His shift over, Harry efficiently completed his handover and hurried into the turbolift, thankfully before Tom left the helm. Since Tom's return to duty, he'd found it increasingly difficult to keep his mind on his duties. Today, the sight of Tom's head had triggered three flashbacks in the past eight hours alone. He needed something to take his mind off his continuing thoughts of Akritiria. He supposed he should make an effort to join the others in whatever public holoprogram was running tonight, but the thought of company had an unsettling effect on his stomach. The EMH had offered him a sedative if he needed it, but Harry wasn't having trouble sleeping; it was the dreams that plagued him and he worried that he wouldn't be able to wake himself from a nightmare when drugged. He rubbed his forehead, trying to erase the frown he could feel.
“Headache?” enquired Ayala sympathetically, who was sharing the turbolift.
“No, well, yes. Maybe a bit of a one.”
“Maybe you need to eat something. All that scanning must have really taxed your brain. Some sugar might do you good.”
Harry laughed. “Yeah. Long range, short range and all the ranges in between and nothing that wasn't naturally occurring or bigger than a shuttlecraft. You're right, I'm suffering from overwork. Food'll do me good.”
“Same here. Tactical was ‘frantically’ busy. I should eat something too. Do you want to meet me in the Mess? We can compare workloads.”
“Sure. In an hour, then?” Harry felt a little of the tension leave his shoulders. He didn't want a crowd, but neither did he want to be alone. Dinner with Ayala sounded just what he needed.
Hours later, Neelix clattered the pans in the kitchen and Harry looked up to realize he and Ayala were the only ones still in the room. They'd talked the evening away, sharing their table some of the time with Torres and Dalby, who had eventually departed for Engineering, then later with Jurot and Henley, who’d gone to find some action at Sandrine’s. There had been an awkward moment when Harry had caught sight of Tom sitting with Chakotay, but the flashback to the prison had lasted only moments. Ayala had looked questioningly at his distractedness but didn’t press the matter and they’d continued with their conversation as though nothing had happened.
The nightmares had plagued him again that night. The next day’s shift seemed never-ending. Tired as he was, Harry rushed away from the bridge and headed for the gym. He figured exercise would do him good and if he worked out hard enough, he’d be too tired to dream. He ran on the treadmill next to Ayala, who complained Tuvok had been on his back about his fitness levels. They sparred together and then spent some time lifting weights. They didn’t talked much, just panted and sweated companionably. The Mess Hall was almost empty when they ended back there for a meal. The talk turned to music and impulsively Harry invited Ayala back to his quarters to hear some of the pieces he’d mentioned.
Drinks in hand, they sprawled out on the sofa. The computer played through Harry’s favourites. Classical, jazz, some experimental fusions, early Bajoran religious choral works and delicate Andorian crystal flute pieces; he had eclectic tastes. Ayala recognized one tune and with a grin sang the version usually heard at a rowdy bar or over a campfire rather than the more traditional words. In deference to their neighbours, he kept his rich baritone modulated. Harry knew those words too and joined him; he could sing in tune, but his voice was nothing to write home about.
“Play something for me. Please.” Ayala looked hopefully at Harry.
“What would you like me to play?”
“Anything. You choose.”
Nothing loath, Harry got his clarinet. He frowned as he fiddled with the reed, then when he was organized, drew a breath and let the notes flow. It only took a few minutes for the pounding on the wall to begin.
“They have no taste,” pronounced Ayala, “but I should go now. Perhaps we can get together again soon. One of the empty cabins would be good. No chance of disturbing anyone.”
“Sure.” Harry walked him to the door. “See you on the Bridge.”
“Not tomorrow. We’ve got a situation drill on the holodeck.”
“Invasion, with toxic gases, and some surprise Tuvok has cooked up.” Ayala’s face lit up. “Should be a good one.” He squeezed Harry’s shoulder.
As usual, Harry had no trouble falling asleep. This time he dreamed of music until the early hour of the morning when Ayala’s invasion took over the peaceful scene and Harry found himself fighting side by side with the former Maquis. As dreams did, it segued into something else; again it was prison and Akritiria, where he relived his nightmare of being unable to save Tom’s life.
“Palpitations, increase in blood pressure, your heart rate is up, headache, stomach pains.” The EMH listed Harry’s symptoms as he ran the scanner over him. “You are suffering from anxiety disorder, brought on by your experiences in Akritiria. A mild tranquilizer should set you right.” He pressed a hypospray to Harry’s neck. “Return in twenty-four hours.”
The nightmares that night were muted, of the type unremembered in the morning, but where one still woke in a lather of sweat, heart pounding and with the sheets twisted around one's body. Dutifully Harry reported to Sickbay in the evening and received another dose of tranquilizer.
A week later, Harry was still making nightly visits to Sickbay. The EMH frowned over the readings. “I was hoping to see some improvement in your condition by now. You may have a maximum of fourteen doses of drugs of this nature before running the risk of addiction, so we will continue with them until the time is up. However, I'm going to recommend you see Commander Chakotay for counselling and instruction in meditation.”
Harry nodded desultorily. He just wanted some uninterrupted, restful sleep. He didn't tell the Doctor he had no intention of going to the commander. Chakotay was spending a lot of his free time with Tom and Harry simply didn't feel comfortable sharing tales from Akritiria when Chakotay was most likely already hearing the details from Tom. As he wandered back to his own quarters, it occurred to him he'd slept better after playing his clarinet for Ayala. He wondered if an impromptu late-night concert would be welcomed.
He asked the computer for Ayala's location, then made his way to the small observation lounge. Ayala was alone. Harry diffidently asked whether he'd mind some company, and at his nod, joined him on the seat facing the window.
In the end, the subject of music never came up. Under Ayala's subtle questioning, Harry confessed his sleeping difficulties and eventually admitted he didn't want to talk to Chakotay.
“You won't tell him, will you?” Anxiously, Harry ran a hand through his hair.
Ayala shook his head. “The Doc would probably tell you to talk to Tuvok if you let him know how you felt. I guess the important thing is you talk to someone, and I've been in your position.”
“With the Cardassians.”
“Mmm. Took me a long time to get over the nightmares. Still have them occasionally.” He looked sideways at Harry. “Company helps.”
Harry slowly nodded. “I did sleep better the night I played for you.”
“You want some company, then? Just to sleep with,” he clarified. “Frankly, Harry, you look like shit, and someone will be sure to say something soon if you don't get some rest.”
“That bad, huh?” Harry gave a weak laugh. He'd seen his reflection and knew Ayala was right. “If you're sure.”
Harry woke before his alarm sounded. An unfamiliar arm was wrapped around his waist and warm knees were tucked in behind his. Memory of large hands gentling him from at least two bad dreams surfaced. Both times, they'd drawn him from the prison, calmed him and lulled him back to sleep.
“Better?” rumbled a voice in his ear.
Harry squirmed around. “I think... yeah. Thanks.”
“Same time tonight, then.” It wasn't a question.
He found himself pulled into a brief hug, then Ayala slipped from the bed and into the bathroom. He reappeared shortly, dressed in the sweats he usually wore to work out, and waved before leaving without saying another word.
It was late that evening when the chime sounded in Harry’s quarters.
“Thought you weren’t coming,” muttered Harry.
“I got held up. I should have let you know.”
Harry nodded his acceptance and headed to his bed. Ayala followed and they readied themselves in silence. When they were settled under the covers, Harry ordered the computer to dim the lights. He turned his back on Ayala and tried to clear his mind. He couldn’t help sighing some time after as he rearranged his legs for the umpteenth time. Even the coma position hadn’t proved restful enough for him to fall asleep. He had no idea how much time had passed; it could have been five minutes or fifty, although he suspected it was somewhere between the two. He sighed again, and then found himself being settled back against Ayala. He made a noise, not exactly protesting.
“Ssh. Go to sleep.”
And maybe not so surprisingly, he did, until several hours later he sat bolt upright in bed, chest heaving, heart pounding and achingly erect as he screamed out ‘no, no!’
“Harry. Harry, it was just a dream,” Ayala rumbled reassuringly. He talked Harry down, waiting until his breathing slowed before touching him and easing him back onto the bed. His hand brushed the front of Harry’s shorts. At Harry’s gasp, he paused briefly and then did it again.
Harry’s eyes were squeezed shut, but he felt Ayala leaning over him. Felt his hand stroke down his cheek. Felt the warm breath in his ear as Ayala asked him to open his eyes and look at him. And when he felt Ayala touch him and ask if he was sure he wanted this, he placed hand over Ayala's and pressed. He couldn't control his body's all-over shiver. “Please,” he whispered, eyes still tightly shut against the burning prickle that usually heralded tears. He lifted his hips as his shorts were eased down. Ayala's hand felt cool and confident. Eventually, the remnants of his nightmare had no course but to give way to the bright hot burst of orgasm.
He must have whited out as the next thing he knew was the touch of a damp cloth on his face and then his belly. Harry stayed silent, content to let Ayala handle everything. A ghost of a smile crossed his lips when his pillow was turned over, so the cool, smooth side touched his face. He didn't really remember falling back to sleep; he just knew that he actually felt rested when he woke to the sound of the alarm.
“You okay?” Ayala was already up and dressed.
“I'm...,” Harry thought for a moment. “Yeah, I am okay.”
“Good. See you later.”
When Tom joined him in the Mess Hall for breakfast, Harry was able to agree with equanimity to an hour of Holodeck time that evening playing Captain Proton. They left the program supporting one another, laughing heartily at the unexpected outcome to the meddling of Satan's Robot. Tom slapped Harry's back and left him to join Chakotay. Harry returned to his quarters and played his clarinet for a while.
It wasn't fair when he'd felt so good to be woken in the small hours of the morning from yet another nightmare. He was curled in a sweaty ball, with Ayala's shirt tangled in his fingers. Slowly, he straightened his legs. He kept hold of the shirt as he pressed in close to the warm body sharing his bed and gradually his breathing evened out. That Ayala would do this for him overwhelmed Harry. He'd been alternately embarrassed and relieved when Ayala had appeared at his quarters that evening. Now he was simply grateful.
Ayala's hands were comforting as they stroked his back. And then they were not exactly comforting any more. Harry's breath hitched. He flattened his hands against Ayala's shirt. The large thigh that shifted until it fitted firmly between his own felt really good. He murmured indistinctly, wanting Ayala to banish the nightmares again. “I need....”
“This?” Ayala's hand slipped down to cup Harry's cock.
Harry thought he should reciprocate, but Ayala shifted them into a more comfortable position and he fell asleep before he could do anything about it. He had a vague, passing thought that there was always the morning, but as usual, Ayala rose before Harry was properly awake.
At his evening visit to Sickbay, the EMH was pleased to note Harry's high blood pressure had decreased a little and he'd reported a lessening of the stomach pain, so it was agreed Harry try to get through the night without the tranquilizer.
Ayala arrived early enough to play cards for a while. Friendly competition became rather wild; they slapped the cards down rapidly, chortling at undeserved advantages and protesting at unexpected losses.
Retiring together seemed the most natural thing to do. They lay with Ayala spooned behind Harry for a while until Harry twisted around. He slid a hand between them.
“Is this okay? I’d like to,” he offered diffidently. At Ayala’s murmured acquiescence, he tucked his face into Ayala’s neck and after a deep breath that served to focus his attention, he settled into a rhythm that obviously pleased Ayala as much as it pleased himself. Harry concentrated on the feel of the other man’s flesh as it thickened and lengthened. The words he muttered into Ayala’s throat were just strings of unconnected exhortations, encouraged by the moans that vibrated Ayala’s Adam’s apple against his lips. His respirations increased and then hitched in tandem with Ayala’s when Ayala came.
“Now,” said Ayala, a little later. “No dreams tonight, at least, not bad ones”
“I'll try,” murmured Harry sleepily.
It was a pleasure to wake naturally in the morning. Harry thought being cocooned in someone's arms was the icing on the cake. When the someone was Ayala, the icing was decorated with shaved chocolate and cherries sitting in swirls of cream. He wondered how long the cake would last. For almost a month now, Ayala had slept with him every night. Harry was happy to admit to himself he slept better on the nights they had sex first. He hadn't admitted to the Doctor what he was doing. At his last examination, he'd sidestepped a few pointed questions rather neatly. The Doctor had given him a look, a look Harry was sure had been programmed by B'Elanna, but hadn't pursued his line of questioning. He'd agreed Harry didn't need any further tranquilizers. He'd even stopped suggesting Harry learn to meditate as his readings were now pretty close to normal. He simply suggested Harry keep doing what he was doing and warned him of the dangers of straining something when exercising too vigorously. Harry was quick to agree and he was allowed to leave Sickbay.
“So, did you get good news?” Ayala was in Harry's quarters, waiting to hear what the Doctor said.
“Yeah. I don't need to see him any more. Everything is good.”
“Isn't it?” Harry frowned. “I wish it wasn't.”
“Don't you want to be okay again?”
“I don't want you to go.”
Ayala laughed. “I'm not going anywhere. Unless you want me to,” he added.
“Oh, no! I want you to stay.”
And he did.