Ziyal awakes to the sound of her own breathing. At first, the sound of inhale, exhale is her entire world. Then the pain creeps in from her chest, winding from her ribs along her veins to the rest of her body.
When Ziyal was little, she had sat cradled in her mother’s lap under the porch during thunderstorms, watching as the lightning leapt and danced across Bajor’s sky. Ziyal’s mother would whisper tales of the Prophets in these moments, spin stories of lightning was used to cleanse the world of the Pah-wraiths’ eternal fires, and Ziyal would watch the sky flash and rumble with the awe of the innocent, wondering what it would feel like to be touched by the light of the divine. On the world of the Breen dilithium mines, it was not uncommon for sandstorms to roll in suddenly, filling the desert air with silt and electricity. It was during her time as a prisoner that Ziyal witnessed the touch of the divine, the spider web of lichtenberg burns and the smell of burning flesh. There was a man named Kartak who had survived being struck and in a moment of brazenness Ziyal had asked what it felt like. The man, who had been a Glinn before their capture, had looked at her with eyes dark and empty and he told her of the feeling of every nerve on fire, of drowning, of the sensation of being stabbed over and over and over-
And now, thick hospital sheets chaining her down, Ziyal thinks she understand his description. There’s an agony unlike any other in her chest and someone’s screaming and there just isn’t enough oxygen and oh, it’s Ziyal who’s making that awful noise and maybe she should stop-
“Ziyal!” There’s a warm hand grasped around hers. Ziyal tries to squeeze it but she can’t move her fingers, can’t move her hand, can’t move anything. “Nurse! Nurse! She’s awake!” The voice belongs to Kira and the rush of relief at the realization momentarily drowns out the pain. Kira Nerys is with Ziyal and everything's going to be okay. “Ziyal, can you hear me? Oh Prophets, you’re awake.” Something wet splash onto her cheek and Ziyal is amazed that she can feel it and the world is so bright and she is so alive.
Kira is speaking to someone, a nurse, but the warmth of the familiar is starting to fade and all she can think about is how her chest really, really hurts. And then there is a hypo pressed against the crook of her neck and everything fades back into darkness.
The next time Ziyal opens her eyes, her body is pleasantly numb and Kira Nerys is nowhere in sight. There is, however, a vase of esani flowers, not yet bloomed, set firmly at the bedside table. A smile spreads across Ziyal's gray lips. She fumbles for a moment at the side of the bed before finding the lever to raise the bed into a sitting position. The esani tree has always been one of her favorite subjects to paint whenever she gets a chance to visit Bajor. Ziyal reaches out a hand to touch the buds. The movement gives her arm a twinge of pain, but it's worth getting to feel the waxy smooth texture of esani buds against her finger pads.
“Commander Kira brings those every time she visits.” Ziyal turns. She hadn't even heard the door open. The woman standing in the doorway is a Trill, Starfleet by the uniform, and pretty in an unfamiliar way. She has the bluest eyes Ziyal has ever seen.
“Commander?” Ziyal asks.
The woman gives a nervous laugh. “Right. Sorry, I forgot you've been in a comma for the past year and a half.”
There’s a pause. “I’ve been what?” Ziyal chokes out.
The Trill pales dramatically. “Oh shit. I’m so sorry, I thought someone told you. Am I your first visitor since you woke up? Nerys is going to kill me. I mean Kira. Haven’t done that in a while. Kira is going to kill me. She’s been really excited ever since you woke up. Everyone thought the nerve damage was too extensive and even Julian thought you’d never wake up so I guess it’s actually everyone’s been really excited that you’re awake, but Kira is especially happy.” She says it all at once in a way the Ziyal questions whether the woman even breathed at all during her ramble.
“I'm sorry,” Ziyal searches the Trill’s face, her short feathery brown hair. “But who are you?”
She flushes pink. “Oh right. It's me, Dax.” She gives a short wave. “Not Jadzia. She's dead. I'm Ezri. Ezri Dax.”
Ziyal's heart sinks. She had never really gotten to know Dax, not really, but the idea that she could be dead… Ziyal clenches the hospital sheets, her knuckles going white. Kira must be devastated. “How did she die?”
All color the woman- Dax, this is Dax- had regained drains from her face. “Um,” She fidgets with the pins on her sleeve. “I’m not sure I should be the one telling you that? Kira would probably be a much, much better choice. Sorry. I mean-”
“No, it's fine!” Ziyal interrupts, embarrassed. “I mean, I don't really know that much about Trills but, well, if you were Jadzia, I suppose you would remember, and I’m so sorry, it must have been such a traumatic thing to bring up.”
“No, that's not why I didn't-” Dax stops herself. “I mean bring up Jadzia’s death isn't going to send me spiraling into flashbacks or anything, I mean I have her memories and yeah going into temples is just going to be a big no from now on but I'm not her. I'm Ezri. Just Ezri. And a bunch of other people's memories and personality traits. It’s a little complicated.”
“Um. I see? I think? But why would you need Kira to-?” Ziyal trails off. And then it clicks. Bad news. Relating to Ziyal specifically. She’s seen this before, the way people avoid her eyes and her too Cardassian face. “I can take bad news. I- is it because-? Was it my-?” Ziyal swallows thickly. She can't bring herself to finish the sentence.
Dax looks pained. “I'm afraid so. It was… it was Dukat who killed Jadzia.”
Ziyal sucks in a breath through her teeth. The air tastes sickeningly of cleaning products and medication. “I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.”
“Oh, no.” Dax says quickly. “I mean, it's not your fault and it's really not healthy to take on the blame for a parent’s action and I’m really not helping am I? Shit. I always make everything worse.”
“No, no, you're doing fine.” Ziyal says. She studies Dax Ezri’s-no, Trill’s go primary then ancestral name- Ezri Dax’s round face and short hair. She looks so much younger than Jadzia Dax ever did. This Dax is no older than Ziyal and is painfully unconfident in herself. And Ziyal's father practically murdered this strange spotted girl. “Um,” Ziyal can feel the blood rushing to her cheeks, and she can’t help but think that Dax can probably see her blushing through her thin layer of scales. The thought of her father’s crimes almost silence her. “Do you want to sit down?”
“Oh!” Ezri Dax smiles, a gentle curve that illuminates her entire face. “Yeah. It’s probably a little awkward with me just standing here, isn’t it.”
Ziyal gives her a small smile back. “Just a little.”
Dax pulls a chair from the bedside table and sits, legs tucked just slightly under the chair.
“So,” Daz begins, “is there anything you want to know? If you didn’t know about Jadzia, you probably didn’t know the war’s over? Well, it’s over. We won. You probably guessed that, considering we’re safely in a hospital on Bajor and not, you know, dead.”
Ziyal bites her lip. There’s no pain, just numbness. It’s probably the medication. She wants to know, but she does not want to ask. But if there is one thing Ziyal does not lack, it is courage. “My father, Dukat, is he in prison? You said the war’s over… and….” On one hand, Ziyal knows and even wants her father to be punished for his crimes, but on the other…
“I-” Dax stops. “Are you sure you don’t want Kira to tell you? I mean, you don’t really know me. I’m not sure I should be the one….”
Ziyal shakes her head. It’s better to know now. “No, I want you to tell me.”
“Dukat.” Daz hesitates. “I’m sorry, but your father, he’s...he’s dead.”
“Oh.” It’s all Ziyal can say.
Dax twists a finger around her sleeve once, twice. “Is there anything I can-?”
“Can-” The room is starting to grow blurry. Ziyal blinks heavily. “Can I hold your hand?” Dax doesn’t even reply, just slips a soft hand into her own.
And now there are big fat tears rolling down Ziyal’s face because of her father, the father who her last words to had been I love you and whose last words to her had been I forgive you, only it was a forgiveness she does not want, a forgiveness that tastes sharp and bitter against her tongue. In this moment Ziyal hates her father, Dukat, the man who is the reason Ezri Dax can never enter a temple without greeting death. And then she feels guilt. Her father was an evil man, but he had loved her, or at least loved the idea of her, and Ziyal had loved him and now he is dead. She will never be able to reject his forgiveness, never be able to confront him on the death of thousands of her people, never get to punch him in his stupid teeth for the rape of all those Bajoran women, for Tora Naprem, her mother. He is dead and so Ziyal has no power to forgive him or damn him.
Ziyal lets go of Dax’s hand, scrubbing furiously at her eyes. “I’m sorry, you came all this way and all I can do is cry. Prophets, you must think I’m pathetic.”
“No,” Dax places a hand upon her shoulder. “I think you’re very brave woman who’s been through a lot. I think you’re taking things remarkably well, especially considering how long you’ve been in a comma.”
“Dax.” Ziyal reaches for the hand at her shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Ezri.” She says, giving Ziyal’s hand a squeeze. “Call me Ezri.”
Ziyal gives a half laugh. “You’re going to make me cry again.”
Ezri’s lips quirk. “Of happiness, I hope. It’s not that bad a name.”
Ziyal laughs for real this time.
“I’ve probably told you way too much of the tragic things that happened while you were asleep. Want to hear some good stuff?”
Ziyal looks at Ezri, this girl from an alien world who doesn’t blame her for the sins of her father and who held her hand when she cried over the death of a monster and Ziyal smiles, a real one, with teeth. Ezri Dax. It’s a good name for a good person. A person Ziyal thinks she might want to get to know a little better, in a world outside of hospital sheets and painkillers. “I think I’d like that.”
Ezri’s smile is what Ziyal had imagined lighting to feel like as a child; warm and electric, nestling in somewhere over her heart. This, Ziyal thinks, is the start of something good.