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that constant sting they call love

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The air was full of bitter smoke, and it reminded her of hunger. Of being hungry. Of a pit in her stomach as she skidded down a slate hill into the firefight, feeling the heat of the phasers and the Bajoran sun shining down from above. She had barely eaten for days, that time. Her arms had shaken from the effort of keeping her weapon raised. Fourteen years old. Something had gone wrong. The Cardassians had started bombing them from the sky, and the hills around them were crumbling in the storm. Something was wrong now. She could feel it in the earth beneath her boots. 

“Kira, we’re- losing connection- trying to beam-”

She threw herself down, sheltering from another explosive as it hit the ground to close for comfort and sent shrapnel flying in every direction. The sound of it possessed her, ringing in her ears a decade ago just as it did now, and it was impossible to tell whether the screams of terror and pain were real or just echoes of what had gone before, echoes of memory.

“Kira to Defiant,” she choked out, tapping her badge desperately. “I’m in the centre of the settlement, I need-”

Something exploded only a few metres from her hiding place, and she felt the blast of heat and spitting shards of rock and metal against her back, burning. There must have been some kind of chemical in the explosive. It was like acid in her eyes, on her skin. Down her throat, into her lungs.

“Kira to Defiant,” she repeated. “Kira to Defiant!”

“Kira, we-” The signal turned to a harsh whine, silencing the speaker. Then it went dead. Swallowing a mouthful of toxic air, she reached out hopelessly for the tendrils of that voice on the other side, saw the bright blue eyes in her mind. They were filled with fear. Jadzia. She could feel the body beneath her hands, skin still soft and warm. But it was only the ground, with its cracked tiles giving way to moss and grass, hot from the shelling. Kira, don’t. That was what Jadzia had said. Don’t, it’s too dangerous.

I am the commanding officer of this ship. 

How had she been such a fool? 

There was a tug on her arm, insistent. She dared to open her eyes a crack, tears streaming down her cheeks from the burn of the chemicals, and met the gaze of a girl. A child. She was so small, far smaller than fourteen. She had no Bajoran nose ridges or a stolen Cardassian phaser in her hands. There was a smear of blood across her pale cheek. Kira stretched out her arms and pulled the little girl in close, as she had done with the children during their time of resistance, protecting their frail bodies with her own. The universe was collapsing around them.

Don’t do it, Jadzia had said.

And she had looked into those angry eyes, the ones that reminded her so much of Bajor’s bluest oceans and replied, I don’t have a choice.

 

 

*

 

Nerys.

Hm? 

Nerys, I need you to let go. 

The world is white when she opens her eyes. The glare sends a painful shockwave right to the back of her brain, drags up a wave of nausea worse than any she can remember feeling before. It takes all her effort not to be sick from it. A weight is lifted off her as she cringes away, the distant cry of a scared child reaching her ears. Something presses into her neck. Prophets. She must’ve said her prayer aloud. It burns in the back of her throat like smoke. 

“It’s okay, it’s only the residual effects of the explosives you were exposed to,” someone says, lost in the bright blur to her right. “Your vision should return to normal within the next few minutes.”

Kira groans. “Julian?”

“Come on, let’s get you up off the floor,” Julian mutters, slipping an arm around her middle to drag her to her feet. She’s in sickbay, that much is clear. The air has the sterile, cool scent of the Infirmary about it, patches of silver and flickers of amber and blue light beginning to fade in at the far reaches of her line of sight. Julian’s arm helping her is the only sure thing, the rest still blurred and confusing. She can taste blood in her mouth. Something rings in her ears.

“Jadzia-”

“Is fine,” Julian interrupts. “She’s up on the bridge, getting us back on course to DS9. We were damaged on our way out of the planet’s atmosphere – apparently repairs are going to take a while. Here, sit down.” He guides her into a seated position on one of the sickbay beds, and a moment later she hears the faint whir of a medical tricorder in her left ear. Her vision is starting to clear. She can see shapes of colour, though still undefined and painfully bright at the edges.

“How do you feel?”

“I’ve been worse,” she replies, ignoring the sting in her throat as she speaks. “There- there was a girl…”

Julian lifts her head and presses another hypospray to her neck. It helps to soften the stabbing pain between her eyes, and when she opens them next, sickbay seems to have shifted into sharper focus. Julian is more than a blob passing in and out of sight, despite the fact she still feels half-blinded. With the clarity comes shame. Even if the memories of those final moments weren’t beginning to trickle back in through her mind, she would’ve been able to guess what’d happened. She shouldn’t have just cowered there, waiting to become a target. She knew better than that.

“She was transported aboard with you and Jadzia,” Julian says. “She’s just on the other side of the room. The nurse gave her a sedative, but otherwise I think she’ll be fine. Once your eyesight’s improved, you’ll be able to see her.”

“Jadzia was down there.” She knew it before, could recall the strong hands gripping her arm and trying to drag her away. Blue eyes, bright as skies and oceans. I came for you. Over the roar of a city crumbling to dust, those words – I came for you.

“She beamed down only a minute or two after we lost contact with you.”

Kira stares dead ahead as the glare continues to dissipate, allowing her to see again. “I told her not to.” It comes out hollow, like an old tree carved by the mouths of thousands of tiny insects. Raspy, too. It no longer burns as badly, but even now she can taste the chemicals from down on the surface. The crude, torturous weapons of cowards. 

“Well, it’s not like we were going to leave you behind,” Julian points out, pressing a cup of cool water into her hands. 

“I gave her a direct order.” 

“This is Jadzia we’re talking about.” He’s trying to sound light, humour doing a poor job at covering up the heaviness beneath. How many thousands of people just died, down on that planet? Hundreds of thousands, even. And all Kira could save was one girl. Wincing with every swallow, she downs the cup of water and slides off the biobed. She can see enough to walk straight now. A young woman in a blue Starfleet uniform hovers over the only other occupied bed, taking down information from the monitor. Kira can sense Julian hovering just behind as she goes, ready to catch her in case she falls. She won’t. 

Someone has wiped the blood off the girl’s face. She looks so small – if she were human or Bajoran, Kira would’ve guessed five, maybe six years old. She is humanoid, though, with light skin and short, curly dark hair, remarkable in her oddly high cheekbones and wide eyes, large to a strange degree even when closed. She lies in tattered, burned clothes on the biobed, tiny chest rising and falling with even breaths. Kira stares, some uncomfortable tug in her chest urging her to reach out to be sure of the girl’s pulse, to protect her from the affronting brightness of sickbay.

“What do we do with her?” she asks.

“That’s up to you,” Julian answers. “Though, as a doctor-”

“Was there any evidence of survivors of the attack?”

Julian is silent for a moment. “The last scans we performed didn’t indicate any substantial life signs. After we beamed you out, the second missile hit. The whole province was annihilated.”

Kira closes her eyes, taking in a deep breath. She wonders who did it. Down on the planet, which group of people sat around a table somewhere and gave that order? Who pressed the button to send those intercontinental missiles flying through the air, bring insurmountable death and destruction? Those people had been lucky, to live there. A healthy class-M planet in the Gamma Quadrant, no signs of Dominion intrusion. And they’d thrown it all away.

“We’ll have to take her back to Deep Space 9,” she says simply, pinching the bridge of her nose and trying to get her disordered thoughts in line. Her head feels like the bomb went off inside of it, shrapnel still ricocheting around her skull. “We can’t take her back I… I’ll make her my responsibility until we’re back on the station.”

“But-”

She turns to Julian, giving him a sharp look. “I made a choice as commander of this ship. I want everyone’s reports to maintain that. I’m taking full ownership – it was my decision to try to interfere.”

“That’s right, it was.”

Julian has to grab her arm to keep her steady as she whirls around, blinded at first by the bright exit light over the door. It reflects off a Starfleet badge, off the rank pins on a uniform collar, stinging Kira’s eyes. Jadzia steps out of the glare like a Prophet from the void. Her uniform is dirty and singed, smudges of ash painted across her cheeks. Her hair has slipped out of its usual style to fall around her shoulders. It’s the fury in her gaze that takes Kira by surprise. She can’t remember seeing that kind of anger in Jadzia’s eyes before, so sharp and direct. Jadzia is usually so cool and collected. The calm to Kira’s storm. 

“What’s our status?”

Jadzia crosses the room in a few determined strides, sparing only a small glance at the alien girl on the bed. Kira pulls her arm away from Julian’s support to stand to her full height, meeting the anger twisting Jadzia’s expression. She can’t help tensing up. The pain in her head is still pounding.

“We’re on course to Deep Space 9,” Jadzia answers, a little icily. “The Chief says repairs to the warp drive are going to take at least two days.”

“Well, you can tell him he has one,” she replies. “I don’t want us floating in space at the mercy of the Jem’Hadar.”

“Maybe you can tell him yourself.”

Ignoring Julian’s nervous glances jumping back and forth at the edge of her awareness, she raises her chin and stares right into Jadzia’s eyes. “Jadzia, if you have a problem with something-”

“What I have a problem with,” Jadzia interrupts, “is you beaming down to the surface alone in direct defiance of the Prime Directive and nearly getting yourself and everyone on the Defiant killed.”

“I told you to keep the ship out of the atmosphere!” Kira snaps back. “Those people down there were destroying each other. There was a chance we could’ve saved lives.”

“It’s not our place to interfere,” Jadzia says. “The Prime Directive-”

“Oh, damn the Prime Directive!” she half-yells, wincing at the burn down her throat as she speaks. “If that’s Starfleet’s way, fine. But I’m not a member of Starfleet, and if all I managed to do was save one child, that still justifies it to me.”

“It’s not yourself you’re going to have to justify it to,” Jadzia replies. “It’s Captain Sisko and Starfleet Command.”

Behind Kira, the little alien girl twitches and whimpers on the biobed, face turning into the mattress. Although she does not look Bajoran, seeing her gives Kira the nasty sense of being back in one of the refugee camps during the occupation, seeing the children left to be cared for by generous strangers, without families and without names. Those Bajoran children were raised to understand the enslavement and oppression their lives would hold. She looks at the little girl and thinks, not you. 

“We’ll take this outside,” she declares, turning back to Jadzia. “Julian, I want a nurse to stay with her at all times who can notify me if anything changes.”

“Kira, with all due respect, I don’t think you’re in any state-”

“I can walk,” she says, silencing his objection. “And I want medical reports filed as soon as possible.”

He knows not to argue back. “Understood.”

The corridor outside sickbay is warmer, but the heat only serves to make Kira think of fire, when she was fourteen and just a few minutes ago, both times enough to burn. Her head hurts too much for this. Too much for Jadzia to pick a fight with her now. Things have been fraught, the past few weeks. Just as she thought they were coming to an understanding – spending time in Jadzia’s silly holosuite programs, eating breakfast together almost every day – things became uncomfortable again. She doesn’t know what it was she did. Something wrong, as usual. But she’s never seen this amount of anger contained within Jadzia’s face before, certainly not directed at her. 

“I can’t believe you did that,” Jadzia hisses across the cramped hall, looking down on her with a furrowed brow. 

“I did what I had to do,” Kira replies. “And you disobeyed my direct order as commander by bringing the ship down into the atmosphere.”

“We couldn’t beam you out from any higher. What is it you expected me to do, exactly?”

Leave me. Kira made her choice. Maybe it was rash and poor judgement, but she made it. She decided to ignore the ethics of getting involved in a pre-warp capability civilisation, risking her life in the process. You should have left me behind. But she can’t say that. It’s too callous, even for her.

“You shouldn’t have put the entire crew in danger just for my sake,” she tells Jadzia, stepping out of the way as an embarrassed ensign hurries past. 

“You broke the Prime Directive.”

“Oh, I don’t want to hear about the Prophets-damned Prime Directive again in my life! Don’t stand there and pretend that’s really what’s bothering you about this.”

Jadzia jolts back with a start, like Kira’s words sting. “I am a Starfleet officer,” she says. “I made a promise when I signed up to follow certain rules and-”

“I didn’t make you break them.”

Leaning back in closer, some of the rage on Jadzia’s face seems to slip away to reveal a layer of exhausted pain beneath. Kira can hear her breathing. She wishes she could understand. She wishes she could know why she feels like she’s standing before the Chamber of Ministers, suffering their superior attitudes, their judgement. Jadzia’s eyes are condemnation, blue as the oceans of Bajor.

“Didn’t you?”

Didn’t you? Kira holds the gaze of the woman before her, experiencing some nasty twinge of guilt inside. Her heart is hurting as well as her head now. It’s the same pounding ache, incessant, and she struggles to ignore the feeling that she’s missing something. She was never so good at reading people’s emotions as Jadzia is, at understanding the hidden meanings behind the words they choose to say. 

“Should I have let that little girl lying in sickbay right now die down there?” she asks.

A flash of hurt in Jadzia’s blue gaze. “That’s not fair, Nerys.”

Kira turns her face away. That’s not fair, either. They call her Nerys to own her. They say, you can trust me, Nerys. Nerys, I’m your friend, I’m yours. And it’s backhanded, because she can never have them. They die or disappear before she’s known them long, leaving her behind with nothing but the shovel to dig the back-breaking graves and bear the burden of the grief alone.

“Kira.”

The sickbay door is open, Julian poking an anxious head through. The bright light coming from the doorway hurts her eyes, flares up with a stab of agony right between the eyes. 

“What is it, Julian?” she asks in a rasp, feeling close to tears. She can’t take this. Jadzia’s opinion means too much. Some part of her hates what Starfleet, the Federation, has done to her. People in the resistance might’ve said it was a weakness. 

“It’s the girl,” Julian answers. “I think she wants you.”

“I thought you said she was asleep.”

Julian glances nervously at Jadzia in the shadows of the corridor beyond and back to her. “The sedative isn’t acting exactly like I’d expect it to for most humanoids. Please, Kira, we can’t calm her down, and I don’t want to risk worsening her condition by giving her medication that doesn’t suit her physiology.”

It’s then that Kira hears the cries coming from sickbay – the sobs of a child. “Of course, I understand,” she says, rubbing her face in a vain attempt to wipe some of the pain and exhaustion away. “Jadzia, I-”

“I’ll be on the bridge, Major,” Jadzia states, cutting across before Kira can finish. 

Major. When has Jadzia ever called her that? It’s a reminder, Jadzia tearing away the thing she longs for, the closeness she can never allow herself to keep the cracks out of her heart, her body of stone. Not even my name. Nerys, you should call me-

“All right,” she replies. “I’m authorising you to take any measures to get us back to the station on schedule. If we catch Jem’Hadar attention now, we’ll all be praying to the Prophets for guidance.”

Jadzia doesn’t grace her with a verbal acknowledgement. She simply nods and walks away.

 

*

 

The first bomb went off a long way away. Kira wouldn’t even have known it happened, if not for the bright flash of white light that momentarily turned everything to void, blinded her. In her arms, the little girl cried out in fear. The sound cut right to her soul – it was something she’d heard a thousand times, desperate and clinging onto life, and she was back there again. Bajor’s ancient cities crumbling into dust. She never felt comfortable in the Cardassian architecture of Deep Space 9. That was what they destroyed the homes of her people to make way for. That was why they tore down the sculptures and ripped up the mosaic floors, why they melted down the earrings to make their weapons. Kira held the little girl – her babbled words nonsensical, foreign – tighter to her chest. Her soft curls, her skin, carried a thin sheen of pale dust.

She knew they needed to get to shelter, somewhere against a sturdy wall or barrier, but the roar was paralysing. She felt like a child herself, younger even than her fourteen-year-old self who had sprinted down that hillside phaser held high. The little girl let out another mournful cry against her breast. Screaming out for her parents maybe, the family she will never see again. 

“It’s okay,” Kira tells her in a rasping voice, drowned out by the sound of a city falling. “I’ve got you.” It doesn’t stop the crying. The girl had no way of understanding her, anyway. 

She wished she had thought to use that last moment on the bridge to say goodbye. 

From far beyond, among the stars, the first bomb went off far too close for comfort. Jadzia leaned over the console, watching the little red flashing light that represented the explosive flicker on the north part of the province, so close to Kira’s last recorded position. A weapon of that size would kill hundreds of thousands easily. If another one was dropped any nearer to the main settlement-

“Commander, position of second missile confirmed.”

She turned towards the terrified ensign at their station, the young man doing his best to put on a brave face. This was his first mission in the Gamma Quadrant, she knew. 

“How much time do we have?” she asked. It felt like only a few moments ago that Kira had given the order for her to be beamed down to the surface, to evaluate the situation from the ground and locate survivors. They hadn’t known about the second barrage then. Jadzia would’ve tackled Kira to the ground before she let her go down into the hell raging on the planet’s surface, would’ve gone instead, taken her place. 

“It’s only a matter of minutes.”

Only a matter of minutes. Jadzia stared. She looked towards the captain’s chair, almost hoping for a miracle, but it was empty. The Gamma Quadrant was a long way from home. She could still feel the warmth of Kira’s skin under her fingers, as she gripped her wrist and begged her to stay. 

Kira had said she didn’t have a choice. 

Neither did she.

 

*

 

Something’s wrong with Jadzia’s reflection in the bathroom mirror. She’s washed all the grime and ashy smears away – out of her hair, too – and donned a new black and blue uniform with the Starfleet badge pinned in the exact place she always puts it. Her other clothes were honestly beyond repair. They'd been through a warzone, after all. She holds her loose hair behind her head with one hand to see if it makes a difference. The face that stares back is still foreign. 

“Dax to Worf.”

“Worf here.”

She tears her eyes away from the mirror and heads towards the door of her quarters. “Status update?”

“We are still over a day away from Deep Space 9, commander,” Worf answers. “Chief O’Brien maintains that it will be some time before we are able to return to usual speeds. However, weapons and defensive capabilities are back online.”

“Glad to hear it. I’m on my way to the bridge now. Dax out.” At least if a stray Jem’Hadar ship finds them this side of the wormhole, they’ll be able to put up a fight. She pauses at the door, distracted by a bundle of unworn red uniform items sitting on the upper bunk, Kira’s clothes. She expected Kira to come to their room by now to change. She sat cross-legged on her own bunk for over an hour, just waiting. It seemed like the only way they could talk, after the way Jadzia stormed off earlier. 

She usually savours these away missions. They’re few and far between these days, with everything going on with the Dominion and the Klingons and Cardassians, the fact that a mission into the Gamma Quadrant can so easily end up like this. With the compact nature of the Defiant’s accommodation, it makes sense for officers to share. When Kira commands, Jadzia always finds herself on the bunk below her, somehow. It cuts the distance between them back from a long corridor and countless walls to the distance of just a metre or two. If they stay aboard overnight, Jadzia can lie there and listen to Kira’s restless breathing and the sound of her shifting in her sleep. She gets worried Kira might fall. She was always scared of that happening to her in bunk beds. 

Kira Nerys. Her clothes are in this room, in Jadzia’s room back on DS9 too – a spare white undershirt she left there once by mistake that Jadzia never gave back. Kira is everywhere. She leaves her mark on every space, phaser-fire burns in Jadzia’s memory. 

She always thought Kira was beautiful. In the beginning, though, it was difficult enough just to break through the hard exterior to even touch the earnest being beneath. She took things lightly with Kira, never allowed herself to imagine more. And then at some point, sitting across from her in Ops or hunched up shoulder-to-shoulder in Quark’s bar, Jadzia fell in love. Like she does. And by the time she knew to draw away, she was already beyond redemption. She’s pretty sure Julian once laughingly described it like being in a broken turbolift, falling through empty space towards wreckage below. He was more right than he’d known.

There are a thousand reasons not to be in love with Kira Nerys. She’s not interested, to begin with. But even if she was, Jadzia would find some way to ruin it. She couldn’t handle that kind of relationship. She would ruin it.

“Swear not by the moon,” she mutters, struck suddenly by some conversation Curzon had with Benjamin about a girl once that’s a little too distant to recall with ease. “Swear by thy gracious self, which is the god of my idolatry.” There’s not one person in the galaxy who’s studied old Earth literature who doesn’t know how that story ends. Not well. She won’t condemn her and Kira to the same fate.

But when she leaves their quarters, her feet turn towards sickbay instead of the bridge. 

She shouldn’t have let Kira go, direct orders be damned. Not for the Prime Directive, not for the safety of the ship. For Nerys. She almost lost her today. And she just has to be absolutely sure now that she didn’t. Maybe she can come up with an excuse for needing Kira’s attention before they’re standing opposite each other again, failing to say any of those things that linger in the air between them, never spoken aloud.

Sickbay is in shadows when she arrives. It scares her at first, like something from an uncanny dream. The only light comes from a few lit consoles, casting a chilly blue light over the room. 

“I didn’t think I’d be seeing you.”

Kira speaks so softly, she almost misses it. The half-whispered words echo through sickbay from the darkness, tearing away the last of Jadzia’s defences. If she was coming in here intending to be angry, she’s definitely failed now. She didn’t have a plan, really, but she wasn’t meaning to give in just like that. Kira had forced her to break the Prime Directive, to betray at least a hundred Starfleet regulations to retrieve her from the surface. She’d broken those rules herself by beaming down in the first place. Whoever sent those missiles, they no doubt picked up the Defiant’s presence – it’d be hard to miss. 

Then again, who knows, maybe proof of life beyond their own world might inspire their warp-incapable brains to stop dropping bombs on each other. Maybe they did end up saving lives today. One life, at least. 

There wasn’t enough space for the two of them to lie side by side, so Kira half sits up with the little alien girl curled up on top of her, like she’s an extension of the biobed. Jadzia didn’t get a good look at the child before. She can only be a few years old at the most, maybe a bit older than Molly O’Brien. Or a bit younger. Despite being a parent before, in previous lives, the details are a bit fuzzy when it comes to children. Besides, this girl is something very different from Bajoran or Trill or Human. She could be anything.

“Where is everyone?”

Kira nods her head towards the door. “Julian went to bed. The nurses are at dinner.”

“I thought you might want an update,” she says quietly, approaching the bed. 

“Worf already called me,” Kira says. She turns her eyes away from Jadzia to look at the girl again, one hand stroking her dark curly hair, the smooth skin of her cheek. They don’t look anything alike, but Jadzia can’t help but think Kira seems like she could be a mother. Maybe it’s just something to do with the softness of the light in sickbay, or the rather sad, thoughtful look on Kira’s face. 

“Oh.” She pauses, caught halfway between Kira and the door, not wanting to wake up the girl. “Well, I’m on my way to the bridge, so-”

Head bowed, a few curls of Kira’s hair fall across her forehead and Jadzia represses the urge to reach over and brush them back into place. 

“Stay.”

She can’t help letting out a short, mostly humourless laugh. “You really want me to?”

“Of course,” Kira replies, still refusing to meet her gaze again. “I… It’s been hours since I’ve had someone to talk to.”

So that’s what it is. Kira is lonely. Or bored. “Why didn’t you come find me, if you wanted to talk?”

“She was asleep,” Kira points out with a nod towards the girl in her arms. “And whenever I tried to leave earlier, she started crying again. Julian just suggested I stay. I don’t understand why, but it seemed to calm her down a bit.”

“I guess she’s imprinted on you,” Jadzia jokes, daring another step closer. “You know how young children can be.”

“Not really, no.”

Jadzia lowers herself down to perch on the edge of the biobed, careful not to disturb the sleeping girl. When she looks down, her right hand rests on the mattress only a few centimetres from Kira’s own. Near, but never touching. It seems like a bit of a mean trick of the universe, to make her see all this. Kira calmer, gentler than she ever is on the bridge or in their shared quarters. And still, just out of her reach. It doesn’t seem real. It feels like a tragedy.

“Here will I set up my everlasting rest, and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this world-wearied flesh,” she murmurs, watching the little girl’s chest rise and fall with each tiny breath. It’s strange, the things she remembers, and the things she doesn’t. 

“Hm?”

She smiles and shakes her head. “It’s Shakespeare.”

Kira does look at her then, eyes dark from the shadows, lips and cheeks still red. A Juliet if ever there was one, though with more of a proclivity for swords than the original fair lady of Verona. “I don’t understand. Shakespeare?”

“It’d take too long to explain,” Jadzia says. Besides, how does someone explain those kinds of things? Not Shakespeare, that’s simple enough. Anyone can explain what Shakespeare is. What’s harder to get at is what it’s about, what Shakespeare means beyond the person, the publications. Maybe all Dax’s lifetimes of experience should mean she knows how to make that elusive emotion into words that Kira could understand. Maybe.

“We think her name is Dafne,” Kira tells her, fingers hovering over the child’s high cheekbones, sharp and pale. “The Universal Translator was having some trouble understanding her, though. Julian thinks it’s because she’s so young, her speech isn’t fully developed.”

“Kira Dafne,” Jadzia remarks. “It’s a nice fit.”

“She’s not mine, Jadzia. You were right about one thing – Starfleet’s not going to be happy about us taking her from her planet. It’s not as if they’d let us keep her on Deep Space 9, just like that.”

“I don’t see why not. If it’s what you’d want.”

“I don’t know,” Kira sighs, stretching a crick out of her neck. “I didn’t save her life because I wanted to be a mother.”

Jadzia nods along, trying not to let her mind run away with her. Maybe Kira was right in avoiding imagination. It makes reality hurt more. “No,” she agrees. “I guess you didn’t.” She didn’t save Kira because she wanted to be a… to be that, either.

“I mean, I don’t know the first thing about looking after children. Sure, during the occupation, sometimes I had to do it. But that was different. We were desperate, and I was a child for most of it too. Those children were gone the next day, whisked off to the next camp or the next outpost. If Starfleet doesn’t put up a fight, she could be with us for a long time.”

“Well, I’ve had a bit of experience,” she says. “So has Benjamin, so have Keiko and Miles. You wouldn’t be doing it alone, if that’s what you chose.”

Kira pauses for a long moment, seeming to mull it over. Then she lets out a heavy breath and raises her eyes to the ceiling, arms drawing a little tighter around the child she holds. “I’m being ridiculous,” she mutters. “I mean, what am I even talking about? Adopting a child? Being a mother?”

“I think she might’ve already adopted you,” Jadzia says. “And for what it’s worth, I think you’d make an excellent mother.”

“You’re just saying that. I don’t think I have the patience.”

She can’t restrain a small, self-indulgent smile at that, at Kira’s determination to see a flaw in herself when just the fact she’s been lying here for hours to let the girl – Dafne – sleep proves otherwise. Kira Nerys is patient. She waited a long time for freedom. She’s still waiting for peace. People might think she’s brash or headstrong, but Jadzia knows better. Major Kira of the Bajoran Militia is kind. That’s what counts with children, in her experience. 

“I’m sorry, Nerys,” she says after a while, settling further back onto the edge of the biobed. “I was out of line earlier. It was your right as commander-”

“No,” Kira interrupts, “calling me out is part of your job. I just need… I just need honesty, Jadzia. More than you gave me then.”

“What?”

“I know you’re a loyal Starfleet officer,” Kira explains. “I know you’d follow the Prime Directive because you believe it’s not our place to interfere, that with our- our power, we have a responsibility. But that’s not why you were angry. I don’t need you to tell me why now, I won’t ask that, but in the future…”

Jadzia bows her head, a tentative hand touching the warm skin of Dafne’s arm. Someone should find some new clothes for her. Her old ones are burned and still stained with ash and plaster dust. It rubs off onto Kira’s red uniform, also half-ruined. She remembers the feeling when she first saw them, curled up in the centre of that city square, devastation raging all around. Relief, of course. Anger. Something else, buried below, beneath curiosity and possibility, something permanent that she’d feared from the day she first caught Kira’s eye across Ops and let her mind wander.

“I’ll keep it in mind,” she promises. 

“I appreciate that. Thank you for saving my life, too.”

I love you, Kira Nerys. Does that sound stupid? I’m sorry. I’ll keep it to myself next time. 

“No problem.”

Kira didn’t make her break the Prime Directive, Kira didn’t make her reveal the Defiant to the citizens of that planet. Kira only beamed down before the bombing began, trying to save a life, to stop a war. Her own heart forced her betrayal. And she already knows Benjamin will chew her to pieces for it later.

Dafne stirs in Kira’s arm, and Jadzia remembers she’s supposed to be on the bridge right now. She still has a duty. Repressing the desire to touch Kira, even just a brief brush of fingers, she stands and steps away. “Well... bye, Kira.”

Kira offers her a smile, only faint, but there. 

Jadzia is struck once again. It's becoming incessant. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” she sighs.

“Don’t tell me – Shakespeare again, whatever that is.”

“I’ll explain it to you one day. Take care of Dafne.” It doesn’t feel right to walk away. But she knows if she stays any longer, she might accidentally say something a bit too honest, something Kira won’t like at all. The path before her is clear enough, if she just keeps to kind lies. 

“Dafne Idaris would be a nice combination, too,” Kira remarks as she goes, and when Jadzia looks back there’s a hint of a twinkle in her eyes. “Don’t you think?”

Jadzia knows she doesn’t mean it like that. But it’s nice to imagine.

 

*

 

She had less than a minute to make up her mind. She could hear the second ticking down in the back of her mind, every single member of the bridge crew staring at her as they waited, they waited and waited for Commander Dax to give them orders. Abandon Major Kira to be blown to pieces, or break the Prime Directive. Do one wrong thing or the other. 

“Commander,” Worf said, “we have run out of time.”

“I know, I-” She held her hands in fists so tight her fingernails were digging into her palms. “Helm, bring us down into the atmosphere, but keep us out of sight as much as possible. We need to be low enough to operate a transporter beam without risking this wave of interference. Understood?”

“If we enter the atmosphere, despite their limited technology, this civilisation will detect us,” Worf pointed out. “Our actions will be in breach of the Prime Directive.”

“I’m aware of that,” she replied. “But I’m not leaving Kira. Just get us in and out before that second missile hits, or we’ll be in worse trouble than a Starfleet regulatory investigation.”

The ship shook as they passed through into the planet’s atmosphere, descending on the province being laid waste to just now, ruined by whatever stupid war these people are fighting amongst themselves, totally unaware of what lies beyond. Jadzia kept her eyes fixed on the viewscreen, at the picture of destruction is shows. It was shameful. A disgusting part of her thought, these people are not worth saving. She knew it was only the fear. Because Kira was down there, in the eye of the storm.

“We can’t get a lock on Major Kira.”

Jadzia didn’t allow herself to be afraid. “Beam me down to her last recorded location.”

“I must advise against this,” Worf told her. “There is a chance we may not be able to beam yourself and the Major back aboard before the missile arrives.”

“I know,” she said. “If that happens, you’re to get the Defiant out of here. But don't worry, it won’t.”

The blood was beating in her ears. 

“Ready to transport.”

She gave a nod. “Energise.” As the world dissolved, she recalled something, words she read once, or maybe heard them performed – never so clear in her mind than that moment. My life were better ended by their hate, than death prorogued, wanting of thy love. She remembered, and it haunted her all the way down.