((Starbase 118 Ops - Holodeck 17 - 3am))
It had been some days since the incident at the Gratitude Festival. Since then, Ashley had had a lovely time attending the festival with Ithri. He’d been on a very intriguing date with Foster. He’d done walk-in’s in his spare time, despite being on leave. He kept himself busy.
But what he wasn’t saying during those days was that he was hardly sleeping, and when he did sleep… nightmares. He hadn’t had a nightmare in months, much less nights full of them in a row. His fathers face flickered into his memory while awake, intrusively… having seen his father at the Festival had been shocking enough. Now he was waking in a mess of sweat, disheveled and far from calm.
He had something on his mind. A moment from his holodeck adventuring with Alora and Anthony.
The peaceful calm of the crystalline lake at night.
Yael: ::stepping inside:: Computer. Lock the holodeck doors.
The computer bleeped in confirmation.
Yael: Computer. Load the program Lieutenant DeVeau and I used two weeks ago. At our campsite at the crystalline lake.
The fantasy world appeared around him, dissolving into form and depositing him at the lake. The sun was high in the sky.
Yael: Computer… fast forward to 2am. Make it a clear night. And delete any large animals currently in the program.
The computer bleeped again, and the day melted into night. The moon was high above, bright and nearly full.
Yael: Computer... cut the swimming hole in the crystal lake again.
The crystal lake shimmered and changed, and he could see the vast expanse of stars in the sky reflected. The water, dark and black in the night, only slightly illuminated, sloshed in the sudden open expanse in a large semi-circle at the edge of the lake. He was trying to recreate the moment of *calm* he’d had before during their adventure, when Alora had… surprised him.
He’d woken again from the dream… he could still feel it happening, feel the sharp pain in his bones. His fingers… which had long been reattached… he could feel them aching as if they had been severed yesterday. He couldn’t get that face out of his mind, and he was unsettled. In fact, he’d been *nothing* but unsettled lately… he couldn’t stop thinking about… a certain someone… and also his father. He wasn’t able to stop thinking about two years ago… being trapped in that underground room. He could *smell* it, still. The dank, trapped air, the smell of fuel… the burning flesh. Was he losing his mind? He *needed* to find his calm again.
Stripping his boots and clothes off, he lay them on the ground. He didn’t throw them, but didn’t fold them either, just let them fall onto the soft grass. He set a toe into the black water, taking in the endless illusion of vast sky.
He stepped into the chilled water, until he was waist deep, sucking in a sharp breath as he lowered flesh into the enveloping cold. Taking a moment and a deep breath, he dove deep into the abyss down to the floor of the lake. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just *looking* as he turned over stones, watched for fish. Several times he dove to the bottom, holding his breath for long minutes.
Coming to the surface he floated on his back for a while as he let the warmth sap out of his body.
That *face*... the Laudeans smirk… it was still right in front of his mind's eye…
With a chatter of his teeth and a grunt of annoyance, he dove down again, holding his breath as long as he could. Why couldn’t he control it? He’d been free of the flashbacks and nightmares for months. It had been two *years*? Why wasn’t he free of it? Was this regression? Was it just a bad spat he needed to push through?
The thoughts raced through his mind as he watched a large fish swim near and then past him, its iridescent scales shimmering in the moonlight filtering through the water.
The archway appeared, then disappeared after a form stepped through. The holodeck had been in use, and though it had technically been locked, Alora had convinced the owner to allow her entry. After all, she had been there before with the very man who was using it now - in the very program that was currently running. Perhaps it was that fact that had convinced him to allow her entry. Perhaps it was her rank. Whatever it was, she had gained entrance into the program.
The crystalline lake was there. The ‘pool’ in the center had been formed. Ashley, however, was nowhere to be seen - though Alora had a good idea where he’d gone. After a moment, she lowered herself down to the ground and sat, waiting, though softly commanding the computer to clad her in a coat so she could ward off the chill of the night.
Surfacing again finally, the Denobulan hybrid moved to stand in a shallow area, staring up into the sky, past the moon. Why wasn’t it working? His teeth were chattering, he was shivering, the lake was *endless* as it had been before…
Finally he took up his position, standing waist deep, looking up, but closing his eyes. If he could just *breathe* and *absorb* the silence as he had before, maybe he could reach the calm.
He stayed in the water, focusing, breathing through his nose. His lips began to turn blue. His skin and ridges *burned* from the cold, and he was losing feeling in his fingers and toes. This had *worked*. Monks did this on a daily basis to reach enlightenment, and he couldn’t wipe ONE FACE from his memory? Why wasn’t it *working?!*
Surely this would be enough to freeze the feeling crawling through his skin?
He didn’t see her. Alora had drawn her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around them, and rested her chin upon those knees. When Ashley surfaced, she lifted her head, but said nothing. Just waited. The Denobulan hybrid stayed there, enduring the pain and numbness, his shiver becoming a tremble. His knees were weakening. Still, he stayed, eyes closed, prepared to endure in order to reach a peaceful state. In silence, Alora watched. Uncertain. Concerned. Waiting.
He grit his teeth to try and stop them chattering, but soon found himself failing, and fading. Everything hurt, and it was escalating. It wasn’t going to work. He was starting to feel strange, and his knees and joints were going weak. He knew it was time to quit. Probably long past time, actually. He didn’t move yet… instead, stubbornly, he curled down toward the water… and shouted his frustration. In pain that defied the cold. In frustration that he *still* had to deal with this *feeling* that kept coming back every time he began to think he was free of it.
She could bear it no longer. Quietly she rose, carefully she made her way to him, gingerly she crouched, and softly she called.
He turned where he stood, illuminated in the water, eyes wide in shock. He wanted to yell… *what* was she *doing* here? Or why did she always show up when he was naked? But he didn’t. Before he could formulate words, a harsh shiver ran through his gut, and he doubled over in the water, arms clutching his core. He found himself trapped where he was, and he cursed not deleting the moon… there was far too much light.
He stood there in silence for too long a moment trying to process and decide what to do, but his knees were going weak. The cold was burning, and he *needed* to get out of the water.
Yael: Al-lor-ra… pl-lease l-leav-e…
His tone was likely one she hadn’t heard from him before. It was lacking in all guises, deep, and of course, chilled.
DeVeau: Not when you’re like this I won’t.
Alora dropped to her knees beside him, both hands held out toward him.
DeVeau: You’re going to get sick.
Hologram or not, the body believed it was cold. Such up and down, even perceived, stressed the immune system, which meant it didn’t work as effectively, which meant someone could get sick more easily - even a Denobulan. Alora knew enough to know that.
DeVeau: Come on, get out Ashley. Why are you doing this?
Yael: ::sounding defeated:: C-comp-puter… g-give m-me a wet-tsuit…
The computer managed to decipher his rather broken words, and in a moment a wetsuit was applied round him. It wasn’t any warmer, but he was *not* getting out naked. He couldn’t quite come to an answer how or why she was here… it was 3 in the morning! He took a step forward, but his legs were going weak. He stumbled forward into the shallow water, managing to catch himself on his hands without submerging totally.
Staying where he was, he tried to avoid shivering too obviously, but it wasn’t exactly in his control… he sucked in a shaky breath, his face near the water.
Yael: Wh-hy ar-re y-you here…?
DeVeau: Computer, get Ashley Yael dry and in warm clothing.
Why did he bother with the wetsuit? It was a holodeck. Why not just go straight to warm? Why do that at all?
The computer shifted their position so they were both in the grass, and he was suddenly clothed in a warm sweater and other clothes.
Yael: ::quietly:: S-stop, Al-lora...
DeVeau: Computer, two chairs. Get rid of the pool. Fire pit near the chairs.
The computer complied. The pool disappeared and two chairs along with a crackling fire in a fire pit took their place at the edge where the grass began. Alora gently reached down to help him, but then paused and retreated.
DeVeau: You can lean on me.
She offered, her voice still soft.
There was a moment of silence where he just breathed, then… with one hand… shaking from the cold, and he wasn’t wearing his electro-stabilizing braces… he reached up toward her.
He didn’t say a word at first, and didn’t even *look* at her, but he reached out.
Yael: T-to the f-fire… p-please…
He reached out, and Alora grabbed him, clutching at him, pulling him up into her and bearing his weight. He was taller than she, but it didn’t matter. She bent her knees, braced her core and bore the weight, as much as he needed. Even through the clothes, she could feel the tremors that ran through him, his body not quite believing that it was warmer just yet. With little grace, they moved toward the chairs and she eased him into one, but rather than take a position in the other, she went down into the grass, settling upon her knees at his feet and looking up at him, not allowing his bowed head to deter her, not allowing him to truly shut her out.
He was too cold to feel the spiders from her touching him, and he wasn’t nearly stable enough to get there on his own just yet. After taking a moment to appreciate the heat from the fire, he drew his arms up and wrapped them around his midsection, then spoke quietly.
Yael: W-why are y-you he-ere…?
DeVeau: I couldn’t sleep.
It wasn’t a lie. She had slept. Had been asleep. Then another nightmare assaulted her, much like it had when she had stayed with him in that very program. The dream had been vivid, all too real, all too much of a reminder of something that had turned her life upside down, something that had rent her heart in two. After that, she’d tried to go back to sleep, but it had eluded her. His eyes had haunted her. She had elected to get up and try to find something else to occupy her. Little had she known what she would find.
Yael: B-but wh-hy… ::he stopped as a harsh shiver ran through him again::... d-didn’t I l-lock the d-door…?
He was sure he had, but now he wasn’t sure. Maybe he’d forgotten.
DeVeau: Yeah. You did. I got it unlocked. ::She paused, leaning over to try and have him meet her gaze. :: What were you doing?
Yael: I’m j-just… t-trying to…
His voice faded out… it was too cold, and he couldn’t think of a good excuse. She wouldn’t buy “meditating,” despite it being partially true.
DeVeau: Ash...are you trying to make yourself sick? Trying to...
Yael: Not-t trying t-to…
Shaking his head no, he meant he hadn’t been trying to hurt himself. Not on purpose. He refused to meet her eyes, and his eyebrows were furrowed in frustration.
Yael: Trying t-to m-make it *st-top* hurt-ting…
DeVeau: Computer, thick, warm blanket - king sized.
The computer complied, and Alora rose so that she could take it, unfold it, and drape it around him. That poor second chair remained useless as once again, she sat down at his feet, the blanket around him, then partially around her, her warmth, her heat at least seeping into his legs now that it was contained.
DeVeau: What hurts?
Yael: ::he shook his head, then whispered:: No… there’s no way…
He was starting to warm up just a little, though his bones were still cold, but there was no way he could tell her what he was trying to freeze out of him. How could he tell her what he dreamed about? What had been done to him? He subconsciously gripped in one shaking hand the two fingers that had been cut off, as if to remind himself they were still there.
Yael: I can’t…
DeVeau: I’m here.
He couldn’t. But he could if he would let himself. She wanted to be there for him. He was there for her, why wouldn’t he let her do the same? Alora fought the urge to draw him close, to hug him and just hold him. For her, that would have brought comfort. For him, it was the opposite. So she simply sat there, the same blanket that surrounded him surrounding her. Waiting. Unwilling to move. Unwilling to leave. Unwilling to let him be alone.
It took a very long moment, perhaps minutes, before he spoke again. At least he was starting to warm up due to her replicating the clothing and blanket, but she was clearly not leaving like he’d told her to.
Yael: I… I’ve been dreaming… about something that happened. ::there was another long pause:: … I can see it when I’m awake.
DeVeau: See what?
He said that simply, then clammed up again.
Alora let him go silent a moment, let him gather himself together before she spoke again, her voice almost a whisper.
Yael: I haven’t had the dreams in months… now they’re every night.
She had dreams. He had dreams. Both of them had pasts that haunted them. Although a name had never been given to it, Alora knew exactly what plagued Ashley. Had he been another person, she would have taken his hands, put an arm around him, drawn him close. However, she refrained, and her inability to comfort him physically was difficult, but attempting to do so would only make things worse.
Ensign Ashley Yael
Starbase 118 Ops
Lt. Cmdr. Alora DeVeau
Chief Science Officer
Starbase 118 Ops