IV. Lost in a shaft of sunlight.
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.