The Night Loop
For this prompt.
Ghost music in the walls at night.
Active duty is off for most shifts every evening to let the ship’s systems recalibrate and come to terms with the daily updates to her superstructure. Nero says she is sleeping, like a living thing, and keeps to her schedule out of respect. Not that he has a discernable routine lately. He’s up through ship’s night and resting when there are shifts on duty and it’s a gambler’s guess for Ayel to anticipate when he’ll be called on again. Any time he’s needed. Any time Nero feels like looking at him.
This time he had managed to get back to his quarters and strip down for sleep before Nero got him on the comm and ordered him to the bridge. So he put himself back together precisely and walked the long, whispering network of corridors snaking past navigation and then through to the bridge, where all the lights have kicked down to a half-setting and there is no familiar figure waiting for him, not that he can see.
Sitting on the ledge before his own captain’s chair, Nero eyes him across the shadows and descending threads, flicks a gesture at him that brings him nearer.
Nero says: “Sit.”
Ayel sits next to him because that was the implication.
“What is it?” he asks.
Beside him, Nero smiles vaguely. The half-lights bank down another notch for mock twilight and his tattoos fold back, soft as wings, hatching his face like harmless shadows that mean nothing at all.
“Ghost music in the walls at night,” he says. “Can’t sleep.”
Ayel considers this very carefully. Listening to Nero speak in abstracts used to frighten him badly, made him think that he would soon be serving under a lunatic commander in the belly of an endless night, losing fingernails and shavings of his ears whenever he failed to comply with some impossibly whimsical order. That was before he understood how deeply Nero had been wounded by his losses, how cruel he had learned to be - and how patient. He is, in his way, a gentle person; his anger doesn’t come about by accident. Every day he has to choose it all over again, he makes his vengeful thoughts move like bright knives through his body rather than letting himself forget. Keep the old pain, he always says; the dead are alive as long as someone loves them. Now he is the one who needs to be treated gently. He is their collective memory of what this timeline claims they’ve never had.
“I know. I don’t like my dreams much anymore either,” Ayel replies. “They’re full of people I’ve never met. Do your dreams have sound? Maybe that’s what you hear; maybe it’s moved into the ship, she’s been stealing things you know. Or at least shifting them around. You shouldn’t let her trick you like that.”
“Insubordination,” Nero remarks, without looking at him.
For a while they just sit and listen to the Narada’s hardware purring, watch her breathe in slow arcs of yellow light.
“You know, Ayel. Sometimes I look at you and I don’t miss anything at all.”
Before he can respond, Nero is on him, a hand wrapped around his throat and two fingers pushing anything he might have had to say back into his mouth, quick and foul in the intrusion. Thoroughly alarmed, Ayel goes very still. Heavy light from a nearby lantern pod catches in his eyelashes, pulling long apparitions across his field of vision. They crawl over him, whispering about panic as Nero pivots and crunches him up awkwardly beneath the centre chair; Ayel doesn’t listen to them. Pointedly, he makes himself malleable, even helps a bit when Nero changes his mind, drags him down the deck and puts him on his back on the cold smear where the Starfleet officer died. He pushes the most bulky, intrusive pieces of clothing away and curls a finger back into Ayel’s mouth, strokes the side of his tongue.
“I’ve been thinking,” he murmurs. “And I think we might already be dead. I don’t want to be dead. I don’t want you to be dead. It would be too much.”
Ayel’s limbs begin to slip and unravel cautiously as Nero traces a dark vein in his neck, searching idly for a seam in his skin, bending close and sighing and easing his tongue into the corner of his eye. A stray fingertip traces weightless lines at Ayel’s nape and he recognizes the patterns but has trouble placing them; he’s only ever seen them before, ghost-sketched around the haft of the teral’n when Nero lapses, lost in concentration or a particularly cold rage. It’s obvious once the image occurs to him. Sometimes he dreams about the designs, running through the darkness of restless sleep like runoff from a melting star. They are drawn on the faces of the people he doesn’t know, squirming like bloodworms.
The fingers in his mouth turn, then withdraw; Ayel licks his lips as soon as he has them to himself again, watches Nero suck the saliva off of his knuckles. This is an unspoken question with two possible answers: one that’s right and one that had better not be spoken aloud.
Ayel touches the soft, burning skin at the inside of his elbow, like he’s thinking about it. A lunging pulse meets the pad of his thumb and, prodding around a little, he finds that there’s also a knot of waxy scars he’s never known about, the shape and texture of them pathing complicated messages to him that his crackling neurons can’t decipher.
“You can have anyone you want,” Ayel reminds him in a tiny voice. He has avenger’s breath lining his lungs and doesn’t want to know if he speaks in smoky rhythms now, every word a devouring flame that eats fond memories alive.
Nero says: “Yeah.” It’s a long, long syllable.
Ayel stares at him, waits to see if he wavers. He doesn’t. So he nods.
Nero rolls aside immediately. With the weight of him gone, Ayel’s ribs expand like twitching fingers. He feels the prominent angles of his body being dragged and manipulated as the last of his clothes are torn away. Trying to rise up on his forearms doesn’t work; he slips in the film of disinfecting oils and refuse, and Nero is scuttling back over him anyway, plying him with delicate motions at first, with persuasive hands and a searing, clever tongue. Somehow he knows what needs to be touched and what should be left alone. He strokes scars and bruises as if he covets them, avoids the inked patterns written with personal devices, sucks at his navel for a long time, traces the lines between his hipbones with fingers and tongue just to frustrate him, and it works, Ayel writhes. Aching with unbearable heat and weeks of touching no one, he finally opens himself to Nero’s slender hips and lies vulnerable, unafraid of his cruelty even as his hands turn to talons, his smooth gestures harden and clutch.
It hurts, more than he’d anticipated. Nero enters him much too quickly, sends pain spurting up and down Ayel’s spine. Both of them gasp and mutter and curse the other, Nero with the forgiveness of relief while he adjusts to the pressure. Pain itself, for Ayel’s part, is nothing new. After the initial shock he makes no sound at all, only hooks his hands over Nero’s shoulders. Concentrates on chewing his collarbone and tracks the seconds until he loses count.
Really, there’s not much for him to do. Turning his head in any motion that even resembles an attempt to close for a kiss only irritates his commander; he’ll actually stop for a moment to push Ayel’s head back down, like he’s wishing there was someplace to drown him. The second time that happens, Ayel starts to play a safer game, scraping their cheeks together, mouthing an ear, putting his head back as far as he can to let Nero lick the sweat from the smooth hollow between his collarbones and up the long line of his throat to the tip of his chin. Which feels nice. Everything feels nice enough; not all of the pain has subsided, but it plays a decent counterpoint to the shrill, struggling euphoria buzzing in his head, and his whole body has flushed a deep, attractive bronze to match the dark patches on Nero’s neck and chest. Being penetrated is an awkward thing though and the angles are strange and he doesn’t think he enjoys it, doesn’t know how to make it any better. It’s gotten him hard and feverish in a hurry, but he’s starting to feel wretched about it. Nero folds him in half and wraps him up in the sharp, outraged grasp of his tattoos without caring what he wants. Of course Ayel does not resent this, or at least he does not take it personally. If he can be an object, a weapon, he supposes that it makes sense for him to be a vessel too.
When Nero squeezes his hip and strokes his leg, clutches him and shudders all over, Ayel can’t decide if he is flattered or disgusted. He tries to touch Nero’s face but his hand is knocked away immediately. A moment later, Nero eases himself up a bit and studies his face, seems to track every brief furrow of dismay and lust, each flicker of his dark eyelids. He picks up Ayel’s hand and touches it to his forehead briefly.
“Turn,” he says.
The deck may be repulsive but it’s slick and warmed by the heat of their bodies. Nero flips him, presses him down onto it, reaches under his hip and works at him, nibbling on the ridge of his spine. Finally he hears himself moan, long and breathless.
His orgasm is abrupt, painful, tumbling out of him and wracking his muscles and catching him either an instant too early or too late. And he is about to cry out in terrible frustration, but then he begins to feel something in his pelvis start to uncoil, like a sudden afterthought. He sighs expansively. Nero tugs gently at his testicles a few more times, then wipes his palm upward, smears ejaculate from belly to chest. He doesn’t care about the filth all over him anymore; he lies on his side and meditates on the pleasure throbbing insistently between his legs, his eyes hooded, his lips apart.
“You trash,” Nero says affectionately, and slaps him hard on the thigh.
“Yes, Captain,” he replies quietly.
“I think I’m tired now. You can go.”
There’s a protest balanced on the tip of Ayel’s tongue, because he’s tired too, so why don’t they just make a nest of their clothes and stay where they are, let the first shift find them and scatter in fear of waking them up. Except Nero is already standing up and wandering around, disinterested in the whole situation, and Ayel’s head is clearing enough for him to be startled and embarrassed again, not to mention fully aware of how uncomfortable he will be for days to come.
Impatient to be rid of him, Nero comes back. “Up.” He pulls him to his feet by the arm and seems to notice what’s on it for the first time. “You’re covered in – I don’t even know what that is.” He steps very close, puts his mouth against Ayel’s, and it certainly does not count as a kiss because he actually bites his lips, hard; but it gives Ayel another slight twinge, which makes it count as something. “Idiot.”
“Yes, Captain,” he says. “Sleep well.”
“Fine. Go away.”
Ayel collects his things, sorts himself in a matter of seconds. Leaves.