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Point of Departure

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Naomi spends the majority of her time tucked away in her bunk, eyes closed as she listens to the sounds of the Roci hum around her. With the crew asleep and Miller and Holden finally on the mend, she lets another wave of tremors pass through her. The rumbling starts at her toes, traveling up her spine until her head vibrates with it. She’s too far gone to do anything but ride it out, and like navigating through an asteroid field, she can only hope she comes out of this in one piece.    

It feels like weeks have passed since Holden and Miller dragged themselves to the docks, or maybe just days. Time’s lost its pull, absorbed into the lazy course Alex plotted for the Roci to give Holden – to give the captain - enough time to recuperate before they plan their next move. With Holden finding enough strength to drift through the halls like a ghost, it looks like it won’t be long until they’re thrust back into the thick of things.

She tries to keep the flicker of a thought that maybe things will have blown over when they rejoin society alive, but it’s a hope she’s careful not to lean on. The repercussions of Eros will be more than apparent once they come out of hiding, but for now, she relishes the unspoken rule to keep the monitors off; at least until they’re ready to do something about the fallout.  It’s too soon to watch newsfeeds steam the events of Eros like some horror story. It’s too soon to quantify the number of people they were forced to leave behind. Everything is too fresh, lingering in the forefront of her mind, bumping her shoulder like the people who ran past her seeking a shelter but finding a death trap instead. Naomi knows they deserve more than to be forgotten, but that’s exactly what she wants to do. Shut her eyes and her mind from the faces and names that loop through her head like an emergency transmission.  

Weaving fingers into a tuft of hair, she gently pulls until curls cover her face. It’s a simple gesture, and should be a comforting one, but it feels empty and incomplete. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knows nothing can mute the screams of the dying from echoing in her ear, or erase the feeling of a small hand slipping through her fingers. Every time she feels sleep stalking her from the edges of her consciousness, her muscles twitch until her leg kicks out or she’s jolted up like a spring has snapped beneath her, the smell of fear thick and sour in her nose. Naomi’s almost positive she would trade the Roci for two hours of silence, maybe even one if it promised to momentarily cease the memories of the Cant and the smell of Shed’s blood floating in the atmosphere around them.

Grieving for more lives than she can count wasn't what she envisioned for herself when she jumped ship on Marco and his crew. Every step she took after leaving Ceres fell like a crater, splitting the world open and propelling her forward with a velocity that was only halted by an explosion. Somewhere along the line, Naomi expected to feel wiser, maybe even validated about her decision to turn her back on everything she knew, but now she’s left with more questions and a fear that’s etching itself into her bones.

Signing up for the Cant was supposed to make her anonymous, just another drudge looking to lay low until she plotted a new course for herself. Any chance of anonymity was stripped away the moment she was dragged into a trajectory that she couldn’t navigate herself away from. A small, but ignorable, part of her tells her that there’s still a chance she can get away from this. It’s Holden who’s plastered over walls and newsfeeds, the rest of them could sink under the radar, maybe jump ships until everything blows over. 

Naomi sighs and the thought dissipates like meteor dust. She refused to leave Holden behind on Eros and she refuses to leave him behind now. She meant it when she said they were better when they stuck together. Whatever they’re involved in, they’re a team, even if they can’t quite wrap their heads around whatever this is. After Eros, the only thing Naomi’s certain of is that this is just the beginning, and they’ll all have to push through this together if they want to make it out on the other side.

Tremors transform into a steady trembling as adrenaline snakes into her veins at the thought of what may be waiting for them. It’s enough to have her raise a flag in defeat and throw her legs over the crash couch. There’s no point in pretending she’ll find enough peace to sleep tonight. Pushing back the mess of dark curls, she massages her eyes until she’s focused enough to search for other drifters idling through the night. 

Five steps out of her bunk and Naomi’s already second guessing her decision. Unfamiliar angles fold around her as she walks down the hall, and if she doesn’t control her breathing, she thinks they may close around her entirely. Naomi is nothing if not rational, but her mind’s working against her, scanning the gunmetal-grey walls and floor for any sign of something familiar to grasp onto. But the Roci is too sleek to be the Cant and most of her crew is dead.

The Cant wasn’t home; Naomi isn’t sure if she understands the concept anymore, and even if she does, she turned her back on the closest thing she had to permanence with no question to what she was gambling in the process. Finding a replacement was an idea that floated around her like water, but every time she even thought of reaching towards it, it drifted away into the void. While the Cant was a means to an end, it was familiar, comforting enough even with its faulty electricity and out of date machinery. Naomi hummed along to the creaks as she worked, punched the right corners after a short circuit, and the motions made her feel like she was coming back to herself. There’s nothing familiar about the Roci and she feels it in the pit of her stomach.

It’s not until she hears the ping of the lift that Naomi realizes she’s standing in front of engineering. Grease and oil waft outside the double doors and she breathes it into her skin like the scent of her favorite chamomile tea. The smell makes something cave inside her, tearing at the chord that’s been pulling her shoulder blades together with a tension that has her teeth clenching. At least she still has this, she thinks, and that's one thing she doesn't expect to change.

It’s not quite disappointment that flutters in her chest when she doesn’t see Amos, elbows deep in mechanics, once she enters the room.

She should be thankful Amos found it in himself to get some rest. He’d been through enough without getting tased by the Martians after they'd been too rough with her. Amos shrugs everything off like used coveralls, but she’s left thinking of recovery time frames, and if there was enough of one before the gunfight and Eros. She's left thinking if the strain of it all was too much and Semi paid the price for it.

Yes, maybe it's good Amos is finally recharging, but she wishes she could wrap herself in a cool, hey, boss, instead of navigating the ship alone. Without many other options, Naomi turns on her heels, and heads towards the galley. A cup of tea may help loosen her muscles enough to finally get some sleep.

The doors to the galley open quietly and she sees Holden, both palms cupping a ceramic cup like it’s the most delicate thing in the world. She has to stop herself from thinking the same thing about him. Maybe it’s the light, or the way his dark hair contrasts with sickly skin, but he looks five shades too pale, more susceptible to cracking than the mug in his hands. Were this a regular hospital, bed rest wouldn’t be as optional as he’s made it.

“You’re feeling better, I see.” Maybe it’s the hour, or the way the Roci is begging for silence in the aftermath of Eros, but her voice is softer than she means it to be, almost gentle. Maybe she’s just tired from butting heads with one of the four people not currently trying to kill her. Whatever the reason, she doesn’t fault herself for it.

“If better means taking pills for the rest of my life so I don’t grow extra limbs or cancerous tumors, then yeah, I’m feeling much better.” If there’s any trace of bitterness in his answer, it’s lost in a small smile that speaks of relief. Relief to be off Eros, to be alive, to not be alone; Naomi doesn’t know Holden enough to guess, but she welcomes it, no matter the reason. “There’s a fresh pot,” he adds, easily enough; like his body isn’t fighting off toxins that want to destroy him from the inside out.

She should be telling Holden to get back to bed. His vitals may be improving, but that doesn’t mean he’s recovered, and pushing himself too hard will likely set them all back. But she thinks about her own bunk and the memories that are waiting for her and she doesn’t have the heart to demand it of him, not yet. Instead, Naomi reaches for a cup of coffee and joins him at the table. “Looks like it’s my lucky night,” she says, holding the cup between her hands. Warmth spreads from the tips of her fingers into her palm and the sensation grounds her. 

“How’s Miller?” She asks, partly because it’s the only thing she can think to ask right now and partly because she genuinely wants to know. 

Naomi didn’t mean to assume the role of care taker, but she found herself in the position anyway. After reviewing the latest medical report, she knows they’re stable enough considering everything they’ve gone through, but there are things iron levels and hemoglobin counts can’t tell her. Naomi recognizes the darkness pitting itself in Holden's eyes enough to know that it's beyond radiation treatments and fatigue. Whatever else happened on Eros won't show up on a report, even if Naomi wishes it could.

Holden shrugs, a tired motion. “Was out pretty hard when I left the medbay, didn’t think to wake him.” He pauses, fingertips tracing the groove of the cup. “Back on Eros, he told me it was his first time off Ceres.” His laugh is humorless and short. “Figure he’ll need some adjustment time after everything he’s been through.”

"Not exactly the best introduction to traveling," Naomi agrees, when she wants to say: we all do

"It got pretty rough down there. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it; around him." 

Naomi doesn’t miss the way Holden’s eyes grow momentarily distant. Wherever he went off to, he’s focuses back on her soon enough. “Seems like there’s a lot to unpack,” she says, and she means it. “He lost something down there,” she continues, not entirely sure what she means by it, but whatever their take on Miller is, she figures they owe the man some time to process his loses before they come to a decision on him. Whoever she was, or whatever Julie Mao meant to Miller, he'll need to come back from that, too.
When she looks up, Holden is looking at her with a quiet compassion she’s surprised he has the strength to muster. She wants to blame it on being under caffeinated, sleep deprived, or just scared, but she lets the smile soother her, if only because she wants to let go of the knot in her stomach so badly.  

"Some vacation," Holden responds. 

"Yeah," she agrees, "sounds like a shit.” It’s getting easier, talking to Holden without the air of friction constricting her word choices. She feels lighter for it.

Holden's reply gets lost to a ping from his hand terminal. "Treatment," he says with a shrug.

Naomi nods. "I should likely get back to my bunk anyway."

"Stay," Holden says before she can get up. He sounds every bit as fragile as he is right now. "I don’t want to be alone right now and I don’t think you do either. Besides, it's just a warning. Should have time for another cup and I feel like I could use one. You?"

Against her will, she feels a smile tug at her lips. It’s likely the coffee, but she feels a warmth where her knot used to be. Everything’s still unfamiliar, but she feels a foundation being created, like the skeleton of a ship slowly being welded together. "Sure," Naomi responds and grabs Holden’s cup.

She feels fingers on her forearm before she can stand. Just two days ago, she would shrug, rip herself away from the paxoniski that dragged her into a mess more convoluted than Marco ever could. Now she thinks of a hand wrapping itself around hers and breathes into the touch: one, two, three before it fades away.

“We’ll figure this out,” Holden says and there’s so much conviction in his voice, she has to believe him. It’s foolish of her, maybe downright dumb, but she wants to take the comfort and wrap it around her like blanket, so she does.

“We will,” she says, and the hell of the thing is, she believes it. It’s not enough to take the weight of the past few days off, but it’s enough to see her through the start.  Against her better judgement, Naomi’s followed Holden this far, it’s only fair that she follow him out of this mess, too.  

Naomi has known men with causes, men with fake smiles and empty promises. She can spot a lie in the pinch of a shoulder, can hear the echoes of a hallowed out core in the voice of bravado. Yes, Naomi has known men with causes but see doesn’t see them in Holden.  

There’s a twitch just under her skin, an itch she’s not quite ready to examine yet, so she lets the realization go. For now, she settles on knowing she can trust Holden to lead them to safety, whatever that means at the moment. If there’s a way there, Holden will take them there. Until they’re ready to make that move, she thinks two more cups of coffee will do.