Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Paramount.
Timeline: Between the season 4 episodes "Indiscretion" and "Return to Grace".
Author's Note: Much gratitude to my gracious beta Kathyh.
When the prisoners on Dozaria spoke of their homeworld, the main difference between Bajorans and Cardassians was this: the Bajorans talked about a planet which had, at some point before their and Ziyal's life time, surely been a paradise, even if they had never seen it. They were certain it would be again, once the Occupation was over. They were also certain it would be theirs, if, that is, they were ever freed and didn't die on the miserable desert planet fate had stranded them on, being worked to death in the dilithium mines there, not by Cardassians, but by the Breen.
"At least," Ziyal heard some of them say, when the hope of seeing Bajor again was fading, "here we get to see some Cardassians die as well. At least there's that."
Meanwhile, the Cardassians, who coped better with the high temperatures of Dozaria but not well at all with their new status as slave workers where once they had been masters, spoke of their homeworld but not as a paradise. They talked about it as a defiant fortress against a hostile universe set on trying to keep the Cardassians down, where every success had to be fought for. It wasn't a nurturing planet, it was one that prepared you for taking what you needed in every aspect, even down to the dust storms, barely kept in check by the weather control net now, which were the result of the loss of nearly all of the forests that had once been on Cardassia.
"Like Dozaria, then?" Ziyal asked, but the Cardassians grew indignant and rejected the comparison. Dozaria was a miserable dust bowl producing nothing of worth save dilithium. Cardassia had given birth not just to one great civilisations, she was told, but two, the Hebitians and the Cardassians, to philosophy which wasn't superstitious nonsense like the Bajoran belief in the Prophets, to literature and art which wasn't there to decorate temples to nonexistent gods but for its own sake.
Those were the early years. By the time Ziyal's father and Major Kira came to Dozaria to free the prisoners, neither Bajorans nor Cardassians talked about their homeworlds anymore. They'd given up hope; it hurt too much. Only Ziyal had not, but she, who was both Bajoran and Cardassian and neither, had never longed for a world to begin with. She longed for a home, which was a different thing, for her mother, who was dead, and for her father, who was alive, she was sure of it.
"He'll find us, he'll free us, he'll bring us home," her mother, Tora Naprem, had whispered before dying of the injuries sustained when the Ravinok had crashed on Dozaria. It was what Ziyal clung to for six years. If she ever wondered what home Naprem could have been thinking of, Bajor or Cardassia, she never allowed herself to finish the thought. It did not matter. In the end, her mother had spoken true: here her father was, barely changed in the six years they had been parted. He'd come for her, to bring her home.
Organizing the transport of the freed Bajoran prisoners back to Bajor had been left to Major Kira; Ziyals father, who was now a legate and the military advisor of the ruling Detapa Council, had summoned a ship to take the freed Cardassians back to Cardassia, but he and Ziyal did not join them. They travelled to Cardassia separately, on a tradeship, as passengers, after a detour to the station which had once been Terok Nor.
"I thought we might have a few days together first", her father said. "Cardassia can be... overwhelming."
"You could come with me instead," Major Kira said when taking her leave of Ziyal. She looked concerned. It was strange, seeing a free Bajoran in uniform, taking command; giving orders, being obeyed, this had been first a Cardassian and then a Breen prerogative in Ziyal's life time.
"I know I could," Ziyal replied. "But this is my choice to make. Isn't it?"
She was actually not quite sure. She had never been free to choose anything before. First because she was a child, and then because she was a prisoner in a mining camp. Not being told what to do anymore every day of her life was something completely new to her.
"It is," Kira affirmed, and still looking troubled, said goodbye.
Ziyal spent her first night as a free woman on a freighter. Everything was wrong; the bed was too soft, the temperature was too cold despite being adjusted to Cardassian standard, and she could hear no one breathing. The prisoners in the camps had huddled together at night, always, and she could not sleep in this silence. At last, she wandered into her father's cabin, which was next to hers. He was awake as well, holding her mother's bracelet in his hands, and she could see he had cried.
It was this she put next to that terrible moment when he'd aimed a rifle at her and she had wondered for the first time whether what all the others had said about him, that a half Bajoran bastard would only be an embarrassment to him, that he surely had just used and discarded her mother and was not capable of more had been true. She had wondered, and pushed the idea away, setting against it all those memories of his visits during her childhood, the times he'd spent with her and her mother in that secret house in the Bajoran mountains. He had been all she had to hope for for six years. He had loved her mother. He loved her. These were the truths she held to be self evident.
"I don't," she began, hating the way her voice sounded high as a child's, for she was no longer a child but a woman now, "I don't have a picture of her. Do you..."
She stopped, feeling foolish. He had a Cardassian wife and family, she knew this. Of course he would not keep a picture of her mother with him. He had probably wiped out all the data relating to her mother and herself once he had sent them away, in the last year of the occupation.
Her father shook his head. But then he said: "Do you still paint, Ziyal? I remember you used to enjoy it a lot."
She stared at him, and now it was he who looked as if he felt foolish.
"Forgive me. Of course they wouldn't let you paint on Dozaria. I only meant... I remember the drawings you made for me. There was one which showed your hara cat which I still have. Your mother marvelled about them. Because she wasn't of the lh'valla Djarra, she had never considered a daughter of hers could have artistic gifts, and she saw it as proof that her gods did smile on her after all. I think - if you still want to draw - if you drew her..."
He was an eloquent man, Ziyal recalled, always had been, but now he faltered again. She looked at her hands, which were full of calluses, with the nails short and broken.
"I don't know whether I still can," she whispered, and then voiced her deepest fear. "I don't know whether I remember her face well enough."
It shamed her to say this. She had loved her mother, and had lived with her for thirteen years. Every single trait of Naprem's face should have been etched into her memory. Six years of the desert, of labor, of exhaustion, of all the Bajoran and Cardassian faces around her and the faceless Breen meant that her memories of Naprem had become blurred, like her dreams.
Her father captured her hands in his. His were warmer than hers, and smoother. "I'll help you", he said. "I promise."
"But you can't draw", she blurted out, and he laughed. This was another thing she'd half forgotten; his laughter. That he was able to laugh even in sadness.
"Not to save my life. But I have a photographic memory, Ziyal. I have been trained to. I will describe your mother to you in every detail, and there will be a portrait. You'll see."
It seemed possible then: to bring her mother back, at least the memory of her. To be a family again.
The air on Dozaria had been dry enough to burn even in the lungs of a half Cardassian at times, and the sunlight outside was always too bright. The first breath that Ziyal took on Cardassia Prime showed her the air there was nearly as dry, but the atmosphere was cloudy, and the light filtered through it softly. It felt oddly comfortable. There was an elegance to all the steel and glass architecture she saw through the window of the small transport that brought her and her father to his home, but she also noticed it bent inwardly, as if barring its interior from outside views.
Her father, it turned out, owned a house just like that in a huge town called "Lakarian City". There were some security procedures at the entrance, scans he had to undergo, even more scans for her. He had prepared her for this. "There are always assassination attempts for a man in my position," he'd said.
"I was tempted to let you stay outside and rot", said the woman awaiting them in the room they finally ended up in. Her hair was pinned up in an ornamental style that Ziyal had never seen before, but then, the only Cardassian women she'd seen, some of the original crew from the Ravinok, had worn their hair cropped short like everyone else.
"But you didn't," her father replied and stepped towards the woman as if to embrace her. She slapped his hands away.
"I had to be sure," she said. "Sure you'd actually do this not just to me, but to our children." Her eyes flitted to Ziyal and back. It was not even a real look, more like the briefest of irritated glimpses.
"Dukat", she said, "I've always known about your whores. Don't fool yourself that I didn't. But even a vole has more sense than to defile its own nest. How dare you bring that here?"
"This is my daughter," her father returned, now sounding cold himself. "Ziyal."
"You have three Cardassian daughters", the woman said. "And four sons. All of whom trusted you and believed in you. As did I, more fool me. They told me that your family line is weak, that your father was a traitor, but I thought, well, even if he was, that's just more incentive for my husband to erase all that shame with his own hard work. I did my part, did I not? All those tedious visits with every single member of the Detapa Council, and then weeks not knowing whether you or the Obsidian Order had prevailed and they'd execute us all in public to set an example. And this is how you repay me."
This time, she looked at Ziyal longer. Her mouth curved downwards.
"How do you even know she's yours?" she asked. "Did you ever bother with genetic testing?"
"That's enough", her father said sharply. "I didn't expect you to be happy. But I do expect you to be civil."
"You don't get to have expectations anymore," she retorted. " In anything. I won't let you drag down my children along with you, that's for sure. If you don't get rid of that in a week, I'll start divorce proceedings."
"No, you won't, because you like being the Legate's wife too much. Now, where are Mekor and..."
She interrupted him with a sharp laugh that lacked all humor.
"Legate? If you honestly believe they'll let you stay Legate, you're stupid as well as irresponsible. But I'm not. The children aren't here. I won't let them be contaminated by sharing the same roof with a walking, talking mistake like that. They're with my parents, and they will stay there until you come to your senses. If you do, that is. A week, husband. That's all you get from me. And it's more than you deserve."
After this announcement, she left. Ziyal had not even learned her name, and to tell the truth, she did not want to. It didn't come as a surprise to her that her father's wife would not like her, but she had been half curious, half afraid at the prospect of meeting her full Cardassian siblings, and now she was both sorry and relieved this prospect was postponed for the time being. Then it struck her: her father had to regret not only that he had brought her here, but that he didn't leave her with Kira. She refused to consider the possibility that he regretted not killing her.
He glowered in the direction of his wife's departure, and Ziyal wondered whether she should not just disappear as well, but she would not know where to go, not here, on this planet. Sharply, her father turned towards her, and she realised she must have said this out loud.
"You're not going anywhere," her father said, "except with me. This isn't your fault, Ziyal."
As it turned out, he meant this literally. He took her to shops and made people serve her so she would have clothing and possessions other than the hastily replicated equipment Major Kira had given her, he took her to a restaurant and introduced her to a variety of dishes she had never eaten before, and ignored all the staring and whispering. There was a waitress there who turned out to be the first person on Cardassia Prime who didn't greet Ziyal with barely hidden disdain or hostility, but suggested a desert treat which turned out to be delicious. And her father brought her to something called the wall of longing, part of what used to be the wall surrounding the city, but evidently made of many different stones instead of the artificially produced material used in most buildings. Cardassians had no burial grounds as such, he said, not least because people were generally cremated, but in each town, each city, there was a wall of longing built of stones donated by the families living in it; it used to be the hearth stone, from a "more primitive time", he said, and now, if there was a new family settling down in a city, it was simply a stone they selected. It never stood for just one person, but for a family, and it remained even if everyone in that family should die.
"Here," he said, pointing towards something that looked like a yellowish brick with blue veins. "This is our stone, for the line of Dukat. Now your stone as well."
But I am not of the Dukat line, Ziyal thought. Your family does not want me here. I am of the Bajoran family Tora, except I think if my mother still has any living relations left, they probably don't want me, either, or else she would have mentioned them to me.
She didn't say any of this. This place meant something to her father, and he never, not once, acted as if he was ashamed of her. There was even a beauty in the assembly of wildly divergent stones that she could see, precisely because it was so different from the general aesthetic of Cardassia, which seemed devoted to uniformity. Ziyal put her hand on the stone and tried to imagine the "more primitive time" he'd spoken of; Cardassians who weren't living in grand structures but small houses with hearths.
Against her will, a memory came to her, one of the few times on Bajor when she'd left the place in the mountains where she and her mother had lived. They'd been brought to her father in a shuttle, as he could not come to them, and on the way, they had flown over some fiery ruins, with the smoke still rising. Her mother had shielded Ziyal's eyes, but not quickly enough. At the time, Ziyal had been only six or seven years old, but now she understood she'd seen a Bajoran village destroyed, and that her father, who'd been the Prefect of Bajor at the time, must have given the order.
They had to leave the past behind, Ziyal thought, and yet, the stone, smooth beneath her hand, refused to let go.
She wasn't with her father when he was summoned to the Detapa Council to explain himself, so she used the time to explore the house on her own, trying to guess at the personalities of her siblings from their rooms. Not having to work every day left a bewildering number of hours as a blank space if she was on her own. Ziyal wondered whether the Cardassians among her fellow prisoners from Dozaria wre back on the planet by now. She could try to find them through the computer network, she supposed, and ask what they did to sleep again. It still wasn't easy for her, though she was starting to get used to the beds; she used one from a different sibling each night, as this made her feel less like she was taking any particular person's place.
Drawing again was different from how it had been in her childhood, though her father had bought similar material for her. But as clumsy as she first felt, there was something satisfying in creating lines, in smelling the traces of Arinum on her fingers again. She was busy sketching a model she'd found in Mekor's room when the computer alerted her to the fact someone had entered the house, an authorized person with the correct password, but not one on the list of expected visitors today. In the end, it turned out to be an older Cardassian woman, with whiter hair and a bluer crest than Ziyal had seen so far, and a sharp gaze, though not as overtly hostile as the one from her father's wife had been.
The first thing the woman did was to tell the computer to deactivate the universal translator. Then she said, in a rich, low voice and in Kardasi: "Do you know who I am, child?"
This was clearly a test twice over. Ziyal was fluent in Kardasi; it had been spoken both on Bajor and on Dozaria, along with Bajoran. So she could easily reply in the same language. But suddenly, she didn't want to. If she was to hear another outburst of how disgusting an illegitimate hybrid was, she would not make it easier for her opponent.
"I can guess," she replied in Bajoran. "There is a holographic picture of you here. You are my grandmother."
The older woman appeared unperturbed, and continued in Kardasi, while proving she did understand Bajoran. "Not for much longer, my dear. I am here to formally disown my son. Incidentally, you should consider doing the same thing. You can't have a future here, you must know that, and you certainly won't have one anywhere else if you're shackled to the likes of him."
Stunned, Ziyal asked, before she could stop herself: "What kind of a mother are you?"
Her grandmother strolled past her and sat down on one of the chairs that looked more like small beds and which, Ziyal's father had said, were used when there were dinners at which the entire family and guests participated. Lounging with undeniable grace, she said: "One who is not blind, and is aware of her responsibilities. I have seen it all before. My late husband suffered from a similar flaw. At his trial, they made him say his ambition outstripped his patriotism, which tells you all about how little they knew. It was the fatal combination of vanity and sentimentality that brought him down, that, and an agent from the Obsidian Order who played on both. By bringing you here, your father proved he inherited that irritating combination in full measure. After all," she steepled her fingers, "he knew exactly how that gesture would be received. And he did it anyway, presumably because he thought that the rules that apply to everyone else would not apply to him."
"He did it because he loves me," Ziyal said. "I can see why this would be difficult for you to understand."
"Not at all. As I said, vanity and sentimentality. Presumably you adore him, and he doesn't have to share you with anyone else. You see, on Cardassia we raise our children to serve the state as well as their family, and we share them with the state from the beginning. But you? You he can keep for himself. Naturally, this appeals. But I didn't raise him to indulge himself at the expense of the entire rest of the family. It was hard enough for our line to rise again after Procal's execution. Now he has all but ensured that his children will never get any jobs higher than work in dust recycling factories, because everyone will say the Dukats are weak and traitors twice over. Which is why I have to act now. Quickly, unambiguously, and decisively. There are seven grandchildren who still might have a future this way."
She spoke so matter-of-factly as if discussing the weather, and the worst thing was that the longer Ziyal stared at her, the more she could see and hear traces of her father's features in this woman, down to the inflections in her grandmother' s voice. The anger of her father's wife had been far easier to dismiss.
Again, Ziyal thought of the moment when she'd seen her father aim his weapon at her, the moment it had sunk into her that what the other Cardassians on Dozaria had told her had been true, that if she ever saw her father again, he'd want her dead. At once, quickly, unambiguously and decisively.
"Maybe they should have a future where they won't have to sacrifice their own children to the state," she said.
"If you want that kind of a future," her grandmother said, "you'll have to look for it elsewhere. Not on Cardassia. And not, I'm afraid, anywhere near your father. He might be sentimental and vain, but he is still Cardassian, and trust me, sooner or later he will remember what that means."
The chime that announced an authorized person had entered the building rang, and moments later, Ziyal saw her father enter the room. His grey skin had darkened, which for Cardassians had a similar meaning as a pale exterior did for Bajorans. She noticed that her grandmother's eyes fell on the point of her father's uniform where his legate insignia had been. It was gone now.
"It is done, then," the older woman said, and rose in one fluid motion belying her age. "Clearly, I should have acted faster, but still, let's hope for your children's sake they'll see my action as simultanous anyway. " Her voice took on a declaiming tone, as if she was reciting a ritualistic incantation the way Ziyal's mother had done when praying to the Prophets. "You are no longer flesh of my flesh."
"Mother..." he began, and she flicked her fingers at him, which was a gesture that silenced him.
"You are no longer a limb of my limb," she continued. "Your shadow will never fall on my hearthstone again. Your name will spread into the dust. Seek your fortunes elsewhere; I and mine are no longer yours, nor ever will be again."
With this last line, she turned her back on him, and started to leave the room. When the door opened for her, she looked over her shoulder one more time. "Remember what I said, girl. I bear you no ill will. It is good advice."
He stood very still until even the echo of her footsteps had vanished. Then he went to the long chair on which she'd rested, and started to trash it systematically. It was the first time Ziyal had seen him like this ; not just angry, as he'd been with his wife, but in a rage that demanded physical release. It had been a beautiful piece of furniture, and he kicked it, hit at it, and if it had not been such a terrible occasion she would have wondered whether this was how he'd been as a boy. As it was, she remembered how she had felt when some of the Cardassian crew of the Ravinok had tried to fix their ship's communications system so they could send a signal for help, only days after the crash when her mother had still been alive, though her injuries had been so serious there was not much hope. It had almost worked, but just then the Bajoran prisoners had tried to overpower the guards, and in the middle of the fighting, any hope of signalling for help had been irrevocably destroyed, even before the Breen arrived to take them all prisoner. She'd wanted to kick something then as well, with the blood of her dying mother on her hands, and people around her set on killing each other rather than work together.
At last, her father fell on his knees. He still hadn't said a thing, but she could hear his harsh breathing. Ziyal couldn't bear to watch any longer. Even if he now regretted having left her alive, having brought her here, even if his rage should now turn to her: he was her father , and he suffered. She knelt beside him and put her arms around him.
He did not push her away. On the contrary, he returned her embrace , and she felt that sense of belonging and relief again that had come to her the moment she'd spotted him on Dozaria. If he truly had guessed this would be the price for acknowledging her as his daughter, and had done it anyway...
"I'm sorry," she whispered, and she could feel that he shook his head despite having it buried in her neck right now. Then he withdrew a little, and cupped her face in his hands.
"Believe me," he said, "you have nothing to be sorry for. Everyone else, though... " A change came over his expression. There was something very set and very cold staring past her in his eyes. "Everything I've lost, I will regain. All of it."
He rose, and pulled her upwards with him. "For now, though, we shall have to leave Cardassia. I have been reassigned. It seems the freighter Groumall is in need of a Captain."
From Legate and military advisor to the Detapa Council to commanding a freighter. Ziyal didn't have to be an expert in military rank to understand the spectacular humiliation this demotion represented. Suddenly, and in a way that shocked her, she was glad of it. She was glad they didn't have to live with his awful wife and his terrible mother, that they would leave this planet where most people seemed set on denying her her right to exist. She was glad that she wouldn't have to share him with seven siblings who all knew him far better than she did. She was glad he was no longer one of the most important military commanders of the Cardassian Empire, who had to care about his reputation in a way a lowly Freighter Captain would not.
All of this was selfish to think and to feel, she knew. But she felt it nonetheless.
Now that both demotion and disownment had taken place, it turned out they had less than a day left. Most of the crew of the Groumall were already assigned. Her father asked her what she wanted to do, and was surprised she said she wanted to visit the wall of longing again. He was even more surprised when he saw that she'd brought a piece of the chair he'd destroyed with her. She's used one of the needles he'd given her for her hair to carve his name in the material, and her mother's name, and her own. She used Cardassian letters, but for each name, she chose one of the icons she recalled from her early childhood as a surrounding circle.
"We are a family of our own", Ziyal said. There was no room next to the stone representing the family Dukat, but she found one elsewhere, just right for the carved bit of what had once been the edge of an armchair, and she shoved what she had created inside the wall structure with a fierce push.
Then she turned her back on the wall. Her father did not comment. He put his arm around her shoulders, and she thought: having a home doesn't mean a place. It means having someone who'll never let you go.
All the dust in the air filtered so much of the sun that she hadn't spotted many shadows on Cardassia. But right now, as they hurried towards the shuttle that would bring them to the Groumall, Ziyal noticed the sleek vehicle blotting out the mild sunlight. Just for a moment, even a Cardassian city in the early afternoon felt strangely cold. Then they entered the shuttle, and as the doors closed behind Ziyal and her father, she imagined Cardassia falling behind, and her life beginning anew.