Prax stopped mixing things in his bowl and stuck it in the refrigerator. He turned and looked at them with the careful movements of someone who feared he’d be asked to leave if anyone noticed him. Holden moved over to him and put an arm around his shoulder. “Our friend Prax here can’t be the only guy who needs to hire a ship like this, right?”
“We’re faster and meaner than just about anything a civvy can dig up,” Alex said with a nod.
“And when we find Mei, it will be as high profile as you could hope for,” Holden said. “What better advertising could we get than that?”
“Admit it, Cap,” Amos said. “You just kind of like being famous.”
“If it gets us jobs, sure.”
“We’re much more likely to wind up broke, out of air, and drifting through space dead,” Naomi said.
“That’s always a possibility,” Holden admitted. “But, man, aren’t you ready to be your own boss for a change? If we find we can’t make it on our own, we can always sell the ship for a giant sack of money and go our separate ways. We have an escape plan.”
“Yeah,” Amos said. “Fuck yeah. Let’s do this. How do we start?”
“Well,” Holden said. “That’s another new thing. I think we have to vote. No one of us owns the ship, so I think we vote on important stuff like this from now on.”
Amos said, “All in favor of making ourselves into a company to own the ship, raise your hand.”
To Holden’s delight, they all raised their hands. Even Prax started to, realized he was doing it, and then put it back down.
“I’ll get us an attorney on Ceres and start the paperwork,” Holden said. “But that leads to something else. A company can own a ship, but a company can’t be the registered captain. We’ll need to vote for whoever holds that title.”
Amos started laughing. “Gimme a f**king break. Raise your hand if Holden isn’t the captain.”
No hands went up.
“See?” Amos said.
Holden started to speak but stopped when something uncomfortable happened in his throat and behind his sternum.
“Look,” Amos said, his face kind. “You’re just that guy.”
Naomi nodded and smiled at Holden, which only made the ache in his chest pleasantly worse. “I’m an engineer,” she said. “There isn’t a program on this ship I haven’t tweaked or rewritten, and I could probably take her apart and put her back together by myself at this point. But I can’t bluff at cards. And I’m never going to be the one that stares down the joint navies of the inner planets and says, ‘Back the hell off.’”
“Roger that,” Alex said. “And I just want to fly my baby. That’s all and that’s it. If I get to do that, I’m happy.”
Holden started to speak, but to his surprise and embarrassment, the minute his mouth opened, his eyes teared up. Amos saved him.
“I’m just a grease monkey,” he said. “I push tools. And I mostly wait for Naomi to tell me when and where to push ’em. I got no desire to run anything bigger than that machine shop. You’re the talker. I’ve seen you face down Fred Johnson, UN naval captains, OPA cowboys, and drugged-up space pirates. You talk out your ass better than most people do using their mouth and sober.”
“Thank you,” Holden finally said. “I love you guys. You know that, right?”
“Plus which,” Amos continued, “no one on this ship will try harder to jump in front of a bullet for me than you will. I find that appealing in a captain.”
“Thanks,” Holden said again.
“Sounds settled to me,” Alex said, getting up and heading toward the ladder. “Gonna go make sure we’re not aimed at a rock or somethin’.”
Holden watched him go and was gratified to see him wiping his eyes as soon as he got out of the room. It was okay to be a weepy little kid as long as everyone else was being a weepy little kid.
Prax gave him an awkward pat on the shoulder and said, “Come back to the galley in an hour. Pudding will be ready.” Then he wandered out and into his cabin. He was already reading messages on his hand terminal as he closed the door.
“Okay,” Amos said. “What now?”
“Amos,” Naomi said, getting up and walking over to stand in front of Holden. “Please take ops for me for a while.”
“Roger that,” Amos said, the grin existing only in his voice. He climbed the ladder up and out of sight, the pressure hatch opening for him, then slamming behind him when he went.
“Hi,” Holden said. “Was that right?”
She nodded. “I feel like I got you back. I was worried I’d never see you again.”
“If you hadn’t yanked me out of that hole I was digging for myself, neither of us would have.”
Naomi leaned forward to kiss him, and he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tight. When they stopped to breathe, he said, “Is this too soon?”
She said, “Shut up,” and kissed him again. Without breaking the kiss, she pulled her body away from his and began fumbling with the zipper of his jumpsuit. Those ridiculous Martian military jumpsuits that had come with the ship, TACHI stenciled across the back. Now that they were going to have their own company, they’d need to get something better. Jumpsuits made a lot of sense for shipboard life, with changing gravities and oily mechanical parts. But something actually tailored to fit them all, and in their own colors. ROCINANTE on the back.
Naomi’s hand got inside the jumpsuit and under his T-shirt, and he lost all thought of fashion choices.
“My bunk or yours?” he said.
“You have your own bunk?”
Making love to Naomi had always been different than with anyone else. Some of it was physical. She was the only Belter he’d ever been with, and that meant she was physiologically different in some ways. But that wasn’t the most notable part for him. What made Naomi different was that they’d been friends for five years before they’d slept together.
It wasn’t a flattering testament to his character, and it made him cringe when he thought about it now, but he’d always been pretty shallow when it came to sex. He’d picked out potential sexual partners within minutes of meeting a new woman, and because he was pretty and charming, he usually got the ones he was interested in. He’d always been quick to allow himself to mistake infatuation for genuine affection. One of his most painful memories was the day Naomi had called him on it. Exposed for him the little game he played in which he convinced himself he genuinely cared for the women he was sleeping with so that he wouldn’t feel like a user.