Chapter 1: Enter the Beast
From the moment her head smacked the floor of the ship on the day they came here, Arabella French was positive that the description “floating coffin” was an accurate one. Two months she’d been in this thing, and the days were starting to blend together into nothing more than one long night. The lighting was constant, and though she’d never lived near Alaska, this was what she imagined the six months of darkness would be like… only… forever.
Rolling over in bed, she thought about the conversation with Colonel Young involving altering her duties. Belle had been helping out TJ in the infirmary at first, but now things were slowing down. Even the most serious injuries were healed, and Belle just… well, frankly, she wasn’t a trained medic, and she wasn’t needed.
One afternoon, she’d heard them talking from around the corner.
“Look,” the Colonel had told TJ, “I know you like having her around, but the fact is that she’s just not doing as much as she could be.”
“Where are you suggesting we relocate her to?” Tamara raised an eyebrow, suspicious. Young shrugged.
“She’s bright, she’s quiet, she’s bookish. Dr. French was a top scientist back at the Icarus base, even if she hadn’t been there long, and you said yourself that she catches onto things quickly.”
“Meaning you want to put her where?” TJ wasn’t one to beat around the bush. Straight answers, however rare, were something she prized.
“Rush needs help.” He said.
“Yeah, mental help.” The medic groaned. “He’s already got Brody out there helping him, and Belle can’t stand the man.”
“Nobody can stand him, TJ. And frankly, I’m not worried about whether or not she can stand him, I’m just worried about whether he can stand her.” Point for the Colonel, there, as much as Belle hated to admit it. Nobody could stand Dr. Rush, and really… anyone who assisted him was probably going to feel like the gunk on the bottom of his shoe at the end of the day.
“How well have any other situations like that worked out in your experience?” Point for TJ.
“Other situations haven’t been on a million year old spaceship. And on top of being bright, she’s humane, and she’s stubborn as a mule.”
“Ok.” TJ conceded, putting up her hands defensively. “Fine. Just… I’m not going to be the one to break it to her.”
Turns out that neither of them had to do anything. They’d turned the corner and caught her listening in- Belle was many things, but an accomplished (or even decent) spy was not one of them.
That was why she had grudgingly gotten out of bed, changed clothes, and was now walking down the corridor towards the control interface room. Nicholas Rush was not the kind of man she wanted to spend her day with, but she was stuck here, so it might pay off to be useful.
“Dr. Rush?” she called softly as she entered. He didn’t even look up from his screen, continuing to tap on the keys with a vengeance.
“Yes, what do you want?”
“Colonel Young assigned me to help you.” She said, holding her ground. Only a slight change of facial features betrayed him but make one move to come closer and he would blow a gasket, she was sure. He tapped on the keys for a few seconds longer, then pressed a button to finish out the programming.
“What? When did he say that?” he said, finally looking up.
“Yesterday.” Belle put her hands on her hips, studying him. He looked tired, and she was pretty sure his beard was scruffier than usual. No doubt he’d been pulling 30 and 40 hour days again… She would feel bad for him if he wasn’t saving their lives, and is he wasn't so downright snarky all the time.
“Look, I’ve got Brody and Eli. I don’t need you here, Dr. French. No offense.” Ah, now that was why she didn’t like him.
“No offense, but Colonel Young assigned me to come here. I may not be Eli’s level of genius, but I’m not too shabby at reading Ancient, and frankly, I’m not stupid. I won’t get in your way, but I’m not leaving.” Dr. Rush shrugged.
“Fine. Sure. Brody wasn’t feeling well and Eli is off doing who knows what, so you’re in luck today.” He said, beckoning her over.
Dr. Rush wasn’t a particularly friendly man. He never had been, not even when she first met him- he was all business, and thankfully their business had led them down separate paths for the time being. That is, until she joined the Icarus project, but even then they had never worked closely together.
It seemed that, unfortunately, that was about to change.
A week into her new position Belle had gotten a fair handle on the computer workings of the ship. Eli was nice to talk to when Dr. Rush was off doing something else- he also understood the burden of having family left behind- and Brody was good company.
She still hadn't developed a great fondness for Dr. Rush.
Sometimes he would get into fits and scream at all of them. The only difference between her and the other two in the room was that Belle didn’t back down after the screaming. It rolled off her like a waterfall, like she didn’t even hear it. There was always more than one way to steel yourself to your circumstances. Normally, whatever he was screaming about would be finished by the time he was done ranting if Belle kept on it.
Time passed, creeping along far too slowly and in far too blended a manner. Belle hadn’t managed to get herself personally singled out and screamed at yet, which was a major victory in Brody’s opinion, but she was at the end of her rope. The days were long, which was alright once you got used to it, but every time she saw that man, she saw the man who had taken her away from her family. She saw someone brilliant, but so very alone, and trying to carry the weight of too many things on his shoulders. She saw someone who snapped and barked and preferred to be on his own, but at the end of the day... he wore a mask over everything.
The snapping point came in what would have been early June on earth, approximately nine months after she began working with Dr. Rush.
“Alright, so if we can just figure out what that symbol means-” Nicholas circled a symbol on his notepad “-then we can figure out that equation. And then-”
“Dr. Rush, don’t you think it’s time you slept?” Belle interrupted. Usually she didn’t dare ask about sleep until the man looked like he was ready to fall over, even when she herself was ready to drop. Belle tried her best to pull the same hours Dr. Rush did- it was really only fair- but this time he was going on 45 hours for the third time in a row, with only six hours of sleep between each bout. And he would pull her out of bed every time he woke up. Their eyes were red-rimmed and had dark shadows underneath, but he was on some kind of mathematical adrenaline boost that she wasn’t prepared to ride out.
“No, just a few more minutes. I’m very close…” He went back to scribbling and mumbling, but Belle immediately went to check her watch. It was old, reliable, and wind-up, and thus still kept time, even if it wasn’t always the correct time. A minute was a minute, an hour an hour, regardless of which one.
“Last time you said that, it was four hours ago. You need to sleep.”
“Dr. French, I appreciate your concern-”
“No, it’s not really concern for you, it’s for the lives of everyone on this ship! You know you can’t think straight when you’re this tired- at this rate you’ll kill us all with the wrong mathematical equation! How many times have you told me ‘If you do this wrong it’ll blow us up?’” she yelled, thankful the doors were closed.
“I can tell when I’m tired enough that I need to sleep. I know how to do my job just fine.” He said, attempting to shrug off her comments. However, there were two tired, cranky scientists who had been stuck in a room together for far too long, and had barely stopped for food. Any halfway intelligent onlooker could tell this wasn’t going to end well.
“Yeah, well, apparently you can’t, because you need sleep now.” She grumbled.
“I’ll thank you to mind your own business, Dr. French!” he spat, finally looking up at her. “And frankly, I can’t understand how someone as intelligent as you seemingly has little interest in the ship and its workings! For the two years you’ve been with the project, your level of interest in the work on the ship here has been professional at best, and I know by your reports from graduate school that you used to be passionate. Here we are on the brink of a breakthrough, and you want to stop working?” he stared at her openly, but Belle was still in disbelief over the first of his outburst and trying to take in the rest.
“Mind my own business? Mind my own business?” The words were like venom. For Belle, that was the last straw, last button pushed, the last thread of sanity snapping. “First of all, anything that you might consider my own business ended two years ago when you showed up on my doorstep and introduced me to this program, meaning that ‘my own business’ could only be conducted for a few hours every year, when I got to see my family under military supervision!”
“No I didn’t, and you very well know it! You needed me, and you know very well that the only reason I ever ‘volunteered’ for Icarus was for the sake of protecting my own family!” She took a step closer to him, pointing an accusing finger. He seemed to be genuinely stunned by her tirade. Under normal circumstances she was more docile, but now she was tired, annoyed, and she’d put up with him every day for nine months.
“And frankly, Dr. Rush, if I seem disinterested in the project, it’s not exactly my fault that I don’t harbor a large amount of affection for the arrogant ass who offered me the choice of saving my family or having my life ruined by the government.”
“Arrogant?” Rush immediately tensed, fingers clutching his notebook a little tighter. “I’m trying to save the lives of the people on this ship- if I’m arrogant, then you’re as stubborn and thickheaded as a bloody mule!”
“I think you’re an arrogant fool, and if you really cared about the lives of the people on this ship, you would be taking proper care of yourself so you stop making stupid mistakes!” Belle was perhaps six inches away from him at this point, and a small crowd had begun to gather around the outside of the doors, taking turns peeking in through the window. Both their accents were thickening the louder and more frustrated they became. “And yeah, I’ll probably be stubborn and thickheaded as long as I live, but whatever you want to scream at me, we both have jobs to do, and even arrogant asses need sleep to do them competently!”
Her last comment was loud enough that it echoed through the room, her finger poking his chest threateningly. They held each other’s gaze for a minute, fuming, before either one of them dared move. Belle didn’t drop her eyes when she finally spoke.
“Now, please.” She said, the sting to her words still very present. “I don’t care if I have to knock you out to do it, but in the last hundred and forty hours we’ve had only eighteen hours of sleep. I don’t care if I have to get TJ to give you a sedative or knock you out myself to get you to do it, but you need to go to bed.”
Dr. Rush huffed one last breath, then turned and walked from the room, back towards his quarters, not bothering to close the doors behind him. The crowd in the hall was still listening, and pressed themselves against the wall as he came out. He didn’t bother acknowledging them. Belle let out a soft sigh and rubbed the back of her neck, starting her walk towards the door.
And then someone started clapping.
Rush would be out of a hearing range by now, judging by the speed with which he left, but the crowd outside the door was giving her a quiet applause and approving looks. She managed a grimace and a nod before making it back to her quarters, falling down on her bed fully dressed and giving in to the blackness.
“So… what did you actually… do?” Eli asked the next day, tucking into some soup for lunch (or breakfast, in Belle’s case, as she’d slept a good thirteen hours). “You know, before Destiny.” The news of the rather loud argument between her and Dr. Rush had spread quickly across the ship, and it seemed everybody was whispering about it in some way or another. She hadn’t seen Rush since he retreated from the control interface room.
“I was a scientist.” She said, smiling sadly. “A physicist, actually. I was working on a theory about space travel, and one day… one day Dr. Rush showed up at my office.”
“Ah. I know that story.” Eli said, making a dramatic gesture with his fork. Belle chuckled. He’d told her his side of the story, which sounded a bit similar to her own.
“Yeah. I’d only gotten my doctorate the year before. I don’t know how they found me, really. They were just there, and they said they wanted me to work on some program for the government that I could be extremely useful for.”
“I bet you jumped at it after you found out, huh?” Eli said, but Belle shook her head.
“No. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t trust them, and the job basically meant I’d have no contact with my family except for maybe once or twice a year.”
“But… I thought you were a volunteer? They told me you weren’t paid for your work, just with a place to stay and meals.” he stirred around the dregs of his soup, mopping up the broth with a piece of bread. Belle had barely touched her food.
“I… I have two sisters, and they’re both older than me. We’re all a year apart. Amy is thirty, and she’s on probation for drug use and… other things. Charlotte is a twenty-nine year old single mother with no child support from the father for her twins. My mom is dead, and my dad has a heart condition. Money’s tight- I got through school on scholarship quickly and had my Ph.D. by the time I was twenty-five , and every spare penny I had went to Charlotte or dad.” She raised her head to look in Eli’s eyes. “It’s true that I wasn’t paid for the work I did on Icarus. It’s not true that I didn’t receive other benefits. I only came on the project because they promised me that my family would be taken care of- Charlotte would get child support, dad would treatment for his heart, and Amy would get sound counseling.” Belle sighed and dropped her head into her hands, felling a slight headache coming on. She wasn’t sure if it was one of those mild caffeine headaches again, or from talking about this.
“If you want to know the truth, I hate my job. All I ever wanted to be was a teacher, not stuck on some godforsaken planet working with a group of arrogant bastards on a top secret government project. I just wanted to live out my life with my family, but… we all make sacrifices, you know?”
“Yeah. I do.” He nodded, eyes soft and understanding. Eli reached over to squeeze her hand reassuringly.
“Can I ask you something? I mean, something else.” Belle said suddenly. Eli shrugged.
“You know Dr. Rush and Colonel Young won’t give anyone a straight answer on this, but in your… honest, frank, personal opinion…” She gulped and gathered her nerve. She had to ask someone. “Do you ever think we’re going to make it home?” Eli released her hand with a sigh, as if he’d been asked this question many times before. The only difference was that this time he was open to an answer that was truthful, not pleasant.
“The odds aren’t good. I can’t say that I haven’t seen the odds beaten, especially here, but… you get the drift. What about you?”
“Honestly…” she hesitated to answer, checked to see if anyone was listening. It probably wouldn’t look good if one of the scientists working on getting them home wasn’t confident about it. “No. No I don’t.”
Chapter 2: Idle Hands
Dr. Rush and Belle spoke to each other as little as possible throughout the next few days. They each managed to find something productive to do that involved little interaction with the other person, though the talk about their argument was still the most popular bit of gossip on the ship.
“Uh-oh.” Brody said, pointing to a flashing indicator on his screen. Belle mentally groaned and went over to the console. Rush was off doing some kind of calculation in his quarters.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, peering over his shoulder. There was a red flashing box on the map. Again.
“Well, I can’t actually tell. It could be another leak, but the oxygen readings aren’t dropping.”
“Fantastic.” Belle rolled her eyes. It could also be a problem with the computer systems or any other one of six or seven possibilities, which meant that someone would have to go check it out themselves, and since she was currently avoiding someone who could be on his way here any minute, it would probably be in her best interest to go.
“Stay here. I’ll check it out.” She said, and before he could argue she was out the door. The location was on the outer edges of the occupied area of the ship- it wasn’t too hard to find, but the walk would be long and full of glances. For a community that knew they were stuck with each other and whatever each other said, people around there sure loved to gossip.
There wasn’t any telling what their stories would twist into if anyone had seen her turn a corner and ram into Dr. Rush.
“Oh! Sorry!” she said it more out of habit than anything. Plus, however much she didn’t like him, she wouldn’t have purposefully hit him. “Are you alright?”
“Perfectly fine.” He said curtly, taking in the direction she was headed. “Where are you going in this part of the ship?”
“Brody found another unexplained flashing red marker on the screen. I’m going to check it out.” She made to walk around him, but he turned and followed on her heels.
“I’ll come with you- it might be something with the computer systems.” He didn’t expect her to just go along with that, did he? Computer system problems were usually minor and completely within her range of control.
“With all due respect, Dr. Rush, I can handle it.” She snipped, not looking back.
“You should know by now that’s not going to stop me coming.”
Rather than dignify his comment with a response, Belle kept walking, steps echoing metallically in the corridor. They were past the crowds now, so no one was there to give them strange looks or whisper behind their backs. Continuing in silence, they eventually found the room they were looking for. It was just a mid-sized cargo space, inhabited by a few empty metal boxes pushed against the walls, but nothing special. There was a control station for some part of the ship’s computer system just inside the door, which Rush attacked like a hungry wolf while Belle checked the room for leaks.
“Brody, this is Belle, do you copy?” she said into her radio, still scanning the room.
“Copy. Find anything?” His voice crackled through.
“Negative. I don’t see a leak in here. No windows broken, and I’m walking the perimeter, but the room seems sound.” There wasn’t even a bolt out of line, not a dent in the wall. What on earth was going on?
“Any computer systems?”
“One. Rush is working on it.”
“Wait- Rush is there?”
“Unfortunately.” She said, shooting a glare in his direction.
“You know, I can hear you.” Dr. Rush said from the screen. He was sifting through the files on the system to try and figure out what tripped the alert.
“Oh, I’m well aware.” Belle shot back, then spoke into her radio again. “Listen, if we can’t find anything-”
She was cut off by a loud slam, and turned to see that the doors had sealed. She nearly dropped the radio. Rush went to the door controls, confused, but it only flashed red and refused to open. Oh, not good. Very, very not good.
“Did you do that?” She asked, shooting a look at Rush.
“Right, because you honestly think I’d lock myself in a room with you.” He grumbled sarcastically, muttering a curse under his breath and going back to the system.
“Brody, open the door.” She said quietly.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“This isn’t funny- the doors just closed on us, and we’re locked in.”
“Well, I didn’t do it!” Brody called. A second later Eli’s voice fuzzed back.
“Wait- did you say Rush was messing with the computer system?”
“Yeah, why?” she asked, walking over to peer over his shoulder. Rush hated when people did that, but Belle was beyond the point of caring.
“I think he tripped some kind of alarm and sealed you in.” Eli said. “Umm… We should be able to alter the programming and get you out, but it’s going to take a while.”
“How long is a while?” Belle asked, casting a panicked glance towards Rush. He had the same thought, and snatched the radio from her as Eli came through.
“Eli, this is Dr. Rush. Listen to me, we are in a sealed room, and I do mean air tight. We need to know how long it’s going to take to get us out of here.”
“A few hours at best!” he stuttered. Oh dear. Belle knew for a fact that Eli was using his panic voice. His “I’m doing the best I can, but it’s probably not enough” voice. She snatched the radio back from Rush.
“Eli! Calm. Down.” She said. “Breathe. Clear your head. You can get us out of here- we’re going to be fine. Just concentrate, and we’ll check back with you later. According to Rush we’ve got…” Belle looked at him, indicating he should give a number.
“Six hours tops.” He guessed, giving her a look that meant quite plainly that it was an optimistic estimate. Rush ran a hand through his hair and went back to tapping, but if Belle was right then the thing probably would have locked him out by now.
“Six hours. Think you can crack the codes by then?”
“We don’t have much choice, do we?” the radio fuzzed.
“True enough.” Belle said, trying not to sound too grave. “Over and out.”
She clipped the radio back on her belt, unsure of what to do next. Dr. Rush seemed to read her thoughts.
“Just don’t start pacing- it’ll make you breathe harder. No need to speed up our asphyxiation.” Rush smacked the control panel one last time and leaned against a metal box. Belle found out quite quickly that it really did take a great amount of concentration not to start pacing around the room, so she settled for going through what she could remember of sign language on her fingers. She sat cross legged on top of a row of metal crates against the wall, and every letter, every word, every coherent sentence formed in her head, she would sign out on frantic fingers.
“What are you doing?” Dr. Rush asked, making Belle very aware that he was staring at her fingers.
“ASL.” She said, dropping her hands. When he still looked puzzled, she elaborated. “American Sign Language?”
“For what reason?” he hoisted himself on a box beside her, still looking at her fingers.
“Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.” Belle shrugged. His brow furrowed.
“Were you always this cryptic or am I just now noticing it?” Any intention of remaining civil was slowly vanishing. Belle’s head snapped up, fixing him with a cold glare.
“Were you always this oblivious or is it the oxygen depletion?” she snapped back. Before he could respond she huffed in annoyance and continued talking.
“It’s an expression, Dr. Rush. I’m not supposed to pace, remember? I don’t like being idle, especially idle fingers, and trust me, if I played through old piano pieces you would look at me like I was even crazier than I seem now.” Belle had taken piano for many years, though she hadn’t had time to play since long before the Stargate program. She was notorious for tapping on things in public like they were piano keys.
“When did you learn?” he asked after a pause.
“Sign language? About eight years ago.”
Rush didn’t do much more than nod. He wasn’t sure quite how to respond.
“I learned it for my nephew.” Belle continued, twiddling her fingers. “He lost his hearing when he was two, and his mom and I immediately started learning together. I sort of have to remind myself to do it when I’m around him, because he can read lips, too, but you get used to it… He’s turning ten this week.” She slumped a little. Rambling was just one of those quirks she had, and now… well, not was not a good time to get her started.
“Sorry. Rambling.” She muttered quickly. Dr. Rush normally complained about that when they were working in a group.
“I’d rather you ramble than panic.” He said, looking at her curiously. “You’re rather calm for someone trapped in a room with a limited air supply.”
“So are you.”
“I’m trying to be, though. It’s more of a forceful act than anything. You’re just sitting there… signing.”
“It’s a fallback, I guess. I always do it when I’m nervous, but I have to think about it to do it along with speaking.” She continued signing gibberish, just random little words and letters that came to her fingertips. Silence was a nice companion, sleep was an impossibility.
“Dr. French,” Rush began suddenly, “may I ask your honest opinion on something?”
“Yes…” Belle hazarded. They were probably treading on dangerous territory. She though he might have overheard something about the conversation she and Eli had had in the mess, but that wasn’t the case.
“Do you really blame me for taking you away from your family?” his brow furrowed in a slight betrayal of concern, and Belle let out a long breath.
“I’m sorry- I was tired and angry, I wasn’t thinking-”
“No, that’s not what I asked. Do you blame me?” So he really wanted to know. His eyes hadn’t left her face once, waiting patiently for an answer.
“I don’t know.” She finally huffed. “I feel like I should blame you.”
“Why’s that?” When she looked at him like he was suggesting bigfoot was in the next room, he shrugged. “I’m merely curious.” Belle leaned her head back against the wall, tilting her face up to look at the ceiling, and away from Rush.
“Because I was twenty-six years old the day you showed up at my office and told me that if I went with you to work on this project, you’d save my family. If I didn’t, you’d ruin all our lives.” She glanced over at him briefly, then back up to the ceiling. “That’s not a choice, that’s an execution order wrapped around a bottle of wine.”
“Aptly put.” He murmured. “I’m sorry, Dr. French. I know it’s probably not what you want to hear, but there isn’t more that I can say to you. Nothing changes the place we’re in now.” True Dr. Rush apology- I’m sorry for what I did to you. You’re probably going to suffer and/or die, but I can’t correct it. Belle simply squeezed her eyes shut and struggled to hold her tongue. She wanted to scream at him again, and no doubt he could tell it, but being angry wouldn’t help.
Right now she just needed the silence. She closed her eyes and thought of her family, thought about books, thought about anything except the situation she was currently in. Belle couldn’t have said how long she sat like that, keeping one hand on her wrist just to feel her own heart beating. It was an old habit, older even than the signing. Her mother had always told her that whenever she felt the most afraid, press two fingers to her inner wrist or under her jaw, feel her pulse, and let the fact that she was still alive give her strength.
Oftentimes it did more to give her peace than strength.
“I wonder what my life would have been like…” Belle mumbled, almost against her will.
“Without Icarus?” he scoffed. “I wonder that every day.”
“I was engaged. I would probably be married now.” she said. Rush raised an eyebrow in surprise and she half-smiled. “Yeah, crazy, I know. Looking back, I don’t know why. He wasn’t a very good guy.”
“What happened to him?”
“I found out he was cheating on me the whole time a couple of weeks before I came to Icarus. The work was a nice cover up for the whole thing- it managed to go away quietly.” She shrugged, thinking of something she’d been wanting to ask. “Did you… did you leave anyone behind down there?” She was almost hesitant to ask, but it was one question that she’d always wondered about. Sometimes Dr. Rush seemed to be a decent person, and at other times she wondered about his morality. Did he have anyone out there?
“Not anyone alive.” He whispered.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” Belle said, immediately feeling guilty.
“It’s alright. Her name was Gloria- she was my wife.” It was Belle’s turn not to know how to respond. She bit her lip and rocked back against the wall- in her experience, when there were no words, sometimes it was best to say nothing at all.
“Sometimes I look back at everything that’s happened… and I wonder what she would think of me if she could see me now.” Why was he telling her this? The other day they’d been snapping at each other’s throats and now they were sharing stories? Perhaps it was the loss of oxygen…
“I think that about my mom sometimes.” Belle admitted. She could almost understand what he’d been through, but her loss had been parental. It didn’t make it any less painful, just… different. Different to feel, harder to move on from in some ways. “She died five years ago from cancer. It hurts to think about her that way, but... I’m glad I do. I try to remember her as much as I can- not just the good times. Everything.”
“Why? Why bring back painful memories?” he asked, gesturing with one hand. In his opinion, the man he was went to the grave with Gloria. No point in resurrecting him. Belle couldn’t understand why he seemed so passive about remembering, and she actually had to think for a moment before she responded, trying to figure out how to form her answer accurately. Of course it hurt to remember, because to remember meant to acknowledge that the person you were remembering was gone, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be healing as well.
“For a while after my mom died, I felt like a part of me went with her, too. I felt alone and scared, but I had to pick up and keep going for the rest of my family. I know people say that remembering helps keep people alive in your heart, but I never thought that was true. What’s dead is dead, but… it doesn’t have to stay buried. Those times, those lessons, all that love and life…” she paused a moment, the image of her mother’s laughing face flickering briefly through her mind.
“At first I kind of used thinking about her as my reality check, like a mental moral chastising, only… now that I’m here on this ship… I haven’t done one of those in a while.”
“You’re not the only one.” He said, more for himself than anything.
Belle looked up at him, seeing something akin to empathy in his eyes, and immediately dropped her head again. She wasn’t quite sure she was ready for what she saw, because to her, it was something unfathomable. The man sitting beside her, the person she’d blamed for so long for taking her life away from her, was someone who might have the capacity to understand her.
Eli knew what it was like to have left people behind, but Rush knew what it was like to watch someone you love slip away and be able to do nothing about it. And now, without guidance for so long, he was a bitter, callous man whom everyone hated, and if she didn’t act quickly that would be her fate as well. The thought was on the border of making her sick, but she felt… well, she really felt sorry for him.
Checking her watch, she saw that they were now down to four hours. Belle picked up her radio to check in with the control interface room.
“Eli, this is Belle. How’s it coming over there?” she asked, but it was Brody that answered.
“We’re making progress, but we’re still trying to get through the coding on the alarm system.” he sounded relatively calm, which meant that the progress was probably significant. Rush held out his hand for the radio, and Belle handed it over.
“This is Rush. How much progress are you making?”
“We’re about halfway through the coding around the systems- it’s more complicated than we thought. After we crack it we should be able to unlock the door without too much difficulty.”
“Will. Brody out.”
Rush handed her back the radio, rubbing a hand across his face in frustration. She knew it was eating at him, not being able to do anything. It was also probably eating at him that his meddling with the systems had likely triggered the alarm.
And now they were down to four hours, stuck in this room together.
“I’m surprised they hadn’t called in by now.” Rush mused. “If I were them I’d be wondering if we’d murdered each other by now.” Belle chuckled softly. No doubt they were wondering, and they’d probably informed Colonel Young and Lieutenant Scott of their situation. There was a small, sturdy circular window in the door, like in other sealed areas of the ship, and Belle pointed to it, having just noticed that a keno was very clearly trained on the room through the window.
“Ah.” Rush nodded. “So they are keeping tabs on us.”
“They probably can’t hear us, but they know we’re not attempting to rip each other’s throats out.” She said, almost wishing it wasn’t there. Whether or not it could hear them, she didn’t like the fact that they were being watched. Ah, well, there was probably some way to hack the system and delete the footage later.
Shut inside the control interface room, eyes becoming sore from looking at lines of computer code, the only two people on the ship who could get Belle and Nicholas out were beginning to become extremely frustrated.
“Do you think they’re ok in there?” Brody asked, stopping his search through the program momentarily.
“Um, no!” Eli said, still pressing keys, eyes scanning the screens. “They’ll asphyxiate if we don’t do this. We’re running out of time.” Colonel Young stepped into the room just then.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“It’s going.” Brody grumbled. “But frankly, I’ll be surprised if they haven’t torn each other to shreds by now.”
“It’s only been forty-five minutes since your last check.” The Colonel seemed mildly confused.
“You obviously aren’t in the gossip ring.” Eli said, eyes never leaving the screen.
“Alright, then bring me into the ring after all this is over with. I thought you sent a keno down to keep an eye on them?”
“If there’s a window in the door, you mean.” Brody stopped for a moment to write down a few numbers.
“It’s a cargo space, of course there’s a window! I’ve been checking every half hour. They’re fine.” Eli said, exasperated. He stopped sifting through the programming for long enough to hand the Brody the keno remote and direct him to the screen that the footage would show up on. “You can check on them there if you’re worried.” The Colonel and Brody stared at the screen for a second, apparently finding nothing interesting.
“I’m sorry I called you an arrogant ass.” Belle said hesitantly, tucking her knees up to her chest. He glanced over at her for a moment, nodding slightly, a sign that the apology was accepted.
“I’m sorry I called you a thickheaded mule.”
“Nope, not too sorry about that.” Rush smiled teasingly and she batted his arm.
“I am pretty stubborn, aren’t I?” Belle sighed. “No, don’t answer that.” She tried not to think about the oxygen in the room, or rather, the lack of it. Talking wouldn’t help the supply, but... if they were going to die, this probably needed to be said.
Belle slid just a bit closer and put a friendly hand on his forearm.
“I think… I think it’s time we started over.” She said quietly. “You know, if we ever get out of here.” The air was becoming thinner every second, and even if it wasn’t noticeable by breathing, just knowing their supply was exhausting was something distressing enough.
“I think that would be a fine idea.”
Belle took a deep breath, willing herself to expel every stereotype she’d ever heard about him with her exhale. She held out her hand as if for a greeting.
“Arabella French. Most people call me Belle.” She said. He took the hint, half smiling as he reached for her hand.
“Nicholas Rush.” They held their grip for a moment, held eye contact for just a moment longer than that, and then it was gone, leaving forgiveness in its place. Forgiveness, or at least a promise to attempt to forgive.
“Before we start completely over… I do have one question.”
“Very well.” He nodded, gesturing for her to go on.
“Was it your idea to bring me on?” she asked. A viable question, and another one she’d wanted to ask for a long time. If she was going to continue blaming him, she might as well know for sure if it was his fault.
“Yes and no. I was given a list of possible candidates to narrow down, and there were only three truly acceptable candidates among them.”
“So… you picked me because I was acceptable?” She fought the choking feeling in her throat. Acceptable. It didn’t sting for the reasons it might sting someone else- she didn’t feel it was a belittlement to all the work she’d done. All Belle felt was the stinging fact that if she was one of three who were acceptable, it didn’t have to have been her.
“No.” he said, shaking his head. “I picked you because you were extraordinary. When I first looked at your file, I saw someone who was… incredibly passionate about her work. You thought about things in new ways- I could have seen you as a philosopher as much as a scientist, someone set to make big changes in the world. And yet you were stuck up in a stuffy little office, studying the stars but never able to touch them.”
“Well, in my defense, I never actually thought I’d be quite this close.” Belle smiled wryly.
“Nor did I.” Rush ran a hand through his hair, brushing it back from his face. “But… a question for a question. Why would someone as brilliant and enthusiastic as you are…”
“End up like this?” she finished for him.
“Well, I wasn’t going to put it quite that way.”
“No, but that’s what you were thinking. How did someone who was planning on being a teacher for the rest of their days wind up a bitter scientist on a spaceship 700 light-years away from home?”
“Well… I can answer the spaceship bit, but yes. And even though I can understand why someone of your level of intellect might want to be a teacher, what I don’t understand is why you didn’t ever think of anything more.” He could actually vouch for most of what she’d said, except that his own experience had led him to pursue bigger things.
“I just… I don’t know, really.” Belle said, puzzled. “Might be the lack of oxygen, but I can’t ever remember wanting to be anything else. Plus, I knew I could get a job easily this way. As for bitter… I never had much of anyone to talk to at the base. I wasn’t near as angry at the world before I came there, and it’s really my own fault. I honestly think I hated every living soul on that base for the first three months I was there.”
“I believe it’s Greer’s job to be angry at the world,” Nicholas said sarcastically, “and anyone with eyes can tell it’s not your nature.”
“It was, in a way.” Looking back, she was surprised to see that she’d changed so much. “It was what my nature became. I’m not proud of it. It’s like… you look back and see other people living their lives and going on without you, and you just feel so… excluded. And then you know it’s because of you that they’re able to do that, and you feel selfish for being bitter. It’s a downward cycle, really.”
Another check of the watch showed just over two hours. Time for another radio check. Rush had already pulled out his own radio this time.
“This is Dr. Rush. How’s progress?” he said, leaning his head back against the wall.
“We’re close. We’re running the finished program through the blocks on the security system.”
“How much longer is that going to take?”
“About another half hour.”
“Hurry it up.” Rush snapped, cutting off the radio.
“We’ll be fine.” Belle said, even though she was becoming less confident of that the more time passed.
“How long are you going to continue to insist that?” he asked, but Belle was unsure if he was annoyed or simply unconfident.
“Until either the doors open or I black out.”
“Ok, done!” Eli said, breathing a sigh of relief. “How much time?”
“An hour and fifteen minutes left.” Brody went over to check the keno footage as Eli started on the basic procedures it would take to open the door. Shouldn’t be long now…
“How are they doing?”
“Fine.” His code-cracking companion found keno footage utterly boring most of the time, especially this particular footage, because there was no sound. Thankfully, though, the last few codes were simple. Within a few minutes he’d cracked the unlock sequence.
“Ok… good.” He said, checking over the screen once more, a smile cracking across his face. “I did it. I actually did it! Now all they need to do is press the release button on their end and they’re out of there.” Eli had directed the comment at Brody, but he had apparently found something extremely fascinating about what was happening on that screen.
“Hey, Eli… get a load of this…”
Belle was actually beginning to get a little dizzy. It wasn’t as bad as it could be, she supposed, but they were both breathing harder now. The two had gradually been moving closer together as they talked, and were now sitting shoulder to shoulder against the wall, on top of the same crate they’d been sitting on.
“You know, I’m still not sure whether to call you brave or stupid.” Nicholas mused. Belle was motionless. The fluttering nervousness was gone and her hands had quieted a half hour earlier. She didn’t have to feel her heart beating- she could hear the blood pulsing in her ears.
“I haven’t been brave in a long time. There’s a big difference between that and being numb.” She leaned forward, propping her chin on her hands.
“Hey. Look at me.” Dr. Rush said. Belle obliged, if grudgingly. “You’re here because you wanted to help your family. You could die today, but you’re not whining or complaining. I’ve been there, I know what it feels like and looks like, and that’s not numbness. That’s bravery.”
Belle didn’t move to argue or confirm.
“The first thing you thought of when we were trapped in here was your family- for pity’s sake, you even still know what day it is back on Earth! And if we ever get out of this, you’d better promise me you’re going to get out of that numb state.”
“Alright.” She nodded slowly, not sure if it was the dizziness or the absurdity of the situation that was making her feel disoriented.
“Good. Because I might have to kill you myself if you didn’t.” It only took a slight movement to lace their fingers together. Belle wondered for a split second if this was what drowning victims felt like- people talked about the water’s caress, about it bringing out memories and emotions, and all while feeling muddled and frightened. Nicholas Rush was hardly water, but the touch was at least comforting.
“Umm… Dr. Rush?” the radio buzzed to life beside them. “You should be able to open the door from your side now.”
“Copy that. Thanks, Eli.” Nicholas sighed and shook his head in weary disbelief. Belle immediately hopped down and went for the door as quickly as she could. They slid apart with a hiss and they both stumbled into the corridor, quickly shutting the door behind them. Belle hugged him tightly, resting her head against his shoulder and just breathing.
“I thought that was over when they brought back the lime.” She said quietly.
“So did I.” his grip was perhaps a little tighter than it needed to be, one arm around her waist and the other hand nestling in her thick brown hair. Later on, they would probably attribute the moment to the previous lack of oxygen. Either that, or general relief at the fact that they were still alive.
By the time they had pulled apart and taken in enough oxygen to ease the dizzy spell, the keno was out of sight and forgotten.
“Did you see that, too, or am I hallucinating?”
“Yeah. I think I did.” Eli stared at the screen in disbelief. He was glad that the job of controlling the keno wasn’t in his hands, because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to accurately steer just now.
Since when did Rush have an attraction to anyone? The distance they were sitting and that hug in the hallway looked a lot more than friendly to him.
“I vote we never speak of that again.” Brody said, steering the keno back to them.
“Agreed.” Eli snatched the thing out of the air and turned it off. That was definitely not a story that needed to go around. The doors to the control interface room slid open, and their eyes immediately fell on Dr. Rush and Belle.
“Thank God!” Brody said, relieved. Belle ran straight to Eli and hugged him tightly.
“Eli, have I ever told you that you are fantastic?”
“Nope, but I could sure get used to hearing it.” He chuckled, returning her hug. She hugged Brody next, though Dr. Rush only said a simple thank you.
“Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen anymore, shall we?” he gave pointed glances at Brody and Eli before going back to the console… both of whom immediately burst out laughing.
“What?” Belle asked, looking back and forth between them and Rush. Nicholas looked just as confused as she was.
“Nothing.” Eli said, sobering. “Absolutely nothing.”
Chapter 3: Fairy Tales
And, on this note, I just wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this story. You all are probably some of the sweetest shippers I've ever had the pleasure of interacting with over the wonderful world of the internet.
Part two should be up soon...
“I swear, everything on this stupid ship is just one problem after another!” Belle said, making a wild, conductor-like gesture with a pencil. She was attempting to make a list of everything that needed to be done, but it was becoming rather… extensive.
“Well, it is like a million years old… which is actually not an exaggeration this time.” Eli said. “And it’ll only get worse. Rush is still working on figuring out which parts of the ship we might be able to expand into. More area equals more repairs.”
“I know.” Belle sighed. “Explore the ship is item number one.”
“What’s item number two?” Brody asked from across the room.
“Make repairs to parts of explored ship.” Belle slid down to the floor, leaning against the wall. Her day was getting up there in hours, and she hadn’t been running on much food. She tucked her pencil back in the knot of hair on the back of her head like it was meant to be there, giving up on the list for now. Dr. Rush came into the room, going straight back to the computers. Between the three of them they’d managed to get him to go eat, but that never got rid of him for too long.
“Please tell me that finding a way into the core systems is in there somewhere.” Rush said sarcastically.
“That would be a subdivision of ‘explore the ship.’” She sighed. “But ‘learn how to actually use the core systems after accessing’ is number eight.”
“Why number eight? That should definitely be in the top five.” The scientist said, going back to whatever he’d been working on before they kicked him out for food.
“Because if finding a way into the core systems is a subdivision of exploring the ship, why isn’t using the core systems a subdivision of finding a way into them?” Rush teased, grinning in her direction.
“Simple. Learning how to use the core systems is too big a task to be a subdivision of anything.” She smiled sweetly, but there was a mischievous glint in her eye.
“It could still be earlier on the list.” Nicholas muttered, but not so softly she couldn’t hear it. Belle stood and walked over behind him. He’d finally gotten used to her peering over his shoulder at calculations.
“There are plenty of other things we need to get taken care of before devoting all our time to the core systems, such as the never ending list of repairs that takes up the rest of the list.” She stared at the sticky notes and sheets of paper that seemed to be completely covered in writing and lying all over the control area.
“Don’t look at me.” Rush said. “I don’t make the repairs, I just do the math.”
“We do the math.” Belle corrected with a smile. Eli and Brody had all but stopped working to stare at them.
“Really? Because the last time we ran up on an equation like this-”
“Don’t start with me, Dr. Rush. I’m a theoretical physicist, and I’m perfectly fine with the practical application of numbers, but I’m not a mathematician. Besides, remember that problem we had with the-”
“Yes, yes.” He grumbled, knowing exactly the situation she was about to refer to and not wishing to relive how she’d bested him at his own game. “It was a lucky guess.”
“Ha! A lucky guess my foot!” she was actually fighting the urge to laugh. For all their snippiness when they were truly angry, Belle’s arguments with Dr. Rush had turned into, more or less, teasing each other over weaknesses. They were no longer shy about proximity, and their battles of wits usually ended up with their faces about six inches apart until someone backed off.
“It wasn’t possible to calculate-”
“Oh, will you two just kiss already?” Brody threw his hands skyward, as if announcing defeat. Belle and Nicholas stared for a second, immediately backing apart. She never noticed the proximity until they had to pull away, and then it was like a loss of contact, of warmth. For all his teasing, Nicholas was becoming a good friend.
Dr. Rush shot a glare at Brody that was cold enough to freeze fire, and he simply ducked his head and went back to work.
“What’s the hour mark?” Eli asked, seemingly calm. He hadn’t been phased by Brody’s outburst or Rush’s glare.
“He’s got about two and a half minutes left.” Belle announced, checking her watch.
“What? But you have to add time for when you forced me to go eat something.” Rush pointed out. She shook her head.
“Forty-five hours without sleep is forty-five hours. Right, Eli?”
“Yep.” The boy said, though he didn’t look up from his screen.
“Sorry, Dr. Rush. I’m actually more scared of Belle.” He finally looked up, shrugged, and went straight back to what he was doing. “We can hold down the fort for a few hours while you two get some sleep. That was the deal, remember?”
“So… two minutes up.” Belle announced. “Time to sleep.”
“Dr. French, I’m a grown man-”
“Who needs sleep. We go through this every time. Do you really want me to cash in on the other part of our deal?” her tone was threatening, and rightly so. Tamara had found something suitable to use as a sedative on one of the planets they’d made a pit stop at, and Belle had gotten clearance to call her over to dose Rush with it if he wouldn’t sleep. It would knock him out for a good sixteen hours, which was longer than he would probably sleep on his own.
They’d only gone the sedative route once. It hadn’t been necessary since then.
“Fine.” He grumbled, walking out of the room and back towards his quarters. Belle followed him with a long yawn, and it occurred to him how tired she must be. She’d been pulling even longer hours, he suspected. There were dark circles under her eyes, but she absolutely refused sleep most of the time.
“Why didn’t you say something?” he asked.
“I’m fine, Nicholas.” Belle waved a hand dismissively. Somehow they had slipped into the rhythm of calling each other by their surnames in public and their first names in private. It felt natural, if a bit sneaky. “Don’t worry about me.”
“You’re not fine- you’re bloody worse than I am, and that’s saying something. How long have you been awake?” Rush chided.
“I don’t really know.” Another yawn escaped her. “Maybe sixty hours?”
“How much sleep in between?” They turned down another passage, finding it empty. Most of the ship was probably asleep at this hour, actually.
“Umm…” she rubbed her head, as if trying to grab onto the memory. “I think four hours last time?”
“You can’t keep doing this to yourself.” Nicholas sighed.
“You can’t talk. The only difference is that I’m there to make sure you actually sleep when you say you will.” She’d actually been sneaking off to do other things on the ship that needed doing when Eli and Brody thought she was asleep. When they reached his quarters Belle made to split off, but she was walking in a different direction than she should be.
“Isn’t your room the other way?” he asked. Belle blushed a little.
“Yes… I just… I really didn’t want to go back there…”
“Why not?” he raised an eyebrow, and she averted her eyes.
“Nothing. It’s just… nothing. Get some sleep.” She walked off in the direction of her quarters, giving up. It was a good thing, too, because as soon as she hit the mattress she fell fast asleep.
However, her sleep was anything but peaceful. Belle tossed and turned, cold and warm in fits. The couple in the next room was only part of the reason she slept on the observation deck. More than once on this ship she’d woken up screaming from nightmares, though she was praying that wouldn’t happen now because she was so exhausted. People from three rooms over had heard her screaming and come to check on her, but thankfully that was one incident that had remained quiet.
To her relief she didn’t scream, but she did wake up breathing hard, sitting bolt upright, her heart hammering in her chest. The doors opened and Nicholas hurried in, coming straight over to where she was sitting on the bed, flushed and trembling. He had been in her quarters before, and vice versa, but never quite under these circumstances.
She must have screamed, dammit.
“Belle? Are you alright?” He sat on the bed beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder that she didn’t fight.
“I’m fine.” She stuttered, gulping air. She didn’t remember exactly what had happened in the dream, only flashes of darkness and bursts of fire, but her racing pulse was enough to make her uneasy.
“Have you been having nightmares?” Rush’s gaze was penetrating, like he knew the real answer regardless of what she would tell him.
“For about two or three months now.” Belle admitted, hanging her head. “I can never remember them, I just wake up like… well, like this.”
“Is that why you haven’t been sleeping? You’re looking a little worse for the wear, you know.” He absentmindedly stroked her shoulder while they talked.
“When I was leaving earlier, I was just going to grab a blanket and sleep on the observation deck. I don’t like it when people hear me- it makes them worry.” Belle explained sheepishly, as if she’d done it many times before. Actually, she probably had. Arabella French was just one of those people who could sleep about anywhere- once he’d even caught her leaning over a computer screen, sound asleep, as if she was in the middle of something and hadn’t been able to stop the exhaustion from taking her. She did a good job of hiding it most days, but now it was past the point of hiding.
“How often do you sleep out there?” he’d never noticed her, but he didn’t go on the deck often, and knowing Belle, she would be careful to hide herself.
“Often enough. I basically sleep when I can’t take being awake any longer.” She said, yawning. A fitful rest hadn’t done her much good. “Wait. What are you doing here? How long has it been?”
“Six hours. I was on my way back to work when I heard you.”
“I did scream again, didn’t I?” she looked positively mortified.
“Yeah.” Nicholas didn’t seem embarrassed or awkward, he only seemed concerned. “But now I’m thinking I should stay a little longer.”
“You don’t have to do that.” Belle’s color was slowly returning to her face.
“Think of it as returning the favor. I’m making sure you sleep this time.” He brought his legs up to stretch out across the mattress, leaning against the metal wall the bed was pressed against. “Besides, as much as I admire your bravery, there’s a point when bravery crosses into the realm of stupidity, and that’s usually when it starts affecting your health.” Belle gave in and leaned back beside him, not willing to sleep, but not willing to make him leave. Somehow she wound up holding his hand, a solid grip on reality.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“Well… a few people know, but… that’s why I started sleeping on the observation deck. No one can hear me from there, so I’ve kind of been lying to TJ about it.”
“Yep, see- that’s what I mean about stupidity. Nightmares don’t tend to get better if you keep them suppressed.” He was becoming snippy again, but Belle didn’t mind. It was a concerned snippiness, unlike the arrogant comments he used to make, and still made around most of the ship’s occupants. Their relationship had slowly changed from being blunt and interacting as little as possible, to being teasingly annoying in public and actually civil in whatever relative privacy they had in this place.
“My mom used to tell us these ridiculous stories when we had nightmares.” She said, smiling a melancholy smile. “Whenever one of us had a nightmare or couldn’t sleep or whatever the problem was, we all got up and mom would tell us one of her fairy tales.”
“I was never one for fairy tales myself.” Nicholas said, but Belle laughed.
“These weren’t normal fairy tales. We all thought she was crazy, but we loved them more than any of the other ones.” Her gaze was focused on something beyond seeing as she spoke. “We used to all have our favorite stories, so I think after a while she just wound up combining them all- they all lived in one big kingdom, according to her. There was one we all liked to hear the best, though.”
“Which was that? Cinderella?” It was a logical guess, but not correct.
“Rumpelstiltskin.” She said, shaking her head. “Mom managed to put him in every single one of the fairy tales somehow, and we liked them all with him in it, because he was this mysterious person who wasn’t always good and wasn’t always evil, but we would absolutely beg her to tell us her version of Beauty of the Beast over and over again.”
“What on earth does that have to do with Rumpelstiltskin?” Now, Nicholas may not have been an avid reader of fairy tales, but he certainly knew enough to know that Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin weren’t connected. They’d even come from different countries, if he was correct.
“He was the beast.” She giggled. “At least, in her version of the story he was. We always made her stop before she got to the ending, though.”
“Happily ever after?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No.” she shook her head. “I don’t know why she always told it like she did, but… it didn’t really have a happy ending. He ran her out. She almost broke his curse, but he… I don’t know, really. He just couldn’t come to terms with what the consequences would be.” Belle sighed, then laughed again as she remembered the rest of the ending. “Then Snow White’s evil stepmother came to tell him she was dead, and he... if I remember it correctly he went half mad over it, even though the Evil Queen lied.”
“Snow White’s stepmother?!”
“I told you she combined them all!” she dissolved laughing from one look at the incredulous expression on Nick’s face.
“Why would you tell a bunch of little girls that as a comfort for nightmares? The heroine is dead and that’s supposed to be comforting?”
“I don’t know- mom always said the stories had been passed down for so long it was impossible to change them. And no, she wasn’t dead, she was just… gone. Disappeared. Eventually we made up our own ending to that one, and we wrote all the stories down in a book.” It was a pleasant memory- helping their mother bind the book and write the stories by hand in ink.
“And you liked this story?”
“We… I guess we did.” She said with a slight shrug. “I think it was more about the love than anything. It’s easy to love a handsome prince or a beautiful princess. It’s not easy to love a monster, or someone who thinks they’re a monster, and I think we all thought that made it even more special.” Belle sighed wistfully, though Nicholas chose not to try and interpret that as anything.
“So what happened to Beauty in your ending?” If she wasn’t half asleep, she would have been positive he held her hand just a little tighter as he spoke.
“He found her. Married her. I don’t remember much more. Probably some version of happily ever after.” She leaned against his shoulder, feeling the wave of sleep come over her again.
“What is it with fairy tales and happily ever after?” Rush murmured, settling into this new arrangement. Most people’s proximity bothered him, especially women, but Belle wasn’t like that. She was… well, for lack of a better word, innocent.
“And true love.” Belle recalled a lot of mentions of that. “I don’t know that either one of them exists, to be honest.”
“Hey, I’m the cynical one.” He said. Yes, Belle might have seemed innocent as a lamb, but he constantly had to remind himself that she was just as much a broken woman as he was a broken man. “Your job is to tell me not to doubt happily ever after.”
“Maybe another time.” She smiled softly, eyes fluttering closed. His warmth was a comfort, and knowing someone was beside her made her feel less alone in this cold, unfeeling place.
Having Belle asleep on his shoulder only made Nicholas realize how tired he still was. Heaven forbid anyone come in and see them like this, but it was likely he wouldn’t be moving for a while yet, so he closed his eyes and lost himself to fatigue.
It took them a moment to remember exactly what was going on when they woke up. Belle had slid down so her head was nestled against Nick’s chest, and she sat up, slightly embarrassed. Nicholas rubbed his neck, untangling their arms and sliding off the bed. Belle’s watch, sitting on the side table, showed that they’d slept another good six hours.
She expected him to say something like “back to work” or “let’s get going” or anything else equally unemotional, but he surprised her this time.
“So, are you keeping your promise?”
“What promise?” In her groggy state she couldn’t put her finger on it.
“Well, that certainly makes me feel better.” His tone was sarcastic, and he rolled his eyes as he spoke.
“Oh!” Belle suddenly realized. “That promise. I’m... coming along.” Rush had been referring to the promise Belle made in the locked cargo hold to get herself out of her numb state.
“Doesn’t look like it to me. Anyone who has nightmares like that and doesn’t bother to tell a soul-”
“I’m a big girl, Nicholas. I can handle it.”
“Hypocrite.” He shot back, opening the doors.
“I am not!” Belle caught up to him quickly, and they walked side by side down the hallway.
“You’re trying to take care of everyone but yourself, especially me, and trust me, I know you better than you might think.” At this comment, Belle stopped walking.
“So you noticed it, too?” she whispered. He turned towards her, nodding. The loss, the feeling of responsibility for anything and everything that happened. The only difference was that Belle was much braver than Nicholas had ever been, and he wasn’t about to let her fall down the hole that it had taken him so long to climb back up from.
He wasn’t inclined to say more.