Blink

By Seema


Author's Note: This story is actually part of a series of stories co-written with Una McCormack so you may see it again in the future if and when we finish that novel. Many thanks to Una for helping me determine Kira's motivations. My gratitude also to Rocky and Paula Stiles for their thorough betas.

Disclaimer: To quote, 'this is not a Trek story', so it's fair to say that while Paramount owns the character of Kira, the story is entirely mine.

****

Kira listened to the rhythmic fall of water. Drop by drop, ending with a little splash in a puddle accumulating at the base of the stone wall. She sat in the shadows, well out of the thin light that somehow managed to wind its way through the narrow corridors of amber-hued stone. Three meters separated her from the man who lay facedown, his breath rasping in time to the falling drops.

She had lost track of time. She remembered movement: finding Kamal and asking him to meet her in a back alley outside of a popular bar. She had been almost childish in her request and Kamal had smiled at her. Maybe he had remembered too. Remembered what they had been to each other so many years ago.

Kamal stirred. Kira leaned forward in fascination, watching those slender limbs move. He struggled a bit, realized his hands were tied behind his back, and then was still. Kira considered rolling him onto his back and removing his blindfold. After all, he deserved to look her in the eye; she owed him that much.

"Nerys?" Kamal's voice echoed hollowly through the cave. "Damn it, Nerys, what have you done?"

Kira rose from her rock. She stepped slightly to the side, one hand on the cool wall of the cave for balance. Maybe for support, maybe for courage. It was difficult to know for sure. She shivered as Kamal tried again to roll over.

"Nerys? Are you there?" Unnaturally high pitched now, his voice was almost like that of a boy.

She recalled when they were young, how they had splashed through puddles during the rainy season, the two of them watching as the rain slapped at the ground and then bounced back up again. In those wet hours, she had smiled shyly at Kamal, loving him with the fervent ardor of a six-year old. And when she shivered from cold and wet, Kamal would slip his hand around hers, his expression telling her that with her, she was safe.

"I will always take care of you," the thirteen-year old Kamal had told Kira Nerys then. She had believed him, because unlike the others, Kamal had never treated her like a child; he had always spoken to her as if she were his equal. For that consideration, she had adored him completely.

"Nerys?" Kamal sounded desperate. Kira's boots made no sound on the rock floor as she took a step towards Kamal; she had long ago learned the art of walking silently. "I know you're there. Answer me. Nerys?"

"I'm here," she said softly. She crouched by her childhood friend and put her hand on his far shoulder, rolling him onto his back. Kamal inhaled deeply, breathing in the foul air, musty and damp, sweetened with the characteristic sticky sweet stink of rodents that inhabited the caves.

"Nerys?" This time questioning, almost accusatory. Maybe even wondering if she was the same little girl who had splashed through puddles with him. "You attacked me. Outside the bar."

"Yes." Kira pressed her lips into a thin line. She'd taken advantage of the darkness and the shadows behind the bar, aiming a well-placed blow to the back of Kamal's head; Shakaar had been hovering nearby, prepared to offer help if she needed it, but Kamal had been too trusting, letting his guard down just enough to give Kira the advantage she needed to stun him unconscious.

"Why?"

Kira felt a rush of anger and she fought to stay calm. Wasn't there a Klingon proverb, 'revenge is a dish best served cold'? Kira took a deep breath.

"You know why," she said, her voice surprisingly emotionless.

Silence. The dim light made it impossible to see Kamal's features clearly and for that, Kira was grateful.

"No, I'm afraid not, other than the fact that I was deceived by someone I trust. Someone who is no better than those so-called 'freedom fighters.' Is that what you've become, Nerys, a freedom fighter?" Kamal's voice was sharp, unafraid, and tinged with disgust.

"Yes," Kira said softly. "Circumstances and collaborators like you have left me no choice. There are only two paths, Kamal. Collaboration or resistance. If you do nothing, you're a collaborator."

"It's not always so black and white, Nerys, and you should avoid making such generalizations." Kamal struggled against his bonds. "Will you untie my hands?"

"No." Kira shook her head. Kamal sighed again.

"It's cold."

"You have no right to complain, after what you've done," she said sharply.

"Where are we? A cave? How long have we been here?"

"It's not important."

"Then what's important?"

"You."

Kamal laughed bitterly. "Most women I know enjoy dinner, maybe flowers, and some dancing. They certainly don't arrange for a meeting, hit me on the head and then drag me to a cave."

Kira shifted her position before realizing that in a situation like this, comfort wasn't an option.

"I didn't drag you, Kamal," she said.

"Ha!" Kamal scoffed. "Then how did you get me here? I certainly didn't come on my own accord."

"I wouldn't waste my energy," Kira went on. "I transported you here with the help of some friends. You're a very lucky man, Kamal."

"Lucky? Please, I'm eager to hear your explanation."

Kira looked down the cave. In a few steps she could be out of here, standing in the dull light of the gray afternoon.

"You're lucky because my resistance cell left you to me," she said softly. Without thinking, Kira reached forward to touch Kamal's jaw. His skin was rough beneath her fingers; it must have been several days since he last shaved. "I asked specifically to be the one to talk to you, to get an explanation of your activities, of why you would conspire with the Cardassians against your own people."

"Untie me. I can talk better that way. Or at least remove the blindfold."

"So you admit to collaborating with the Cardassians?"

"I admit nothing. I'm asking a favor of an old friend to show me some courtesy."

"No." Kira rose and turned to face the light again, hoping in that single moment, Kamal hadn't been able to hear the emotions that strained her voice. Her lower lip quivered and she wondered if he could sense the anxiety underlying her words.

Funny, she thought, talking about courage was one thing, but actually finding the strength, now that was something else. Kira Nerys knew, in every cell of her body, that this was her chance to prove herself to Shakaar and to the others, to show she wasn't too young, too soft, for this kind of work.

Shakaar had been the one to break the news about Kamal. "I know he is a friend of yours, Nerys," Shakaar had said. "I understand if you don't want to be involved."

She had been disbelieving at first.

"I know Kamal," Kira had told Shakaar. "We grew up together. Our fathers were friends. He's not capable of what you're accusing him of."

"People change. They grow up, become different individuals than the ones we remembered. The ones we thought we knew," Shakaar had argued back. "Look at you. Do you still play with dolls?"

"Of course not," Kira shot back. "Don't be ridiculous. It's not the same thing."

"You saw the evidence yourself, Nerys. You saw him at Gallitep. You saw him pass the information about the Shans cell to the Cardassian Headquarters and you know that on that very night, the Cardassians slaughtered Shans' entire village. What does it take to convince you?"

"Let me talk to him. Alone," Kira had begged. Shakaar had agreed, but with a caveat; he and the other members of the resistance cell would be waiting outside for her.

Kira had been hurt. "You don't trust me?"

"It's not a question of trust, Nerys. It's a matter of nerves."

Kira had answered, "The Kamal I knew would never collaborate with Cardassians. Don't worry. You can count on me." In that moment, Kira had felt strong, had felt determined; collaborators must be punished, even if they were fellow Bajoran citizens. "No mercy."

"Even when it's personal?" Shakaar had asked.

Kira had been strong and steadfast in her response. "Even when it's personal," she had told Shakaar. "I can do this, you can trust me."

"The rope chafes my skin," Kamal's soft voice interrupted Kira's thoughts. Kira blinked. Prophets, how she could she have forgotten the way Kamal spoke? The way he had of rounding out the words and letting them drip from his tongue so smoothly, almost as if it were a caress.

"Come on, Nerys. Take the blindfold off."

"You know I can't do that," she said softly. She kept her back resolutely to Kamal. "Don't ask me again."

"We are friends," Kamal said flatly. "Keeping me tied up and blindfolded like this changes everything, Nerys. Don't do something you'll regret. Prophets, you're only sixteen years old. Untie me, Nerys. We are friends."

"No." This last negative was uttered confidently, but Kira's stomach flip-flopped. She swallowed hard and tried not to think of the Kamal she had known so many years ago, the strong boy who used to swing her up and around. The Kamal who had promised to be her protector from the Cardassians who roamed their village, the Kamal who had helped her with her chores on her father's farm, who had comforted her when her brothers had died because there had been no doctors to treat them.

So many memories, Kira thought; it was so easy to get caught up in them. And it occurred to her then that she no longer dreamt at night nor did she dwell on a life that was something other than the harsh reality of blistered feet and hunger. I am a member of the Resistance because the Cardassians left me no alternatives, Kira thought. Kamal, on the other hand, had chosen the other path, the easier and more luxurious one of collaboration.

Kira clenched and unclenched her fists, feeling the tendons and ligaments contract with movement. She gained strength from the action as she turned around and stared down at the prone body of her childhood friend. She had asked Shakaar specifically for the opportunity, and there was really only one reason she had wanted to face Kamal herself.

"Why did you do it?" she asked abruptly. She wanted to hear him say the words, admit it to her that yes, he had betrayed Bajor.

"I don't know that I owe you, of all people, any explanations. It's unreasonable to reason with terrorists."

"Perhaps, but I'm your one hope of redemption." Saying the words made Kira feel more in control. "Kamal, you have to tell me everything. Please." The formality at the end of her statement annoyed her because it softened her demand; Kamal did not deserve her respect, not now.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You do."

"No, I don't." Clipped syllables, carefully enunciated. A distant memory, the two of them, clapping hands and singing silly little rhymes, and Kamal stopping to say, "Not like that, Nerys. You say it like this." And because the young Kira Nerys wanted to please Kamal, she had recited after him, obediently, mimicking his singsong intonation perfectly.

Now, Kira crouched next to Kamal, just inches away from him. He turned his head slightly towards her.

"Tell me what you told the Cardassians," Kira said. She kept her voice even, firm, and hoped that softness would not find its way into her words.

"I'm not a collaborator."

"I didn't say you were."

Kamal sighed. "There, you said it yourself. I'm not a collaborator. Now can you release me?"

"You're much worse than a collaborator," Kira said. "You're one of them."

"One of whom? Really, Nerys. Don't be ridiculous."

"You would deny the charge, of course," Kira said. "You're too late. A long time ago, I would have believed you were telling the truth."

"Why, Nerys," Kamal's voice dripped with sarcasm and in that second, she hated him. "What happened to the little girl I knew? The one with the skinny little legs and arms? The one who played with dolls? Where did she go? The one who would believe me? The one who valued our friendship?"

"I've changed. As I said before, circumstances have forced me to."

Kamal laughed. "I can't say it's a change for the better."

Kira ignored him. It was easier if she didn't think of him as Kamal, the boy with the dark eyes, but rather as the slim shadow stealing in and out of Cardassian headquarters. Yes, it made what she was commanded to do more palatable if she thought of him as the man at Gallitep - the infamous Cardassian labor camp. She had first glimpsed Kamal gulping down kanar with the Cardassian High Command and singing dirty drinking songs. She wondered if he sung to drown out the cries of Gallitep's victims.

"When you've outlasted your usefulness to the Cardassians, they will discard you," Kira said. "They'll send you to the mines, if you're lucky, though some might argue that execution would be the more merciful outcome."

"As you're being merciful to me?" Kamal shifted his position on the ground as best as he could manage. "Ouch."

"What is it?"

"A rock in my back."

"Let me." Kira helped him roll onto his side and she carefully removed the offending rock.

"Thank you," Kamal said.

"You're welcome," she said softly, almost surprised at the note of warmth infusing her voice.

"I'm glad to see you still have some feeling for me."

Kira still held the rock in her hand, letting her fingers run over the solid roughness of it. It would be so easy, she thought, to smash this rock into Kamal's forehead. She would be quick - he would never even know what had hit him. But her stomach lurched at the thought of his blood spilling out onto this hallowed ground, this Bajoran ground.

"You were saying?" Kamal asked. "About the Cardassians...?"

Kira looked down at Kamal. She held her hands behind her back so that she wouldn't be tempted to touch him again. The feel of his skin beneath her fingertips made him real to her and she couldn't allow herself that indulgence.

"You understand they will kill you when they tire of you," she said slowly.

Kamal laughed. "You give Cardassians so little credit, Nerys."

"What did they offer you?" she asked. "Why would you even betray us to them?"

Kamal sighed. "Because I'm a husband and a father, Nerys." He sighed. "Are you surprised? And before you ask, no, my wife doesn't know about my arrangement with the Cardassians. All that matters to her, and to me, is that we have a warm place to sleep in and food on the table. In a few years, my son will go to school and I'll be able to provide him with the supplies he needs."

Kira's hands shook. Nothing in Shakaar cell's reconnaissance had indicated that Kamal had a family.

"You're lying," she said sharply.

"I'm not," Kamal said. "Maybe I was wrong. In the beginning. I was desperate, Nerys, you have to understand that. I wanted -" he paused - "a life for my family that was better than what I had as a child. The Cardassians, they gave me that opportunity and I took it. My motivation has always been to care for my family, nothing more than that."

"Do you know that ninety-five people in the Shans village were killed because of information you gave them concerning a resistance fighter from there?" Kira asked.

"The villagers opened fire on the Cardassians. It was self-defense."

Kira snorted. "Self-defense? You know as well as I do that the ordinary villager has no weapons. Don't delude yourself, Kamal; this was a massacre, plain and simple."

"You're wrong, Nerys. The Cardassians mean well. I've listened to them speak and they've convinced me that they have a master plan for Bajor. They're a kind and generous people and they want nothing more than to end the suffering on Bajor. Be patient, Nerys, because our time will come and we will have the Cardassians to thank for it."

Kira pressed one hand flat against the slimy rock wall, willing herself the courage to respond calmly to Kamal's latest comment. She felt the chill beneath her thin shirt and it took all of her power not to shiver. She refused to let her guard down, not even for the cold.

Shakaar had taught her that if you show weakness in front of one enemy, no matter how benign, you slowly lose your defenses against the rest. Shakaar. He was waiting for her outside, and by now, he would be growing impatient with her. The others would have been quick.

"Nerys?"

"What?"

"Water. Please."

Kira nodded, even though Kamal could not see her. She turned on the little light she kept at her waist and located the puddle; she scooped up some water in cupped hands and dribbled it down Kamal's lips. He smacked hungrily at the water.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Kira squatted down, leaning back against the wall.

"You care about me," he observed. This time, however, Kira did not flinch from the remark. Now, she wanted to talk, perhaps even recapture that elusive friendship she so desperately missed. Maybe now, she could rediscover the Kamal she had once known. Perhaps, she mused, this was all a mistake and Shakaar had pegged him incorrectly. Maybe Kamal wasn't a collaborator. Her heart jumped at the notion, foolish as it was.

"We were friends a long time ago," Kira said.

"Good friends. Best friends."

"Yes."

"You know, Nerys," Kamal said softly, "I missed you. After we moved away, that is. I thought about you a lot. His voice lightened. "Do you remember the time we stole that loaf of bread from the bakery?"

"Yes." Kira smiled at the memory. She'd been hungry and the bread, in the store window, had been so inviting. They'd smashed the window with a rock, helped themselves to two loaves, and then they'd fled the scene as fast as they could. Cardassian soldiers had pursued them, and Kamal had pushed Kira into a small underground cave before taking off; for hours, it seemed, she had huddled in the cold darkness, her thin arms wrapped around her bony legs. It had been evening before Kamal had finally returned to her, his hand extending down to pull her out of the hiding place.

"You weren't scared, were you?" he had asked. "You knew I'd come back for you, didn't you?"

"Yes," Kira had said. She had slipped her hand in Kamal's, walking beside him as he had gaily recited his adventures running away from the Cardassians. In that short walk home, Kamal had taken on the role of the protector. And she had believed that she could always count on him. Where, Kira wondered now, was that boy and how could he have betrayed them all?

"I saved you that day," Kamal said, jolting Kira out of her thoughts. "I could have left you to the Cardassians. You were slow and I could have just left you for them."

"But you didn't."

"No. I risked my life for you that day. Because we were friends and that friendship meant something to me. It mattered more than anything else. And today, it still does. Untie me, Nerys. As a friend to a friend, I'm asking you."

"No." Her hands were shaking now.

"What are you going to do to me?" Kamal asked.

"I haven't decided."

Kira stood up and paced towards the light. A few more steps and then, Shakaar. She could say yes, she had killed Kamal the collaborator. Would he trust her? Without a body? Without any evidence? Or perhaps, she could tell Kamal to attack her, and she would simply tell Shakaar that she had been wrong about being able to handle the situation herself, that Kamal had overpowered her.

So simple, Kira thought. Just untie those hands, tell Kamal to wait an hour or so, and then he would be free. Don't go back to Gallitep, she would tell him. We watch the camp daily, don't go there. And he would be grateful that she let him go back to his Cardassian protectors. Grateful enough so that the next time their paths crossed, he would have no qualms about pointing her out to the Cardassians and telling them, that's the terrorist Kira Nerys.

"Do you even like the Cardassians?" Kira asked suddenly.

"I already told you. The Cardassians are just as pained as we are to see the suffering on Bajor. In time, they will bring prosperity to the entire planet."

"I find that hard to believe, given that they've destroyed our world."

"Some would say so. I think they have helped."

"Then you're in the minority," Kira said sharply.

"I see the results. Bajor's productivity has never been so high."

"Productivity is higher because if you don't work, they kill you. It's that simple."

"You exaggerate," Kamal said, his voice heavy with disdain. He squirmed, but Kira made no move to ease his obvious discomfort.

"Do I? Our culture is endangered. Our freedom, our values, our religion, and our beliefs. Don't these things mean anything to you?" Kira did her best to fight the anger rising inside of her.

"If the Cardassians are as terrible as you say they are, then why haven't your beloved Prophets stepped in to save you? I'm sorry to say, Nerys, I don't share your brand of fanaticism for Bajor's culture, such as it is. The Cardassians have done so much for Bajor. They've built new roads, created jobs, improved interstellar travel, and developed our natural resources. Could we have done all this without the Cardassians? Would the Bajoran culture have even allowed these improvements to take place? I'm afraid, Nerys, that Resistance propaganda has clouded your judgment and prevented you from seeing the real story. The Cardassians are our friends. Bajorans, who continue to fight against them, are the true enemy."

"Do you really believe that?" she asked, keeping her back to Kamal; she didn't want to look at him.

"Of course. The Cardassians have restored order to Bajor. Vigilantes like you bear the responsibility of continued unrest. If only you could accept what the Cardassians have to offer, Bajor would be better off."

"Bajor is for Bajorans, not for the Cardassians."

"I can't believe you, of all people, would turn to terrorism. Remember the games we played when we were children?" Kamal asked. Kira put a hand against the wall, feeling the sharp edge of jutting stone piercing into the soft skin of her palm. She didn't pull away, but instead pressed harder. "You always followed the rules then, Nerys, and you understood authority. Why not now?"

Kira didn't speak. She remembered one game. They would sit on the floor, legs crossed, hands flat on knees, eyes opened. The first to blink or laugh would lose. Kamal was good at that game, always serenely wide-eyed while Kira invariably looked away, hoping her friend wouldn't see her eyelids close for a fraction of a second. No, she hadn't been very good at that game and she suspected that was the reason why Kamal chose to play that game so often; he had always possessed a fiercely competitive edge, always wanted to win and because Kira adored him, she usually let him.

"Or maybe you are weak," Kamal mused. "You've allowed yourself to be persuaded by smooth-talking 'freedom fighters' and by the Prophets, the Resistance's terrorist activity only make things worse for the rest of us."

Kira whirled on Kamal.

"You're wrong," she said. "Very wrong."

"You've had to grow up so quickly, Nerys." There was softness in his voice. "How long has it been since we've seen each other?"

Kira closed her eyes. She remembered Kamal coming to her door saying, "We're going now, Nerys. My father has a job in another town, but don't worry. I'll come back to visit when school breaks."

She had been six-years old and foolish; she believed he would return as promised. And for days, she sat by the window waiting, and he never came. The years blurred her memories of the boy Kamal and as she grew older, she wondered if Kamal had truly been telling the truth about "a job in another town." Perhaps the family had simply disappeared, as so many Bajoran families did; perhaps, they had all been executed. Until that day at Gallitep, when she saw him emerging from the main administrative building, Kira never thought she would see those dark eyes again.

"Ten years," Kira said, keeping her voice perfectly even. She looked down at her palm, knowing that it must be raw from the edge of the rock.

"I always wondered what had happened to you," Kamal said. "I imagined all sorts of fates for you, Nerys, but I never imagined you would become a criminal."

She didn't flinch at the description he used for her. She accepted the label as easily as her own name. "And I never imagined you as a collaborator. How does it feel, Kamal?" Her tone sharpened as anger bubbled within her. "How many people do you think have died because of you? I can think of at least ninety-five. Are there more I should be aware of?"

"I've killed no one." Kamal's voice rose. "I already explained what happened at Shans. The villagers attacked first."

"Others disagree with your perspective on what happened there."

"Obviously, you do."

She didn't respond to that comment, choosing instead to turn the subject back to him. "I can't believe you'd actively exploit your own people for your own gain."

"I'm helping Bajor."

"Is that the story you tell yourself?" Kira asked. She took a few steps forward so she now stood directly over Kamal. "You are the story you tell yourself, so perhaps it's true and the rest of us are misled by the 'generosity' of the Cardassians. Perhaps, I've been mistaken and the increase in productivity, which correlates positively with a decrease in population and skilled labor, is the best thing that could happen to Bajor. I suppose I shouldn't think twice if I see women dragged away from their families to serve as 'comfort' women to the Cardassians. And I shouldn't care if I see the burned shells of homes or the careless allocation of resources so that our children die of hunger and our elderly die of diseases because they cannot get the care they deserve. This is what your Cardassians have done to my world, Kamal. That's the story I tell myself."

"You've always had a vivid imagination."

"And you have always been so stubborn." She was kneeling now, her face flushed warm with the heat of her argument. She kept her hands behind her back to avoid touching Kamal, but she truly wished, in this moment, that she could trust herself to remove his blindfold so she could look him directly in the eye. "Was it really worth that much to you, Kamal?"

"Everything," Kamal whispered.

Kira sat back, closing her eyes. Prophets, help me, she thought silently. I need you, help me. The small pouch she had brought was not too far away. A few steps, the gravel crunching beneath her boots, and she had it in her hands. For a second, she caressed the soft leather and then gently extracted the slim metal blade from within. She looked at it for a long time, feeling the newly sharpened edge against the palm of her hand.

"Even the deaths of innocents?" Kira asked. She kept her voice steady.

"Cardassians do not kill without provocation," Kamal answered. "If only you could understand, all of you rebels, you would know the Cardassians only want the best of Bajor. Gul Dukat even says he sees himself as the father of the Bajoran people. It breaks his heart to know so many openly oppose him."

"So, you now admit to believing the propaganda that comes straight from the leader of the Occupation?" Kira curved her hand around the blade. She shook her head. "Have you really consumed so much kanar that you can't even think straight anymore? Or is it because you have a thirst for something else entirely?"

"If you untie me now, Nerys, nothing will happen to you. I swear it. I will talk to Gul Dukat myself."

"I'm sure." Kira crouched behind Kamal's head, knowing he could not see her. She again pondered the metal glint of the blade. "I thank you, Kamal, for your consideration."

Her old friend let out a sigh. He seemed to have relaxed.

"We're friends, Nerys," he said easily. In the darkness, Kira could almost imagine an indolent smile crossing Kamal's lips. She then thought of him drinking kanar with those- her grip on the blade tightened.

"Yes," she whispered. "We are friends, Kamal."

"Then release me."

"Yes, of course," she answered. "In a second."

"Thank you, Nerys," Kamal said. "Dear Prophets, I really thought you were one of them, but I should have known. Friendship means everything, even in times like this."

"Of course," Kira said.

"When I receive my due from the Cardassians, I will share it with you. Whatever you want, you will have it. You don't need to live this life, Nerys. It doesn't suit you, not at all. Whatever you want, ask. It will be yours. Nerys?"

Her hands were cold against his skin.

"Nerys? What are you doing?" the panic rose in Kamal's voice as Kira pressed the blade against his neck. He struggled briefly against the pressure and then Kira jerked the knife back across his skin in a swift motion. Then, there was only the sound of dripping liquid.

~ end


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