When the intra-ship comms jar Noemi awake, her first thought is that she’d overslept. Scrambling to a seated position, she looks at the clock, only to remember that the Persephone is in orbit. She doesn’t have to wake up to help prepare to enter a gate. Letting out a breath, she runs a hand through her hair. She stretches over to flip the comms unit on the wall so she can talk to Abel. The unit chimes, letting her know they’re connected.
“Abel? What’s going on?” There’s no reply for several seconds. “Abel?”
“I’m here,” he replies. His voice sounds tinny through the speaker, almost like it had when he took over the smasher. The difference is that now, his voice is taut with emotion.
A pang shoots through Noemi’s chest. “What’s wrong?”
She can tell he’s forcing his voice to be even when he says, “I had a nightmare.” Now she’s very worried. She knows he has bad dreams from time to time, but he usually prefers not to talk about them. Avoiding Freudian analysis, he rationalizes his dreams by telling himself they aren’t real. The fact that he’s calling her at all means he must be really shaken up.
“I’m coming over.” Noemi hangs up comms, not giving him a chance to convince her otherwise. She swings her legs out of bed and wiggles her feet into the cat slippers Virginia had gifted her. Then she exits the late Captain Gee’s room and pads up the hall to Abel’s.
On her way, she runs into Castor. He circles her and rubs his head against her legs. Neither Noemi nor Abel had ever had a pet before, but after much convincing from Abel, they adopted a kitten from Earth. He’s a beautiful grey tabby with green eyes and a friendly nature. At first, they had no idea what to name him. Finally, they decided to continue the Greek theme with Castor. They named him after the tale of Castor and Pollux, the twin brothers. Of the two, only Pollux was immortal. When Castor died, Pollux appealed to Zeus, the king of the gods. He would share his immortality with his brother so they could both live. Zeus agreed, and he put them in the stars as the constellation Gemini. Abel and Noemi thought it seemed fitting.
Castor allows himself to be scooped up, and he and Noemi enter Abel’s room together. It had been Mansfield’s thirty years ago, but Abel had recently redecorated. The water lily painting had been taken down, replaced with the enigmatic Kahlo and pictures of Noemi, Virginia, and the others. The bed hadn’t changed, save for a blue koala plushie gifted to him by Virginia. “What? It’s cute,” he said when Noemi gave him an incredulous look.
The lights are on, but dimmed, giving the room a surreal aura. Abel is sitting on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. He looks up when she and Castor enter, his face blank. She hands the cat to him and sits next to him, not too close, but not too far either. She doesn’t know if he needs space.
“Hey,” she says softly.
“Hello,” he says. Castor curls up next to Abel and purrs as he strokes his head. They call him their little motor because of how loud he is when he purrs. Abel said that he finds it soothing.
When they’d first met, Noemi had thought Abel was cold and unreadable. She’d quickly learned otherwise. Over time, she’d realized that he had emotions, dreams, and even a soul. He’s selfless, loyal, and compassionate. He has the ability to love. Despite his mechanical body, he’s more human than most people. She learns something new about him every day, like the little tells that mean that he’s nervous or upset. Right now, his movements are stiff and jerky, uncharacteristically mechanical. His jaw is clenched like he’s trying to keep his feelings from spilling out.
Much like Noemi has learned to accept her mech side, Abel has embraced his human side. He isn’t shy about his feelings and has incredible emotional maturity for someone who spent thirty years in isolation. He’s open with her, but she knows he doesn’t want to worry or upset her. Sometimes he feels like he has to keep his feelings secret from her - his grief, his sadness, his anger. She wishes she could take his pain away. She would lock it up and throw away the key.
She scoots closer to him and rubs soothing circles on his back. The fabric of his sleep shirt is soft against her hand. Slowly, his jaw unclenches. Some of the tension seems to bleed out of him, leaving behind a vulnerable looking boy.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks. He turns to meet her gaze.
“I’d rather not,” he says, not unkindly. Noemi nods. She understands. There are some nightmares you just can’t share, as if they’ll manifest if you dare to put them into words.
“Do you want a hug?” Noemi gives him a small smile, which he returns weakly.
His arms wrap around her waist as he buries his face in the crook of her neck. It’s such a trusting gesture that Noemi feels a surge of protectiveness for him. Maybe if they stay like this nothing bad will ever happen again. When she feels wetness on her skin, it takes her a moment to realize what’s causing it.
“Are you crying?” Noemi is shocked. She’s seen him cry only once before when Mansfield was dying on the Osiris. What had he dreamed about?
“I’m sorry, “ he says, his voice slightly muffled. “I don’t know why.”
“What do you mean?” Abel shifts so his chin can rest on her shoulder. Noemi rubs his back encouragingly.
“I’ve cried before, but when I did, it was under extreme emotional conditions. I don’t understand why I’m reacting this way to a nightmare.” His voice shakes as he says, “I’ve had nightmares for as long as I’ve been able to dream.” Her heart aches as she imagines him all alone in the equipment pod bay, waking from a nightmare with no one and nothing to comfort him. For thirty years he floated in there, drifting in and out of sleep, shifting between conscious and subconscious thought. It must have been so lonely. He was more lonely than Noemi has ever been.
Holding him tighter, she says, “Sometimes we don’t understand why we feel the way we do. It’s normal to feel upset sometimes, but it’s unhealthy to bottle it up. Maybe you don’t want to talk about it, but you have to let your emotions out somehow. It’s okay to cry, Abel. You don’t have to be strong all the time.” He says nothing, so she continues.
“I used to hate crying because I thought others would think that I was weak. I had my walls up all the time, except for around Esther. She was the one person who got to see me being vulnerable. She taught me that it’s okay to be soft. I want to be soft for you, and I hope you know that you can be soft with me. You’re not alone.” How many times had Noemi woken up in a cold sweat, heart racing from a nightmare? For how long had she yearned for a shoulder to cry on, someone to whisper to her soothingly, to wipe away her tears? She wants to be that person for Abel.
“Thank you, Noemi,” he says. “You are very good at comforting people.” Grinning at their old joke, she leans her head against his and holds him for a long time. Castor falls asleep and his purring subsides. The only other sound is the nearly inaudible hum of the ship. Eventually, he pulls back, revealing two glistening tracks trailing down his face. Noemi pulls the sleeve of her sleep shirt over her hand and gently wipes them away.
“Are you ready to sleep again?” she asks. He nods. “Can I get you anything?” There’s a pregnant pause. He clearly wants to say something but is trying to decide whether it’s a good idea or not.
“What is it?” She takes his hand, swiping a thumb over his knuckles.
“Will you stay?” he asks. They’ve cuddled and taken naps together, but they’ve never slept in the same bed overnight. It was a level of intimacy and vulnerability Noemi wasn’t sure she was ready for, even though she knows that he’s the only one for her. Sometimes, though, she lies awake at night in the room that she alone occupies, staring at the ceiling, wondering if she made everything up. Like if she gets up and leaves her room it will still be three weeks to the Masada Run, and all the adventures she went on with Abel, Virginia, and the others never happened at all. Maybe Abel has the same experience, all alone in the dark vastness of his room. Maybe, in the middle of the night, he’s back in the equipment pod bay, with no hope and no one. She can’t bear the thought of it.
“Of course,” she says, because she needs him to know that he is safe and loved. Because she doesn’t want him to feel alone. Because she doesn’t want to feel alone.
He looks relieved. He turns the lights off and they burrow under the covers, pulling them up to their chins. The bed is impractically large, but they lay close together, facing each other. Seeking warmth, Castor settles between their legs at the foot of the bed. After a moment, Abel reaches out under the blankets and takes her hand. With her mech eyesight, she can see his eyes close and his brow smooth. His breaths deepen as he shifts into regenerative mode, and only when he is sound asleep does she close her eyes and sink off into slumber.
Waking up in space is very different from waking up on Genesis. On her home planet, Noemi often slept with her window open. In the summer, gentle breezes would cool the room, carrying the scent of the fields she and Esther played in as kids. She would be lulled to sleep by the native insects and Esther’s breathing. As the sun rose in the morning, their room would be bathed in golden light. The peace would be shattered when the alarm went off. Noemi would rise right away, but Esther would pull the covers over her head, grumbling about needing five more minutes.
In her room on the Persephone, she has the lights programmed to turn on at a certain time each morning, though her sleep schedule can be erratic as they travel to different star systems. It’s taken some time to get used to the quiet. There is no breeze and there are no insects. She is not lulled to sleep by the sound of another person’s breathing, though Castor visits her sometimes. She’s still upset with how the Council treated her and Abel on Genesis, but her love for her planet will never go away. It’s when she goes to sleep at night and when she wakes up in the morning that she misses it the most.
This morning, however, the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes is Abel. She must have shifted closer to him while she was asleep since her arm is now flung haphazardly around his waist. He sleeps like the dead - or rather, a machine - and hasn’t moved at all during the night. Not a hair on his head is misplaced. He looks as impeccable as always, with no sign of any nightmares.
Noemi holds him tighter and drifts in and out of sleep until he wakes up. It’s almost uncanny, how he simply opens his eyes and is instantly awake. Immediately, he smiles at her. Returning it, she says, “Good morning.”
He shifts so he can lean down and press a kiss to the top of her head. “Good morning.” A warm, fuzzy feeling spreads from her head to her toes. Sometimes it was the little things that put butterflies in her stomach. She wonders if she’ll ever get used to it. She hopes not.
“Did you have any more dreams?” she asks.
“If I did, I cannot remember them,” he says. She hums in acknowledgment.
They settle back in and spend a while in companionable silence. Castor comes up from his spot at the foot of the bed and curls up between them. The warmth has almost lulled her to sleep again when Abel says her name. “What is it?” she asks, yawning.
He hesitates, like he knows what he wants to say but can’t figure out how to say it. It reminds her of last night before he asked her to stay. She’s definitely awake now. Finally, he says, “I like this.”
She waits for him to continue. When he doesn’t, she carefully says, “I like this too.”
“Is this something you would like to do every morning?” Noemi considers the implications of that question.
“Are you asking me to move in with you?” she asks. She says it like she’s joking, but she has never been more serious.
“Technically you already are.” When she raises an eyebrow, he continues, “We’ve been living on the Persephone together for a few months now, albeit in separate rooms. We’re already in a romantic relationship and I, for one, would not mind waking up to you each morning.” Noemi tries to ignore the thrill sent through her by the words romantic relationship and waking up to you. “Of course, if you are uncomfortable with sharing a room with me, we can continue the way we are now.”
Sighing, she sits up. Looking down at Abel, she can tell he thinks she’ll say no. A few months ago, she would have. She has complicated beliefs on physical intimacy, stemming from her religious upbringing. There are certain things that she just isn’t ready for, things which she agrees should wait until they’re married. Despite that, she still finds herself wanting more. She wants to take all he’s willing to give, and give all he’s willing to take. Deep down, she longs for intimacy, for companionship, and he clearly does, too. Maybe this is one step closer to not feeling alone.
Suddenly, it seems very simple. They love each other. They know each other. So she says, “Okay.”
He looks at her in surprise. “Okay?”
She laughs. “Yes. I’ll move in with you, Abel.” The smile he shoots her brings butterflies to her stomach. “I think we should celebrate,” she says.
Abel looks at her quizzically. “How?”
In response, she leans over him and brings her lips to his.