Author: bonusparts PM
*Love, by accident.* Suave surfer Ross Finch doesn't care about anything but the sea. Until he meets brassy Amber Baelin, that is. With her, he'll learn what it means to love...and to lose. And to discover if he can ever be, truly, fearless. *Mature situations; DRAFTRated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Hurt/Comfort - Chapters: 26 - Words: 154,266 - Reviews: 38 - Favs: 17 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 05-13-13 - Published: 01-26-12 - id: 2991852
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
23 (Choice and Consequence)
Ross sat back of a sudden, feeling his testicles cringe and his nipples harden, as though he'd been hit by a frigid wave.
"Your dad?" he croaked at last. Racing his gaze over Amber, he searched her face for some clue or crack. "W-Well...what's he want? And, how the Hell did he find you, any way?"
"I...I don't know," she said, her focus drifting back to the letter in her hand. "The solicitors', I suppose. They'd have my address."
He watched her for another long moment, but she just sat there, staring silently at the paper. Finally, he prompted: "And?"
Amber blinked, but didn't look to him, her attention instead flitting and flowing from one random spot to another around the room, like in a daze. "And what?"
"What's he say?" Ross pressed, his voice straining.
Her head moved back and forth in uneven rhythm. She opened her lips as though to speak, but there was no sound, just her mouthing at air.
Ignoring his own caution, he swiped the letter from her hand and scanned the words, starting with, My darling Amber...which made the muscles in Ross's core constrict.
Father or no, Amber's old man had no right to call her his. Not after tossing her from his step in favour of some tarty totty. He certainly didn't have the right to try and insinuate himself into Amber's life, now, after everything she'd been through. She had a new life, one of which she'd dreamed, for which she'd worked so hard, that she was going to make in that little village by the sea, with Ross. Richard Schaefer was nothing compared to that, no matter what lofty language he used for his apologies for time, and entreaties for forgiveness, and petitions to see her.
As he read, Ross heard his molars scrape in his ears. Her old man didn't deserve her, didn't deserve any of it. Except for maybe the righteous swing of Ross's fist.
But, suddenly, one word jumped out at him – cancer – followed by another – come – and a third – please – that stilled the restless fury in his guts.
For a moment. Because, even though Amber had made no move to reclaim the letter while he'd read, when Ross raised his head, he heard her voice waver as she said:
"It doesn't change anything. Does it?"
As he met her eyes, he felt an all-too-familiar clutch of buried dread: that terrible tipping point of borrowed affection. It hardened him again, and he closed his fist around the paper, crumpling it in his grip. Tossing it aside, he traded those words for her cheek.
"No," he said, as he pulled her face close to his. "It doesn't change anything at all."
Amber let out a tiny sigh, which Ross silenced with a quick, gentle kiss, one he parlayed into a deeper and more urgent press. He took her in his arms then, and she did the same, as he lifted and shifted them more properly onto the sofa, in such a way he could be what she wanted, what she needed, without the interference of anyone else.
There was no sex, though he did help her strip down to her bra and pants, to share a closer warmth than they'd be able to do through their clothes. The grip of her hands made him groan, and the stroke of his fingers made her gasp, and the lap of their kisses made both of them want for more. But, beneath the cloak of their desire, Ross felt her slip from him. It was subtle, and only just, but it was in the way only another man could make a woman do.
A younger, more foolish version of himself would have redoubled his efforts, but, this time, Ross settled against her, with his arms wound around her and his head laid upon her, to listen to her pulse beneath his ear.
It stuttered, once, as she whispered, "What was your father like?"
Opening his eyes, he stared into the dark screen of the television, where his murky reflection peered back at him, a wanting and harder-edged approximation of his father: taller and leaner, with the same wide, well-muscled shoulders...but without that pervasive gracious manner and generous disposition that had endeared James Finch to everyone he met.
"He was a big guy," he muttered. "Not to be scared, though. More like, you felt...safe around him. And, he was hard, you know, like a dad should be. But, fair. He wouldn't stop you from making trouble," he said, and snorted a chuckle, briefly, to think of skinned shins and twisted wrists rewarded for breakneck bicycle races along the winding village roads, and shameful reparations for windows carelessly broken or cars raffishly scraped. "But, he wouldn't let you get away with it, either."
Stroking her fingers through his hair, Amber let out a quiet hum. "He sounds like a good man."
"He was," Ross agreed. Then, he let out a long, slow breath, too hushed to be even a sigh. "I wanted to be just like him."
She curled her fingers behind his ear, her touch feather-light. "You wanted him to be proud of you. I think everyone wants that, from someone." She rolled the tip of one finger along the ridge of his ear, and murmured, "I wanted you to be proud of me."
"I've always been," he said, and pressed his lips to the space between her breasts, in three tiny, barely-there kisses. Then, he settled against her again, with his head laid on her chest, and held her, for a long time, amid the encroaching gloom of twilight.
Until the rhythm of her pulse quickened once more beneath his cheek, and she asked:
"Why do bad things happen?"
He pulled a breath that sounded sharp and loud in the stillness of the room. "I don't know."
"It's not from anything we do," she murmured, pressing her palm to his head just a bit, as though to hold him closer. "Is it?"
"No," he told her, recalling a similar conversation, when he'd sat in a hospital waiting room, tearing helplessly at his hair over her.
"It's just fate," he muttered, now, repeating the words from his memory. "Just...shit fate."
She breathed deep, her chest ballooning under his cheek and between his arms. "I still hate him," she said, her voice dull and hollow in his pressed ear. "Does that make me a terrible person?"
He gave her a squeeze. "No. No, of course not." Lifting his head, he looked into her face with a frown. "He was a bastard. You said so."
She frowned, too, pressing her lips together, as though ashamed.
"Amber," he said, and clenched his arms around her, emphasising each point of his words with a pump of his embrace. "You don't. Owe him. Anything. You hear me?"
Her gaze stayed clear, but, when she drew her next breath, he distinctly heard the rattling of a sniff in her nostrils. "Things were going so well-"
"They still are-"
Lolling her head away with a click of her tongue, she grimaced. "You don't understand...! He ruins everything-"
"No," Ross said, and, this time, he let her go, and pushed himself up, so he was arched over her. "Not this. Not us." He cupped her cheek, nearly scolding: "Amber, look at me!"
She did, with a feeble roll of her gaze not at all like the woman who'd played coy for his kiss, and challenged him for his board, and pushed herself past her own doubt out of a wheelchair. So, pressing his palm more firmly to her cheek, he told her in a voice both desperate and vehement:
"I love you. And I'm here for you. I would never let anything hurt you," he said, as he stroked tenderly at her skin. "And I won't ever let anything take you away from me."
Reaching up with one hand, she hovered her fingers over his lips, touching them only once, cautiously, like grasping for a bubble.
"I love you," she whispered back, when she put her arms around him again, pulling them so close together, there was no space between them even to kiss. So, while her body hitched against him, Ross just buried his nose into the bundle of her hair at her neck and held her, silently protective.
As before, he kept their closeness chaste. She seemed to need it to be so, to simply have him near, and warm, and strong. He kept solicitous watch over her through the night that way, even after she drifted to a melancholy sleep in their bed.
The next morning brought no ease of temperament for either of them. Only a brighter stage on which they could act, as they tiptoed through the motions of the day: morning routines, breakfast, and Amber's standing Monday session with Julian.
Ross expected at least some of her good humour to return after seeing Julian, if for no other reason than she liked to impress him. But when he met her at therapy, she was still as sombre as when he'd left her a few hours before, with no change through the walk back to the flat, which suddenly felt long and awkward in such grim silence.
It was when they were sitting over lunch, forks scraping against ceramic as they pushed around their food, that she finally spoke up, announcing:
"I'm not going to therapy any more."
Ross stopped mid-chew on a mouthful of salad, to stare at her a moment. Swallowing at last, he muttered, "What?"
"I'd only the one week left," Amber said, now, her head still bent toward her own plate. "And Julian said it's all right for me to finish early."
"Oh," he said, raising his brows at the same time he lowered his fork. A cautious smile tickled, as he considered this. "So, you're finished, then? We can go home?"
Looking across the table at him, she shook her head. "No."
"What, there's something else you need to do here?"
Another shake. "No. I mean, I can't go back to Harbram. Not yet."
He let out a gently scoffing laugh and reached for her fingers. "Babe, don't be ridiculous! Just because you don't want to move back in with Sam doesn't mean-"
"It's not about Sam," she said, and the snap of her tone made him stop, leaving his hand where it lay, still halfway between them.
Something tightened in his belly. "...Is it me?"
A low, almost-sigh escaped her, and she grasped at his hand. "No. Oh, darling, no." But the pensive pinch returned to her face a moment later, making that knot in his belly move to his chest, now. "I just-"
"You just, what?" he asked, even as he felt his breath quicken. Because he already knew, he'd heard the reason before. But he couldn't quite let himself believe until she said it, out loud, to his face... when she did:
"I have to go to him. I have to go to Vienna."
He sat back, his limp fingers coming loose from hers.
She didn't even try to hold on.
"No," he said, the word hanging thick and heavy in the air.
Amber's delicate brow twitched. "What do you-"
"I mean, you don't have to go." His throat went tight, turning his voice a hissing rasp between his teeth. "You don't have to do anything for him!"
She shook her head. "He's in hospital-"
"And when you were in your hospital bed," he said, swinging one hand up, "where was he? What did he do for you? What did he ever do for you?"
"That's not the same. I didn't ask him to come-"
"Because you said you didn't care! You didn't want anything to do with him-"
"You were the one who said I shouldn't hold on to that anger!"
"Why are you just giving him what he wants?" he said, fingers clenching at the air. "After everything we've been through-"
"You don't understand-"
"What about our lives? All those plans we had-"
"He's my father-"
He coughed a dubious belch of air. "Oh, so, all that shit about you always choosing me... That was just- that was just shit, then?"
"Ross, please," she said, almost spitting through her teeth. "This is hard enough, without-"
"Amber, I gave up my life for you!"
And either the slam of his hand against the table or the rattle of his chair as he half-rose – or the snarl of his lips around this horrid truth – made the heretofore brave mask of her composure splinter, as she blinked her eyes red at him.
Her lips trembled for a second that felt an eternity. Then, her head juddered in a shake. "I never asked you to do that."
He swallowed, his own words and hers rattling in his head. And while I know burned at his lips – I'm sorry, doubly so – he didn't dare open his mouth, for the rancid tide of bile bubbling at the top of his throat at the sight of her frightened, wounded face.
With a ragged sniff, he shoved himself from the table, moving out around the edge toward the door. He was halfway into his jacket before she asked:
"Where are you going?"
"Out," he muttered, shoving his arm into the second sleeve. "I can't- I can't be here, right now."
She drew a breath; it stuttered, just a bit. "Are you coming back?"
"Later," he said, but that was all before he swung the door open and shut again behind him, already cursing the ache in his sinuses.
He'd had no plan – he never had a plan – but his stride led him toward the shopping district and park, where the afternoon crowd was out in full force, creating congesting clusters of window-gazers and lollygagging time-wasters.
Shoulders hunched and hands thrust in his pockets, Ross was able to push his way through most of these without incident. But, while trying to get out the way of a league of new mum stroller jockeys, he walked nearly head-first into a young couple leaving the jewellery shop near the Mews.
Ross stammered a quick apology, but the gent dismissed him with a friendly forgiving chuckle, pulling his girl close beneath his arm. Then, bowing their heads together, they giggled and beamed at each other over a sparkly bit of posh on her ring finger as they ambled away.
He watched them go, for much longer than he meant to do, struck by their blissful obliviousness. He'd felt that way, with Amber, only yesterday: heedless of the messy world around him, nearly invincible with hope.
Glancing into the shop window beside him, and the shining promises of happy ever-afters laid out in their velvet display cases, he felt his fingers itch against his thigh.
They could be that way again: together, unbreakable. All he had to do was make her see that, too.
He made it back to the flat in a rush, still breathing a bit hard as he pushed open the door. Both the main room and kitchen stood empty, so he jogged to the bedroom, where he found her seated on the bed, a loose collection of clothes folded beside her.
The implications of that pile distracted him only a moment. Pushing himself from the doorway, he darted to the bed and dropped to his knees in front of her, skidding faintly on the carpet as he told her:
"I'm sorry! What I said-!" With a quick shake of his head, he grasped at her hands. "I didn't mean it."
She sighed a little. "Ross-"
He cut her off with another shake. "This was my choice," he said, holding her fingers between his palms. "I chose to come here. Because I want to be with you. Because I can't bear to be without you." He rocked a little on his knees as he listed toward her, to gaze up into her face. "You are the most important thing in my life. You are my life."
"Ross," she said again, mirroring him. "You don't have to-"
"Let me finish," he said, and, pulling his lips together for a second, he swallowed, fighting against the dryness in his throat. Then, he pressed her hands to his chest, clutching them to his heart as he forced free the words to keep her close.
"Nothing in this world means so much to me as you. I love you, Amber Baelin. And I want you to be with me, for ever."
Her fingers went limp, and her gaze turned blank, as she stared at him. So, with a pump of her hands and a breath of air, he raised himself up, and the words were almost past his lips, when she blurted:
He pulled back from her a little, his righteous wind suddenly stolen. "Whuh- What?"
She shook her head again, quickly, her loose waves tumbling like tendrils caught in the tide. A red haze brimmed along her lower lashes. "Don't say it, please," she said, her tone pleading. "Not now. Not like this."
He felt his own breath catch, and his own limbs go weak, as he blinked back at her for a long minute, trying to work his throat and mouth around an answer. Finally, he pulled himself close to her once more, her knees and hands both pressed to his chest, and tried again:
"I love you more than anything-"
"I know." Slipping one hand from his grip, she touched his face, stroking her fingers very faintly across the high part of his cheek. "But, you are asking out of desperation," she said, and cupped his jaw, firmly, as though not to let him go or look away. "That's not what I want. I don't think it's what you want, either."
The muscles in his jaw creaked, as he muttered, "I don't want to lose you."
"You're not going to lose me," Amber murmured, her now-steady gaze sparkling through her thick lashes. "I don't know what you think is going to happen. But, I'm not going to Vienna to make you jealous. And I'm not going to fall into someone else's arms, or leave you behind. I'm going to see my father, and say my piece. And, then," she said, as she pulled his face close to hers, so she was all he could see, "all our plans – about the little flat by the sea, and riding any wave we want, and waking next to you every day... They're going to come true. I promise." She bent her forehead to his, and whispered, "I just have to do this first."
Ross couldn't rebut her words. So, lacking his own, he simply wound his arms around her and pulled her tight, until he could feel her heart beat next to his chest, in quick but firm rhythm.
After a minute, he muttered into her hair, "I could go with you."
But Amber gave a low, lamenting hum. "No," she said. "It wouldn't be fair to drag you into this. You've already given up so much."
Ross felt his body nearly crumple on itself. "I didn't mean that-"
"Yes," she said, hushed and without accusation. "You did. And you're right. I know that. I've always known it."
He hated to admit it, but her reply relieved him. Still, he felt a dull ache start to form in his core, as he asked, "How long will you be gone?"
She made another little humming noise. "I don't know. I suppose, it depends what happens."
He shifted his arms more tightly around her, pacing his breath through his nose to keep his respiration steady. No buffeting waves around him, though, nor sand sliding beneath his feet.
"Don't-" he said, and squeezed his eyes shut, scowling at the needy tremor in his voice. But, the alternative made his stomach roll. So, dragging a new lungful of air from among her soft curls, he said the rest, pathetic or no:
"Don't go until tomorrow? I want to be with you, tonight."
Amber drew a long breath, too, a cool breeze over his neck that turned warm with her hushed exhalation. "Yes," she whispered, punctuating the word with one, two, three light pecks of her lips against his skin.
Ross eased back from her at last, to answer her kiss in kind, pressing his mouth to hers with a profound and longing desire for her touch he didn't care if she knew. He wanted her to feel it, in fact, to know there was no one else who held him so, mind, or body, or soul.
Clutched in such a kiss, she pulled him up to the bed with her, where they undressed each other with thoughtful and tender care. This time, they did make love, deep and long into evening, until the chilling dark drove them beneath the blankets. Though even when they stopped, tired and sore, they stayed curled around one another, their shared heat making their skin soft and sensitive, as from a bath.
Like when they'd cuddle so, she held his head to her chest, massaging her fingers over the short, damp hairs at the base of his head. But they stayed quiet, until her breast moved beneath his cheek, as she said, "I'll ask Sam to pack up the rest of my things, take them to the house."
A shift of his weight to look up at her made his breath come out a short sigh. "That can wait, 'til you get back."
She hummed, moving her fingers through the hair behind his ear, now. "You shouldn't stay here alone. You should go home, get back to your life." She smiled as her gaze traveled over his face. "Start carving those breaks again."
Ross gave a little smile back to her. "I'll keep our board primed, for when you come back."
Amber's smile softened, then fell, slowly, as she stroked at his cheek. "Promise me you won't stay here alone," she muttered.
He sniffed an odd sort of half-chuckle, less amused than simply charitable. "I'm a big boy," he told her. "I can handle myself."
But her frown stayed in place. "Just promise me," she insisted, holding her fingers to his face. "I want you to start living again."
He looked at her a moment, then rose up over her, propped on his elbows. "All right." Then, he kissed her again, what he'd meant to be only once, but for which she held him to her for a long while after.
While he might have wanted to just stay in bed together forever, there were necessary arrangements to be made, and not much time in which to make them happen.
Ross managed to keep himself from worrying over the clock through the making and eating of supper, but, after that was done, he couldn't stop his gaze from straying to the ever-changing electronic numbers around him: on the clock on the stove counter, on his mobile, everywhere he let his focus fall.
This preoccupation with the time grew worse while Amber spoke with Sam, and with the travel agency for her tickets and hotel. He couldn't speak properly with Scott or even Neville; he just rambled a barely-cohesive string of phrases designed to keep the conversation concise and reasonable, though both friends pressed him for details.
"Can we talk about this later?" Ross had muttered to Neville over the phone, while he'd watched Amber make notes of her arrangements at the table. He'd hardly registered the farewells on the other end of the line before returning his attention to the clock.
He was still looking at those numbers when they finally took to bed again, at almost midnight.
"My train leaves at four-thirty tomorrow," Amber said. Nestling in close to his chest then, she gave a quiet hum. "Will you come with me to the station?"
"Of course," he told her, kissing gently at the crown of her hair. He watched as the electronic numbers of the clock ticked up. "What time do you want to get up?"
She cringed her shoulders. "Whenever."
As he did a quick mental calculation of her departure, how long it would take to get to the rail station in addition to their normal daytime routine, he felt her head shift against him, her hair tickling under his chin.
She put her hand on his face, turning it toward her. "Don't think about it," she murmured, guessing at his distraction.
He offered her a tired half-smile. "Just wish we had more time."
She let go a faint, almost-sigh. Then, perching her hands on his shoulders, she pulled herself up on his chest, rising close so they were nearly nose-to-nose.
"The sooner I'm away," she whispered, "the sooner I'll be back. And with you." And she laid a tiny kiss on his mouth, which became another, and another, as she shifted her legs and curled herself against him, to start a fresh round of hushed, tender lovemaking for their last night together in this bed.
He woke the next morning with his arms still around her. And, while he might have wished to keep her there, he also knew she'd been right about everything she'd said the night before. So, he tried his best not to be melancholy over her leaving. It wasn't easy; he already missed the sound of her giggling laughter that used to so effortlessly fill his day.
Thankfully, Venus offered some respite when she popped round the flat on her lunch break, to wish Amber well, and to assure Ross there was no pressing need to move out right away:
"You two made this more a home than I ever did," Venus told them with a crooked smile, as she glanced around the apartment.
"We wouldn't have had a home at all, if it weren't for you!" Amber replied.
"I can leave you some of that homey stuff," Ross said, and snickered. "Like all that ice cream in the fridge."
"That, I can do without," Venus said, patting her thigh, and the three of them laughed. Then, she blew a tiny sigh. "I'm going to miss having you two so near by."
"Ross will still be in Harbram," Amber said. "And I'm sure no one will even notice I'm gone!"
"I quite doubt that," Venus muttered. And, pausing to lay a hand on Amber's shoulder, she shared a glance with Ross, who had to agree, if silently.
Neville said nearly the same, on his arrival with Danny and Niall later in the day. Sam, as well, when she met them at the flat, just before they were to leave for the train.
It would have been easier and faster to drive to the station, but Amber wanted to walk. Ross did, too, to enjoy her company for as long as possible. Neither Sam nor the lads seemed to mind, though, as they flanked the couple in a stroll, chatting blithely as though this were no different from any other day. And, while they might not have been in Harbram, and he didn't have his board beneath his arm, Ross was reminded of that very first walk he'd shared with Amber, that quaint afternoon little more than half a year past. So he smiled with genuine pleasant feeling as she reached out and took his hand, just as she'd done that day.
Even when they arrived at the small station, Amber held on while she picked up her ticket from the call window and made arrangements with a porter for her larger luggage. She only let go when they were clustered in one out-of-the-way corner of the waiting room, and Danny passed her a tote of fresh foodstuffs from his family's shop.
"Figured you might want some fruit and veg for the trip," he said with a timid smile.
"Better than that fast food you get in those city stations," Niall added.
Amber beamed at them, leaning close to offer both light pecks on the cheek. "That's so sweet. Thank you!"
Neville chuckled at Danny's blushing shrug and Niall's chuffed grin. "You've made their day!" he told Amber. Then, he leaned in, himself, and wound her in a hug. "You travel safe, now, pet. We'll miss you."
Over his shoulder, Amber's smile faltered a little. But a quick blink made her light humour return as she eased away. "I'll think of all of you on those waves every day," she said, making the three lads croon and smile with delight.
"Are you certain you don't want one of us to come with you?" Sam asked, as she bent her head close. "At least to London?"
"That's silly," Amber murmured with a click of her tongue. "It's only three trains to Vienna. I'll likely sleep most of the way there, any way."
So Sam just gave a tiny hum, and stepped forward into Amber's arms. "Well, be careful," she said. "And let us know when you get to London, and Vienna. We want to know you're all right."
Her face pressed into Sam's curls, Amber fluttered her lashes again, the same as before. And, same as before, she managed a sweet if tight smile, saying around a chuckle, "I'll be fine. It wasn't so long ago I was a city girl, remember."
Sam didn't share the levity. Laying her palm to Amber's cheek, she simply whispered, "Come home soon," before shifting a step to the side, leaving only Ross in the farewell queue.
He forced a practised happy-go-lucky smile, that fell as soon as Amber nestled in to his chest, her arms tight around his ribs. Closing his eyes, he nuzzled his nose into the crown of her hair and pulled a deep sniff of her scent. For three long breaths, he said nothing at all, just stood there among the muttering, milling strangers and quiet friends, trying to memorise her smell, and warmth, and the feel of her in his arms.
With her cheek laid firm against his chest, Amber stayed silent, too, and steady, barely moving but for the equally-long drags of air she gave. Until the announcement speakers in the waiting room crackled, and they made the first boarding call for the London train, and Ross felt her grip slip, ever so briefly, before clutching him even more tightly than before.
He didn't shift his hold, but murmured into her hair, "You need anything, you call me. Day or night."
She gave a tiny shudder – the quick sniff of a breath – and nodded.
"And do as Sam says," he added. "Let us know when you get there; it doesn't matter what time."
Another nod, and another shudder, this one with an audible sniffle.
He thought it less than a minute since the last, but the speakers crackled again, with another boarding call. So, he eased away, moving one hand to her face, where he smoothed his thumb across a damp streak on her cheek.
"All right," he told her. "Time to go."
Amber nodded one more time, slowly, now, and gave one last sniff. With a little pat of her hand upon his chest, she pressed her lips into a shaky but brave smile, and said, "You'll be all right?"
"Yeah," Ross said, still holding her cheek. Then, he bent his head and kissed her, not as mightily or as long or as deeply as he wanted to do, because that last call would come at any moment, and he didn't quite trust himself to let her go if he did.
"I love you," he whispered against her lips.
She whispered them back, just as the station made the final boarding call, as he'd known it would do.
Amber drew away then, with a fresh breath that ballooned her chest and straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin, making her look the same brazen, confident girl who'd captured his attention the first time he'd seen her.
Steadying herself on her cane, she walked to the barriers, turning back just once over her shoulder to wave goodbye, before exiting to the platform.
Ross watched her turn toward the porter, who gave her a helping hand for boarding. Then, she was gone, though he waited until the train had fully chugged and clicked its way from the station before he even felt ready to look away.
Standing beside him, Sam let out a sigh. No pleasantries, just: "Did you want me to move anything tonight?"
Ross shook his head. "I'll take care of it," he muttered, as he looked to her. "Thanks, though."
Her tight-lipped expression was hard to read. "All right. I guess I'll get home, then."
Ross just nodded, before turning back toward those tall glass doors to the platform; the only indication of her departure was Neville's low, "Bye, Sam," a moment later.
He could feel the crew shifting around him, like when the waves would bob them forward and back in a lineup. They didn't make any familiar chatter, though, and the silence in the now-mostly empty station oppressed. So, with a sigh of his own, Ross pushed his shoulders back and turned, where he met Neville's crimped frown.
"You all right?"
Without pausing to think, Ross said, simply and honestly, "No."
Neville wilted, and Danny looked sullen. Niall, though, clapped Ross on the shoulder. "Come on, brah," he said. "Let's get you pissed."
Kind reader/reviewer CherryBomb337 said last time that this story isn't over the top like others can be. I hope I haven't pushed that limit, here. But, nothing worth having ever comes easily.