“We’re running out again.”
Reg was sitting at the table, his face blocked by the open box of cereal, but Harry could guess what he was doing. He could always tell what kind of day Reg was having by the way he ate his cereal: on good days he plowed through it without seeming to notice, but on less-good days he had to eat the pieces one category at a time, painstakingly separating the increasingly soggy shapes with his spoon.
Today, Harry saw as he came the rest of the way down the stairs, Reg wasn’t even bothering with milk. He’d dumped the rest of the cereal from the box onto a plate and was separating it by hand. The pieces were shaped like starships, the five most famous ones in Federation history, and Reg was making a little pile of Enterprises on one side of the plate. There were always more Enterprises than any of the others, a fact that Reg constantly complained about even though he would never have dreamed of eating another kind of cereal.
“I can pick up some more when I’m out today,” Harry said. He knew that their running out of cereal wasn’t the actual problem, but taking Reg’s worries at face value was the best way to get him comfortable enough to admit what was actually wrong.
Reg looked up, startled, as if he’d just now registered Harry’s presence. “Thank you, I—I—I just—”
“Take your time.” Harry walked over to the table and put his hand on Reg’s shoulder, feeling the hard knot of tension there.
Reg let out a tiny breath and leaned back into his hand. “I just don’t know how we’re running out so quickly. You just got a new box last week.”
“Maybe you’ve been eating more than you think you have,” Harry said, trying to keep his voice gentle. He squeezed Reg’s shoulder a little. “I’ll get you more, I promise.” He leaned down and kissed Reg’s cheek. “I’m sorry, but I have to get going. I’ll see you tonight, OK?”
Reg nodded, a jerky little nod, and Harry smiled at him, trying to ignore the knot in his stomach.
Harry had walked several blocks before he really noticed his surroundings. He didn’t know why this thing with Reg was shaking him up so much: it wasn’t as though it hadn’t happened before. Maybe it was because they’d both been doing so well lately, better than he would have thought possible a few months ago. It had felt so good to go to bed every night without anticipating that one of them would be awake in a few hours: Harry shaking and sweating from a nightmare, Reg sitting at the kitchen table working at two in the morning because he couldn’t shut off his brain. Starfleet was giving Harry enough to do that he didn’t feel useless, and Reg had been steadier than usual. Until this morning, and the cereal. It wasn’t as though Reg’s anxiety had ever gone away, but there were not-good days and then there were “call in the cavalry” days, and today was going to be the latter, he could just tell. He considered stopping in to see Deanna on his way to work—she was on Earth for a few weeks, continuing her ongoing project of patching up the Voyager crew’s mental health—but decided against it. Better to wait until he knew more about what he was dealing with.
Sure enough, Reg called him at lunchtime. The second his face popped up on Harry’s screen, he knew it was going to be bad: Reg had that look that meant he was right on the edge of a panic attack.
“It’s the Romulans.”
“They’re spying on us. They must be. It’s the only explanation.” At the edge of the frame, Harry could just see Reg drumming his fingers on the table.
“Reg, babe, slow down. Why do you think the Romulans are spying on us?”
“The cereal.” He was still looking straight at Harry, but his eyes were far away, fixed on something only he could see. “It’s just…disappearing. They must be eating it at night, while they’re in the apartment watching us.”
“Why would they do that, though? Even if the Romulans were spying on us, don’t you think they’d be careful not to leave any clues?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.” Reg blinked at Harry, as though just now noticing who he was talking to. “I thought it was the Borg at first, but they don’t eat.”
Harry took a breath. Be Gentle. “Reg,” he said. “I promise that the Romulans aren’t stealing your cereal.”
Reg stilled for a second. Harry could feel him trying to believe him, wanting to. “I just—I just don’t know what else it could be.”
“Are you sure you aren’t sleepwalking again? Maybe you’ve been eating in your sleep this time too.”
“Maybe.” Reg was chewing his lip in that way that Harry sometimes found adorable, when they weren’t in the midst of a crisis. “But I really think it’s the Romulans.”
Harry broke down and altered his route home so that he could stop by Deanna’s office. He’d been distracted the rest of the day, having to ask people to repeat things they’d said to him, staring off into space when he was supposed to be looking at star charts. If this had been a real job, and not something Starfleet had given him because he’d refused to take more than the six months of leave they’d mandated for the entire Voyager crew, he would have been in trouble. As it was, everyone was gentle with him in a way that he found annoying, because it reminded him that he wasn’t just any Starfleet officer anymore.
Deanna’s door was open. “Harry! It’s so good to see you, come in.”
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“No, as a matter of fact, I’m done for the day. But I’m glad you stopped by, I’d been meaning to contact you to schedule a session while I’m here.”
“That sounds good,” Harry said, sitting down in the chair in front of her desk.
Deanna paused for a second, really looking at him for the first time. “But something’s wrong right now that you want to talk about. Is it you or Reg?”
“Reg,” Harry said. “I might be overreacting, but I woke up this morning and he’s suddenly convinced that the Romulans are stealing his cereal and I don’t know what…”
“Wait.” Deanna stopped him. “Stealing his cereal?”
“Yes.” Harry took a breath. “He likes this special cereal, Crunchy ‘Crafts? The company’s been making it forever, and you can’t even replicate it, you have to go to their headquarters to get it. Anyway, I guess we’re running out faster than we should and he’s convinced that it’s the Romulans.”
“All right,” Deanna said, and he loved her because she didn’t ask any more questions: she understood Reg’s moods even better than he did. “Why do you think this is happening now?”
“That’s the thing,” Harry said. “It doesn’t make any sense. Things have been going so well lately. We’ve both been sleeping through the night, even.”
“Has it occurred to you that maybe that’s why Reg is so anxious?”
“What do you mean?”
Deanna sighed. “You’ve both been operating in crisis mode for a long time. When you get used to living that way, to always having an immediate problem to deal with, it can be unsettling when things start to normalize. It can mean that you have to deal with all of the issues you’ve been pushing aside.”
Harry was thinking back to his first session with her, all of those months ago. “You mean like how I didn’t start having nightmares about that time the Hirogen took over Voyager until after we got back?”
“Yes, exactly like that. The brain is very good at protecting itself by compartmentalizing traumatic experiences until you’re ready to deal with them.”
“So you think that Reg is anxious because he doesn’t want to deal with some bigger issue?”
“But—what do I do about that? How do I make him believe that Romulans aren’t actually spying on us?”
Deanna looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, you’ve tried explaining to him why his fear isn’t logical, correct?”
“Yes, but it didn’t work. I just…couldn’t get him there.” Harry ran his hands through his hair, frustrated.
“All right, so you try a different strategy. If you believed that Romulans might actually be spying on you, what would you do?”
Reg had to work late that night, so by the time he got home Harry was installing the last sensor emitter, standing on a ladder so that he could attach it to the ceiling just above the kitchen doorway.
“What are you doing?”
Harry glanced down to where Reg was standing, bag still on his shoulder. From here he looked smaller than usual, more vulnerable, and Harry felt something tighten in his chest. “It’s a sensor grid.” He started to climb down the ladder; when he got to the bottom he turned to face Reg. “It’ll record holographic images of the kitchen during the night, so we can find out for sure what’s happening to the cereal.”
“But…” Reg looked overwhelmed, suddenly, and for a second Harry thought that he had miscalculated. “I didn’t think you believed me. About the Romulans.”
“Oh, Reg.” Harry took a couple of steps forward so that he could bury his face in Reg’s shoulder. He hadn’t meant to do that—he’d meant to be calm, in control—but it had been a long day and he was tired. He took a deep breath, inhaling the smell of home. Then he raised his head so that Reg could hear him. “I don’t want you to be worried.”
Reg nodded, slowly. “I—I don’t deserve you, you know.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Harry answered. “You got Voyager home, remember? If it weren’t for you, I’d still be in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Well, there is that,” Reg said, pulling him in for a kiss.
They watched the holorecording before breakfast the next morning. The sensor data had reported nothing out of the ordinary until 2:37 a.m., when…
Reg started. “That’s me!”
They both watched as the holographic image of Reg walked into the kitchen, took the cereal out of the cabinet, and started eating handfuls of it straight out of the box.
They looked at each other. “I did say that you might be sleepwalking again,” Harry ventured.
Reg nodded, but he kept staring at the table.
“Is there—is there anything you’ve been worried about? Anything you want to tell me?”
Harry couldn’t read Reg’s expression, and the knot of worry hardened in his stomach again.
“It’s been eighteen months,” Reg finally said. “What happens when Voyager goes back out? I know you want to stay with the ship.”
Reg wasn’t wrong: in spite of everything that had happened, Harry couldn’t imagine letting Voyager leave without him. “I do want to stay with the ship,” he said. “But I’ve always assumed you’d be coming with us.”
“Really?” Reg looked up, his face shining with so much hope that Harry’s chest hurt.
“Of course, silly. You’re one of us now. We wouldn’t leave you behind.”
“But—I’d have to request a transfer—what if Starfleet doesn’t—”
Harry grinned. “We’re the miracle ship, remember? Captain Janeway could ask for anything she wanted and Starfleet would fall all over themselves getting it for her. If she ever leaves Risa, that is.”
Reg was grinning now too. “If I know Captain Janeway, she’ll want to launch the second she gets back.”
Harry laughed. “Probably. In the meantime, though, I’m happy just being here. With you.” He felt his cheeks get warm, but if there was anything he’d learned from seven years of being lost, it was not to stay silent when it mattered. To cover his embarrassment, he stood up and got the cereal box out of the cabinet, setting it in front of Reg. “Now eat your breakfast.”