Fic: "Third-hand Knitwear", Jadzia Dax/Kira Nerys, PG-13
Pairing: Jadzia Dax/Kira Nerys (With a reference to Julian Bashir/OMC)
Warning: Discussion of past rape.
Summary: In a different world, Nerys would have grown up praying for love, for diligence at her school work, and for patience when dealing with her family. This Nerys grew up praying for strength, fortitude, and for the Cardassians to leave her alone. Living on the station with her memories of occupied Bajor is harder than Nerys thought it would be.
Note: Part of the Not For Money and Not For Food series". Reading the rest of the series is not necessary to follow this fic, but it probably makes more sense in context. I have recently started watching DS9 for the first time, and at the time of writing this, I have yet to see the whole series, so if some elements of this story disagree with later canon, that's why. Comments and criticism are hugely appreciated.
The sweater still smelt faintly of wood smoke. Nerys shoved it to one side of the closet. Looking at it reminded her of sitting in a cave in winter, trying to make herself be patient while her cold hands unravelled a torn tunic. She couldn't knit, so her job was always to wind the yarn. This yarn had been pilled and thin under her fingers, and it had strange stains and smelt of someone else's sweat.
“I'll knit you something out of this,” one of the older men, Cahil, said, fingering the thin yarn. “There's not much life left in it, but you're so skinny, it'll go round you.”
I need to throw it out, Nerys thought now, looking at the scuffed wool. It probably doesn't even fit me any more.
She reached to take it off the hanger, but her fingers remained on the shoulder for a moment, fingering the loose weave, and then let go.
Nerys gripped the balustrade of the balcony, looking down. The Dabo wheel turned, and people cheered. The two events seemed independent of one another. The cheering suddenly sounded mocking and sinister. The colours lost shape, splintering, blurring with one another.
Then she shook her head and concentrated, and the scene fit together once more. One of the laughing faces was even intimately familiar: Jadzia watched the players too, lively with humour. Her hand was on Bashir's arm.
Nerys wanted to leave: she didn't want to walk into the press of people, to feel their voices all around her. She was afraid that down there, colours would be too bright, events disconnected and somehow sinister.
She shook herself. You're afraid of Quarks? You, Kira Nerys, are afraid of Quark's?
She walked down the stairs, into the crowd, into synthehol-scented breath, the press of warm bodies, and ringing laughter. And it was fine: the scene remained consistent, no parts were severed from the whole.
“There you are,” Jadzia said, and took her hand, and smiled, and kissed her cheek. “I thought your shift ended a half-hour ago.”
“It did. It just took me a while to finish up.” She left her hand in Jadzia's, appreciating its familiar warmth. Then she saw Bashir's eyes on their joined hands, and she slipped hers free. She knew if Bashir was looking at them with any kind of animosity, it was only jealousy that she had ended up being the one in Jadzia's arms and not him, but it still made her uncomfortable.
Her relationship felt private, but was not private, because everyone knew about it. Sisko had discussed policies on senior staff having relationships with one another at length with her; O'Brien had asked both of them to dinner; the Bajorans whispered about the Major dating an alien.
She folded her arms around herself rather than Jadzia, and pretended to listen to what Bashir was saying.
“You look tired,” Jadzia said, fingers tracing gently over the back of Nerys's wrist. Nerys glanced sideways at a Bajoran man, who was watching them from the Dabo table.
“Then I'll get you a drink. Voodai?”
Voodai made everything pleasantly fuzzy at the edges. That wasn't what she wanted tonight: it would be too close to the distorted room she'd seen earlier. “Ginger tea would be nice. But I can get it myself.”
Jadzia smiled. “Let me.”
That left her alone with Bashir. Jadzia always liked to do little things for her: bring her food, massage her shoulders, give her small gifts. She appreciated it, but was never quite sure how to respond.
“Jadzia tells me you're planning to share quarters,” Bashir said. He shifted his stance slightly as he said it: she thought discussing it with her probably made him feel awkward, and that was exactly why he brought it up. He was still young enough to think that being direct was the only correct thing to do. She could sympathise with that.
“Well, we spend so much time together anyway that it seemed silly not to.”
“A big decision, though!” Bashir said. He leant towards her, looking conspiratorial. “I've never shared quarters with anyone.”
Nerys hid a smile. Of course he hadn't. “Honestly, neither have I.”
“It must be strange,” Bashir said, lowering his voice so it was hard to hear in the noisy bar, “When Jadzia has done all of these things so many times already.”
Nerys thought about the first time she'd had sex with Jadzia, when she still thought of her only as Dax, when she was desperate only to kiss a woman, to touch a woman. She had wanted to be with a woman for so long and had so little opportunity. She'd lifted her head from between Jadzia's thighs, and Jadzia had smoothed back her hair from her face and said, “You're not bad, for a beginner,” and Nerys had heard the promise of more in those words.
She glanced over at the bar, at Jadzia coming towards them followed by Quark and a tray with drinks. To Bashir she said, honestly, “I like letting Jadzia teach me.”
Nerys took the warm cup and sipped the acrid tea. She wasn't sure, now, whether she actually enjoyed the bitter drink, or whether she only liked it because it had once been so impossible to obtain.
“Kira was just telling me about your plans to move in,” Bashir said.
Jadzia stepped closer to Nerys, taking a drink from Quark's tray. “Yes, soon now. We'll have to work on packing up your quarters.”
“I have an afternoon off in a couple of days. I'll do it then.”
“I can help...” Jadzia began.
“Please, ladies, let's not use this evening to discuss your domestic arrangements. You need to use this time to relax! How about a nice game of tongo?” Quark cut in.
“I could go for that.” Jadzia sipped her drink: a blue synthehol variation that turned Nerys's stomach.
“That's only because he always lets you win,” Bashir said.
“He does not! I'm an excellent tongo player.”
“As much as I may admire a customer, I would never give them an unfair advantage in one of my games,” Quark agreed.
“And yet Jadzia can never lose. That's not true for the rest of us,” Bashir said.
“I'm just very skilled, Julian. You watch me. Want to bet on it?”
“Not against you.” Bashir smiled. “You definitely have an unfair advantage, whatever Quark says.”
“Come on, Nerys. Are we going to take this from these guys?” Jadzia slid her arm around Nerys's waist. “I'll show them what I can do. You play me, if Julian won't.”
“If you like. I have to agree with the doctor, though. Quark definitely helps you out.” Nerys took another sip of tea, peering at Jadzia over the rim of the mug to gauge her reaction.
“Nerys! You're not going to defend my honour?”
“As a tongo player? No. And the day you need anyone to defend you, I'm going to be very worried.”
“Well, someone needs to defend my honour,” Quark said. “I'm sick of my establishment being slandered like this. Implying I fix the tongo scores! I won't have it.”
“Stop letting Jadzia win, then,” Nerys said. She could feel Jadzia's warm hip against her own. Last night she'd kissed it, following the line of the dark spots down Jadzia's leg.
“I don't know why you bother, Quark,” Bashir said. “She's hardly going to profess her undying love for you, inspired by another winning round of tongo.”
“Well, I know that,” Quark said. “I'm not a woman. And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got important matters to attend to.”
Bashir watched as he stalked back to the bar. “You can always tell his pride is wounded by the way he walks.”
Not a woman. The words slid into Nerys's head, and stuck there. It made her remember a girl in the resistance whose nose had been broken, and whose dark hair was always tangled and who could never remember Nerys's name, no matter how often they worked together. That girl had made her feel strange and small and wrong for caring about her so much, which was not something Jadzia had ever made her feel.
“Not a woman,” Nerys said, laughing. “That's not why he doesn't have a hope with you.”
“Yes,” Bashir agreed. “I don't think devious Ferengi is exactly your type.”
“I don't know. I've never dated a Ferengi,” Jadzia mused. “Sometimes I think his brow ridges are kind of cute.”
Nerys had never felt more sympathy with Bashir than when she met his eyes at that moment. Neither of them knew how to respond to that.
They went, by unspoken agreement, to Jadzia's quarters. Nerys's own had become increasingly empty and unlived in as the weeks progressed. She was almost sorry about that: she'd never had a place to call her own before, and it seemed strange to abandon it now that she'd finally been given one. Jadzia's quarters were more carefully decorated than her own, and Jadzia had lots of delicate and beautiful possessions: the space felt foreign to Nerys, but it also felt like Jadzia, and she liked that.
She took off her uniform and curled up under the bed-covers in her underwear while Jadzia was in the bathroom. Squashing the pillow into a comfortable shape under her head, she shut her eyes. She felt like the world was spinning as it had when she'd been at Quark's earlier that evening. Lying down, it wasn't an unpleasant feeling. Colours danced in front of her eyes.
She woke, hours later, as she always woke from nightmares: cold and damp with sweat, her muscles turned to liquid. “Computer, lights,” Jadzia murmured, sitting up next to her.
Nerys covered her eyes to shield them from the sudden brightness. “You don't have to wake up.”
Jadzia put her hand on Nerys's back, but Nerys shrugged her off. Jadzia said, “What did you dream about?”
“Nothing important.” She'd dreamt about a grey hand on an old man's shoulder, a Cardassian pulling the half-starved Bajoran to his feet. She dreamt about his eyes, Cahil's eyes, and the way he screamed. Did they want to rape him, too? How easily did his old bones break?
“You're still shaking, sweetheart.”
“I dreamt about the Cardassian brutality. Again. You must be sick of hearing it.”
Jadzia was still trying to touch her. “I'm not.”
“I have to have a shower. I'm disgusting.” She tried not to look at Jadzia as she made her way to the bathroom, but she still caught a glimpse of tousled hair and sleepy eyes.
She stripped and took a sonic shower, ratcheting the pressure up as high as it would go. It wasn't high enough to make her feel clean again—damn Starfleet safety regulation took care of that. Still, she stood for a long time, appreciating the pressure, her skin tingling, and then wrapped herself in Jadzia's robe, which was hanging on the back of the door. It smelt faintly of jumja sticks.
Her jaw was quivering slightly, still. She pressed her hand to it. She would never be afraid, not the kind of fear that got in the way of work, when she was on a mission with the resistance, but afterwards, alone, she would tremble all over, her muscles spasming and her heart fluttering. Her jaw would dance. She ran her fingers over it now, feeling at a distance from herself, as though she was a stranger, assessing her symptoms.
“I wish you'd talk to Julian about medication,” Jadzia said, when she came back in. She was sitting up in bed, looking through her PADD. “I can go with you.”
“I don't want to talk to him. I don't want medication.” She also didn't want to talk about this now. She tugged Jadzia's robe tightly around herself and lay down on top of the bed covers.
“I wish you'd consider it. You must wake me up two or three nights a week, Nerys, and...”
“If I'm so disturbing, you can always stop sharing a bed with me.” She rolled onto her side so she was facing away from Jadzia. She wished her hands would stop shaking. She balled them into fists and hid them in the sleeves of her robe.
“Don't be so prickly,” Jadzia said. “I want to help.” Nerys felt the mattress shift slightly, and then the warmth of Jadzia against her back. She didn't mind the pressure this time because she was so insulated from the touch, inside the robe, on the outside of the covers, while Jadzia was underneath them.
Nerys curled back slightly, nestling into the crook of Jadzia's body. “I know.”
“It must be horrible for you.”
“We all live with memories like this. All of Bajor.”
“That doesn't make it any easier.”
“It makes it harder.”
“It doesn't mean you don't deserve support,” Jadzia said. She put her arm around Nerys's waist, and Nerys took her hand in both of hers. She was still trembling slightly, but perhaps Jadzia wouldn't notice.
“I've got you.”
She felt Jadzia sigh softly, warm air against the back of her neck. “You do.”
In a different world, Nerys would have grown up praying for love, for diligence at her school work, and for patience when dealing with her family. This Nerys grew up praying for strength, fortitude, and for the Cardassians to leave her alone. They both prayed for guidance, that they were making the right choices.
This Nerys didn't go to school. She didn't have to worry about picking the right subjects, about learning what she wanted to do with her life. Her path was simple and easily defined. She thought it had been decided the moment her mother died, slack and dry with malnutrition; from the first time a Cardassian put his hand on her; from the day, when she was six, when she her father came back wounded, and she didn't know if the bleeding would stop.
As an adult, she didn't pray for anything. She learnt simply to pray, to communicate with the prophets in the best way she could, to meditate and to listen for them in the stillness. At some point, in the years before the Occupation ended, the fury in her sang so loud she could no longer find words, the please please please litany of her childhood was gone, and all she had left was the silence of prayer.
She did not feel alone in that silence. Her faith burned inside her. Without it, what would she be?
She learnt not to ask.
She made her shrine in Jadzia's quarters, in their quarters, in the alcove furthest from the door. It was simple; it was easy to set up and to remove. It was everything she needed. She made it when Jadzia was on duty, and stood in front of it quietly. She felt, looking at it, that she would not need to bring anything else to feel like she belonged.
Her father had not died when she was six; it was ten years later, and this time the bleeding did not stop. She felt as though she had been fighting with him every day for the last five years, and at his death, she fought with him too. She told him not to die and he told her to stop fighting with the rebels, and neither of them won. She kept his earring in her shine, hidden away: its gleam was private, hers alone.
On a different Bajor, her father would still have been wearing his earring. He would still have been exasperated by his bright, passionate daughter. And that Nerys might not yet have learned how to leave behind the asking prayers of childhood and find instead the stillness of meditation. She would have known how to make hasperat, how to tell when another woman was interested in her, how to grow flowers and how to pass exams. She would have been younger and older than her counterpart.
But this Nerys had only his earring, and had not yet learnt to soothe the anger inside her. She looked at her shrine in Jadzia's gleaming quarters, and felt it burn.
“May I sit?”
He was a Bajoran she knew by sight, but not by name. She nodded. “I'm just grabbing lunch, anyway. I'm still on shift.”
“It's funny, isn't it? Having all this food.” He put town his tray from the replimat. He had a large portion of larish pie. The savoury smell filled Nerys's nostrils.
“I can't get used to it. It was only a year ago we were eating palukoos.”
He laughed, lines around his eyes deepening. “I tried making them into a stew, but nothing softens those legs.”
“I kind of liked how chewy they were. It made you feel like you were eating more than you actually had.” Nerys sipped her coffee. She'd always liked the bolt of energy it gave her, but she was learning to appreciate the taste too.
“That's one way of looking at it. I was a dentist once; I was always waiting for people to shatter their teeth.”
“At least you'd know what to do if they did.”
“Dentistry without a practice isn't easy. My tools have been gone for decades.”
“Are you working as a dentist again now?”
“No.” He took a large forkful of food and chewed appreciatively. “It's been too long. I don't think I could pick up the pieces of that life. Which is stupid, really: Bajor needs dentists.”
“There are a lot of things Bajor needs,” Nerys said. “You know, I don't think I've ever been to a dentist.”
“Don't tell me that! I'll want to look at your teeth.” He put his hand to his heart in an exaggerated gesture of alarm.
Nerys laughed. “I think they're fine. They've never hurt.”
“You're one of the lucky ones, then. You don't know how many times I've had people come to me, begging me to pull abscessed or infected teeth.”
She could imagine that: she remembered people crying from toothache. “I've always been healthy,” she said. “I'm lucky.”
“It doesn't always feel lucky, though, does it?” he said. “I'm like you, too, and I know it just means you end up nursing everyone else. Watching other people die.”
He said it simply, but with feeling, and Nerys was amazed by how suddenly emotion filled her. “Yes.”
“It hurts, doesn't it?” he said. “There are so many things I'm never going to forget.”
Nerys swallowed. She felt like her pulse was beating too quickly. “I don't know how to live with it. I thought it would be easy now. I thought once the Occupation ended... I knew we'd have a lot of work to do, but I didn't know how much it would hurt.” She gripped her coffee mug, even though it was empty. “It makes me angry, how much it hurts. It's like the Cardassians still have a part of us.”
He reached over the table and touched her hand, touched knuckles white with strain. “I understand completely.”
“It feels good to talk to someone who does. I'm with humans so much. And they don't understand.”
“It must be hard, dating an alien woman.”
Nerys shifted her hand away from his. “How do you know about that?”
“Everyone knows you, Major,” he said. “I don't mean to overstep, but I do wonder about you. You've been living so much at the centre of the resistance: it seems strange to abandon Bajor for aliens.”
“I'm not abandoning Bajor.” Nerys felt her shoulders tighten and her throat burn. “I do everything for Bajor. Who I... Who I'm in a relationship with has nothing to do with that.”
He leant forward, lowering his voice as if to counteract her rising one. “It does. Bajor is so broken. We need women like you there. Why can't you love one of your own? A Bajoran woman? Or man?”
She'd been afraid someone would ask her that. She'd been afraid, really, that someone would ask her that in a much louder voice, and she'd end up hitting them and causing some kind of incident. Instead, she stood up. “Because I'm free, now. Because the Cardassians are gone now, and I'm free to love whoever the hell I want.”
“Of course you are,” he said gently. “But I think you'd be happier if you were with your own kind.”
She walked away from him. She told herself she needed to go back to Ops. She told herself she shouldn't argue at the replimat at lunch time, when it was crammed with Bajoran civilians and Starfleet officers. Part of her, though, didn't want to argue. Part of her thought maybe he was right.
“Is it still difficult for Bajorans?”
Nerys looked up, suddenly aware that the question was directed at her. Bashir was standing next to Jadzia at her consul. He'd had an excuse to come in half an hour ago, but Nerys was pretty sure he just liked to hang around in Ops and chat to people. She'd been tuning him out, focusing on the reports in front of her. She wasn't used to making sense of complex instructions in the pedantic language Starfleet used, and it took all her concentration to figure them out.
“Is what still difficult for Bajorans?” Nerys asked.
“Julian and I were just talking about Trill sexuality,” Jadzia said. “I was saying gender isn't usually an important part of what attracts us to another person, especially for joined Trill, since our own genders have changed so often anyway.”
“And I was saying it's something humans still consider. Sleeping with your own gender was condemned for so many centuries, after all. It's different now, but we still don't have quite as fluid an attitude as the Trill.”
“And that's why you're not sure about Ensign Shah?” Jadzia said, smiling at him.
“No. I don't know. Perhaps. Like I said, I've never considered before... And he's very nice, but...”
“But you liked it when he kissed you,” Jadzia cut in. Nerys knew she enjoyed this: teasing him; listening to the personal dilemmas of others.
Bashir was blushing slightly. He looked over at Nerys. “So what would a Bajoran do?”
“I don't know,” Nerys said. “I never wanted to kiss men.”
“So it is rigid for Bajorans, too? You're not as relaxed at the Trill either?” Bashir asked.
Nerys looked out at the stars. She'd never kissed a Bajoran woman: never known if it was simple for other women or not. “I don't know. I guess it's rigid for this Bajoran.”
“See?” Bashir said. “We're not all as evolved as you Trill.”
“Bajorans didn't.... didn't ever have a taboo like the humans, though, did they, Nerys?” Jadzia asked. “Loving someone of your own sex is not problematic, is it?”
“We don't,” Nerys said. “The Cardassians do.” She looked back at the Starfleet report, at a string of meaningless words. “That was another thing they tried to take from us.”
She was down to four bags of grain, and two of pulses. She'd been returning them to the replicator slowly, in batches. For months, the counting of them had made her feel calmer: knowing she had a stock, knowing she wouldn't starve. But she couldn't bring them with her to Jadzia's.
If she did, Jadzia would probably understand. She'd make room for them somewhere in her closets. Nerys didn't think she could take Jadzia's kindness.
Nerys looked at the six remaining bags. Six wouldn't keep anyone fed for long. They felt heavy in her hands, and the sight of them suddenly made her sick. She didn't need them now; she needed them a year ago when she was running from Cardassian fire in the mountains, dizzy from lack of food. She needed them in the camp where her mother had died. There was so much to eat now that it was too late.
The door chimed just as she was dispensing of them. “I thought you had a shift,” she said to Jadzia.
“I moved it around. I didn't want you to have to pack by yourself.”
“I would've been fine. I don't have much.”
“Well, maybe I wanted to celebrate with you,” Jadzia said. She ran her thumb over Nerys's chin, and up to her lips. Her fingers smelt faintly floral.
Nerys smiled and kissed Jadzia's wrist. “That's better. You should go back to your—our quarters and get some drinks. And maybe take off most of your clothes.”
“Not all of them?”
“You can try to keep a little mystery alive.”
Jadzia laughed, but then said, “You don't want me to help you pack?” She lowered her voice. “If it's about the food, sweetheart, I don't mind. I told you before: I respect your pragmatism. I never use all my storage space anyway.”
Nerys stepped back and went to the closet. “I got rid of the grain. I'm not going to lug it all to your quarters. You can stay if you like. I just really don't have that much to pack.”
“You got rid of it? I'm proud of you.”
“You're proud of me? I thought you respected my pragmatism.”
“I do. I just... I'm glad you're not so worried that everything is going to fall apart.”
“I'm still worried.” Nerys sighed. “I've just gotten stupider.”
She pulled out her spare uniforms and stacked them on the bed. That left her with a couple of pieces of formal wear she'd bought at the Promenade and some worn civilian clothes. Her hand brushed the knitwear again: a bulky cardigan with a hole in the armpit and the hem; the red sweater with the loose weave Cahil had made for her. She smelt wood smoke again: something so absent from the sterile heat on Deep Space Nine.
“Did you make this?” Jadzia asked, looking into the closet.
“You think I can knit?” Nerys said. “I can't do anything creative.”
“It looks handmade.” She'd taken it out now, and was examining the sleeves. The sweater had been worn so much it had become almost shapeless.
“It is. That's probably the third time that yarn got knitted up. You should throw it out; it was worn out even when it was first made.”
“Red is a good colour on you.” Jadzia held it up to her chest.
“You only think that because you always see me in red. Put it down, Dax.”
She laid it among the clothes on Nerys's bed, not in the waste disposal. On top of the crisp uniforms it was fuzzy and limp. It didn't even look very clean. Nerys left it where it was.
“There are a couple of things in the bathroom, and that's it. I already moved my shrine.”
“I saw; it's beautiful.”
“It's not beautiful, it's functional.” It would be easy to move it, too, Nerys thought. She could easily take her father's earring and run, if she needed to.
Will I need to? She thought about the Bajoran man she'd spoken to earlier. Did he, too, feel like he might never be safe? Would he understand why she wanted to shred that red sweater and cling to it at the same time?
“Bashir decided to go out with Ensign Shah, by the way. I think he's excited.”
“He might hate it. I hated sleeping with men.” Nerys folded her uniform a little too violently, creasing it slightly.
“I don't think he will. He's just anxious about it because it's new to him.”
“You never made me anxious, and it was new to me, too.”
“You always knew you liked women, though, didn't you?”
“Always,” Nerys said. She sat down on the edge of the bed, looking at her empty closet. It would not be long before this room looked completely unused again. “Is that weird, Jadzia? To be so sure? You weren't.”
“I'm sure about people.” Jadzia sat next to her. “I'm always sure about that. It's just a different way of looking at things.”
“When I was a kid, I hoped the Cardassians would go away. That was mostly what I dreamed about. But I also dreamt about this girl, this girl in the camp, Neela. Whenever I looked at her, I knew I wanted... wanted her to be my wife, I guess. Whenever she was sick, I wanted to look after her. When I was older, I always wanted to kiss her.” Nerys swallowed. “I told her, once.”
“What did she say?”
“She said, 'Cardassians don't let you do that.' I said I didn't see any around.” Nerys pressed her hands together. “But she didn't want to kiss me, anyway.”
“I don't understand how they could tell you who you could and couldn't love,” Jadzia said softly.
“We did what we wanted, anyway. But it made us scared.” Nerys had an image of Bashir, pacing nervously because he wasn't sure whether he wanted to date a man. She envied him the luxury of uncertainty. “I think being scared made us...” She sighed. “Being scared doesn't have a good effect on people. A Bajoran man told me today that I shouldn't date an alien.”
Jadzia looked up quickly, eyes meeting Nerys's. “What did you say?”
“I told him I would date whoever I wanted to. He was an idiot.” She folded her blue formal dress and her uniforms and the red sweater all together into one bunch and shoved them into her bag. “That's pretty much it. Let's move in.”
Her things looked meagre next to Jadzia's. (“You'll get more.” “I don't need more.”) They put the time that would have been wasted on unpacking to better use.
Today Jadzia was out, playing some kind of sport with O'Brien. Nerys had tried playing those games a few times: she'd discovered, to her surprise and pleasure, that she was good at them. Now, though, she stood in front of her shrine and tried to find the stillness from which meditation stemmed. It was always so hard to meditate in Jadzia's quarters, especially when Jadzia was in the room.
She always found herself wondering whether Jadzia was looking at her. She got distracted with thoughts of Jadzia: her eyes, her mouth, her legs. And, now, even though Jadzia wasn't here, she was still thinking about her. She was thinking about the stories Jadzia told from past lives, about Jadzia's age, wondering how Jadzia could like her when she was so young and felt, so often, so lost.
Jadzia had said she was always sure about the people she liked. How can she be sure about me, Nerys though, when I'm not even sure about myself?
She had been taught to allow herself thoughts like this when she was meditating. To think about them, and then to let them go. Usually, she was even good at it. Now she wondered how hard it was for Jadzia to let go. Could you meditate when your mind was already so full of past lives, of other people's dreams and fears?
Nerys knelt on the scratchy Cardassian carpet and rested her forehead in her hand. She closed her eyes and breathed in, looking for her own fury, and her own stillness.
She saw a Bajoran hand reaching out to take her own, fingers touching her knuckles. The dentist's face had been so earnest, so kind, even if what he said had been stupid. It reminded her of her father: he had always been so earnest too, tried too hard to be kind to her, and failed every time.
He didn't understand that she had no room for his kindness. She could survive in this world, but not with tenderness. Tenderness made everything else too hard to bear.
She woke one morning when she was thirteen, with blood on the blankets. There was a familiar ache in her belly and her thighs, and she got up, sighing, dragging the blanket with her outside. She was washing it and her pants in a stream when her father found her. Cold water was the best for getting out blood.
“My dear,” he said softly, watching her cold hands working on the stain. “Is this the first time?”
She'd been menstruating regularly for a year at least. She didn't look at him when she told him no. He offered to help her wash the sheets and she had to walk away from him. She needed to be able to do this by herself; she needed to be able to do all of it by herself.
She sighed, dizzy with the memory of his face, his kind expression. He was always telling her not to fight so hard, not be so angry. He wanted her to take up nursing. She could never make him understand how wrong he was.
She remained dizzy when she stood up. She felt far away from herself, colours dancing in front of her eyes. She stumbled slightly, and sat on the bed. She didn't like this: it didn't feel like sickness, but it didn't feel right either.
Commander Sisko was waiting with her at the dock to greet two Bajoran ministers. Nerys didn't like either of these ministers, but she was trying not to show her impatience. They'd made bad decisions, she considered, in their prioritisation of agriculture over health reforms, and she didn't like how slow they were to come to any kind of agreement with the rest of the provisional government.
And they were wasting her time and Sisko's by coming here. She folded her arms over her chest, watching the airlocks open.
Two Bajoran traders got off, and then the ministers. As the traders came towards her, she smelt something familiar: a herb that grew in the mountains, mixed with wet leaves and earth. She inhaled softly. It was pleasant and familiar. She hadn't smelt that herb in a long time: the mountains where it grew had been full of Cardassians. She hadn't smelt it since, since...
It's strange, she thought distantly, watching the colours brighten and blur. It's strange the way my pulse is racing. It's almost like I'm frightened.
She tried to breathe in and found her chest was tight, and a sudden pain radiated through it. Sisko was saying something, extending his hand. The ground was shifting under her feet. The ground was trembling: was the station under attack?
Sounds were blurred and distorted. She tried to speak, but she didn't have breath to form words. She was conscious of feeling embarrassed, exposed. She needed to greet these ministers. And the trembling in the walls: couldn't anyone else see it? Should she alert them?
When Sisko grabbed her arm, she couldn't understand why he was looking at her with concern and not running to Ops to see what was wrong. Humans, she thought as everything went white, so slow to react.
“I'm pleased to report your brain activity is completely normal. So is your secondary nervous system. And your vascular system is in perfect working order.” Bashir put the scanner back on the table.
Nerys tried to sit up, and Bashir put his hand on her shoulder. “Take it easy, Major. You've had a fall.”
“I feel stupid lying here.”
“There's no reason to. Just giving yourself another few minutes.”
“I feel perfectly fine. Why did I fall over?” The pillow beneath her head was digging uncomfortably into her hair. She didn't want to lie on this damn Cardassian bed in the little infirmary. She wanted to stand up, because that way she'd be ready if she had to fight.
Jadzia came in, hair gleaming in its neat ponytail, cheeks slightly pink. “I just heard,” she said.“Are you all right?”
She let Jadzia take her hand even though the show of concern made her feel worse. A headache was beginning somewhere at the base of her skull. She pulled herself upright, felt a wave of nausea, swallowed hard, and said, “I'm fine. Mostly embarrassed. I just fainted, didn't I, Doctor? I must have forgotten lunch.”
“You didn't forget lunch,” Bashir said. “Or if you did, it did not cause you to collapse. Your glucose levels are well in the normal range. A panic attack is my diagnosis. A rather bad one.”
Nerys rubbed her forehead with one hand, and Bashir got out a scanner and began checking her again. “I'm fine,” she said. “And I didn't have a panic attack.”
“Can you describe how you felt before you blacked out?” Bashir asked.
Jadzia had moved to perch against the side of the bed. She was looking at Bashir, not Nerys, but she kept her hand in Nerys's. “How is the meeting with the ministers going?” Nerys asked her.
“Fine. Sisko can handle it.” Jadzia squeezed her hand and let go. “Do you think this has anything to do with your lack of sleep?”
“Of course not.” Nerys bit her lip. Bashir had put the scanner down, but something in the infirmary was making a humming noise that was hurting her head. She felt too sick to yell properly, but she was still angry. “I can't believe you. You know it wouldn't have made me faint. You're just bringing that up because you want me to talk about it with Bashir. But that's my decision...”
“Actually,” Bashir cut in, “Sleep deprivation makes it much harder to process emotions. It could easily contribute to panic attacks. And exhaustion is a serious symptom: could you tell me about that, too, Major?”
Nerys leant back against the pillow. It didn't make her feel any less sick or her head any better. She shut her eyes. “I felt like the ground was shaking. I thought for a moment the ship was being attacked. I couldn't breath. The colours were... blurred somehow.” She remember it suddenly, the sickening brightness against her eyes. And the smell, the herb...
“And I smelt...” She reached, blindly, and to her own surprise, for Jadzia. She felt Jadzia take her hand at once, and opened her eyes. Jadzia was looking at her with a familiar, sympathetic expression. She stroked Nerys's forehead with a cool hand. “There was a herb that grew in the mountains near where we were hiding one spring. We left, after...” She broke off again. Her throat felt raw and hot at the same time.
“After what, sweetheart?”
She sat up again. She wanted to get up and run out. She stood, and felt Bashir's and Jadzia's arms on her, holding her steady. The world felt blurry around her, and the ground moved treacherously. She leant to the left, to the side Jadzia was on. “I can't have this conversation lying down.”
“I understand,” Jadzia said soothingly. “Let's sit down together, OK? You don't have to say anything that makes you uncomfortable.”
She sat, and felt Jadzia's steady warmth next to her. Bashir was standing back, not saying anything, but not leaving either. Nerys breathed in unsteadily. “We left after we realised the Cardassians knew where we were. Two of them found me one afternoon. I was with a friend, a girl, Neela. They should have taken us back to their camp with them, but we got away. We got away after they raped us. That distracted them.” She paused, swallowed, smelling the herb and remembering the feel of the soft soil under her butt as the Cardassian pulled her pants down. “I haven't smelt that herb since then.”
“I'm sorry.” Jadzia was stroking her arm.
Nerys shrugged. “I still feel stupid. It was a long time ago.” She swallowed again, her throat burning. “I feel sick too. Am I supposed to feel sick, Doctor?”
Bashir coughed. “I would definitely diagnose your experience as a panic attack. It's textbook, really, it was triggered by the memory of a traumatic event. For now, I'm going to give you a mild sedative. That should help you rest, and I'll give you something for the nausea.”
Nerys watched blankly as he went to get a hypo. “I want to see you again tomorrow, Major. To discuss the full extent of your symptoms. You're off duty until then.”
“What about the delegation?”
“We'll take care of it,” Jadzia said. “Don't worry. You should go back to our quarters and rest, like the doctor said.”
“Yes,” Bashir said. “Do you feel well enough to walk? I'd like to monitor you here for a while, especially if you still feel dizzy.”
She did, but she stood up, keeping her hand on Jadzia's arm more for physical support than for emotional. “I'd rather go back to my quarters. I feel better. Honestly.”
Jadzia insisted on walking back with her and talked to her gently about inconsequential things as they made their way through the ship. Nerys was grateful to her for the light tone of her voice, even though she couldn't really listen to the words.
She felt stupid lying on her bed in the middle of the afternoon, though dimming the lights did a lot for her headache. Jadzia brought her a cup of tea, and picked out a file on one of her PADDs that she said would be diverting to read.
“I don't want to go,” Jadzia said, sitting next to her on the bed and smoothing back her hair from her forehead. “I'm sure Benjamin wouldn't mind if I took the afternoon off.”
“Please go,” Nerys said. “It's already embarrassing enough, me being here. If you stay too, I really will feel dramatic.”
Jadzia sighed. “Your feelings aren't a weakness, Nerys. They're a strength.”
“I'm a mess,” Nerys said, watching Jadzia's eyes. “I feel like I lied to you when we first got together. I pretended to be this... this whole person who could sleep with you and talk to you and be with you, and I'm not. I'm a mess.”
Jadzia kissed her cheek. “Everyone's a mess. That's what makes people whole. I'm a mess, too, you just haven't noticed yet.”
Nerys shut her eyes. “You should go back to Ops. I'm probably going to fall asleep, anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
Nerys nodded, and turned her face away. She was going to cry. And as kind and warm and sympathetic as Jadzia was, it hurt a lot less to cry alone.
“Did Bashir tell you if he had fun on his date?” Nerys asked as soon as Jadzia came in.
Jadzia looked surprised, and then smiled. “He told me this morning. He was excited. I think he enjoyed himself. He appreciates new experiences.”
“So he's just doing it because he wants to try something new?” Nerys thought that was reasonable, but she also thought it was quite a luxury.
“Partially, I think. But lots of new relationships start that way: you meet some different, someone fascinating, and you want to get to know them. Sometimes the relationship lasts after the newness wears off, and sometimes it doesn't.”
“If you're wondering, the newness in our relationship has worn off, and we're still not sick of each other. That's good, isn't it?” Jadzia sat on the edge of the bed, and brushed her hand over Nerys's forehead, like a mother checking for fever.
“You don't know that I haven't got sick of you,” Nerys said quickly.
Jadzia curled up against her side, resting her head on Nerys's shoulder. “Am I squashing you?”
“How do you feel?”
“Better. My headache's gone. Still embarrassed. I'll be back on duty tomorrow.”
“You have to see Julian first. I'll drag you there myself.”
Nerys sighed. “He'll want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about it.”
“I know.” Jadzia slid a warm arm around her waist. “I'll help you in every way I can, but if Julian suggests you have some counselling, I think you should take it.”
“It might help. They'll be able to help you recognise your emotions, help you prevent panic attacks like the one you just had.”
“This stuff never interfered with my work before. When I was in the resistance, I never had any problems keeping everything together.”
“Sometimes the hurt doesn't come until afterwards,” Jadzia said. “Just when you think everything should start to be better.”
“That's very unfair.”
“I know.” Jadzia rubbed her hip softly. “I know it is.”
“At least I have a beautiful girlfriend with great legs,” Nerys said, and ran her fingers over the spots on Jadzia's neck.
“And I'm so supportive, too,” Jadzia said. “Aren't you lucky?”
Stripped of her uniform, she felt small and unlike herself. But long before she'd worn a uniform, she'd been able to fight and lead others and hurt the Cardassians. Long before she'd had a uniform, she'd been able to survive.
The counsellor was called Mareeta, and Nerys had agreed to meet with her at least once. She didn't want to go to her first appointment with Mareeta in her uniform. Mareeta needed to see a different side of her. She needed to know how far she'd come.
Nerys put on pants she'd bought from one of the shops on the promenade, and a pale shirt Jadzia had given her a few weeks ago. She stood for a while, looking into her closet, at the old, thin clothes she knew she should replace. Third-hand knitwear, she thought, picking up the red sweater. Third-hand knitwear, made by an old, dead Bajoran.
How could she not feel proud, wearing that?