The Prophets, Kira’s grandmother used to say, don’t always give us what we want.
No one wanted a fraying relay trying to carry power between some badly-fitting Federation and Cardassian couplings, nor the little spark, nor the accelerants that happened to be in dispersed storage, nor, finally, the flames hot enough to aerate steel. “We got everyone out,” Sisko reports, sounding tired, “and we’ve sealed off that whole section behind a layer of hard vacuum.”
“But, we don’t really know what next,” Chief O’Brien says. “Every sensor in that part of the ring has been trashed. Ensign Villix’pran left his combadge behind and for a while we were tracking it through that. Then it melted.”
“What about venting the section into space?” Odo asks, but the Chief shakes his head, says they can’t do that with an uncharacteristic harshness in his voice, and Kira understands that: without sensors, they have no idea what will happen when the station’s internal pressure changes, and Miles O’Brien blames himself for this.
“Right,” Sisko says, “suggestions, please.”
Jadzia says, suddenly, “Someone could go in there in full EVA gear and douse the flames the old-fashioned way.”
“That gear is meant for extreme cold, not extreme heat,” Sisko says, but Jadzia is already pulling up schematics of the EVA suits on her console and pointing to various details and talking about the relevant modifications and, not incidentally, distracting Chief O’Brien with a novel engineering problem. They go on for a couple of minutes before Sisko says, “Dax, I won’t send you alone. And I won’t order…”
Kira says, “I’ll go.”
The unspoken corollary to that, of course, is this: the Prophets give you what you need. Kira remembers being seven years old and already knowing well enough to hold her tongue and bite back the obvious response. (“Who needs the Cardassians?” she asked, just once; her grandmother said, “Hush, Nerys.”) The vedeks called that the problem of evil; Kira called it nothing and thought nothing of it, grew around and despite it as with grit and mother-of-pearl. She became a child who raided weapons caches and a girl who laid bombs, and finally a grown woman who sat in a holosuite on Deep Space Nine and prayed to the Prophets for guidance. Kira in her circle of lit candles had come to this place of peace on a long path of violence, and that was when Jadzia Dax barged in and said, "Kira, you're coming white-water rafting with me."
"Lieutenant," Kira said, through gritted teeth, "I'm kind of busy here."
"Sorry," Jadzia said, "I'm sorry, I'll just go."
But when Kira finished her meditation, shut down the holosuite programme, and went outside, Jadzia was standing there leaning against a wall casually playing with her hair, and Kira did end up going white-water rafting, after all. On the second or third time round the rapids she started enjoying herself, at least a little bit, and on the fourth time around, it occurred to her that she had asked the Prophets for guidance, and the Prophets, who did not believe in simple answers or linear time, had sent her a fragile scrap of a Trill girl, with a rock-hard will and six other lifetimes within her skin.
"Chief O'Brien says that the artificial gravity will probably be malfunctioning in there," Jadzia says, as they get closer. "The generators for this whole level are in the burning section."
On the way out to the habitat ring it's started to get warm, then hot; even inside the altered EVA suit, even accounting for whatever it is that might be happening between her and Jadzia Dax these days, Kira can feel herself begin to sweat, the taste of lime and acid on her tongue. She remembers mentioning that to Keiko once, on a sunny day in the Dakhur province at a site of special Bajoran botanic interest; Keiko laughed, and told her that to humans, heat and sweat tasted like salt. The memory of that new knowledge carries Kira over the first little spike of fear.
"O'Brien to Dax."
"Here, Chief," Jadzia says, tapping the combadge now stuck on the outside of the suit so the voice is fainter than usual, transmitted through the protective layers. Kira wouldn't have ever thought it possible, but she misses the heavy presence of her own combadge close to her skin.
"Ready for site-to-site transport?"
"In a minute." Jadzia looks quickly at Kira, the flicker of her eyes evident even behind the helmet visor. It's strange, Kira thinks, but she could recognise Jadzia without even that shadow of her features behind the glass, just by the way she moves, tentative and alive with grace. She's sweating too, her face visibly flushed through the transparent layer. Kira finds herself wondering what would happen if she placed her lips to the hollow at the base of Jadzia's collarbone, if it would taste like citrus, or like salt, or something else entirely, and if she'll ever know.
"Dax to O'Brien. Two to beam across."
"We rush in," O'Brien murmurs, "where angels fear" – and it's probably some Earth aphorism that Kira doesn't know, and she thinks he probably hasn't finished it, but with that heavy unaccustomed hoarseness in his voice everything he says sounds like some kind of benediction. "Energising - now."
And then, the roar of the flames.
It wasn't very long after the white-water rafting adventure that Jadzia turned up at the door of Kira's quarters with a bottle, and when they'd finished the bottle, they went to Quark's and ordered the good stuff from Quark’s non-Federation suppliers, and it was good good stuff. Properly good. "I mean," Kira told Jadzia, waving a unsteady hand around as punctuation, "I have a... higher tolerance than this. I mean. Usually. I got drunk for the first time when I was eleven."
"Eleven," Jadzia repeated, softly. They were nearly the last people left in the bar, with only Rom in sight on the upper level, wiping down tables. "You.... came to the Resistance young."
"It wasn't what I wanted," Kira muttered, loosened and confessional. "What I wanted - my father was alive then, he used to worry about my education. When we found books, he'd read to me. Odd things, old things. Books that had been fashionable when he was a child. Children of my d'jarra were sent away to school at that time, and there were stories, adventures... that was what I wanted. And my grandmother said, the Prophets don't always give you what you want. And after that she said…"
"They give you what you need."
"That's right." Kira inclined her head, looked at the last layer of blue liquid in her glass, then up at Jadzia. "How did you know that? I guess" – this part couldn't be right, could it? – "we didn't have the same grandmother?"
"I don't think so," Jadzia said, after some focused consideration, lines appearing on her forehead as she concentrated. "I mean. I'm a Trill. No. I mean, I guessed."
"And I said" – Kira paused for a second – "I said, who needs the Cardassians? And – she was angry. She said, she said I should have faith. That they knew what was best for us. That they were the Prophets, and we – lived in caves like rats."
"Nerys," Jadzia said, very softly, and pushed a lock of hair out of Kira's eyes.
"I still don't know why," she said, after a moment. "Why did the Prophets think we needed the Cardassians? I didn't want to be so hard. I didn't want everything to be so hard. And then I think, maybe I was made this way for Bajor. To be – its instrument."
"Nerys," Dax said, quiet and calm, "you are not some thing to be ground down or diminished by the life you've lived. You are a creature of the universe and you are as perfect as the spheres."
Kira was thinking that one day, when she was an old woman, perhaps she would learn to speak the way Jadzia could speak, with all her years of formal education, and her wisdom that had come not from violence but time; and that she might love Jadzia Dax, a little that could become more than a little, with wisdom, and time.
"Now!" Jadzia yells, and they both rematerialise and remember the drill: grip tight. They're holding onto one of the upper pipes running through the section, which shouldn't, Kira remembers, be able to hold the weight of even one of them. Experimentally, Jadzia drops a scrap of plastic packaging and it floats very gently downwards. Perhaps a third of normal station gravity, then, and Kira follows its path downwards with her eyes, then looks up. It’s hot as sin and hellfire in here, the orange light vivid and unholy on Jadzia's face. Two metres below their dangling feet, the fire has torn through the decking, so the blankness of the station shell shows through with the metal of it glowing dull red. Kira looks down, then up again.
"Quickly," Kira whispers to herself, and Jadzia rips the tabs on the canisters and holds up five fingers. Kira nods to herself – when the reaction begins, the oxygen will begin to precipitate out of what's left of the atmosphere.
"You ready?" Jadzia asks, over the sinking roar of the flames.
And just like that, Kira is ready: for this and whatever the Prophets bring. Her fingers are tight on the pipe, but Jadzia's hand is still raised, counting down. Four. The heat haze is blurring the light into treacle. Three. The reaction will show on sensors a light year from here, O'Brien will know to beam them out. Two. It's not a raised finger, it's an open hand. One.
“Then take my hand,” Jadzia says, intimate as the lick of flame, “and let go.”
As they turn over in open space, falling through slow gravity into the heart of the fire, Kira is thinking that she won't live three centuries or seven lifetimes, but once: only once, a life forged from heat and pressure, a life of wanting and needing and pain, but the Prophets gave her this glorious self, and she’s ready to burn.