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Naomi was singing karaoke. Screaming out to her favorite Moldy Filters song was all she could do. The fuschia martini (another favorite) clutched in her hand helped abate the thoughts swirling inside her head, but it was the screaming that really let her express the sorrow and anger she’d felt for the past month.

Belter-punk did that to a person. It let them channel their emotions about friends dying and ships being blown up into endless and awful screaming for a few minutes.

The Cant. The Donnager. Its people, some of them her friends. All gone.

Naomi loved this kind of screaming, as much as she could love anything at the moment.

Her third favorite thing—or person, really—was staring at her scream from his place at one of the booths. Jim did that, sometimes. Stared. It’d become more and more frequent ever since… Well, ever since they got into this mess.

Naomi didn’t want to think about it. Not right now.

She finished her set to scattered applause and a few catcalls. She made her way to Jim, ignoring the way her stomach flipped as he watched her collapse across from him in the booth. She needed another drink.

Jim was telling her how awful her singing had been, which was the entire point, when another fuschia martini arrived. Naomi’s hair did its usual thing of falling across her face when she needed it out of the way, so she grabbed it and held it away from her face while she drank.

Jim, across from her, smiled a little.

Naomi looked around the bar so she didn’t have to pay attention to that. “Where’s Amos and Alex?” she asked.

She could guess the answer and, as Jim replied, she knew her guess was right. Amos always disappeared with someone… expensive-looking and Alex liked his darts and making claims about Martian’s superior playing skills. Maybe they should rescue him.

Naomi told Jim as much and then started waving at the bartender for another drink after Jim smiled at her and told her about Amos and Fred’s expenses account. Her wave was cut short by Jim’s rough hand wrapping around hers.

“Maybe we should take a breather instead,” Jim said.

The flash of anger Naomi felt was brief, but intense. Of course he’d do this now. Of course he’d try to touch her and steer her away from drowning her sorrows like she was incapable of knowing her limits. Of course he’d say they should take a breather when that meant something else.

Naomi was not going to do this.

Oh, she wanted to. She’d wanted to for the past four years and more, but she was not going to do this. Not like this. Not when he was only asking her this now, after all they’ve been through.

Naomi pulled her hand back.

“You take a breather,” she said and then let a little bit of the grief she’d been feeling spill through her lips as she told Jim that, after getting two ships shot out from under her and having a bunch of her friends dying with them, she was going to get another drink and do another set.

That was what she needed: more of her favorite sort of screaming.

Not a breather with Jim.

Naomi pushed away from the booth, away from him, and went towards the stage again. Jim watched her all the way through and Naomi…


Naomi stared at him right back.