The Life of Significant Soil by eponymous_rose
Summary: The past and future are conquered, reconciled. Kira Nerys and the Prophets, through the years.
Categories: Deep Space Nine Characters: Ensemble Cast - DS9, Kira Nerys
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Friendship, General
Warnings: Violence
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 6 Completed: Yes Word count: 14617 Read: 11602 Published: 21 Jul 2010 Updated: 21 Jul 2010
Story Notes:
Written for the prompt "Five times Kira Nerys's faith in the Prophets wavered, and one time she believed with all her soul".

1. I. Many gods and many voices. by eponymous_rose

2. II. Always a seamark to lay a course by. by eponymous_rose

3. III. (and the time of death is every moment) by eponymous_rose

4. IV. Lost in a shaft of sunlight. by eponymous_rose

5. V. In the sombre season or the sudden fury. by eponymous_rose

6. VI. The past and future are conquered, reconciled. by eponymous_rose

I. Many gods and many voices. by eponymous_rose
That's the thing about faith. If you don't have it, you can't understand it – and if you do, no explanation is necessary.
- Kira Nerys, "Accession"


I. Many gods and many voices.

"He died calling your name," Gantt had said.

For some time, they'd all looked at Nerys like she was something dangerous, like she was more frightening than the butchers and their crimes, more frightening than the violence they'd dealt in return. When she'd told them to keep hitting the Cardassians, to strike and strike and strike, they'd done so without question, until finally Lupaza took her aside and told her, softly, that they'd done enough, that her father had been avenged ten times over, that pain and rage and fear were tools to be used sparingly, lest they break her completely. "There's so much more at stake, here, Nerys," she'd said. "We can't fight for your revenge alone."

She'd acquiesced, pulled back and let them set the pace once again, but still she took a greedy pleasure in each strategic attack on Cardassian forces, hoarding the victories, building them brick by brick into a wall against what they all knew her to be, against the angry, frightened girl who hadn't seen her father die.

One night, Nerys sat in the bombed-out remnants of a settlement that had once housed the families of certain prominent Cardassian officials, staring up at the sky, letting her fingers dig into the dirt and ashes around her, as though they could reach past the death and debris into the core of this forsaken planet, as though there were still something worth rescuing beneath it all. The sky was cloudy, overcast; she couldn't see the stars.

There was a rustle of cloth, a hesitation, and finally a resigned sigh and a puff of dust as Shakaar plunked down beside her, more gracelessly than usual. She glanced over, caught him rubbing his leg again. Their medic figured all the shrapnel had been removed, that the recent limp was a temporary thing until his brain caught up with his body, but sometimes she suspected the pain went deeper than muscle or tendons.

"Well, Nerys," he said. "Mission accomplished."

For a moment, she wondered if she'd caught a hint of irony in his voice, but his expression was steady, bland. She smiled, cautiously. "It looks like everything went exactly as we planned. And really, how often can we say that?"

Shakaar didn't react to her attempted levity; his eyes seemed to be the only thing alive in his face, dancing with the reflection of flames. "I just wanted to make sure you were all right. This was a difficult target."

Nerys felt the old flash of anxiety, and glanced around to see the others, shadows among the rubble, watching from afar. Sometimes it felt like she was always being tested, like no matter how much she did to prove herself, she'd always be the one who was too little, too weak. She straightened, dusting dirt and ashes from her hands. "Our intelligence was flawless. We had minimal casualties. Overall, I'd say it was a pretty simple target."

Shakaar was quiet for a moment, rubbing at his leg. "That's not what I meant."

She got to her feet, swiping at the dust on her knees. "Then say what you mean." She offered him a hand to help him up, but he ignored it, looking beyond her. She cocked her head to one side, then crouched down, closer to him, and touched his shoulder. "Shakaar?"

"Hm?" He patted her hand, absently, and she realized for the first time just how tired he looked. He must have caught some shift in her expression, because a glint of humour finally quirked the edge of his lips. "There's no sense trying to distract me by worrying about me, Nerys. It's been a long day, that's all."

Nerys snorted. "At least you were on the other side of the cavern. You didn't have to listen to Furel snore all night!"

Now Shakaar's eyes were glinting with a light and energy of their own. "Nerys, I hate to break it to you, but half of Dakhur Province heard Furel snore last night." He held up a hand before she could dream up any further banter. "And you're trying to distract me again. Look, Nerys, I'm a leader, right? Leaders are only as effective as the people who follow them around." He tapped her on the forehead, like he used to do when she was younger, and she scowled in response. "I've had this same conversation with the others at one time or another. I'm not trying to single you out."

Nerys stole a glance back at the others. She could swear they were all trying to listen in, but realized they were probably too far away to hear anything. Just to be sure, she pitched her voice lower. "And which conversation would that be?"

His lips tightened into a faint smile. "Why are you fighting, Nerys?"

"For Bajor," she said, without hesitating. "For freedom. For the Bajoran people." She paused; he looked like he was waiting for something more. "For the Prophets."

"There's an abstract set of motivations if ever I heard one. Do you want to know why I'm fighting?" He picked up a handful of dirt, let it stream out between his fingers.

She watched the loose dirt get blown around by a light breeze. "I know, I know. You want to be a farmer, and it's hard to do that with Cardassians trampling your crops."

"Exactly." He rolled the last few grains of dirt between his fingers, then wiped his hands on his tunic. "It's a simple reason, and you know why it works for me? Because I can see myself after the Cardassians leave, after all this, and I can see myself at peace. Can you say the same? Can you really see all of Bajor free, every Bajoran happy and alive and working for a better tomorrow? Easy as that?"

Nerys looked up at the sky for a moment, watching the glint of light that was a moon, blanketed behind layers of cloud. "Yes," she said. "I can."

He met her eyes for a moment. "You know, I think some part of you really believes that. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we need more people like you and fewer people like me. The Prophets only know how badly Bajor needs a happy ending."

"All this," said Nerys, and waved a hand to encompass the still-smoldering embers, the outlines of bodies among the broken stonework of the small temple at the edge of the row of dwellings. "I can't accept that all this might be for nothing, that Bajorans will keep on suffering, that we fought so hard just to witness another series of atrocities that we haven't even dreamed of yet. I have to believe that happy ending, Shakaar, because the alternative is that what we're doing here means nothing – less than nothing. The alternative is that we're just a bunch of murderers."

"I don't think that's true." He was eyeing her speculatively, like he was seeing something in her that had never occurred to him before. "Nerys, I'm not sure you can picture yourself after the Occupation at all."

Nerys snorted again. "Of course I can. I'll be at the farm next door. I'm a lousy farmer, though, so I'll probably wind up stealing half your harvest every year."

"Nerys," he said, and her teasing smile faded. "You're setting yourself up for a fall. You've heard the same rumors I have. The Cardassians won't be here forever. I just want to know you're not defining yourself by what you're doing here. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Nerys was silent for a moment, and when she spoke, the words came out too softly, so she had to clear her throat and try again. "Have the Prophets abandoned Bajor?"

If he was surprised by the change in subject, he didn't show it. "Why would you say that?"

"Because the Cardassians are slaughtering us. Because every step we take, everything we do, we always seem to get forced back." She met his eyes again, speaking between gritted teeth. "Because even the leader of my resistance cell doesn't believe we can come out of this unscathed."

"Walk with me, Nerys." Shakaar made as if to stand up, but cursed under his breath, hand spasming on his leg, and Nerys had to help haul him to his feet. "Psychosomatic pain," he muttered. "Right. Remind me to give that medic a psychosomatic punch in the face next time I see him."

Nerys laughed in spite of herself, and supported Shakaar until he had regained his balance.

"Well, Nerys," he said. "Where shall we walk?"

She recognized the first line of an old, old story her mother used to tell her, and, on a whim, continued it. "To the moons, to the stars, to the Prophets' Temple itself."

Shakaar looked startled, as though he hadn't expected her to complete the reference. "Well," he said, after a moment, "I'm not sure my leg can make it that far. How about to the edge of town?"

They walked in silence, further from the others, sidestepping the more populated areas to avoid the piles of bodies that still hadn't been seen to. Gradually, Nerys became aware of the sweet-clean smell of the field beyond the town, realized she hadn't even noticed the stench of fire and death until it was gone.

"People will tell you faith is a complicated thing," Shakaar said, breaking the companionable silence. He wasn't limping as heavily, had started letting her set the pace. "It's not. Faith is simple. People are complicated."

Nerys made a noncommittal sound, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the more complete darkness outside town.

"It's like everything with the Cardassians, Nerys. It takes time. If we fight them off-" Though she caught his teasing expression, she couldn't help shooting him a sharp look. He smiled, held up his hands. "When we fight them off, not everything is going to go back to whatever utopian ideal we all have of Bajor. But we'll have more opportunities, a better chance to make Bajor closer to what we want it to be, what we need it to be. And maybe that's enough."

When Nerys found her voice again, it was small, dwarfed by the enormity of the world all around them, by the crackling of the fires at their backs. "Everyone talks about Bajor, before the Cardassians came, like it used to be some kind of paradise." She swallowed a laugh. "I guess that's the Bajor I'm fighting for – a fantasy created by desperate people. That's all I'm living for. And you know what? It is enough. It's more than enough."

For a moment, Shakaar's expression was wistful. "And people like me keep telling you there's no such thing as perfection." He was quiet for a moment, staring at the sky, and, following his gaze, Nerys felt like she could see through the clouds to the stars beyond. "Faith is imperfect, Nerys, but sometimes it's all you have."

They stood in silence under the cloudy sky, until the first drops of rain began to fall, and then they turned back toward the village they'd destroyed, both standing a little taller than before.
II. Always a seamark to lay a course by. by eponymous_rose
II. Always a seamark to lay a course by.

Major Kira Nerys straightened her uniform, fretting over the wrinkles at her shoulder, the frayed edge of one sleeve.

She caught her own gaze in the mirror and made a sour face; this wasn't like her at all. Besides, Sisko – the Emissary, she corrected herself – had already seen her at considerably less than her best. True, he'd just been Starfleet, then, just the unwanted alien commander of a Bajoran station. He hadn't been the Emissary, not yet.

"This is ridiculous," she muttered, and gave her uniform one last glare in the mirror before turning away. If Kai Opaka had recognized something in Sisko's pagh that proved him to be the Emissary, then he was the Emissary, had always been the Emissary. There was no point in trying to separate the man she'd met in Ops with the man she was about to meet in a more formal setting. He still had a son, and a temper, and a strange, faraway look in his eyes that spoke of loss and mourning. He was the fixed point: she was the one who'd change.

On the turbolift leading to the Promenade, Nerys caught herself tensing up again, fiddling with a loose thread on her sleeve, and sighed. She should have just gone and replicated a new uniform – she was sharing the station with Starfleet types, after all, and now that the replicators weren't emitting worrying sparks or smoking quite as much as they had been earlier, she supposed they were all expected to look pristine, perfect.

And then she found herself stifling a smile. Just what were the rules of decorum, exactly, when it came to meeting an important figure in one's religion? If the Emissary of the Prophets couldn't look beyond a bit of wear and tear, well...

The doors opened on a mass of milling people; it took Nerys a few moments of polite elbowing to make enough space to disembark the turbolift. The shrine was, of course, the main hub of activity; even Quark's looked deserted in comparison, and the more intrepid members of his staff had ventured to the bar's entrance to watch the commotion. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Bajorans were packed into an area meant to accommodate considerably fewer. On a hunch, Nerys scanned the crowd for a familiar figure, and grinned when she saw Odo, looking decidedly put-upon, doing his best to maintain order – among his uncharacteristically exuberant deputies as much as anyone else. There were a few Starfleet uniforms loitering around, too, some caught up in the energy of the crowd, some looking decidedly more sceptical or wary.

And, just for a moment, Nerys had to pause, had to reach out and steady herself against a bulkhead and blink away light-headedness, because this was what they'd dreamed about, this was what they'd fought for. This was Terok Nor, filled with the voices and laughter of Bajorans, pleasantly cool and bright and, somehow, safe.

A chill at the back of her neck shattered the moment, and, trusting instinct, Nerys turned. The Bajoran throng extended back along the Promenade, but one figure was decidedly out of place: the Cardassian tailor, Garak, standing in the entrance of his shop. He caught her eye, smiled benignly, and stepped back inside

Safe for today, anyway.

She turned back to the shrine, and when she stumbled to avoid a pair of children racing underfoot, she nearly walked straight into Lieutenant Dax.

Dax smiled and caught Nerys's arm to steady her. "Quite a turn-out, Major."

"You don't know the half of it," Nerys said, and had to grab for Dax's arm again when someone elbowed her in passing. The lieutenant seemed annoyingly unbuffeted by the crowd, every hair in place, dress uniform crisp and neat – probably newly replicated for the occasion, Nerys thought, wryly. Very composed, very serene.

Very Starfleet.

Nerys pulled her hand away like she'd been burned, planted her feet more solidly, and summoned up a polite smile to rival Starfleet's greatest. "The only reason the preliminary ceremony's happening here is because it's going to take more than a week to prepare enough room for everyone to attend the main ceremony on Bajor."

Dax laughed. "I'm sure Benjamin will be looking forward to it."

"I hope the Emissary will be pleased with the preparations we've made," Nerys said, stiffly, and made as if to start toward the shrine.

Dax caught her by the wrist before she could get too far. "Major, wait." Nerys turned back; the lieutenant looked uncertain for the first time since they'd met. She pitched her voice lower, so that Nerys had to lean closer to hear her. "I don't mean to belittle what Benjamin's become – what he is – to your people. But you need to know it's going to be difficult for him. It's going to be difficult for a lot of us."

In spite of herself, Nerys smiled. "Lieutenant, truer words have never been spoken."

Dax's grip on Nerys's wrist didn't slacken. "I wonder if you'd consider talking to him before the ceremony – not Major to Commander or Bajoran to Emissary, but person to person. There's still a good hour before he's expected to start speaking."

Nerys had to take a step closer to avoid being pulled away by the crowd, which was moving with renewed purpose to hear the preliminary speakers. "I'm not sure that's appropriate-"

"Probably not," Dax said, and her polite smile broadened to something less Starfleet, more genuine. "But having that conversation now just might save you a lot of grief in the long run. Will you come with me? I think Benjamin is in Ops, and, knowing him, he's probably trying to find all sorts of excuses not to come down here until the last possible moment."

"I'm sure the Emissary has more important things to worry about than a conversation with me."

"Trust me," Dax said, "he doesn't." With a smile, she started walking. Almost in spite of herself, Nerys followed.

The turbolift was empty except for the two of them; with the preliminary speeches at the shrine in full swing, nearly the entire Bajoran complement of the station had already reached where they were going. In the quiet hum of transit, Nerys found herself darting glances at Dax, wondering just how much of that outward calm was Starfleet training and how much came from simply having lived for so many years.

As the turbolift cleared the floor of Ops, Dax glanced over, caught Nerys staring, and winked, hopping up to solid ground before the lift had stopped moving.

Ops still looked dizzyingly strange, sometimes – the lighting was brighter, the air was cooler, and now, with all the Bajoran officers on leave to attend the ceremony, Starfleet's presence was even more obvious. A young ensign wearing the blue of a science officer ducked her head in a quick, formal nod as they passed, and Nerys felt her shoulders stiffening in reply. The loose thread on her sleeve seemed glaringly obvious, and, just before the doors to the Emissary's office opened, she wrapped it around her finger and snapped it off in a quick, decisive motion.

The Emissary himself was standing at the back of the room, looking out at the vista of stars as though in silent meditation – or, Nerys wondered, heart pounding, was he in communion with the Prophets? She glanced over to Dax, who shrugged, gave a significant nod in the Emissary's direction, grinned, and... stepped back outside, leaving the doors to close behind Nerys with a whispering hiss.

Resolving to give Dax a piece of her mind the next time they met, Nerys cleared her throat. "Emissary?"

When the Emissary made no sign of having heard her, she risked moving a few steps nearer. Far from the peace and serenity she'd expected to see, the Emissary's face was a study in restlessness, a contained energy she'd experienced too many times to mistake as anything but a powerful desire to escape.

She cleared her throat, spoke louder this time. "Emissary?"

He actually jumped at the sound of her voice, turned around so quickly that she was halfway into a defensive stance by the time she caught herself.

"Major," he said, and his expression smoothed out into a smile, though there was still something wary about his posture, the way he was standing. "I'm sorry; I didn't hear you come in."

"Well," Nerys said, and paused. "To be honest, sir-" She caught herself. "-Emissary, it was Lieutenant Dax who suggested I meet with you before the ceremony."

"Ah," he said, and made a show of straightening his dress uniform. "Right. Dax's idea. I should've guessed."

"I understand if you're too busy to-"

"Major, what kind of commander would I be if I couldn't even have a conversation with my first officer?" He waved to the chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat."

Nerys swallowed. "I, uh, I'd rather stay standing, sir. Emissary."

He winced. "Just sir, please. I don't think I'm going to get used to being called the other one."

"I'm not-" Nerys began, and, frustrated, she sucked in a deep breath, releasing it as a sigh. "I'm not sure I can do that."

"As your commanding officer, I could order you never to call me Emissary," he said, with a teasing tone that softened his words. His eyes, though, were serious, a little desperate, raw with some emotion she could only guess at.

She didn't even flinch. "Then I'd have to respectfully disobey that order. Emissary."

His posture stiffened, and he turned away, back to staring at the stars. "I guess Dax was wrong, then. We don't have anything to talk about."

"I think we do," Nerys said, and it came out more blunt than she'd expected; the Emissary turned around, surprise and amusement in his eyes. She cleared her throat. "Look, I haven't known Dax nearly as long as you have, but I'm already starting to suspect she has a habit of being right all the time."

He smiled at that. "Maybe a little."

"And I'm pretty sure she's right about this. I just-" Nerys paused, weighing her options. She'd never been one to err on the side of caution, and the way she saw it, any level of communication was better than none. With a glance back at the door to Ops, she straightened, crossing her arms. "You're not exactly Emissary material."

She'd expected something challenging in response – an answer, an explanation, at the very least – but all she got was an incredulous look, followed swiftly by a guffaw of laughter. "Major, that's the biggest understatement I've ever heard."

"But that's just it," she said, and moved a step closer, challenging. "You have no idea what this means to my people, having the Emissary live in our time. We were nearly wiped out. The only thing that sustained us-"

"Was your faith," he said, and the smile on his face faded. "I know."

"No," she said, softly, "you don't. I could name a thousand things I've witnessed that you've never even pictured in your worst nightmares, and they're all that much more terrible because they happened to my people. And you, you come from Earth, where everything's a paradise, where you've outgrown war and poverty and- and evolved. That's what I mean. You can't possibly imagine what our faith helped us survive."

"I want to understand."

Nerys chewed her lower lip for a moment. "I'm not sure you can."

He turned, abruptly, and paced to the far side of the room. "If you reject my status as the Emissary, then why keep up the pretense? Why keep calling me-" He paused, ran a hand back through his hair with a frustrated sigh. "Should I just call it all off? The ceremony? Should I go back to Opaka and tell her-"

"Listen to me," she said, and to her surprise, he stopped talking. "I don't reject your status as the Emissary. I have no doubt that the Prophets chose you for a reason. I can't doubt it."

"Then why-"

She risked taking a step closer. "I just want you to understand how badly we need this. We need to see that the Prophets didn't abandon us during the Occupation. We need to see that you're the symbol of things to come."

He glanced up, studied her for a moment, and seemed to come to a decision. "I never told you what happened to me in that wormhole."

Nerys couldn't meet his gaze. "Any experience with the Prophets is meant for one person, and that person alone."

"They showed me my wife," he said, and when she looked up again, she was surprised to see him smiling faintly. "They showed me that I was still trapped with her aboard the Saratoga, that I'd never really left her, that I had to let go. I thought that was my journey. I thought it was over, that I could get on with my life. And then-" He held up his hands. "And then I come back here, and it's all real again, and there are expectations, and- Major, I barely managed to save myself. How am I supposed to save a whole people?"

There was a moment of silence, and then, startling even herself, Nerys began to laugh.

"I'm glad you find my spiritual dilemma so amusing," he said, but he was grinning as well.

"It's just-" Nerys shook her head. "You're not what I expected. If anyone ever needed convincing that the Prophets have a strange sense of humour..." And that was enough to set them both laughing again. There was something cathartic in it, a release of tensions she hadn't even known she'd been bottling up. "All right," she said, once the moment had passed. "The only way this is going to work out is-"

"-if we work together," he said, with a smile. "Just like the Old Man said."

"She really is right all the time, isn't she?"

"I've learned it's best not to question anything Dax says. Ever."

"That seems wise," Nerys said, and extended her hand. "We just keep getting off on the wrong foot. I guess we've both got a lot of learning to do."

After a moment's hesitation, he clasped her hand in his, and his smile was warm and genuine. "I guess so," he said. "This might be a little-"

"Weird?"

"I was going to go for 'unusual'. But I expect we'll rise to the occasion." He released her hand and picked up a padd. "I'll be down in a moment, Major – let me run through my speech one last time."

"Of course," she said, and added, emphatically, "Commander."

He glanced up, and the gratitude in his expression was so powerful that all she could do in reply was nod once more and head out the doors to Ops.

Dax was standing at a station close enough to the doors that Nerys suspected she'd been able to hear every word, though she was doing a passable job of pretending to be engaged in the sensor readings in front of her. "How did it go?"

Her voice was just bland enough that Nerys could almost believe she hadn't been listening in. "You know, Lieutenant, I'm not entirely sure."

Dax froze, abandoning her nonchalance in an instant, and glanced up. "Is that a good 'not entirely sure', or a bad one?"

"Well, why don't you tell Ensign Parkins to take over-" Nerys craned her neck to read what was on Dax's console. "-running a level three security scan on the docking ring's unused cargo bays, since that's obviously such a priority at the moment, and come with me to the Promenade to see for yourself?"

Dax's smile was radiant. "I can't think of anything I'd rather do."

And as they rode down in the turbolift, Nerys couldn't quite wipe a matching smile from her face, because right at this very moment, it seemed like maybe, just maybe, the Prophets were still watching out for Bajor, after all.
III. (and the time of death is every moment) by eponymous_rose
III. (and the time of death is every moment)

There was blood in her eyes.

Nerys coughed, rolled to her knees, and swiped at her face with one sleeve. It came away wet, darker red under the Defiant's flickering emergency lights. Her head was swimming.

"Major!" Odo was picking his way toward her, stepping over debris, subtly altering the shapes of his legs when the way became more impassable. "Kira, communications are down. I can't get through to the bridge."

Stumbling to her feet, Nerys had to steady herself against a bulkhead as the ship pitched again – for a terrible moment, she wasn't sure whether she was the only one lurching and wobbling, but Odo seemed to be having similar difficulty remaining upright. "Who's firing on us?"

Odo reached her in time to swat at a detached power conduit that was evidently still live, judging by the sparks that flared up, briefly illuminating the area around them. "I'm not sure, but I could venture a guess."

Nerys grimaced. "You'd think the Jem'Hadar would have something better to do with their time."

Odo snorted, but then his expression softened, and he made an abortive gesture toward her, as if he wasn't entirely sure what to do with his hands. "Are you-"

"I'm fine," Nerys said, but as she brushed her fingers carefully against the bloody gash on her forehead, everything seemed to focus again to that moment several months earlier, to another time she'd been standing on the Defiant, fighting at Odo's side as the Jem'Hadar kept coming and coming, and the shot that could have killed her-

She must have shivered, because Odo moved closer, his frown deepening as he got a better look at the injury. "We'd better get you to sickbay."

Nerys gripped his arm, had the strange sensation of reaching through it before he remembered to make it solid through and through. He was distracted. So was she. "Sickbay," she said. "Odo, they must be after Terran. He'll be there."

His eyes widened, and without a word, the two of them set out across the field of debris. It was easy enough for Nerys to cross even the most impassable parts of the deck; Odo forged ahead, clearing spaces and supporting even the most precarious piles of rubble until she'd passed by. And walking made it easier to think.

Her head was pounding now. Concussion, maybe. Bashir would know for sure. Failing that, maybe Terran still remembered bits of the painful, brutal lessons that had been his training as a field medic in the Resistance. Provided he could figure out how to use all the Federation's wonderful gadgets and gismos, of course – he'd been so fascinated with them on coming aboard that he'd immediately started asking questions, which had been all the encouragement Bashir had needed to start talking his ear off-

Another hit, and this time, it took longer for the gravity to stabilize, as though the inertial dampeners were beginning to fail, and even when the emergency lighting flickered back into place, there was still a distinct slant to the deck. She stumbled, and Odo kept hold of her with the same effortless efficiency that had allowed him to clear them a path. The new slope of the ground was playing havoc with the dizziness that was beginning to beat out her headache as the most major annoyance of the day. She met his eyes before he could comment, and he kept his mouth shut, waiting for her to regain her balance in her own time.

"Nearly there," she said, and was relieved when he nodded agreement; for a moment, she'd been worried she was getting turned around, set off-balance by the maze-like interior of the ship. Trust Starfleet to come up with a supposedly simplistic war vessel that still managed to complicate matters by having each corridor be identically bland and forgettable. Maybe it was just her. Maybe her head injury was worse than she'd expected-

Terran. Prophets, she'd forgotten again, she had to keep thinking about him, couldn't let herself get distracted, couldn't waver if he needed her. A memory: Terran, laughing at her seriousness in a camp where children were expected to grow up quickly. Another: Terran, slapping her on the shoulder in hearty congratulation the first time he'd seen her in uniform, nearly the only one who hadn't given her a snide comment or a sidelong glance once she'd joined the Militia. He'd always trusted her to make her own decisions. He'd respected her.

He'd also been the only survivor of the Jem'Hadar attack on a doomed Bajoran colony in the Gamma Quadrant, and in the four months since the attack, he'd managed to jerry-rig a subspace transmitter that had tapped into the Federation's communications net. By sheer force of will, he'd survived, he'd stayed alive, he'd signaled them for help, and he'd been rescued. He was a hero, and Bajor needed heroes, now more than ever.

He had to be all right.

They'd reached the Defiant's sickbay, and Nerys just barely remembered that the doors wouldn't be operational in time to stop from walking straight into them. Odo wormed his fingers into the minute slit between the door and the bulkhead, and, once he'd made enough clearance, she joined him in pushing the door open.

The smell of a plasma fire made her gag, but she pushed through the door as soon as she could fit, coughing, one arm held up to shield her face from the smoke. "Terran! Dr. Bashir!"

Odo pushed past her with a sense of urgency, and she followed. After a moment, she could make out what he was seeing; a body, slumped against a bulkhead, half-buried under rubble.

The dizziness swung back full force – not now, not now – and Nerys reached for a steadying arm that wasn't there. The deck bucked again at that moment, and she managed to cover her stumble, coming up hard against a shelf containing medical supplies. Odo was already crouched beside the figure, and Nerys steeled herself, leaning closer.

Not him. Not Terran. One of Bashir's medtechs, very young and very dead.

Nerys met Odo's eyes for a moment, then turned away, fingers automatically grasping at the handle of the dead man's medkit. Priorities, Nerys. Priorities. You can't do much good if you keep losing blood. "Odo, see if you can find something for fire suppression. We need to get that blaze out before anything else."

He nodded and moved away, and she glanced back in time to see him melting his way around a fallen panel.

Nerys opened the medkit, trying to ignore the way her hands were shaking, and grabbed for a dermal regenerator. The angle was going to be tricky; she'd have to hold it still over a wound she couldn't exactly see, and there was blood in her eyes again-

"Why don't you let me take care of that, Nerys?"

She nearly jumped out of her skin, wondered for a dizzying moment if auditory hallucinations were to be expected with such an apparently minor head injury, and finally, with a wild surge of hope, she turned. Terran was smiling at her, though the lines crinkling at the edges of his eyes and the way he was cradling one hand in the other suggested he hadn't emerged unscathed, either.

"You have no idea how good it is to see you, Terran."

He crouched down beside her and took the dermal regenerator from her, gently. "Good thing I'm here to keep you from attaching your nose to your earlobe. Let your friendly neighborhood medic handle this."

She sat as still as she could, only relaxing once she heard the tell-tale hiss of one of the manual fire-suppression systems from somewhere behind her; obviously, Odo had been successful in his mission.

"So," he said, and paused in his work to catch her gaze. Once she was looking him straight in the eye, he grinned broadly, and she found herself cracking a smile in return. "That's more like it. Tell me, little Nerys, is this what life is always like on a starship?"

Nerys made a face as the dermal regenerator started humming again, but at least the dizziness was beginning to fade. "Well, we generally either face mortal peril or listen to Chief O'Brien tell stories about his daughter. There's really not a whole lot in between."

"You've never been one to settle for a happy medium," he murmured, and then beamed, pulling back the dermal regenerator with a flourish. "There! I'm still not sure about this gadget – for all I know, you have some horrible, brain-eating damage that can't be repaired – but at least it looks a lot less messy, now. The Federation's good at that sort of thing."

Nerys was silent for a moment, reliving a dozen other times Terran had patched her up over the years, always a smile on his face, and then she grasped at his hand, finally clasping it in hers. "Terran, you really have no idea how relieved I am to see you here."

His smile's intensity wavered for a moment, but only a moment. "I appreciate the rescue, Nerys. It's good to be here."

"Good," Nerys said, and then stared down at the hand between hers. "You know, I noticed you'd hurt your hand, and here I just grabbed it, didn't I?"

There was a strain in his voice, but he still managed a wink. "I wasn't going to say anything, but now that you mention it-"

Nerys pulled away. "Ah. Sorry. Do you need to fix that?"

Terran shrugged. "Nerys, I was just trapped on a planet for four months with nothing but corpses for company. Believe me when I say that feeling anything – even pain – is a gift from the Prophets."

Before Nerys could respond to that, Odo's voice, strangely tense, carried over to them. "Major, I think we need help over here."

Nerys stood, offering Terran a hand up, and, with a wry smile, he took it, hoisting himself to his feet. But even his smile faded as they picked their way over the rubble and reached Odo, who was crouched beside a horribly familiar form.

Bashir was crumpled on the deck, sprawled under what looked like half a bulkhead. He seemed preternaturally still, unreal under the dim emergency lights. Nerys couldn't tell at a glance whether he was breathing, but in a moment she saw why Odo hadn't attempted to lift the debris away.

There was blood pooling beneath him.

With the way the deck was slanting, she couldn't tell where the blood was coming from; when she reached for a pulse, she found one thrumming too-fast against her fingers. She turned in time to see Terran blanch and take a step back, was shocked to see in him the fear and doubt that made so many new soldiers freeze up. "Terran, we need your help, here."

"I didn't-" Terran said, then took a deep breath. "I mean, Prophets. I was just standing beside him, and I didn't even see-"

As though to punctuate his words, the Defiant rocked again, and Nerys took hold of Bashir's shoulders, trying to steady him, to keep from aggravating his wounds. "Terran, get that medical tricorder. We need to know how badly-"

"Yes, yes, I know," Terran said, and in an instant he was hovering beside her, squinting at the readings on the tricorder. "I don't- no breach of the pleural cavity, at least, that's something, because we'd be sunk, and that's never a pretty sight, a sucking chest wound. We're in the clear. Nothing up there but a few bumps and bruises, a couple cracked ribs. Blood pressure's not good, but that's fairly obvious. I think- yes, that blood's from his leg, probably a nick of the femoral artery, because if it were anything more than a nick, we'd know about it, artery rolling back into the muscle when you try to stitch it together, not pretty, not pretty. That has to be it. Just a nick."

Nerys winced; she'd never heard Terran babble like this, had never heard him so obviously afraid, unsure of himself. The change was alarming; the technology seemed to be rattling him. "Can we move him?" she asked, trying to keep her voice as calm and even as possible. He'd used the same trick on her before, when she'd been young and scared and hurting. "Is it safe, or are we going to make things worse?"

Terran sucked in a deep breath, expelled it in a sigh. "Is it safe? We're on a ship that seems determined to fall apart at the seams at any given minute. Apart from that, we're all safe as can be."

Nerys glanced at Odo, who was waiting for her signal; she nodded, and he started slowly lifting the debris away from Bashir. She noticed that he was oozing into place to replace the pressure of each piece of the bulkhead, just in case, and was relieved at the precaution; much as it pained her to doubt a friend, she wasn't willing to place great faith in Terran's abilities just at the moment.

The ship shook again; this time, when Nerys reached down to hold Bashir in place, she felt him pushing back.

His eyes snapped open, and he clutched at her arms, gasping for breath, his voice weak and shaky. "Major, what's happening? I don't-"

"Just hold still, Doctor," she said, and felt his nervous motion subside as training took over.

Terran leaned over her shoulder, and his voice was calm again, soothing; whatever inner demon had prompted him to panic seemed to have abated for the moment. "Doctor, can you tell me where you are?"

Bashir winced as the ship rocked again. "On the floor."

Terran smiled, leaning forward to administer a pain-relief hypo. "Close enough."

"We're under attack by the Jem'Hadar," Nerys said, watching as Odo spread beneath the rest of the debris to hold Bashir more firmly in place. "Communications are down across the ship."

Bashir's eyelids were drooping, and Terran turned to Odo. "Can you get the last of this off him? He's starting to look shocky. We need to stop that bleeding."

In lieu of replying, Odo resumed his careful removal of the debris still blocking their access to Bashir. When he reached the doctor's legs, he moved still more carefully, and Nerys repositioned herself to keep a tighter grip on Bashir's shoulders. But Bashir barely twitched as Odo pulled the final scrap of metal off his right leg, oozing in to replace it immediately with a similar amount of pressure. Nerys met Odo's eyes, and was unsurprised to see a combination of anxiety and determination on his face – she suspected he was still amazed, sometimes, by their fragility.

"Okay," Terran said, and leaned closer, staring at the tricorder. "Okay. Can you move out of the way a little, there, Odo? I need to take a closer look at that cut."

Obligingly, Odo moved away from the site of the wound, and at that moment, there was an audible explosion, and the ship's deck seemed to drop away for a few moments, then reversed direction, sending them all crashing back to the ground. Nerys tried to anticipate the landing, tried to cushion Bashir's fall, but all she succeeded in doing was banging her arm against the deck, and then Bashir was shaking, spasming, and even as she tried to hold him still, she could see Odo trying to stem a new gout of blood from his leg.

"Oh, Prophets, it's worse than I thought," Terran said, nearly in a whisper, eyes wide. He fumbled for a protoplaser, mumbling something over and over under his breath. For a moment, Nerys thought it must have been a mantra of some sort, some relaxation technique, but when Terran leaned closer again, she realized that what he was really repeating was, "I'm sorry."

Bashir's convulsive movements had stilled, but Nerys kept one arm across his shoulders in case the ship jolted again, and reached to feel for a pulse in his throat with the other hand. It was still racing, and for a moment she was in the aftermath of a raid on a Cardassian ground supplier that had gone terribly wrong, watching the life bleed out of a young woman not much older than she'd been. Bashir had the same pale cast to his skin, the same limp, lifeless appearance, and his heart seemed determined to pump the rest of his blood from his body in the same inevitable way.

Obnoxious as he was when he got to talking, she'd much rather be annoyed by that Bashir right now than have to face this silent, still stranger. She fought to remember an appropriate prayer, but all that kept coming to mind, again and again, were words for the dead.

They all looked up as the sound of phaser fire echoed eerily, somewhere in the maze of corridors outside the sickbay. Odo glanced over, met her gaze from where he'd been assisting Terran by slipping in where the physician's other, wounded hand would generally be putting pressure here, staunching bleeding there. "The shields must be down," he said.

Cautiously, Nerys released her grip on Bashir; if there were boarding parties on the Defiant, the attack on the ship itself would abate, at least for the moment. She reached down to her side, was relieved to find her phaser still in its holster. "I'll try to barricade the door. If they want us, they'll have to beam straight in to get us."

"Be careful," Odo said. Terran didn't look up from his work, and she could see that his hands were shaking.

Bracing herself for the effects of the off-kilter gravity, and the headache that was still pounding at her temples, Nerys stood and picked her way to the front of the room. Her senses felt like they were buzzing, trying to pick up any hint of a shrouded Jem'Hadar in the room, and every flicker of the lights had her catching her breath, tightening her grip on her phaser. She knew, logically, that they weren't exactly a prime target, that four life-signs in a sickbay would hardly be of interest to their attackers, not while the shields could be re-established at any moment, not when the Defiant was likely on the edge of victory.

All the same, she only relaxed marginally once she had dragged a heavy storage compartment in front of the door and positioned herself with her back to the bulkhead, watching the entrance.

The echoes of phaser fire had died off, and Nerys had no doubt that the Defiant's crew were succeeding in repelling the attackers – the ones they could see, anyway. For all she knew, the shields were back online, though the lack of jolts to the ship suggested that the Jem'Hadar still had boarding parties in place, or that they were unwilling to risk damaging a prize that could be stolen. Possibly both.

She found herself grinning in anticipation. Let them try.

The vehemence of the thought startled her. Despite the gossip she'd heard between some of the off-duty Starfleet officers at Quark's, Nerys didn't consider herself a proponent of blind faith – after all, her religion was based firmly on recorded phenomena, and how many other races in the galaxy could prove direct contact with their gods? As a kid, sure, she'd been loyal, especially once she'd joined Shakaar's cell and had a framework in which to place all her fears and desires, but she'd never quite been able to share the optimism some of the others maintained. She'd never known with that bone-deep certainty that they'd win, that they'd force their way from such an impossible darkness into the sun again. It had been voices like Kai Opaka's that had sustained her, the confidence of others more than her own. Borrowed faith.

Now, though, she could see for herself that everything was slipping into place, as though the Prophets themselves were guiding her mind's eye. The engineers would restore shields – assuming the breach in the shields hadn't been a calculated strategy on Sisko's part – and the Defiant's crew would repel the boarding parties, and the Defiant would limp back to DS9, bruised and battered, with a few new scars and stories to tell. Terran would patch Bashir up, and the doctor would be an absolutely insufferable patient until he was released from the infirmary. There'd be some sort of ceremony, some recognition of Terran's status as a true hero of Bajor-

Her head was spinning again, and she squared her shoulders, forcing herself to focus, to concentrate. No sense thinking ahead when she had a task at hand. She tapped her comm badge and called for the bridge, then engineering, but there was still no reply.

"Kira."

She turned in time to watch Odo finish picking his way across the rubble toward her – she noticed that he wasn't shifting form as casually. Conserving his strength, probably. She wondered how long it was until he'd have to regenerate.

"How is he?"

Odo stared disconcertedly at a smear of blood on his arm, shifted something in the limb's molecular structure that made the blood slip off to the deck, tacky and strange. "Terran seems to think he'll be all right. The bleeding's stopped, in any case, and we're certainly in a good location to treat an injury, regardless of our medic's experience, or lack thereof."

Nerys turned back to the door; the lack of phaser fire was starting to feel good, comfortable. "Terran's a good medic, Odo. He's just been through a lot."

"I know," Odo said, but there was something in his voice that made her turn around to meet his eyes again. "I don't-" he said, and paused, clearly weighing his words carefully, which was unusual, to say the least. "Something seems strange. I've seen a lot of people crack under pressure, in my line of work, but Terran didn't seem the type."

Nerys tightened her grip on the phaser. "He's been through a lot," she said again.

Odo was silent for a long moment, and Nerys didn't trust herself to look back at him. Finally, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and while he pulled it away almost immediately, she recognized the gesture of support for what it was. "Why don't I take over here? I can slip through to the corridors outside and let you know if anything's happening. You should talk to Terran."

Nerys paused, then sighed, lowering her weapon. "All right," she said. "I'll talk to him. But if anything comes this way-"

At that moment, the flickering lights brightened as the load on reserve power was reduced. She met Odo's eyes as she tapped her badge again. "Kira to bridge."

"Good to hear from you, Major." Sisko seemed tired, but the sound of his voice was enough to buoy her spirits even further. "Is everything all right down there?"

She caught the edge of caution in his tone, realized that the internal sensors were likely still down, that he still hadn't ruled out the presence of more Jem'Hadar aboard the ship. No locations, then; stick to the facts. "Ensign Latta's dead and Bashir's wounded. We haven't seen any other casualties."

Sisko was silent for a moment, and his voice, when he spoke again, sounded heavier. "All right, Major. Can you move Bashir?"

"I wouldn't recommend it," Terran called out. His voice was no longer shaky, and the high edge of panic seemed to have subsided again.

"No," Nerys said.

"Can you hold your position if need be?"

"Yes, sir."

"Understood. Is our guest there with you?"

Nerys blinked, cast a questioning glance at Odo, who seemed as perplexed as she did. "Uh, yes, sir."

"Good. We'll mop things up. All of you stay where you are for now and keep an eye out, Major. We'll let you know when the ship is clear." And with that, his voice was gone, and Nerys was breathing a little easier.

"I'll stay here," Odo said, casting a painfully obvious glance back toward Terran and Bashir.

"All right, all right," Nerys muttered, and moved back over the rubble to the other end of sickbay.

Terran was kneeling beside Bashir, squinting at a medical tricorder. His hands were covered in blood, and there were streaks of it splashed on his clothing; the sight was oddly familiar, reminiscent of all the times she'd seen him work on their people during the Occupation. Even the way he worried at his lower lip was familiar.

Bashir himself looked horrible, with blood the only splash of color on his face, though he seemed to be breathing easier, and there was a clean pressure bandage on his leg. Terran looked up as she approached, and she managed a small smile, feeling oddly self-conscious about checking up on someone she'd always thought was stronger than her. "How is he?"

Terran's face broke into a tired smile. "I think he'll make it. Blood pressure's on the rise now that he's got some fresh plasma in him. Doesn't seem to be leaking out anywhere, either."

Nerys crouched down next to him. "That's good," she said, and her smile widened. "That's fantastic. I knew you'd be able to help."

"Well, that's good, because for a while I wasn't so sure."

The tone was light, teasing, but there was an edge to it that made Nerys look more closely at Terran. He looked older, she realized, with far more white than brown in his hair, and wrinkles she could have sworn hadn't been there the last time she'd seen him. "You're a hero, Terran. You've been through a lot and lived to tell about it." When he didn't respond, she touched his arm, and felt a chill when he pulled away. "You know that. We live through the worst of it and come back stronger."

He laughed, but it wasn't the warm, affectionate sound she knew so well. "Right," he said. "Trust me, Nerys, when I say that Bajor doesn't want heroes like me."

"It takes time, Terran," she said, but he still wouldn't meet her eyes.

They remained like that for some time, silence broken only by the tricorder and the hiss of a hypospray as Terran administered another unit of plasma. She noticed, then, that he was still cradling one hand, and she realized that most of the blood on it wasn't Bashir's.

"Do you want me to take a look at that?"

He blinked at her, uncomprehending, and finally looked down at his hand. "Oh, don't worry about it, Nerys. I'm sure someone will be able to take care of it sooner or later."

"Here, let me," she said, and reached for his hand.

Again, he pulled away, irritably. "What does it matter?"

Nerys narrowed her eyes, and, in a flash of motion, managed to catch hold of his wrist without touching the hand itself. There was a long, shallow gash along the palm. "It looks like it hurts."

Terran sighed. "It does."

"Then hold still," Nerys said, and reached for the dermal regenerator. "Believe it or not, I am trained to use one of these."

A faint smile flickered at the corner of Terran's mouth, but he smoothed it away almost immediately. "Do you hear that?"

Nerys froze; she could hear footsteps, the murmur of voices, and she reached for her phaser – and then another voice, a lower, raspy voice that couldn't belong to anyone but Odo. She relaxed and holstered her weapon, grinning. "Sounds like they've found us," she said. "We're taking you back to Bajor, Terran. You're going home."

And there were, absurdly, tears in Terran's eyes as he finally met her gaze. "I wish I could go home, Nerys. I really wish I could. I wish I could explain what I did."

And with that, he pulled her into a fierce hug that nearly took her breath away, and before she could say anything in reply, several things happened all at once.

The voices grew louder, and she looked over Terran's shoulder to see what seemed like half the crew, led by Sisko, all moving in with phaser rifles at the ready, and Terran shifted his embrace slightly, and from the corner of her eye she could see that Bashir was awake, coughing, desperately trying to move, shouting, "Major!", and she could see Odo moving closer-

A familiar lightness at her side, and Terran had her phaser in his hand, and he was pulling back just slightly, and she could see whole worlds in his eyes, the lives he'd saved, the lives he hadn't, the lives he'd always wanted to live.

"Oh, Nerys," he said. And then, quite suddenly, there was nothing in his eyes at all.

She almost didn't hear the phaser go off, and for an instant she wondered if she was dead, if this was just her brain trying to take in as much as it possibly could before consciousness finally faded, but then Odo reached her, pulled her away, and she was shaking, and her ears were ringing, but nothing hurt, nothing hurt at all-

Terran slumped back, smoke rising from the point-blank phaser shot he'd taken to the chest.

She jerked in shock, tried to get closer to him, but Odo was holding her, keeping her from moving, shouting something. She watched as Bashir struggled to crouch next to Terran's body, watched as he fumbled for the medical tricorder, swaying badly, and she watched as someone tried to pull him away, tried to get him to lie back down, and then she watched as Bashir crumpled, like all the life had gone out of him at once, and then there was a new flurry of activity, and two still bodies at the heart of it-

"Nerys!"

She realized Odo must have been calling her name for some time, and when she looked up, she was surprised to see real fear in his eyes, however quickly he hid it. "Nerys, are you-"

"He killed himself," she said, and hated how small her voice had become.

"The Jem'Hadar found him, on the colony." Odo's voice was gentle but firm, inexorable, relentless. "They kept one survivor for a reason. He had some sort of transmitter on him that would give our position even under cloak. We only managed to survive the attack because Chief O'Brien noticed an anomaly in the sensor readings and recommended we come out of warp to investigate – so that rather than being flanked by two groups of Jem'Hadar, we fought them one at a time."

Nerys stopped listening. The medical team was swarming around Bashir, leaving Terran still and silent and forgotten, staring up at the gray ceiling with unseeing eyes. She shrugged off Odo's grasp, reached for Terran's hand, clasped it between her own.

"I'm sorry," Odo said. He was beside her, and she realized he'd put a hand on her shoulder again, not to restrain her, but to comfort her. "I know he was a good friend."

Nerys couldn't bring herself to close Terran's eyes, caught herself looking for something in them – an explanation, an apology. Peace. His hand was still warm. "We needed him," she said. "We're so close, Odo. We defeated the Cardassians, we rebuilt, we survived. He could have been a symbol of that."

"I know."

Nerys sighed, let Terran's hand drop on his chest, leaned back on her haunches. There was a terrible smell in the air, sweet like burning flesh, coppery like blood, and she glanced over to watch the medical teams work on Bashir. Some of their frenetic movements had slowed; it looked like they'd stabilized him. "What kind of Prophets would dangle hope in front of us like this?"

"You're survivors, Nerys," Odo said, so softly she had to watch his lips to catch the words over the chaos in the room, over the echo of the phaser blast still ringing in her ears. "You've made it through all this because of your faith. You're all survivors."

"Everyone keeps saying that." Nerys glanced back at Terran, at his open eyes and all the mysteries they held. "For such amazing survivors, it seems to me we hardly ever survive."

Odo glanced away. "All I mean is that you don't have to face it alone. Not anymore."

"I know," she said, and managed a smile when he finally met her gaze again. She reached out, closed Terran's eyes, and murmured a prayer over him – not an elegy, but a celebration, drawing on the rare words in the Bajoran repertoire that weren't praise or mourning or anger, but sheer joy.

Peace.

When she next looked up, she realized that she'd been whispering for some time, and that the room was nearly deserted. Bashir had evidently been evacuated to a less damaged area of the ship, and only Odo was still standing next to her, head bowed. Across the room, Sisko sat on the remains of a fallen bulkhead, watching them with an unreadable expression.

"Major," Odo said, softly, and offered her his hand.

She took it, pulled herself to her feet with his help, and dredged up a smile. "Come on, Constable. We have work to do."
IV. Lost in a shaft of sunlight. by eponymous_rose
IV. Lost in a shaft of sunlight.

"Nerys, wait!"

She didn't turn, too focused on the sound of one footstep after another, too focused on her heartbeat's too-loud thrumming in her ears, too focused on the feel of landing blow after blow, of doing damage, of doing something-

Ziyal was calling her name again, with a new urgency, with something that seemed a lot like fear. It took some effort, but eventually Nerys slowed her pace, slowed her breathing, and cast Ziyal a sidelong glance; she looked pale, shocked, but also a little thrilled. Their eyes met, and Ziyal went very quiet for a few moments.

"Your hand's bleeding," she said, finally.

Nerys had been aware of the ache, but it was the kind of pain she'd reveled in during her days with the Resistance, the kind of pain that said This is under my control and I caused this and This is because I won. She looked closer, winced at the way the knuckles were already starting to swell. Her head was spinning.

"There's an emergency medkit somewhere along this corridor," she said, but Ziyal was already moving to the nearest panel – Nerys wondered, idly, if it was her artist's eye that had drawn her to it so quickly, or if it was merely the vaunted Cardassian attention to detail at work.

They were quiet for a while longer while Ziyal patched up Nerys's hand. A Bajoran security officer walked by; Nerys met his eyes, daring him to comment, but he merely bowed his head and moved on. She wondered what else he'd been turning away from lately.

"Back there," Ziyal began, and then winced sympathetically, adjusting her grip on the dermal regenerator. "Sorry. I guess I make a better artist than a doctor."

Nerys laughed, expelled a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding in. "Just don't get too creative. I'd rather not wind up with my hand on display at the Cardassian Institute of Art."

Ziyal smiled at that, but only for a moment. "Nerys," she said, "it's not that I don't appreciate the sentiment, but back there... that wasn't just about me, was it?"

"It was about Damar," Nerys said, with a carefully casual shrug. "Three months of working with him. It was bound to come out sometime."

"So you decided to pound him into the floor," Ziyal said, and then grinned. "I can't believe you did that."

Nerys managed another smile, but it was more weary; the adrenaline was wearing off fast, and with it went the certainty that what she'd done had been a good idea. If Damar raised a stir, if he tried to get her arrested, if he went to Dukat-

And then she felt a wave of relief so profound that she nearly burst out laughing again. If Damar went to Dukat, he'd have some explaining to do, and given Dukat's devotion to his daughter, that particular conversation wasn't likely to be a pleasant one. She almost wished she could be there to see it.

"There," Ziyal pronounced. "Good as new. Does it hurt?"

Nerys flexed her hand, experimentally, and was surprised when there was only a faint twinge in response. "Not at all," she said. "You're pretty good at that."

"It's a lot like sewing," she said, and by the faint flush in her cheeks, Nerys thought she could guess who'd been teaching Ziyal to sew. Her expression shifted almost immediately, to something colder, something strange. "I hope they're all right."

"I'm sure they are," Nerys said, and, when Ziyal gave only a miserable nod, she clasped her shoulder. "They're coming back, Ziyal."

Ziyal wouldn't meet her eyes for a second, but when she finally looked up, it was with enough hope that Nerys found herself taking solace in it, found herself almost believing her own words. "You're right," Ziyal said, briskly, and closed the medkit. "I'm being silly. They'll make it back somehow."

"I'm sure they will," Nerys said, with more certainty than she felt.

She flexed her hand experimentally while Ziyal put the medkit away, then rolled her shoulders; that last punch had been hard enough that she'd felt the impact all the way back to her spine. Not as much as Damar would have felt it, of course – she wondered how long it would take him to come to. She was reasonably sure that Dukat would be able to keep him in line, but she'd still have to watch her back. Lately it seemed like that was all she knew how to do.

Ziyal was still standing beside the panel where she'd put the medkit, and, stepping closer, Nerys was startled to see that she was shaking. "Ziyal?"

Ziyal glanced up, gave a ghost of a smile, and Nerys wondered, not for the first time, how a father like Dukat could produce someone like Ziyal, how anyone could live the life she had and still be disturbed by violence. "I'm sorry, Nerys. I think I'd like to go back to my quarters."

"Of course," Nerys said, softly. "I'll walk with you."

They went in silence, broken only when a flurry of activity at the end of the hallway signalled that Damar was awake and angry. Ziyal winced, glanced down every time someone passed by, but Nerys looked them in the eyes, even nodded to the trio of Jem'Hadar soldiers who barrelled past to investigate the commotion.

"Aren't you worried?" Ziyal whispered.

Nerys snorted. "Damar's the one who should be worried. Trust me, Ziyal, your father's going to take your side, no matter what."
Ziyal was quiet for a long time after that.

They were nearly at Ziyal's quarters when she turned, smile already dying on her lips. "Nerys, do you mind if I ask – as a friend – why Odo isn't-"

"I'd rather not talk about it," Nerys said, perhaps a little more sharply than she'd intended, because while Ziyal immediately looked chagrined, she also took on a contemplative air, as though something had suddenly become clear to her.

"I understand," she said, and they arrived at the door to her quarters.

"Would you like me to come in for a minute?"

Ziyal's smile returned, but now it was apologetic. "If it's all the same to you, Nerys, I'd rather spend a little time alone."

"Of course," Nerys said, but neither of them made any move to leave.

"Thank you for what you did back there," Ziyal said, finally. "Things have been difficult lately. Confusing. It's good to know there's somebody who cares."

"Lots of people care, Ziyal." Nerys pulled her into a one-armed hug, ignoring the strain on her sore muscles. "You don't have to feel alone here."

Ziyal shifted, and Nerys could feel her shaking again. "I don't think I've ever really felt alone. At the labor camp-" She swallowed, took a deep breath, and tried again. "At the labor camp, I wasn't treated well, exactly, but it wasn't entirely terrible, either. Some of the guards had been there nearly as long as we had. They'd talk to me, and sometimes I managed to convince them not to hurt the other prisoners." Another breath, and Nerys glanced down; Ziyal's eyes were shining, and a faint smile had come to her face. "And then you and my father came out of nowhere."

Nerys decided that now wasn't a good time to remind her that Dukat had only been seeking her out in order to kill her and avoid the scandal, and settled instead for patting her on the shoulder for a few moments.

"Sometimes it feels like there are too many people who think too highly of me," Ziyal said, in a murmur. "It's difficult being all things to all people."

Nerys chuckled, but it was without humor. "Tell me about it. I think everyone on the station's feeling conflicts of loyalty, Ziyal. Yours is just a little more pronounced than most."

Ziyal took a step back, met Nerys's eyes squarely with the quiet determination that she'd seen on several occasions. "So is Odo's."

Nerys felt her face twist into a scowl, and she worked on smoothing out her expression. "Odo made the wrong choice. You haven't yet. Just-" She sighed, rolling out her shoulders again; right now, a drink at Quark's was starting to seem more and more appealing. "Just remember what your father's done, in the past. Remember what he tried to do."

Ziyal nodded, and Nerys turned away. Before she could get too far, though, Ziyal called out, "Nerys." When she turned, Ziyal was smiling, uncertainly. "You've always trusted in the Prophets, Nerys. I think you might need that faith now more than ever."

As she raised a hand in farewell, Nerys smiled back, but the smile didn't reach her eyes.
V. In the sombre season or the sudden fury. by eponymous_rose
V. In the sombre season or the sudden fury.

There was one thing to be said for living in a cellar: at least it was cooler than outside.

Oh, not pleasantly so – that would be too much to ask. Just enough that Nerys didn't feel like the air was sapping her strength, didn't feel like she was moving too slowly all the time, didn't feel like she was trapped. No more so than usual, anyway.

The cooler temperatures seemed to be bothering Damar more than they bothered Garak; Nerys suspected the latter had grown used to the more Bajoran-friendly environmental controls on the station, probably in spite of himself. He'd still managed to keep up the odd complaint about the chill, but it was a half-hearted attempt at best.

And then their rebellion had been obliterated before it had a chance to begin, and nobody felt much like complaining about the chill.

Damar had been quiet ever since Weyoun's transmission; Garak, on the other hand, had been talking almost ceaselessly, spinning ideas and suggestions that became more and more ridiculous as time wore on. At first, Nerys engaged with him on the more plausible ideas, argued with him, tried to make them seem feasible, even tried to draw Damar into the debate. Now she didn't bother.

When even Garak had gone quiet, she knew they were in trouble.

At some point, Mila brought them sleeping cots, but nobody felt much like sleeping. She brought them food, but nobody felt much like eating. Nerys wished she hadn't brought up the idea of spending the rest of the war in the cellar, because it was becoming more and more plausible by the minute.

Her heart raced sometimes, and she paced, feeling like the walls were caving in on her, feeling like the whole of Cardassia Prime was ready to collapse on top of her, feeling like maybe it already had. But those moments passed, leaving her as silent and lethargic as the others.

It came as some surprise, then, when it was Damar who stirred himself first one day and said, softly, "It's nearly time for the Edosian orchids to bloom, you know."

Nerys turned, caught sight of his wistful expression, and nearly laughed at the surreal non-sequitur. When she saw Garak's face, though, the smile died on her lips. He'd gone very still, and his expression was unreadable. Trust Cardassians to get stirred up over flora.

Damar sat up, though he avoided looking at them both. He seemed almost embarrassed. "My son loved Edosian orchids. This time of year, he'd always be after me to take him to the botanical gardens."

Garak smiled, mask firmly back in place. "It is rather a nice time to be on Cardassia Prime, isn't it? If it weren't for the occupying horde threatening our imminent destruction, this would nearly qualify as a pleasant holiday."

Nerys snorted. "Complete with world-class accommodations."

Garak drew a finger across the table he'd dusted earlier that day. "You can't deny the efficiency of the maid service."

Damar cast a wry look at the ceiling. "And the view needs to be seen to be believed."

They were silent for a moment after that, and with the silence came a strange, companionable feeling that reminded Nerys of nothing so much as the long nights spent with the members of her resistance cell, trading stories and hopes and dreams under an unfriendly sky. The parallel was disconcerting, to say the least.

"I'm sorry, Damar," she said, surprising herself. "About your family."

He didn't say anything for a long time, but when she darted a glance in his direction, she thought he looked a little more thoughtful than he had in some time, a little less lost. Garak, she noticed, was watching the exchange with something that was obviously meant to look like boredom.

"Thank you, Colonel," Damar said, finally.

"If you ask me," Garak said, sitting up as well, "the Dominion's getting sloppy. If it was a deliberate tactic to sap your resolve – and I believe that's what was intended – then it's clearly had the opposite effect. And that's highly suggestive." He paused, as though waiting for one or both of them to interject. Nerys and Damar exchanged glances, then shrugged in unison.

With a long-suffering sigh, Garak continued. "Well, you must see what that implies? Such appalling lack of intelligence when it comes to understanding the Cardassian family, the Cardassian sense of honor, suggests that the Vorta and the Founders have stopped even pretending to listen to whichever Cardassian is playing puppet for them now."

It was a deliberate shot at Damar, but Nerys was surprised to see him take the blow with good grace and a faint, self-deprecating smile. Undaunted by this lack of reaction, Garak straightened, warming to his subject matter. "It speaks to a certain level of discord among the ranks of our enemy, a lack of communication. Perhaps we can use that to our advantage."

"Of course," Damar said, deadpan. "Instead of going for their supply lines, we should have been ridiculing their lack of familiarity with the collected works of Preloc. How silly we were."

"No, there's something to that," Nerys said, and sat up as well; her view of the ceiling was becoming stale. "If we can use their ignorance somehow-"

"Using anything – doing anything – is out of the question as long as we're stuck down here," Damar said, and slammed his fist against his cot to punctuate the statement.

Garak's brief burst of energy seemed to have burned itself out. "There is something to be said for having resources at one's disposal."

With a wince, Nerys slumped back onto her cot. She'd been assigned to this sorry excuse for a resistance for precisely that reason – Cardassians were used to large-scale plotting, to playing games that had complicated pieces covering the board, to schemes and stratagems. Nerys was here to help them see beyond that, to point out the immense gains that could come from small-scale, simple, low-risk attacks carried out with surgical precision.

Three people against an army. The scale didn't get much smaller than that.

When the silence became less of an interlude and more of a state of being, Nerys allowed herself to retreat back into her own thoughts, combing through her memory yet again for ways in which they might be able to fight, ways in which they might be able to turn the tables on Weyoun. She wished they could get in touch with people who believed in a new Cardassia, people who believed as Tekeny Ghemor had believed, but she suspected any hint of a dissenting group within the Cardassian populace would have been eradicated immediately. If they were going to turn public opinion against the Dominion, they'd have to do it without the benefit of any organized, pre-existing structure. That didn't bode well.

The Bajoran resistance had been born of a half-century's terror and resentment, but it had only really come into its own once it became clear that the Bajorans who collaborated with the Cardassians were merely there to pay lip service to the people, to keep a steady supply of slave labor and line their own pockets. To expect the Cardassians to rise up against the Dominion in so little time was ludicrous – unless, as Garak suggested, the Dominion were to tip its hand in some way, by showing the Cardassian people how little they mattered in this so-called alliance. Maybe it wasn't about reaching the right targets anymore. Maybe it was about reaching the right people.

Or maybe, some small part of Nerys suggested, it was about waiting for the Prophets to intervene, as they had after the minefield had come down.

Somehow she suspected that might be a long wait.

"It's a shame," Garak said, as though reading her thoughts, "that the Prophets don't seem inclined to act on our behalf."

"The Prophets helped defend us against you," Nerys said, and it came out more harshly than she'd intended, but the anger felt good, felt real, felt like stepping into a cool cellar after such terrible heat. "They're hardly likely to switch sides."

"And here I thought we were all fighting for the same thing," Garak said, with deceptive mildness. There was something in his eyes, though, that made Nerys suspect he was spoiling for a fight every bit as much as she was.

"Maybe the Emissary could put in a good word for us," Damar said, with a sneer.

Nerys sat up again, whirled to face him. "Look, Damar, if you don't have anything to contribute-"

"I wasn't aware that anyone was contributing much of anything-"

Nerys was on her feet before she knew what she was doing. "At least we're talking!"

Damar jumped up as well. "Unless I've missed something, talk doesn't seem to be getting us out of this cellar!"

There was a long moment of silence, broken only by their heavy breathing. Nerys became aware of the fact that Garak was staring at both of them, eyes wide in an exaggerated parody of surprise.

And then, with a rueful smile, Nerys slumped back onto her cot. "Listen to us. We're talking about trying to sow discord within the Dominion, and we can't even go five minutes without bickering amongst ourselves."

After a tense moment, Damar's expression softened to match hers. "Not exactly the sort of resistance people write songs and stories about."

Nerys snorted. "If we win, let's swear to falsify the songs and stories so they make our victory seem much more impressive."

"I suppose a verse about the days we spent moping in a cellar might not go over particularly well," Damar said. "There are only so many rhymes for the word 'boredom'."

"If we win," Garak said softly, "we won't need to exaggerate our victory."

They were silent again for a long time after that, until Mila came back downstairs and told them about the Man They Couldn't Kill, until they found hope again in the most unlikely of places, in a disgraced ex-politician living in a cellar.

All Nerys could think, after that, was that maybe, just maybe, the Prophets had a hand in this after all. With Damar on their side, it seemed impossible to lose. Any day, she knew, a new Cardassia would rise from the ashes of the old. Anything else would be unthinkable

And then the unthinkable happened.

The day Damar died, the day a billion Cardassians died with him, the day the Dominion began the slow, unwieldy process of surrender, Nerys found herself a quiet corner in all the commotion of important diplomats, of soldiers and civilians and the walking wounded.

There, for the first time, she cursed the Prophets.

She cursed them for not interfering when they could so easily have prevented all this, cursed them for this devastation, cursed them for the devastation that had only ended seven years earlier. The words tasted like ashes in her mouth, and she regretted them as soon as they'd been uttered, but still she cursed them for stepping in only when their own interests were threatened, for sitting idly by while so many died-

"Colonel?"

She turned, furious, but faltered when she saw Garak. He seemed curiously off-balance, and his emotions played clearly across his face: surprise, frustration, a hint of disgust, something very much like concern, and, underlying it all, a lost, devastated look that Nerys hadn't seen on anyone since the Occupation had ended. "Colonel," he said again. "I couldn't help overhearing-"

"I don't have time for your games, Garak." She pushed past him and was surprised when he didn't hold his ground.

"I only wanted to say, Colonel, that I appreciate everything you did here. Our resistance would have died in its entirety without you. The Cardassian people would be extinct."

She turned, looked back, and saw something in Garak's face she couldn't identify, something she couldn't quite make out at first because it was something she'd never seen in him before: complete candor. Honesty. Sincerity.

He hesitated a moment, then reached out and touched her arm, briefly. "If your Prophets could find no way to prevent all this, perhaps they had a hand in sending you here."

And then he moved away, melting into the commotion and noise, and Nerys was left standing alone, in a quiet place.
VI. The past and future are conquered, reconciled. by eponymous_rose
VI. The past and future are conquered, reconciled.

"I promise, Colonel, we're doing everything we can." Even over the crackling, sputtering comm signal, Nog sounded frantic, and she pictured him moving from station to station, shoving aside the more junior officers in his hurry to get to the relevant consoles. "We'll have you out of there right away."

Grinning in spite of herself at the mental image, Nerys made another attempt at standing, then winced as her knee threatened to buckle again. With a sigh, she slumped back against the sheer face of the rock. "No rush, Lieutenant. Take your time."

Julian's voice was next, and he sounded nearly as worried as Nog. "How badly are you hurt, Colonel? Can you move?"

"Just wrenched my knee when the floor gave way." Nerys stared up at the cracks in what was now the ceiling, scowling. "And I may have bruised my dignity a little. Remind me to wear padded clothes the next time I decide to explore an archeological treasure trove of caves and tunnels."

Ezri's voice was next, and Nerys was relieved at the warmth of it, at the gentle tinge of good humor that meant she was going to get teased about this for weeks to come. "I'll remind him to remind you. Hang in there, Nerys. If you can get to the beam-out point on your own-"

"I'd be there already, trust me. You'll just have to keep tunnelling down until you can get a lock." Nerys took a closer look at what was now her ceiling – it seemed solid enough. For now. "Carefully."

"You got it."

The comm signal went dead, and Nerys was alone in a series of tunnels under a forgotten city on an alien world. With a sprained knee, to boot. Not exactly her finest hour.

She levered herself into a more comfortable position, stretching her leg out in front of her, and rested her head back against the stone wall, staring up at the hole in the ceiling, trying to hear the sound of the surgical drilling the Defiant was doing from space, even though she was far enough underground that there was no way she'd be able to hear it. When she got tired of listening for something she'd never be able to hear, she listened instead to her own breathing, to her own heartbeat, to the intermittent crackles of static that were her people's wordless signal that they were still on their way to get her.

And then, all at once, she started to laugh.

At first, she had a panicked sense that she must have been hurt worse than she thought, that she must have hit her head or lost a lot of blood, because there was no reason to feel so giddy. But after a quick check that turned up nothing beyond her knee and a number of bruises in unmentionable locations, she was still grinning, and the giggles were threatening to escape again.

Here she was, valiant leader of Deep Space Nine, supervising the overhaul of the Defiant that would make it more suitable for scientific and exploratory expeditions, in the process of running the paperwork for her new officers – some of the most brilliant minds Bajor and Starfleet had to offer – and she was spending part of these early days of her command with a busted knee, stuck on a planet that hadn't been inhabited for millennia. It was ridiculous. And it felt wonderful.

Sometimes it was like Odo was impossibly out of reach, like he'd never been there, like she'd dreamt him. Now, though, he might as well have been beside her, stifling a smile of his own, maybe rolling his eyes. And Sisko-

She still wasn't sure what had happened to Benjamin Sisko; nobody knew. Kasidy had insisted that he was unharmed, that he was with the Prophets, and after those terrible first few weeks, Jake had come forward with a similar story, looking like a different man. Nerys had no reason to doubt it. If anyone deserved some measure of peace, it was Sisko.

She'd heard of people experiencing the physical sensation of being with the Prophets in times of great need. That made sense; her people had survived the Occupation in large part due to their faith, after all, and when the war with the Dominion had broken out, there'd been another need for comfort, for assurance. She'd experienced it herself over the years, to greater and lesser degrees.

But this was a different story. There was no immediate threat – her people were good, the rest of the stonework was solid and not in danger of caving in, there were no unfriendlies about, and it was all just a matter of waiting. And yet she felt as though Sisko were sitting at her side, as though the Prophets were all around her, and that feeling had grown stronger and stronger, even as she wrestled with the fresh political issues of the selection of Bajor's new kai, even as she counseled her Bajoran crewmembers in the aftermath of the planet's religious upheaval. It wasn't simply a matter of assuming that everything would turn out for the best; it was trusting that it might, trusting that there was the potential left for good in a universe that sometimes seemed to turn its back on the righteous. It was knowing that people like Sisko and Odo could be gods, could be something beyond anyone's understanding, and still they were her friends.

It was having faith in Kira Nerys.

The war was over. She had no doubt another would take its place sooner or later, that still more death would follow, but for now, Nerys intended to live.

She looked up at the ceiling and laughed until her voice was hoarse, waiting for her friends, her family, to take her back among the gods and the Prophets and the people. To take her back among the stars.
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