Disclaimer: Star Trek belongs to Paramount. I'm just borrowing it for a while.

A/N: A thousand thanks to Anna Amuse for her encouragement and support, and for reading this over.

Death Came Knocking

He feared silence.

Silence: The absence or lack of noise. Absolute quiet. Stillness. Nothingness. A void.

He had always feared silence. He remembered when he had discovered silence, and his fear of it: when he was six years old, he had wandered into a cave in the woods by his house. He had gone in far enough that he could no longer see the light of the entrance, and the sound of birdsong was replaced by the steady drip drip drip of some invisible water source. He was surrounded by darkness; and then, as he squeezed through a narrow passageway, the sound of water stopped. And when it did, he was surrounded by silence, too.

It had not taken long for him to hightail it out of there, and he never went back.

After that, he had surrounded himself with noise. It wasn't hard; there was always noise, if one listened for it. And he did – he listened hard, and never stopped listening, even if it was subconscious.

On the farm in Iowa, noise was everywhere. The whirr of machinery, the movement of the animals in the hay, the wind blowing over the crops, Sam whistling as he worked. Mealtimes, even when conversation had died down momentarily, involved the clink of utensils against plates and bowls, the sounds of chewing, and the screech of chairs as someone shifted.

Night was troublesome, at times. Nights were quiet in Iowa; he had to listen harder then. But he found sounds: the creak of the old farm in the wind, footsteps, Sam watching a holovid in his room next door, distant traffic, and the trilling of cicadas. On the nights his father was home, he could hear his parents talking, his father's low rumble and his mother's laughter.

Sometimes, though, the wind ceased; the footsteps faded away; Sam turned his holovid off and went to sleep; no hovercars passed nearby; the cicadas' song died down; and his father was gone most of the time. And so the silence crept slowly in. It was then that he shifted anxiously, making his sheets rustle, and breathed a little louder, and listened to his heartbeat.

If all else failed, there was always his heartbeat.

Once he went to the Academy, it was easier. His days were filled with lectures, crowded mealtimes, and equally crowded study groups. His nights contained the occasional bar, though he was usually too busy to go; studying, which included much writing and typing and flipping through papers and books; and the perpetual snoring of his roommate, Gary. And always, always, there was the whirr of machinery, the sounds of the city, and the quiet beating of the Pacific on the nearby shore.

Then he left for space. He had always loved space – ever since he was a child, ever since he had first seen the stars, he had known that he would go out there, following in his father's footsteps. He was destined for it, if there was such thing as destiny; nothing else would ever suit him as much as roaming the stars did. But at the same time, his subconscious registered that space was a vacuum: absent of air, light, and sound. Silence incarnate.

While his subconscious told him this, his mind reminded him that the walls of the ship would always keep the silence at bay. He would never actually be in space.

The Enterprise hummed constantly. Her engines throbbed and pulsated and generally made a racket that thrummed reassuringly throughout the entire ship, no matter how far away from them he went. Even the Sickbay, which was soundproofed to give patients peace, was not impervious to the rumble. She beeped and blipped and whirred; she swished and swooshed and sang. And so, even when he was not on the bridge, surrounded by people making reports or quietly conversing amongst themselves or listening to Uhura absentmindedly hum or sing as she worked; when he was not in the mess hall with his crew fighting and talking and laughing and making crude jokes all around him; when he was not in the gym getting beat up by someone (usually Spock) or beating up some equally unfortunate soul (almost never Spock); when he was completely, utterly, absolutely alone in his room, he could always rely on the Enterprise to provide his sound. He never needed to rely on his heartbeat.

And battles. Then, there was such a cacophony of sounds that even the subconscious, insatiable need for sound was finally satisfied. The Enterprise, aside from her usual humming, beeping, whirring, swishing, and chirping, also produced the sear of phasers, the whoosh of photon torpedoes, the roar of her engines putting up one hell of a fight against all odds. There were bangs, bumps, ricochets, explosions, sirens wailing. And the crew: bellowing orders and observations, slamming down on buttons, yells as they were pitched back and forth as the ship was rocked by a blast – general organized chaos. He added to it: bellowing his own orders, repeatedly checking in on everybody, especially Scotty, crashing around as his ship took hits and picking himself up to retaliate. And then he would get them out of there, if not with a win then without a loss. Then he would fend off McCoy and listen to countless damage reports and placate Scotty and reinstate order.

This left him so overwhelmed with noise that he didn't even think about it until the next calm moment, when he was signing fuel consumption reports and listening to the engine hum. By then the regular sounds had taken over, and silence became a distant memory.

It had taken a long time – many years of contemplation and introspection – but he had finally realized why he feared the silence.

Silence was the absence of noise. The absence of noise implied absolute stillness, a lack of motion, and that meant the absence of action. It was impossible for him to understand not taking action; it was absolutely foreign to him. He had to act; it was imperative to his mental and physical health that he be on the move. Action was in his nature: he was decisive and impulsive and he had to act. It was why he went on so many away missions; he had to be in the middle of it all, making things happen, dealing with problems and complications – acting, moving. It was why he was the bane of McCoy's existence, as he was repeatedly told by the doctor as he was being patched up yet again in Sickbay. He threw himself headlong into situations, acting first and thinking later or doing both at the same time. He confronted danger head-on.

He was not afraid of death.

People regarded him as fearless because of this. He did not, and knew that he did not; this knowledge seemed to have impressed itself on people. Sure, dying could be a bit messy and unpleasant, but what was death if it wasn't just another adventure, the last, true final frontier? He was an explorer by nature; and final frontiers beckoned to him. So he held only a curiosity about death, rather than fear, and so did not mind exposing himself to it every so often.

He did not fear death. But that did not make him fearless.

Something that still puzzled him, though, even after he had figured all of this out: he was not sure whether he feared silence because he had to act, or if he had to act because he feared silence. It was like the timeless logic question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? It was his ultimate paradox.

There was no time to contemplate on it now: he was surrounded by noise. He was in the middle of one of those battles now, with all of its clamor. They had been mapping a star system for days now when suddenly their scanners had shown something to break up the monotony: a large ship was approaching. It was of an unfamiliar make, and though he was slightly wary of hostility he was still overwhelmingly excited by the prospect of first contact. But when the ship had become close enough to be put on the viewscreen, they were only able to catch a glimpse of it before they realized that it had opened fire on them. And then the noises of battle had begun.

Uhura was frantically attempting to establish communications, assuring the unknown attacker of their peaceful intentions; Sulu and Chekov were pressing buttons and firing weapons and navigating and piloting their way out. Spock was calling out weapon compositions and shield status and all sorts of other information. Scotty was telling him that it was impossible but he would do it anyways. People were yelling and swearing and scrambling and screaming; the Enterprise was beeping and whirring and exploding and roaring and fighting back with every ounce that she had. And he was bellowing orders and trying to think their way out.

But he could not. And soon he heard the most dreadful sound of his entire life.

The Enterprise was breaking.

The wall holding the viewscreen fell away with a horrible cracking sound. It was ripped away with splintering and crashing and noise, and now the crew was not the only one screaming, because he was too and he was pretty sure that the Enterprise was as well. Then came a loud sucking noise as the air rushed out; there was a great whoosh and the feeling of a strong wind, and suddenly he was pulled out of his chair, off of the bridge, out of the Enterprise; and he briefly thought of how it was a miracle that they hadn't all died in an explosion and felt a pang as he thought of how those that he loved – McCoy, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, his crew – were going to die and there was nothing he could do about it.

And then he was in space and the crashing-screaming-sucking-whooshing was gone.

The humming of the Enterprise's engines was gone. His sounds were gone.

Silence crept in.

He frantically listened for his breathing. But that was stolen from him – there was no air, and he choked on nothing, his lungs empty. It was not that which frightened him; he could feel his old friend Death approaching. Now, though, he could only listen desperately for the only thing left to him: his heartbeat. There was no air and his lungs were burning, and his mind, but he could hear his faint heartbeat – BOOMboom, BOOMboom. He clung to it.

And then that left him.

There was silence. Nothingness. No sound, only terror.

And then he heard Death knocking. A most welcome sound.