or do that on something else, if you like?” He was stammering as badly as Rom, he reflected, but it was no wonder. He was on unfamiliar ground in more ways than one. He didn't want to cause offense or worse, hurt, and he couldn't be sure their customs were the same as his. “I'll do whatever you like,” he said. “Just let me know.” He glanced quickly at the girl and just as quickly back to the man. Looking at Dukat was safer by far.

The tall resistance fighter found himself completely without words at first. He had never imagined—thought it far too much to ever ask…but it felt right. He nodded, taking Ziyal’s hand in his. For just a moment, something flickered across his daughter’s face. “That was Mother’s…” she whispered. “I don’t know—I’m not…”

He squeezed Ziyal’s hand. Yes, Ziyal referred to his wife as ‘Mother,’ just as he had taught her…but that didn’t mean, especially in recent years, that she wasn’t aware of the circumstances of her birth. That her father—and, had she been alive, her mother—could have chosen not to acknowledge this girl born of anguish. “You are family,” he intoned in a voice that sounded almost like a Guide offering a blessing. “I will not have you kept separate.”

He looked back into the tailor’s eyes. “It is Ziyal and I who are deeply honored by your generosity. If you are willing…I would love to see her name added.”

Although it was difficult to tell time for certain in the artificial air and light of the cavern, Garak believed he had slept a few solid hours after completing the task. He had done it with this Ziyal in mind, not his own, for although the mended sections were mementos of the dead, the final daughter was living and lovely. He hoped she would stay that way for a long time to come.

He opened his eyes to the sight of Dukat bent over the table where he had left his treasure laid out carefully for him. The man's back was to him, and he reflected that it was probably for the best. He wasn't sure he wanted to see his naked reaction. He cleared his throat to let him know he was awake. "I need to leave soon," he said quietly. "I don't want to put you and yours in danger."

“Already?” Dukat questioned, deeply concerned. “You went through a lot yesterday—and there never was and never will be any obligation, for staying as long as you need to…” Something in the stranger’s eyes made him trail off, though. And it made sense. The Bajorans had to have stranded him in the desert for a reason…and Dukat had even more to worry for than Ziyal and himself. Akellen, Aamin, and Corat lived in the cavernous complex as well as other members of this cell, some who lived here full-time and others who used it as a refuge from time to time. There were other children here, too.

“If there is no way you could possibly stay another night…” The man’s phaser-like gaze drilled into him—a clear ‘no.’ Reluctantly, Dukat nodded, resigned to the inevitable. “Then at least let me give you proper clothing and supplies for your journey this time. You’ll need food and water, proper robes, and a compass…and a knife, too. Please accept them as my gift to you…you have been far, far more generous than anyone ever could, or should ask.

“But I would just warn you of one thing,” he added, and the traveler paused. “It is not safe for you to travel in the heat of the day, especially if you aren’t acclimated to this place as we are. That’s how you sickened yourself the last time—you nearly died. I implore you, at least wait until sundown, and travel in the cooler hours. There is an oasis not far from here where Kurabda nomads often camp. I can give you the general location, and if you tell them I sent you, they may be able to help you reach a city, if you have far to go.”

“I would never have braved the sun were there not a need for it,” Garak assured him. “I hate to have to take advantage of your generosity given how difficult such supplies must be to come by, but I accept and thank you for it.” He inclined his head and held the pose for a moment longer than he usually would out of genuine gratitude.

He abode with them until nightfall, keeping to himself and resting. The journey would not be an easy one, even at night. When it came close to time for him to depart, he took Dukat aside and murmured softly, “The woman I loved had your daughter's heritage and her generosity of spirit. Take care of her, and yourself. I'll pray for you, Skrain Dukat, and your daughter Ziyal. Oralius willing, we'll meet in a happier place when all of this is over for us.”

“We will,” Dukat replied with a quiet fervor, remembering a deep and beautiful vision, incomprehensible and yet understood in the most important sense. He knew. “And I would like to pray for you as well—just…Oralius knows my mind, and would know who I pray for, but I’m just Cardassian, and a name would help me.”

“Elim,” he said simply. “My name is Elim.” Never had he felt more free of his past than in that moment. He squeezed the other's shoulder and turned to face the velvet black of the night sky blanketed with stars, lifting his nose like a hound on the scent. One day his own home would have clean air again, perhaps not in his lifetime, but he could always hope.

Dukat bowed his head, closing his eyes, setting his hand upon Elim’s shoulder as the other man stared at the desert stars. With his other hand, he held Ziyal close to his side; she leaned against him for warmth as the first hints of the evening chill blew in. “I give thanks for the love of family,” he prayed, “and for the life of a stranger. I thank you for the abundance you have granted us, that there could be enough to share with another of your children when it was needed. And I pray that now, you guard and guide Elim however far he may travel—let him know always that he is never far from you. And I pray for this above all, even above a moment’s happiness, and the mortal life itself, that no matter where our journeys lead us, that we be true to the spirit you have placed in us, that our last step may be into the joy and peace of your embrace. May Fate be by Spirit so guided.”

Opening his calm grey eyes, he met the cool blue ones of Elim. “Be careful, Elim. And may you find she has made peace to grow like a seed to flower in your heart, tabun edikouv.” My friend.

“Always careful,” Garak said, gifting both of them with a smile that someone dear to him long ago, well before Ziyal, told him would make anyone who saw it tell him anything he wanted to know just for the asking, and as then, he felt it through his entire body, all the way to his toes.

His training served him well. He was able to retrace his steps by the light of the stars, this time eradicating any sign of his passage as he went. He would not lead these people's oppressors to them by his presence in this world, nor would he have potential oppressors from his Cardassia coming in to fill a power void. Two hours before dawn, he found the hole in the ground. He lowered himself into it and waited for sunrise.

“Something is happening,” one of Remal's students said, looking at the archway.

The air beneath it shimmered and swirled with energy. Castellan Ghemor's representative emerged, dressed in strange clothing and carrying a knife. He attacked the console with a speed and ferocity that took the entire team by surprise. Sparks flew, and suddenly the air beneath the arch went as dead and black as before.

“What have you done?” Remal demanded, appalled and angry.

“I'm sorry,” Garak said, “but this artifact is of no use to us. I'm going to recommend that the cave be sealed and never opened again.”

“You can't do this!” the archaeologist pleaded.

“I can, and I am,” Garak said, turning the full force of an inquisitor's gaze upon the scientist. She instinctively shrank away. “Find something else to help Cardassia. Your artifact is a dead end.”

Alon Ghemor lifted his gaze from the PADD in hand to Garak, who stood calmly before his desk with both hands laced behind his back. “This sounds incredibly far-fetched,” he said with a sigh, “even coming from you, Garak.”

“All the more reason for you to believe it,” Garak responded. “If I were lying, it would sound much more plausible.”

The Castellan frowned and set the PADD on the desk. “I had really hoped this would be something positive for us. We've taken such a beating lately in the polls.”

“Alon, you and I both know some victories aren't worth the cost,” he said, meeting the man's gaze and holding it.

Ghemor nodded and turned away. “Don't we all.” Garak was about to leave when he stopped him with his questions, “If all of this is true, why did you come back? Why didn't you just stay with them? With her?”

Garak gave it some thought before answering. “Because, Alon, this is my home. I waited too long and fought too hard to get back to it. If there's any justice to be had for any Cardassian in any universe, I will see them again, and my Ziyal, too. I'm nothing if not a patient man.” He gave him a small, odd smile and left it at that.


Wondering what "Catch-All Stew" is? Here's what an Earth version of it would be like...but I must offer the disclaimer that we are not responsible for any damage due to drooling on your keyboards.
Are you a Cardassian fan, citizen? Prove your loyalty--check out my fanfic universe, Star Trek: Sigils and Unions. Or keep the faith on my AU Cardassia, Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius!

Last edited by Nerys Ghemor; October 16 2009 at 08:52 PM.
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