The first video that the Ares III crew send back to Earth after Watney's rescue is more proof of life than anything else, a hastily-cut clip to let the people of Earth know that their astronomically expensive investment has actually paid off. It's shaky helmet camera footage from Vogel's EVA suit, about fifteen seconds of him carefully reeling in a couple of astronauts like he's landed a particularly big space-trout. There's a short reunion in the airlock that's mostly chaos, and then the footage cuts away entirely for awhile, comes back to catch the last of Beck wriggling awkwardly out of his own EVA suit in the cramped confines of crew quarters.
"Yeah, Beck," Watney says, sound coming through second-hand and grainy from Vogel's crew headset. He's standing in the middle of the room with his own battered EVA suit still on. "Take it off for the ladies back home!"
Beck just shakes his head, reaching for the locks for Watney's helmet. "Pretty sure I'm not the star attraction here," he says, and then the helmet comes off and the camera wobbles. Vogel curses under his breath, and Beck flinches.
"I get it," Watney says, and then he turns right to the camera. "They're blinded by my beauty. It's understandable."
"Be glad that NASA has not developed smell-o-vision," Vogel tells the viewers at home.
Beck grimaces like he agrees but is trying to be too professional to mention it out loud. "Alright, Vogel, say hello to all the folks back home for us, but first you need to get out. I've got a patient to tend to."
The video catches Beck carefully unlatching one of the gloves from Watney's suit, the two of them talking far too quietly for the microphone to pick up, and the almost-imperceptible slump of Watney's back, before it cuts abruptly away to nothing.
Chris is waiting when Mark gets out of the shower. He's already administered painkillers — from the way Mark looks, they might finally be kicking in — but he's finished developing the x-rays, and he's got kinesio tape to apply to try to take a little of the pressure off of Mark's definitely-fractured ribs.
"Quick physical," he says, dragging the room's sole, tiny, fold-away stool up to the edge of the bed. "Leave your clothes off, I'll make it quick."
There isn't much he needs to see, anyway: he can already tell that Mark is severely undernourished, that his body's under stress, but Chris is more worried about the heart. He takes blood pressure (low), listens to the lungs (shallow breaths, but that's the pain, and the lung sounds are clear). The heart rate's too slow for Mark's previously established baseline, only 52 BPM, but with the severely restricted caloric intake and the physical changes Mark's body has undergone as a result, that's not exactly a surprise. With time and a careful reintroduction to food, he should bounce back just fine.
Chris palpates the elbows, wrists, each joint of the finger, and asks, "Any pain? Anything you need to tell me about?"
"Not uh... no? No," Mark answers, absently. He's staring at Chris's hands on his hands, and the skin on the insides of his wrists is so translucent that Chris can almost see the pulse now, throbbing beneath the skin. He frowns, and presses his stethoscope to Mark's back again. Heart rate's up, way up, like Mark's—
He looks up at Mark's face. He can't get accustomed to the new lines of it, the pronounced planes where before there had been gentle roundness, the sallow and unhealthy cast to Mark's skin. But the expression there is familiar enough: a little chagrined, a little guilty, like he thinks he's getting away with something. Chris has that look burned into his memory, as it happens, and Mark's never actually gotten away with shit.
"It's okay, I have that effect on all my patients," Chris says. "My milkshake brings all the astronauts to the flight deck, if you know what I mean."
He doesn't actually need to listen for this long, he's already got all the information he needs on this particular subject, but he can't help himself: he keeps the stethoscope pressed against Mark's back, and removes his other hand. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Puts his hand back against the bare skin of Mark's shoulder, sweeps an arc along that skin with his thumb. Lubdublubdublubdub.
"I'd say 'no homo,' but I've gotta be honest, it's a little bit homo," Mark says, weakly. "But I mean, I haven't seen another human being in two years, so I'm not really in a position to be choosy. Even if your milkshake's freeze-dried and comes in dehydrated brick form." He's not really bringing his A game to this conversation, but he's had two long years on Mars to let his witty repartee atrophy; Chris is going to give him a pass.
"I'd be really insulted by that, but I'm completely secure in my manhood. Also, I'm prescribing bed rest of the solo variety, so that works out for everyone. I want you to stick to this bunk for awhile, about as much as you can stand it. I know you've probably had about enough of confinement, so I'm not going to hassle you about it, but you're going to need to take it easy on those ribs. When you're not in the bunk, try hanging out in zero gravity; it'll be kinda like hydrotherapy, without the hydro. Together, we'll write exciting new studies on the effects of zero gravity in healing fractures. And we're going to work on packing some calories on on the way home. You hungry? I can whip you up a meal pack. Oh, but there was some kind of SNAFU with the supply shipment, we've got nothing but mashed potatoes."
"Fuuuuuuck you," Mark says, with feeling. "Are you done ogling me? Can I put on some clothes again?"
"Not my fault you're so fine," Chris says, with a shrug, but he hands over some clothes anyway: his own most comfortable sweater, the one that's so soft it's like walking around inside a hug, and some sweatpants that will probably be too long in the legs. He actually wouldn't mind ogling, normally, but Mark is so thin now that it hurts to look at him; it's some kind of miracle that he survived 12 G's at all without having a heart attack. When Chris made contact with the MAV and looked inside, there was some part of him that was sure he was going to be looking down on Mark's corpse, even when he could hear the other man's voice over the radio.
Christ, he's so glad Mark's not dead. He'd do a couple years of pants-shittingly terrifying solitary on Mars himself, to get what he has now: Mark sitting on Beth's bunk, wearing Chris's clothes, grumbling about sexual harassment.
"Get some sleep," Chris says, because of course Mark's going to sleep here. He has no idea where he and Beth are going to sleep — squeezing two people into one of these tiny bunks is one thing, three would be straight-up impossible — but they'll figure something out, for the long trip home.
Mark doesn't have to be told twice: the adrenaline's officially worn off and he's been slow-motion crashing for the last ten minutes. Now he's struggling to keep his eyes open, even as he's folding himself down into the bunk, all sharp angles and worn-away lines.
Chris pulls the blankets up to Mark's chin, and rubs one hand slow and steady up and down Mark's back. Usually Mark would already be throwing out a joke about Chris's mothering instincts or something, but instead he's already dropped like a stone into sleep.
Chris leaves him there, reluctantly. He has important work to do.
Finding Beth isn't difficult: there's not a lot of ground to cover, when you're searching a relatively tiny spaceship. He's heading to labs to look for her, she's heading toward the crew bunks, probably to look for him, and they meet up in the middle in zero-g, Chris clinging to Beth and Beth clinging to one of the handholds along the spoke, until their momentum is arrested and they're just floating there, holding each other.
Chris says, "Hi," and he's well aware that his smile is completely dopey, but Beth seems to like his face, so it all works out okay.
"Hi," Beth says back, and drops a quick kiss on his mouth for good measure. She definitely likes his face. And probably some of his other parts, too. He's not going to have any trouble talking her into this. He thinks.
"I need you for a mission," he says.
Beth raises her eyebrows. "If you're about to tell me it's a mission in your pants—"
"I'm really insulted that you think so little of my pick-up lines," Chris says, and starts maneuvering them both down the opposite spoke, toward gravity and the crew lounge area. They all call it "the family room," because that's what Watney called it all the way to Mars.
It's a relief to know Mark himself is on board, instead of just his ghost every time they turn around. Nobody's called it "the family room" in awhile.
"You don't even have any pick-up lines," Beth complains. "I had to make a move on you, remember? Luckily, one of us has some game."
"You have a list of bad pick-up lines that you saw on Usenet when you were twelve and committed to memory for some ungodly reason," Chris points out, clattering his way down the ladder as he feels gravity kicking in, tugging him toward the floor. "Thank god, because you're probably going to need them for this mission."
"Operation Get All Up In Watney's Business."
"Explain," Beth says, flopping down on the couch. So he does, and after that the operation is a go.
Beth winds up spending the night on the couch in the family room, and Chris spends the night wedged into the little sliver of floor space in her bunk room, listening to Mark Watney sleep. He's not kidding himself that it's for Mark's benefit; Mark's not in any immediate or serious danger; he's injured and severely malnourished, but he certainly doesn't need round-the-clock supervision. Chris is mostly there so he can listen to the steady, reassuring noise of Mark's gentle snoring, and remind himself that this is real.
Mostly, it's unexciting, except when Mark wakes up with a strangled cry in the middle of the sleep cycle and flips right the fuck out, starts shouting about the airlock and the hab canvas and needing another repair kit. It's a full-blown meltdown, and it takes maybe five minutes for Mark to realize that he's actually on the Hermes, that Chris is actually there, that the sound he's hearing is just the atmospheric recycling system kicking on, and not the Martian wind howling. One second he's panicking, and the next he blinks like he's just woken up, and then he's fine, for all that he's breathing like he's just run a marathon.
Chris swallows hard and says, "Yeah. You okay, man?"
"I'm fine," Mark says. He actually sounds totally fine. Not at all like he sounded twenty seconds ago. "You fine? You look like shit."
Chris chokes out a laugh. "Some asshole woke me up," he says.
"Oh," Mark says, and blinks sleepily. "Well, go the fuck back to sleep, then." He eases back down onto the bunk — more carefully than he did rocketing out of his nightmare, he's clearly feeling those broken ribs again — and takes his own advice, goes out like a light.
He sleeps well past what they generously consider "morning" even in space where concepts like that get a little theoretical. He doesn't stir when Chris gets up to shower and change, and he doesn't shuffle into the galley until the rest of the crew has been up and working for hours. Chris has been working on Mark's tasks, just like he has been since they left Mars the first time. Botany is boring as shit, though, which is why Chris is in the galley with Beth when Mark shuffles in, looking like a zombie, clearly trying not to jostle his anything.
Beth's the closest to him, at the counter refilling her coffee, which is why she says, "Morning," and then reaches out and wraps Mark in a gentle, uncomfortably prolonged hug, like this is something they do every day.
Mark freezes up at first. He puts his hands on Beth's hips, tentative and light, like he's trying to decide whether hugging back will hurt, or whether it's appropriate, or if Beth's just got to get some kind of thank-god-you're-alive sentiment out of her system and it'll be over soon. But Beth's got her arms wrapped around his shoulders, careful, her face tucked into the bare skin of Mark's neck, and the hug just goes on and on and on.
Chris really fucking loves her.
There's a point where Mark just gives in to it, loops his arms around Beth's waist and says, "Is this some kind of prerequisite for getting coffee? Because I can smell it and Johanssen, I am not afraid to shank a nerd to get some caffeine."
Beth grumbles against his neck and doesn't let go, so Chris gets up to get the drinks. He doesn't strictly have to lean into Mark's side to get to the mugs, and technically speaking he probably doesn't need to stand so close while he's pouring the coffee, either, with his hand splayed flat against Mark's shoulder blade. But he does anyway.
Mark doesn't have to let them do it, doesn't have to lean almost imperceptibly into Chris's hand, doesn't have to sigh against Beth's cheek, but he does.
Then they sit down and have some coffee like nothing weird is going on. They talk about routine things — the scrubbers that Chris is still having to clean with chemical baths, the apparently-embarrassing contents of Beth's laptop left back in the Hab, Mark's hatred of disco and sincere desire to never listen to it again as long as he lives. Beth promises to hook him up with some classic rock; Chris is pretty sure she's actually going to do something more evil than that.
After awhile, Vogel comes in and tells Chris the timer in the lab has gone off, and Beth has to get back to work too — she's undoing some of the overrides she put in place to keep NASA from stopping the Rich Purnell Maneuver. Mark's slowly but steadily tucking into an actual hot meal — sausages and sort-of-eggs, no space-equivalent hash browns in sight — and Vogel sits down with him, sharing the whole crew's unspoken agreement to mother hen the shit out of their once-lost crewmate. Chris hasn't included everybody else in his personal mission, but they're all playing their own parts, just the same.
Chris says, "Take it slow, maybe think about a nap after you've finished eating," and he puts both hands on Mark's shoulders before he leaves, lets his thumbs sweep over the ridges of muscle there that should be thicker.
"Yes, mom," Mark grumbles, which gives Beth an opening to kiss his cheek and tell him to be good at school.
Beck drifts back up to the lab and his waiting botany experiments, and he thinks very optimistically to himself that his plan is going pretty much perfectly.
"You did it, didn't you? I give you two pieces of excellent advice, Beck, and you only take one of them."
Mark's too fucking awake at bedtime, probably because he's been sleeping on and off all day. It's good, healthy; he needs the rest, and more than that he needs to know that he can rest and his crew will take care of him, keep the Hermes flying, get him home in one piece. It's been way too long since anybody's had his back, and now they're all keeping watch maybe a little too aggressively; eventually Chris is going to have to give back the botany experiments and let Mark get out of bed for more than an hour at a time.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Chris says. He knows what Mark means. That fucking letter.
"You made your move on Johanssen, you sly dog," Mark says. "I saw you two idiots making out in the tunnel to crew quarters like five minutes ago, so don't try to deny it. Is that some kind of kink you two have, making out in zero gravity? You're living the dream, Beck. Give me details. Does Commander Lewis know?"
"Shoulda left you on Mars," Chris mutters. "Nosy bastard. We were already together before we got back in touch with you, so you can't take credit, as well-meaning as your stupid letter was."
"Lewis knows," Mark says, and actually laughs at him. "How are you still alive? She didn't even murder you. I told you to wait until you got home, Beck, come on."
"Yeah, Lewis knows. Even paired us up in quarters when your room and Martinez's started getting roasted. And I mean, technically we did sort of wait until we got home. Since we hooked up the first time before we actually left Earth. Wait, what are you doing, what's the matter with your back?"
"My back's fine, what the hell do you mean you 'hooked up' before we left Earth, I totally would have spotted that, I absolutely would have known if you — oh, Jesus."
Mark's a fucking liar and there's absolutely something wrong with his back. He's climbed into the bunk but he looks like he's trying to settle on a bed of nails.
"Stop squirming, you pull those muscles over your ribs and you're going to regret your life," Chris says. He slides a hand under Mark's lower back to give him some support, and uses the other one to make him turn over, onto his stomach. Mark settles gingerly, like he's broken, which he clearly is, beyond even the busted ribs and the jutting of his bones.
"Okay," Mark finally grumbles, into the pillow. Chris pushes up the bottom of his shirt and gets to work on the small of his back in slow, steady circles with just his thumbs. Mark stops talking long enough to groan into the pillow, shifting his hips like he still can't find a comfortable position. "Maybe I overdid it a little with hauling Martian dirt. And trying to roll the airlock that time. And... blowing myself up. And flipping the rover. Maybe I overdid it with every part of the last two years."
Chris says, "No kidding," but he's smiling a little, fond, probably looks like a dope but it's not like Mark is watching him. He's careful and slow with his fingers; there's hardly any padding beneath Mark's skin, and what he's doing barely qualifies as massage, but he's afraid if he uses even the slightest bit more pressure, Mark will bruise up like overripe fruit. He's already in rough shape, between two years of deprivation and a high-speed launch from the surface in a stripped-down tin can.
"I'm not on Mars anymore," Mark says, after a long second and a few more groans that he'll probably be embarrassed about later. Chris is just taking them as a compliment regarding his excellent massage skills. He runs his hands up Mark's back, spreads his fingers across the planes of the scapulae, traces the too-prominent jut of the spinous processes. He traces the muscle groups with his hands: trapezius, infraspinatus, latissimus dorsi, back down to the thoracolumbar fascia. There's some stiffness there, tension and loss of flexibility in the lower lumbar region. He wonders about a possible fracture, or deep tissue damage, but it's nothing he can really give a good look until they get back home, and then NASA will probably throw a dozen specialists at Mark and his back and they'll get it all sorted out before Chris has even gotten used to gravity again.
For now, the best he can do is a slow, careful massage, and the satisfying pop of something in Mark's lower back when his muscles finally relax. The sound he makes when that happens is straight out of a porno.
"No," Chris agrees, pressing his open palms around T-12 and dragging downward, mostly for the warmth and friction. "You're not on Mars anymore."
"There's no gossip on fucking Mars, Beck," Mark says. "You are going to tell me the fucking story about Johanssen. I'm in pain here. Don't be cruel."
"Not much to tell," Chris says. He's not really doing anything anymore. He's just... touching. Mark's slowly melting into the bunk like he's becoming one with it. It's satisfying, in a way, in pretty much the same way that giving another person a really good orgasm is satisfying. "We went out for drinks, after we passed the last qualifying round and they put us in the official candidate pool. She dragged me to a karaoke bar and made me sing 'Rocket Man' with her, which I argued was a horrible cliche. Then according to her she tried to proposition me, and I was too thick to get it, and she tried again, and that one she actually had to explain to me because it had something to do with Unix and — anyway. She basically had to resort to sticking her tongue down my throat, and then I had it figured out. We went back to her place and the next day you guys gave us an endless amount of shit for our 'hangovers' but actually we were just fucked out. It was totally worth it."
"You're fucking kidding me," Mark says. "That long? And she picked you up with her nerd powers. Huh. Go, Johanssen. Wait, that would've been— is that why you—"
"Yeah," Chris says, because he can already feel Mark tensing up under his hands again, and that won't do. He digs his thumbs in right at the sacrum, underneath the band of Mark's boxer briefs, and Mark grunts in a way that—
"Yeah," Chris repeats. "That's the only reason."
Beth is really, surprisingly good at getting all up in Mark Watney's business.
Chris thought he'd have a hard time convincing her to do it at all; she's downright demonstrative when she wants to be, when she's decided to define her relationship with another person that way, but she's not the type to hand out hugs and air-kisses to acquaintances, not really touchy-feely until she's decided to actually feel somebody up. Apparently having mission parameters changes all that: she's as single-minded and driven with her objective to touch Mark Watney as she is with tasks that are actually, genuinely mission-critical.
Beth surprises him, but Mark surprises him more. Mark's always been almost too self-reliant, tries to avoid being an impediment to others by going out of his own way even when he doesn't need to. Chris has seen his psych eval, that's part of Chris's job, but even without it he'd have been able to tell that much about Mark, though without some of the finer details (only child, parents prone to frequent fights and occasional separations, Mark always in the middle trying to play the joking peacemaker). Maybe the time on Mars has changed him, or maybe it's just left him with a fuck-ton of residual trauma — Chris would need a whole different batch of medical degrees to start unraveling that — but whatever the reason, Mark doesn't pull away from the contact after a few days like Chris half-expects.
Instead, he turns into it. He opens like a fucking flower when Beth touches him, and he starts reciprocating. She slings an arm around his shoulders; he tows her in to sit right next to him on the couch, practically in his lap. She greets him with a hug in the morning, so he starts slipping into her arms before she can even go for him, starts dropping a kiss in her hair like that's how he's always said hello.
He drinks the affection down like he's starved for it just as much as he's been starved for calories, but to be fair, that's the entire point of this exercise: Chris knows there's more than one kind of hunger, and he's determined to see Mark have his fill.
He's not letting Beth do all the heavy lifting, of course; he's as much a part of this mission as she is, and the only reason he hasn't enlisted any of the others is that he really doesn't think Mark would let them in if he thought the whole crew was trying to coddle him. The others are good about both giving Mark a little space and making sure he's included in everything, even if he's not in shape yet to actually pick up duties. They're all family, but this scheme Chris has cooked up is something different.
If he's honest, it's because he wants it to be different. He makes it something different, every time he touches for himself. He puts supportive hands on Mark's shoulders and leaves them there for too long; he makes a teasing remark and ruffles Mark's hair, but the way he takes his hand back can't be called anything but a caress. One morning in the galley, when no one else is around, Mark shuffles in looking like hell, and Chris just holds onto him for two long, glorious minutes while the microwave is heating up Mark's food. Mark rests his forehead against Chris's collarbone, and Chris wraps one hand around the delicate, vulnerable nape of Mark's neck, and they stand there like that, breathing each other, until the microwave beeps and Mark shuffles away again to get his food.
Chris keeps thinking about it, after that, keeps feeling the bristle of the short hairs at the base of Mark's neck and wonderfully solid curve of the base of his skull. His fingers tingle with it.
After a week, it's a little ridiculous for Chris to keep sleeping on the floor in Beth's — Mark's — bunk room. He considers the problem, and he's mostly thinking about the ways in which it's not a problem: he can keep sleeping there, and nobody will blame him for wanting to be able to wake up a hundred times a night and make sure Mark is still breathing. Commander Lewis only nods at him when they meet in the corridor each morning, but there's something approving in it, like Chris has assigned himself to sentry duty every night and she couldn't be prouder. Beth doesn't seem worried that he's quit her bed to sleep on another man's floor. Mark doesn't even seem to mind having to step over him to get up in the night to take a piss.
The actual problem there is Chris, because he feels like he's lying, like he's getting away with something. Also, the floor is kind of hard.
He spends a night in the family room with Beth, curled together on the couch, and it's good sleep, so good, solid and warm and comfortable in a way he hasn't been in awhile, wrapped up in her arms. But Mark looks like shit the next morning, like he didn't get much sleep at all, so the next night Chris is back, setting up his little nest of blankets on the floor again like he never left.
Mark watches him do it, then watches him strip down to his boxers and undershirt. He does it with the kind of focused attention that is absolutely, unequivocally not acceptable in a strictly heterosexual context.
And then he says, "Chris, get in the bed." And he climbs into the bed himself, pressed up against the bulkhead to make room for Chris to get in behind him, like he knows Chris isn't going to leave, isn't going to do anything but exactly what he's just been told to do.
Chris hesitates for what feels like an hour; this is his own stupid fucking mission, but it's wildly out of his control now. He isn't sure what this is. He isn't sure whether he should want quite so much to find out. He wishes Beth was there.
He gets in the bed, snugged tight against Mark's back because that's the only way to share the space without ending up on the floor, after all. He rests his hand on Mark's thigh so he won't put pressure on those damaged ribs, and he tucks his knees up tight behind Mark's, and he lies there for a long time wondering just what the fuck he's doing.
"Hey, Beck," Mark says, into the quiet, after what feels like a decade's worth of silence.
"Keep touching me." The way he says it is the most vulnerable he's ever sounded, like he's terrified that Chris is going to vanish, that the Hermes is going to dissolve around him into a dream. "Don't fucking stop," he says, and then he starts crying, these quiet little choked-off sobs that probably hurt like hell, besides.
Chris says, "Okay," and shifts his hand to Mark's chest, rubs soothing circles there, whispers little calming noises and a hundred tender, hopeless promises into Mark's ear. He murmurs, "It's gonna be okay," and he tries to believe it.
Chris spends half the next day on the atmospheric scrubbers, trying to come up with a solution that doesn't solve their life support problem by slowly eating away at the same filters he's trying to salvage. It's a fucking mess, but not such a catastrophic fucking mess that it'll kill them before they get home. He's slotting the last of the freshly-cleaned filters back where they belong when Beth drifts in on him, throwing her arms around his neck to stop her drift down the corridor instead of just grabbing for a handhold like a normal person. He can't really complain about the side effects of his unexpectedly complicated plan, though, when the result is a Beth who's quicker to reach out, touch, kiss. She always beams at him when they're in the same space, like he's done something good, and it's one of his favorite things about her. All he has to do to earn that is be present. It's a special kind of magic, to be wanted that way.
She drags her mouth against his throat this time, since it's the easiest part of him to reach where she's sort of clinging to his back like a monkey. She tightens her hold around his shoulders, like she wants a zero-g piggyback ride, and says into his ear, "We need to discuss the Operation."
Chris thinks, fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
And then Beth says, "I mean, what exactly are our parameters here? Are we confined to platonic touching? I know this is all about the intense and beautiful therapy of human touch and you've basically prescribed this like medical treatment, but what if I want to kiss his face? Would that be considered therapeutic?"
"You what?" Chris says, and he sounds like— he doesn't know what he sounds like. Like he almost swallowed his own tongue for a second there, maybe.
Beth squeezes a little tighter around his neck, like she's trying to hug him harder or she might actually strangle him. "You're mad," she says. Apparently she doesn't know what he sounds like either.
"I'm not mad," he says. He feels a little dazed, like maybe he fucked up reinstalling those oxygen scrubbers and they're all going to die. "I really fucking love you."
She goes still against his back, except for her bony little knees, which are digging into his waist like she thinks he's a pony. "That's the first time you've said that," she points out.
"Really? I say it all the time in my head. Because I really fucking love you."
"Hmmm. You should practice more," Beth finally decides, and lays a wet, smacking kiss against his jaw. "Maybe try it on Watney, see how he feels about it."
Chris agonizes half the night over how to talk to Mark about it, if they should talk to Mark about it. He spends that night with Beth, like he's a fucking timeshare, because he can't figure out where he needs to be or which of them he needs to be with when he hasn't quite worked out the idea of both. He lets his brain spin itself in nauseating circles all night, worrying about logistics and feelings and hypothetical conversations.
When it's time to get up, Beth rolls over, looks at him, and says, "Ugh." Then she takes a longer look at his face and says, "Uuuuuggggghhhhhh," like it means something completely different that way, which is kind of does.
"I know," he agrees, miserably. Neither of them are morning people, and by the ship's clock it's disgustingly early, early enough that even Lewis and Martinez won't be up yet. Beth shoves him off the couch anyway, and bullies him toward the galley because she apparently can't deal with him without caffeine.
It's like a vaguely approving sign from the universe that Mark is already in the galley, staring vacantly at the microwave. He blinks at them when they come in, like they're some sort of unbelievable hallucination.
He says, "Hi," with a rasp of sleep still in his voice, and Chris says, "Hi," and it's like something in his brain fizzles and pops, overstressed by a long night of worry until he just... breaks. He steps in to Mark's space like it's something he does every day. He puts his hands on Mark's jaw, and leans in close, and he kisses him. It's not a platonic kiss, or a comforting kiss, or a somehow-therapeutic kiss. It's the other kind of kiss, the kind with tongues and open mouths and a panted exchange of oxygen.
It's not at all like the one kiss they've shared before, the one Chris wanted but said no to anyway, because he already had Beth, and it was a little too much to expect to get through a Mars mission with just that, much less both of them. It's better, this time, because Chris can put everything into this kiss that he didn't put into the last one, can take everything he feels and tell Mark about it with the pressure of his mouth, the stroke of his tongue, his hands slipping up under Mark's shirt.
When he finally pulls back, Beth leans in to kiss Mark, too, and it's the kind of hot, slow, comfortable kiss that is Beth's particular, knee-weakening specialty.
Mark winds up between them, dazed like he's been hit with a baseball bat, but it's okay, because they're both there to hold him up, and he's grinning like he's won the lotto.
"Jesus Christ," says Commander Lewis, from the open doorway. "I gave you guys the speech about not hitting on Johanssen."
"Yeah, I heard about that," Beth says, one hundred percent nonchalant, as she goes for the coffee. "I guess you should've really covered the bases on that one, because it turns out Doctor McDreamy over here was the dark horse you never saw coming."
Chris only gets out, "Uh, Commander—" before Lewis waves a hand in the universal gesture of don't-fucking-tell-me and makes for the cupboard with the breakfast packets inside.
"Don't let it interfere with your duties, and don't let it get out until we're back home and out of the news cycle," she says, and turns her back on them like she wants to give them privacy. More likely, she's thinking she doesn't even want to look at their stupid faces. "I'm pretty sure headlines about space orgies would completely destroy NASA's funding. The space program is counting on you to present a wholesome fucking image, you bunch of degenerates."
The second video from the Hermes comes a couple of weeks after the rescue, when the crew's had time to settle in for the long voyage home and get bored enough to start recording for social media again.
It starts off with Watney addressing one of the built-in laptop cameras, too much like his one-man journal entries from the Hab to be strictly comfortable for anyone who's seen the video, which at this point is the whole planet, since the footage was transferred from Hab to rover to MAV to Hermes and all the way back to Earth so everybody could watch Mark Watney blow himself up in the course of his survival by science.
He looks cheerful enough, though, as he waves to the camera and says, "Greetings, people of planet Earth! Mark Watney here, first emperor of Mars, and I just wanted to send you a little update on how we're doing on the return trip because NASA tells me people keep sending them heart-breaking letters asking how I am. You guys are sweet, I can't wait to hook up with some new pen pals when I get home. Anyway, as you can see, I'm doing just fine; our flight surgeon, Doctor Beck, has been keeping a close eye on me and feeding me up. Sometimes I like to make him do it himself, by hand, making little airplane noises, just to make sure he's giving his all for his country.
"It's good to be back on the Hermes with my crew, and it's even better to have access to some non-disco music again. Apparently Martinez is obsessed with Korean pop music and One Direction, who knew? That guy has hidden depths. Beck's been kind enough to loan me his digital collection of procedural cop shows — I don't know, I've chosen not to ask — and Johanssen has sworn to me that she's going to find my own personal media drive, which I left behind here on the Hermes and which she apparently shamelessly stole when she thought I was dead."
Johanssen's voice somewhere in the background shouts, "I needed a soundtrack for crying over you!" and Watney yells back, "Graverobber!" He's smiling, though, when he turns back to the camera.
"Anyway, for everybody who's been worried about me, don't be. This crew's taking great care of me, and I'm just glad to be back, so—"
Johanssen suddenly appears in the left side of the frame, jostling Watney's shoulder, and waves a shiny silver thumb drive in his face. It says WATNEY on it in bold black Sharpie.
"Holy [BLEEP], you found it," Watney says, his face lighting up even as his voice drops out under a NASA-provided censor over the curse word. "Oh my god, I have been waiting for this moment." He leans forward and plugs the thumb drive into the same computer he's recording on, eyes intent on the screen as he scrolls through a file listing the video's audience can't see. "We need to pick the perfect jam for this occasion," he says, solemnly.
Beck appears over his other shoulder, and points at something on the screen, his hand momentarily obscuring the view. "Is that an Iron Man playlist? And you call Johanssen a nerd. Do 'Back in Black.' That's a classic."
"[BLEEP] yeah," Watney says, and punches a button with purely satisfied relish. "Johanssen, I take back everything I ever said about what a sad nerd you are, you are my favorite human being. As the self-proclaimed pirate king of Mars, I would like to offer you a position as my queen."
"That's sweet," Beck says. He and Johanssen share some kind of... look, behind Watney's back.
There's a click as the speakers come to life, and Watney reaches out to crank them up. The music comes blasting through: "WE'RE NO STRANGERS TO LOVE, YOU KNOW THE RULES, AND SO DO I—"
The video pitches wildly as Watney almost knocks the laptop right off his workstation, trying to turn the song off. Johanssen's taken a step back and started laughing her head off.
"Hah, you got me," Watney says, through a grimace. "I can't believe you touched the Iron Man playlist for a rickroll. You don't touch a man's playlists, Johanssen. That is deeply personal material. But I'm willing to forgive it, now that you've had your fun—"
He clicks on another file. "WE'RE NO STRANGERS TO LOVE—"
Johanssen sprints for the door; at the edge of the video frame, she can be seen clattering up the first few rungs of the ladder, and then jumping, propelling herself up into the zero-gravity tunnels that connect the living and work areas to the command module.
Watney makes an inarticulate sound of mingled rage and grudging admiration, and goes after her. After a long pause, there's a distant crash, a whoop from Martinez, and finally Johanssen's voice shouting, "No, Watney, don't you dare—" before she cuts herself off with something that sounds like a squeal.
Rick Astley sings, "NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP, NEVER GONNA LET YOU DOWN, NEVER GONNA RUN AROUND AND DESERT YOU," while Doctor Beck stares directly into the camera like he's on an episode of The Office, and then mercifully cuts the video feed, before the rickroll can start to repeat itself.