Chapter 1: Victory
Colonel Young smoothed a hand over his face, leaning on the wall to get his bearings. The corridor was deserted this hour of the night. He palmed closed the door of the still, clutching the bottle he'd filled tightly with his other hand. The first few steps tripped him up, but once he was underway he moved more fluidly, without staggering. As he passed one of the storage rooms, he heard a clatter.
The door to Storage Bay 3 was open, low light spilling out from within. In fact, Young had never seen the ship's lights so low - normally the automatic lighting was brighter. Maybe it adjusted for nighttime, he thought, though this seemed unlikely given the lack of obvious day/night distinction on the ship.
Inside the bay, Nicholas Rush knelt over an open crate, digging through tools and materials, up to his elbows in the container. The floor around him was littered with various pieces of electronic equipment, human and Ancient, and a scattering of tools.
"What the hell are you doing?" Young slurred, his embarrassment over his appearance lessening when Rush jumped in surprise.
"Col. Young," He declared, face closing, eyes narrowed. "Been having a little drink, have we?" He wrinkled his nose, judgement clearly written across his face. "Been doing a lot of that lately, aye?"
"I asked you what the hell you're doing this time of night, Rush. This area's off-limits to civilians."
Rush sneered, "There's nothing off limits when it comes to fixing this ship, Colonel."
"Fixing this ship? Fixing this ship?" He repeated, stepping closer, his free hand flexing unconsciously. "And since when have you been interested in that lately? Hiding all hours of the day and night, ignoring calls for assistance, ignoring..." He closed his eyes, suddenly feeling ill, thinking of clear blue eyes in a dark, dusty shuttle.
"I haven't ignored anything," Rush snapped, returning his attentions to the box, attacking it with unnecessary zeal.
Young snarled, his hand closing around the man's upper arm before he had even decided on it, spinning him around. He kept his grip tight, leaning over him unsteadily. Rush's lips were drawn back, baring his teeth like an animal and Young felt his own mouth twist in response.
"What have you been up to lately, Rush?" He growled, voice dangerously soft. "You're planning something. I know you."
"I don't think so!" In a flash, Rush wrenched his arm away, shooting to his feet and side-stepping the larger man.
Reaching out, Young caught him by the back of his shirt, throwing him towards the wall. "Oh, no you don't..." He said, hands on his shoulders to pin him in place. The thermos of alcohol thudded against their boots. "You run away when you know you're about to get caught. I want to know what's going on, Rush."
Bony fingers closed around his own collar as Rush tried to shove him away. Young estimated he had a good fifty pounds or more on the scientist and he leaned into him, holding him against the wall with his body.
One of Rush's hands came up to press against his cheek, pushing his head, trying to roll him away. Young slammed his shoulders against the wall again, rattling him, before catching his wrist in his hand and pinning it beside his head. Rush hissed and his knee came up between them, but Young twisted it aside with his own knee, pressing him sideways against the wall. He pressed his lower body closer, the heat of the man's body seeping into his own. Young had never felt more cold.
"For the past few weeks, you've been more mysterious than usual, Rush. Always missing, always hiding. Diagnostics go unrun, meetings unattended. You're not doing your job, Rush; your precious work. So what are you doing, huh? What are you up to?"
"I've been fixing... the ship..." Rush snarled, jerking his head forward, trying to headbutt Young.
Young's free hand came up from Rush's shoulder, pressing against Rush's chin, forcing his head back. He tightened his grip on his captured wrist, making the other man shake like a wet dog in his grip. The amount of violence the smaller man could force through his body always managed to surprise Young, but it no longer caught him entirely off-guard.
"Fixing the ship? Is that what you were doing the day the shuttle crashed?" He relished the wide-eyed look of surprise that shot across the other man's face, feeling the tightness in his chest give a little in satisfaction. Rush felt guilt. This meant he was somehow to blame.
"That crash was an accident..." Rush began, voice hoarse. He twisted from side to side, trying to wriggle free, but Young merely strengthened his hold in response.
"I can't believe a word that comes out of your damn mouth," He hissed in response, mouth inches away from Rush's own, their breaths mingling.
"Then why do you keep asking me?" He replied, voice acid; lips drawn back, he bared his sharp teeth.
Why indeed? He thought bitterly. The man was a plague, eating away at every part of him. His confidence, his resolve, his emotions... everything twisted and withered in this man's presence. Rush made him angrier than he had ever felt in life, made him feel sloppy, weak, and stupid at every turn. He longed to control Rush, to force him to obey, to step down, to acquiesce. Yet the man might as well have been made of stone. He could get a rise out of him, true, but every time, that just left Young feeling as though he had still lost somehow.
"You know what you do to me, don't you?" He whispered, voice raw with anger and something else. His hand tightened on Rush's chin, twisting his head up further so their eyes met.
The other man stared back, eyes huge and wet, confusion written across the lines of his face, clearly not following his train of thought. "...What are you talking about?" He choked out, voice strangely subdued.
"You always know. You plan it this way - do it on purpose. It ends today, Rush. I'm done with it."
He smashed their lips together without thinking, grinding his whole body down against the scientist, swallowing his sounds and heat. Rush tasted wet and soft, a trace of the mint-like plant from hydroponics mingling with the bitterness of the mess's tea. The sensation of stubble scraping across his jaw was new to Young, but he persevered, drowning in the first stable connection he had felt on this ship in months.
Rush's free hand cut into his throat, squeezing blindly, making him gag. He jerked back, using his grip on his face to buck his head into the wall once, twice. When the scientist went slack for a moment, he caught up his other wrist, slamming them both above their heads in one fist.
"What are you doing?!" Rush slurred, voice heavy, as he shook his bangs from his eyes. He stared up at him as though he had never seen him before, something like horror on his face.
Young let his hand comb through his hair, pushing it back to reveal his face, stroking his way down one cheek almost gently. Rush shivered against him, and he felt the tremor through their flush bodies.
"You knew it would come down to this," He growled, teeth on the edge of his ear before moving down to rake the line of his jaw.
The other man's head snapped back of its own accord, cracking against the wall. When he spoke, his accent lilted sharply, voice high and panicked. "I don't know what you're talking about... Col. Young, this isn't... You can't seriously be..."
"Shut up." He interrupted, tilting his head to the side to expose his throat. He felt Rush's wrists flex under his hand and he squeezed tightly in response, before soothing his thumb over his skin.
He pressed his mouth to Rush's throat, a long, sucking kiss that brought a groan rumbling out of his thin chest. His skin was salty and dry, tasting of the mist from the showers and a thin layer of sweat and dust. "This isn't happening..." Rush whispered, so quietly he barely heard him. "This isn't..."
Young opened his eyes then. Rush was pinned to the wall, both hands locked above his head, left leg wrenched to the side by Young's knee. He curled as far as he could to the right, the tendons in his arms and throat standing out under his skin. His eyes were tightly closed, mouth twisted in a grimace. The muscle in his jaw twitched from the force of him grinding his teeth. Beneath Young's hand, he could feel him trembling, almost imperceptibly vibrating.
"Don't be this way, Rush," He whispered, thumb stroking through his loose, dry hair. It was softer than it looked, but still rough and thick under his fingertips, separating into locks as he lifted it and let it go. "It doesn't have to be this way between us. It doesn't have to be so... hard." He buried his face in the crook of his neck, kissing more gently now over the bruise he'd made.
Rush bit back a small sound that might have been a whimper, snapping back against the wall again. "Col. Young..." He began, his voice steadier than his body. "You're drunk. You're tired. You're making a mistake and you'll regret this in the morning..."
"I regret everything, every morning," He answered, leaning down to kiss him again. He sought his mouth more gently this time, teasing his lips apart with his tongue, soothing the scrape his teeth had left the last time. Pulling back, he bowed his head, leaning their foreheads together briefly. "I regret everything about me and you, Rush. Why should this be any different?"
Rush let out a sound almost like a sob, eyes opening, staring up at the ceiling, a long deep breath shuddering out of him. "Colonel..." He whispered, voice so faint and brittle that Young immediately pressed against him again, cradling his head in his hand, burying his fingers in his hair, rubbing lightly at the back of his skull. Rush groaned again, relaxing incrementally in his grip, and he smoothed his thumb over his captured wrists again before leaning down to capture his mouth in another soft, deep kiss.
Rush let him in.
The kiss was slow, sweet, and entirely too honest. He could feel the man's throat catching, muscles pulling as he gasped into Young's mouth. He drank Rush down, feeling the heat spread through his body, making him groan himself as he twisted his hips into the other man's, where his hips met his stomach.
Immediately, Rush stilled, his mouth growing firmer, jaw clenching again, shutting him off from the kiss. He pulled back to see he had clammed back into himself, eyes tightly closed, body shying away. Young realized he was hard now, pressing insistently into the body beneath his. Rush's eyebrows were drawn together in a pained expression, body tense again.
"Rush..." He whispered, curving his hand to stroke his cheek again. Rush flinched, turning his head so his hair covered his face. "Rush..." He repeated, voice more insistent. "We need this. We both do."
His voice was faint, breathy, nearly inaudible and Young froze. He had never seen the other man so tense, not even when he had cringed away from him on the alien ship, when he hadn't known why the creature had freed him. Rush was frightened - frightened of him.
Immediately, he let go, taking a step back as he pulled his hands free, dropping the captured wrists. Rush sank to the floor, sliding his back down the wall to drop at Young's feet, arms curling around himself tightly. He looked at his feet, drawn up in front of him, knees tightly locked together. Rush's breath came in soft, shallow gasps and he did not raise his eyes.
"I'm... I'm sorry. I was..." Young faltered, reaching down as though to touch his hair. Rush flinched again, but he did not look up. Young let his hand drop to his side, fingers clenching and unclenching. "Rush, shit. I'm sorry. I was out of line."
"May I please go now?" Rush whispered desolately, voice still subdued.
"Yeah. Of course. Please." Young took several steps back, giving the man space to get to his feet.
Rush kept his back to the wall, leaning on it for support as he levered himself up. Their eyes met then, but Young could not read the guarded expression. Keeping his back against the metal, the scientist skirted the room, towards the open door. His eyes, wide in the dim light, never left Young's, until his back hit empty air in the hatch. Without a word, he turned and raced away, his stride long-legged, arms pumping, hair fluttering loose around his head.
Young sank to his knees against the box Rush had been digging through earlier, glancing at it before noticing the discarded thermos beside it. Unscrewing the cap, he hesitated, guilt and desperation warring in his thoughts, before giving in and taking a swallow.
Another failure where there should have been a victory. He silently toasted his own weakness, alone in a cold, empty room.
Chapter 2: Caprice
The ceilings on Destiny were a dark metal, not quite brown but warmer than grey. Each panel fit snugly into the next, with barely any obvious rivets or fittings. If one looked close enough, one could see the tiny dimples in the metal where the joints were formed, trace the faintest crack of one sheet meeting the next in a slight overlap.
Everett Young knew every seam, every rivet, and every curve of his ceiling.
Normalcy had returned to Destiny. After the intervention of the ship itself and 1LT Scott's impassioned words, Young had pulled himself together and attempted to bridge some of the rift he felt had been torn between himself and his command.
He had not seen Nicholas Rush in four days. His left hand felt light, weightless, and bereft without the pressure of his wedding ring. Above his head, the ceiling blended into itself as the never-ending night wore on.
A soft sigh escaped his lips as he slumped sideways in his seat. He came awake with a start, blinking rapidly before relaxing again. His pulse still hammered in his chest, and he put one hand on his shoulder, rubbing the stiff muscles there.
"That chair was never meant for sleeping, Nicholas," a gentle voice admonished from somewhere beyond his right side.
He did not look over. He did not care to see what was there, only to be painfully reminded of what wasn't.
"You really should sleep in your quarters."
"This is fine." He said quietly, shoulders cracking with stiffness as he settled back the other way, trying to find a comfortable angle against the smooth, synthetic material.
"Why are you so determined not to leave this room?"
He closed his eyes, hating the sound of the voice, so familiar and so alien, all at once.
"What are you afraid you'll find in your bed, Nicholas?" The ghost of his wife sounded disappointed, sad, and faintly amused. "Or what do you think might find you?"
Young stirred the milky white paste disinterestedly, only perking up slightly when he heard Rush's name from another table.
"Becker says he's eating, but nobody's seen him," Brody was saying, swallowing down his own slop without complaint.
Volker watched his own slide from his spoon back into the bowl, a slightly nauseous expression on his face. "Well, who wouldn't want to eat some of this delicious... crap?"
Brody smiled faintly, shaking his head. "It's food, right? I mean... sort of, anyway. But don't you think it's weird?"
"Rush is weird," Eli commented, eyes on the Kino remote he was toying with, one-handedly.
"Yeah, but he's not normally... invisible."
"Maybe he's taking a break," Volker said, face one of abject misery as he began to eat.
"That sure does sound like him, yeah," Brody replied sarcastically, expression pensive.
"Speak of the Devil, and lo - he appears!" Eli muttered, gesturing at the doorway.
Young did not look up as Rush strode into the mess, walking over to Becker to recieve his ration of paste. Several heads lowered together in whispered conversation at his sudden appearance.
He was dressed in his normal clothes, dusty and dirty, the left sleeve of his formally white shirt hopelessly yellowing. Rush's hair was lank and tangled, his face shadowed by his thick, greying beard. He looked as though he had not slept in days and bathed in even longer.
Accepting his bowl, Rush turned and eyed the room speculatively, eyes narrowing when they fell on Young. Determined not to show weakness, Young met his gaze, face impassive.
His features twisting a snarl, Rush stormed out of the room, clutching his bowl close to his chest.
"Definitely taking a break," Brody commented.
"But you did see him," Volker replied.
After a moment, Young abandoned his bowl and pushed to his feet, following the man out.
Rush walked extremely fast, winding through the hallways, hair bouncing as he strode. They moved into the bowels of the ship, past the regular quarters to the mostly unused hallway where Spencer had taken his rooms. Young realized this must also be where Rush kept his quarters, though he had never thought to look in on him.
Finally, the scientist stopped, staring up at the ceiling. He chuckled humorlessly, lifting his left arm and letting it clap back down to his side in a helpless gesture. "There something I might do for you, Colonel?"
"Haven't seen you around much lately," He replied evenly, hands in his trouser pockets. He tried to look as non-threatening as possible when the other man turned to face him.
Rush was smiling, but his expression was slightly manic, rather than amused. He reminded Young of the day he'd collapsed in the Gateroom, not long after arriving on Destiny. His hand raised again, jerking at Young awkwardly in a formless gesture. "Yeah, well, you wouldn't, would you?"
Young sucked in a breath, eyes on the floor. "Look, Rush... I think we need to talk," He said quietly, voice low but insistent.
"Talking, yeah? That's what we're going to do. Okay, yeah. Let's talk, Colonel. Talk about our feelings, yeah? Two men, alone on a ship, except that's not precisely true, now is it? Talk about how we won't talk about this, how it never happened, how it was all a strange dream?"
"Rush..." Young took a step forward and the scientist took two backwards, leaning against his door in a gesture intended to and failing to look casual. Young raised his hands in a gesture of non-aggression. "I want to... apologize, for the other night."
"Why, Colonel, don't bother. It was quite the enjoyable evening, wasn't it?" The other man's eyes were wide in the dim hallway, shining with an emotion Young couldn't identify.
"I was... drunk. I was upset. It's no excuse, but it is an explanation. What I did to you was... invasive, and inappropriate. I apologize. It will not happen again."
Rush crossed his arms to his chest, still holding the bowl from the mess awkwardly in one hand. He laughed mirthlessly again, the corners of his eyes crinkling up as he nodded jerkily. "Oh, right. Yeah, of course. Big mistake. Total accident. Could have happened to any of us."
"Rush..." Young's tone came out sharper than he had intended. He sighed, running a hand over his growing curls, before continuing more gently, "I don't know what else you want me to say. You need to stop disappearing and start coming to the mess more regularly. You need to eat and sleep. I am sorry for my part in this situation, but people are starting to talk and I don't think either of us want that."
"I'm certain you don't," he snapped, eyes on the floor.
Young watched him cradle one arm around his shoulder, watched him curl into himself. He thought of blue eyes in the dark and dust and the way Rush's wrists had strained against his hold, hot and tense. He tasted mint in his mouth suddenly and bit back a sudden surge of bile.
"...I really am sorry, Rush." He said softly.
Rush looked up then, eyebrows drawn up in an expression that looked almost concerned. "I'm positive that you are," He said finally, looking away again.
"...I'll leave you to your business," Young said finally. "Will I..." He hesitated and settled on, "Will we see you at dinner?"
Rush nodded, eyes sliding away, looking at nothing. His reply was little more than an exhalation of air. "Yeah. Yeah."
"Good." Young nodded stiffly, turning abruptly.
He rounded the corner and paused until he heard the whir of the door lock opening and then closing behind him. Sighing, he looked up at the ceiling, expression pained.
With a surge of anger, he turned and slammed his fist into the wall, cursing under his breath. Would there ever be a victory with that man?
Rush watched the door for several minutes after he had closed it. Finally, satisfied that the other man would not follow him, he collapsed across his bed, holding his bowl to his chest.
Lying on his back, he stared at the ceiling, messily spooning the food into his mouth before finally giving up and closing his eyes.
In his head, he began to play through Paganini's Caprice Number 24. Once he had reached the adagio portion, he sighed as his body began to relax as his mind unraveled each movement.
Pushing the bowl aside, he settled his hands over his chest, right fingers twining over his left, searching for the comfort of a wedding band he no longer possessed. Of all that the Nakai had taken from him, this was the greatest that he could not forgive.
As his mind swept from one end of the piece to the other, the tempo increasing again, his hands twitched as he remembered the weight of the other man's hand closed so easily around both of his.
His knuckles had gone white from the force of Young's pressure, and just as suddenly, the man had brushed his skin with his thumb as though to sooth. The man was a contradiction of violence and gentleness. A complicated piece of work that he did not need.
Rush opened his eyes and stared up at the smooth, colourless mass of metal above his head. Young had not been wearing his wedding ring either.
With a groan, he threw his arm over his face, nose wrinkling when he smelled the material up close. He vowed to do some self-maintenance when he woke up, but for now, he would allow himself a bit of rest. After all, he was expected at dinner.
Chapter 3: Battle
Set before The Greater Good and after Malice.
Their uneasy peace lasted for exactly one meal.
Rush arrived in the mess, took his ration, and sat down at a table alone to eat it. Afterwards, he remained at the table, in full view of the others, doing equations in one of his seemingly endless supply of flip pads. His clothes looked cleaner and it seemed he had made a genuine effort to comb his hair.
Eventually, the whispers had subsided and people began to take less interest in him as the evening meal wore on. Young stopped to look at him for a moment upon entering the mess, but he quickly took his ration and settled in with Scott and Chloe at a table across the room.
As the mealtime drew to a close, Rush stood abruptly, killing the rest of his tea in one swallow, before walking rapidly out of the room. Young watched him go before returning his attention to Chloe's story about skiing with her friends from Harvard.
"She thought she could handle it, but, of course, she had no idea what she was getting into. She couldn't even get off the ski lift!"
The next morning, Young overslept, missing breakfast completely. By lunch, he was irritable, tired, and ravenous. Taking his helping, he elected to lean against the wall, watching the room as he inhaled his blessedly tasteless paste.
Once most of the crew had come and gone, Rush staggered in, looking lost and confused for a moment before reorienting and making his way to Becker. He hunkered down at the same table, not noticing Young leaning nearby. The scientist ran a hand through his hair, which looked stringy already, eyes devouring his scribbled equations as his mouth tackled his rations with far less enthusiasm.
Eventually, he stopped eating entirely, holding his spoon inches from his lips as though he had forgotten it, staring at the space above his notebook with unseeing eyes. Finally, he dropped the spoon with a noisy clunk as he snatched up his pencil and began scribbling again.
Young watched him work until he seemed to reach the end of his fervor, before clearing his throat.
Rush jumped, spinning in his seat to stare at him as he pushed off the wall, ambling slowly to return his bowl. Young looked back at him, quirking an eyebrow in a challenging expression, before jamming his hands into his pockets and leaving the room.
Rush followed him into the hallway, sweeping his hair back with one hand as he stalked towards him. His walk was aggressive, legs bowing out to take up more space, arms swinging free at his sides. "You watching me eat now?" He snapped.
Young came up short, looking up at the ceiling in exasperation. "I just happened to be there, Rush. No ulterior motive."
"Yeah, never." He replied, hands clenching and unclenching at his side.
Young's arms swept the hallway in a dismissive gesture. "You want me to apologize for being in the mess? Fine, Rush, I'm sorry."
The look the other man gave him was acidic. "You know what? I think we're done here," Rush snapped, stalking past him, purposefully shouldering into him.
He stopped him short with a grip on his upper arm, spinning him back around. "What is your problem?" He hissed.
"You really want to do this in a hallway?" Rush hissed back, glancing up as a civilian crossed the connecting hallway, glancing at them before hurrying away.
"I don't really want to do this at all, but it seems you do."
"Not hardly," he spat, wrenching his arm away.
"Is this how things are going to be between you and me now?" Young called at his retreating back.
"Were they ever any different?" He shot back, continuing to storm away.
Two steps forward, fourteen back, Young thought, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Nothing but work," He muttered to himself. Glancing up, he saw Airman Dunning and two civilians staring at him from the crossway. Sighing, he turned and walked the opposite direction than Rush had gone.
Despite sitting for hours on end at the table in the corner of the mess doing paperwork, Young was forced to conclude that Rush would not be appearing that night. Instead, he made small talk with various crew members, weighed in on a debate over the foulest tasting MREs between Greer and Artesia, and discussed leave via the stones with Camille.
By the time the room began to empty, his head twinged again in the beginnings of another headache. Removing his reading glasses, he rubbed his eyes, stifling a yawn. Desire warring with common sense, he debated stopping by the still on his way to his rooms.
Still undecided, he walked the halls of the ship, comforted by the faint rumble of the engines in FTL. He found himself in the narrow hall outside the still again despite his best intentions. His eyes narrowed when he realized that, once again, the doors to Storage Bay 3 were open.
He found Rush much as he had that night a week ago, up to his shoulders in a giant crate, sorting through pieces of Ancient computer guts, muttering under his breath and humming nonsensically. He stopped to consult his notes a few times, wiping his hair back from his brow with the back of one wrist before returning to the pieces he was fastening together with an Ancient screwdriver.
"Fixing the ship?" He asked, voice shades darker than he anticipated, unable to keep the tight smile off his face when Rush jumped.
"Colonel Young. Spying again, I see." He murmured, going back to what he was doing resolutely.
"You didn't come to dinner so I couldn't just watch you eat this time." He replied, kicking himself for sounding every inch the creep he knew Rush thought him to be.
Rush snorted, pulling another bit out of the box, tapping the crystal sensors on the side to check their connectivity.
"What's that?" Young asked finally, gesturing at the motherboard-like thing he was constructing.
"It's a new systems array for a computer in the engine control room. The old one is malfunctioning now that we've altered the FTL drive systems."
"We did that weeks ago." Young pointed out, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Well, it's a fairly complex problem," Rush replied testily, tucking a lock of his hair behind his ear.
"Oh, I'm sure. And if I ask Volker and Brody, they're going to know all about this, right?"
Rush laughed then, shoulders shaking with the effort. "No," He snapped, turning to look at him finally, "If you ask Volker and Brody, they will most certainly not know anything about it, I can assure you."
"Point taken. But why so secretive, Rush? What's really going on?"
He shook his head, still smiling wryly, returning his attention to the pieces. "You really have a suspicious mind, Colonel. Has anyone ever told you that?"
"But I'm also usually right."
"Well, now." He said vaguely, seeming content to ignore the other man afterwards.
Young leaned against the wall, watching him work for several minutes. Rush was methodical, stripping out pieces of the board, replacing them with new pieces from the various crates, rebuilding what seemed to be a three-dimensional rectangle with crystals on the insides at either end.
Finally, when he stifled yet another yawn, Rush sat up slightly, calling sarcastically, "Oh, please don't stay up on my account."
"It's time to go to bed, Rush." Young said, uncrossing his arms, wincing as the blood began to flow more fully. At Rush's perplexed expression, he clarified, "Go to your quarters. It's late. We've got an early start tomorrow."
He shrugged. "It's always something, isn't it?"
Rush laughed at that, a genuine snort of amusement that somehow left him looking even more tired. "I'll just finish up here and be done then."
"Yeah. You do that."
They stared at one another uneasily for a moment, and Young realized he had come to stand quite close to the other man. Finally, he nodded tightly and left the room. Rush sat in the floor for a long while after he'd gone, before shrugging and going back to work.
The next had day brought the mysterious new ship and the perilous journey to the other side. After a great deal of finagling in an attempt to protect his secret, Rush was forced to watch as it unraveled instead.
After a brutal argument with the scientist, Young had been forced to admit that the man had made a feasible point. Their relationship had been strained at best lately, and he knew that was no fault but his own. He had alienated the other man, destroyed what little trust there might have been between the two of them, when he had left him for dead on that planet, and when he had pressed him to the wall of the dusty storage bay.
Young leaned back on his sofa, trying not to think of the other man's face as he'd left the room where Ginn and Amanda Perry had been killed. He had attempted to call him back, to reach out to the other man, but it had been rebuffed. Unsurprising, considering the events of the afternoon.
It always seemed to come down to violence with the two of them, he mused. He had felt none of the curious connection that had driven him to force kisses on the other man. In that moment, he had felt only pure, hot rage, curling through his hands and burning through him like wildfire.
Young had punched him once, twice, and slammed him into the wall. He'd strangled the man, once against the wall and once on the floor, pulling him to his chest in a parody of a lover's embrace. Rush had struggled, clawed and kicked like an animal, but Young had barely noticed under all that rage.
He realized then that this man brought out facets of his personality he had never known existed, or that he had long convinced himself never could. Rush ate at him, at everything he had, eroding everything he wanted to be and leaving instead only what he really was. He despised him for it, and yet, some part of it thrilled him.
He did not like to think about what that implication meant.
Young had grown up with several siblings and knew what it was like to fight. As a soldier, he had learned to fight for others; to fight for his own life. Yet the kinds of fights he found himself having with Rush were not like any he had ever known. They were brutal. They were cruel. And they left him feeling as though he had lost something, even as he had found it.
At times, Young found he wanted to hurt Nicholas Rush and he was not sure what to make of that. He thought of himself as a good commander, as a good man; yet Rush had come along and washed him clean of those expectations, one day at a time.
He tried to think of the man he had known at Icarus Base. Rush had been private, intensely so, always polite in public, but Young had always sensed it was a surface hiding a deeper interior. Rush had been jittery and cautious and all smiles until he would suddenly spend hours shouting from seemingly no stimulus, while staring at the whiteboards he constantly covered in unintelligible scrawl.
Young had preferred to surround himself with other people, while Rush had always preferred to be alone. Now Young understood the need for solace and reflection. He needed it to punish himself. He wondered what Rush was punishing himself for. His failure to unlock the ninth chevron without assistance? The death of his wife?
Closing his eyes, he let his book fall to his chest, pages downward to mark his place. It occurred to him suddenly that he did not hate Nicholas Rush. He didn't know what he wanted from the man, which seemed to go hand-in-hand with never knowing what he was going to get.
He thought of the thrum of pulse beneath his fingers, the taste of mint on his tongue, and he groaned, trying to ignore the stirrings in his body. Damn the man for being what he was –whatever that would end up being, in the end.
Sitting up, he picked up the book again, determined to distract himself from this cycle of unhelpful thoughts. Young read peacefully for the better part of an hour. Eventually, he was interrupted by a soft, almost inaudible knock at the door.
Young looked up from his book when he heard the tentative knocking at his door. Tugging off his glasses, he used them to mark his place, hauling himself up from where he had sunk down in the curious non-leather of his sofa.
Palming the door panel revealed Nicholas Rush, body half-turned away from him, looking down the hallway. Rush stood with his head bowed, left hand cradling the back of his neck. He wore a pair of military-issue pants and the matching tan tee-shirt. His hair was clean and looked as though some effort had been made to tame it. As he looked up, Young realized he was clean-shaven, perhaps for the first time in months.
Their eyes met and Rush looked almost surprised to see him standing there, in the doorway of his own quarters. When Young opened his mouth to speak, Rush shouldered past him, stepping into the room.
With a half-shrug, Young closed the door, following him over to where Rush sat on the sofa uninvited, hands clasped in his lap. He realized then the other man was barefoot. Overall, he appeared curiously vulnerable.
After a moment's hesitation, Young joined him on the sofa, hands on his knees. It was awkward, sitting elbow-to-elbow with Rush like this. He could smell the traces of Brody's liquor on him and wondered how sober the other man was to come to him like this.
Finally, Young spoke, eyes on the ceiling. "I'm... sorry. About Dr. Perry."
Rush nodded silently, hand curling up to his neck again.
"She was..." He cleared his throat. "She seemed like a very nice... person. I understand the two of you were... close."
"I didn't come here to talk about Mandy," Rush whispered, voice barely audible.
Young sighed. "Well, what did you come here for, Rush?" He asked, turning to look at him, unable to keep the exasperation out of his voice. No matter how hard he made an effort with this man, something about him seemed determined to undo it in an instant.
Without warning, Rush's hands were fisted on the lapels of his jacket. The smaller man used this grip to pull himself up to kneel on the sofa, pressing his mouth to Young's with a reckless intensity that took his breath away.
For a moment, Young just sat there, stunned. He raised one arm to catch the other man by the scruff of his too-large shirt, pulling him closer as his other hand wrapped around to bury in his hair. Rush's teeth clacked against his with more violence than finesse and he twisted his mouth to better mesh them together, feeling the man's lips bruise under his.
The kiss ended when he finally wrestled Rush onto his back, pressing him into the sofa, kneeling above him with one knee on either side of him, still gripping his shirt and hair.
Rush's arms released his jacket, coming to fall on either side of his head and he held them there as though pinned. Young pulled back a bit, teeth raking against Rush's smooth chin as he caught his breath. He opened his palm on the back of his head, feeling the heavy weight of his skull, the softness of the clean hair. He inhaled, taking in the various smells clinging to that skin – clean laundry, the soap they'd managed to make, the acrid sharpness of alcohol and the earthy tones he had come to associate with Rush and Rush alone. He hadn't even realized he'd known his scent until that moment.
As he slid his mouth lower, tasting the skin at his throat before moving up again, just below his ear, Rush let out a soft sound more like a sob than not. Young pulled back further and looked at him, expression critical.
Rush lay on his back, eyes tightly closed, body half-turned away. He gripped his own wrist tightly in his right hand, knuckles white. His posture and expression stabbed at Young, a too-strong reminded of the night in Storage Bay 3 when he had come close to making yet another ultimate mistake with the man.
"Jesus, Rush..." Young grated out, levering himself up and away.
Those wide brown eyes snapped open, confused and searching. Rush sat up, grabbing for his arm in protest. "Wait, don't..."
"Look at you! You don't want to do this. You're frightened."
"I'm not!" He insisted stubbornly, tugging at Young's sleeve.
"You don't want to do this, Rush." He repeated firmly.
Rush responded by trying for another desperate kiss, but Young caught him by his arms, hands curling just above his elbows. He stared into the man's wild eyes for a moment, feeling as though he were being swallowed up in those depths, before wrenching him forward savagely by his bruising grip.
The smaller man's hands pressed against Young's chest, pushing away reflexively, and Young shook him in response, stilling him. "Is this what you want?" He snarled, voice hoarse and dark. "Is this what you want from me? You want me to hurt you? To make you?"
Rush shook his head, eyes wet, gaze sliding away. He huffed a series of breaths but could not manage to articulate anything.
Young released him, letting him fall back on his elbows on the sofa, before shoving away to stalk across the room. He paced the floor, back and forth, for a few moments, sucking in breaths as he ran his hands through his hair.
Rush continued to watch him, chest heaving with deep breaths of his own. Finally, Rush licked his dry lips reflexively and stood up. He came closer to Young, who stopped pacing to stare at him. Rush held up one hand as though soothing a frightened animal, saying softly, "...We need this. We both do."
Young flinched at the repetition and watched the hand come in contact with his arm, curving around his bicep, with almost detached interest. He followed the man's arm up to his shoulder and to his face, shaking his head, with his eyes and then with his fingertips. "Even if I thought for one second that you really meant that, this would still be a colossally bad idea."
"And why is that, Colonel?" He asked voice still as soft and gentle as Young had ever heard it. His expression was one of mild interest, but his throat twitched.
"Because you're you, Rush, and I'm me, and we are never going to make this work."
"It only has to work out for a little while..." Rush murmured, stepping closer, his other hand on Young's chest again.
It would be so easy to lean down, he realized, to close the distance between their mouths, to push him back or pull him forward. He wondered what Rush would do if he crushed him in an embrace or threw him to the floor. Somehow he knew he would both relish and dislike the answers to those questions.
Shaking his head, Young pulled away.
He walked the length of the room, coming up short when he realized this put him beside his bed. "You want to be punished, for the part you think you played in Dr. Perry's death. But you didn't kill her, Rush. It wasn't your fault."
Rush followed him silently, sitting on the bed awkwardly, curling his arms around himself, one on his shoulder, the other his waist. He looked down at his own feet, curving them inwards, the bones of his ankles stark and visible. His expression was haunted and hollow and it tugged at something in Young he couldn't even full realize.
With a sigh, Young plopped down beside him, causing the other man to rock from side-to-side as the bed settled under their combined weight. Gently, hesitantly, he lifted his arm to smooth down Rush's tousled hair, still sticking up in the back where his hand had mauled it.
Almost absently, Rush leaned into him, his head coming to rest in the crook of Young's shoulder. Young held his hand out awkwardly before settling it around his shoulder, embracing him.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Rush," He whispered, "Not anymore."
"I can see that," He replied, voice thick with emotion.
"You're tired. You're drunk..." He began softly, looking at the wall and not the man curling more and more into his side. "You're going to regret this in the morning."
Rush's dry laugh gave way into a quiet sob. Young looked down then as the man's face crumpled into tears. He had heard stories about people seeing Rush cry, but he'd never believed them until now. The other man brought his hands up over his face, muffling himself, shoulders shaking as he cried silently. "...Everything..." He whispered finally, "Every morning…"
Young nodded, petting his thumb across his shoulder as he continued to shake, tears gone dry now, but the pain that caused them clearly still there. Eventually, Rush wound up falling half-way across his lap, face still in his arms. Young held him sideways, saying nothing.
"I really am sorry about all this," Rush murmured finally, curling more or less into the fetal position, head braced on Young's thigh.
"Shut up and go to sleep, Rush." Young replied, settling back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. From this angle, all of the rivets and dimples and curves looked new.
This is the last part of Reprieve, but there will eventually be a sequel.