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.
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".