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.