Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events. Just the story.

Author's Note: Set at the end of the season 6 finale, "Tears of the Prophets" and written for Laura W's "Time on My Hands" ficlet challenge on VAMB. Though technically a Voyager challenge, this little gem came rattling into my head and wouldn't go away until I wrote it. Credit goes to Laura for the first line.


Scrubbing Clams

I've never had so much time on my hands.

It's my own fault, really. I could have stayed. I could have sucked in my breath, squared my shoulders, and plowed through the hurt, the pain, the confusion and questions and ultimate bitterness at all that has happened in the past fifty-two hours. But I didn't, and now I'm stuck here, in New Orleans, on my father's back step, scrubbing clams.

How did I get here? When did I become so pathetic?

But I'm not pathetic. Not really. I have a reason to be here, a reason to shirk my duties and narrow my world to that of the sand and water digging into my palms.

Digging, digging. Digging like my thoughts through my mind, going over and back again, over and over and over, trying to pinpoint where I went wrong, why I did this, why they punished her and not me.

Jadzia. Jadzia.

Why Jadzia? Why not me? Why my dearest friend? She had Worf. She would have survived. Jake, too. As much as I hate to admit it, my son would have learned to live without me. It would have been hard, he would have hated me at times, but he would have learned to live through it.

But Worf?

No.

All I can see now are his eyes, broken and howling long after the scream faded from his lips. He's a Klingon warrior, one of the best officers I've ever commanded, and will never recover from this loss.

He loved her. Loved her so much, more than he loved anything, I think. He had a tenderness around her that defied all logic, and it kills me to think of him now. But I must, because I have time, and those who have time must grieve. Because no one on that station has time to mourn, and I do, and her death must not be in vain.

The sand scratches along my palms and chews the flesh on my fingers, the discomfort reminding me of a very different kind of pain. A pain that's haunted me every week for the past eight months.

It's Thursday evening, and tomorrow will be Friday. Fridays—the days that I hate most. The mornings that I posted the casualty lists, the mornings that I made the crumbling of their worlds official. Funny, how in all that time, I never counted myself among the victims. Oh, I knew people. I knew them and felt their loss dearly. But I never… I never saw myself as the one who scanned those lists with bated breath and retreated into the arms of a loved one when I saw that name.

No, I was lucky. I could comb the lists alone, in my office, and let the full range of my emotions show. And when I had grieved, I could close up my emotions and project my strong front for the ones who needed hope in a harsh world.

As much as comfort means to me, I'd hate to have to grieve so publicly.

And that is why I could not stay. I had to leave DS9, had to get away and let my emotions take control of my head and heart. This I cannot grieve quietly. This I cannot set aside, cannot exchange for a brave face each time I leave my office.

It's my fault she died. My fault.

It all circles back to her, doesn't it, Benjamin? Back to Jadzia, back to Dax, back to the best friend and confidante you were unable to save. You couldn't get her out of this one, Ben. Not this time. You promised her so many times before, but you couldn't keep yourself away from Chin'toka, could you? You just had to let Starfleet get in the way of your personal beliefs, and look what happened.

She died.

She'd dead.

I still can't believe it. I won't believe it. Will not.

She's alive, somewhere, somehow. And not just as Dax, not just as a set of memories that surfaces once every decade, forty years, fifty—in a borrowed body during the zhian'tara ritual. No, she's alive. She has to be. I can't have failed her this badly.

Not this time.

Prophets, I hate time. It's merciless, flaying me alive, digging worse than these clams and the sand-water against my palms.

Water. Such a soft thing… so supple, so yielding. And yet, when put with sand…

My knuckles scrape against the shell, fierce, broken, merciless. Merciless like the Prophets and the way They left me here, alone and confused and angry, so angry.

Why? Why did you take Jadzia? Why not someone else? Why not…

but no. I won't stoop to that. Bargaining one officer's life for another's.

But she wasn't just an officer.

She was my friend.

I told her that. Too late, but I told her. Stood over her coffin and dared not touch it because I knew… knew I wouldn't make it through the memorial service if I did. But then I had to touch it, had to, just like I had to break the tablet and pack my baseball and leave the station and be in that battle at Chin'toka.

Why didn't I let Worf command it? Or better yet, why didn't I put Dax at the helm and leave Kira in charge of the station? She'd done it before. Why not then? Why not yesterday…?

She died. She's dead. Gone. Forever.

But not forever. She lives on in Dax, just as Curzon did (does), but that's little comfort now. Because you can't just go on living when your best friend has died. You can't. It's not right, and impossible, and just…

wrong.

I sit here and scrub clams, sifting through all the memories we made in the six years we had together. Curzon was my mentor, but Jadzia was my friend, and I will miss her. Miss her like I would my sister. Perhaps more than my sister.

I scrub clams and remember, and it hurts, hurts like…

That smile… Prophets, that smile, and her laugh, and the way she always knew what to say and when to say it. And when to stay silent.

She held the punching bag for me when I needed to vent, then roused me from my stupor with punches of her own. She knew how to make me laugh, what buttons not to push, just how badly I could bluff, which days were important to me, and which stardates required a bottle of Saurian brandy and the utter absence of words. She knew me almost better than I know myself, and her death has slaughtered me.

We laughed together, we cried together, we sweated and bled and almost died together. We have too many memories for them to drift into the oblivion of denial and self-pity.

I will not forget you, Jadzia. I swear it.

But I want to, so badly. Because it hurts to remember her. To sit here and scrub at clams until my palms are raw because I have to distract myself from the knife in my gut and the blood pooling, pooling, pooling at my feet and growing stagnant on the sidewalk.

But I have to remember her. Because she was my best friend, will always be my best friend, and I can't forget her. I didn't forget Curzon, and I won't forget Jadzia. And if the next Dax comes into my life, I won't forget them either. But I won't let them replace Jadzia. Not ever.

And so I sit here with time on my hands and scrub clams, because it helps me to remember.

Fin