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Homeward Bound

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At last, the Hermes repressurized and gravity was restored.

Chris removed his own gloves and helmet before turning to Mark. He could barely see Mark's face through the condensation inside his mask. Mark. That last hour had been so chaotic that he hadn't had a chance to breathe, let alone think.

Now he could do nothing but think: Mark was really here. He had made it.

Chris's hands trembled as he released the fastenings on Mark's helmet. He was injured, there was no way Mark couldn't be after what had just happened, but how badly. Could Chris fix whatever was wrong, with the limited supplies he had onboard? Chris held his breath as he lifted away the helmet.

Chris stared at Mark's face, sickened by what he saw, the gauntness in Mark's face. He was skeletal. The deep hollows of his cheeks, showing every line of his jaw and cheek bones. His eyes had sunken in, the dark circle under his eyes making it look all the worse. A bright red goose egg on Mark's forehead showed where his head had slammed against the helmet, probably what had knocked him unconscious.

All along Chris had imagined Mark as he knew him – robust, laughing, never one to pass on the obvious joke. The teasing Mark who had eyed Chris when he knew no one else was looking, a look that had promised that once the mission was over that maybe there would be more than just lingering looks and playful footsie games under the table.

"What's wrong? Am I bleeding?" Mark's words penetrated Chris's daze and he forced himself to focus.

"Nope, the problem is you stink." It wasn't a lie, Mark did stink. Pungent and horrid like the rotting squirrel Chris had once had to dig out of his parent's fireplace in Connecticut and in stark contrast to the sanitized cleanliness of the Hermes that Chris had come to hate. "I need to see what the damage is."

"Sure you can stand the stench?" Mark inhaled deeply. "It must be bad that I can't even smell it. Haven't been able to wash since I left the Hab three months ago." He rambled on about not being about to take the water reclaimer on the trek across Mars, and something about taking a last bath using the RTG to heat the water, Chris didn't really listen as he freed Mark from his suit.

Mark hissed with pain as the suit came off, Chris wished that he could cut it off to make it easier. He did cut away the soiled jumpsuit that Mark wore underneath, it was so filthy the sanitizer would never be able to get it clean.

If Chris had thought Mark's face looked gaunt, it was nothing compared to his body. Mark's rib cage jutted out obscenely over his concave stomach. It was all Chris could do to fight back the nausea when he spotted Mark's broken ribs without even feeling for them, the two broken bones apparent through his paper-thin skin. Chris gently slid his fingers along Mark's ribs, arms, legs – assessing the damage.

"What do you think, doc? Am I going to live?"

"If living on Mars for almost two years didn't kill you, I don't think a little bumping around in space is going to do it." Chris fought to keep his voice neutral but Mark must have heard it the quaver in it because he reached up and put his hand against Chris's cheek. Chris closed his eyes at the touch. It had been so long, he turned his head just enough to kiss the palm of Mark's hand. Mark leaned forward, resting his forehead against Chris's, a sigh of contentment escaping from him.

They stood like that until the increased thrum of the ion reactor reminded Chris that they were not alone, that just outside the sick bay were four anxious men and women, waiting to hear that Mark was okay.

Taking a step back, he cleared his throat. "I'll give you some pain meds for those ribs and then strap them once you've showered."

"A shower. Just to let you know, I spent a whole lot of time thinking about how much I wanted to get in a shower with you, and a bed, and—"

Chris put his fingers against Mark's lips, shushing him. "You do realize that Commander Lewis and the rest are just outside that door, don't you?"

Mark kissed Chris's fingers. "You know the thing I regretted most of all?"

Chris knew his own regret – not kissing Mark when he had the chance when they were working alone in the Hab when the rest were on EVAs. "What?"

"Loaning you my data stick with all my music and movies on it." Mark said with a grin. "Do you know what shit I've been listening to for months? Disco. Disco. And more Disco."

Chris laughed. "Well, as you well know, your stick is the only one onboard since it was in my pocket when we evacuated. And the only reason we came back is because we wanted to ask you who in their right mind would only bring the complete Grateful Dead bootleg collection along with every season of the Jeopardy show."

Mark laughed and then winced, his arm clutching his side with the broken ribs. "I'd better get those meds, so we can get you showered and fed."

"Just warning you, if I see a potato on my plate, I'm going to vomit." Mark said as Chris went to the medications cabinet.

"No potatoes, I'll let room service know." Chris said as he handed Mark the capsules and a glass of water. Mark threw the pills back and drained the glass.

The shower stall was barely large enough to turn around in and Mark leaned back against the side of it as Chris fumbled to get the water flowing. Mark lifted his face into the flow, his eyes shut as the water ran down his body.

"Shampoo and soap is just to your right." Chris said as he started to shut the door.

"Chris. I don't think I can…"

Chris could see that Mark's whole body was shaking. Christ, what kind of doctor was he? He hadn't even bothered to take the man's blood pressure before giving him the narcotics. Mark could be going into shock or worse, Chris went to shut off the water and Mark's hand grabbed his wrist, stopping him.

"Just help me, please. I can't stand to have this filth on me anymore."

Against his better judgment, Chris nodded. Standing in the open shower, his clothes getting soaked he reached in and started massaging Mark's hair, getting it wet. It was short and ragged, he'd obviously gone at it with a pair of scissors. Mark shuddered and relaxed against the wall. Reaching passed him Chris squeezed some shampoo from the dispenser into his palm and gently sudsing Mark's scalp and hair.

"You do realize that if I wasn't as weak as a puppy, there is no way this wouldn't end without a happy ending." Mark murmured, his eyes still closed.

"I'm going to hold you to that someday soon." Chris whispered back. The floor of the sick bay was drenched but he didn't care as he took a washcloth and soaped Mark's chest and arms. He went slowly over the ribs but Mark still bit his bottom lip and shuddered with pain. Mark's back showed every nob of his vertebrae, the skin bruised where it had been pressed against the MAV at liftoff.

What little color had been in Mark's face was gone, he was pale and shaking. "That's enough. We'll get the rest tomorrow." Chris shut off the water and turned on the drying fan. The blast of warm air was enough to nearly knock Mark over.

He opened the closet next to the shower and pulled out one of his own jumpsuits. Mark tried to bend over to get his legs through the bottoms but couldn't, so Chris kneeled down and did it for him. He left the top undone. "Sit," he ordered as he went to get the strapping. The meds must've started working because Mark hardly flinched as Chris bound his ribs tightly.

"C'mon there are some people who want to see you. Then some soup."

"Soup? What about a steak dinner? Lobster?"

"I doubt your stomach can handle much more than soup. Let's save the steaks for tomorrow, then we'll go whole hog and celebrate." Chris said as he helped Mark stand. "Ready to face the rest?"

Mark shook his head and Chris took a step closer. "What's wrong? Does something still hurt?"

Mark slid his hand around Chris's neck and pulled him close and then his mouth was pressed against Chris's, he ran his hands through Chris's hair. Closing his eyes, Chris gave a moan and kissed him back, opening his mouth, nibbling on Mark's lips.

A sharp rap on the door sprang them apart. "How is he?" Commander Lewis asked, her voice was high with tension.

"Just coming out." Chris said, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand as Mark grinned at him. "He's a little beat up but seems to be in complete working order and ready to go home."