Disclaimer: As much as I wish it was, it's not mine.

A.N. Depressing little ficlet set in the Endgame timeline. It's been running around inside my head for a while, so I thought it was time to put it on paper.

Black Tide

The two men sat opposite each other. One was young, the other older. One was dressed in his full ceremonial Starfleet uniform, while the other looked as though he hadn't washed in days. One man's eyes were brimming with sadness and regret; the others were dead and empty, not seeing the world around him, let alone acknowledging it.

Both were mourning the loss of a woman who had been unbelievably precious to each of them.

"You're going to be late, Commander," the young ensign stated sombrely. "Everyone's expecting you to be there."

He didn't receive a reply, nor was he really expecting one. Everyone, from Lieutenant Torres to the Captain had been here before him and not one gotten a mute out of the bereaved man. For the past two days, Commander Chakotay had not left his quarters not had he spoken to another soul on Voyager. Everyone had given up, finally deciding to let the man mourn the death of his wife in his own way.

But not Icheb. If there was anyone feeling the loss of Seven of Nine quite so deeply as the Commander, Icheb was sure it was him. He had mostly spent the past two days wandering the ship in a daze. Every time he passed Cargo Bay Two or Astrometrics he had struggled to contain the overwhelming grief within him. Finally, he had found himself in Sickbay, staring at the now empty biobed where his surrogate mother had passed away. The Doctor had found him some time later, curled up and almost unable to breathe from the sobs that wracked his body.

So here he was, sitting in front of his superior officer, holding out the other man's dress uniform, ready to do anything to get a reaction out of him.

"Seven wouldn't want to see you like this. She'd want you there, so it would be perfect."

No response.

"Or maybe," he said, starting to inject a little anger into his tone, "you just don't care. Doesn't it matter to you, what she would want?"

Chakotay, despite appearances, was listening. So far, however, no one had been given an answer to their questions and their pleas, simply because no one had said anything of worth. Every person who had visited him in the last few days had paid their condolences and tried to gently coax him to eat or drink or wash. No one had challenged him before.

"You're out of line, Ensign," he croaked, his voice hoarse from crying and disuse. It was far from the sharp command he had intended it to be and it only proved to spark Icheb's ire further.

"Is that all you have to say? She loved you, and you can not be bothered to even go to her memorial? Did you care for her at all when she was alive?" His voice grew louder and increased in pitch. He stood up and went to leave, still holding the Commander's uniform. As he approached the door he decided that he had only one more chance to get a reaction out of Chakotay. "Did you really love her? Or did you just want a warm body to hold at night?"

The words had the desired effect. The older man snapped, utterly and completely. He seemed to explode from the seat that he had barely moved from in the past couple of days. "How dare you!" he cried, all hoarseness gone, his voice low and furious, yet still hurt and broken. He stretched out an arm to grab Icheb's elbow, to stop him from leaving and to make perfectly clear how he felt about his late wife. His fingers closed, but what they closed around was not a shoulder or an arm.

Bewildered, he stared down at the hanger in his hand and the uniform draped over it. He looked up at Icheb, the Ensign smiling sadly and tiredly at him. "Good," he uttered. "You're up. Now take a shower and get ready. We're going to be late." When Chakotay didn't move, still bemused at the actions of the young man before him, Icheb gave him a shove towards the refresher, "Proceed."

As he stumbled in to the refresher, his legs stiff from disuse, he squinted as the bright light assaulted him. He glanced at himself in the mirror as he set aside his dress uniform and froze, appalled at the sight of himself. Stubble had spread across his chin and his cheeks were sunken, dried tear tracks spread across them. His uniform was creased and filthy. His sleeves and upper body were splattered with a brown substance that resembled rust. He began to strip and as he went to recycle his clothes he looked down at his jacket. His eyes widened and he dropped to his knees, the soiled uniform falling from his arms as he retched into the toilet bowl.

It was blood. It was oxidised blood. He had been wearing her blood for two days, since he had bent over her in Sickbay, held her and begged her not to go, not to die.

He vomited until there was nothing left and all he could do was dry heave. Shakily he climbed to his feet and brushed his teeth, washing out his mouth thoroughly. He disposed of the old uniform and climbed into the shower- water, not sonic. It was almost scalding but he let it wash over him all the same, desperate to feel anything at all rather than the aching loneliness which had existed in him solely since Seven had died. Icheb's scorn- was it real, or nothing more than a ploy carefully devised to wake him up to the world moving onwards around him, he wondered- had hit him like a slap to the back of his head. A wake up call. He scrubbed at himself, desperate to feel clean, to wash away the death.

The water pattered to a stop as he turned off the shower and climbed out, haphazardly wrapping a towel around his waist and dragging another through his hair. He shaved careful not to cut himself even though his hands shook. Eventually he pulled on his fresh ceremonial uniform and gave himself a once-over in the mirror. He looked better. Still exhausted and haggard, still overcome by the dark waves of grief, but at least he was clean.

Stepping back out to their- his? Their? Yes, their- living quarters, he saw Icheb had waited for him, no doubt worried that he would fall back down into his depressive hole without someone to drag him out of it. He was standing with his back to Chakotay, staring at something on top of a chest of drawers. Instinctively, Chakotay knew what it was.

A holophoto. Icheb had completed the four year program set by Starfleet Academy in record time and passed every exam his commanding officers had set with flying colours. The evening that he had completed his final exam, Seven had been called into Captain Janeway's Ready Room. The Captain thought, and those who she had discussed it with agreed with her, that the Ensign's pip Icheb would receive the next day would mean more to Icheb if Seven pinned it to him during the small ceremony that was to be held, than it would if the Captain did so. She was right. The young man had been trembling with pride as Seven had pinned the pip to his collar and when she had whispered in his ear how proud she was of him, Chakotay had watched as Icheb's eyes had filled with tears that he barely held back and a grin broke across his face.

Later, the Doctor had presented both Seven and Icheb with a holophoto he had taken at the moment she had pinned on his Ensign's pip and Captain Janeway had shaken his hand. Seven's copy had sat on top of that chest of drawers ever since, on proud display to all that should enter into their quarters.

As Chakotay approached he could see Icheb's shoulders shaking and could hear the sobs that emanated from him. He felt his own eyes fill with hot liquid again as the hollow place that should have been his heart ached at the loss both he and Icheb were suffering from. He approached the other man and laid a hand on his shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

"She was all the family I had," Icheb managed to force out the words through trembling lips. He ran a finger over Seven's image, "Everyone keeps telling me that they're here for me, that I'll get though this and that I'm to let them know if there's anything they can do." He looked up at Chakotay, although Chakotay could barely see him as his vision was blurred with tears. Vaguely he wondered how his body was surviving. Surely he had cried out all the water that it possessed. He listened, however, as Icheb continued through his own tears, "But all I want is for someone to bring her back, and they can't do that!" Both men stood together in their grief as Icheb whispered, "I don't know what to do."

Chakotay let his eyes rest on another holophoto, one of himself and Seven on their wedding day, as he considered his next words. "I loved her. So much." His voice broke as he spoke. "She was everything to me and now... Now, I don't know what to do either." He paused, turning the young man to face him, "She loved you a great deal, Icheb. And she was so proud of you too. And she was all I had too, so-" He broke off, unsure how to continue. "I think what I'm trying to say is, I know how you feel and if you need anything, even just someone to talk to, you know where I am." Seven would have wanted him to keep an eye on her surrogate son, after all, he thought.

Icheb rubbed furiously at his eyes, wiping away the tears, and he swallowed down his sobs. "Computer," he asked, "what is the time?"

"The time is 0852 hours," the LCARS system replied. Icheb nodded and looked towards Chakotay as he squared his shoulders, ready to face the next ordeal. "We had better go. The service starts at 0900."

Chakotay kept his eyes on the floor as he entered the Mess Hall. He could feel the stares of those already there rest on him. He couldn't blame them. After all, he hadn't emerged from his quarters since his wife had died. He could feel their pity and their sorrow.

He stopped as he spied a pair of booted feet before him. He took a breath and looked up to see the Captain standing in front of him. She looked as bad as he did, he thought, though he wasn't surprised. She had thought of Seven as a daughter, much like Seven had view Icheb as her son and like Seven was with Icheb, Janeway was protective of the younger woman. He recalled the day that he had informed her that he had entered into a relationship with Seven. She had been furious with him and he had defended himself in what had quickly descended into a screaming match that had provided great material for Tom Paris when he made a speech at Chakotay and Seven's wedding, only eight months ago. Finally, after the accusations of him taking advantage of Seven, and the protestations of him being too old and Seven not realising what she was getting into had ended, the two had stared at each other. Chakotay had then received a warning that had told him just how protective Janeway could be.

"Commander, if you hurt her in any way, shape or form, make no mistake that I will make sure you are the one taking a trip out that airlock without a suit."

Today, she didn't say anything and neither did he, not trusting his voice. Instead, she nodded at him and took his hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

She walked towards the front of the gathering to begin the service. Chakotay didn't hear a word she said, however, wrapped up in his own memories. He looked around at the people surrounding him, doing his best not to look at the torpedo casing his beloved lay in. Miral Paris was whimpering softly in her mother's arms, obviously not understanding what was happening but knowing enough to see that everyone was upset. Both her parents seemed to be emotionally exhausted, as did Harry Kim, his eyes narrow and his teeth clenched. Chakotay could almost hear the Ensign's thoughts, that this just wasn't fair.

His eyes passed over a group of people including Tal Celes, William Chapman and Ensign Mulcahey before landing on the Doctor. Chakotay had expected a visit from the EMH in the two days he had confined himself to his quarters but he hadn't appeared. Tom Paris had visited him that morning, just before Icheb had arrived, and the helmsman and part time medical assistant had told him that the Doctor had spent the majority of the past two days in cybernetic oblivion, preferring it to the pain he was experiencing over losing Seven. Chakotay couldn't blame him. If he had the option, he may have done the same thing. The Doctor, too, had loved Seven, though he had let her go after seeing how happy she was with Chakotay, going as far as giving her away on their wedding day.

On the other side of the room he saw Icheb was standing beside Naomi Wildman. The girl had had another growth spurt recently and she now reached Icheb's shoulder, almost as tall as Seven was. She had applied to do the Starfleet Academy Entrance Exams and had already started studying for them enthusiastically. She was a regular visitor to Chakotay and Seven's quarters and Chakotay hoped that those visits wouldn't entirely end. Naomi was standing completely straight, in a posture that reminded him of Seven's when she had first come aboard Voyager. Her fists were clenched at her sides and her teeth were clenched together. Her eyes were closed and he would swear that she was so tense she was actually shaking. Sam stood beside her, tears in her eyes. When she put an arm around her daughters shoulders Naomi flinched away from the reassuring touch. He vowed to speak to the girl later on. She had accepted Seven and befriended her long before he had and she was obviously hurting.

Tuvok stood further back and Chakotay's only thought was that the stoic Vulcan looked ill. Along with the rest of the senior staff, Chakotay had learned that Tuvok was suffering from a degenerative brain disease. Seven had adored the Security Chief and had found his calmness reassuring whenever her emotions got the best of her. Though he suspected that Tuvok would never admit it, he had adored Seven too. Chakotay hoped that Seven's death had not resulted in giving the illness Tuvok bore an advantage in the battle that was being waged.

Suddenly the room was silent. Captain Janeway had stepped aside and was looking toward him. A hand on his back, Lyssa Campbell, he noticed, pushed him forward. Standing before everyone, he realised he was expected to say something, make some sort of speech about Seven and how much she would be missed.

Before he even began, he knew that there were no words to describe how badly he missed her and how much he wanted her back.

"As most of you know," he began, his voice low and once again on the verge of breaking, "when Seven and I first met I tried to throw her into space." Unlike the day of their wedding, when he had begun his speech with the same words, there was no laughter. "Since then there have been many times when I have said how glad I was that I didn't succeed. Until two days ago I believed those words with all my heart." He paused and took a shaky breath, looking around him. Some faces looked a little confused with his statement but some looked understanding.

"There's an old saying, 'It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.' I have to wonder if the person who said that had ever lost someone they loved. If they did then I can't believe that they truly loved this person as much as I love Seven." He didn't notice the momentary slip into present tense. "Because Seven made me feel complete. She gave me a reason to live my life to the full. And now that she's..." he couldn't say it, "she's gone, I can see just how empty my life really is. I never noticed before I knew her. I didn't deserve to know her, none of us did." He no longer knew what to say, so he spoke the absolute truth as his eyes burned and his chest ached, "I love her... I love her so much..."

Blindly, he wandered over to the torpedo casing and reached in a hand, tracing it over his loves jaw line before bending down and placing one final kiss on her lips. She was cold, he noticed, so unlike her warmth in life. Gently he ran his fingers though her golden hair. He withdrew his hand and wiped his eyes before the casing closed, determined that his last sight of her would not be blurred with his tears.

He watched from the viewing window as the casing was jettisoned out into space and he spoke to people without knowing what neither they nor he was saying. He was running on autopilot. When he turned around he kept expecting to find her amongst the gathering, to meet his eye and raise an eyebrow at his lack of concentration, or possibly smirk at the possible reason that he would have to seek her out to leave the function.

Eventually people began to depart, each one shaking his hand or giving him a pat on the back as they left. Unsure what to do, he allowed Icheb to take his arm and escort him back to his quarters. The two men bid each other a sorrowful good afternoon as Chakotay entered his quarters.

He was so tired. He hadn't slept in over forty-eight hours. But he was uncertain if he could sleep without Seven's presence. He pulled off his boots and uniform coat before collapsing on top of the bed. Chakotay pulled the second pillow towards him and breathed in deeply. Seven's faint scent remained on the pillow and he had to blink back yet more tears. He refused to cry. He didn't want to soil what he had left of her with his tears.

Closing his eyes, Chakotay breathed slowly and regularly, trying to imaging that it was her he was holding and he pretended that he could hear her breathing softly beside him.

Exhausted, he fell asleep and dreamed of her, his love. His Seven.

A.N. Depressing little fic. Hope you enjoyed it. Please let me know what you think!