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The Wandering Therapist

Posted on Sun Sep 13th, 2020 @ 5:24pm by Niamh O'Donoghue & Alden Loxley

Mission: The Milk Run
Location: Kev's Saloon, Hera
Timeline: Day 13 - Early Evening

Kev’s saloon was typically laid-back as far as saloons went and tonight wasn’t any exception. Just like any other Sunday most of the saloons usual patrons were at home with their families after a morning at the church, or just like Niamh and Kev working. Those that she shared the space with had come only for a quiet drink and for the most part were content in talking calmly amongst one another.

Niamh herself was sat at a table in the far corner of the room, adjacent to the bar. If she was here for fun she usually propped herself up at the bar and babble at Kev and Erica until they decided enough was enough and saw her to her room. When she wasn’t listening the ghosts of her past became overwhelming, alcohol and her work were the only two things that could keep her thoughts of Lydia and Arthur at bay.

Tonight she drank a shandy, enough to make sure her visitor wouldn’t feel obligated not to drink, yet nothing that would go behind a mild buzz. She found drinking helped the people she listened to feel more comfortable.

She sipped at her drink whilst watching the main entrance. She’d met with this customer several times and she had to admit the kid had grown on her. He wasn't averse to giving her the odd lift when their paths crossed and his visits weren't always business. Content in waiting for what would be her easiest session of the week she leant back into her chair and withdrew a prerolled cigarette. The ornate case she had withdrawn it from had been a gift from Arthur on their 10th anniversary, he'd given in urging her to quit long before that. Lighting the cigarette she inhaled deep, in a couple of moments Alden would be here and her work would begin.

He'd met Niamh before, many times and in many different states of mind, moods and levels of sanity. That she was on Hera when he needed her didn't register with Alden as odd in the least - there were plenty of people on Hera who needed (and would always need) serious therapy. The war was still relatively fresh, the wounds in those who had survived would linger a long while yet.

This time, however, it wasn't his wife's actions, memory or death that troubled him overtly. Anouk's absence in his life was a dull roar compared to the guilt and pain that haunted him now. The ghost of Noah, the young engineer's death that he hadn't even been there to try and prevent, was a recent, fresh and loudly bellowing ghost in the Alden machine.

He needed the conversation more than he needed a drink, but damn it was good to see her. The scent of her familiar brand snuck across the uncrowded bar as the Echo's Captain walked into the room, and the weight of his current burden was easily visible in the way Alden held his shoulders. It hurt, and anyone could see that, even before he grabbed a drink from the bar and mooched over to sit beside her.

"Hey," he said, always happy to deflect his pain for a few seconds in order to check on another. Those dark blue eyes held more pain than smile though, as he forced one up for Niamh. "How's you, my lady?"

"It's going good, kid" Niamh replied whilst she smashed the cigarette into the ashtray. She was quiet for a moment as she regarded Alden. His smile hadn't fooled her, nor was she one for chit chat, "How about you? You know you don't need no formalities with me" she said, her expression pointed but warm like the light smile she had.

"Terrible," Alden said, and all sense of happiness drained utterly from his face.

His voice was firm, but his gaze filled with a visceral sorrow as he spoke. "Niamh, I screwed up, big time. ship's a mess, got my engineer killed and seriously shook up my crew," he paused because that was only part of it and he needed Niamh to know the full story. "Might have dug up a grave in the Valley too, got James and myself shot, then ended up buried in it." Puppy dog eyes dragged a miserable expression up at her, but Alden didn't cry. He wasn't sure he deserved that easy release.

Niamh remained quiet for the moment before leaning forward and resting a hand on Alden's shoulder. "Sounds, like you've had a week, kid," she said softly before retrieving her hand and leaning back into her seat. "Now quit your stewing and start from the beginning," she told him, her voice returning to a more comfortable volume, "Sound's like we've got a lot to go over".

He seemed to sag under the simple weight of that hand, but truly, Alden appreciated the emotional support. "Yeah," he said, simply. "It's definitely sucked... My fault though. All started when Drake got into trouble and escalated from there, but now I'm not even sure that's true." He leant forward, rested his forehead on the table and muttered some stronger curses into its surface.

Then, with effort, Alden began to relay the entire series of events from that first conversation with Kai back a couple of weeks ago to the current situation here on Hera.

Niamh considered Alden for a moment. The kid had always taken on more than his fair share of responsibility, especially when it came to his family. His younger brother and cousin were two of the biggest burdens in his life, though she expected he wouldn’t admit that. Yet, a fair amount of the stories he’d shared with them had resulted with one of the two delinquents getting themselves in way over their heads. There weren’t many men like Alden out on the border and Niamh felt duty-bound to ensure he never buckled under the pressure.

She waited until she was sure Alden had gotten most of what he wanted to say out before she began picking it apart and mentally cataloguing it all in order of importance, “I’m truly sorry for your loss, Alden. I know how important Noah was to you and the rest of your crew”, she started. the loss was hard under the best of circumstances, Niamh was familiar enough with that. The ghosts of her husband and daughter had haunted her off of Ezra and into a life of wandering. Before they could unpack the rest she wanted to make sure he knew his pain was understood.

"Thanks," Alden said, simply. Then he downed the drink he'd bought himself and looked up to the ceiling with a quiet whisper of the millionth apology to Noah's spirit. "I wasn't there, for him, Niamh. I wasn't even there... to say goodbye. If I hadn't been following the damn fool's errand Drake sent me on, he'd still be alive." He stopped, knowing full well that the woman beside him understood the pain of loss and let loose a self-deprecating sigh. "Is the Verse always gonna be so gorram unfair or am I just incredibly stupid?"

"Neither," Niamh replied, "the 'verse ain't got a grudge against nobody, and the bad decision your delinquent brother and cousin land you into ain't no reflection on your intelligence" she reflected bluntly, "out here all we have is family, sometimes we're born into, sometimes we chose them, but in the end, it's the only thing that we have that matters. You acknowledging that and being there for them is not a sign that you're stupid, it tells me that you take care of what matters. The 'verse 'd be a better place if more men were like you."

Supportive wisdom and alcohol were just what he needed, but Niamh's particular brand of emotional support went one step further. She corrected his wonky world view when it veered off track, effectively dusted him off and set him back on his path. This was still right back at the start line on this day, but Alden already felt a little more relaxed.

"Eh," Alden noted, flippantly. "I have my moments I guess. Not sure the Verse wants to be replicating me any time soon though." Though a warm cuddle and a safe harbour with someone wouldn't totally suck either. "Family's always been my weakness, Alison says. She's right. But this time... I dunno. I wonder about Drake. I think he's in on this, with Niska. And if he's connected to me losing Noah..." Alden let that sentence trail, truly unsure how to end it.

"You don't know what you'll do until you're faced with him. Seems to me you've got some digging to do and I know you're smart enough to not jump to conclusions. For the time being, we can't know how Drake fits into this beyond his initial contact," Niamh attempted to rationalise but her eyes were deep with concern, she'd never seen Alden so vulnerable. She knew it was the family element, he may have been used to the storm of chaos that Drake and James carried with them, but they'd never betrayed Alden or the family in the past. She silently worried over how much more the man before her was expected to take.

Alden exhaled slowly and nodded. That was true. He needed to face the Drake Possibility head-on, figure out what was really going on and there was really only one way to do that. Drake had always been better at subterfuge, politics and finances, but maybe if he looked his little brother right in the eye, bounced him off a bulkhead and asked him nicely, Alden might figure out a few things. Could happen, right? What he said out loud, however, was simpler. "You're right," he told Niamh. "I need to see him."

There was a loaded pause, a shrug and Alden exhaled.

"I need a job, something far from here, out on the Rim. Some space for us all."

"You could do that, there's nothing wrong with a break every now and again, but running away from our problems only puts them at a distance. Leaving won't bring you any closure" she said leaning forwards, her wrists flat against the table, "I have a proposition for you though, kid".

"I'm tired of this bar, I get confused for a patron more often than I do a therapist," she began, "I know you're not above renting out a shuttle for the right price, and I'm happiest when I'm on the wander" she admitted, it was true. Since the loss of her family, the nomadic life had always been more suited to Niamh, and being static led to regulars getting to close, made the work hard. Alden was different, she was fond of the kid and she simply wanted to help him. They spoke like old friends but Alden respected her experience and that made the line easier to maintain.

"How's about I move into one of those luxury shuttlecraft at least whilst you try to gain closure on recent events? I won't always be in your space and I'll offer my services free of charge to to the rest of your crew, lord knows I'm eager to get my hands on James" she joked, "I can also help you get to the bottom of what's going on with Drake, I've done this job for a long time, met a lot of people. You need to know something I could probably get us a lead" she shrugged, and unethical proposition, sure, but she wasn't your typical therapist.

Niamh spoke, and as Alden was prone to doing, he ignored his own problems and let his full attention wrap around hers. An eyebrow raised, and the faintest hint of a smile caught the edge of his mouth as he heard words he didn't expect to in the older woman's voice. Words he appreciated, and words he welcomed. He leant forward, reached out and rested his warm hand upon hers atop the table, and as Alden looked into Niamh's eyes, he spoke with a quiet enthusiasm wrapped about his response.

"Shuttle's yours any time you want it," Alden said. "You know that. And right now, soon as the repairs are done, we'll have both shuttles free so you can pick." A brief and overt sadness caught in his gaze, but he pushed on through it to continue. "One's been very recently vacated by a Companion," he explained. "But you know the only thing they leave behind is emotions and incense."

A soft sigh, the inevitable physical representation of dealing with a whole mess of internal dialogue and emotions, and Alden mustered up a proper smile just for his old friend.

"You know, if you're really planning on fixing me and James," Alden teased, "I can't let you work for free. I'll do you a good price on the shuttle along with your unconditional privacy, but I'll cover your food and air. And I'll pay your going rate for me and my errant cousin. How's that sound?" He paused, then asked the other question that lurked on his mind.

"I picked up a wayward soul from an escape pod on the way here too," Alden half-explained. "Daiyu. She's been through some serious shit by the look of her. Appreciate it if you could give her a little professional support, Niam?"

"I'll accept the food, air and unconditional privacy, but you ain't paying me squat," she countered smiling, "I love my work, I like what I do, your crew is going to be the most interesting group of people I've spent time with in a long time. I'm doing it as much for pleasure as I am to scratch both our backs" she elaborated leaning back into her chair, "plus, you couldn't afford what it would cost to even get into that noggin' of James'" she smirked playfully.

Alden felt his worries ease off just in the sharing of this time with Niamh. She somehow gave him that silent permission he needed to stop worrying about everyone else for a minute and simply be in his own head. That helped, easily as much as she knew it did and far more than he could ever express in words.

"Deal," he said, and Alden offered a rough hand for the shaking. "Another drink?"

As he stood to fetch one for himself, the Echo's captain took a moment to simply glance about the bar they were within, feel the sense of privacy, community and safety offered by this simple moment in time. Smells of beer, sawdust, and people. Sounds of conversation, glass chinking against glass, boots on wooden boards, murmurs and motion.

"Fair point with particular regards to my beloved little cousin," Alden finally said, his lopsided grin masking deeper concerns for James' well-being and status. "And you know what? I'll be real happy to have you along for the ride, Niamh, thank you. Having someone else trying to understand this crew of mine? Definitely welcome." And your support too, his expression said, silently even as he asked for her needs from the bar. "What'll you have?"

Niamh didn't even miss a beat, "A whisky, double" she'd decided, it was after all a cause for celebration. Plus, it wouldn't hurt to have a more relaxed drink with Alden, she wouldn't tell him, but he'd been thoroughly essential to helping her slowly move past the grief she felt. It would always loom, threatening to make her shut down for a while, but crews were like family and maybe, just maybe, if she got to know them well enough she might finally start the void that her loss had created.

"Two whiskies coming right up," Alden said, hitting the short road to the bar with a small spring in his step. Somehow over the past hour or so, his burden had become just that tiny bit lighter and while he wasn't exactly grinning like a fool, some friendly assistance in the mental health department had settled his mind down a recovery track in place of the previous chaos.

So as he walked back with their glasses a few moments later, the Captain of the Fortune's Echo mustered up what just might be a smile after a few more drinks.


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