It was the pain that woke her up, but the emptiness that kept her conscious.
Dax was gone.
Despite the shimmering wall of pain surrounding her, Jadzia knew that her symbiont was gone. No longer hers. She knew because she'd felt this way once before, four years ago when Verad had stolen Dax. But she'd been strong then. She'd survived the night and gotten Dax back, with the help of her friends.
This time, though, she was dying. Even through the haze of semi-consciousness, Jadzia could feel the life draining from her body, seeping from every pore of her skin and escaping into the night. And she could do nothing to stop it. She struggled to catch the phantom wisps and knot them together inside her, but like wraiths they snaked through her grasp and disappeared, leaving her weaker and weaker.
For long minutes she focused on breathing, drawing one breath after the next, sucking in that life-giving substance called air. In, and out. Up, and down. Gradually, she began to push aside the fear bunched inside her. Just breathe, she thought. Breathe.
She felt a warm hand slide into her cold one, sensed the strength in its grip, and clung to it desperately. She couldn't die—not without saying goodbye to Worf. Somehow, she had to hang on until then.
Cracking her eyes open, Jadzia sought to see whose hand held her own. Julian's. Her heart nearly broke at the guilt hanging in his eyes, the pain beating against his temples. He was blaming himself for what had happened to her. A new pain welled inside her, and she parted her lips.
His name left her lips like a dying breeze, barely audible above the hum of the station's reactor core and the machines supposedly keeping her alive. She tried again, desperate to relieve his pain. "It's not…not your fault. Don't blame your—" she coughed violently, pain wracking her lungs. When the spasm finally stopped, she could barely breathe past the knife-like sensation in her side.
"Don't try to talk," Julian said, running the back of his hand along her forehead. "You've got to conserve your strength."
Her eyes pleaded with his to understand, to stop blaming himself for her condition. She hoped that the affirmation in his eyes was genuine, and not a cover-up to ease her concern. Another wave of pain swept through her, and she closed her eyes, unable to keep a moan from escaping her lips. Julian's grip tightened around her fingers.
"I'm so sorry, Jadzia. I want to help you so badly. You shouldn't have to suffer this way. But if I give you any more sedative…"
She caught his unspoken words and opened her eyes long enough to nod, letting him know that she understood. Worf was on his way, but if Julian gave her any anesthetic, she could slip into a coma before he arrived. Squeezing her eyes shut, Jadzia applied the slightest of pressures to Julian's hand and set herself to endure the pain.
For however long it took Worf to get here.
The closer he came to the Infirmary doors, the heavier his sense of dread grew.
Behind those doors lay his best friend, reduced to a mere shell of the life she'd been less than 26 hours before. Behind those doors stood her friends and family, shocked and grief-stricken, unable to measure their loss in words or feelings. Behind those doors lay Jadzia, dying.
And it was all his fault.
Jadzia was losing her life, Worf his par'machkai, and the rest a friend and confidante. All because of his foolish pride.
He felt as if his shoes were giant magnets, so heavy were his feet. Only the urgency to be there for Jadzia kept him walking. Otherwise he would have stopped and prepared himself for what lay ahead.
Five more footfalls brought him to the Infirmary, and he entered before he could stop himself. Everyone was there. Quark, Odo, Kira, O'Brien, Jake.
Pacing, pale-faced, grieving.
Bashir stood before them, clad in a blood-red surgical gown. His face was haggard, drawn with grief and despair. His shoulders slumped forward as if he held the weight of the Alpha Quadrant on them. But Benjamin knew that the weight Bashir carried was infinitely heavier, and weighed not on his shoulders, but on his heart. For Ben Sisko felt that same weight upon his own heart.
The weight of a life.
Her name drifted from his lips, soft, familiar, beloved. The warmth of his breath caressed her cheek, letting her know that she wasn't dreaming anymore. Worf. Her husband, her beloved. He was here.
She felt Julian moving around the biobed, disconnecting the various machines and tubes attached to her. She knew they'd been useless—they hadn't kept her alive any more than the bed she lay on had. They were all for show, all to satisfy Starfleet that her death wasn't a fault of the medical care she'd received. She realized that Julian was doing this so that Worf could be with her alone, without a doctor or nurse there to regulate her weakening heartbeat and struggling breaths. It meant this was it.
The final goodbye.
Julian moved away, and Jadzia stirred, struggling to open her eyes. The tender touch of Worf's hand in hers lent her the strength to lift her eyelids, and she gazed into his dark brown eyes. She drank in the pain pooled there, deeper than any ocean she'd ever encountered. A pain so long and wide and great that only she could fathom it, and only because she, too, felt it.
The pain of losing your par'machkai.
"Jadzia…" he breathed again, touching his lips to hers. "My love…"
"Worf…" she whispered, tears trickling from her eyes. "I…I love you. So…much."
The suffering in his eyes grew deeper, rawer. She felt his lifeblood flowing over her, drenching her in grief and rage at the one who had done this to her. "I should have been here," came his choked reply. "I should not have left you here alone."
Jadzia's tears came faster. She couldn't stop herself from dying, and now she couldn't stop Worf, either. He was dying with her. Dying from the inside out.
"I'm…I'm sorry," she whispered, barely able to speak past the pain. The pain wracking her body; the pain breaking her heart into piece after piece after piece.
"Save your strength," Worf replied, his eyes imploring.
Save my strength? I have no strength left. I can't hold on anymore, Worf. You're clinging to me, and I to you, but my life is draining from me; I can't staunch the wound. No one can. You can't save me like you did in the Soukaran jungle three weeks ago. A stasis chamber won't help me, and Dax is gone. I'm dying.
Ben slipped into the room, his facial expression unreadable. But she could tell by the shadow in his eyes that he, too, carried the guilt of her life upon his heart. She wanted to reach out to him, beg him not to blame himself, sob into his shoulder how sorry she was for dying and leaving him like this when he needed her the most, but she didn't have the strength. All she could do was glean comfort from his presence.
Her whole body throbbed with the pain, and she swallowed, knowing the end was near. Desperate, she strained to brush her fingers against her husband, wanting, needing to memorize every ridge and valley of his face. She felt the roughness of his beard against her palm, the smooth heat of his skin against her fingertips. His breath washed over her, and she soaked it in, trying to remember its feather-like touch along her cheekbones, its soothing warmth bathing her forehead. Her eyes caressed his features, committing them to memory, carrying them with her to the grave.
When she was sure she could remember everything, Jadzia raised her blue eyes to his brown ones. The tears slid silently, constantly, from her eyes, slipping into her loosened hair. She summoned the remnants of her strength, gathered the final words of her heart. When she spoke, her voice was no more than a whisper, but the brokenness of her words brought everything unsaid into existence.
"Our baby…would have been so beautiful…"
Her eyelids seemed to grow heavier and heavier, and she fought to keep her grip on life. She breathed in…and out. Her eyes drifted shut, drawn down by the pain. And the weariness. In…and out. She felt her grasp slipping, felt a terrifying rush of air on her sweaty palms, and held the image of her husband's love before her eyes, gathering peace from its gaze. In…and out.
And, with that final breath, Jadzia let go.
A Klingon death howl exploded throughout the Infirmary, letting the anxious group in the outer room know the moment Jadzia left them. Worf's roar, rent with a sorrow too great for words, shook them to the core of their beings and rattled the shock surrounding them since receiving the tragic news. Each one responded in his or her own way, dealing with the reality in differing expressions and body language.
Julian, from the seat at his lab table, slumped forward and covered his face with his hands. For him, Worf's cry meant confirmed failure, the loss of not just a patient, but a dear, dear friend. He'd saved Dax, but not Jadzia. The symbiont, but not the host. The ancient one, but not the woman poised in the prime of life.
Odo ceased his pacing and allowed his arms to fall to his sides, letting the vibrations of Worf's howl ripple through his form, soaking them in and molding them into the shape of his own grief. The Changeling felt Jadzia's loss as one might feel the loss of a young schoolgirl wearing pigtails and spilling laughter. A girl so full of life that she scattered it everywhere she went, painting a room with it here, and flashing a smile full of it there. A girl with the universe at her fingertips and life firm in her grasp—Odo shook his head, unable to continue.
Quark looked up from the inventory padd in his hand, the explosion of noise flinging any numbers he'd crammed into his grieving mind out the nearest airlock. He'd only brought the padd along to occupy himself, to keep from calculating the dire implications of Jadzia's death. As a distraction, really. But now his blue-nailed fingers froze over the input keys, held there by the force of the reality in the adjoining room. She had expired. No, Jadzia couldn't expire. She had died. Quark's brain, however inhibited by the shock, totaled everything the Klingon's howl meant in an instant. No more late-night tongo in the bar. No more friendly (but profitable) betting on impossibilities. No more chasing after the spotted beauty of the station. But none of that really mattered in light of the greatest loss: no more Jadzia.
Miles O'Brien felt Jadzia's death like a fist to the stomach. She'd been more than a coworker. She'd been the most brilliant scientist he'd ever known, the most helpful person in solving impossible scenarios, but she'd been so much more. He thought of all the dinners he'd shared with her and the senior staff, the jokes they'd created, the hours they'd whiled away in laughter and simple camaraderie. He thought of all those times Jadzia had offered to watch the kids so he and Keiko could steal a few hours away together. And as he thought of Jadzia and everything she'd meant to him and his family, he couldn't begin to figure out one thing: how he was going to tell Molly.
Jake's eyes dropped to his padd as soon as he heard Worf's cry. He knew little about Klingons, but he did know what the howl meant: Jadzia was dead. He thought he'd learned everything about death on Ajilon Prime two years ago, but now he realized he hadn't. Those people dying around him had been people, yes, but they hadn't been those close to him. They'd just been nameless soldiers fallen victim to the enemy. This…this was different. He'd known Jadzia since his first day on the station, when his dad had introduced them. Over the years, she'd become more than his dad's friend or DS9's science officer; she'd become his friend—a go-to person when seeking advice, second only to his dad. Now she was gone, and Jake didn't know what to think.
It had been several hours since Kira had listened to Julian's fateful transmission on the Defiant. She'd had the trip home to sort through her feelings, shore up her front, and prepare herself for the death of yet another loved one. Plenty of time to wall herself off with distance and cruel facts. But hearing the news in person—that Jadzia was really dying—had cut through her like a knife. Every defense she'd erected around herself crumbled upon hearing Julian's grim words. "There was…nothing I could do for Jadzia." Kira had stood in rigid shock, trying to stave off the pain and onslaught of emotion plowing toward her at warp speed. She wasn't ready to face another death and mourn another close friend. She couldn't do it. But Worf's howl acted as an old-fashioned sledgehammer to her shock. She loosed her eyes from their stare at the wall, tracing the path to the inner room. Then, shoulders back, jaw firmed, and eyes softly compassionate, Kira stepped forward to do what Jadzia would have done, had Kira been the one in that room.
They'd each lost something different. Some had lost a friend, others a source of happiness, and others a confidante or role model. But ultimately, they'd all lost the same thing. Something rare…precious…beautiful. They'd lost Jadzia.