Pairing: Jadzia Dax/Kira Nerys
Summary: Loving Nerys was an exercise in self-discipline. In holding back, when she so desperately wanted to cling, to protect. Set during the early season two three-parter which begins with the episode The Homecoming. Nerys is busy saving lives. Jadzia is surprised by how desperately she wants to protect her very capable partner.
Warnings: Reference to past rape and torture.
Notes: This is set in my Not For Money and Not For Food series, but should stand on its own.
She might not live. She might not come back.
Jadzia couldn't ask her not to go. Jadzia knew she had to go. She knew Nerys had to go and her head was filled with seven lifetimes of memories of shuttle accidents, phaser burns, silent deaths in a vacuum.
So she left their quarters early. She kissed Nerys's forehead, right in the centre, more like a mother kissing her child than a lover, and said nothing. She did not watch Nerys dress in her old Bajoran clothes, in that thin red top, those supple pants.
She was in Ops, working, when the shuttle left. She deliberately did not watch it go to warp. There are some things you want to look at, some things you want to commit to memory, and some things you don't. Jadzia had to be careful with memories. She wanted to pass on Nerys's eyes, her fierce smile, the shape of her beneath the bed covers, to the next hosts, not the moments when she might be lost.
“She's good. She'll manage this,” Benjamin said, resting his arms on her consul. “Don't look so worried, old man.”
“I know. You wouldn't let her go if she wasn't,” Jadzia said, deliberately keeping her eyes on the screen in front of her.
“I couldn't keep her here if I tried; you know that.”
“I know.” Jadzia remembered Nerys's face when she'd been given Li Nalas's earring, clasping it so tightly the metal left a red mark on her palm.
“You're good for her, you know that? She actually asked nicely. She might be learning diplomacy.” Benjamin's guarded half-smile was so familiar to her. She wondered, sometimes, if it was because she knew him so well, or because Benjamin's smile was the echo of someone else's, from another life. Sometimes she thought he might have learnt that smile from Curzon.
Jadzia shrugged, bringing up a docking schedule from the Bajoran merchants on her consul. “She's good for me.”
She was. Nerys looked at Jadzia's palms and the soles of her feet as though offended by their lack of callouses. And she kissed the smooth skin as though treasuring it. She cried rarely, but frantically, usually at night, body convulsing like an animal in pain. She laughed widely, pressing her face into Jadzia's throat, tickling her thighs. She tried to hold two decades of ferocity, hatred and determination inside herself, but could not. Everything spilt out of her.
And Jadzia loved that. She loved Nerys's poise, how even her lack of control could become a kind of control. Jadzia and Dax felt like they were holding their breath all the time, walking on scree, frantically testing each new footing, in case it would fall away. Nerys knew the best way to cross scree with to run, and to keep running.
Run and keep running. Jadzia looked up now, over the heads of the crew, past Benjamin and the Bajoran officers, out through the view screen. To the stars, and the blank space where the wormhole was, and on, in the direction of Cardassian space.
She didn't want to be alone when her shift was over. She found Julian and brought him to Quark's, and he neatly arranged his long limbs around his chair, and talked fluently about his day. She gave him as much attention as she could. She remained interested in people, in their stories and their gossip and their ways of holding themselves, no matter how many she met, but tonight Julian was not distracting enough. He reminded her, in a strange sort of way, of both Tobin and Torias, and being around someone who shared characteristics with past hosts was relaxing, but just now she didn't want to be relaxed.
“How is Hassan?” she said, breaking into Julian's monologue about Bajoran secondary nervous systems.
Julian looked down at his drink. “Fine, I suppose. We've only been out twice. It's not really anything.”
“Do you want to go out again?”
“He hasn't asked.”
“You could ask.”
“I did. He said he was busy; maybe next week.”
Jadzia felt glad that they were discussing something real. “You like him, don't you?”
“I don't know. He said 'maybe next week' two weeks ago.”
“I suppose if I'm going to go to all the bother of deciding maybe I would like to sleep with men, I'd like the man I pick to also want to sleep with me.”
“You can't expect people to always be as invested in a relationship as you are.”
“I went gay for him though,” Julian said, gulping down the rest of his drink. “And of course I'm upset. Wouldn't you be upset if the Major didn't like you as much as you liked her?”
He was looking at her earnestly, with those wide-set eyes of his. Jadzia broke his gaze and nodded once. “Yes, I would.” A sudden image of Nerys in a Cardassian prison camp burst into her mind and she tried very hard to make it go away. “You'll just have to find another man, won't you, Julian?”
“I think women are easier.”
Hard, Cardassian hands on warm flesh of Nerys's upper arms. Fingers probing into the space between Nerys's upper arm and chest wall. Jadzia turned her voice low, teasing. “But you like the idea of another man, don't you? You want to know how it would feel: another man's body against your own, his hands on your skin, the way he would smell.”
Julian frowned. “Someone might hear you.”
“And if they do? I'm not even saying anything obscene. I could say much worse things, if you like. I used to be a young man just like you, after all. One day I'll have to tell you about the things my host Torias used to do when he was your age.” She smiled, carefully replacing the image of grey hands on Nerys's skin with Torias, kneeling in front of a lover. “Maybe you'll try things even he didn't do.”
“And you'll want me to tell you all about them, I suppose?”
“It's certainly one way to amuse an old lady.”
“I don't know how to chat up a man.” Julian ducked his head. “I don't think the Starfleet finals story works on them.”
“Do you want me to help?”
She had fun giving Julian advice. She almost relaxed. When, at last, she went back to her quarters, she thought she might sleep. Instead, she lay in bed, tangled in the sheets, and thought about Nilani Kahn waiting for a Torias who would not come back. She thought about how much worse it was for the one waiting at home for a lover who might or might not return. Then she worried about Nerys and Cardassian prison camps, which made her feel guilty for thinking of Nerys as the lucky one.
The bed was clammy and her hair was tangled by the time she got up. She showered and paced and told herself the sensible thing to do would be to go to the holodeck and distract herself with Klingon martial arts. Instead she knelt before Nerys's shrine and stared at symbols she didn't understand.
She found Nerys twenty minutes after the shuttle had docked, Nerys talking to Odo and the Chief. Each word she spoke blazed in the quiet corridor. Jadzia watched her for a second and felt an ache ease in her stomach. Nerys met her eyes. She did nothing to acknowledge Jadzia, but something in her face softened slightly.
Later they shared a meal. Nerys was tense, her shoulders stiff. They ate baked chicken's eggs, fragrant with herbs and spices, and a salad of Trill fruits, sharp and familiar. Jadzia ate slowly, uncertain if she was really hungry, the flavours licking at the roof of her mouth. Nerys bent over the plate, encircling it with one arm, talking and eating at the same time. Jadzia didn't think Nerys was feeling particularly hungry either, but the food was there, and she would consume it.
They only had forty minutes, probably more like half an hour. Benjamin had sent them both away from Ops with instructions to come back at least a little refreshed. Nerys was exhausted—Jadzia could see it in the way she held herself, the strain around her mouth. Jadzia wasn't sure Nerys had noticed it herself, though, in the same way she didn't notice whether or not she was hungry. Nerys knew how to live on hate and adrenaline.
Jadzia didn't think that was something that would ever go away, as long as Nerys lived. Nerys could be given kindness and a warm bed and a dermal regenerator, but it didn't mean she would ever forget.
Nerys described the mission—the piloting, the dim heat of the Cardassian colony, the brutal rocks. “The Chief said no Cardassian alive could resist me.” Nerys stabbed the last piece of red fruit with her fork. “I needed to pretend I was for the Gul. So we could get past the guards.”
She jammed the fork into her mouth and chewed vigorously. Jadzia nibbled a bitter shoot and waited, knowing sometimes silence could reveal more than questions.
“They've been in there for months—years. The prisoners. They don't know anything. They don't know that Bajor's free. They deserve...” She paused, stood, picked up her plate and put it back in the replicator. She stood across from Jadzia, hands on her hips, muscles tense. “They need me.”
Jadzia watched the muscles twitch by Nerys's mouth. She wanted to stand up, to hold her, but she knew that holding Nerys often made her feel trapped and anxious. It would have made Jadzia feel better though. Instead she said softly, “And you feel guilty, because you hated having to pretend.”
“The way he looked at me... And the Chief said...” Nerys dropped her hands, wrapped them around her stomach. “It shouldn't bother me. I've had worse. Much worse.” Then, quickly, “Shouldn't we get back to Ops?”
Jadzia did stand up then. She put a hand on Nerys's shoulder, feeling the sharpness of the bone. “We've got time.”
“You're going to tell me that it's OK to feel bad, aren't you?” Nerys twisted her lips. “That I'm allowed to have feelings.”
“Yes. Probably in not quite such a sarcastic tone of voice.”
“Don't.” Nerys ducked her head. “Don't, Dax. Not now. I can't take it now.”
She put her hand on Jadzia's. The contact was brief, but it was long enough for Jadzia to feel the tremor under Nerys's skin, for her to realise how desperately Nerys was holding on to her control. Jadzia wanted to reach for her, to pull her back into her arms, to kiss her hair and whisper soothing words...
She let her go.
Jadzia lay on their bed, watched as Nerys paced around the room. Packing and unpacking.
“I can come back all the time. It's only a few hours from Bajor.”
“You can come back all the time,” Jadzia agreed. She'd propped herself up on one elbow, her hair falling around her face.
“And staying in the monastery: it'll be like a vacation. You think I should go, don't you? Vedek Bareil is kind to offer.”
“You deserve a vacation.”
Nerys took a pair of pyjamas out of her bag, and sat suddenly on the edge of the bed, next to Jadzia's feet. She sighed, toying with the thin material. “Captain Sisko said he'd get me back.”
“He will. He values you.” Jadzia sat up and came over, resting her chin on Nerys's shoulder. She wrapped an arm around Nerys's waist. She was pleased when Nerys huffed slightly and relaxed into the embrace.
“I don't know if I should come back. Li Nalas will do this job better than I can.”
“I don't think that's true. Besides, he might not want to stay.”
Nerys shrugged her off and stood up, pacing again. She cleared a group of glasses left over from the impromptu visit from the senior staff, and put the bottle of voodai on the night stand. Then she took it off again and put it in a cupboard. Jadzia followed her with her eyes.
“Are you going to sleep tonight?” Jadzia said at last.
“I'm sorry.” Nerys looked away from the underwear she'd been sorting and fixed the full intensity of her attention on Jadzia. “Are you tired?”
“A little. You must be more tired than I am.”
Nerys shrugged. She wrapped her hands protectively over her chest.
“Do you really have to leave tomorrow?” Jadzia said.
“There's a shuttle out to Bajor first thing tomorrow. I don't need to stay on the station.”
“I know.” Jadzia sighed. “I'll just miss you.”
Nerys looked away from her, at the Bajoran prayer wheel on the wall of their quarters. “Don't say that. You'll make it harder for me to leave.”
Jadzia stood up, her bare soles scratched by the rough Cardassian carpet. She took Nerys's hands in her own. “Then don't leave.”
Nerys's hands were damp, sweat in the whorls of her palms. Jadzia could feel the pulse just below her thumb-bone. It whirred rapidly against her finger. Nerys bent her head, rested her forehead against Jadzia's shoulder. “No,” she said. “Seriously. Don't say that.”
“Don't go,” Jadzia said again, meaning it. “You can stay. As a guest, if you can't serve here right now. Benjamin won't mind; I want you here. You don't have to listen to your government.”
She could feel the warmth of Nerys's skin, and the faint tremor of her breath. “No,” Nerys said again, and pushed Jadzia away. Her hands were gentle. She stood up straight, brushing at her face, trying to scrape back long hair that was no longer there. “I have to go.”
There were tears in her eyes. “I'll talk to you when I get there. I'm going to the temple; I'm going to meditate until it's time for the shuttle to leave.”
She was picking up her bag. It looked too big against her slender frame. Jadzia stepped back, defeated, watching the tremors in Nerys's shoulders, not allowed to comfort her. She swallowed. Let her go. Why was the best thing to do always the hardest?
“Please talk to me. When you get there. Please talk to me.”
Nerys nodded once, sharply. The door swished shut behind her.
“I need to go to Bajor.”
Benjamin put the PADD down and looked up at her. “Now?”
“No, but soon.”
“The Major is more than capable of handling herself.” He took the baseball from the desk and rolled it between his fingers in his customary habit.
“Not for her, for me. Can you believe I've only been once? I barely saw anything. And I've heard it's beautiful: I only saw dry rocks and a crop irrigation system.”
“It is beautiful. But you didn't come here to talk to me about your vacation plans.”
Jadzia perched on the edge of his desk. She was aware of a dull ache behind her eyes. She'd slept, but fleetingly, and a shower and a raktajino had done little to revive her. “Don't you want to talk about vacation plans with me?”
“I'm in love with a Bajoran, and I barely know her planet. And maybe she'll be there from now on; I should get to know the country. The Bajorans.”
“You know the Bajorans better than you think. We've done a lot of good work here. And I have no intention of letting the Major remain on Bajor any longer than she has to.”
“You came down here to ask when I was getting her back, didn't you?”
“It's only been a couple of days,” Jadzia said. “I know that. I'm being ridiculous.”
Benjamin threw the ball to her. “I forgive you.”
“How's your head?” Jadzia said, examining the domed surface for marks of his experience with the Bajoran extremist group, The Circle.
“In agony,” Quark replied. “Can you believe these Bajorans? As if the Federation wasn't the best thing to happen to business in this sector.” He shovelled ice into a glass. “You want a drink, don't you?”
“Something strong. And blue. I feel like something blue today.”
Quark put his elbows on the bar. “Romulan blue or Andorian blue?”
“Surprise me.” She watched as he mixed the drink, layering purple sythehol with blue ale. “Odo told us you had information about the extremists.”
“You're not going to try to throw me in a cell too, are you?” He thrust her drink towards her. “I'm helping! I am helping. You can't expect me to leave my brother unsupervised in the bar for a whole night.”
“I know.” She traced her eyes over the edges of his ears. “I'm just worried about Kira.”
“Of course you are: she's on Bajor. All those weapons. All the phaser fire. It's so unstable. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? This place could be overrun by extremists, and extremists are not heavy drinkers.” Quark ran his finger over a pointed tooth. “She should get out of there. We all should.”
Jadzia picked up the drink and sipped. It was potent, a syrupy sweet taste mingling with something bitter and fiery. “Thanks, Quark,” she said. “That was very cheerful. Just what I needed to hear.”
Her combadge chirped. Ops to Lieutenant Dax.
“They never give you a moment to yourself, do they?” Quark said. “It's so wasteful, never letting someone like you have time to indulge yourself.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I still have time to beat you at Tonga.” To the comm line she said, “Dax here.”
It was a communication from Nerys, and she took it on one of the view screens just outside Quark's, and then regretted her impatience because she'd rather talk to her in private. Nerys was wearing green, and her skin had lost some of its interstellar pallor. She looked tired.
“It's good to see you,” Jadzia began at once. “I've missed you. I've heard it's becoming more and more unsettled down there. How are things at the monastery? Are you all right?”
It was hard to meet anyone's eyes in the viewscreen. No matter how much you tried, normal eye contact couldn't be achieved from screen to screen. Jadzia had always found this a bit unsettling. Still, Nerys seemed to be deliberately looking past her, towards something in the distance. She was standing by a window, in pale, evening light, and shadows of leaves rippled over her face and throat. “Dax,” Nerys said softly, the first word she had spoken, and then she said, “I had an encounter today. An encounter with one of our Orbs.”
Her words were heavy with meaning, and Jadzia could tell that it would be unwise to ask her what an orb was again.
“I saw you, you know. You and me,” Nerys said. “We were denounced, denounced by the Vedek assembly. But it was all right, I felt the prophets, their guidance...” She sighed and squared her shoulders, suddenly looking less detached. “You do remember what an Orb is, don't you?”
“You told me once. They're something to do with the Prophets.”
Nerys snorted. “Very clear description, Jadzia. I'm impressed by your attention to detail.”
“You saw us?” Jadzia said, deflecting. “What were we doing?”
She shrugged slightly. “We were together.” A pause. “I do miss you, you know. I thought being here would help. For so long, it's been so hard to meditate. I thought I needed to get back to Bajor. Do you have any idea how had it is to get your hands on burn salve here? You can just replicate it on the station. Or use a dermal regenerator.”
“Did you burn yourself?”
“No; it was one of the monks.” Another pause, her eyes flickering to the left of the screen. “I wonder if I'm doing the best I can for my people, up there on the station. And then I'm sitting by the river and I think that I've never really had a vacation before. And I try to meditate. I think the Orb will have helped with that. It reminded me...”
She trailed off. Jadzia watched the shadows of leaves dancing over her face. “It reminded you?”
“That my faith is everything. Jadzia, I have heard phaser fire: I know something is wrong.”
“Come back to that station.” Jadzia glanced around the promenade. “This isn't a secure frequency; I'm not even in my quarters.”
“There are things I should know that you can't tell me?”
“Yes.” A breeze she could only see ruffled Nerys's hair.
Nerys put a hand to her temple. “As usual. It'll be all right, Lieutenant, I know how to take care of myself.”
“I know. I still worry about you though.”
“You're the first.”
Nerys finished the transmission without saying goodbye; that was like her. Jadzia didn't get a chance to prepare herself for that familiar face blinking away to nothing. She stared at the Starfleet symbol left on the screen and every time she started to look away, she looked back.
When she returned to Quark's, all the ice had melted in her drink.
Benjamin didn't send her down as part of the away-team to rescue Kira from The Circle. She didn't ask to go. There was no reason for her to go on that particular mission and maybe he did need her in Ops. Or maybe he didn't think she could remain a collected Starfleet officer, that her hands would shake on the phaser; she'd see Kira's lifeless body and break.
Maybe he was even right.
Emony would have worked out or done a head-stand; Tobin would have found a trans-warp coil to take apart; Audrid would have made palm-root stew. Jadzia didn't know what she should do, other than sit in Ops and listen to two Bajorans bicker and stare at the space next to the wormhole. She monitored the subspace frequencies and drummed her finger-nails against the base of the consul. They made a pleasing rat-tat rat-tat rat-tat.
She didn't try to take her mind off it; it wouldn't work. She listened to her nails and monitored messages and thought about Nerys. She thought about her until it seemed like she had never been thinking about anything else.
When Nerys came back alive the relief was so sharp it was almost like pain.
Jadzia heard her over the comm line when Benjamin requested they be beamed back on board. She was complaining about how much there was to do and how she didn't have time for Bashir to bring her to sickbay. Jadzia could hear the pain in her voice even in the brief communication, but she didn't request to speak to her.
She didn't even ask how she was. If anything was really wrong, Benjamin would tell her. She trusted him in that. And she stayed in Ops, because she was on duty, even though it hurt not to be able to go to sickbay and at least look at Nerys, to reassure herself that she really was OK.
An hour later, when Nerys was in their quarters, tugging off her stained civilian clothes, her face turned away, Jadzia said, “They tortured you, didn't they? That's what Benjamin didn't want to say to me.”
“They said they learnt a few tricks from the Cardassians.” Nerys pulled on her uniform pants. Her uniforms were still neatly folded next to Jadzia's, untouched since she left. “But I don't think that's giving ourselves enough credit. We know lots of things about pain.”
Jadzia nearly lost her balance. She'd knew, she knew better than anyone other than Nerys herself, that terrible things had happened in Nerys's past. That she'd seen death and despair, had her family destroyed, her youth eroded, she'd been raped, violated, more than once. And yet, somehow, it was harder for Jadzia now: to know that someone had hurt Nerys again, and neither of them had been able to stop it.
Nerys gripped her hand. “Get it together, Lieutenant. We've got work to do.”
She was dressed, back in her uniform, her face clean and unblemished. She looked completely collected while Jadzia was leaning against the door-frame trying to keep her breathing steady. She held Nerys's hand so hard it was painful.
Jadzia swallowed the bitter taste in her mouth. “You'd think The Circle would give you Bajorans more credit. They shouldn't rely on the Cardassians for anything.”
“That's what I think. If they're going to torture me, it should be on our own terms, not something they picked up years ago in a prison camp.” She let go of Jadzia's hand. “Besides, I might have actually broken under innovative Bajoran techniques.”
Jadzia desperately wanted to grab her hand again, to press Nerys's smaller body against her own, to say, never never never never will that happen again, but she knew better than to try any of it.
Loving Nerys was an exercise in self-discipline. In holding back, when she so desperately wanted to cling, to protect. She limited herself to saying, “When this is over, we're not getting out of bed for a week.”
“Make it a month.” Nerys flashed her one quick, real smile before she marched out of their quarters.
They were squashed together at the front of the Orinoco, on their way to one of Bajor's moons. The runabout was crammed with merchants, cleaning crew and family memebers. Despite the gravity of the situation, the mood around them was surprisingly jolly. The Klingon restaurant owner had suggested a song, and two human merchants were playing a loud game of cards with an anxious Bajoran child.
Nerys and Jadzia were standing to give space for others to sit. The only other member of the ship's staff was the pilot, and he seemed determined not to be distracted from his flight plan. Jadzia rested her chin on Nerys's shoulder. She could feel the tension in Nerys's body, and knew the mission, however it went, would be gruelling, but, like the rest of the shuttle, she felt slightly giddy.
She felt grateful to be with Nerys, that no matter what happened, she would not be waiting in Ops, hoping, her skin alive with tension. Nerys pressed her cheek against Jadzia's for a moment before pulling away. “Did you tell everyone in Ops that Tobin had no sex life just to remind them how great your sex life is?” Nerys said softly.
“Nerys! I'd never do anything so self-serving. Or obvious.”
“Well, I'm glad you're not Tobin,” Nerys said. “I bet you'd be difficult to be around if you were sexually frustrated.”
“I didn't say he was sexually frustrated. He just didn't have a very active sex life. He preferred engines.”
“That just doesn't sound like you.”
“He wasn't like me. But I do have a piece of him, inside. There's a difference. I honour him by working on pre-impulse drives, just as I hope one day my next host will remember me by...”
“Having lesbian sex with Bajorans?”
Jadzia skimmed her fingers over Nerys's wrist. “Exactly. Have I mentioned that I'm really glad you came back in one piece?”
“Let's just see if we can do it again. There's our moon. Home at last.”
Can you believe I was living here a year ago? She was still trying to take it in. It was one thing to hear stories about refugee colonies, another to be on the barren moon, feelings its heat and hearing the palukoos skitter over the rocks.
“I'm glad you've never seen me after I've gone six weeks without washing my hair. At least there's some mystery between us,” Nerys said.
“There wasn't enough water?” On the dusty walk to the abandoned shuttle, she hadn't see any rivers or heard any streams.
“Oh, there was water. It was just frozen.”
“Hand me that wrench, would you?” Jadzia said, face in the engine. The hard edges of the shuttle seemed determined to cut into her sides and each of her limbs. She couldn't get into a comfortable position. “Is that why you cut it short?”
“My hair? No, that was in summer. We all got lice. It happens when too many people live too close together. And in summer, all the water dries up on these moons.”
“Curzon got lice once.” Jadzia whacked her elbow into the narrow wall when she pulled too sharply. “But not on his head.”
“Where?” Nerys began; then, “Oh. I never had those.”
“You were lucky.”
“I just never had sex. The other women never wanted to.”
The engine gave a sudden, encouraging hum. “That was their mistake.”
“I think I would've put up with lice if I could have had sex too. I already had them in my hair, after all. I always imagined it. The sex, not lice. How warm it would be in the winter. The companionship. Having someone who knew me so well.”
“I'd suggest we do it now,” Jadzia said, handing the wrench back to Nerys, “But I'm not sure how long this engine will hold.”
Nerys clambered over her, into the pilot's seat. “We can always come back on vacation.”
“To your chilly, lice-infested caves, to eat palukoos? No thanks.”
“Don't you want to see places that are important to me?”
“Yes,” Jadzia said. “Sure. But don't make me pretend I wouldn't rather go somewhere I can be pampered. Especially after a ride like this.”
The Bajoran forest smelt like wet hay and tallow: not a scent Jadzia was used to forests having, but not an unpleasant one either. It was strange the way insignificant details would occasionally creep up on her in a moment of crisis: the shape of the leaves, the configuration of the stars, the claggy soil.
Nerys's face was taut and white with pain. For the second time that day. “Leave me. That's an order, Lieutenant.”
Jadzia caressed the pale cheek. “I've given you a hypo for the pain. I've only got one; if we'd crashed a Starfleet shuttle we'd have a better medkit.”
“I'm fine. Go.”
Jadzia manoeuvred her to standing. She took as much of Nerys's weight as she could. She was all bone and wiry muscle and she was shivering slightly, although the evening was humid. Hold on, Jadzia willed her. Don't go into shock.
She felt strong as she helped Nerys walk, as she quashed her complaints. She, Jadzia, was in control of this situation. She wasn't sitting futilely in Ops, hoping. She had Nerys in her arms and she was going to save her and bring the evidence of Cardassian involvement to the Bajoran government. Then she'd take them both home. And then maybe they'd go to Risa. There was nothing she couldn't do.
The voices came closer, twigs snapping under approaching feet. Jadzia felt a flash of panic and tried to help Nerys to crouch down among the long leaves, but that was the moment Nerys fainted in her arms, strong limbs going loose and slack. Jadzia slipped under the unexpected weight, cradling Nerys's shoulders. She tried to keep her from bumping her head.
She was holding the warm body close to her, all her muscles tense, when the hand clamped down on her shoulder. She would fight, she would fight all the Bajorans, and the Cardassians, too, if she had to. She would win. She wouldn't let anything else happen to Nerys. Not now.
“You'll both be safe with me. We'll have to move quickly; the extremists have better resources than we do.”
Jadzia slid Nerys to the ground, and crouched over her protectively, shielding her body with her own. In the dim light, she could make out only a general impression of the man: he was wearing robes, and several chains dangled from his earring. Her hand remained on her phaser. “Major Kira was tortured by The Circle just a few hours ago. I don't know if I can trust any of you.”
He held up his hands. “I'm not armed. You need me: what are you going to do, fight off all of Bajor by yourself? The others have weapons, you know, and they're pretty good at hand-to-hand as well.”
“I'll do what I have to,” Jadzia said, channelling Curzon.
“And you have to come with me. I'm from Vedek Bareil's order. We'll keep you safe. He sent his best wishes to the Major and the woman she saw in the Orb.”
Jadzia took her hand off her phaser. It might only be rhetoric, but his words were the best hope she had. “I can't carry her by myself. She's broken her leg; she's in a lot of pain.”
“We'll help.” He cupped a hand around his mouth and made a faint, cooing sound, like birdsong. Four more robbed figures appeared from the woods around them.
“Do they always show up when you make that sound?” Jadzia asked, easing her hands under Nerys's shoulders.
He smiled, relaxing now that she was going along with him. “Yes,” he said. “It can be inconvenient.”
She moved back to allow a Bajoran with a medical tricorder to scan Nerys, but wouldn't let go of her.
Together they carried her back to the monastery. It took a long time, and she was almost glad that Nerys had lost consciousness. She imagined every step would jar her broken bones. The ground was uneven; the light poor. Even one of the monks fell and twisted his ankle.
In the distance she could hear shouting, and twice they had to stop for several agonising minutes while they extinguished the lights and hid in the foliage. She kept her hands on Nerys, running fingers through her hair. Audrid knew how to comfort anyone; Jadzia worried she herself did not. Besides, it was hard to get Nerys to accept any kind of comfort.
I've got you, she thought, stroking the hair still slightly crisp with gel. I've got you.
The monastery was at the edge of the forest: Jadzia only got a fleeting impression of stone walls and quiet streams. Leaves trembled and an animal's cry mingled with the sounds from the forest. Jadzia wouldn't leave Nerys: she held her hands after she was laid out on a bed. She wasn't afraid that the monks would hurt them now; her phaser was the only weapon they had between them. She just didn't want to leave Nerys's side. She snapped when someone tried to scan her with a tricorder, “I'm fine, I was in the back of the shuttle. You need to help Kira.”
“She'll be good as new soon,” a man said, looking up from the tricorder and handing it to the other monk. “A broken hip, some minor abrasions. Nothing we can't fix. You have a cut on your hand, did you feel it?”
Jadzia looked at the gash spreading across her knuckles. “No. It doesn't hurt.”
“Good: we don't have the resources to waste dermal regenerators on minor wounds here. My name is Vedek Bareil.” He held out his hand.
She took it. “Nerys—Kira, Major Kira—she told me about you.”
“Then you'll let me help.”
His face was earnest, gentle, nothing like Nerys's, yet there was an intensity in his eyes that reminded her of Nerys. She took a deep breath, reminded herself of the mission, of her training, that she was a Starfleet officer. She let go of Nerys's hand and stood up. Her legs, so steady for so long, suddenly felt shaky.
“To be honest,” she said, “We could use some help right now.”
She almost baulked when Vedek Bareil spread out the robes for her. She couldn't remember the exact rule, but she was confident that Starfleet officers weren't supposed to appropriate the religious beliefs of other cultures. He seemed perfectly at ease with it, however. He cupped her chin in his hand and gently tilted her face upwards.
“We'll have to do something about your nose.”
“My nose? I can just keep my head ducked down.”
“And look like you have something to hide? Definitely not. We can cover up the spots, but the nose can't stay.” He wrinkled his own at her, ridges curling up. “You'll feel much better. Doesn't it itch, your nose being naked like that?”
Jadzia smiled. “I've never noticed it itching.”
“Hmm.” He called in one of the other monks. “Is anyone good at altering faces?”
“Wirrol worked with burn victims during the resistance,” the monk said. “He was thinking of becoming a plastic surgeon.”
“Excellent,” Bareil said. “See if you can find him, would you?”
“Surgery? I was thinking of something a bit less... permanent,” Jadzia broke in.
Bareil laughed. “He's just good with his hands. We're not going to do anything long-term.” He picked up the headdress, carefully folding it into a triangular shape with his hands. “I'll give you some privacy to change into the robes.”
Jadzia dressed carefully, hands fumbling over the complex fastenings. She'd left when they were fixing Nerys's bones, and she knew it was more important to talk about plans with Bareil than fret over Nerys, but she still wanted to be there.
She took a deep breath and looked out the window, over the forest. Calm down, Jadzia, she thought. How did you end up this smitten? Outside, she saw a sudden flash, a burst of phaser fire. Someone might have been killed. She tugged at the cloth on her shoulder, trying to make it more even, and went out to Bareil.
“There you are,” he said, “I was just talking to our medic. Kira needs to rest for another hour; she's heavily sedated. But she'll be fine.”
“Good.” Jadzia tried to sag against the wall as subtly as possible.
He held the headdress out to her. “May I help you put this on? It's very difficult; we don't usually expect the novices to manage it until their third year. I've been thinking we should get rid of them myself; I don't think the Prophets see any need for purposeless complexity.”
She ducked her head; his hands were gentle in her hair. “She really loves you,” he said. “But you know that, don't you?”
Jadzia felt his kind hands smoothing the cloth against her head. She shrugged, then nodded, and then found she wanted to talk. She kept her head lowered so he could work on the headdress; it was easier, anyway, to say this without looking him in the eyes.
“I think I know. I thought it would be easy, loving a Bajoran. I've lived with Klingons; I've been friends with Cardassians; I've known so many different people. The Bajorans I've met: I admired their courage, and their faith, and I didn't feel like... like we'd be that different. I thought it would be easy to find common ground.”
She sighed. “I'm not expressing this very well. It is easy to find common ground. I just don't think I've ever loved anyone who's been hurt like Nerys has been hurt; whose people have been hurt like the Bajorans have been. And I tell myself I understand, she's been through trauma, it will take time.” She bit her lip. “But that's not the hard part. I can learn to be what she needs me to be. I know I can. It's that I... I want to find the people who hurt her, and hurt them back. I want that so much.”
He smoothed the headdress over her hair and stepped back. She looked up. His expression remained calm: he seemed a little amused. “We all feel like that,” he said. “All of us.”
“How do you live with it?”
“As best we can.” He stood back, assessing her. “I have no more wisdom for you than that. We're all learning to live with it, the hate, the fear, as best we can. I don't think we'll figure it all out in this generation.”
He pulled the scarf down a little so it covered the last of her spots. Then, carefully, he tucked a strand of loose hair beneath it and straightened a crease in the cloth. She felt, suddenly, like a small child, being dressed by a careful father. “There,” he said. “It's best that Nerys sleeps for another hour. That's plenty of time to fix your nose.”
She let him lead her down a draughty corridor to a room where two young monks were arguing about the best way to fake a Bajoran nose. They were laughing. He left her there, but she knew he'd send for her when she was needed. She trusted him. Suddenly, she trusted all of them.
“I'm thinking about keeping it,” she told Nerys, pressing her new nose against Nerys's own. It was a little stiff and cold, but it was worth it for the way Nerys laughed.
“I always knew something about you was off,” Nerys said. “Now I see.”
Jadzia allowed herself one more fierce hug. “How's your leg? Really?”
“She's stiff, and it will be weak for a few days,” Bareil told her. He was looking at Nerys with great fondness. Jadzia watched him over Nerys's shoulder and wondered if Nerys recognised his affection. “She'll tell you she's fine, though, so I thought I should let you know.”
“I appreciate it.” Jadzia stepped back, letting Nerys smooth out her own robes. “Vedek Bareil had better do your headdress,” she told Nerys, “It seems complicated.”
Nerys insisted on folding the cloth herself before she gave up and crumpled it into a ball. Bareil took it from her and calmly folded it over her hair. “The council will listen,” Nerys said, wriggling impatiently and making him fumble, “Won't they?”
Her expression, as she looked at Bareil, was open and vulnerable: an honesty that Jadzia didn't often see. “You have the evidence,” he said, “And you have yourself. They will listen.”
Later, watching Nerys face the politicians, stand steady and calm as if she had not just broken a hip, had not been tortured, Jadzia thought that Nerys having herself was the most important aspect of all.
Other people trembled with fear. Nerys trembled too. But her trembling was an inspiration. People might fight her, or disagree, but she could never be ignored.
Afterwards, back at the station, she found Nerys in their quarters, kneeling in front of her shrine. Her face was still, her wrists held up towards the sky. But where was the sky, Jadzia thought, when you were in space?
Jadzia meant to leave the room, to give Nerys this space, her peace, but she instead she stayed, observing Nerys's slow breaths, the sharpness of her posture, the pale underside of her wrists.
She stayed so long her feet ached, and then she sat on the floor, watching Nerys, watching her here, whole and silent and safe. She had read about meditation; Emony had dabbled in it. But that aspect of spirituality had never interested her. She could feel her toes itch, her shoulders ache. Bajorans, Vulcans: how did they manage it?
The pale candles reflected light on Nerys's cheeks, her throat. She tried to model her breathing on Nerys's own, but Nerys was breathing too slowly, and it made Jadzia feel like she might choke.
“I've been practising all my life,” Nerys said softly, when Jadzia shuffled to another position on the floor. “If you want to meditate, you need to start much more gradually than this. Try it for thirty seconds, first, then a minute.” She glanced over. “But maybe Trill just aren't good at meditating.”
“We're not good at backing down from a challenge, that's for sure,” Jadzia said. Then, “I didn't mean to disturb you.”
“Commander Sisko and the Chief wanted me to celebrate with them.” Nerys sighed. “But I didn't feel much like celebrating.”
Jadzia shuffled over, put her hand on the back of Nerys's neck. “I know.”
“Your hands are always freezing.”
“One of the many problems with dating a Trill.” Jadzia moved her hand up into Nerys's hair.
“No, I like it now. I've got used to it.”
Jadzia felt, unexpectedly, a sob rising in her throat. She swallowed hard and rested her head against Nerys's shoulder. “I thought you might die,” she said into Nerys's uniform.
“What was that?”
Jadzia tilted her head slightly and repeated herself. Nerys's uniform smelt like smoke and tallow, like a Bajoran forest at dusk. Nerys stroked Jadzia's hair, her cheek. “If the Cardassians couldn't kill me, I don't know who will. I certainly won't allow my own people to do it.”
Nerys turned away from her shrine, stretching her legs out in front of her. She wrapped her arms around Jadzia's torso. Jadzia sighed and clung to her. She said, “I should be comforting you. I'm much older and wiser, and you've been through so much more.”
“You comfort me all the time. I have a nightmare, you comfort me. I go to my stupid counsellor, you comfort me. I break my hip, you comfort me. This is nice.”
“I really thought you might be killed. I hated waiting for you. I kept saying, 'Jadzia, this is what dating a fellow officer is like. You knew that.' But still, I hate it.” Her mouth was pressed against Nerys's collarbone. She could feel a quaver in her chest, another sob wanting to work its way out. “And then you were tortured.” Her voice broke.
“I think comforting you comforts me,” Nerys said thoughtfully, rocking her.
When she could breathe more easily, Jadzia said, “You're not that good at it.”
“Really? I'm modelling myself on you, so you can't be much good either.” Nerys ran her fingers over Jadzia's chin and tilted her face upwards. She kissed Jadzia softly, her mouth, her temples, her closed eyes.
It should have been me, Jadzia thought later, I should have been the one to hold her, to slide her onto the bed, to kiss her, to make her feel loved. But it was the other way around: Jadzia fisted her hands in Nerys's uniform tunic, pulling her close. She felt unable to move, to let go, to do anything but breath Nerys in, to answer her with vague kisses on her cheek and the exposed line of her chest.
And so it was Nerys who undressed them both, hands steady and competent, Nerys who guided her to the bed, Nerys who held her in her arms.
Nerys spread them out, forehead to forehead, mouth to mouth. Jadzia breathed her in gratefully: the sweet, familiar scent of Nerys's skin, of sweat and incense and deodorant. Nerys caressed Jadzia's wrists and brought her fingers to Nerys's warm, familiar cunt. Jadzia felt Nerys around her, smooth and wet, and she felt, at last, like Nerys was an extension of herself.
Nerys, in turn, traced her fingers in circles over Jadzia's clit and around her vulva until she was gasping and whimpering brokenly into Nerys's mouth. Her limbs felt loose and she was eager and entirely lost in the sensations, in the feeling of Nerys around her, of Nerys touching her, of NerysNerysNerys. And Nerys made her come and come again until she was trembling and limp and could only cling to her, lips pressed against the skin of the woman she loved.
Then she held Nerys in her arms and pressed her face into Nerys's neck, and they clung tight together until Jadzia could feel only Nerys, could smell only Nerys. She felt safe and free and whole.
“You're here,” she whispered gratefully against Nerys's skin.