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The Angled Spar

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Chris collapses facedown on his bunk, so ready to be done with this long miserable day. Groaning, Beth drapes herself across his back, and he groans in answer and doesn't move except to breathe, enjoying her gentle weight atop his body, the rounded press of her head on his shoulder, the line of her spine intersecting his, her hand loosely curled behind his thigh.

Beth sighs, relaxing across Chris, and he relaxes beneath her, tension slowly leaching out. His mind drifts across the day, organizing the memories into something he hopes he can put away and leave behind in the morning.

It all started when the proximity alarms went off at an ungodly 3:27 AM local time, with Commander Lewis's order to suit up and meet in the Hub, but that wasn't what really woke Chris. He'd lurched to his feet, stumbling into pants and a tee as Beth shimmied into her clothes, and robotically pulled on his suit. He pretty much doesn't remember the climb and slide to the Hub, moving on muscle memory alone. He does remember Rick's announcement that they were headed into a swarm of meteorites but projections gave the Hermes excellent odds for getting through in working order, and typing in the sequence that linked him up with everyone's bio-monitors so he could keep an eye on them as they huddled together, drifting in the center of their ship.

But what woke Chris up was the wobble in Mark's respiration, overlaid with the muffled sigh he heard beside him. Chris grimaces into the pillow as he remembers remembering the first rattling winds of the storm that had scrubbed their mission and made them abandon Mark. He remembers how he glanced sideways, trying to check on Mark without getting caught, when Mark must've been clamping down on five hundred forty sols' worth of emotion and didn't need anything added.

All he saw was the snub tip of Mark's nose and the clear curve of his helmet, and Rick just beyond watching readouts flicker blue across his inner faceplate. The swarm arrived with a hollow 'ping' and Chris helplessly felt Mark's full-body twitch. He remembers with searing clarity how useless he felt, unable to help his patient, his friend. He remembers lowering his eyes in shame.

Now Beth murmurs a complaint and rolls to her side, pressing the heel of her hand into Chris's tense shoulder, her own shoulder into his waist, and he inhales and deflates, sagging into the bed, into her body blanketing his. He remembers her gloved fingers folded around his, and Vogel's helmet leaned on his, as they listened silently to each thump and thud against the hull. Mark pressed his shoulder into Chris's, too, and Chris still doesn't know what helped more, being able to be there for Mark to touch and remind himself he wasn't alone, or feeling Mark alive and beside him, with them, no longer dead or lost.

The Hermes shivered under the volley of impacts, or at least that's how it felt to Chris, delicate and human at the core of its machinery. He clung to his crewmates, to Alex and Beth and Mark and Lewis's steady voice as she reported the storm's progress to CAPCOM. Each hollow thud and thunk vibrated through the hull, down to their central chamber, into all of their bones as they waited it out, somberly silent except for Lewis's comments and CAPCOM's crackled advisories.

Seventy-two minutes after the alarm sounded, fifty-seven after the first strike, the last impact pinged against the hull, but it wasn't for another twelve long minutes, holding Beth's gloved fingers wrapped in his, before Chris heard their commander give the all clear.

Which meant the hard part was about to start. Chris thought he knew, as Rick and Lewis discussed having a look outside, as Beth slipped her hand away from his and he checked his suit's reserves, what was up next. An EVA, a damage assessment, maybe a few spot patches while they planned the systematic repair schedule. He'd just thought of an amusing way to ask Beth if the meteorite storm might've knocked some of the tarnish off the vanes, when he heard Mark's voice.

Mark was saying, "Should I grab a toolkit now or after we make a list." Mark was volunteering to join the EVA.

Chris groans softly into the mattress, but fortunately Beth doesn't stir. He remembers spinning around so fast he nearly over-rotated, hooking two gloved fingers over a handhold as he glared at Mark. He remembers, twenty-one days ago, pulling Mark out of the ragged MAV, glancing in through his faceplate to take in his wide-eyed gaunt face and pushing all concern away for later under the necessity of getting back to the ship.

He remembers glancing at the shadowed hollow under Mark's cheekbone until Mark's eyes flashed, the way Mark tilted up his chin and challenged, "What?"

"I'm not sure that'a a good idea," Chris said, mildly, in the voice he'd perfected over a decade of medical training. Mark's still sleeping ten hours a night with midday naps, he's still on half-duty for experiments and chores, and Chris was more than ready to bring all of that up.

"Helping fix our ship? Yeah, that's a terrible idea." Mark glared like Chris wasn't trying to take care of him. "Sitting on my ass in here would be so much better."

There wasn't time for a fight, Chris opened his mouth to pull rank and send Mark to go rest, doctor's orders, but Lewis cut in between them with a cool, "Gentlemen."

They turned to her. She looked at Mark, who piped down for once, but Chris couldn't see what was on Mark's face as he watched Lewis's cool eyes evaluate him as well. She looked at him, and he couldn't start babbling the obvious, he just looked back, willing her to make Mark stand down.

Instead she nodded. "We could use another set of hands," she said, and Mark huffed in triumph, the asshole. "Vogel went out yesterday and I need Johanssen on the bridge. Beck, Watney, you're with me and Martinez."

"Yay, I get to play outside!" Mark said. Of course.

"Eyes up, Watney," Lewis answered as she spun towards the ladder. "I can mute your suit mike from here."

His ears hot, Chris didn't bother saying anything, just followed Mark up the ladder as he watched his day really start to suck. Here and now, warm in his bed with Beth draped across him, he tries not to remember how pissed off Mark still is at him. At least he's exhausted. It's not that hard to make himself stop thinking long enough to slide all the way into sleep.

^ * ^

He dreams about it, of course. It's a form of processing. He dreams about their EVA, cataloguing the dings in the hull, the cracked solar panels and bent fins, ignoring Mark and Rick's joking chatter the whole time. Then Rick's tether got tangled and flipped him around for ten crazy seconds until they could catch him, so Chris had to take him inside, leaving Mark outside with Lewis, Beth had to go out too and Chris didn't get to see her first, not even for a second.

"I'm sorry, man," Rick said while Chris was doing the concussion check. "I know you wanted to keep an eye on your boyfriend."

Chris grimaces in his sleep. He grimaces in his remembering dream. He said something professional about taking care of his crew, and Rick just smirked and said how Chris's girlfriend could look after his boyfriend, and now Chris dreams of another meteorite swarm, a gravel storm, sweeping them both away.

No, Beth isn't swept away. He's holding onto her, she's soft and warm in his arms. It's Mark who tumbles out of reach, a spear in his side and his limbs flailing limply as he vanishes into the howling gray storm and Chris shudders in the battering of debris-choked wind. Mark's the one they lost, and Chris'll have to declare him dead all over again, leave him behind again --

Chris is sitting up, panting, his heart racing, Beth's sleek arms around his waist. "Chris?" she mutters, sleepy and confused and sweet, and his chest aches.

"Sorry," he murmurs, setting his still-shaking hand on her shoulder. "Shh, sorry, I'm okay."

Beth opens her eyes, glinting in the darkness, and looks up at him. "For fuck's sake," she says, smiles confusingly, and reaches up to grab his shoulder and pull herself up. "Bad dream?" Chris nods helplessly. "That dream?" He nods again. They've all had it, slightly varied with their different memories. He and Beth lost track long ago of the nights they comforted each other after it woke one or both of them. Now she kisses him softly, gently, and gives his shoulder a little push. "Go on."

"Uh, what?" is all Chris can stammer out, the storm fading from behind his eyes, Beth warm and real beside him.

"Go check on Mark," she orders, and flops down again. "And lemme sleep," as she closes her bright eyes.

Certainty breaks through confusion like light through the clouds back home, back on Earth. "Okay," Chris murmurs, "Yes, ma'am," to win her smile, and bends to kiss her cheek. "I'll be right--"

"Sleeeep," Beth insists, flattening her hand on Chris's flank, and he gets out of bed and goes.

^ * ^

Sixteen days ago Mark diagnosed the heating problem in his and Rick's old quarters. Nine days ago he finished fixing it to the best of their ability, with Beth's assistance and her "teeny tiny hands". Since then he's had Rick's old room; it's still hovering around 24C, but the extra warmth is good for him anyway.

All of which means that Mark sleeps without a shirt, and the way he's curled on his side with his back to the wall makes his scar all the more prominent, red and shiny on his space-pale skin. Chris stands beside Mark's bunk and looks him over, the gentle rise and fall of his tape-wrapped ribs, his sharp shoulder and shallowly curved bicep, his hand cupped beside his slack mouth. He's sound asleep, and healing, and alive. Chris keeps trying to make himself take a step back, to turn away now that he's checked on Mark, but he just keeps watching Mark's steady breathing until Mark's eyes open, one then both, and focus on him.

"Mission Log Day 709," Mark says while Chris stands there frozen in place. "Woke up to find myself under observation by Dr. Christopher Bossy Beck, which is in no way creepy, not at all."

"House call?" Chris parries pathetically, empty hands at his sides.

Mark's cheek creases as his mouth curls up, as he lifts an inviting hand. "Where's Bethy Jo?"

Chris rolls his eyes for the sake of form, but of course he takes Mark's hand. "Sent me to go check on you and told me to let her sleep."

"Aren't you obedient," Mark says, eyes crinkling. "Climb in already."

"Your ribs --" Chris starts.

Mark yanks on his hand and talks right over him. "You know how healed they are better than I do. I know that Beth sent me her favorite teddy bear and I'm not turning that down. C'mon."

"I'm not nearly that hairy," Chris gripes, climbing in. Mark just smirks wide and rolls over, hauling Chris's hand along as he tucks his back into Chris's front until he has Chris's arm wrapped around his middle and Chris's hand settled on his belly.

If Chris slid his hand down another few inches he'd have his arm tight all the way around Mark and his fingertips on the edge of the scar. He shouldn't want to so much, but... Mark didn't have that scar before. It reminds Chris that Mark's real, changed and real and alive.

"I thought about this sometimes," Mark mutters low, pressing his bare back to Chris's shirted front, his nape an inch from Chris's mouth. "How it felt lying beside you. I daydreamed about everybody. But I remembered you."

Chris slides his arm that much further around Mark's middle, tucking his thighs behind Mark's. They're pressed snugly now, all the way down. "I feel guilty sometimes," he admits into Mark's soft tufty hair. "Or greedy. Both, I guess. I was lucky enough to have had you, then to have Beth, and now I have you back."

"That why you're trying to baby me?" Mark's fingers tighten around Chris's wrist, not quite a squeeze. "I'm fine. If I wasn't fine we'd get to have Martinez watch us spoon."

"You've got weeks of recovery ahead," Crhis counters. "Months. You can be mad at me if you want, it's still true."

"I'm not mad," Mark says, too fast. He takes a deeper breath, another, Chris's arm shifting with each. "Okay, maybe I was a little mad. But I can't be mad at you after you had a nightmare about me."

Chris inhales, because he's supposed to be the one taking care here, and Mark sharply squeezes his wrist. "Okay," he mumbles, and Mark eases off, sliding his hand up Chris's arm, "Okay. It's just... " He declared Mark dead. He gave an eulogy for him. He cried in Beth's arms and told her about the wiseass engineer he met on a Space X trip, about his and Mark's private fling while they publicly competed and cooperated towards the Ares 3 mission, about what it meant to have Mark with him, even though, maybe because, as future crewmates they'd decided to cool things down. Chris told Beth about telling Mark about her, and she told him about Mark's ridiculous disarming charm from the first time she met him. They traded stories and comfort as they pulled closer and closer together, while they thought Mark was nothing but memories and photos and a frozen corpse on Mars.

But here Mark is, warm and solid and alive. And convalescing, Chris reminds himself, easing up his hold in turn, ready to let Mark drift off again.

Instead Mark says, "I saw this rock." Chris opens his eyes and watches Mark's cheek shift as he talks. "This big-ass rock, a little south of Watney Triangle. I had to make up some time that sol or I would've headed over to whack off a sample."

"A rock," Chris echoes, and listens to Mark chuckle, and smiles.

"Yeah, a big blue rock, sticking out of the red sand. And it had a cleft. I called it Beck Point."

Doubly warm all over, Chris laughs helplessly, and watches Mark's cheek draw up in a smile. "Thanks," he says, peels away and sits up long enough to pull his shirt off over his head and toss it at the chair. Mark's looking up at him when he turns back around, smiling kind of uncertainly, eyes wide and dark in the low light. "Thank you," Chris repeats, and leans down to kiss Mark gently, trying his best not to tease.

Mark wraps an arm around Chris's neck and shoulder, and Chris gives in and kisses him thoroughly, properly, for everything. For Beck Point, for encouraging him towards Beth, for surviving. He kisses Mark warmly, deeply, for a good long time.

When the kiss breaks Mark gives him a lopsided, sleepy-eyed grin, yawns ostentatiously, and rolls back towards the wall. Chris does not commend him on not biting off more than he can probably chew quite yet. He just snuggles in behind Mark and wraps his arm back over Mark's waist, fingertips brushing the scar's edge.

"Hey, thank you," Mark murmurs. "I'm here thanks to you. Everyone but specifically you, the guy who got me out of the MAV." Chris should reply but if he opens his mouth he's not sure what'll fall out, so he just pats Mark's belly, and Mark keeps going. "I mean, there's a lot of people I have to buy beers for. Lewis promised me one, so I guess we'll buy each other's. But you should get more than a beer. Beer and a blow job maybe?"

Mark glances over his shoulder as he says it, eyes twinkling, and instead of giving in and kissing him like they both want, Chris gently pushes his hand over Mark's face. "That sounds awesome, at a later date, maybe when you're back to full lung capacity."

Mark pouts against Chris's palm, half a kiss, and settles his head back on the pillow. Chris checks his steady pulse, because he can, slides his hand down Mark's broad shoulder and ropy bicep, and wraps his arm back across Mark's middle.

Mark wraps his arm over Chris's, takes a breath, and muses, "How would Beth like to be thanked?"

"You'll need medical clearance for that much fun," Chris informs him, drowsy enough to pull a little rank. "Go to sleep."

"Cockblock," Mark says fondly, and obeys, dropping off pretty quickly once he shuts up. Chris lies there, tucked up behind him, and spares a thought to marvel at his own astonishing luck before he dozes off too.

^ * ^

His arms around Mark, Chris dreams of Beth, or, no, that's really her, a soft brush of hair and lips across his face and a soft-skinned sinuous wiggle as she climbs in with them. By the time Chris gets an eye open she's wedged herself between Mark and the wall, and Mark sighs a pleased sleepy noise as he leans forward.

Chris watches Mark tuck his head under Beth's chin, smile pressed to her loose-shirted chest, and murmurs a quiet, "Hi?"

"Got cold," Beth answers, her eyes still closed, draping her leg across Mark and her foot on Chris's hip. "You didn't come back."

Chris opens the other eye. "My orders were to let you sleep."

Mark rumbles like a happy cat. Beth adorably scrunches up her nose. "I didn't mean 'don't come back'. Tomorrow night we're all sleeping in my room." She peers at Chris over Mark's head. "And you're paying me back. With your mouth."

Chris makes a kiss face at her. He likes using his mouth on her. He likes it a lot. "Mmm, woohoo," Mark murmurs, a little muffled. "What do I get to do?"

"Be my pillow," Beth announces, draping her arm over Mark's shoulder and her fingers over Chris's cheek.

"Ooh, kinky," Mark mumbles, dozing off again.

"It's a plan," Chris agrees, and kisses Beth's palm, watching her smile as she shuts her eyes. Snug and warm, he closes his too and lets himself drift, finally looking forward to the morning, and the night even more.