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Coming Out of the Void

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Mission Day 1,001
April 3, 2038

From Mark's parents' house in Hyde Park to the address on the invitation was a little over nineteen miles--thirty kilometers. An hour or so in the rover, if Chicago were as flat as Acidalia Planitia; he could get there easily on a single battery charge.

But Mark had left the rover on Mars, so he took a cab.

He overrode the optimal route to take Lakeshore up, even though it added another ten minutes to the drive. Staring at the Lake was easier than looking at people or traffic or the city. The vastness of it felt right to his eyes, and the limitless blue of water and sky was a constant reassurance. Earth. Home.

Usually staring at the Lake freed up mental space for other stuff, but Mark had just spent three solid days thinking this over, trying to reason his way to the correct answer. He felt done with thinking now. He looked at the Lake and let the cab carry him to his destination.

If it was some kind of cheating to have gotten to that quiet place in his head before he'd even seen them, well. He did have the invitation.

He turned the card in his hands, over and over, running his fingers over the slightly raised letters. They had sent him literally an engraved invitation, and in the end he'd had to admit to himself that he didn't even want to say no to that. They made their choice, coming here, inviting him. The choice they left to him was an easy one, even without knowing exactly what awaited him.

When the cab's route veered away from the Lake he looked down at the card again. The cardstock was heavy, cream-colored, and the ink was navy blue.

Chris Beck and Beth Johanssen

Enthusiastically invite you to

Our Housewarming!

Time and Date: Whenever you show up

(You're literally the only person we know in Chicago.)

RSVP: Whenever you're ready, however you want.

And then the address of a high-rise condo in Evanston. Not a house; not a wedding announcement. No overt indications of permanence. He wondered if they'd deliberately chosen a place outside Chicago so that the city itself was still his own unchallenged territory. They'd always been careful to give him somewhere else to go, and the option of stopping.

The cab pulled up to the curb. Mark tapped his wallet against the payment spot, mouthing along with the cheery automated, Thank you for riding, Mark! Don't forget your things! as he got out.

He grabbed his bag and looked up at the building as the cab glided quietly away toward its next fare. It looked like the kind of place with reasonable security; he was at least going to have to call someone to let him in.

The phone in his pocket buzzed as he stood there hesitating, and he pulled it out.

The text was from Beth. Come on in, we already put your biometrics in the system.

Because of course, between the two of them, they could pull all the identifying biometrics any security system could want for Mark. He walked up to the door and said his name when prompted, pressing his hand to the read-screen. The light turned green and the door popped open, and there was an elevator waiting for him when he walked across the lobby. He asked for the tenth floor, and it took him up without argument, delivering him to a short hallway.

He didn't really see anything else once he realized that Chris was leaning hopefully out of an open door down the hall. Mark hesitated in the elevator; Chris didn't move or say a word, didn't so much as wave. But he was smiling, and he was right there.

Mark had never, ever not wanted to be here.

He barely had to decide to move. He was just there, walking right into a hug, letting Chris pull him inside and shut the door behind him. Beth was standing back a little, watching him with the same hopeful look.

"I don't know what I'm asking for," Mark said, loudly enough for both of them to hear, though he kept his eyes closed, leaning into Chris's grip. "I don't know who I'm..."

"You're here," Beth said, taking his bag from his hand. He'd packed for a couple of days. They'd moved to Evanston; he knew the invitation hadn't been just for him to drop by and have a drink. "We're all here. That's enough to know right now."

And because Beth said it, and because Chris nodded along with her, Mark could believe it. His brain went quiet, as clear and blue as the Lake. He was home.


Mission Day 697

Mark hadn't ever really felt anxiety on Mars. Pure terror, yeah, that had been present at times. The absolutely rational awareness that any wrong move could lead to his sudden death had been more or less constant, except during times when he was too busy trying not to die right now to be aware of it.

But those kinds of fear had seemed to scrub his brain clean of the ordinary, hamster-running-on-a-wheel unsolvable fear he thought of as anxiety. He hadn't missed it.

Surprise! It came back anyway.

He was on Hermes, ten days after coming aboard again, third day on the lowest dose of painkillers for his ribs, and he observed it happening as he stared into the cupboard of meal packets.

They were mostly familiar. He knew that the unfamiliar options--new varieties from the resupply during the Rich Purnell Maneuver--wouldn't taste much different than the old ones. They were all nutritionally balanced for the needs of astronauts. Chris had officially released him from the transition-out-of-starvation meal plan today, so he was allowed to eat normal meals like everyone else.

All he had to do was choose a packet. He'd done it for himself practically all of the last ten days, going by Chris's meal plan. He knew how. He just couldn't do it.

His brain kept spinning as he stood there. One minute he was worrying about whether they should be rationing more--he already knew he could endure it, he could easily skip this meal and leave that much more supply margin if anything went wrong. The next minute he was worrying about what the hell had gone wrong in his brain and how much he was going to have to laboriously explain in emails to someone back at NASA about his inability to eat. Except it wasn't even that--he just couldn't choose something to eat.

"Mark?"

Chris was at his side, looking mildly concerned and a little amused. Mark smiled back automatically, hoping it didn't look as much like relief as it felt.

"I, uh," Mark waved at the cupboards. "I haven't had to choose what to eat in a long time. Potatoes or potatoes, potatoes or nothing, y'know."

Chris nodded slowly. "You've been eating exactly what I put on the list, huh?"

"Yeah, I..." Mark belatedly remembered that there had been a line on the meal plan that said substitute for same nutritional values as desired. "Yeah."

"Well," Chris reached past him and picked up a packet, pressing it against Mark's chest, too high to push on his ribs. "Chicken broccoli noodles. Eat up. Doctor's orders."

The spinning in his brain went very suddenly silent, like a sandstorm ending. Mark stared at Chris for a few seconds.

Chris looked back steadily and kept his hand where it was, pressing the meal packet against Mark's chest. They weren't touching anywhere except through the barrier of a freeze-dried meal.

"Okay." Mark finally reached up and took the meal packet, and Chris withdrew his hand. "Thanks, Dr. Beck."

Chris nodded and went to sit at the table. Mark knew, without looking, that he was watching while Mark poured the packet into a heating tray, added water, and popped it into the microwave. When Mark came to the table to eat, Chris stayed right there, not really looking at him but not going away.

Mark kept right on following orders.

He tried not to think too much about the quiet in his head. It was still there, the whole time he was eating. It seemed to spread through his body the longer he sat there, smoothing out jitters he'd barely noticed, easing tension in every muscle.

By the time he finished his meal, he was tempted to put his head down right there and sleep at the table. Everyone else would want dinner soon, though. This was definitely not a time when Mark could handle all five of them at once, even if they pretended he wasn't there.

"Come on," Chris said, before the quiet could get spoiled by the renewed spinning of Mark's brain. "You should rest."

Chris guided him all the way to his quarters. Martinez and Vogel had doubled up to give Mark a space of his own after it became obvious that he needed some time to get used to having other people around him all the time. It was nice, but left to his own devices he still went to the door of his original room about three-quarters of the time. It was an uncomfortable jolt to open that door to an inhospitable oven-blast of heat from the messed-up climate control and find crates of supplies instead of his own things. Sometimes he stood there and felt as if he'd never come back, as if his crewmates still believed he was dead.

It was much better to be steered to the right door, to have Chris's presence at his shoulder while the door opened and revealed the right room in the wrong place. Chris walked him all the way to his bunk and pushed him to lie down. Mark went where he was put.

"Doctor's orders, huh," Mark mumbled against his pillow as Chris walked away.

"Doctor's orders," Chris repeated firmly, switching off the overhead light. "Don't think too hard, just get some rest."

So he did.


"This is your room." Chris opened the first door on the right of the hallway. "Guest room, technically, but whatever. Anybody else who comes to visit is staying in a hotel. Any time you want to be here, if you want a space of your own, this is it."

"You guys," Mark said helplessly. It was just a room, nicely and kind of blandly decorated, but the curtains were pushed open on wide windows. There was a view out over trees and a couple of blocks of other buildings and then the blue stretch of the Lake and the sky.

Earth. Home.

He stared out at the expanse of blue until he realized that he'd been doing nothing else for a while. He turned and found Chris and Beth crammed into the doorway together with their arms around each other.

They were watching him the same way he'd been watching the Lake.

Beth was still holding his bag. She could have set it down; this was his room. Presumably this was where he was supposed to stay.

He mentally played back what Chris had said, found the salient detail. "What if I don't?"

"Don't want space of your own?" Chris asked, which meant he'd been waiting for that question.

"Our room's the next door down," Beth answered, without bothering to wait for Mark to confirm what he meant. "The bed's bigger than an entire bedroom on Hermes, and the climate control here works great. Three in a room's no problem at all."

Mark licked his lips. He knew--he knew intimately--how close he could be to them, how far things could go, without being definitively sexual. Without being definitively anything at all. But he had never shared their bed before.

Mark looked back at the Lake, and then at Chris and Beth, who had sent him an engraved invitation. Who had brought him home.

"I think I'd like that."

Beth grinned and swung Mark's bag pointedly before she tugged Chris out into the hallway. "Let's finish the tour, then."


Mission Day 701

After the thing with the mouse, Chris knew he had to say something. He waited until he and Beth were in their room together. She was sitting on the bunk, and he was perched on the desk chair with his feet up on the bedframe. He watched the pattern of Beth's eye movement until he was sure she wasn't doing anything important--a systems check or a boss level or an email from her dad--and then he said, "Beth?"

She looked up immediately, smiling.

He couldn't help smiling back. That made it feel weird to launch into this, but he knew Beth well enough to know that trying to lead into it gradually wouldn't help.

"I think I have a thing going on with Mark."

Beth raised her eyebrows and then frowned--not unhappily, but thoughtfully. "You would probably know for sure if it was a sex thing or even a kissing thing. So are you thinking it's a romantic thing? Or just a nebulously overinvested emotional thing? Because I think we all have one of those going on with Mark."

"Vogel doesn't," Chris replied immediately.

Beth scoffed. "Vogel's is the worst, his is vaguely paternal and makes both of them uncomfortable. But what kind is yours?"

Chris ran a hand through his hair. He didn't want to say any of the words that occurred to him to describe it, but it wasn't like Beth wasn't going to arrive at an accurate label when he told her about it.

Still, that was why he was telling her. Well, also because he had the vague sensation that this was some kind of cheating, but that obviously didn't concern her. Mostly he needed someone else's opinion on what the hell he was doing with, or to, Mark. He especially needed someone else's opinion on just how wrong it was.

"He gets anxious," Chris said. "Or he gets stuck on something. And I give him orders, and he follows them, and it makes him relax."

Beth nodded slowly. "Orders, like, orders-orders? Like Lewis gives orders? Captain Beck?"

Chris's mouth twitched and he shook his head, even though, yes, being American and an Air Force reserve officer--or American and male, or American and born in the previous century, depending on who was grumbling about it--had made him technically third in command of the mission. Vogel was fourth, Beth fifth. Mark, American and male and five years older than Chris, but with an officially noted temperament unsuited to command, was sixth and last.

"Doctor's orders. Which is worrying me. All of you are my patients, technically, which makes the ethical situation bad enough--" he waved a hand in the general direction of the conversations they'd already had when he was, for instance, giving Beth birth control injections and then going to bed with her.

"But Mark is more my patient than any of you. He's been hurt worse, he's more vulnerable--which means he needs more support, which I think I'm giving him, except it's not medical, it's personal, it's... I made him hold a mouse today."

Beth actually did look jealous at that, and like she might have thrown something at him if anything other than her laptop was in reach. "You never let me hold the mice!"

"They're not pets," Chris insisted reflexively. "But--Mark was spinning his wheels, couldn't figure out what to do with himself and couldn't relax. I had stuff to do in the bio lab, so I made him come up with me and told him he had to hold the mouse and get it to go to sleep. And he did it because I told him to, and he just... he calmed right down. It was..."

Chris really didn't have a word for that part.

"You liked it," Beth diagnosed. "And you want to do it again."

"If he needs--"

"Yeah, but also you really fucking liked it and you hope he'll let you do it again."

Chris exhaled and nodded. "So. That. That's the kind of thing I think I have going on with Mark."

"Well," Beth said. "That sounds like a thing that's working pretty well for both of you."

Chris studied her. "How's it working for you, though?"

"Mm," Beth looked down at her laptop and closed it decisively. "How about you come over here and tell me more about what it was like watching Mark hold a mouse to calm down, and I'll let you know."

Chris felt a rush of relief and love and shameful eagerness to talk about the weirdly amazing thing he'd done today. He bounced over to the bunk and kissed her, and Beth caught him and anchored him so he didn't bounce away again in the 0.4 gravity.

"No, come on, I want to hear about this," Beth said after a moment, pushing him to lie down.

Chris sighed, remembering, and said, "God, you should have seen his face..."


Beth leaned against Chris's shoulder, watching Mark's face. She and Chris had both stopped talking a few minutes ago. Mark hadn't said anything for twenty minutes before that, and his blinks had been getting slower for a while now.

She watched the last bit of wakeful tension go out of his expression, leaving him completely surrendered. It felt too easy--they fed him pizza and one and a half beers, and sat quietly, and down he went. Then she remembered the part where they had waited patiently for three months before establishing base camp in unknown territory just to be able to get him on their couch.

Chris let out a breath like he'd been holding it. She looked up at him to see him watching Mark with slightly dazed wonder. Chris, of course, had never minded Mark going down easily.

"So what do you think," Chris murmured, dropping his gaze to her. "Does this mean we get to keep him?"

"Yeah, no question." Beth looked back at Mark and let herself believe that it was all true: that he was here, that he was safe, that he was theirs. "If you feed someone pizza and then he falls asleep on your couch, that's a legally binding marriage in Cook County."

"They make it kind of easy," Chris said, nudging the pizza box with a toe. "That thing's like a pound of cheese in a pie crust."

"We can get New York style next time," Beth promised him.

"Mm, well. It's your job to make him eat that," Chris said, nuzzling against her hair. "Ms. Johanssen."

Beth grinned, keeping her face turned away. Chris followed her motion, leaning in closer as she spoke. "I thought we were going to ease him in gently, Dr. Beck."

His hand slid down to her waist, and he kissed the bared side of her throat while she kept watching Mark through her eyelashes. "We aren't going to rush him," Chris murmured. "But we'll give him what he needs when he needs it. You really think we're going to want to eat pizza again before he wants you to give him a push?"

Beth let her eyes close. "God, I hope not. Because after this I don't want pizza for at least a week."

Chris laughed softly and muttered, "A whole week, yeah? And you wonder why I insisted that we can't rush him?"

Mark made a little noise in his sleep; Beth's eyes flashed open, and she could feel Chris tensing where he was pressed against her.

Mark's body was entirely limp on the couch. His hands rested open at his sides. The only thing that gave him away was the slight tension in his eyebrows, and the barely-visible motion of his eyes under closed lids. He made that little sound again, and Chris drew back, freeing her to move.

Beth crossed the space between them in two strides, all uncertainty vanishing. Mark needed her, and she knew how to fix this. She put her hand on his shoulder, pressing her thumb down just hard enough on the still-too-obvious ridge of his collarbone.

"Watney. Get up."

Mark's eyes flashed open and he pushed up under her hand in the same second. She saw him falter against full gravity and got her other hand under his elbow, pulling him up before he could recognize what was wrong.

"Come on," she softened her voice a fraction, but didn't let up the pressure of her hand on his shoulder. "I'll walk you so you don't get lost."

The anxious alertness went out of his eyes, replaced by calm. His eyelids sagged in a slow blink.

"Wouldn't want me getting lost again," Mark muttered. "Caused you enough trouble the last time."

"Not gonna let you get lost again because you're ours and we're keeping you," Beth countered, turning him away from the couch. Chris was watching her with bright-eyed fascination, and she couldn't help winking his direction as she guided Mark to the hallway, and down it to the second door.

Chris darted around them to tug the covers back on one side of the enormous bed, and Beth guided Mark there as soon as Chris stepped out of the way. "There you go. Lie down and rest."

"Let me know when--" Mark mumbled, but Beth shifted her grip from his shoulder to the nape of his neck as he went down. At a squeeze over his spine he sighed and melted into the pillow.

Beth stepped back, and Chris's arms closed around her.

"Well, now we're definitely keeping him," Chris muttered in her ear. "Can't make you a liar."

"Damn straight." Beth leaned back against his chest and watched Mark sleep, safe and sound.


Mission Day 712

There wasn't actually room to pace in the Rec, but Mark made do, bouncing on his heels when he could keep that still, and doing low-grav jumps up to bounce off the ceiling when he needed to.

He was fine. There was nothing wrong with him. Nothing at all that would call for, say, urgent medical attention. Which was good, because the crew's doctor was currently in hour three of an eight-hour EVA, fixing a couple of wonky sensors on the outside of the ship. Of course he could and would come back in immediately if a crew member needed him in his medical capacity, but there was nothing wrong with Mark. He was gaining weight on schedule, he was sleeping at night, the pain from his ribs was nothing but a nagging ache now, only noticeable because so many other things had healed. He just--

He just wanted to crawl right out of his skin right now, because Chris was out there alone and there was nothing Mark could do. Martinez and Johanssen were doing the actual important monitoring, Lewis was commanding, Vogel was on hand as backup EVA specialist if Chris actually needed to be pulled in for some reason. But there was nothing for Mark to fix--he'd already done the having an idea about a thing we could probably fix part--and plants were actually no help.

He had already spent an hour holding a mouse in his hands. It wasn't the same without Chris there. Mark had just stayed anxious, and the mouse had only felt perilously small and fragile, not comfortingly warm and soft. And then it had pissed on his hand, which was sort of funny, but less with no one there to laugh at him for getting what he deserved. He'd put the mouse back and washed his hands and gone up to the bridge to ask Lewis if there was anything he should be doing.

"PT," she said absently. "Your turn on the treadmill right now."

"Is that an order, Commander?" He kept his tone light and teasing, not wanting to sound like he was trying to pick a fight, and wanting even less to sound like he was begging.

Beth had twitched, like she wanted to look up at him and then didn't.

"It's the schedule, and your health," Lewis had said, barely glancing at him. "But sure, since you ask--" she glanced at her shoulder patch. "I'm the commander, sure, it's an order. Go do your PT."

Mark had done his PT, but that didn't help either. And now he was in the rec, literally bouncing off the ceiling because there was nothing wrong. He just had to calm down by himself somehow or stay out of everyone else's way if he couldn't.

After an eight hour EVA, Chris was going to be exhausted. He wasn't going to have any energy to spare for humoring Mark's--whatever it was that Mark needed Chris to humor. If he could just wear himself out--

Or he could go put on his EVA suit. Chris hated it when he did that, had told him more than once that it would cause pressure sores or bring back that rash they'd only completely eradicated a few days ago. That hadn't stopped Mark from sleeping with it on a few times when he couldn't make himself stay in bed any other way than weighted down. It was funny how the suit that had been so cumbersome and obnoxious on Mars was so comforting now.

But if he put on his Mars EVA suit and then let one of the others see him--

Mark crumpled down to the floor and covered his face with his hands. He was not going to act out some kind of crisis to get Chris back inside the ship. He was not going to have a crisis. There was nothing wrong with him.

"Hey."

Mark looked up to see Beth in the doorway, pulling herself up by the top of it to more easily see over the table at Mark. In 0.2 gravity it was almost easier than staying on the floor.

"Hey," he said. She didn't look upset, and if he was somehow needed she would have just called for him on the comm, but-- "Everything okay? With Beck?"

"Yeah, boringly routine." Her gaze stayed steady on him. Not bored at all. "I thought I'd take a little break. Vogel can watch the computers just as well as I can for this, and they'll give a shout if they need us."

Mark shook his head slightly, although it was perfectly true.

"Can I come in?" Beth asked, swinging slightly by her grip on the top of the doorframe.

Mark nodded. He should get up and pretend to be fine. He should have gotten up and pretended to be fine as soon as he saw her.

Except that he was fine, of course. No pretending required. Somehow that didn't make it any easier.

Beth dropped to the ground and bounced gently over to where he was, bracing her hands against the wall as she dropped to kneel in front of him. "Hey. You kind of look like you need Dr. Beck."

Mark shook his head quickly, dragging up a smile out of some dark gravity well inside him. "Hey, no, what? I'm just--it's nothing."

"Yeah, I know," Beth said quietly. "But I have a basic medical training, and Dr. Beck has been keeping me up to date on your case."

Mark swallowed hard, holding her steady gaze. Fuck. She wasn't talking about his ribs or his weight gain schedule. Chris had told her. Beth knew--and she knew what Mark had been trying not to know, which was that the way Chris helped him was something Chris's girlfriend had a right to know about.

And she was offering to help in the same way. He could see that in her eyes, the knowledge and the offer both.

"I don't know if..." Mark floundered. "I, uh--"

Beth raised her eyebrows, smiling slightly. "What, you think I can't do what Dr. Beck does for you?"

Mark breathed out something that was almost a laugh. "Hey, no, I would never underestimate you."

She shifted her weight back then--he could see her taking it as but I don't want you to, and God, he wanted--he needed her to. He reached out and grabbed the hem of her shirt, giving a little tug to keep her close. "Please, Johanssen."

"That's Ms. Johanssen," she corrected sharply, drawing up on her knees to look down at him.

Mark felt a distracting, blatant heat flash through his body. Chris always played it a lot closer to the plausibly deniable line, but this was... this would work too. God, this would work.

He was very much afraid that he was blushing.

"Ms. Johanssen," he repeated, still holding on to the hem of her shirt and hoping his voice wasn't coming out as helplessly breathy as it sounded in his own ears, because it didn't matter if she laid a finger on him. If he came in his pants there was going to be no denying that this was way more than he had ever admitted to himself; it was already occurring to him that the timing of his jerkoff sessions over the last few weeks had not been a coincidence at all.

"Correct."

She got up, breaking his grip easily before she folded herself sideways into a seat at the table. She took off her slipper-socks and wiggled her toes while Mark just stared.

"Mark," she said, and tapped one foot on the floor.

Mark looked past her to the doorway. "Ma'am," he said. "If anyone--"

Her posture softened for a second again, and she said, "No one's going to come looking for us, they'll call. Now do you trust me?"

Mark swallowed and nodded, focusing.

She straightened up sternly again. "Show me that you trust me. Show me you understand what we're doing here."

Mark licked his lips and did the first thing that occurred to him: he pulled off his sweatshirt. The hair stood up instantly on his exposed arms. He still got cold easily, not yet up to ideal weight, and this was the exact opposite sensation from the comforting all over pressure of his EVA suit.

But he didn't need the suit. He had Beth. Ms. Johanssen.

Her eyes went wide, like that wasn't the way she'd expected him to call her bluff, and then she settled back into her imperious pose. "Come here, I said."

Mark dropped the sweatshirt beside him and folded forward to crawl to where she was sitting, ending on his knees at her feet. She took it in stride this time.

"Good," Beth said, tilting her head and studying him thoughtfully. After a few seconds she leaned back slightly and nudged his hand with her toes. "Start with the left."

Mark closed his hands around her left foot, rubbing uncertainly. "I'm, uh, I'm not really good at--"

"I'll tell you what to do," she said firmly. "Both thumbs midline on the sole--yes, good. Again."

Mark's thoughts narrowed down to what was in front of him: Beth's foot, pale and soft in his work-rough hands. Warm and mobile and alive, but accompanied by stern instructions. All he had to do was what he was told. He didn't have to think, or worry. Ms. Johanssen had that covered.


Mark woke up to low light and a warm, comfortable bed. He was unavoidably aware that he was not alone in it, even though no one was touching him.

He opened his eyes without moving, and found that Chris and Beth were tangled up together a couple of feet away. It took him a moment to understand the light in the room--there was a small lamp burning on the nightstand, but most of the light came from the window. The sun was coming up. He had slept all the way through the night without waking, without having to identify a strange sound or confirm where he was.

They had left the light on for him all night, so he wouldn't be confused or frightened, waking up in a strange place. But he hadn't needed it. He'd only needed to be near them.

Mark dimly remembered that they had brought him here--he remembered Beth's, Ms. Johanssen's, grip on his shoulder. He rubbed the spot as he thought of it.

Chris's head turned at the motion. He smiled sleepily at Mark and shuffled around to face him. Beth made a still-asleep noise and cuddled up to Chris's back.

"Come here?" Chris asked softly, like maybe Mark had come to Evanston and spent the night in their bed but was going to draw the line at early-morning cuddling.

Mark scooted across the expanse of mattress until he was sharing a pillow with Chris, looking him in the eye across a distance of less than, say, two faceplates. He got that jolt of memory that came sometimes when he looked Chris directly in the eyes up close. That song he'd listened to all the time as a kid popped into his head again: yours is the first face that I saw...

I'm glad I didn't die before I met you...

Chris's hand was on his side, fingers curling in his t-shirt for a firm grip. "I've got you. You're home now."

"If it hadn't been physically impossible for about five reasons, I would've kissed you when I first saw you." Mark didn't bother to specify that he meant the first saw you outside Hermes, high above Mars, and not the first saw you when they were ushered into a little conference room together to start getting acquainted with their crewmates. It hadn't been impossible then, just not the first impression he was striving to make on any of them.

"Well, it's good you didn't." Chris smiled easily, his eyelids heavy, his voice throaty and low with sleep. "Because Beth wants to see the first time, and that would have pissed her right off. We'll have to hold off for another hour or--"

"M'awake," Beth mumbled into Chris's shoulder.

"You are not," Mark said automatically, reaching over to poke at her arm where it was wrapped around Chris's chest. "Sun's hardly up and there's no coffee, how could you be awake?"

Beth smacked at his hand and rolled away from Chris. Mark could see she had her eyes closed as she grabbed her phone, swiping at it blindly. After a few touches the phone chirped, and there was a faint, echoing chirp from the direction of the kitchen.

"Coffee," Beth said, sleepily but proudly, rolling back to cuddle up behind Chris. She lined herself up so she could look over his shoulder this time, and she blinked a few times before fixing her heavy-lidded gaze on Mark. "Also we went to bed at like nine o'clock last night. I'm totally awake. You're go for kissing."

"Whoa, is it just go or no go, just like that?" Mark was grinning, but feeling a curl of startled nervousness at the same time. Could he really--after so fucking much time waiting, wanting, not knowing--was he allowed to just... "Isn't there a checklist or something?"

"Checklist is really short on this one," Chris said, drawing Mark's attention back gently, the way Chris always did. "Do you want--"

Mark couldn't wait for him to finish, for another gentle question. He pushed in, kissing Chris in mid-word. It was fast and messy and awkward and more obviously morning-breath-y than it would have been if he'd gone for a nice little peck on the first try.

Chris made a startled near-choking noise but tightened his grip on Mark before Mark could think better of it and pull back. They adjusted, moving together, and all of a sudden--minor issues of taste aside--the kiss was a real kiss, all hot and wet.

Mark was making an entirely different choked-back noise into Chris's mouth, long-denied hunger colliding with dizzy happiness. He leaned into Chris's grip and his hand landed on Johanssen's arm. That was right, all three of them, that had to mean he could--

Johanssen's arm moved under his hand, and he jerked back from a startling little burst of pain even before he realized that she'd flicked him with her fingernail.

"First of all, you're not supposed to be going past kissing before coffee," she said firmly.

Mark sagged back on his elbows and looked down at himself, though he didn't really need to see it. He was hard, and if Chris and Beth had let him he would have just kept going. The checklist for that was probably a hell of a lot longer.

"Second," Beth climbed over Chris to plant herself between them. "My turn."

Mark fell back flat on the mattress, letting Beth lean over him. They didn't touch anywhere but their mouths, the warmth of her body radiating gently beside him. Her lips were soft on his, sweet and slow right up until she bit his lip and he groaned out loud and got one hand on her back.

"Yeah, okay, coffee," Chris said, bodily tugging Beth away from him.

Mark watched her twist in Chris's grip, watched the two of them kiss good morning. He'd caught glimpses of the two of them together like this at times--Hermes had just enough space to let people be wrong about their odds of being interrupted somewhere--but now he was allowed to watch. Now he knew what it felt like to have both of their mouths on his.

He felt like he could stay here forever, watching them, knowing this was where they wanted him to be. After a minute Beth picked her head up, anticipating the chirp of her phone by a solid two seconds.

"Coffee's ready," she said, with a shiny kissed-pink smile. "Come on, boys."


Mission Day 759

The first thing Mark knew about it was Chris floating into the zero-g botany lab while he was doing his morning fern observations. Chris didn't say anything, but he was pale, his eyes pink-rimmed. He grabbed Mark in a hug that required Mark to brace against the plant frames. Chris squeezed him hard, making Mark breathe against his grip and appreciate the solidity of his own ribs while he wondered frantically what the hell was going on.

"Bridge," Chris said after a moment, pushing off.

Mark nodded and finished up his observations before he followed Chris.

They all crowded in to combine the first look at the day's data dump with status reports; Beth looked up from her station to greet them, and Mark saw her smile freeze at the sight of Chris. Whatever was going on with Chris couldn't be bad news from home, and if Beth didn't already know then it had happened--

While Chris was in the bio lab. Mark felt the answer in the pit of his stomach a few seconds before Chris said, "I have to rearrange my science schedule today. Necropsy."

Everyone looked at Chris. Mark braced himself on the doorway, remembering the feel of a little warm furry body between his palms. "Which--"

"Bravo," Chris said, his voice calm, like he hadn't had to cling to Mark, like he hadn't cried where no one could see. "Alpha's fine, as far as I can tell. It's not unexpected, they're--it's--over two years old, at this point. Mission was supposed to be over a year ago, that's all."

Mark swallowed back the plaintive, anxious question, Did I hurt the mouse? Did I do something wrong? He was pretty sure Chris had alternated which mouse Mark held when he needed a mouse to hold, in the interests of scientific parity in the mice's living conditions. Anyway, it was obvious that blaming Mark for the mouse dying was no part of Chris's reaction.

Not that Chris wasn't reacting in Mark's direction, but it wasn't about blame. It wasn't even about the mouse, Mark was pretty sure.

"Are you doing the necropsy in the sick bay?" Beth asked, which made everyone else unfreeze, looking away from Chris.

"Sick bay" was Chris's quarters, since all the maximum-gravity space on the ship was devoted to crew quarters. And since they were down to four useable rooms, Chris's quarters were also Beth's quarters, which meant Chris using the sick bay for anything was a matter of personal concern for Beth. Above and beyond Chris needing to use the sick bay in general.

"Yeah," he said. "I need the gravity. But I'll do full sterile--"

"I'll assist," Beth interrupted. "I know I'm not technically biology backup, but I'm calling dibs anyway. Okay?"

Vogel made an acquiescing gesture, and Lewis said, "I don't think that's a problem. Your work schedule can be pushed back."

Beth looked straight at Mark then, and he remembered her saying I have a basic medical training. He nodded slightly, hoping that he was reading that look right. There was no way to ask without tipping their hand to Chris or openly acknowledging the whole thing in front of the rest of the crew, which they were managing not to do so far.

Of course, Lewis caught him when everyone split up to check their mail before getting on with their daily tasks. "You're pushing back your schedule, too?"

Mark shrugged. "That a problem?"

"As long as it's not a problem for any of you and you don't make it a problem for me." Lewis turned away before Mark could even begin to wonder if he should tell her it wasn't really like that, or, worse, ask her if she thought maybe it was really like that.

Mark skipped checking his mail--there wasn't going to be anything in there that would help him with this. He took a PT turn to burn anxious energy while he considered his plan of attack, and because it justified showering after, as thoroughly as he could manage in the limited time.

That left him squeaky clean when he headed back to his own quarters. The little handwritten SICK BAY sign was stuck up on Chris and Beth's closed door, a leftover from when Mark needed a lot more genuine medical looking after. Chris had always been protective of Mark's privacy, as much as their cramped spaces allowed.

Mark went into his own quarters, leaving the door open just enough so that he wouldn't have any trouble hearing when their door opened. He didn't have to wait long.

He looked out to see Beth carrying a sealed plastic bag full of--well. Things that needed to be disposed of. Chris followed with a box of instruments that needed to be autoclaved. Mark fell in quietly behind them; Chris didn't notice until Mark followed him right into the bio lab.

"Hey," Chris said, not surprised to see him but not looking any happier than he had an hour ago. "It's fine. It was old age like I thought."

"Yeah," Mark said, the rehearsed words coming easily. "But I just--I couldn't stop thinking. Worrying."

The weirdest part about it was that he was lying. Mark couldn't stop thinking--and worrying--about Chris, but in a way where he needed to do something for his... His friend. His guy who helped him out way above and beyond the call of duty. His whatever Chris was that he wasn't putting a name on even now that Lewis definitely knew something was going on.

The point was, Mark wasn't worried for himself at all, for once, but he didn't think that actually impacted the plan of action.

Sure enough, Chris's gaze sharpened, focusing on him before darting to the remaining mouse in the cage. "Do you need..."

"I think I'd feel better if..." Mark trailed off, looking around just in time to see Beth drifting up to the doorway. Good, now he had backup. She'd steer him if he was going off in totally the wrong direction. "If you gave me a checkup? I know I'm fine, I just..."

He saw a succession of hard-to-read expressions flash by on Chris's face; at least one of them was an eagerness bordering on lust, but it ended in careful, neutral control.

"Mark," Chris said. "I'm not... I can't..."

"I'm asking you to," Mark said quietly, feeling calmer and more sure than ever. This was the right thing to do, the right way to do it. Beth's silent presence confirmed his instinct. "Dr. Beck, please, I'm asking you to check me over because I'm worried."

"You're not, though," Chris said quietly, rubbing his face before glancing past him to Beth. "Were you planning to assist, Ms. Johanssen?"

Mark grabbed the edge of an equipment frame, steadying himself against the rush of eagerness that went through him. Chris using that name meant he knew, and he understood what Mark was asking for. What Mark was offering.

"A second pair of hands could probably be helpful," Beth said easily. "If only to remind you that you shouldn't tell Mark how he feels."

Chris took a couple of slow, visible breaths, looking down at his hands. Remembering what he'd spent the last hour doing? Remembering that he'd never touched Mark's bare skin for something like this? And, wow, Mark had sort of known that but he hadn't realized that he knew that like it was something he was waiting to change. He felt the anticipation over every inch of his body.

"If you're asking me for a checkup," Chris said finally, meeting Mark's eyes, and Mark tried to look serious and worried and not like Christmas morning had arrived unexpectedly, "because that's what you want. To address anxiety. Then it would need to be very thorough, in order to be reassuring. And it would need to be scrupulously focused on actually confirming your health."

Chris hadn't said whose anxiety they were addressing, which was as good as admitting that he wanted it the way Mark thought he wanted it. And if Chris needed rules--obviously there had to be rules. Rules were kind of the point of the whole thing.

Mark nodded. "I understand, Dr. Beck."

"And I would definitely need assistance," Chris went on, looking past him to Beth and then meeting Mark's eyes again. "To be sure that everything was done correctly, and that Mark's position as a patient is being respected."

Mark licked his lips and told himself not to be turned on by Chris setting rules about rules. "Do you need me to sign something? Informed consent?"

Chris snorted, relaxing slightly. "Pretty sure you signed all of that away a few years ago. Come on, we'll do this in sick bay. We need gravity."

They headed back to crew quarters, and Chris went in first, Mark behind him and Beth hanging back. Mark's gaze went irresistibly to the bunk. The rigid cover Chris had put down when Mark needed x-rays was still in place, making the bed into an examination table.

"Mark, have a seat," Chris said, going to the cupboard at the foot of the bed marked MEDICAL.

Mark sat down on the cool plastic surface of the exam table and put his hands in his lap as he looked to Beth, still lingering in the doorway. He raised his eyebrows, Is this right? Am I doing this right?

She squared her shoulders and gave him a tiny approving nod, so completely Ms. Johanssen that he almost couldn't hold still. Except he'd gotten pretty good at holding still for Ms. Johanssen. He really didn't know what he was going to do with her and Dr. Beck both--

"Mark--Beth, stop that."

Mark focused on Chris as he crouched before him. Chris's hands were full of stuff Mark recognized. There were sterile sheets in their plastic wraps, the basic checkup instrument case, and--Mark's attention was abruptly riveted--a bloodwork kit.

"I want you to take these," Chris said, his gaze steady on Mark's. "Beth and I are going to leave the room, and you're going to put anything you don't want me to use back in the cupboard. If all you leave out is a tongue depressor and a thermometer, that's all I'll use. Understood?"

Mark nodded and took the stuff out of Chris's hands, holding it against his chest. He wasn't going to put anything away. Judging by the twitch of Chris's lips and the distracted way he ran a hand through his hair, Chris knew it too.

"You asked for a checkup," Chris said firmly. "I'm doing this because you asked. So if there's anything you don't want checked--if you don't want Beth here for something, if you want her to do something instead of me--you can tell me now, or you can write it down while we're outside the room, or you can say. Any time, you can say you want or don't want something. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

Mark nodded slowly. Chris wasn't just telling him he had a right to draw boundaries or tap out--he was saying that he needed to know that he was doing the right thing, or at least not a seriously wrong thing. He was a doctor, after all: first, do no harm.

As much as Mark wanted this, and as much as he knew it would help Chris handle what he was feeling right now, they were also edging up to some line where this wouldn't be okay anymore. It was objectively pretty fucked up--Mark was aware that he should be emailing some NASA shrink about his problems, not asking Chris and Beth to play these games with him--but it worked for him, it was going to work for Chris, and frankly it was a hell of a lot more fun than the alternatives. He just had to make sure Chris understood that he understood what kind of fire they were playing with.

Fire on spaceships was bad, after all.

"I understand," Mark said carefully. "And I should probably tell you that the commander knows that I rearranged my schedule today, and where I am."

Chris jerked back slightly from the words.

"She doesn't know exactly what's going on," Mark added. "And I'm in no hurry to tell her. But--I know I have recourse if I have a complaint about the care I'm receiving, okay? I know. And no, I don't have any special requests for my checkup. Dr. Beck. I'm fine with Ms. Johanssen assisting."

Chris exhaled and nodded, straightening up. He leaned in, and for a dizzy, hungry fraction of a second Mark thought he was about to be kissed. Chris's hand wrapped around the back of his neck, warm and sure, but he only pressed his forehead to Mark's. It was the same as the first contact they'd made, weeks ago outside Hermes, but now with no helmets between them.

Mark closed his eyes and nodded slightly, trying not to let himself get dragged back into that memory now.

Chris nodded back. He squeezed hard on the nape of Mark's neck before he pulled away. "We'll give you a few minutes to get ready. You can change your mind about anything you just said, I won't mind or be surprised."

Chris turned away without another word, and Beth stepped back from the door, letting him close it.

Mark pictured them loitering awkwardly in the corridor for a minute, then shook his head. They would go somewhere private, where they could decide what they were about to do with him. In the meantime, he had to make it clear what he wanted them to do with him.

He stood up and looked over the supplies again, but it was all stuff he recognized from actual medically-necessary checkups. Chris hadn't pulled out the gynecological kit or anything surgical. Mark put the instrument kits on the chair where Chris had been sitting and opened up the sheet pack. He spread the blue sheet over the exam table, eyed the folded white sheet, and then started stripping.

If Chris was finally going to touch him--and Mark could still almost feel the imprints of Chris's fingers on the back of his neck--then, fuck it, Mark was going to ask for all the touch he could get. He stuffed his clothes into the plastic bag from the sheets and sat down on the table, scooting back so his feet were off the floor. He unfolded the white sheet enough to cover his lap and leaned back on his hands, tilting his head back to stare up at the ceiling.

Nothing happened, and nothing happened. Mark was reminded of a thousand checkups and physicals--at NASA and before, getting cleared for the Peace Corps and after he came home. There was always this part, where you had to sit and wait, wondering how much time they thought it took you to take your clothes off. At least, thanks to the slowly-advancing climate control problem, it was nice and warm in here.

Chris and Beth were giving him time to think better of this. Time to freak out and change his mind. Time to decide he'd rather be fully clothed, the exam table folded away, nothing but a thermometer to add a hint of realism to some imaginary sickbed scene.

He shifted, his naked ass dragging the sheet along with it as he scooted a few inches across the hard tabletop. He was crossing a line, he knew. Even Beth had never asked him to take off more than his sweatshirt or socks. He didn't think it was that his attraction to both of them only went one way, but there was no denying that this had never been a sex thing, and Chris had been very clear that it wasn't going to become one today. This was a helping-him-cope thing, a thing friends might do for a friend, when they had already sacrificed an extra year and a half of their lives to save that friend's life.

He knew they cared about him; the solar system's most extravagant grand gesture was the least of it. He'd known them for three years now. They were on his team. They were willing to do whatever this was--weirdly kinky-but-not-sexy stuff--because he would rather cope like this than any other way. And obviously they both got something out of it too.

But everything behaved differently under very high pressure than it did in a vacuum, and differently in both of those conditions than it did under one Earth atmosphere. So he knew what they were doing, but he also knew how much he didn't know. One hundred twenty-nine more days and then everything would change again; Mark would get hustled into therapy, Chris and Beth would be America's wholesome heterosexual sweethearts...

I am doing a really good job of freaking myself out so they can calm me down, he thought, noticing his own spiraling thoughts, right before the soft tap at the door.

"Yeah," he said, relieved, and the door slid back, letting in both of them.

Oh God, they'd put on scrubs. Mark hadn't even known Chris had scrubs on the ship, let alone scrubs that didn't look clownishly huge on Beth. He bit his own tongue savagely and wished belatedly for a few more layers covering his lap. He didn't think he'd been concealing much of what he felt about them, but his reactions to this were going to get really obvious really fast.

"Hi, Mark," Dr. Beck said.

Mark's fingers curled a little against the sheet. Maybe he was only noticing because of the setup, because he'd been thinking of it, but Chris was playing your friendly doctor now, none of the familiar joking and bossiness he'd used to get Mark through actual medical stuff. He was wearing a stethoscope.

"How are you feeling?" Dr. Beck asked, handing off the supply kits to Ms. Johanssen without taking his eyes off Mark. "Anything special troubling you?"

"Nothing specific, sorry," Mark said. "I just--I'm worried something is wrong that I've missed somehow. I know I've had tons of checkups but I just keep wondering if there's something I didn't catch--" he saw Dr. Beck's expression flicker, saw the little widening of his eyes. Mark had hit that target dead-on.

"So--I know it's a lot to ask," Mark went on, as Ms. Johanssen laid out a sterile cloth on the desk and began lining up instruments. "But if you could just kind of check everything, it would make me feel better."

"All right," Dr. Beck said. "Let's start with the basics. Sit up straight for me, please. I'm going to check your temperature."

Mark sat up, opening his mouth for the thermometer to be tucked under his tongue. Dr. Beck's fingers closed around his wrist, pressing gently against his pulse. Mark willed himself to breathe slowly, but he knew his heart was racing through the quiet seconds.

"A little fast," Dr. Beck said, with a slight, knowing smile. "And a little warm," he added, withdrawing the thermometer. "I have this feeling like your blood pressure's going to be a little high, too."

"Sorry, Doc," Mark said, letting Dr. Beck take his arm to attach the pressure sensors.

"No need to apologize, Mark," Dr. Beck said soothingly, his hands warm on Mark's bare skin. If Mark was running a little hot, Beck was burning up. "You did say you were feeling some anxiety, so this is perfectly normal. You're doing fine."

Dr. Beck pressed the cool stethoscope against the inside of Mark's arm while checking his pressure, listening intently, and again Mark tried to steady his breathing. He tore his gaze away from Beck's face to look for Ms. Johanssen. She was standing just behind Beck, holding the little ears-and-nose scope, her eyes bright and fascinated.

She gave him a firm little nod when he met her eyes, and Mark swallowed hard and nodded back.

"Pulse jumped up there," Dr. Beck said softly, pulling Mark's attention back and making his face heat.

Dr. Beck smiled. "Like I said, perfectly normal. We'll recheck all of those when we're a little further along, see if you've settled down any. Let's have a look at all these holes in your head, huh?"

Mark leaned in, and Dr. Beck put a hand under his chin and the other on the side of Mark's face, tugging up on one eyelid and then the other. Mark looked left and right, up and down, then had his ears and nose inspected. He opened his mouth and said ahh.

"Mm," Dr. Beck said. "Probe?"

Mark kept his mouth wide open and darted a look past Dr. Beck to Ms. Johanssen, handing over a blunt-tipped instrument.

"Just going to check everything inside your mouth," Dr. Beck said. "Is that okay, Mark?"

Mark nodded, closing his mouth to swallow. His whole body felt flushed, his nipples were embarrassingly, almost painfully hard, and his dick was definitely getting interested. He was going to have to ask for the least Beck-like doctor available for his physicals when he got home or things were going to be really awkward, but for now...

"I just, uh," Mark dared to push a little. "I might need some help holding still?"

He didn't look, but he could hear Beck's smile. "Well, luckily I have an extra set of hands here. Ms. Johanssen, could you help Mark hold still for me?"

"Of course, Doctor," Ms. Johanssen said, and she came around him to kneel on the exam table. She put one hand on Mark's forehead and gripped his jaw with the other. "How's this? Okay, Mark?"

Mark nodded minutely under her hands and opened his mouth again.

"Here we go," Dr. Beck said.

Mark was acutely aware that his hands were ungloved when he slipped one finger into Mark's mouth to tug his lip to the side. The probe tapped gently against his teeth and gums and the insides of his cheeks, under his tongue and then along the top of it. It eased further and further back until Mark gagged a little, and Ms. Johanssen's grip tightened as Dr. Beck pulled back.

Mark kept his eyes down, not looking at Beck. He was unavoidably aware of what else they could make him gag on, what else he'd be happy to open his mouth for. He squirmed a little, and Ms. Johanssen tilted his head back further, making him more aware of her grip. He made a little sound, not quite a whimper but not remotely dignified, either.

"That's fine, Mark, you're doing great for me," Dr. Beck said. "No sign of problems there. Ms. Johanssen, I think you can let him go for now, I need to check a few other things."

Ms. Johanssen tightened her grip hard, right to the edge of pain. "You're going to be good for the doctor, aren't you, Mark?"

"Yeah," he whispered.

"Good." She let go and moved away from him, and he felt colder without her grip and her presence at his side.

The next touch made his eyes flash open, as Dr. Beck's warm hands pressed gently on either side of his face.

"Any pain? Headaches?"

"Uh," Mark had already lost track of whether he was pretending or telling the truth. "Sometimes."

"Well, that could just be stress." Dr. Beck's hands slid up, into his hair. Mark closed his eyes again, curling his hands into fists and wishing he had enough fingernails to dig in.

"No, no, try to relax," Dr. Beck murmured, as he rubbed methodically over the back of Mark's head, probing, massaging. "Just relax, Mark. Let your body respond naturally. It's all right. This is all perfectly normal."

"Sorry," Mark mumbled again, and then he felt warmth at his side again, and smaller hands picked up one of his fists. Ms. Johanssen coaxed his fingers open, massaging his wrist and then his hand while Dr. Beck moved on to massaging Mark's temples. Mark sagged between their touches, letting himself be overwhelmed. He was surprised to find himself getting more soothed than turned on--not not turned on, but everything went slow and quiet like it usually did when he was following orders.

"That's it," Dr. Beck said softly, his hands sliding down to Mark's throat, prodding up under his jaw, down along his spine. "That's perfect. Much better now. I'm going to listen to your heart, all right? You just keep still for me, nice and quiet."

Mark's breath caught at the cool touch of the stethoscope, and Ms. Johanssen took one hand off of his to curl around his shoulder, steadying him. "Keep breathing, Mark."

He nodded and breathed and didn't think. The stethoscope moved around his chest, and then there was warmth on his other side--Dr. Beck sitting beside him, opposite Ms. Johanssen, so he was sandwiched between them. The stethoscope moved around his back while Mark sat still.

After a while Dr. Beck said, "Deep breath."

Mark obeyed, breathing in and out when he was told to, again and again. Dr. Beck moved around in front of him again, listening and telling him how to breathe.

"Okay, Mark," he finally said.

Mark opened his eyes, thinking faintly, No, don't stop yet.

"So far so good," Dr. Beck said. "You're doing perfectly. But I want you to lie down now. I want to check your abdomen next."

Mark let their hands guide him to stretch out on the table, and Dr. Beck spread the sheet over him, chest to feet, while Ms. Johanssen came over to perch by his head. "Do you want me to help you hold still, Mark?"

He nodded, and she smiled down at him, warm and gentle. Dr. Beck was rubbing off on her.

Literally! On this bunk! Mark closed his eyes and pushed the thought away. He wasn't on their bunk. Exam table. Checkup. Quiet.

He opened his eyes again at the feeling of a body very close to his and the rustling sounds of movement on the sheet around his head. His lips parted in wonder and--yeah, no, the thoughts about Johanssen and Beck and sex were not going away. She was sitting on her heels right behind his head, her thighs parted around him, knees on either side of his shoulders.

She gave him a wicked smile. "Remember, I'm helping you hold still."

He nodded and shut his mouth, and she pressed one fingertip to the center of his forehead.

"Okay," Dr. Beck said. "I'm going to just fold the sheet down to check your belly, Mark."

Mark tried to nod, but Ms. Johanssen pressed down harder against his forehead. He closed his eyes and licked his lips. "Okay."

"Good."

Mark looked down to watch the sheet folded back at his hips, and, oh, yeah, his half-hard dick was definitely obvious like this, bulging under the soft drape of the sheet. Dr. Beck ignored it, instead setting his hands on Mark's side, framing his antenna-stab scar with his thumbs.

"Any pain here?"

Mark couldn't shake his head either. "No. It's all better now."

I survived. You came back for me. You fixed it.

Dr. Beck pressed in with his thumbs, rubbing firmly around and over the scar until Mark's breath caught at a weird pulling sensation. He'd noticed it sometimes, then stopped noticing it.

"Slight adhesion," Dr. Beck murmured, gentling his touch. "Quite normal, Mark. It's all right."

He moved on to prodding at the rest of Mark's belly, methodically covering what seemed like every inch. He kept watching Mark's face--for signs of pain, Mark knew, so Mark kept his eyes open, looking back, but he couldn't help watching Dr. Beck's hands moving over his skin, lower and lower.

His dick stiffened under the light cover of the sheet, and Ms. Johanssen kept holding him down. He could smell her when he took a deep breath, the warm body smell of her, something sharp and salty that made him think he wasn't the only one into this. Also it was very possible she wasn't wearing anything under those scrub pants, and God--

Dr. Beck's hand stilled, low on his belly, inside the cut of his hip. "Mark? Did that hurt?"

Mark closed his eyes as Dr. Beck's fingers stroked just above his pubes, inches away from his dick. Ms. Johanssen shifted her weight behind him, her thighs brushing his shoulders. He could definitely smell her now, he could almost taste her. His mouth watered at the thought and he had to swallow hard before he could speak.

"No," Mark managed. "Didn't hurt."

"Good," Dr. Beck said, rubbing his fingers over the same spot. "I'll try not to tickle."

"Thanks," Mark managed, and then let out a shaky breath as Dr. Beck's fingers moved over his bladder.

"Need to go?"

Mark shook his head the tiny fraction he could and didn't say anything. He didn't need to, and also he probably couldn't if he wanted to, which had to be obvious from the tent he was making in the sheet. But Dr. Beck was being very professional and would ignore that, of course. Doctors didn't touch their patients like that.

"I'm going to listen now," Dr. Beck said, and Mark closed his eyes and breathed in and out through the cool touches of the stethoscope, pressing here and there against his belly while Dr. Beck murmured, "Good," every so often.

Mark fell into a daze of quiet, helpless want. He didn't have to do anything; he couldn't. Couldn't move, couldn't ask for more than this. But he had Dr. Beck and Ms. Johanssen here, both of them at once, keeping him quiet and still. The wanting was almost a pleasure in itself, letting him feel nothing but the places they touched him, the closeness of them.

Dr. Beck asked a soft-voiced question and Mark said, okay, because everything was okay. Anything was okay.

Those warm fingers moved up to his chest, methodically pressing against his pec, slowly circling in around his nipple but never touching. Mark told himself to breathe, breathe, and then Ms. Johanssen's finger pressed down hard and she said, "Mark, you're going to hold very still for me."

"Yes, Ma'am." The pressure lifted from his head, making him open his eyes as Ms. Johanssen leaned over him--oh God, he could smell her better now, she was right over him, if she just sat down...

Her hands pressed down on the opposite side of his chest as Dr. Beck repeated the first exam, mirroring his movements. Mark lay helpless under their hands, frozen or melted or sublimated into nothing but wanting.

"Very good," Dr. Beck finally said. "Nothing to be concerned about there. And this, any tenderness here?"

His fingers were on Mark's tattoo now, tracing the stark black 17 on his upper arm. It framed the spot where he'd gotten about a thousand injections and immunizations while readying for various missions.

"It's good." That wasn't exactly an answer, but Dr. Beck didn't stop touching him and Ms. Johanssen didn't sit back down, stayed poised over him where he could look up at the crotch of her scrub pants. There was a line of dampness near the seam. Mark's cock ached with hardness, and he did not dare look to see what the front of Dr. Beck's scrub pants looked like.

"Excellent," Dr. Beck murmured. "Ms. Johanssen, if you could assist me, we'll check range of motion and grip while also examining the skin."

Mark closed his eyes and relaxed into their hands, manipulating his hand and wrist and arm, touching him everywhere, moving him where they wanted him. He squeezed when they told him to squeeze; it was harder to let go when they told him to let go, but they held on to him, so it wasn't impossible.

They checked both of his arms, and then Ms. Johanssen sat back and Dr. Beck said, "Mark? Look at me."

Mark opened his eyes and found Dr. Beck perched hip-to-hip with him on the edge of the table.

"Do you need a break?"

Mark shook his head slightly, glancing up at Ms. Johanssen when he realized she wasn't holding him still.

"It looks like your sexual function is healthy and normal," Dr. Beck added. Mark felt himself flush hot all over again, his cock jumping under the sheet at the acknowledgment. "Is there any cause for concern there?"

Mark shook his head again, because he knew that if he said yes, please examine me, he was going to get the most pointedly clinical handling he could imagine. Beck would glove up and everything. If Mark came like that he might actually die from it.

Dr. Beck nodded. "Would you like a time out? Some privacy?"

Mark shook his head.

Ms. Johanssen brushed his hair back with her fingers. "We don't want to do anything that hurts you, Mark. It's okay if you need a few minutes."

Well, she wasn't wrong about how long it would take. Good that there were no illusions there. Not that it mattered.

Mark shook his head again. "I'm okay, I--please."

"All right," Dr. Beck said. "We're going to take a look at your legs and feet, then. Ms. Johanssen, if you would."

Ms. Johanssen moved away from him then, and the sheet was tugged up under his chin and tucked in to keep his dick and balls covered while uncovering one leg. The checkup was the same as for his arms: flexing and bending, checking his reflexes and touching him everywhere, hip to toes.

When they finished and covered him again Mark opened his eyes. He wasn't not hard anymore, but the urgency of it had eased, enough that finishing didn't seem like a relief anymore. He was greedy for more, more time, more attention, more of them.

"We're getting there," Dr. Beck said with a crooked smile. "Time to sit up again, okay?"

Mark nodded, because getting there meant not done yet.

"Slowly," Ms. Johanssen said when he started to move, and he waited until she was at his side, guiding him. "There we go. Easy."

She pushed him forward until his elbows were on his knees, and then changed places with Dr. Beck. She held both of Mark's hands between hers while Dr. Beck prodded down the length of his spine, along each rib and over the softer space below them. His thumbs traced the top of Mark's hipbones, still not entirely padded, and pressed against his tailbone.

Mark made a little wanting sound--God, just a little lower, tell him it was a prostate exam, anything, just one touch--but Dr. Beck's hands withdrew. He got a gentle pat on the back. "Everything looks good, Mark. We're almost done."

Mark nodded, looking up when Ms. Johanssen squeezed his hands.

"You don't have to watch this part," Dr. Beck said in a slightly different voice, standing up to grab the other kit, and Mark realized he was speaking to Johanssen.

"I don't mind needles going into Mark," she said, straightening up almost primly. She guided him to turn and face out again, feet dangling and sheet tucked over his lap. She held his arm while Dr. Beck wrapped the little strap around his arm and tapped around for a vein.

Beck paused. "Mark? Do you mind needles going into you?"

Mark dragged his gaze up from Dr. Beck's fingers to his face. He blinked a few times, then said, "I don't mind. You need to check, right? So check."

Beck licked his lips, and Mark remembered, belatedly, that they were pretending that it was Mark who was worried about Mark's health. Beck just nodded, though. "Okay. Look at Ms. Johanssen, please."

Mark looked, and Ms. Johanssen looked back, holding his gaze, so neither of them saw the needle slip into his arm. Mark looked down when he heard the little sound of Dr. Beck switching vials, and watched the second one fill.

"Okay," Dr. Beck said, capping off and withdrawing the needle. "There we go. Anything else you want me to check?"

Mark shook his head, swallowing the words he shouldn't say. Don't stop, don't leave.

Dr. Beck put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Okay. We're going to take this stuff down to the lab. You take as much time as you need to get dressed, whatever you need. I think you should go over to your room when you're done in here, and if you leave your door open, we'll come and keep you company. All right?"

Mark nodded. One or both of them sat with him sometimes after a game like this, especially Ms. Johanssen's games. It helped him come back from the quiet.

"Just one thing," Dr. Beck said. "This is optional. But if you want to let me check one more thing..."

Mark sat up straighter.

Dr. Beck sat back slightly, a smile in his eyes though his face was nearly perfectly serious. "One more sample."

He set a lidded sample cup down next to Mark's right hand, on the opposite side from where Johanssen was sitting. "You can leave it in here when you're finished, I'll pick it up and check it. Or you can put the cup away. Up to you."

Mark's heart started beating faster, his whole body humming, because Beck definitely--that was definitely--

Ms. Johanssen squeezed his shoulder and stood up, walking out with Dr. Beck.

Mark barely waited until the door was closed behind them before he kicked the sheet off and fell back on the hard surface of the table. He got one hand on his dick and grabbed the sample cup with the other.

His dick had softened a little while he was having his blood drawn, but--Beck had asked him to jerk off. Beck and Johanssen knew he was here, practically in their bunk, jerking off because they'd been touching him--holding him down--and God, he barely even had to imagine anything more. If it had just gone a little further--Dr. Beck's hand a little lower, Ms. Johanssen straddling him at a different angle, holding him down without having to use her hands at all--

His breath went out of him like he'd just hit the ground. He opened his eyes to aim, jerking himself into the stupid little cup and having what felt like a whole other orgasm in his brain at the thought of leaving this here for them. Because they'd asked him to. Because they had wanted him to have this, here, and they'd wanted to know it was because of them. Because a doctor wouldn't touch his patient, no, but that didn't mean Chris and Beth couldn't know.

Mark lay still for a while, staring up at the ceiling in a daze, one hand still on his dick, the other cradling a plastic cup of his own semen.

All of my happiest moments on this mission sound really fucking awful when you describe them, he thought. He started laughing as he sat up to look for the lid of the cup.


Chris watched Mark out of long-established habit and fresh curiosity. Chris had spent their last seven months on Hermes constantly evaluating Mark's physical health and mental state, but before last night it had been close to three months since they'd seen each other in person.

Mark had stayed in medical rehab for longer than the rest of the crew, in large part because it was the easiest place to keep him insulated from the world until the initial furor of their return died down. Chris and Beth had done their share of the interview rounds, paying their dues to NASA and the public.

Mark had gone straight to Chicago when he was out of medical; he'd responded to texts and emails willingly enough, but it was all light chatter, no response to hints or casual invitations. Chris and Beth had decided, after giving him three months to ask for something, to make their own interest unmistakable.

For three agonizing days it had seemed like Mark meant to ignore this invitation too, and then--well, they'd had about twenty minutes' warning when Mark's mom texted to say he was on his way. That had been enough time for them to jump up and down and yell and then give each other frantic rehashed pep talks about not spooking Mark in the first five minutes.

And then they'd Chicago-married him and taken him to bed, and Chris couldn't help knowing how much he wanted to wake up every morning with Beth and Mark. He wanted to do a lot more than wake up with them in that bed, in fact, but... one thing at a time. They were only halfway through breakfast; Mark was still on his first cup of coffee, though Beth was halfway through her second already.

Mark looked up from his plate--Chris wasn't letting himself worry too much about whether cooking breakfast constituted telling Mark what to eat--and looked back and forth between Chris and Beth. After a few seconds he sat back in his chair.

"So you seem pretty serious about wanting to date me," Mark said. The words were light, but Chris could see the tension in his body. He remembered that tension under his hands, remembered how it felt to make it melt away.

"And not in, like," Mark waved his hand. "The way where you want me to wear a collar and be naked 24/7, which I'm honestly not sure would've been a deal breaker except that it would have been awkward for public appearances, NASA would probably pitch a fit."

"You don't owe anyone interviews," Beth said firmly. Chris could just about hear Annie's voice coming out of Beth's mouth. They'd all had a crash course in public relations after they got home, which included a strong emphasis on what is not your job. "And you don't have to wear a collar."

Mark nodded slowly, fiddling with an orange peel.

"I've picked out about five that I'm trying to choose between, though," Beth added. "You know, for special occasions."

Mark immediately sat up, eyes bright. "Can I see? Come on, you have to let me at least give some input."

Beth straightened up in turn, taking control just by squaring her shoulders and giving Mark that particular look.

Chris rubbed his forehead. "Time out, both of you."

They both looked toward him; Beth eased off first. Mark looked like he was waiting for a better offer than choosing a collar.

"We want you here all the time," Chris said firmly. "Wearing whatever you want, working wherever and whenever you want, coming and going as you please, and having whatever kind of sex and whatever kind of kink you're interested in having. Let's get that clear first, okay?"

Mark's gaze softened and he nodded, looking back and forth between Chris and Beth. "I mean, I have no idea why, but yeah, I believe you. I'm in."

He dropped his gaze altogether, ducking his head, and went on. "I, uh--I'm not a hundred percent. Docs said I'll probably never be, you know." He waved his hand vaguely toward the past few years. "Completely the same guy, not kind of fucked up, whatever. So if you were waiting for me to be better, or not making decisions influenced by you saving my life and helping me cope for months afterward, that time's never actually going to come."

Chris wasn't sure how much of the last three months had been Mark waiting for that, but it didn't matter now. He was here.

"I was just waiting to not be your doctor anymore," Chris said, which made Mark look up. "And for you to have some kind of actual options. And for Lewis to agree not to kill us for rushing you."

"She pretty much gave her blessing once you were out of medical, though," Beth added, drawing Mark's attention her way. "The last six weeks was just you playing hard to get. Which you're going to pay for, if you're into that."

Mark was blushing a little bit. Chris leaned sideways to see it better. Blushing wasn't as visible in low gravity; he would get to learn Mark's reactions all over again.

"I, uh, yeah. Yes. I am. Please, ma'am."

Beth nodded, but didn't take the bait. "It's been really weird, you know? Just being two again, instead of six. Three's enough to be some kind of team, at least. And we love you. So that's why."

"I, uh." Mark looked back and forth between them. "Obviously I love you guys. I'm... pretty used to just being one. Even before, I wasn't great at dating people. But I do well on teams." He flashed a little smile and added, "As long as no one tries to put me in charge."

"No danger of that," Chris assured him. "Speaking of--" he grabbed his phone and sent a long-drafted email. "Checklist of preferences, limits. Go/no-go stuff."

"Ha!" Mark grabbed his own phone and started scrolling through the email. "I knew there would be a checklist."

"Well, yeah," Beth said. "Come on. You've gotta have a checklist."

"Thanks, NASA," Mark muttered happily, already tapping in answers.


Mission Day 862

"Did you see?" Beth demanded, when they were back in the 0.4 gravity of their quarters with the door closed behind them, Mark in his own room five yards away. They were both stripping frantically, though Chris wouldn't be able to get hard until gravity got to his blood pressure and blood pressure got to his dick. Not exactly a problem for her; she'd been wet, aching for it, for an hour now.

"When you put your hand on his throat, or--"

Beth tackled Chris to the bed. "My hand on his throat. He went down so fast--I'm getting him a collar when we get home, I'm getting him a leash, he fucking loves those tethers--"

Chris groaned against her mouth but didn't tell her to say if instead of when. Not now. This was when they got to pretend that it was simple, that it would be exactly the same at home as it was on the ship and no one would want anything different later.

"When we're home," Chris said, lips brushing her throat as he pushed two fingers into her cunt, and Beth arched into it, rocking against him, and didn't hit him for messing with the fantasy. "In gravity, it'll be different--"

"You'll both be hard--"

Chris laughed against her skin and curled his fingers. Beth tried to moan and growl at the same time.

"No, I mean--you can't do restraints the same way in gravity, you have to think about stress positions, circulation--"

"Good thing we'll have a doctor involved, then," Beth rocked into the heel of his hand, getting just the right pressure on her clit. "You'll have to--mm--have to check everything--test everything we tie him with--make sure he's positioned right--you'll take fucking forever about it, making sure he's safe, and all the time he'll just be gone on it because you're taking care of him--"

Chris was starting to push up under her, his dick stiffening against her thigh, but he didn't stop fingering her, didn't spare a hand for himself.

"But that's just the leadup," Chris breathed against her ear. "Because once I've got him secure, it'll be Ms. J's turn to have fun with him. You won't have to worry about zero-gee inertia, either, he'll hold still for you, you can--"

Beth arched against him as the image flashed through her, sparking off the pleasure that had been simmering for so long. She came on Chris's fingers, rubbing frantically against him all the way through it as she imagined being able to--God--to hit, spank, raise pink handprints and red bruises, make Mark whimper and cry and beg, he would beg, he would love it--

Chris slipped his fingers free of her and Beth shifted over him, more than ready for a second round now that he was ready for his first. He felt huge inside her when she'd already come once, and Beth moaned. "I wanna watch you fuck him, too. Tie him up the right way so you can have his ass while I've got his mouth--"

"God, baby." Chris thrust up into her, sounding close already--but they'd been teasing themselves and each other as much as Mark, and just because the guys couldn't get hard didn't mean they weren't getting worked up the whole time too. He drove up harder, hitting her right where she wanted him. Beth ducked her head and kissed over his collarbones fiercely, sucking and biting while Chris wound both hands into her hair, pulling but not pulling her off. "Fuck, fuck, one gee, he'll be so hard for us, between us, wanting it so bad, but you won't let him come that easy, will you--"

"Not until he's shown he deserves it," Beth agreed, pushing up to ride; Chris got his hands on her hips, anchoring her so she could bounce without bouncing right off, and she grinned and got her hands on her tits. Chris's eyes were already dark with lust, but he fucked up into her harder when she touched herself, making her moan. "God--after I've come twice, maybe, or three times, after he's gotten you off, too--when he's begging, crying for it--"

They couldn't make Mark cry in zero-gee unless he was also blindfolded, so something caught the liquid. That wasn't exactly a drawback, but Beth really wanted to see his face, wanted to see him pushed right over the edge.

"When he's earned it," Chris moaned. "God, then, then we touch him--kiss him, will you kiss him, I want to see--"

"If he's been good," Beth allowed, clenching down on Chris's cock. Chris groaned and threw his head back, his grip on her hips tightening as he thrust up harder inside her. "If he's been very, very good, I'll kiss him with his face all wet from my cunt, while you're still inside him, and you'll--"

Chris groaned, coming, and Beth dropped her hand to her clit, riding him through it and pushing herself over the edge a minute after him. She curled down over him as she came again. Chris's arms came up to hold her to his chest, and she closed her eyes. Mark was in his bunk, practically in arm's reach, feeling the same pleasure, the same momentary satisfaction. The same hunger for more.

Probably.

"I mean," Chris mumbled, sounding simultaneously sleepy and apologetic. "If that's what he wants, later."

"Yeah," Beth agreed. If, if, if. If this wasn't some folie a trois brought on by trauma and confined spaces and too long away from Earth. If Mark actually wanted the things she thought he wanted. If they all made it home alive and stayed together.

"God it's driving me nuts not to be able to look at bondage gear," Beth muttered. "Five data dumps a day now, communication's practically instantaneous, and I still can't have one single secure private shopping session."

Chris rubbed his hand up and down her spine soothingly. "Soon enough."

"No such thing," Beth mumbled, but she let herself relax. There was no use borrowing trouble. They just had to wait and see.


Mission Day 1,002
April 4, 2038

Tonight they were all sharing the same couch. Beth had challenged Chris to some racing game. Mark sat between them as a buffer so they couldn't try to physically knock each other out of alignment the way their cars bashed each other in the projection. Chris had draped a blanket over him somewhere around their fifth match because he looked cold, and Mark hadn't bothered to even free his hands from it.

There was something uniquely seductive about being absorbed into their routine like this, tucked between them like a part of the furniture. Not that they ignored him--they constantly appealed to him to declare the other a fucking cheater--but after the first few times he declared neutrality, they didn't really expect answers. He was where he belonged, where he wanted to be and where he was wanted. If it wasn't something any of them could take for granted yet, Beth and Chris were at least doing a persuasive job of pretending.

He was home, after a long time traveling. He could sit still now.

Beth won eventually--best nine of seventeen--and when Chris finally conceded, she said, "Mark, do you know what I won?"

He knew just from the question everything he needed to know about the answer. Anticipation swept through him, making him aware of every inch of his skin, every place his clothing touched. He kept still, leaning back in the middle seat, only turning his head toward Beth. Toward Ms. Johanssen.

"What did you win?"

"Dibs," she said cheerfully, hooking a finger into the collar of Mark's shirt and tugging him toward her, knocking the blanket down to his lap. Mark shivered at the touch of cooler air, but he didn't want it back. "Are you okay being our trophy boyfriend for a little while? Let us play with you?"

"Yes, ma'am." It was the only answer.

Johanssen smiled wider. "Good. What do you say if you need a break?"

"Your first names, or red. Red is worse." Mark turned himself toward her properly, settling his hands on the cushion between them.

She let go of his shirt and rubbed her knuckles against his bare throat. "I know it's a whole week until your collar's going to be ready, but you don't mind if we get ahead of that?"

"I'm yours." It felt daring, still, to say it out loud, but the corners of Johanssen's mouth turned up, and Beck's hand settled warmly on the small of his back. Mark allowed himself to be positively reinforced. "I'm yours. I don't need anything but you--both of you--to know that."

"Good." Johanssen's hand slid around to the back of his neck, drawing him closer. "Because I am just not that patient."

She kissed him then, starting out soft and slow. Just when he was falling into the dreamy rhythm of it, her fingers tightened on the back of his neck, and Beck's other hand closed on his hip. He let himself be rearranged, draping his legs over Beck's lap and sitting up to have his t-shirt pulled off before he leaned into Johanssen again. She had her hand on his chin, keeping him just where she wanted him as she kissed him again.

Beck's hands were on his thighs now, rubbing through his jeans. He didn't go anywhere especially sensitive except that Mark had been waiting for this so long, wanting them for so long, that he was sensitive everywhere. The air touching his bare chest, the stroke of Johanssen's tongue against his, the pressure of Beck's hands, it all made his breath come faster, sent blood rushing to his dick.

But this time, he wasn't going to have to do anything about that. This time every part of this was in Beck and Johanssen's hands. He only had to let them.

Johanssen pushed him down after a while, making him lie over her thighs. His wet lips were still parted in hopes of another kiss.

"Hands up," she directed. He tucked them under the couch cushion above his head. She put one hand over his wrists, not holding him down so much as reminding him to be still.

Her other hand curled around his throat, squeezing in slow pulses, a little harder each time.

He felt the pressure echoed in his dick, thickening pulse by pulse while Beck still didn't touch him there; the ache of both seemed the same. Then Johanssen's hand slid lower, and he let his eyes almost close, watching through his eyelashes as her fingers traced lightly over bare skin. She'd never touched him like this before, aimless patterns with nothing to muffle them, but he knew she was only teasing. His breath caught as soon as her fingers brushed over his nipple, and he held it as she continued the light touches.

Only when her fingers clamped down hard, a little shock of pain traced with pleasure, did he let his breath out and gasp in another. She rubbed the thumb of her other hand gently over the inside of his wrists, and Beck's hand came up to stroke gently over his belly, ignoring the bulge in his jeans and the helpless twitching of his hips. He breathed, surrendering himself to the pain, the ache of anticipation, the wanting for more, until Johanssen let up her grip. A fresh rush of pain flooded through him, making him writhe.

"Please." He didn't even know what he was asking for, but he knew they could give it to him. Johanssen was already trailing one fingertip around the other nipple. Beck's hand returned to rubbing along his thigh, though he was moving up the inside of it now. "Please, please, oh--"

Johanssen didn't pinch him again; she scratched, digging her nails in from just above his belly button all the way up to his sternum. Little pink lines appeared on that pale, defenseless skin, and while he was still staring she did it again, and then again, the little burning stings layering over each other until he was panting helplessly, his fingers closing into fists. He pushed up with his hips, silently begging, but he didn't try to pull away.

"So good," Johanssen murmured, rubbing her fingertips over the scratches, and Mark's breath was almost a sob. "So good for me, letting me do what I want to you. I don't even need to hold you down, do I?"

"Please," Mark managed, pressing his wrists up against her hand, because he needed it, needed to be held here. Needed to know he was theirs.

"I could hold you here instead."

She took her hand from his wrists only to press it down on his forehead, tilting his head back and baring his throat. Her other hand came up to squeeze again, and Mark moaned. He was hard now, feeling suddenly close, almost desperate.

"Please, I, please--"

"Maybe you need to be held down more," she said. "Is that it? Maybe Dr. Beck should help me hold you down."

Mark tried to nod, but her grip tightened on him.

It didn't matter; Beck moved, getting out from under him and kneeling between Mark's legs. Mark looked up at him--God, Beck was hard too, Mark could see it. Beck could do anything to him now, finally. Mark wanted to beg, wanted to do anything that would make Beck keep going and not stop to be sure he was okay. He could only lick his lips, but it was enough. Beck planted one hand on Mark's chest and leaned in to kiss him while Johanssen held him down, rough and fast. Mark melted under it, pinned so thoroughly everywhere except where he couldn't help pushing up, his dick straining against his pants.

Beck pulled back from the kiss and didn't tease any longer, quickly undoing Mark's pants and tugging them open enough to get Mark's dick out. Mark yelled a little, helpless to hold back the sound at that first touch. He'd been wanting so long, he was so fucking hard, and Beck wasn't playing around, stroking him in tight, quick motions, his other hand clamped on Mark's hip to hold him down. Mark felt himself winding tight, pleasure rushing in a hot tide toward his balls, toward Beck's hands.

Too fast, they hadn't told him--he didn't know--he couldn't fuck this up, not yet. "Chris, Chris--"

Beck's hand stilled but didn't let him go. "Mark? Something wrong?"

"Gonna come," he managed. "Sorry, I can't--"

"Mark," Johanssen's hands tightened on him, and he looked up at her. "Do you want to come?"

"If you," Mark swallowed hard. "If that's--please--"

She squeezed his throat again, almost physically holding back the next sound Mark wanted to make, because his cock was engulfed in tight, wet heat. He looked down to see Beck's head bowed over him, Beck sucking his cock. Beck had both hands on Mark's hips now, leaning his weight into the grip; Mark tried to push up and couldn't move at all, pinned in place. He couldn't do anything but give it up.

He came in the heat of Beck's mouth after what felt like no time at all, and Beck swallowed around him, making him sob under Johanssen's hands, his breath hitching helplessly. It was more than pleasure, more than coming--he was theirs, owned entirely, held fast.

Mark opened his eyes after a while to find both of them looking down at him, and he couldn't mistake the greedy look of happiness in both their eyes.

"That was so good," Johanssen murmured, brushing his hair back from his forehead gently. "That was just what we wanted. Can you play some more, or do you need to stop?"

He shook his head, then clarified. "More, I can--more. Please, I want more."

"We're going to take the rest of your clothes off, then," Johanssen murmured. "And I think you should return Beck's favor, can you do that for me?"

"Probably, uh," Mark smiled uncertainly up at both of them. "Probably not as fast?"

Beck flashed a wide, startled smile, and Johanssen's eyes got warm. "Do your best, he might surprise you."

Mark licked his lips again, but Beck didn't kiss him this time--he moved backward, tugging Mark's pants and underwear down and off, leaving him sprawled naked down the length of the couch, still half in Johanssen's lap. He wasn't an expert on mechanics--wait, he was--and he was pretty sure the angles for this were not going to work.

Beck sat down at the other end of the couch, shoving Mark's bare feet back, and rubbed himself through his pants, a few slow touches that made Mark push up against Johanssen's grip, wanting to be there. He could feel the way she squirmed under him, too, and his mouth watered. He thought she might tell him to serve her, instead, or go to Beck herself.

Then Beck unzipped, tugging his cock out, and Johanssen let go of him. Mark moved without thinking, scrambling up just to bend over Beck's lap. He braced his hands on either side of Beck's thighs--not his place to hold anybody down--and ducked his head. Beck had his hand wrapped around his cock. It was pretty like the rest of Beck, perfectly proportioned and flushed dark at the head, contrasting with his pale fingers.

Mark pressed his mouth there, kissing Beck's knuckles, his fingertips. Beck huffed and murmured, "Have to tell you everything, don't we?"

Mark hummed agreement and breathed in the smell of Beck's cock as he licked the line of one long finger. Beck's hand slid into his hair, gripping tight, and Beck held him still as he brought his cock to Mark's lips. Mark moaned, feeling a fresh thrill of desire as he let his mouth open, accepting the intrusion of Beck's cock. Beck pushed him down and pulled him up. He only had to keep his teeth covered and his mouth soft, sucking and breathing according to the rhythm Beck set.

He settled into it, being used, going where he was put. His mind went blank and quiet, and his awareness narrowed to this: the hot thickness of Beck's cock, the weight on his tongue and the stretch of his lips, the growing ache in his jaw. Beck's hand in his hair kept him steady, and Beck was making little sounds of pleasure and encouragement. Mark could feel the little twitches in his thighs and abs as he kept himself still, making Mark move.

Then a whole new dimension of sensation opened up, because he felt Johanssen pressing up behind him, her pelvis against his ass, her breasts against his back. He froze, nearly choked, already anticipating it before her hand closed on his cock. He was hard again, still wet from Beck's mouth, and he whimpered almost in unison with Beck's groan.

Beck's hand slid down to the nape of his neck, squeezing hard. "Focus, Mark."

Mark whimpered but obeyed, sucking eagerly at Beck's cock. Every motion rubbed him back against Johanssen, and he knew she hadn't come, knew she would want more from him. After that first grip she only touched him lightly, trailing fingers along his cock as he sucked Beck's, so that he almost wasn't distracted.

"Mark," Beck said, sharply, and Mark let himself be pulled almost all the way off Beck's cock, sucking hard at the head as Beck's grip tightened. Beck finally moved under him, surging up to fuck his mouth in sharp, uneven motions until he came, filling Mark's mouth.

Mark swallowed messily, licking at Beck's cock until Beck tugged him off it.

Johanssen pulled, turning him and pushing until he was lying between Beck's legs, his head on Beck's thigh. Beck smiled down at him, wiping a thumb across Mark's tingling lips, and then Mark's attention was arrested by Johanssen.

She delicately stepped across him, getting one foot down between Beck's hip and the back of the couch, and with her hands on Beck's shoulders she folded in, straddling his lap--and Mark--as she kissed Beck.

Mark's mouth opened, staring up at her, her pussy wet and open right above him--and then Beck's hand was under his head and Johanssen shifted a little lower. Mark moaned against her, licking and nuzzling as best he could while she rode his face, using him as much as Beck had. He couldn't taste or smell anything that wasn't her, except the lingering taste of Beck.

He could feel her movements getting quicker, rougher, felt the quivering response when he licked up into her, the twitch when he mouthed at her clit just right. She moved after just a few minutes, though. Mark made a mournful noise as if he was the one who hadn't come--although he was ramping up again, his cock hard against his belly.

"Oh, I'm not through with you," Johanssen said, climbing back onto the couch, this time astride his hips. "But this isn't zero-gee, and that position sucked. Besides, I want to see your face when I--"

She lowered herself over him, not taking his cock in but rubbing against it, letting him feel the way her pussy parted over the length of it, tilting down to rub her clit against him. Using him again, just the way she wanted. Mark groaned and tried to be still, to let her have him. He raised his hands--not reaching for her, he knew better, but asking. Beck caught his wrists in a hard grip, pinning them down to keep Mark in place, and he sighed and relaxed under them both.

Johanssen ground down harder against him, almost painfully. Mark moaned and watched her face as she came, her eyes closing and face going slack. He could feel the pulsing heat of it against his cock, the rhythmic clenching that would have been so obvious if he were inside her, just a flutter like this. For a second he thought he would come too, just from that, but Beck's grip on his wrists tightened and Mark gritted his teeth and held back.

When Johanssen's eyes opened again, she moved over him slowly and deliberately. "You've done everything I wanted, Mark. Do you want to come one more time?"

He nodded, past speaking, past anything but wanting. She lifted up just enough to wrap her hand around his cock, stroking him. He was already wet from her pussy, and when she took him inside it was an easy glide.

He groaned as she moved over him. He wasn't going to last, and he wanted this to last. He wanted to be right here forever.

Beck's grip on his wrists tightened. "Mark. Look at me."

Mark opened his eyes and looked, and Beck said. "Let go. We've got you. You're right where you should be now, just let go."

Mark surged up against his grip, under Johanssen's weight, and he was coming again, pulsing into her, under her. Just as it ended she moved over him, and he pried his eyes open again to see Johanssen with her fingers on her clit, bringing herself off again with him still inside. The feeling of it on his oversensitive dick was beyond pleasure, almost pain, and it blotted out all thought in the rush of sensation.

He lay under her, in Beck's lap, panting and mindless, until Johanssen moved up to kiss him softly and Beck's grip on his wrists relaxed.

"Is this okay?" Beth asked, picking her head up.

Mark looked up at Chris, who raised his eyebrows and pulled Mark's unresisting hands up to his mouth, kissing his fingertips. Probably checking his circulation. Mark wiggled his fingers as he met Beth's eyes.

He grinned at her fond look, feeling dizzy and weightless for all that he was held so safely between them. "Yeah. Yeah, this is okay."