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The Hermes was always quiet, but at night the silence felt deeper. Not like the profound, gentle quiet of nighttime on Earth, which was filled with soft breezes and the constant drone of insects. It was the suffocating and desolate silence of Mars, a silence so deep I was afraid I would fall into it and be lost forever. After all, Hermes was mankind’s greatest technological marvel. Of course she was going to be as silent as she was large. Engineers prided themselves on things like that - making something sleek and beautiful, but also stupidly efficient and so quiet you could forget you were on a spacecraft millions of miles away from the rest of humanity.

 

I hated being alone on the ship for any length of time, but there were only six of us and we all had our own tasks to perform around the clock. It didn’t make for a lot of time to socialize, and we were astronauts, right? Self-sufficiency and independence were written into our bones. They had to be, or we wouldn’t have made it onto this mission.

 

Two years ago, I’d been fine with this. But two years ago, I hadn’t been stranded on Mars for eighteen months alone. I craved human contact now like nothing else. Noises, too. Conversations especially, no matter how dull. I was still getting the hang of those again. There were a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head, but not all of them made it past my lips. Or my thoughts didn’t come out in the right order. More than once since my rescue I’d been in the middle of a conversation with someone that had ground to a halt because I responded to them in my head instead of out loud. It was weird, okay. But as our Doctor Beck is constantly telling me, it’s all perfectly normal. Though how he can be sure of this is anyone’s guess. After all, I was the first person to ever be stranded on Mars. It’s not like he had a frame of reference.

 

Usually at night I put on music to stave off the silence until I fall asleep (or until Chris comes back), but I’d spilled coffee on my computer this morning. Because I’m stupid. Luckily, the only thing that seems to be shot are the speakers. I didn’t lose anything else on it. I couldn’t steal Chris’s computer as a replacement because he took it to the lab with him, so about the only thing I can do to drown out the silence right now is read.

 

I admit, it wasn’t a great plan. So that asshole better come back on time tonight.

 

I was a little bit punchy. Even I recognized that. It’s just that, after you spend eighteen months in isolation on a desolate planet, when you’re suddenly surrounded by other humans again you come to rely on their presence. And you start to get irritated when a certain someone is two hours overdue because you could really use some human contact right about now, damn it.

 

To his credit, that’s only happened a couple of times. Still, I’ve only been on this ship for a little over three weeks now. It was a long way back to Earth, and if I have to spend one more damn minute trapped in this silent, suffocating room without him…

 

I shook my head, trying to focus on the news article I’d pulled up on my tablet. I used to love the moments of quiet in my life. Silence was rare in my line of work, and precious when I got it. I would have killed for a night like this back when I was in college or during my endless weeks of training. Quiet meant reading a novel on a Tuesday evening instead of a science text. Quiet meant a cup of coffee and an actual newspaper over an honest-to-God breakfast. Quiet meant a night in Connecticut with Chris, curled up together in the bed of our rented beach house while waves crashed on the shore of Long Island Sound. Silence used to mean safety, used to mean peace. I missed that like hell.

 

I must have fallen asleep anyway, because the next thing I knew, Chris was gently easing my reading glasses off my face. The tablet I had been reading was now resting on my stomach. He set the glasses aside, then took my hands.

 

“Hey, handsome,” he said softly, and even through the haze of sleep that still shrouded my brain, I fucking swelled. Puffed up like a pleased bird in mating season. Dear God, I adored this man. When it was just the two of us, he made sure he was constantly touching me. He understood without being told that I needed contact, any contact. So he took my hands or stroked my face or held me for no reason at all. He had to be more subtle about it when we were elsewhere on the ship, but he usually made sure to put a hand on my shoulder at the very least. I was so fucking grateful for him that I could have cried (and all right, sometimes I did.) I’d never felt so understood before. 

 

Of course, I said none of that to him, though I meant to. I opened my mouth and asked, “Where the hell have you been?” instead, because apparently my brain is a dick like that. Chris laughed, though.

 

“Lost track of time working on some reports. Hope you weren’t trying to wait up for me,” he said.

 

“Spilled coffee on my computer,” I replied. He gave me a vaguely puzzled look, and I realized that more spoken words were needed to explain that. “Speakers are out. No music.”

 

“Ah. So you tried reading instead. Anything interesting?”

 

“Well, the good news is now I’m now only eight months behind on the latest celebrity gossip instead of eighteen.” I set my tablet aside. Chris snorted.

 

“Yeah, because I know you were so concerned about that.” He stood up, pulled off his black NASA-issue sweatshirt, and slung it over the back of the lone chair in his quarters.

 

“It was all I could think about down on Mars, you know. Wondering what those damn Kardashians were up to now.” I stretched, groaning. Jesus, what time was it? Had to be close to midnight, if Chris was here, but I felt like I’d only been asleep for an hour.

 

“Really?” Chris perched on the bunk near my waist and leaned over me. “That was all you could think about?”

 

“Well, yeah. That and I hope I don’t die out here.”

 

A beat of awkward silence followed. Oh. Maybe that wasn’t the kind of mood Chris was trying to set.

 

“Mark?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Let’s not talk about Mars tonight.” And he kissed me, hard.

 

It’s really difficult to argue that kind of logic with a guy who had his tongue halfway down my throat. Sure, let’s not talk about Mars. If it keeps you kissing me like that, I’ll never mention the name of that godforsaken planet again.

 

I guess Chris decided that I’d healed enough for this kind of activity (finally!), because the man was relentless. He teased open my lips with small swipes of his tongue, then tilted his head and deepened the kiss. I framed his face with my hands and mapped the inside of his mouth, running my tongue over his slightly crooked incisors, the ridges of his palate. Chris groaned, and I felt his pleasure rumble through me. Oh, Jesus, I’d missed this. I’d missed him. He pulled himself fully up onto the bunk without breaking away from me, continuing to explore the inside of my mouth until I had to pull away and gulp air.

 

Christ,” I panted. “Where the hell has this been these past three weeks?”

 

“Waiting for you to recover enough to enjoy it,” Chris murmured. He caught my earlobe between his teeth and I let out a truly undignified whimper. Goosebumps erupted down my neck. He pushed his hands underneath my shirt, warm hands that skimmed up my sides and over every too-prominent rib until his wandering fingers caught on a nipple. He twisted it sharply in counterpoint to his low voice, which growled, “Off, now.”

 

I didn’t need telling twice. Seconds later, my shirt was on the floor. I then took the hem of his and pulled it over his head. It was the first time in… a while that I’d laid eyes on that broad chest and I paused, staring openly. Chris chuckled, breaking me out of my reverie. I reached for him, wanting to run my hands through the dusting of golden hair across his pecs. He seized my wrists instead and pinned them to the mattress above my head, rendering me essentially immobile. Thank Jesus my ribs have healed enough to allow him to do that, because it’s fucking hot.

 

(I complain a lot about Doctor Bossy-Beck. I’m a dirty fucking liar. I love it when Chris’s bossy side makes an appearance, especially when it involves manhandling me.)

 

Chris covered my body with his own, settling completely on top of me, and captured my lips again in a languid kiss.

 

“Love seeing you like this,” he murmured. “You’re mine.”

 

“Uh-huh,” I said breathlessly, chasing after his mouth as he moved away. He gave me a chaste kiss and then turned his attentions to the side of my throat. My biggest weakness, certain to turn me into a senseless puddle, and he exploited it for all it was worth. With lips and teeth and tongue, he teased the sensitive skin until I was writhing, begging him to don’t stop please don’t stop yes right there.

 

Asshole. I was going to have marks there in the morning for sure, if not from his teeth, than from his ever-present stubble. I would have to -

 

-And then he moved down my chest, getting my left nipple between his teeth and teasing it into a hard nub, and suddenly I didn’t care anymore. He could mark me all he wanted, as long as he didn’t fucking stop.

 

Chris finally released my wrists, and I pulled him back up to me. I shifted so that my hips were flush with his and ground slowly against him. He chuckled against my mouth and did the same. We fell into a lazy rhythm, rubbing against each other while we kissed. Chris was only half-hard. For that matter, so was I.

 

Here’s a fun fact about space travel: it lowers testosterone. No one knows why. It’s a phenomenon that was first discovered during the Skylab era, and it’s been a mystery ever since. Not that it was impossible to have sex in space – far from it. It just didn’t happen as often as you would think. It wasn’t probably going to happen tonight, but I couldn’t care less about getting off right now. It just felt so fucking good to be touched again. I honestly didn’t care about anything but the feel of his hands on me, the weight of his body on mine.

 

Slowly, we shed the rest of our clothes. Chris had already seen me naked once since my rescue, when it was his doctorly duty to help me shower my first night back on the ship because I was too weak to manage it myself. I found this profoundly unfair - even though there was absolutely nothing erotic about that painful experience - because I haven’t laid eyes on him since Earth, when we’d had a few stolen nights together before our pre-mission stints in isolation.

 

Jesus, but Chris still has a magnificent body. Big and solid, he definitely looks the part of EVA specialist more than doctor. You’d figure your doctors would be less imposing. I can barely wrap both hands around his biceps, and it’s not like I have small hands. All right, to be fair, I’m not a huge guy or anything – though I am an inch taller than the average male, thank you very much – but Chris makes me look downright delicate and that is not something I’m used to.

 

That’s probably a poor comparison at the moment, come to think of it. I am still slightly emaciated. But even when I’m at my peak, I’m nothing compared to him.

 

I pushed him onto his back. He let his knees fall open and I settled between his legs. Pressed my thumbs into the hollows of his hips and drank in the sight of him. Then I lowered my head and took him into my mouth for the first time in over two years.

 

I moaned, long and low, because holy shit. I’d forgotten how divine it was, having him heavy on my tongue, having his taste in my mouth. I pulled off to swirl the tip of my tongue around the head of his cock, then took him deep again. He still wasn’t fully hard, probably wouldn’t be, but I didn’t fucking care.

 

Chris made a contented noise in the back of his throat and twirled a lock of my hair around his finger - yeah, it’s long enough to do that now. Then he simply rested his hand on my head, kneading my scalp while I bobbed and sucked. I was able to take him almost to the base, almost to the point where my nose would be buried in the thick, wiry curls at his groin, but I was out of practice and didn’t want to push it. Not yet, anyway. I used to be able to do that, and that was when he was fully hard. Guess we’ll have to do this a lot more times until I improve.

 

He eventually went soft in my mouth. I kept on sucking and fondling for a while, until finally he nudged me with his knee and I crawled up the bunk to join him. I was flaccid now, too. Tonight wasn’t our night, but it would come. Ha. See what I did there?

 

“That was nice,” Chris said with a dreamy smile. He looked practically post-coital. I suppose, after a two-year dry spell, this was the equivalent of mind-blowing sex. I was feeling pretty loose-limbed myself. Chris folded me into his arms, and I slid my legs between his. Another thing I had longed for - the feel of hairy legs against mine. It’s weird sometimes, the things I missed while I was on Mars. When I wasn’t busy missing Chris so much I thought the pain of it would kill me for sure, it was the little things that got to me. Realizing we’d never fall asleep wrapped up in each other again, or that I’d never see that small mole on the side of his neck, or that we’d never trip over one another in a bathroom, me trying to stumble into clothes after a shower while he’s trying to shave.

 

We’ve done all three of those things since I’ve been back on Hermes. I’m so fucking happy.

 

“We should tell them,” I said. So far, it’s been understood that I’m staying in these quarters with Chris because I’m his patient, which is technically true, but eventually I’m going to recover fully and Chris won’t need to spend nearly so much time in here tending to me. I’ll never be able to return to my own quarters (nor Martinez to his - he’s bunking with Vogel for the rest of the journey), but it will start to look suspicious that Doctor Beck is basically glued to the side of the dorky resident botanist.

 

“I know.” Chris gave a sad sort of smile. “I don’t mind people knowing. I’ve already mutinied, after all. Compared to that, fraternizing with a crewmember will be the least of the terrible things NASA can say about me.”

 

“For what it’s worth, I’m really glad you mutinied.”

 

“So am I, babe.”

 

Usually I give Chris shit whenever he resorts to endearments, but not tonight. Not anymore. It was one of the vows I made when I was back on Mars. One of the bargains I made with the universe. If I get off this goddamn planet, I promise that I’ll let Chris call me whatever he wants for the rest of our days.

 

I never thought I’d live to hear him call me those ridiculous names again. Now, nothing has ever sounded so beautiful to my ears. I’m so fucking happy.

 

“Let’s go see Lewis in the morning.” I tilted my head up for a kiss. “In the meantime -”

 

“I can have my wicked way with you?”

 

I snorted, giving an exaggerated look down to where our flaccid cocks were resting comfortably against each other. “Well, you’re welcome to try.”

 

Chris laughed and touched his forehead to mine. “I’m so fucking happy, Mark.”

 

I kissed him, long and deep. “Couldn’t have said it better myself, Doctor Beck.”

 

I fell asleep with the steady thud of his heart in my ear. The silence that surrounded us was deep and gentle, and I’d never felt more safe.