A/N: Sniff. It's the end – the real end this time. Writing this story and its prequel has been a bloody long hard slog and I have to say I've enjoyed it immensely. Thank you to everyone who's reviewed/followed/left me lovely comments over the god-knows-how-long I've been working on this, and to all you lurkers too, even though I can't see you. I hope that reading it brought you even half as much happiness as writing it brought me.
A/N Supplemental: If any of you are writing Cardassian fic and want a beta or a second opinion, I'd be glad to volunteer – just let me know...
EPILOGUE: ARCLIGHT (FORGET YOUR FEARS AND WANT NO MORE)
At first light lay proud foundations
Sense the greatness that before you unfolds
Seek no more for hollow answers
Answers that lay within you all along
– VNV Nation
Kira's eyes snapped open. Grey. She could see grey. Patterns. A ceiling? Pressure on her right hand, a tight grip with strong fingers which she could feel even though the rest of her seemed quite numb. The smell of the infirmary on DS9. Yes, that was it. DS9. So it didn't get blown up after all, she thought blearily as a familiar face appeared in her vision.
'Hello, Nerys,' Sisko said softly, beaming his glorious ear-to-ear grin at her. He had the remains of a nasty wound on his forehead and the last two fingers on the hand he raised to touch her shoulder were wrapped in blue Starfleet-issue surgical dressings. 'Good to see you awake at last.'
She was too confused to speak, and all that came out was a jumbled blurt of half-words. What had happened? She remembered explosions. Chaos. Whiteness. Terror. Love. Faces and words which swam out of reach even as she thought of them, like a dream that dissipates on waking. And who was holding onto her hand?
'Help me sit up,' she mumbled dizzily. 'Can't talk if I'm lying down. What happened?'
'Major, only you would want to get up within five seconds of coming out of a two-day coma,' Sisko sighed, but he was smiling even wider as he said it. 'Well, you or possibly Dukat.'
Sisko jerked his head towards her right, and she turned her head painfully. Her right arm – bare, and its proper peach colour once more – was stretched out, her hand being gripped by a long-fingered grey one which she knew well. His eyes were shut and he had the remains of a bad burn down the side of his face, but he was alive. At least, he was breathing. She squeezed his hand, but he didn't react. But he was there. He was alive.
'But we died! I don't understand this,' she blurted. Sisko sighed.
'Neither do I. But it appears the Prophets have plans for us yet.'
'Dax? Nog? Odo?' She could hardly believe her ears. She'd died. They all had. And the Prophets had rescued Dukat, of all people? They'd been sent back, like the mystics in the old tales?
'Dax is waiting impatiently by the airlock for the Rotarran to dock, and Nog's with Rom and Leeta. Odo... Nerys, Odo's gone. We couldn't bring him back.'
She knew it, of course. She'd seen it happen, and she knew it wasn't something she'd get over in a hurry. But there was something behind Sisko's eyes that suggested he wasn't telling her everything. She wouldn't push. Better just to be alive.
'We won, huh?'
'It certainly seems we came off rather better than the Dominion...' Sisko began, then scowled as his commbadge went off.
'O'Brien to Sisko, the Rotarran's asking for docking clearance – where should I put them?'
'Anywhere there's space, Chief. I'll be right up.' He turned back to Kira and looked at her, kind and stern at the same time. Prophets, it was really him. She was really here, alive. Nobody could imitate the Emissary.
'I don't want you up until at least tomorrow, Major, and that's an order!' he announced. 'We've got a hell of a lot of sorting out and cleaning up to do, but it can wait until you're fit. We're not going anywhere.'
And that was the honest truth, she thought wonderingly as Sisko smiled down at her, then hurried away. She gripped Dukat's hand again.
'Come on, let go of me,' she told him. 'I can't lie like this forever.'
Actually she wouldn't mind – Prophets, how easy it was to admit it now! – but her shoulder was getting stiff and she couldn't push herself up in bed one-handed. She shook him one more time, and said his name. It felt funny on her lips for the first time, but not unfamiliar. In fact, it felt... appropriate. They'd been through the fire, they'd lived and died, they'd hated and loved and everything in between. She could say it now. It worked, too; he moved a little, and his grip finally eased off on her hand as his eyes flickered, then opened, before he groaned and put his hand over them.
'There, that wasn't so hard, was it?' she muttered, massaging some life back into her hand. It had five bruises on it in the shape of his fingers and thumb, while his had five corresponding dents in the scales from her.
'Hmm? Whassat?' he slurred. 'Nerys? Can't see you.'
'Then take your arm off your eyes, idiot. Turn to your left.'
He turned his head, slowly, painfully. His face was a mess and one neck-ridge was heavily bound in the blue surgical tape, and his eyes were cloudy and bloodshot.
'Still can't see you. That white place was too damn bright, made my eyes hurt. Are we still there?'
She smiled, although it hurt the new skin on her face. They'd survived. They'd won. And he had seen a white place. Skrain Dukat, former Prefect of Bajor, had seen the Prophets. That really proved it: love and hate and everything in between.
'We're on DS9. We survived.'
'Terok Nor, you mean,' he answered through a jaw-cracking yawn. She snorted.
'I mean DS9, which is why I said it. We won the war, you know. The Dominion are gone.'
'Oh good,' he answered tiredly. 'I feel terrible. Can I get on with dying now?'
'You've already tried that more than once, remember? It didn't work.'
'Of course it didn't. Nothing I do ever works. Well...'
She waited for him to finish, but even as she watched, his eyes closed and he fell asleep mid-sentence, his hand hanging off the side of the bed. She studied his sleeping face for a while, propped up on one elbow. What would they do now? Where would they go? Starfleet would want to arrest him again, no doubt, but this time she'd fight it, and she'd get Sisko to help her. Once you'd died together, that made even the worst of enemies closer than kin. It wouldn't be easy, certainly, and she doubted that there would ever be such a thing as true peace in this part of the quadrant. Then she smiled; she'd thought of another of Miles O'Brien's proverbs. Where there's a will, there's a way. And perhaps for the first time, the will was there between Cardassia and Bajor and the Federation. They'd find a way.
She reached for his hand again. His fingers almost automatically curled against the bruises on her skin, just as hers settled into the dents in his scales. Then she lay down flat and closed her eyes. Never mind where they would go and what they would do – what mattered is that they were still here.
And for now, that really was enough.