To Listen
by jenn

Author Notes: Kat's challenge. Thanks, hon. You've been sick, this sure as hell won't cheer you up, but I thought of you when I did these last rewrites, so I hope you feel better soon. I released this on P7C and got some comments, which I've incorporated herein. I think it works a little better than the original.

* * * * *

Seven walked back to Shuttlebay Two, her step uneven, still soot-covered, still streaked with blood and sweat and warp plasma soot. Her hair burned, her implants corrupted and in need of repair, but she hadn't bothered going to Sickbay--she wasn't ready to face it yet. Her nanoprobes would take care of the worst of the damage.

She found herself running her palms roughly down her sides, flakes of red-black drifting to the floor like dust, and her stomach turned over in response to the sight of it scattered over her feet and the floor around her.

Warp explosion brilliant as a star's nova against velvet-night space, seared into her corneas, the taste of burned metal, burned flesh, black heat that singed her skin.

The Delta Flyer was gone, as cleanly as if it had never existed.

Her monitor bleeped a monotonous rhythm that wound her already tight nerves another notch.

It was a message, three lines that forced her to finally sit, eyes burning.

Sent by Harry Kim.

Her fingers shook over the keyboard.

Signed by B'Elanna Torres.

Seven closed her eyes, leaning against the wall, rubbing her hands against her filthy thighs.

* * * * *


She was staring at the corridors of Voyager, a little startled where she'd never been startled before.

They were bright.

It was not something she had ever noticed before this single moment, the differences between Voyager and the Collective. How bright and clean the lines of Voyager were. The whisper of the carpet just under the muted thud of her heels when she moved. The cool feel of her uniform against her body.

How *clean* it was. How warm.

Things that seemed suddenly so obvious and yet so new.

Absently, she rubbed her palms against her legs as she approached her destination.

"Seven?" Commander Chakotay's startlement was obvious, and Seven slowed to a stop beside him.

"How is Lieutenant Paris?" She could hear the commander's breathing beside her, one meter to her left. The closed doors of Sickbay faced them both.

He didn't answer for a moment, eyes locked on the doors. Waiting, as she was. She let her gaze touch on the cool metal of the walls, the silvery doors that reflected so much light. It dazzled her.

"Harry and the Captain are with him," he said shortly. "He was--" He stopped short, taking a breath that strangled whatever else he would have said. Beneath the usual calm of his face, she detected shock. In her peripheral vision, she could see the inflammation of his eyes, emotion now carefully hidden from public view. He was a private man. She respected that.

Seven nodded sharply as she took position beside him. They stood together, watching the door.

{"We've never liked each other, Seven."}

The tight clasp of that rapidly cooling hand. The dark and the sound of the warning systems going off everywhere on the Flyer, and the smell of burnt circuitry and her own sweat as the environmental controls went off-line.

Seven clenched her hand briefly, nails digging into her palms. She glanced down, flexing her hands, seeing the cut of her nails in her skin, grease ground into her knuckles--

--there was blood on her hands.

"Seven?" Her body jerked at the sound of his voice.

Perhaps the Commander had spoken to her before--she was uncertain. Slowly, she turned to see the dark eyes fixed on her with what seemed to be confusion.

"Seven, you don't have to wait here." His voice was kind. She hadn't expected that.

{"This is your crash course into what humanity is really about, Seven. You've had the fun, now you're getting the responsibility."}

"I wish to--see how he is." It was inadequate, and she was aware of it.

"He's sedated, Seven."

She had expected that.

"Why are you not inside?" Seven was not yet ready to discuss it.

He shifted uncomfortably before finally shaking his head sharply, as if dispelling images that he did not wish to remember.

"I decided to stay here."

Seven tilted her head, studying the tall man for a moment, seeing the fine grey hairs that she had never noticed before.

Like the smell of clean air and the normal sounds of the ship in operation. The low hum of the warp engines she could feel in the balls of her feet. It was disturbingly new, breaking her concentration whenever a thought tried to coalesce in her mind.

"I do not understand."

The Commander's head tilted slightly, eyes growing distant for a moment--perhaps Seven had never noticed how tight his face could be, how much could be read with the sight of those fine lines.

{"I don't have much time, Seven, so you gotta listen--and remember everything."}

A wet cough, the fingers tightening on hers briefly before weakening. Seven had increased her own grip to compensate.

"Harry's with him. Harry will be there when he wakes up."

Seven nodded, feeling rather than seeing the Commander's gaze on her again. It was speculative

"You were on that shuttle with her. Is that why you're here?"

Seven inclined her head slightly.

"She--had a request." That was enough, as far as Seven was concerned. The Commander did not pursue the matter further, to Seven's relief--he seemed to have turned her attention back to the cool, clean metal door.

{"That medkit won't save me--dammit, Seven, look at me! I need you to do this for me--for Tom."}

Seven shut her eyes briefly.

She'd never understood how eyes could burn when tears filled them. She had never known the pressure in your throat, the way your hands could shake. The strength it took to listen.


{"I need you to do something--"}


{"--last request, Seven."}

Seven felt the Commander's hand on her arm.

Looking up at him, she wondered if he knew how blood clung to your skin like glue, how it smelled when it covered your hands. How much blood a body could hold--how it slicked the floor and drowned your knees. How you could slip in it and fall trying to reach a medkit you know will not even be able to ease the pain.

She rubbed her palms against her leg. They burned.

She wondered if Commander Chakotay knew what it was like to watch someone die when you could do nothing. Slowly.

To die, slowly.


{I could not stop the bleeding.} Though she had tried, with the limited medkit supplies, bandages and torn uniform pieces, her own hands. Knowing at a glance that nothing she could do without a full Sickbay and the Doctor right beside her.

"When will he awaken?" Her voice was cool. His eyes turned away as he glanced at the door.

"In a few minutes. The Doctor gave him just enough to calm him down." He paused, apparently considering. "Do you want to talk about it?"

She could see the effort it took for him to ask--Lieutenant Torres had been his friend and protegee. She was aware, on a level she had never before completely understood, that he grieved. She'd never understood grief as others did.

Seven opened her mouth briefly, then shut it, considering her response.

"I am not yet--ready, Commander. But thank you."

He looked ready to say something else, but the doors to Sickbay opened, releasing Captain Janeway and the Doctor. Seven stepped forward, before the Doctor could do more than blink at her presence.

"I wish to speak to Tom, Doctor."

He frowned, as she had expected.

"He is not--"


"Let her, Doctor." The Captain was pale and Seven saw her touch the doorway with one hand, lightly, to regain her own balance. The grey-blue eyes were dulled and Commander Chakotay stepped forward, perhaps to offer assistance, but she straightened before he could do more than touch her hand. She gave him a nod, mouth softening briefly, before she turned to look at the Doctor. "Let her see him."

Perhaps the Captain understood. It would not have surprised her.

After a brief, seemingly eternal pause--

{"God, Seven, this isn't what was supposed to happen. I had so much more to do."}

--the Doctor nodded shortly and moved aside. Seven stepped into Sickbay--darker than the hall, the lights lowered to match the mood of the man slumped on the biobed. Ensign Kim was beside him, eyes reddened--they were not speaking, Seven noted. He had a hand on the older man's shoulder, but Tom had yet to raise his head.

"Lieutenant. Ensign." Ensign Kim looked up--he had not seen her enter. Slowly, she approached them--

{"It won't be easy, Seven, I won't kid you about that. But you've got to do it."}

Ensign Kim gave her a strange look, but merely nodded and with a final touch to Tom's shoulder, quietly rose and left the room. She wondered if he had read the message. Three lines, from B'Elanna Torres, that Seven had read until they were burned into her mind, the simple words still playing in her head.

"Lieutena--Tom." It seemed more appropriate to use his name.

He didn't respond.

"I wish to speak with you."

"Now's not a good time, Seven. Get out." His voice was harsh. Seven pause, thinking--

{"He'll want to be alone. He can't be alone, Seven, not for a minute at the beginning. He'll do something incredibly stupid, drunk or sober."}

"Lieutenant Torres asked me--"

He winced, and Seven shut her mouth tight, biting her lips against whatever else she had been prepared to say.

"I don't give a damn what B'Elanna said," Tom whispered, his voice hoarse. "She's not here."

Seven felt her throat tighten suddenly, watching him--remembering the hand going slowly limp and cold in her grasp--even her nanoprobes couldn't help this kind of damage--finally falling onto the floor with a sickeningly wet sound that Seven knew she'd hear until the day she died. Remembered herself, holding the tricorder over her body, attaching cortical stimulators to the crushed brow, fumbling hyposprays against the blood-smeared neck. Heard her own breathing in the silence of the Flyer--in the silence of Sickbay?--the choked sounds she'd never known a human could make, raising one stained hand to her face--


He was looking at her, and Seven realized her hand was against her own mouth. Realized she was trembling, her fingers shaking against her lips. And for some reason, he'd noticed that, noticed her unbalance. She wondered if he would understand how Voyager had changed when she'd been gone.

"Seven, are you okay?"

She could still smell the blood on her hands. See the brown eyes she'd closed with the tips of shaking fingers. She rubbed her palms against her legs.

She'd smell it until the day she died. Borg didn't think like that. But somehow, she did.

"I'm sorry." Her voice was a whisper.

Tom blinked.


"I couldn't--"

He slid off the bio-bed, and she saw his eyes were wet and slightly unfocused, possibly from the sedative--he shook his head sharply.

It came to her he did not yet believe what had happened.


"I tried. I could not--there was too much damage." She couldn't see him anymore, see anything. Except B'Elanna, in that pod--if Voyager had been only a few hours sooner--if Seven had introduced the nanoprobes more quickly--if someone with more experience had been assigned as B'Elanna's partner--

If Tom had been there--

Then Tom would be dead too. She felt a hand on her elbow, leading her to the biobed, and was surprised--that even in his grief, he was trying to help her. Even though she had caused the death of his lover and his wife.

She could feel his grip on her arm was faltering.

"What did she say, Seven?" His voice was gentle.

{"Tell him I love him. Seven, you've got to make sure he knows that--really knows that. Tell him everything I told you."}

She wasn't sure how three lines could change her life when she'd stepped into the Cargo Bay. Her breath had become labored, and it hurt to hear it.

There was a warm hand against her cheek for a moment, then left.

"You're crying." She heard disbelief in his voice, the way it threatened to break. "Seven--"

"I'm sorry." It didn't have meaning anymore--she'd said those words over B'Elanna's body as she waited for Voyager, said them over and over--counting the minutes--something in her like desperation--if B'Elanna could be gotten into Sickbay now, the Doctor and the nanoprobes could save her--and Seven, pressing her assimilation tubes into B'Elanna's neck, knowing the nanoprobes couldn't do anything now--but if Voyager arrived quickly--counting the minutes--touching a living mind as it cooled with her body--a life grafted hastily into her soul, those last moments burned into her mind.

Three days before Voyager arrived, and Seven had sealed B'Elanna up in an environmental suit to keep her body in stasis--knowing it wouldn't matter. Beamed directly into Sickbay.

Her eyes traveled to the other side of the room, seeing the stasis pod that had the remains within, and choked on a breath. She clenched her hands together, knuckles going white beneath the strain.

"Tom--she loved you."

She watched his entire body tighten, and his hand rested beside hers on the biobed, head bowed, taking a choked breath. She stood still, not sure what to do, wanting to sit somewhere and find that inner stillness she'd learned from the Borg--but it was gone, she had nothing but memories that were barely hers.

She was with the only person who understood.

Slowly, she reached out one hand, touching his head with her hand, watched him turn, putting her arms gently around him as memory told her, eyes closing as his forehead rested against his shoulder, leaning back against the biobed--though she knew he did, felt it with every nerve of her body, she didn't hear him cry.

Because she cried with him.

The End