Sand and Water

By Seema

Author's note: Thanks to Paula Stiles and Chris Bichler for helping me get a grip on Bajor after the Dominion War. My gratitude to Liz Logan and Rocky for the betas; any typos are strictly my fault. This one is for Rocky, as she 'commissioned' it last summer as I was leaving on vacation - she suggested that if anyone needed a vacation, Kira did, and this is what the muse came up with.


I will see you in the light of a thousand suns
I will hear you in the sound of the waves
I will know you when I come, as we all will come
Through the doors beyond the grave

~ from "Sand and Water" by Beth Nielsen Chapman


Kira Nerys stood on the terrace, her unseeing eyes focused on the distant blue horizon, listening as waves crashed against the shore.In the golden light of the sun, she felt old, terribly and suddenly old. Her fingers curled around the white coolness of the railing that separated her from the narrow strip of white sand and the green-hued sea beyond. The pain in her fingers as she clenched at the railing startled her almost as much as the brightness and heat of the afternoon.

The sound of young voices jolted her back to attention. Slowly, Kira turned away from the view to watch the family of four take the table just a few meters away from her. There were two children, a boy and a girl, and from the look of them, not old enough to have ever seen a Cardassian boot crunch Bajoran soil below its cruel tread. The parents were young as well, but in the corners of their eyes, Kira could sense that same wariness and defiance that characterized Bajorans who had somehow managed to do more than survive the Occupation.

With a sigh, Kira folded herself into the chair closest to her, her eyes closing against the brilliance of the day. Thankfully, the waiters here respected their guests' privacy and didn't bother her. And Prophets know, the last thing Kira Nerys needed was to be bothered.

"You should take a vacation," Bashir had said. "God knows, you've been pushing yourself twenty-six hours a day for the last seven years. If anyone needs a break... Colonel, I could order you..."

"I'd like to see you try!" Kira had retorted. Bashir had looked at her with those expressive, blue eyes and bit his lip.

"Sometimes, I don't know why I bother," he had said quietly, as he fiddled with his medical instruments. "Commanding officers, the scourge of the medical profession... they all share that same disregard for their personal well-being. But as a friend, Nerys... there are so few of the 'old guard' left on the station now, I-" Bashir had stopped talking and Kira knew that he was remembering those who had not survived the bloodiness of the Dominion War; the haunted expression in his eyes reminded her how she lay awake at night, tossing and turning, hoping against hope that the demons would stay away.

And so Kira had packed her bags and come to Villefranche, a tiny resort town on the edge of the Nerean Sea. She had chosen Villefranche for its serenity, for the mountains which rose high above the sea just thirty kilometers away, and most of all, because the Cardassians had never cared for this place. Too primitive, they had said of this quiet Bajoran fishing village, too provincial. And always with a sneer. Try as she might, Kira could never forget the curl of a Cardassian's lip when speaking of Bajor.

It felt strange to be sitting on the beach, to be absolutely free of responsibility and have no schedule save her own whims. Kira Nerys had never been alone like this before. After two days at the resort, Kira wasn't completely sure whether vacation - as a prescribed cure - was worse than the illness. If indeed she was truly worn out and sick as Bashir had once suggested shortly after the end of the war. She had not responded to his comment then, choosing to let it wash over her like so many other things.

So absorbed in her thoughts was she, that the fall of shadow across the table didn't attract her attention until she heard the question asked in that familiar seductively smooth voice. "Is this seat taken?"

Kira glanced up at Shakaar. After all these years, he still reminded Kira of a statue, golden, proud postured and rippled strength. Yet the coolness of his persona was belied in his eyes - brilliant, intelligent and warm. She had a distant memory of falling into those eyes, of surrendering completely, unable to break free of the wave of attraction that engulfed her whenever Shakaar was nearby. But of course, all of that was in the past now; their romantic relationship had evolved into one of comfortable but platonic camaraderie, based on years of friendship and hardship.

"Yes, of course." Her voice sounded rusty. "I- it's good to see you."

"I saw you at morning prayers," Shakaar said. He raised a hand to signal for the waiter. "But you slipped out of the temple before I could catch your attention."

"I'm sorry," Kira said. "I was trying to get somewhere." She chose not to elaborate, trying to forget the claustrophobia she had felt as she had watched the families rising from their knees and the Vedek, his arm outstretched to gently clasp ears in the traditional blessing. It bothered her greatly that almost two years after the death of Jadzia Dax, it was still impossible to enter a temple without remembering how the Trill had been murdered at the hands of Gul Dukat. Kira shivered; when would these nightmares go away?

"You have been a hard woman to catch up with," Shakaar said easily. "You were in meetings the last time I was on the station and when I asked your assistant, she said you were booked solid for the next three months."

Kira shrugged. "There's a lot to be done. Repairs to the station and of course, not to mention endless paperwork. I'm still trying to make sense of Sisko's organization system, trying to pick up where he left off." She offered Shakaar a weary smile. "I could work continuously and still not make a dent in the amount of work. War," she said without irony, "is a messy business to clean up after."

"You don't have to tell me that," Shakaar said. He turned slightly so that his face angled away from the sun. "We've had our hands full planetside as well. I'm actually here on an invitation from the town to investigate the feasibility of turning it into a full-fledged interspatial resort to rival Risa."

"Sounds ambitious."

"I agree. But the town council is unwavering in its determination to turn this quaint fishing town into a cosmopolitan beach paradise. I admire their resoluteness." Shakaar nodded as the waiter approached them finally. "Ah yes. What will you have to drink?"

"Anything. I'm not particular." Kira didn't mention that in the two months since the end of the war, she had simply lost her appetite. She ate these days because Bashir or Ezri reminded her to.

Shakaar arched an eyebrow, but then turned to the waiter. "Two glasses of rik." After the waiter departed, Shakaar leaned forward. "I hope you like rik."

"It's fine."

Shakaar reached out, his fingers gently grazing Kira's cheek. "You've gotten thin, Nerys. A shadow almost." Kira flinched at the heat of his touch; while the end of their romantic relationship had been cordial enough, their interactions since then had remained strictly professional. Shakaar dropped his hand. "I'm sorry. I lost the right to touch you long ago. But you-" he shook his head - "I am worried about you, Nerys."

"Don't." Kira held up a hand. "I fought the Cardassians, I fought the Dominion-"

"Yes, always fighting." Shakaar looked out to the sea. "It's beautiful here, isn't it?" It was an awkward change in subject, but Kira appreciated the segue; some things she preferred not to discuss, even with someone who knew her as well as Shakaar did. Shakaar pointed at a cluster of sailboats in the distance, the brightness of their sails in contrast to the blue sky, which gradually faded, into paleness at the horizon line. "Have you been sailing yet?"

"I wasn't planning to on it."

"Why not? According to the town officials, sailing is one of the highlights offered here."

Kira curled her fingers into a fist. "I don't know how."

Shakaar bit his lip. "Of course," he said slowly. "I don't suppose there were many chances to learn sailing in a refugee camp, were there?" He shook his head. "I admit, I don't know how to sail either, but it looks like a lot of fun, doesn't it? I may sign up for a lesson for tomorrow. Maybe you should consider it as well."

"Perhaps," Kira said. She turned to look out at the sea. It looked calm, but she knew that deep beneath that shimmering blue waters, currents ran deep and strong.

"So what have you done here? I'm open to recommendations."

"I went hiking yesterday." Hiking, yes, that she knew well; the Bajoran Resistance spent a good part of their time scaling mountain after mountain. Even now, Kira enjoyed feeling the burn in her muscles as she climbed higher and higher. It felt good to be out and being active again; at least in that sense, Bashir had been correct about the vacation being good for her. However, no matter how much she physically exerted herself, she was still unable to sleep for more than a couple hours a night. "The hotel provides expert guides for the more popular routes, as well as some of the longer trails."

"I heard the trails are very rigorous. Were they?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle," Kira said quietly. "When we were fighting the Cardassians, we hiked more strenuous trails and at a quicker pace too. This time, I could stop at the vista points along the way." Her lips turned up slightly. "The views are spectacular. You really should see them for yourself. After all, this is what *we* fought for, isn't it?"

Shakaar leaned back in his chair, adopting a lazy posture. "Perhaps I'll get a chance to try the trails tomorrow if the sailing lesson falls through. The weather is supposed to be good and the skies are forecasted to be clear."

"Yes, that is the rumor." Kira smiled. "You know how reliable the reports are. Apparently, the hotel management is talking about installing a weather grid in the next ten years to ensure the weather. I guess they'd have to in order to compete with Risa."

"Frankly, I find the rain to be part of the hotel's charm," Shakaar said. "But Villefranche enjoys a very temperate climate, so I imagine that the good days will far outnumber the bad ones." He tapped his fingers lightly on the slick surface of the table. "I guess that confirms my assumption that you are staying at this hotel."

"Yes. You?"

"Yes. The government has a contract with the hotel. The ink is still wet, but here I am."

"I hope you're enjoying your stay so far," Kira said.

"Between the machinations of the town council and the hotel management, I can't complain," Shakaar replied easily. "They have done their best to make me aware of everything this town has to offer, not to mention, they've also catered to my every whim. It'll be a rude awakening to go back to the Capitol to deal with power-hungry politicos, not to mention the Kai who has yet to reassert his control over the vedeks. It's a mess, Nerys."

Kira nodded, agreeing with Shakaar's blunt assessment of the current situation on Bajor. Two months since the loss of both Kai Winn Adami and Captain Benjamin Sisko and religion on Bajor had fallen into unrest. The new Kai was a gentle man, one who didn't have a strong enough personality to bind together a planet that was still struggling to come to grips with its own past so that it could face the future. Kira didn't doubt the faith of the Bajoran people; their belief in the Prophets remained as strong today as it had been over the past millennia. However, the question now was, *who* would now be the one to *speak* for the Prophets?

"I don't envy you the task you have in front of you," Kira said gently. She remembered the last time she had seen Shakaar; it had been shortly before she'd gone to help Damar overthrow the Dominion-led puppet government on Cardassia. Shakaar had been in a rush, heading to a meeting, and he'd only had a moment to spare for Kira. She had thought then that Shakaar had looked overburdened with work, but he'd brushed off her concerns, noting he could say the same about her. Looking at Shakaar now, for all his easy aspect, Kira realized how his life so closely paralleled hers; they had sacrificed everything - and everyone - important to them for Bajor.

"Have you visited the garden market?" Kira asked, deciding to steer the conversation away from the political and religious questions that now gripped Bajor.

Shakaar shook his head. "No. You?"

"Yes. It's beautiful. You should go. It's held in the Grand Plaza every morning except for Monday. Nine to one."

"Maybe later this week. If I can get away from some of these interminable meetings they've scheduled me for." Shakaar sighed. "As it is, today and tomorrow are really the only free days I have."

"And how long are you staying?"

"Five days. You?"

"A week." Kira's lips turned upwards. "A little excessive, but Dr. Bashir insisted that I get away from the station."

"Hmmm... and did he also insist that you come alone?"

"No," Kira said softly. "That was my choice."

Shakaar sighed. "I'm sorry, that was unkind of me." He paused, turning to look out at the sea. "I heard about Odo. I'm sorry."

"No need to be sorry," Kira said shortly. "It was his decision to return to the Great Link and I supported it."

"It must have been hard for you."

"It's what Odo wanted," Kira said quietly.

"And you? What did you want?" Shakaar put emphasis on 'you', leaving no doubt in Kira's mind that he thought she should have been more forceful in resisting Odo's decision. But Kira understood that to truly love someone meant that she would also have to be able to let the person go.

"Doesn't matter," she answered shortly.

"Do you think he'll come back?" Shakaar persisted.

"I haven't considered that possibility." Kira turned her head slightly to avoid making eye contact. The sailboats, with their rainbow sails, had moved towards the west, heading further out into the sea. "I imagine he's learning so much about himself..." she swallowed hard and closed her eyes for a moment. She hated this moment of weakness in front of Shakaar, especially as she glanced up to see his face etched with concern. "Don't feel sorry for me, Shakaar. I knew what I was doing when I told him to go."

They sat in silence until the waiter brought their drinks. Shakaar lifted his glass, the ruby red liquid swirling in its cage of thin crystal.

"To..." Shakaar's voice drifted off as he looked uncertainly at Kira.

"Bajor," Kira interjected.

"Yes. Of course. Bajor."

Kira sipped her drink slowly, reveling in the fresh fruity sweet taste. It had been so long since she had had rik; she nearly always chose springwine, more out of habit than out of like.

"Is Starfleet planning to send a new commander for the station?" Shakaar asked.
"I haven't heard anything new."

"That makes two of us. If they are planning a change, they certainly haven't bothered to inform me," Kira said. "Though, with all due respect, Starfleet has been so decimated by the war, I'm not sure that they have the personnel to spare for DS9. And you have to admit it's true that the Federation and by extension, Starfleet, has little time now if any for Bajor. We may have to accept that Bajor and DS9 are no longer a priority for the Federation."

"You make it sound almost cold, as if it wasn't the Federation in the first place which extended a helping hand."

"No, I'm just a realist," Kira said. "Starfleet's presence on DS9 was never a permanent solution. They came because they wanted not only to ease Bajor's entry into the Federation, but also for the secondary reason of keeping the Cardassians in check after the Occupation ended. You have to appreciate the irony of the situation now that the Federation has agreed to help Cardassia rebuild."

"Well," Shakaar said. "There have been some angry words about that as well in the Main Assembly. Some of the more prominent senators are advocating a complete break from the Federation because of its assistance to Cardassia. Of course, those are the more fanatical representatives, but it is still dismaying. However, the majority are still in favor of joining the Federation and that's something we're working very hard towards achieving." He shifted in his chair a little. "In fact, an official delegation from the Commission will be here next week to evaluate Bajor's progress towards becoming a full member state in the Federation."

"I hadn't heard that. That is indeed good news."

"We're a lot closer than you might think. Economically, we're within one percent of making the required public debt levels and inflation is under control. With the implementation and success of a pluralist democracy, I believe we just need to sign across the dotted line, as the Terrans like to say." Shakaar raised his glass. "Of course, there is still the fundamentalist threat, but we're addressing it as best as we can and my contact at the Federation Commission for Membership has assured me that there will be some leeway on the matter. We've done well, Nerys."

At this statement, Kira allowed herself a small smile. Well indeed, she thought. Bajor free, as she had never been before and finally free from all threats; no, Cardassia would never be back and the Dominion had been crippled. They had done it - a ragtag group of fighters keeping to hills and caves, fingers bent by cold and eyes set deep in faces hollowed by hunger and fear.

"I do look forward to that day," she said softly. She let her gaze drift out towards the water again and then along the coast. In the distance, she could see a hook of land curling protectively towards the mainland, forming the bay of Villefranche. "It *was* worth it, wasn't it?" Without thinking, she picked up the fork at her place setting and ran her fingers gently over the smooth metal.

"If you're talking about the sacrifices, they had to be made. Did we have any other choice? We can't really question it now." Shakaar shook his head. "We carried the faith of an entire people, Nerys." His voice was contemplative, not arrogant. "And we knew if we could just hold out long enough, that if we were less afraid to die than the Cardassians..."

"You don't have to convince me. I was there, remember?" Kira sipped her drink. "Bajor in the Federation. An impossible dream only ten years ago and now..." she shook her head. "You can talk about faith and ideals, but even today, I don't like to think about what that freedom cost us." She put her fork down. "And I wish Lupaza and Furel were here to see what was accomplished." As always, it pained her to mention the names of former cell members who were no longer with them. "I think they would have liked to see the Bajor that all of us built."

Shakaar looked at her, seemingly understanding the meaning between her words. It was difficult for Kira to say exactly how she felt now that the Dominion had been beaten back, now that the Cardassians had fallen so hard. Here in the quietness, here in the sunlight, the days spent in the Resistance seemed so far away. So long ago she had stared down a Romulan commander. So long since she had put aside her personal feelings and joined Damar in the Cardassian resistance against the Dominion. All of it so long, so far removed... and she wondered when she had grown so hollow.

It was only then she was aware of Shakaar's feather-light touch on her hand. It was a gentle motion, one that only offered friendship and for that she was grateful.

"So have you decided what you're going to do now?" Shakaar asked. "It's been two months since the end of the war and I'm sure you must have some thoughts about what's next for you."

"Until the militia gives me new orders, I imagine I'll stay on DS9," she said. Then a little wistfully, Kira added, "I would like that. It's -" she smiled, remembering her initial feelings about the station formerly called Terok Nor - "my home now. Of course it's not entirely my decision. As you said, Starfleet could still send a new commander." She bit her lip; it would be odd to see a Starfleet officer *other* than Benjamin Sisko sitting in the commander's office on Deep Space Nine. What shoes that person would have to fill, for Sisko had been more than DS9's commander, but also the Emissary to the Prophets, an exalted position for Bajorans, but incomprehensible to outsiders.

"I could talk to people in the Main Assembly. I do have some connections, you know."

Kira looked at him. For a moment, she was tempted to take Shakaar up on his offer, but then shook her head. "Thanks, but I think I'll take my chances with the Militia Headquarters, disorganized and incompetent as they seem to be these days." She smiled wryly.

"Brave woman."

Kira laughed at that comment. If only he knew, if only they all knew... admitting her own fear often brought back memories long suppressed, things that she couldn't talk about without concern for her own sanity. The resistance to the Cardassians had been a flesh-to-flesh, mind against mind battle. In contrast, the war against the Dominion had seemed almost soulless.
More than once, Kira had wondered whether she had gone completely cold, completely heartless - that nothing could shock her. Only Odo had believed in her, had believed that warmth still existed within Kira Nerys.

"Sometimes," she ventured carefully, "I still dream of rivers of blood."

She knew Shakaar would understand the reference. Would remember the Massacre of Me'Long, when they lost nearly half of their cell when the Cardassians discovered them hiding in a remote valley. They were cold, hungry and unarmed, and the only escape had been to outrun the Cardassians over the mountains. The streams had turned red that day and Kira, pressed to the ground, gravel biting at her cheek, remembering Shakaar's hand against her mouth. Thank the Prophets for that, she had thought as she had watched the Cardassians indiscriminately line up her friends and the innocents from several nearby villages from her cliffside perch.

"I know." Shakaar looked down at his hands. "Sometimes, I have nightmares as well."

Kira was relieved by his admission. "I see their faces too." She didn't explain whom she meant; she knew Shakaar would understand the reference to the countless number of people they had lost, both in the conflict with the Cardassians and more recently, in the Dominion War.

"You've got to let go," Shakaar said quietly. "I made that decision long ago because I felt that I would go crazy if I didn't."

Kira shivered. Suddenly, it was very cold, as if a cloud had passed across the face of the sun.

"I worry about you," Shakaar said softly. "I know you don't like that and I know you can take care of yourself, Nerys. But I can't help but worry about what you're going to do now."

"I already answered that question."

"No." Shakaar's voice dropped to an even lower pitch. "Now that there is no one to fight..."

She stared at him, shocked. Finally, she found her voice. "What do you mean by that exactly? Are you saying that I can't handle *peace*?"

"No, that's not what I'm saying."

"I hope not. Because if you think I *like* war-"

"I never said that, Nerys."

Kira stared at him. "You think I could survive the Cardassians, the Dominion and you think I can't survive this? Damn you, Shakaar. I'm stronger than you've ever given me credit for. I'm not going to fall apart, no matter what you or Bashir or anyone else says."

"I never meant to insinuate otherwise. Look, Nerys, I'm sorry." Shakaar got up so quickly that he knocked his chair over. "I should have known better. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He walked away quickly, stopping only to talk to the maitre'd standing guard at the entrance.

Kira pressed her palms flat against the table to stop the shaking.

And for the first time in months, she allowed herself to think of Odo. She pressed her lips into a thin line, her eyes narrowing slightly as her vision blurred. She hated herself for her momentary selfishness, for the intense desire to talk to Odo, to feel him in her arms again.

"Damn it," she whispered under her breath. Inhaling deeply, Kira signaled for the waiter. "Just put this on my tab."

"The First Minister has already taken care of it," the waiter said primly.

Kira nodded acknowledgement and then rose, slightly wobbly. As she walked back towards the hotel, she was acutely aware of the eyes on her. She wondered what they were thinking, all of these young people. Without realizing how she got there, Kira found herself on the beach, the sand insinuating itself between her toes. How easy it would be, Kira thought, to walk slowly into the sea and just melt into the shimmering blue water.

Kira took a few hesitant steps, her hands clasped behind her back - a posture she had adopted in recent months, as a way of remembering a friend who was now not much more than a faded memory of laughter and mischief. She knelt down to unbuckle her sandals. Putting them to the side, she walked down the edge of the water, the sand massaging the soles of her feet as she went.

She stood ankle-deep in the cool water. The wind whipping off the bay and through her hair - she had let it grow longer in recent months so that it now barely skimmed her shoulders - was cool. She was thirty-two years old. Since the age of twelve, she had been fighting one enemy or another. For twenty years, she had been letting go of those she cared about, convincing herself that she was strong enough to withstand the loss. Until now, she had been.

Kira shivered and turned to walk back to the hotel.

In her hotel room, she showered and dressed for dinner. As she stared at herself in the mirror, she touched the puffy skin beneath her eyes. So much for getting some sleep, Kira thought. Apparently, even a change of scenery couldn't keep the nightmares away. And it occurred to her then that maybe she didn't want to forget all that had happened.

She went down to the hotel lounge to check on her dinner reservation; as she looked around, she saw Shakaar seated in one of the comfortable leather armchairs.

"Thank you for the drink and for the company," Kira said quietly as she stood in front of him. Shakaar, slipping deep into one of those moods she knew so well, didn't respond.

Kira took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Shakaar," she said. Her voice trembled. Didn't he know how hard it was for her to apologize? "I shouldn't have said what I did to you."

"Don't worry about it." His voice was gruff, but at least he was speaking to her. "I understand."

"I am tired, Shakaar." It was a harder admission to make than Kira had realized. "You're right about that, but the rest - I think I'm going to have to make it up as I go along. Maybe you can forget, but I can't. I won't." She hoped he heard the defiance in her voice, the pure strength that propelled her even though she was sure that her heart was beating so fast, it would leap into her throat. "The price was too high, Shakaar, to walk away, to not remember."

He raised his head to look at her, pain clear in his eyes. Instantly, Kira felt sorry for the man whom she had followed so unquestioningly from the age of twelve.

"I just want you to be happy," Shakaar's voice was raspy, thick with emotion. He shook his head. "But I'm starting to think that after all you have been through -"

"After what *we* have been through," Kira corrected gently. "And I could say the same to you, Shakaar. I thought coming here would push the memories away and I've found that it's the exact opposite. And I suspect that it's been the same for you. No matter what we do here to relax, there's always that thought at the back of our minds that reminds us of someone who isn't here."

Shakaar smiled sadly at her. "Ironic, isn't it? I didn't expect that it would be so hard to take a vacation."

Kira placed a gentle but firm hand on Shakaar's shoulder. "Nor did I. I only came here because Julian threatened to make my life miserable if I didn't, but I'm glad I did. If only to have had the chance to see you again before we go back to the business of making Bajor a viable and prosperous world again."

She turned slightly as she heard the family of four from the terrace erupt out of the turbolift. The two children skipped ahead, the girl holding a small toy of some kind in her little hand. Their high-pitched voices filled the room, even as their harried parents admonished them to be quiet.

Shakaar grabbed Kira's hand, holding it tightly. "It's not enough just to survive, Nerys. One has to *live*."

She stared at him, her lower lip trembling slightly. "Sometimes survival is the only option."

Shakaar's eyes, clear of their earlier emotion, focused intently on Kira. "It doesn't have to be."

Kira cleared her throat, momentarily unable to speak. Once she had recovered her composure, she said quietly, "Will you join me for dinner?"

Shakaar, his lips pressed into a thin line, nodded. "I'd like that, Nerys."

She held his hand during dinner, for once forgetting about the business-only relationship that they had enjoyed for the last two and a half years. It was an emotional attachment she desperately needed, a warm contact reminding her that she wasn't quite as alone as she thought she had been.

After dinner, Kira returned to her room alone and stepped out onto the balcony. The lights illuminated along the boardwalk differentiated the coast from the darkness of the water beyond. She hadn't noticed when day had slipped into night and she wondered what else she had missed. She glanced towards the eastern sky - the direction of the wormhole and by the associative property, also the Great Link. Kira leaned forward over the railing, reaching her arm towards the sky. If she closed her eyes, she could pretend that the coolness of the wind caressing her skin was the fluid touch of her most recent loss.

She stood on the balcony for what seemed like hours. When her eyes grew heavy, she wrapped herself in a robe and fell backwards across the bed. In the morning, she would learn how to sail.

~ the end ~

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