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The Wrong Side Of Heaven (And The Righteous Side Of Hell)

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“Let me get this straight…”

Kira Nerys sighed, dropping her head into her hands and massaging the ridges across her nose. Around them, the Replimat was bustling, Starfleet officers coming and going with clockwork efficiency, timing their lunch-breaks down to the minute while Bajoran crew members and visitors from across the quadrant relaxed over any number of food-and-beverage combinations. As usual, they were far too caught up in their own exciting lives to pay attention to the station’s first officer, but that didn’t stop Kira looking like she wanted the ground to open up and suck her out into space.

“Dax…”

Like almost everything that came out of the major’s mouth, it was a warning. Dax, of course, completely ignored it, flashing her most winning smile as she carried right on antagonising her.

“Let me get this straight,” she said again. “You want me to go on vacation…”

“Pilgrimage,” Kira corrected, sounding thoroughly disgusted, like she thought the word ‘vacation’ was the most insulting thing imaginable. “I said ‘pilgrimage’. It’s a spiritual retreat, Dax, not some kind of self-indulgent—”

Dax silenced her with an exaggerated groan, holding up her hands in surrender. She should have seen those protestations coming, she supposed grimly, and rushed to placate her already-affronted companion. “All right, all right…” Kira’s glare softened to a scowl, and Dax pressed on with a sigh of relief. “You want me to go on a ‘pilgrimage’…”

Kira rolled her eyes as Dax mimed quote-marks around the offending word. “Less of the attitude,” she huffed. “But yes. I want you to go on a pilgrimage.”

“…in one of the most remote and secluded parts of Bajor…”

“That’s right.”

“…renowned for its beauty and spirituality…”

“Yes.”

“…with you.”

“Is that really such an offensive concept?”

“Not at all.” By now, Dax’s grin was almost wide enough to hurt her cheeks. “In fact, it sounds lovely. But honestly, Nerys…”

Kira bristled. “Dax.”

“…do you really expect me to believe that this isn’t a proposition?”

And just like that, the scowl became a glare once again. Dax supposed she couldn’t blame her for it this time; by her own admission, she took far too much pleasure in antagonising the poor major. Still, though, for all her stoic Bajoran gruffness Dax couldn’t help noting the little twitch at the corners of Kira’s lips, like she was trying a little too hard to stifle a smile. Score one for Trill charisma, she thought with another dazzling grin.

“Keep this up,” Kira warned moodily, “and I’ll take back the invitation completely.”

Dax just smirked all the more. “I wouldn’t dream of it, Major,” she deadpanned. “I take your invitations very seriously.” She clutched at her bosom. “To heart, even.”

Kira swatted her for that. “You’re incorrigible. I don’t know why I put up with you.”

“Neither do I,” Dax admitted. “It must be my ravishing good looks.”

Still, though, she sobered a little. Kira had an odd look on her face now, and it made her frown. There was the expected eagerness and sincerity, of course, genuine enthusiasm about this ‘pilgrimage’ of hers and the idea of Dax joining her on it, but it was all mixed up with something else, something that wasn’t nearly as light as their banter. It was a kind of unease, a sense of what looked like nervousness, though Dax knew that was ridiculous; Kira wouldn’t know nervousness if it pointed a phaser at her. But there it was, that almost-familiar uneasiness, like she was afraid she’d crossed a line by daring to even ask.

The thought was so preposterous that Dax shook her head; they’d known each other for more than two years, and Kira really should have figured out by now that there was no ‘line’ where Dax was concerned, that it was practically impossible to offend her, even if she tried. Still, though, for all that she wanted to convince herself that she was seeing things — she hadn’t got much sleep last night, and hadn’t had nearly enough raktajino to sustain her through another long day; she was over-tired and imagining things that weren’t there — the lines on Kira’s face were unmistakable, and Dax had seen enough unease on enough faces to recognise it from a dozen light-years away.

It saddened her a little. Easiness and comfort came so easily to Dax; she had no boundaries, no barriers, and after seven lifetimes she didn’t really know the meaning of ‘personal space’ any more; inviting a friend along on vacation — or a ‘pilgrimage’, or whatever Kira felt she had to call it to justify the idea of enjoying herself a little — would have come to her as naturally as breathing. If she’d been in Kira’s place, she probably would have bundled her onto the nearest runabout without so much as a second thought.

But it wasn’t like that with Kira. Dax knew that, and she knew too that it sometimes made it difficult for her to do things that Dax wouldn’t even have to think about.

Things like this, apparently. There was a part of Dax that realised she probably wasn’t making it any easier for her, what with her quick mouth and quicker wit, making light of things that Kira obviously took very seriously. From the look on her face, she’d even go so far as to wonder if she was actually making it a whole lot harder for her… but at the same time, because she was who she was, she also couldn’t bring herself to stop.

It was all she knew, really, that inappropriate sense of humour and the lack of a brain-to-mouth filter. It was a legacy from the previous Dax hosts, Curzon and Torias (and occasionally Emony, when she caught the right mood), who never seemed to think before they said anything, and offended at least as many people as they befriended in any given moment. It had been a part of Dax far longer than it had ever been a part of Jadzia, the shy young initiate who had barely been able to string a sentence together before the symbiont got into her, but over the last three years it had become at least as much a part of her as the host Jadzia’s own memories.

Honestly, most of the time, it was about the only thing she could think of to make things easier, to lighten the moment and relax the person sitting opposite her. It worked with almost everyone she’d come to know on Deep Space Nine, and if it had been anyone other than Kira sitting across from her right now, she knew it would have worked perfectly well. But Kira Nerys was different; she was brittle and somber, and her smiles were too precious to waste on Dax and her frivolity. She’d spent too much of her life learning the price of being free, and even though they’d known each other for more than two years now, it still sometimes struck Dax with the force of a physical blow to be reminded of that.

Her quick mouth had no place at a table with Major Kira, and she knew that, but still it was sometimes more than she could do to close it. She couldn’t stop being herself, the quick-witted Dax nestled inside self-conscious young Jadzia, any more than Kira could simply cast off the shackles of the Cardassian occupation that had destroyed her home and so much of her life.

So, really, she supposed it wasn’t Kira’s nervousness that surprised her at all; she was one of the bravest souls Dax had ever met, and certainly the bravest Jadzia had, but when it came to simple things like eating lunch with a friend or making vacation plans, she was very much out of her comfort zone. Honestly, she would have been more worried if Kira didn’t look ill at ease in a social situation like this, though that didn’t make it any less heartbreaking to see.

Honestly, it was the offer itself that confused her more than anything else. As touching and truly thoughtful as the gesture was, and as deeply as Dax appreciated that Kira would willingly choose to spend time with her away from the station — and on Bajor, of all places; Dax knew perfectly well how sacred Kira’s home was to her — it wasn’t very much like her at all. Kira was a very private soul, and a deeply spiritual one, and she liked to keep to herself where possible. Oh, she had friends, and Dax flattered herself that she numbered among them, but there was a pretty sizeable difference between getting together for dinner a couple of times a week and… well, spontaneous pilgrimages in romantic settings on Bajor.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she urged, forcing her tone to steady itself into something more somber, something more like Kira. “It’s a lovely gesture. I’m deeply flattered that you’d think of me. It’s just… well, it’s just so out of the blue.”

“You think so?” Kira asked.

The question was sincere, and Kira’s face was as open as Dax had ever seen it. She felt a little trapped, like Kira had expected her to react a certain way and she was playing it all wrong, and she floundered for a way to apologise without actually asking what she’d done to screw things up.

Talking with Kira, even about things that didn’t really matter, often felt like defusing a bomb; make one wrong move or throw out a quip at the wrong moment, and they would both go up in flames. Dax was very aware of the thin tightrope she was walking, the danger of saying or doing the wrong thing and watching helplessly as the last two years’ worth of progress and slow-growing friendship imploded completely, leaving behind nothing but a crater and a vague idea of what might have been. She knew all of that, had known it right from the start, before this semi-blossoming friendship had been more than an idea in her own head, and long before it had finally manifested in Kira’s; it had become almost like second nature to step carefully through the minefield, to watch her tongue just a little more carefully with Kira than she would with anyone else, at least as much as she was able to at all (which, if right now was anything to go by, wasn’t very). She was long accustomed to this sort of thing, but at the moment it kind of felt like the rules of the game had changed and Kira had forgotten to tell her.

“Well, yes,” she admitted, though she felt far worse for saying it now than she had just a few short moments earlier. “It’s not like you to want to share your spiritual time with anyone. Least of all…”

She didn’t say ‘someone like me’, but the look on Kira’s face said she heard it just the same; the moment hung over the table between them, a little too heavy and a little too cumbersome, so Dax quickly switched to a less precarious tack, bringing a twinkle to her eyes and forcing another cocky grin.

“And anyway, isn’t there a certain vedek you should be inviting instead?”

Kira’s features relaxed a little at the change of subject, and Dax breathed another sigh of relief. Another mine neatly sidestepped, she thought.

“I could ask Bareil,” Kira said with a shrug. “And if you don’t want to come, I will. But…” She faltered, as though stepping close to a precipice she hadn’t wanted, or expected, to get quite so close to. “That’s not the point, is it? I asked you, not him.”

Dax opened her mouth to ask why, but thought better of it, and closed it again. Kira caught it just the same, though, and her expression darkened. Dax recognised her trademark self-protection, hyper-defensiveness masked by justified annoyance, and she knew that she was in trouble.

“If you don’t want to come,” Kira added, sounding hurt, “just say so.”

“I didn’t say that,” Dax insisted quickly. She floundered a bit, thrown by her own eagerness to please, and the subtle shift in Kira’s expression. “That isn’t… I mean… look, that’s not what I meant. I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t appreciate it, or that I don’t want to come—” She hadn’t implied she did, either, but she hoped that Kira wouldn’t pick up on that. “—or anything of the sort. It’s just…”

She studied Kira again, watching the lines of her mouth, thin and tight where she would normally be at least attempting a smile; an unpleasant feeling settled in her stomach, and she felt the symbiont shift. This was about something more than a vacation, she realised, or even a ‘pilgrimage’. Kira wasn’t inviting her along just for the joy of her company, that much was blatantly obvious, and it made her very uncomfortable.

“Kira,” she managed, giving voice to her anxiety before it had a chance to paralyse her. “Is there something I need to know?”

“Like what?” Kira demanded hotly, then forced herself to soften, perhaps seeing the worry in Dax’s eyes. “I mean, of course not. Why would you…”

But there, she faltered, unable to complete the question; though she didn’t say anything more, Dax could feel the stumble as though she’d tried to but failed, like the embarrassing echo of a verbal mis-step, a moment of clumsiness that silenced her before she had the chance to conjure up any more excuses or hide behind stupid questions they both knew the answer to.

Dax studied her, trying not to sound as panicked as she suddenly felt. “Kira.”

“Fine.” Kira rolled her eyes, crumbling entirely too easily. Dax was sure she had never seen her give in to anything without a fight, and that made just her even more worried. “If you must know,” she sighed, “I thought it might do both of us some good to get away from the station for a while.”

Dax frowned. It didn’t surprise her, of course, that Kira herself would feel the need for a change of scenery; her kidnapping by the Cardassians was no secret to anyone, and it didn’t take someone as close to her as Dax was to know that the experience had left her more than a little shaken. It had been only a few days since they’d brought her back to the station, safe and sound and mostly intact, but she hadn’t really been herself since. Dax understood the feeling, though she wished she didn’t. Since she’d come back, Kira seemed to flit between a shortness of temper that was extreme even by her standards and fleeting flashes of melancholy so profound that they struck Dax down to her soul; it was heartbreaking to see, and more heartbreaking to share.

Commander Sisko had insisted that she take some time off off to recuperate, to wrap her head around what had happened to her, and for once she’d taken the order without argument. The alone was a sure sign that all was not right with her, and Dax found that she wasn’t really surprised at all to find out now that she was making good use of that free time, using the enforced rest period to go on this ‘pilgrimage’, to commune with her home and her faith, to ‘find herself’ as spiritual people sometimes did. In Dax’s not-so-expert opinion it was the best place for her, and it made her smile to learn that Kira felt that way too.

But what could have possibly possessed her to think that Dax needed, or wanted, the same treatment? She was hardly a spiritual soul herself, and she knew better than to think that Kira expected her to find faith or the Prophets in the idyllic corners of remotest Bajor. Oh, she would appreciate the scenery, she had no doubt of that… but the kind of devotional epiphany that she suspected Kira had in mind for herself? Off the top of her head, she could think of approximately a million ways she’d rather spend her precious vacation time. No, Kira couldn’t possibly expect Dax to indulge in the same spiritual ideology that she herself did; clearly, she had something deeper in mind, and Dax twitched as she wondered what.

It bothered her more than she wanted to admit to think that Kira might see a different kind of kindred spirit in her now, something a little less theological and a little more broken, and she felt her own shoulders start to stiffen with the same kind of hyper-defensive stubbornness that she’d seen in Kira just a few moments earlier.

“Why would you think that?” she demanded, sounding rather more belligerent than she’d intended. “I’m quite content here.”

Kira’s features had turned unnaturally soft. Suddenly, hers was the face of a friend offering an intervention; it was vastly different from the friend who so often needed one, the friend that Dax was comfortable with, and she felt a chill run up her spine to look at it. Kira’s expression now was one of knowing — or, far worse, of understanding — and it was deeply disconcerting. Her eyes were bright, almost fierce, like she was looking right through Dax’s and into her soul, like she could see everything she’d hidden away inside there, seven (no, she remembered with a shiver, eight) lifetimes’ worth of memories, as though she was stripping her naked and seeing things that even Dax herself didn’t know were there.

“Jadzia…”

The name sounded strange on Kira’s lips; she was so used to hearing ‘Dax’, or ‘Lieutenant’, carefully-chosen formalities, but very rarely ‘Jadzia’, very rarely the shy little girl who still felt like an initiate most of the time. They had talked, occasionally, about the importance of names to joined Trill, the difference she felt in hearing ‘Jadzia’ or ‘Dax’; theirs was a single shared existence, but identity was a far trickier concept to define or describe. It was one of the things she’d struggled with the most since being joined, and she knew that Kira didn’t fully understand the distinction.

With Benjamin, of course, she was always Dax. She had to be; if she wasn’t, if she let herself remember for even a second that she wasn’t Curzon any more, she would remember that she was just a shy and self-conscious young woman who had no place on this station. Benjamin, of course, understood that to a point, but she rather suspected he found it more comfortable to think of her as simply ‘Dax’ anyway; he liked having that link to Curzon just as much as she did, albeit for his own reasons. Theirs was a straightforward relationship, every bit as symbiotic as that between symbiont and host, and she was grateful for it.

Kira didn’t understand the subtleties like Benjamin did, though. Dax tried to explain it, how some mornings she would wake up as Dax and others as Jadzia, how the two names were exclusive even as they were both hers. It was a difficult thing to explain to anyone, and Kira didn’t have nearly enough patience for it. Maybe one day, when their slow-blooming friendship was stronger, she would find the patience, but right now they were both too busy to deal with it.

Still, there was a pointed deliberateness to the way she said it now. Jadzia, like an accusation and an offering at the same time, like she was demanding that the symbiont take a step back and give the host room to breathe and also entreating that shy and self-conscious little girl to step up and be her friend. She wasn’t talking to the three-hundred-year-old worm right now, Dax realised; on the most fundamental and significant level, she really was talking to Jadzia. The thought intimidated her; even now, after nearly three years, she was still embarrassed by the little girl she had once been.

“Jadzia,” Kira said again, just as pointed as before, and Dax flinched. “Do you really think nobody’s noticed how many hours you’ve clocked in the holosuite over the last couple of weeks?”

That struck a nerve, and Dax didn’t even have the foresight to keep from turning her face away in the vain hope that Kira wouldn’t see the sudden flush of shame colouring her features. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I think you do,” Kira replied, pointed but not forceful. “I’m not the only one who’s been through an ordeal, am I?”

Dax swallowed hard, and closed her eyes. She knew exactly what Kira was talking about, of course. How could she not, when it still haunted her every breath?

She hated that she was so transparent, that even Kira could see the cracks in her perfectly polished armour, that even she could read between the lines of a few hours in the holosuite and realise what they really meant. Was it really that obvious? Had she really spent that much time in the holosuite, that even Kira, who hated the damn things with every fibre of her being (and who frankly had enough troubles of her own to worry about), had noticed and filed the information away to call her out on later?

She was angry, she realised. Angry at Kira for noticing, and angry at herself for being so careless. Angry because she was so dependent on something so stupid, angry because she didn’t know what else to do. Angry because Kira thought she could fix this with a religious retreat on a planet that meant nothing to her. Angry—

—but then, that was the problem, wasn’t it? She was angry. She was so angry.

Why else would she lock herself away in the holosuite for hours on end? Jadzia Dax was probably the biggest social butterfly on the whole of Deep Space Nine; she had friends of every species, every rank and class, and she never wanted for companionship. She liked it that way; over the course of all her lifetimes, she had found few things more fulfilling than a pleasant conversation, and the more people she knew the more corners of her own identity she got to indulge. Chief O’Brien got along swimmingly with Tobin’s engineering genius, while Quark and his Ferengi friends got a kick out of Curzon’s appreciation for tongo.

But lately, all of her time went into the holosuites, alone. She didn’t trust herself not to lose her temper, not to upend a tongo wheel if it didn’t spin the way she wanted, not to throw her drink in O’Brien’s face if he disagreed with her about propulsion systems. She didn’t trust herself not to lose herself to the anger that had been swelling and bubbling inside her, ever since…

…ever since her so-called ‘ordeal’.

Joran Belar. A musical genius with psychopathic tendencies who had lived and died about a hundred years ago. He’d had a violent temper, and that temper had driven him to do terrible things, including killing innocent people. He was the last person who should ever have been approved for joining with a symbiont, and yet he had been. Somehow, some way, he had convinced the Symbiosis Commission that he was a suitable host for Dax after Torias’s unfortunate shuttle accident. Somehow. Some way.

A century’s worth of memory blocks had kept his memories suppressed, but even they couldn’t last forever, and now Joran’s sordid and violent memories were settling in Jadzia’s head, right beside the gentle Audrid and the stoic Lela, the headstrong Emony and the quiet Tobin, the sybaritic Torias and the exuberant Curzon. He was inside her, just like every other host the symbiont had ever had, and that meant that she, shy little Jadzia, had to deal with that violent temper of his.

But, of course, she couldn’t. She was just a little girl with a headful of memories; she was strong enough to know that the anger and the hatred weren’t her own, that the urge to hurt people didn’t come from inside herself, but it was more than she could do most of the time to hold it at bay. And so, because she was scared and embarrassed, because she hated herself for being so weak far more than she hated Joran for being so strong, she hid in the holosuite. Like a child hiding from the monsters under her bed, Jadzia Dax cowered in the holosuite, hiding in that haven of imagination, a place where nobody was real and nobody could die when she lost control.

“Jadzia.”

She blinked, fighting off the thoughts and the tears that sparked with them. She couldn’t let Kira see that she was right, couldn’t let her see how tenuous her control was; how would she ever trust her again if she did? So, as usual, she did the only thing she could think of, playing the favourite trick of all the Dax hosts: she changed the subject.

“Did Benjamin put you up to this?”

Kira seemed genuinely wounded by that. “Of course not,” she said, visibly upset that Dax would think Benjamin was the only one who could see deeper than the spots rippling down the sides of her face. “Sisko isn’t the only one who knows you, you know.”

“I know,” Dax said, curbing her emotions as best she could and mustering an apology from some out-of-reach place inside her (courtesy of Tobin, no doubt; he was about the only Dax who had ever been capable of apologising, and he did it to excess). “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just… well, this is exactly the sort of thing he would do.”

Kira sighed, looking as though she deeply regretted ever thinking that this was a good idea, like she wanted nothing more than to take back the whole conversation and pretend it never happened. “Look, Jadzia. I…”

Dax closed her eyes as she trailed off. She didn’t want to hear it, and she didn’t want to give Kira an opening to say what they both knew she meant, no doubt what half the station knew: that Dax, as usual, wasn’t nearly as much of a paragon as she wanted everyone to believe. It was bad enough in the holosuite, bad enough when she was alone with all the things she couldn’t control, Joran’s temper and his violent urges, but she couldn’t face it here too.

If Kira kept pushing this, if she kept pushing Dax, she would lose control. She could feel it, anger crackling like lightning in her veins and the fear of it bubbling in her stomach, acid seething and unbearable. She couldn’t let Kira push her. She couldn’t lose her temper, couldn’t lose control. Not here, not with so many people around. Not in front of Kira.

So, again, she changed the subject, blurting out the first thing that came to mind, turning the spotlight of scrutiny around and flashing it back in Kira’s face. “How are you holding up?”

Kira recoiled at the question, both for its suddenness and its intrusiveness. She recovered herself, then frowned, eyes narrowing into a scowl that didn’t seem to know whether to be offended or touched, and Dax felt her pulse quickening. Kira was puzzled, she could tell, by her unexpected resistance to being the centre of attention, a behaviour so unlike herself. Dax wasn’t usually the kind to shy away from questioning, even interrogation, and especially not from a friend that she trusted; perhaps Kira wasn’t Benjamin Sisko, but she was probably the next best thing, at least on Deep Space Nine, and the belligerence in her voice must have startled her.

Dax was startled too, but for different reasons. She could feel the aggression, so close to anger, itching like spider-bites under the surface of her skin. The sensation was familiar, in a way that it hadn’t been a few weeks earlier, before Joran, before a quick temper or a flight of impatience became something frightening and dangerous.

Kira watched as she squirmed in her seat, looking guarded and uncomfortable all over again. She seemed to think better of confronting the issue just then, though, and opted for the slightly safer option of just answering the question she’d been asked. Dax was grateful, and she suspected it showed in the slump of her shoulders as Kira leaned back and considered.

“I’m fine,” she said after a moment, though she must have known she wasn’t fooling either of them. “It’s been a few days. I’ve been through much worse, and had far less time to recover, so…”

She was talking about her time the Bajoran resistance, Dax knew, during the Cardassian occupation. She nodded with respect, but wouldn’t let Kira hide behind her past. “I’m sure you have,” she said evenly. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not still allowed to be a little shaken.”

“I know that,” Kira said, matching the coolness of her tone perfectly.

Dax forced a sympathetic smile, but it didn’t come as easily or naturally as it should have, and she could tell that Kira saw the slight tremor at the corners of her lips.

“It’s just…” she went on, babbling now, desperate to keep the focus on Kira where it belonged, where it was easy. “Well, you know… it’s a lot for someone to go through. For anyone to go through, I mean. Even someone as weathered as you are.” Kira chuckled at the back-handed compliment, more amused than offended, and Dax rushed quickly on. “Besides, I think we both know you wouldn’t be going on this ‘pilgrimage’ if you really were fine.”

For a long moment, Kira didn’t say anything. She just kept staring at her, studious and thoughtful, as though she believed she could bend Dax into changing the subject again if she stayed silent for long enough. Maybe she’d picked that up from Quark; Dax had lost more than her share of tongo matches against the sneaky Ferengi because of dirty little tricks like that, and there was no doubt in her mind that she’d end up opting to ‘retreat’ here as well if Kira kept looking at her like that. Daxes had a history of being cool under scrutiny, one of the earliest gifts given to the symbiont courtesy of Lela the legislator, but Jadzia wasn’t comfortable enough in her own skin yet to have really absorbed that particular trait. She still blushed and stammered like a first-year Starfleet cadet under pressure. Quark was all too aware of that particular flaw in her, and it seemed that Kira was catching on to it now as well, much to her annoyance.

She was just about to cave in and run away, when Kira surprised them both, seeming to think twice about calling her bluff, and folding her own hand instead.

“All right,” she said, sounding weary; Dax suspected she was giving up as much to get the confession off her chest as to show pity to the crumbling Trill. “Maybe I’m not fine. Maybe I am still struggling with what happened on Cardassia. Maybe. But if I am…” She shot Dax a hard look, pointed and severe. “…at least I have the self-awareness to admit it.”

Dax refused to rise to the bait, wrapping herself up in a security blanket of cocksure bravado. “Sure you do,” she snorted. “Just as long as you’ve got me around to call you on it.”

Kira rolled her eyes at that, but didn’t bother to argue. She was clearly deep in thought, and Dax wondered if she was even aware of her presence at all any more; she looked distant and hazy, like she was back on Cardassia going through the whole ordeal all over again.

“It wasn’t so difficult,” she mused after a moment. “I mean, well, relatively speaking. Being used and abused by the Cardassians… that’s nothing new for a Bajoran. Getting kidnapped and tortured and all the rest of it… after what happened during the occupation, that’s nothing. I’d seen friends and family suffer worse things than that before I was old enough stand upright.” Dax opened her mouth to say how sorry she was, but Kira cut her off with an impatient wave, a wordless gesture to say ‘that’s not the point’. “I know their people. I know what they’re capable of, and this was nothing. Honestly, by their standards, it was almost civil.”

She sighed, turning her face away, as though embarrassed. Dax wanted to take that face in her hands, bring it back, look right into it and remind her that she was safe now, that it was all over, that the Bajoran people were free and so was she… but she didn’t. Kira’s eyes were haunted as she stared numbly down at the table, and Dax didn’t want to risk upsetting the ghosts she saw in them.

“Go on,” she said instead, very softly.

Kira closed her eyes. “That’s not what bothers me,” she admitted. “It’s not what they did, or even why they did it.” She sighed, looking pensive and thoughtful, like she was still trying to piece together everything that had happened, everything she’d been through. “Ghemor was a good man,” she went on after a moment. “He was an honourable man… so of course the Cardassians would want to put an end to him. There’s no room for kindness or compassion on Cardassia.” She spat the words, bitter and angry, wounds still raw even after so long, and Dax leaned back, giving Kira as much personal space as she could, letting her feel safe without interrupting. “It was terrible, what they tried to do to him. But it’s not surprising, not at all. And it’s not what bothers me.”

Her fingers were twitching, clenching and unclenching, and Dax reached across the table to take her hand. “What does?” she asked.

There was a kind of comfort in this, Dax thought, and hated herself for it. Maybe she could blame Joran Belar for that too, because she couldn’t deny feeling a kind of perverse solace as she watched the conflict and the pain ripple across Kira’s face, watched her struggle with herself, watched unresisting as she took back her hand so that she could put it together with the other in her lap, wringing them together as if the twisting of her fingers could help her to hone her thoughts.

Dax recognised the futile gesture; she’d seen it in Kira several times, and even in Benjamin once or twice when he was faced with a particular challenge and didn’t have his baseball on hand to play with and distract him. For herself, she preferred to hold her hands safely behind her back, keeping them out of sight when they trembled. The conflict wasn’t for anyone to see, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Dax knew that, so she let Kira have her moment in peace. And it was only a moment; Kira sighed again when she’d composed herself, a low breathless sort of sound, more anxiety than sorrow, and looked back up at Dax.

“For a moment…” she murmured, low enough that it was almost a whisper, and as much as Dax wanted to respect her personal space, she had no choice but to lean in so that she could hear. “And it was just a moment… a small, stupid moment… but still a moment…” She turned away again, not just with her face now but her whole body. “For one small stupid moment… I actually let myself believe them.”

Dax swallowed. She didn’t know what to say, or even if she should just sit quietly and say nothing at all, just let Kira work through her feelings aloud or inside her head, however she saw fit. She ached to say something, though, anything at all, to offer any words of comfort she could, however futile or empty, to throw out all the hollow placations she could think of even if they meant less than nothing. She wanted to help, to make the confession easier even if she could do nothing for the emotions underneath.

Kira didn’t give her the chance to try, though. She just took another deep breath — cleansing her soul as well as her lungs, Dax supposed — and pressed on as though she really had forgotten Dax was there at all.

“I mean, I knew. At least, fundamentally. I knew myself. I knew who I was. I knew where I’d been, what I’d done… I knew me. But they were so… they were so sure, so convincing.” She wouldn’t meet Dax’s eye, seeming almost embarrassed by her perceived weakness, and Dax tried to make it easier for her by staring down into the dregs of her raktajino, feigning fascination with the light playing across the dark surface. “They were telling the truth,” Kira murmured. “That’s what made it so frightening. And I know it wasn’t my truth, but it could have been.”

“I understand,” Dax heard herself whisper, hoarse and ragged, and hated how true it was.

Kira looked up sharply at that, mouth half open. She didn’t speak, but Dax could practically hear the unvoiced argument already forming in her head. No, you don’t understand at all. Dax wished that she was right, that she really didn’t understand; honestly, she didn’t think Kira believed it any more than she did, but it was a reflex in her to deny empathy to anyone who wasn’t of her people. You’re not Bajoran, you’re not one of us, you couldn’t possibly understand. Dax had heard it more times than she could count, whether it was true or not. Honestly, if she had found the courage to say it again now, Dax wouldn’t have argued; it would be easier than the real truth, after all, and it would have granted her a few more precious moments of denial, let them both believe that she really didn’t understand. Kira bit her tongue instead, though, refusing to say the words, and so they both had no choice but to take Dax’s murmuring for what it was: true and honest and terribly painful.

“I suppose you do,” Kira said at last, sounding as melancholy as Dax felt; she looked up again, eyes bright, and Dax knew what was coming next even before she said it, knew she’d been baited, knew that the spotlight was about to spin round on her again, and was powerless to evade. “And that’s another reason I thought you might want to come with me on this pilgrimage.”

Dax grimaced. It was a safer argument than ‘you need some time away from the station’, at the very least, but that didn’t stop Dax from turning her face away and closing her eyes, struggling for a moment to block out all those thoughts and memories that she didn’t want, the anger still bubbling in her. She shouldn’t have said anything, she thought viciously, and knowing that just made it all the more frustrating. She should have kept that damn smart mouth of hers shut, should’ve let Kira talk herself through all of her residual emotions and just listened wordlessly. She should have been a good friend, dammit, a caring and compassionate friend, a good friend who nodded and smiled sadly and didn’t say anything. She should have been better than this.

Now Kira had ammunition against her, fuel for the fire of her insistences that Dax wasn’t fine either, the argument Dax knew was waiting to rise up again, a fresh weapon against everything she didn’t want to admit. This was supposed to be all about Kira and her turmoil, she thought, and hated how helpless she felt, how and angry and frightened. It wasn’t supposed to be about her. It wasn’t supposed to be about this.

“Kira,” she said. She’d intended it to be a warning — ‘back away now, if you know what’s good for you’ — but it came out sounding more like a plea. “I’m not like you. I’m not Bajoran, and I’m not spiritual. I don’t need to meditate or talk to the Prophets or…”

“I know,” Kira interrupted, firm but gentle. “I know the Trill aren’t exactly a spiritual people. You’re all too high-and-mighty for that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from this, and it doesn’t mean that some time away from the station won’t do you some good.” She touched Dax’s arm, light but filled with meaning. “Dax. You’re in that holosuite every second you’re not on duty. Don’t you think it’s about time you did something a little more proactive? Or at least got some real air for a change?”

“I don’t need air,” Dax replied sullenly, in the half-second before her brain caught up with her mouth and pointed out that that was a stupid thing to say.

Kira, of course, didn’t miss a beat. “Well, you certainly don’t need any more time in the holosuite,” she quipped readily. “What do you do in there all day, anyway?”

Dax bit her tongue, and let the sharpness of the pain brace her; if she’d been alone, maybe she would have bitten her lip instead, let her teeth draw some blood and cool the heat in her head, as she’d done so many times over the last couple of weeks. It was intoxicating, she’d discovered, how easily the skin broke under her teeth, how sharp and soothing the sting, how sweet the taste of blood…

She had never been much of a masochist before, though she enjoyed the occasional fist-fight as much as any Trill with Klingon tendencies did. Over the last couple of weeks, however, she’d found herself much more drawn towards the darker side of her own suffering, pleasure in her own pain, as deep and as potent as anything Joran had gotten from anyone else’s. It had become a source of strength, and she found that both frightening and invigorating. It was so easy to bite down on her lip, to draw a little blood and let the taste of it gorge the need for violence, if only for a moment. It was so easy to satisfy those twisted urges with the sting of pain, the snap of her teeth, the sweet release… It was so easy to hurt herself to curb the anger, and though there was a part of her that couldn’t help acknowledging Kira’s point — maybe it really was time she stepped away from the holographic violence, at least for a day or two — that didn’t make it any easier to swallow.

And so, because she couldn’t fight the truth, she braced against the pain instead, let it focus her, used it to keep her from saying something they would both regret, lashing out as she was wont to do when she felt trapped or cornered or afraid, lashing out as Joran was wont to do with fire and fury.

“It’s not ‘all day’,” she argued, when she finally trusted herself enough to speak without screaming. “It’s a few hours at most. You’re so melodramatic.”

Kira ignored that. “You didn’t answer the question,” she pointed out with a sigh. “Is it that ridiculous Klingon martial arts program you love so much?”

Dax bristled. She felt like she’d been put on the spot, like Kira was judging her, like she suddenly had to defend herself and her choices where she’d never had to before, and that made her even more aggressive; it felt like an invasion of privacy, but at the same time it brought to light everything she didn’t want to admit, all the reasons why it made sense for Kira to be judging her now, the reasons why she was spending so much time in the damned holosuite, all the things that Kira could see through.

She didn’t want to think about that, didn’t want to think that Kira might be right to judge her. And so she shook off the idea, focusing instead on the scowl, the anger, the righteous resentment, the part of her that wanted so desperately to draw blood from her lip instead of chewing her tongue. Indignation was easier than acceptance, at least right now, and she indulged it completely. Who was Kira to demand answers from her? Who was she to ask Dax to justify how she chose to spend her hard-earned off-duty hours? Who the hell was she to demand any explanations from her at all?

It wasn’t the righteousness that struck her, but the fury that went with it. It didn’t feel as simple or straightforward as she wanted it to; the anger didn’t feel valid, and she hated that she couldn’t give herself over to it even as she gasped with relief that she still had some shred of control left.

All Kira had done was ask her a question. She was just trying to make conversation, that was all. It wasn’t right for Dax to be so angry about it, to feel so accused, so insulted by something so pointless and silly. So Kira was curious. So maybe she was even a little concerned. So what? Why in the world should Dax care at all, much less be offended? She knew the answer, of course, but it frightened her to think about it.

Instead, she took a deep, steadying breath, pushed the righteous indignation aside and struggled again to hold her temper under control. It’s just a question, she reminded herself. It’s not an inquisition. It’s just a question. Stop taking everything so personally.

It was easier said than done, of course, and when she finally brought herself to answer Kira’s question, the words were gritted out through tightly clenched teeth. “Not that it’s any of your business, but if you must know, yes. I find that a good workout helps me to relax.”

“Oh, I’m sure a ‘good workout’ is very relaxing,” Kira shot back readily; her words were light, but there was a hard edge to her voice that said she’d probably picked up on Dax’s unwarranted aggression and was worried about it. Not reckless enough to say anything, of course, but worried just the same. “But I’d hardly use that word to describe anything with the word ‘Klingon’ in it.”

“That’s because you don’t know the first thing about Klingons,” Dax pointed out. It wasn’t an accusation, simply a statement of fact, and Kira conceded the truth of it with a self-deprecating shrug. “And you should be very glad that I’m not Curzon any more. If you’d asked him that question instead of me, he would have given you a very different answer. And a much more explicit one, too.” She quirked a meaningful eyebrow. “If you catch my drift.”

“A Cardassian vole would catch your drift,” Kira muttered, rolling her eyes, though Dax couldn’t help noting the way her ears had turned a little pink, the barest hint of a blush creeping unbidden up her neck. She ignored it, though, and Dax’s smug little grin, refusing to be baited into focusing on pointless things that didn’t matter. “Come on, Jadzia. Even you can’t deny you’ve been going at it a little excessively over the last couple of weeks.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dax huffed. “Anyway, isn’t this whole thing supposed to be about you?”

Kira inhaled deeply. It was an odd sound, a little too controlled to be a sigh but still bearing the weight of frustration.

“Sometimes I forget you’re so much older than me,” she murmured after a moment, seemingly apropos of nothing. “It always amazes me, how stubborn you can be when you set your mind to it. You’re supposed to be worldly and experienced, but the way you refuse to look inward and accept…” She trailed off, shaking her head. “I’ve been through a lot. I know I have. But I’m not denying that. I know I need time to heal. I know I need breathing room so I can find myself again. I know I need to get in touch with my roots, to commune with the Prophets and ask their forgiveness for doubting that I was one of theirs. I know all of that, and that’s why I’m going to Bajor. But you…” She closed her eyes, but only for a moment, a second or two too long for a blink, and when she opened them again they were dark with sorrow. “Sometimes I think you’d let yourself die before you’d let someone else help you.”

“Is that what you’re worried about?” Dax quipped, straightening her back. “Well, then, the next time I’m dying, I promise I’ll call for help.” Kira didn’t so much as crack a smile, though, and Dax gave up the feint at gallows humour with a grimace. “All right, fine. I admit, you’re not the only one who’s been through an ordeal. But you’re also not the only one who knows how to take care of themselves. I know what I need, Kira, and it’s not real air or a pilgrimage on Bajor or—”

“Dax.”

Kira’s eyes were brighter when Dax met them, dangerous in a way that she didn’t often show in public, and the sight of them cut off Dax’s hollow diatribe so much more effectively than the sound of her name hitching in Kira’s throat.

She swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. “Kira.”

Kira took her hands, letting her thumbs run across the backs of her knuckles. Dax wondered if she could feel the places beneath the skin where Doctor Bashir had spent the last three nights in a row knitting things back together, broken bones and torn ligaments fixed in less than a heartbeat. It was nothing like a real Klingon battle, all those quick fixes and shortcuts, pain turned to nothing with the hiss of a hypospray. She wondered too if Kira could feel the bloodlust humming beneath the surface, the burning in her veins, rage and hatred spitting and seething like molten steel, a bat’leth melted down to nothing, a proud weapon tamed and made useless. She wondered if Kira could feel the violence in the way her fingertips trembled, so much brutality just itching to get out. It was all so raw, so visceral; surely Kira could feel it in her. They were barely even touching, but surely she could feel it… surely she could…

If she could, though, she said nothing of it. For a very long time, she didn’t say anything at all; she just let her fingertips rest where they would, light pressure and soft skin against rough callouses and freshly-knitted bones, allowing Dax to take what she wanted from the contact, or nothing at all. And for a while, that was enough for both of them.

It was Dax who broke the moment at last, and broke the contact with it. She pulled away, taking back both of her hands and wrapping them around her half-forgotten cup, not because there was anything left to drink but because the stillness was too much to endure. Not too long ago, she had been a patient soul; she would have been in her element in the midst of all this silence and stillness, at home with tranquillity and unspoken words, but now it made her feel itchy and uncomfortable, like there were insects crawling under her skin, tickling and stinging by turns, and it took more strength than she had to keep from fidgeting. She felt like her nerves were on fire, like the rage igniting her veins was radiating outwards, out and out until it infected everything around her, until it infected even Kira, and she couldn’t allow that to happen. Kira had suffered too much violence in her life; Dax would not be responsible for any more. The urge to flee rose up within her, powerful and entirely overwhelming.

“Jadzia,” Kira said again, softer. She watched sadly as Dax lurched to her feet, flinching away from the sound of her name, that shy little girl’s name, and tried to reach out to her; something stopped her, though, in the moment before she made contact, and her fingers hung suspended in the air between them, trembling uselessly.

“I’m due back at Ops,” Dax mumbled, though they both knew it was a lie. “I promised Chief O’Brien I’d help him with—”

“Jadzia.”

It cut her down, stopping her in her tracks. She stood there, twitching indecisively, and clasped her hands behind her back so that Kira wouldn’t see that they were shaking as well. “What?” she demanded, forced impatience rasping in her throat. “I’m—”

“Come with me,” Kira urged, powering through Dax’s mumbling and her fidgeting. “Come to Bajor with me.”

“Kira.” Dax swallowed hard. This was more difficult than she’d anticipated, and she didn’t know why. “I don’t…”

“For me,” Kira pressed quietly. “If you won’t come for yourself, come for me. Like I said, I could invite Bareil, and I will if you say no… but I would really appreciate having a companion who… understands.” There was just the faintest twinkle in her eye when she regarded Dax then, like she was challenging her, like she knew that a challenge was the only thing Dax would respond to just then. “You do still understand, I take it?”

“Of course I do.” The words were out before Dax could stop them, warm and breathless on the air and condemning her completely. She thought of Joran, of the violence inside of her, and wished she could go to the holosuite and vent some of it. “I know how it feels to not trust your own memories. You know I do.”

For just a second after she said it, she was sure she heard a malicious little laugh in the back of her mind, familiar but unnatural, the unholy aura of an uninvited guest; it was an unnerving thought, but far more so was the moment later when she remembered that there was nothing ‘uninvited’ about this particular guest. The laughter may have been phantasmal, but its owner was not; she had invited him, taken him into her, welcomed him… and now she had to live with him. The realisation was disturbing, like ice down her spine, and she shivered.

“Dax?”

“All right,” she blurted out; in that moment, she would have said or done anything to silence the laughter, to suppress the dark thoughts that went along with them, and more than anything else to stop Kira looking at her like that. “If it really means that much to you.”

Kira beamed like a small child seeing the sun rise for the first time, awestruck and excited. “You’ll come?”

“I’ll come.” As beautiful as it was, the look on Kira’s face did little to keep the dread from settling in the pit of Dax’s stomach. “If you really, really want me to, I’ll go on your little ‘pilgrimage’.”

Kira was positively glowing now. She was almost ethereal, alight with exuberance, so caught up in her little victory that the part of Dax that wasn’t already lost found itself thinking that maybe that in itself was enough of a reason to do this. She could hold the hounds in her head at bay, she thought, if only Kira would keep looking at her like that. She could, she was sure of it. She could keep her temper under control, could keep herself under control, could keep Joran—

Don’t be so sure, the spectral non-spectre murmured, and Dax shuddered again.

Kira, of course, didn’t notice. “You won’t regret it,” she promised. “You’ll see. This will be just what you need.”

“I hope so,” Dax said, and bit her lip until it bled.