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Page 96 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“What is this, Jim?”

“An apology?” he said. “An admission that you were right, and that I was turning into my own screwed-up version of Miller? Those at the very least. Hopefully opening the dialogue to reconciliation, if I’m lucky.”

“I’m glad,” Naomi said. “I’m glad you’re figuring that out. But I’ve been saying this for months now, and you—”

“Wait,” Holden said. He could feel her pulling back from him, not letting herself believe. All he had left to offer her was absolute truth, so he did. “I couldn’t hear you. Because I’ve been terrified, and I’ve been a coward.”

“Fear doesn’t make you a coward.”

“No,” he said. “Of course it doesn’t. But refusing to face up to it. To not admit to you how I felt. To not let you and Alex and Amos help me. That was cowardice. And it may have cost me you, the crew’s loyalty, everything I really care about. It made me keep a bad job a lot longer than I should have because the job was safe.”

A small knot of the Golgo players began drifting toward their table, and Holden was gratified when he saw Naomi wave them off. It meant she wanted to keep talking. That was a start.

“Tell me,” she said. “Where are you going from here?”

“I have no idea,” Holden replied with a grin. “And that’s the best feeling I’ve had in ages. But no matter what happens next, I need you there.”

When she started to protest, Holden quickly put up a hand to stop her and said, “No, I don’t mean like that. I’d love to win you back, but I’m perfectly okay with the idea that it might take some time, or never happen at all. I mean the Roci needs you back. The crew needs you there.”

“I don’t want to leave her,” Naomi said with a shy smile.

“She’s your home,” Holden said. “Always will be as long as you want it. And that’s true no matter what happens between us.”

Naomi began wrapping one thick strand of hair around her finger and drank off the last of her drink. Holden pointed at the table menu, but she shook her hand at him.

“This is because you confronted Fred, right?”

“Yeah, partly,” Holden said. “I was standing in his office feeling terrified and realizing I’d been afraid for a long, long time. I’ve screwed things up with him too. Some of that’s probably his fault. He’s a true believer, and those are bad people to climb into bed with. But it’s mostly still mine.”

“Did you quit?”

“He fired me, but I was probably going to quit.”

“So,” Naomi said. “You’ve lost us our paying gig and our patron. I guess I feel a little flattered that the part you’re trying to patch up is me.”

“You,” Holden said, “are the only part I really care about fixing.”

“You know what happens now, right?”

“You move back onto the ship?”

Naomi just smiled the comment away. “Now we pay for our own repairs. If we fire a torpedo, we have to find someone to sell us a new one. We pay for water, air, docking fees, food, and medical supplies for our very expensive automated sick bay. Have a plan for that?”

“Nope!” Holden said. “But I have to say, for some reason, it feels great.”

“And when the euphoria passes?”

“I’ll make a plan.”

Her smile grew reflective and she tugged on her lock of hair.

“I’m not ready to move back to the ship right now,” Naomi said, reaching across the table to take his hand in hers. “But by the time the Roci is patched up, I’ll need my cabin back.”

“I’ll move the rest of my stuff out immediately.”

“Jim,” she said, squeezing his fingers once before letting go. “I love you, and we’re not okay yet. But this is a good start.”

And yes, Holden thought, it really was.

Holden woke up in his old cabin on the Rocinante feeling better than he had in months. He climbed out of his bunk and wandered naked through the empty ship to the head. He took an hour-long shower in water he actually had to pay for now, heated by electricity the dock would be charging him for by the kilowatt-hour. He walked back to his bunk, drying skin made pink by the almost scalding water as he went.

He made and ate a large breakfast and drank five cups of coffee while catching up on the technical reports on the Roci’s repairs until he was sure he understood everything about what had been done. Holden had switched to reading a column about the state of Mars-Earth relations by a political humorist when his terminal buzzed at him, and a call came through from Amos.

“Hey, Cap,” he said, his big face filling the small screen. “You coming over to the station today? Or should we come meet you on the Roci?”

“Let’s meet here,” Holden replied. “Sam and her team will be working today and I want to keep an eye on things.”

“See you in a few, then,” Amos said, and killed the connection.

Holden tried to finish the humor column but kept getting distracted and having to read the same passage over again. He finally gave up and cleaned the galley for a while, then set the coffee-maker to brew a fresh pot for Amos and the work crew when they arrived.

The machine was gurgling happily to itself like a content infant when the deck hatch clanged open and Amos and Prax climbed down the crew ladder and into the galley.

“Cap,” Amos said, dropping into a chair with a thump. Prax followed him into the room but didn’t sit. Holden grabbed mugs and pulled two more cups of coffee, then set them on the table.

“What’s the news?” he said.

Amos answered with a shit-eating grin and spun his terminal across the table to Holden. When Holden looked at it, it was displaying the account information for Prax’s “save Mei” fund. It had just over half a million UN dollars in it.

Holden whistled and slumped into a chair. “Jesus grinned, Amos. I’d hoped we might … but never this.”

“Yeah, it was a little under 300k this morning. It’s gone up another 200k just over the last three hours. Seems like everyone following the Ganymede shit on the news has made little Mei the poster child for the tragedy.”

“Is this enough?” Prax cut in, anxiety in his voice.

“Oh, hell yes,” Holden said with a laugh. “Way more than enough. This will fund our rescue mission just fine.”