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Binary System Blues

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1.
A dive bar on Mars. Goodnight Robicheaux came here for something other than a drink (rare), and he’s found it. He’s slouched against the bar’s back wall, double whiskey in hand. The establishment is low-lit enough it’s hard to really make out faces, but the bartender doesn’t need to see too well to determine Goodnight’s mark -- a Korean fugitive wanted on two planets for murder and robbery -- ain’t white, and, see, that’s the bartender’s fault, really, that he had to go and say something so crude instead of just serving the man a drink, right? And the barkeep’s second mistake, that’s that he thinks he can outdraw the man on the other side of the bar.

The handful of sensible men in the bar immediately duck and run for the exit. Goodnight is not among their numbers. No, Goodnight can’t stop watching, and that’s -- that’s no small thing. He ain’t got the stomach for blood that he used to, and half the time the sound of gunfire and the smell of gunpowder launches him straight into one of his fits, but the way this man fights -- Goodnight’s never seen anything like it. It doesn’t take five minutes for the fugitive to drop every man in the bar who hasn’t fled. Every man, that is, except Goodnight.

By the time he’s done, Goodnight can see, even in the low light, that the man’s knuckles are smeared in other men’s blood. Goodnight watches the man amble up to the bar with controlled and menacing grace, and the man helps himself to an abandoned drink.

Goodnight takes his hat off and walks slow, tries to project that he’s no threat. He doubts somewhat that this other man would deign to view him as a threat, of course, but, hey, he’s not looking to die tonight.

(He’s not sure what he’s looking for.)

“I beg your pardon,” he says, “but my name is Goodnight Robicheaux, and I’m lookin’ to make your acquaintance.”

The fugitive, his throat bobs as he knocks down his drink. His shirt against his throat is crisp white;. He doesn’t quite look Goodnight in the eyes, but he listens.

2.
The man tells Goodnight he goes by Billy now. Goodnight tells him his name, and Billy might recognize it or might not. Hard to read the man’s expressions. Goodnight talks him into leaving before the police arrive. They end up at another bar for awhile, then Goodnight’s memory fades. He probably somehow convinces Billy into returning with Goodnight to his rented room. He remembers offering Billy the bed, but the man insists on sleeping on the floor. Goodnight, not for the first time, passes out face down in a tailored suit, guns still in their holsters, not that he can do much with them, not that anyone needs to know that.

He wakes up to the harsh red Mars sun through the window and Billy reclining in the room’s one pathetic armchair. Goodnight isn’t sure if the other man’s slept. Billy says, glancing up from his data pad, “You’re really Goodnight Robicheaux.”

Goodnight considers the statement, does his best to sit up, collapses, pushes himself up more slowly, looks around the room, confirms he didn’t waylay his hat the previous night, realizes he fell asleep without locking up his guns, stares at Billy for a second and then staggers off to the room’s attached bathroom to throw up. When he goes to rinse his mouth out at the sink, he doesn’t recognize his face in the mirror.

“Yes,” he says from the bathroom. “Yes, that’s me, yessir.”

3.
Their first job together isn’t something Goodnight meant to set in motion. He’s hungover, doing his best to choke down coffee while still wearing yesterday’s suit, and Billy still kinda looks like he might choose to kill him. Billy also looks like he knows Goodnight wouldn’t be able to put up a fight. Goodnight explains he’s not a full-time cowboy or anything, but, you know, his spaceship’s been laid up -- bit of a run-in with a group of asteroid belt hustlers -- and she’s in the shop. And it’s not that he doesn’t have the money for repairs, no, he does, it’s just that he doesn’t have much more than what he needs to get the HMS Sarcophagus back in working order, and, you know, he’s flirted with bounty work, why not take a little time to check out who’s in the area who might be worth half a trip to the mechanic? And don’t you know, there’s a million Woolongs on someone’s head, someone who’s been reported to be hanging out on Mars recently.

Billy looks a little too pleased with the number for comfort. “Who else?” he asks.

“Huh?”

“Who else on Mars has a bounty on their head?”

Goodnight hands Billy his data pad, pulled up to display the active list for the quadrant.

“Why didn’t you shoot me?”

“I’m too hungover for this,” Goodnight protests.

“Maybe you can’t outdraw me, but you could have picked me off from the back of the bar no problem,” Billy says, flicking through the list, consummately unimpressed. “You’re the sniper with the most kills recorded during the Earth War. Why didn’t you shoot me?”

Goodnight gives up on the coffee. “I can’t shoot,” he snaps.

Billy says nothing in response.

“I get fits,” he says, “every time I shoot. Sometimes when I see other people do it.”

Billy’s eyebrows raise. “What kinda cowboy can’t shoot?”

Goodnight grits his teeth and looks away. “Half the time I just get ‘em real drunk,” he says. Billy laughs, so Goodnight keeps talking. “Petty bounties, they usually don’t have their guard up. Ain’t anybody really lookin’ for them too hard, ‘cept me. Need to grab a couple to make a stop worth it, but it works. How I’ve been keepin’ my ship runnin’. Only came after you ‘cause I’m kinda desperate.”

The unspoken follow-up question hangs in the air between them unaddressed -- why’s Goodnight doing this? He doesn’t know himself, why he’s sitting here, talking shop with a man whose bounty would cover his ship repairs handily.

“Here,” Billy says, turning the data pad towards Goodnight. “Pair of bank robbers, the Park brothers. Seven-fifty thousand Woolong each, 1.5 million together.”

“I don’t follow,” Goodnight says.

“You track them down. I take them down. You claim the bounty, we split it.”

“Huh,” Goodnight says.

“I didn’t realize someone reported I’m here. Need to leave soon. Need money for that.”

Goodnight considers it. Might take time to track them, but the one thing he’s got in spades is time. “It’s a deal,” he says.

They shake on it.

It takes them three days to track the brothers down, holed up in a rented shack outside a suburb. Goodnight rents a car, and Billy keeps his bandana over his face for the entire drive, completely silent. Once they get close, they approach on foot, Billy leading the way, gun already drawn. Goodnight doesn’t even bother touching his. There’s a shoot-out, but it’s fast -- the minute the older brother drops, the younger comes out with his hands up.

Goodnight is shaking too hard to cuff him, so Billy does it. They cuff the unconscious brother, too, and Billy’s the one to treat the wound, staunch the bleeding. Billy has to drive back. But by the time they reach the station, Goodnight’s drained his flask and feels better. He asks for the bounty in cash.

4.
After they turn the robbers in, Goodnight, draped over the only couch in the Sarcophagus’s deck-cum-common area, splits the stack of Woolongs in half and pockets one portion. He gestures, and Billy, who’d been previously leaned up against the bulwark, cautiously approaches to claim his share.

Goodnight props his feet up on the table, glancing up from under his hat to examine Billy’s guarded expression. Makes sense the other man is confused; Goodnight doesn’t usually make sense to most people, and this is a stranger in a situation stranger than even most Goodnight finds himself in.

“I’m headed to the outer belt after this,” Goodnight says casually. He tugs the brim of his hat down just a little. “You’re free to come with, should you be lookin’ for an excuse to haul outta the inner rim. You wanna stick around Mars for some reason, I can’t say I understand, but you let me know where you wanna be, I’ll get ya’ there.”

Billy says, “You are a very strange man.”

“You stayin’, then?”

Billy squats into a crouch so he can stare directly into Goodnight’s face. Billy is transparently gorgeous and looks confused. “You’re volunteering to harbor a fugitive.”

Goodnight shrugs luxuriously and closes his eyes. “Plannin’ to hit up all the new outposts on Jupiter’s moons. Maybe spend some time in the Belt if I got enough money. Ain’t anythin’ pressin’ on my plate these days. You got any plans, just lemme know.”

Silence. Goodnight grasps for his flask, as always tucked in the inside pocket of his suit jacket, and takes a long drink without really opening his eyes. Refilling it is always the first thing he does once he gets back to the ship. Rare it’s not empty by then.

He hears Billy walk outta the room rather than seeing it and dozes off after a while. The next morning, they leave.

5.
“Why did you name your ship the Sarcophagus?” Billy asks, watching Goodnight fuss over the control panel. They’re in open space now, a leisurely pace, no rush to hit the Belt astral gate, avoiding shipping traffic. Goodnight likes when it’s just his ship and black and the stars, nothing pressing on the radar. Calms his nerves a little bit.

“I don’t know. Seemed funny at the time,” Goodnight says.

6.
It’s nice to have somebody else aboard. Billy’s a better cook than Goodnight, and he doesn’t ask too many questions about the mornings Goodnight’s drunk himself too sick to eat. Goodnight doesn’t ask too many questions, period. The part of him that spent so much time in trenches knows better than to cross certain lines.

(But that part of him, the soldier, the hunted animal, that part of him isn’t afraid that Billy’ll slit his throat in the night and swoop off to the outer belt in the Sarcophagus, even though it would be easy, dead easy. He doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s some secret death wish buried deep inside him that he’s never bothered to excavate and hold up to the light, or maybe it’s faith, faith that Billy’s got no real reason to kill him. Who knows? Certainly not Goodnight Robicheaux. Goodnight Robicheaux doesn't know much of anything besides French and how to shoot.)

(And the thing is, Billly, he’s -- he’s something else. He draws like nobody in the galaxy. The longer he’s onboard, the more Goodnight can puzzle out what his expressions mean. He’s good with a gun like he was born with it and good with knives like he was born with ‘em in his hands, yeah, that’s true sure ‘nough. But when he’s not playing invincible, Billy’s generous with the way he signals confusion: Goodnight’ll say something, and Billy’ll tilt his head kinda exaggerated, and Goodnight always takes time time to cautiously, politely inquire where it is he lost his audience, his audience being Billy -- they work things out, that is, slowly but surely.)

7.
They stop to refuel at at dodgy station just before the Belt. Everything is fine until a gunfight breaks out, and for once it’s a gunfight that has nothing to do with Goodnight or Billy. But that doesn’t matter. Goodnight doesn’t know how he gets back to the Sarcophagus. He suspects it has something to do with Billy, but Goodnight has always kinda blacked out when it gets bad, the nervous fits, that is, and one thing he knows is this one musta been bad.

8.
Fragmented memory: Billy and Goodnight in the loading bay of the Sarcophagus, Billy mostly carrying Goodnight. On their way back from a bar. Goodnight doesn’t remember which bar or which planet. “I’d do anything to take it all back,” is what he tries to say. He’s drunk enough that he’s not sure if it comes out understandable.

“I know, Goody,” Billy says. “I know.”

Then blankness again. Goodnight wakes up on the couch, rather than in his own bed, and rushes to his bathroom to throw up.

9,
After a week of travel, Europa.

10.
Hard to talk about Earth. Hard to be inside the Asteroid Belt at all if he’s honest.

A nightmare: One of the last outposts on Earth, before the the final Astral Gate incident, after Goodnight had started to reckon maybe he was on the wrong side of this whole thing, before Goodnight determined yes, he absolutely was on the wrong side of this whole thing. Fire raining down from the sky at the same time fire erupted from the enemy side of the trenches -- Goodnight thought by God, this is not how war should work.

What really happened was: Goodnight was one of the last of his battalion, one of the last of the Earth rebels, to be rescued, rescued by a man named Sam Chisolm in a hijacked ship, not that that really mattered in the last days of Earth. What happens in the nightmare is: Goodnight burns up on the surface of humanity’s homeworld just like all the unlucky hold-outs who happened to be in the path of that last astral flare. And Goodnight’s seen men and women melt in the path of the sort of weapons no man should ever have wielded; it’s not hard for his subconscious to throw together a realistic nightmare.

Goodnight has always been a heavy sleeper, least if he goes to bed drunk. Usually he rests alright, even if his dreams are bad.

11.
“Goody. Goody.”

Goodnight tries to flail, but someone has his arms pinned down; the enemy, he assumes immediately, whoever that might be. He chokes trying to inhale. The air is too clean, too cold. Isn’t there a war going on?

“Goody,” the voice says, “can you hear me?”

He goes limp, vaguely recognizing there’s something wrong, something else going on. He can still smell sulfur and gunpowder. “We gotta get outta here,” he says, more reflexively than anything else. “We’re gonna burn alive here. We gotta get outta here.”

The voice sighs. Goodnight tries to sit up, but he can’t really move. Someone pinning his hips, someone pinning his wrists. “Goddamn,” he says, “let me go.”

“Goodnight,” Billy says wearily, “it’s 2083. You’re on your own ship, and we’re orbiting Europa.”

“We have to get outta here,” he says, weakly this time. His heart is pounding hard enough that might kill him if the astral flare doesn’t. If the enemy doesn’t get to him first. If....

“Breathe with me,” Billy says.

“We’ve gotta--”

“In,” Billy says.

Goodnight’s wrists are let go. He doesn’t know what to do with himself. Someone is grabbing his face.

“Out,” Billy says.

Goodnight exhales hard. Billy’s thumbs are rubbing Goodnight’s cheekbones, and he’s staring straight into Goodnight’s eyes with a sort of strange seriousness and calm.

“In,” Billy says. Then, “Out. Good. There you go. Breathe with me.”

Goodnight lets his eyes drift closed. The panic is starting to fade. He’s lying on cold steel, not earth. And Billy’s voice is reassuring. Grounding. “Jesus,” he says. “Goddamn.”

Billy laughs abruptly. “In.”

“Where am I?”

“Shh.” A moment. “Out.”

“Goddamn,” Goodnight says, more to himself than to Billy.

“You’re okay. You’re safe. It’s okay.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“If I let you up, are you gonna try and run or something?”

Goodnight considers the question. “Do I do that?”

“Yes.”

Goodnight opens his eyes again. The docking bay is dark, but the ambient light of emergency lights and starlight drifts in, and he realizes that Billy is straddling his hips, that he’s flat on his back on the floor between the couch and the modest table he usually eats dinner at. Musta fallen asleep on the couch. Billy, the fugitive he picked up on a whim and trusts with his life. Billy’s face is backlit, and Goodnight can’t quite see his expression, and his hair, usually half-pinned up in the back, is down. “Uh,” Goodnight says, aware suddenly of his head spinning, his mouth dry as cotton, “I reckon I’m good.”

Billy cautiously sits up on his knees, still vaguely straddling Goodnight’s hips. Goodnight pushes himself up on his elbows as Billy stands up, and Billy looks even more inscrutable from a distance.

“Sorry,” Goodnight says. His throat his dry, and his voice catches in his throat.

Billy doesn’t say anything, just picks his way through the docking bay and into the dark of the rest of the ship. Goodnight’s head spins. He manages to pull himself onto the sofa and thinks about home, from before that place was blown up. Before he helped destroy it.

12.
“You drink too much,” Billy complains one morning when they’re in orbit around Europa.

“Well, well, if you ain’t the first person to tell me that,” Goodnight drawls, sarcasm dripping from every syllable, but Billy doesn’t look impressed at all.

13.
Goodnight knows he’s running but doesn't know what he’s running from. Earth is a lost cause. He’s one of a fragment of surviving Rebel soldiers, and anybody who recognizes him recognizes him ‘cuz they respect him, even if they never were on the Rebel side, you know, don’t gotta agree with a man to acknowledge he’s good at killing. No one on his tail to make him pay; no one trying to exact revenge. Just guilt and shame and nightmares. And Goodnight knows you can’t outrun those, not really, but that doesn’t stop him from trying.

14.
They’re a good team, except for the part where half the time Goodnight blacks out in a traumatized panic once the guns come out. And the part where Goodnight drinks so much he’s continuously hungover. And the part where sometimes he has no idea why Billy sticks around and spends hours at a time mired in self-loathing.

But even given that, they make enough for fuel and repairs and food.

15.
One of the most distant outposts of the Outer Human Fringe, Yuri, a drunk white man insinuates he could draw faster than Billy, and Goodnight laughs so much he tastes bile.

Half the bar is silent by the time Goodnight regains his composure. He wipes tears out of his eyes with both palms and musters the wherewithal to say, “Billy, can you believe this?”

Billy, who has been drinking less than Goodnight, drily says, “Can I believe he thinks he is better than me? Yes. Can I believe he is better? No,” and Goodnight laughs again, but this time there’s other people laughing with him.

“Sounds like it’s time for an ol’ fashioned quickdraw contest,” someone says.

Goodnight bets all the cash he has on him on Billy beating any and all comers, and Billy beats any and all comers. It’s not top tier bounty hunting money, but it’s enough to keep the Sarcophagus topped up. And Goodnight sleeps easy that night, even through the haze of inebriation.

16.
“You drink less when we’re not hunting,” Billy says bluntly one day when they’re orbiting a mining outpost.

Goodnight, who’d been thumbing through on his data pad a copy of recent news, that is, kindly minding his own business, deliberately takes a long drink of the whiskey soda sitting in front of him.

Billy, on the other end of the sofa, polishing one of his perfect, impractical knives, snorts and doesn’t say anything further.

17.
Goodnight has to call in pretty much all the favors he’s owed and promise new ones to old friends, but Billy -- under his birth name, his real face -- drops off the active bounty list. If Billy knows about it, he doesn’t say anything.

18.
Temporarily flush with cash after Billy winning two fights, plus them incidentally hauling in a con artist, they drift towards Ganymede. Ganymede’s not exactly bustling, mostly occupied by grizzled people who spend their lives running the industrial fisheries, but there’s a place to fuel up, a Koreatown outpost where one afternoon Billy leaves Goodnight with a sympathetic bartender and instructions not to wander off. Goodnight wanders off, but Billy finds him easily.

It’s in a Ganymede Koreatown back alley that they split a cigarette for the first time. Billy’s been guiding them towards a restaurant, but once they’re somewhere secluded he turns on his heel to walk backwards, facing Goodnight, and pulls a hand-rolled cigarette from inside his vest. Goodnight, a little past tipsy, stumbles at the way Billy’s lighter lights up his face for a moment, then the way Billy tips his head back as he takes that first drag, then exhales smoke, still walking backwards. Goodnight maybe kinda stumbles to a halt as Billy flicks his bangs out of his face.

Billy wiggles at the cigarette at him as an offer.

“Tobacco?” Goodnight asks.

Billy stops walking and lets Goodnight catch up. He grins. “Marijuana and synthetic opiate. Good stuff.”

Goodnight takes the cigarette. Standing this close to Billy, it’s obvious he has a few inches on the other man, but it doesn’t really feel like it. Billy might be a little shorter, a little narrower, but he’s controlled and lithe. Makes Goodnight feel like an old man, what with his graying hair and sagging shoulders. He takes the cigarette. The smoke is earthier than he’s used to, and the first inhale makes him feel dizzy from anticipation. For a moment he feels real small: one man on a terraformed moon, a little drunk, hoping to get a little high. On the exhale, the feeling fades.

He and Billy finish the cigarette between them. By the time Billy is grinding the butt into the asphalt, Goodnight can feel the drug take hold, but it’s pleasant. He feels warm. The world seems like it’s muffled by distance.

Billy slings his arm over Goodnight’s shoulders as they make their way to the restaurant Billy is insisting they go to. Goodnight doesn’t know what to make of the intimacy of the gesture. The food is good, though Goodnight can’t pronounce anything on the menu, and they don’t serve alcohol, which feels personal. Goodnight sleeps easy.

19.
One afternoon -- it’s afternoon by the ship’s clock, at least, heaven knows it’s easy to lose track of time in space, least when you’re not in orbit -- Billy, smoking a cigarette and draped over the couch, watching Goodnight fuss with the ship’s computer, says, “We’ve been travelling together six months and you haven’t asked.”

Goodnight, who’d had his head buried mostly under the console, sits back on his heels. “Well, figured since you were so kind as to not ask me too many questions, it’d hardly be fair.”

“I’m wanted on both Earth and Venus and you don’t want to know.”

Goodnight stands and shrugs. “Figure you might want your privacy.”

Billy hums something noncommittal. He’s taking up the whole couch, so Goodnight sits on the low table instead, suddenly hyperaware of how close he is to the other man. Billy offers him the cigarette. He takes it, inhales, passes it back. There’s a couple minutes of silence, just the two of them and the hum of the ship. When the cigarette is close to dead, Billy waves when Goodnight tries to pass it back, so Goodnight finishes it, stubs the filter end into the ashtray when it’s done.

“‘Sides,” Goodnight says, “it ain’t like I’m wanted on Earth, but I did help destroy it.”

Billy laughs short and loud. Goodnight finds himself grinning wide in response, relaxing a little. “Not all of it,” Billy said.

“No, not all of it. Just most of it.”

Billy shifts against the couch further so his head is against the armrest. One of his legs knocks against Goodnight’s, and neither moves in response. Billy’s hair is down. It’s getting long, Goodnight thinks.

“My brother and I,” Billy says. He pauses, rolls his head from side to side. Goodnight hears his neck pop. “We were indentured day laborers on the northern pole. Flown in from the asteroid belt, right after the Astral Gate disaster. And they tell you, you know, you work to pay off the cost of the flight, then you also work to pay for your room and your food. And so on and so on. At first they say after a month, you will start earning money, but then they say you owe them more and more. Dangerous work, and you would never have enough money to leave the planet. Many people ran. There were guards, but not very good ones.”

Goodnight is rubbing his thumb over his knee. He wants to reach out that small distance and brush his fingers against Billy’s knee. His mouth is dry. He waits.

Billy closes his eyes. ”My brother, though, he ran, and they killed him. So I killed everyone in between me and one of their ships, and I left.”

Goodnight considers going for his flask and offering it to Billy, but the other man looks alright. His face is slack, relaxed, eyes still closed. Goodnight finds himself staring at the hard edge of Billy’s jaw, unable to look away. Billy’s eyes drift open, a little glazed, and Goodnight averts his eyes fast, feeling suddenly self-conscious. “Where’d you learn to shoot like that?” he blurts out, surprising himself.

“Different story,” Billy says lazily.

Goodnight clears his throat. “I bought the Sarcophagus just a year or two after the war ended,” he says, gesturing vaguely towards the ship. “Named her the Sarcophagus ‘cause my plan was to drink myself to death in her. This was gonna be my coffin.”

“Your plans change?” Billy asks evenly.

Goodnight rubs his thumb across his beard. “I think so.”

20.
They swing back to Europa, where Billy single-handedly tracks and captures some unlucky wanted soul, and it’s not much money, but it’s enough to keep Goodnight drinking, to keep them both smoking. It’s always Goodnight who turns the bounty in, no worth risking everything by sending Billy waltzing in there, regardless of what strings Goodnight mighta pulled. They meet back up in an empty bar. Goodnight takes his hat off and sits down, and Billy looks up from his data pad. The top two buttons of his shirt are undone, and his sleeves are rolled up. Goodnight reaches into his jacket to split the cash, but Billy shakes his head.

“No use waving money around in public when we’re going back to the same ship after this anyways,” he says. Goodnight wants to respond, but Billy keeps talking. “I was searching the active bounty list, trying to see if there’s anyone else in the neighborhood we should pay a visit to, and I noticed the strangest thing.”

Goodnight tugs at his collar. “And, uh, what’s that?”

“No familiar faces,” he says, squinting. “One in particular I expected to see. Nowhere on there. I have a feeling you might have something to do with that.”

Goodnight has the horrifying feeling his face is flushing. “Well,” he says, “I’m no miracle worker, but I mighta been able to persuade a couple old friends to bury your case. It’s...still on the books, but unless somebody’s lookin’ for it awful hard, they ain’t findin’ it.”

Goodnight’s seen Billy smile before -- he only acts all cryptic and straight-faced when he’s hustling -- but something about this smile seems different. Warmer, more private. “It’s the closest thing to a miracle I’ve ever experienced. More of one than I’m owed, too.”

“Nonsense,” Goodnight says, surprising himself with his sternness. He clears his throat and looks away. “A drink to celebrate another success?”

“I’ll take you up on that,” Billy says. It’s only after Goodnight’s all stood up and ambling to the bar that he hears Billy say, real quiet, “Thank you, Goody,” and he tries to ignore the way his stomach flips.

21.
Something changes after that. Goodnight doesn’t know how, but suddenly they’ve clicked together in a new way, slipped into stable orbit next to each other. Not like a planet and a sun, naw, ‘cause they’re equals, Goodnight thinks, but like binary stars, orbiting each other first and foremost. They share meals and cigarettes and sometimes coffee in the morning, when they’ve both not slept enough.

When Goodnight’s poorly or feels like a fit is coming on, he barely has to ask before Billy sticks a cigarette in his hand and lights it for him. When Billy’s half a heartbeat from ending up with a crowd of white men down his throat -- with guns aimed to kill -- Goodnight is there.

They look after each other best they can. Not that they’re both good at it, but they try, Lord, do they try.

22.
Before he knows it, it’s been a year. Sometimes, when Goodnight glances at Billy in the right light, it feels like it’s only been days, and he feels nervous and old and ecstatic all in one swoop. He tries not to think too hard about that. Tries not to think too hard about how he drinks less now. How he sleeps better. Tries not to think about how wrecked he’d be if Billy left, if something happened to him.

23.
Shoulda known not to get comfortable. Not to rely on the companionable shared silences. But it’s easy, so easy for Goodnight to relax around Billy, and with Billy he feels safe. If Goodnight panics, Billy will steady him; if a fight breaks out, Billy’s the quickest draw he’s ever met.

Goodnight hopes he helps Billy too somehow, somehow other than helping get his name off the bounty list. Hopes Billy’s not staying with him outta obligation for that one useful thing Goodnight’s managed to do for him. Hopes he eases Billy’s burden, too.

24.
A major asteroid, an anniversary Goodnight is trying hard not to remember. (He can’t believe it’s been five years.) But he and Billy end up at a bar where it’s clear everyone else is trying not to remember, too, where Goodnight feels eerily on edge, praying nobody recognizes him, and eventually Billy grabs his elbow and leans in to suggest maybe they better finish drinking on the ship. Goodnight can feel Billy’s breath on the outer shell of his ear and protests only briefly. Billy sweet-talks the bartender into selling them a bottled fifth of whiskey. They leave.

The walk back to the ship is long and cold. Goodnight barely feels it, but he’s got an arm slung over Billy’s shoulders to steady himself, and he can feel Billy shiver every once and awhile. “Do you want my jacket?” he asks the minute they leave the bar, but Billy shakes his head no, which Goodnight feels more than sees.

Five minutes into the walk to the outskirts of town where the Sarcophagus is, Goodnight stops walking, feels Billy kinda stumble beside him, and disentangles himself from Billy. He staggers balancing on his own two feet. When his head tips back, he sees the stars all arranged in unfamiliar formation. Everything spins, almost like he can feel the asteroid spinning. The terraformed atmosphere has thin air. His head feels light. Billy’s hand is at the small of his back, waiting, he can tell, for him to drunkenly tip over -- wouldn’t be the first time. But instead he focuses and slowly, slowly pushes his overcoat off his shoulders.

Billy catches it.

Goodnight says, “‘m too drunk to feel cold. Take it,” and Billy snorts at him. He passes Goodnight the whiskey, and he takes a long drink straight from the bottle as he watches Billy slip into his overcoat. It’s big and gray and a little broad on the shoulders for Billy, and something about the image, you know, Billy, his hair down, in his white shirt and blue vest, knives and guns in his belt at his waist, wearing over all of it Goodnight’s overcoat, all this in the harsh starlight -- it makes Goodnight reflexively take another swig.

Billy rolls his eyes and grabs the bottle. He takes a long drink, too, surprising Goodnight. Billy doesn’t drink much. But then he wraps his arm around Goodnight’s waist again, and Goodnight gets his arm around Billy’s shoulders, and they continue staggering towards the ship.

It’s a long walk, and they’re silent for the most of it. It occurs to Goodnight at one point that this is the closest he’s come to hugging Billy, and the embarrassment of the thought makes him trip -- or maybe it’s the embarrassment of the longing that comes in the wake of that thought that does him in. He tries not to think too hard about it. Billy catches him, of course. Billy always does. Yanks him up and laughs openly. They’re in unsettled country, now, close to the field where the Sarcophagus is touched down, and knowing they’re not far away fills Goodnight with a sudden dread. But hard to stay gloomy when Billy’s got his arm around him and is tugging him along towards the ship, now visible on the asteroid’s meager horizon.

It takes Goodnight a couple tries to get the scanner to read his handprint, mainly ‘cause he keeps overshooting and planting his palm half on the doorframe. He can Billy snort -- Billy, still close behind him, hand hovering at Goodnight’s shoulders just in case.

“Aw, shut up, Billy,” he says as the doors finally swing open.

“I didn’t say anything,” Billy says with barely restrained mirth.

“You didn’t have to.”

Billy laughs at him again; Goodnight can’t hardly care.

The door shuts closed behind them automatically. Billy lets him grab the bottle of whiskey which, Goodnight notices, is impressively close to half-empty. Goodnight takes another drink and watches Billy carefully hang Goodnight’s overcoat on the hook by the door. He straightens it and everything. Tugs at the sleeves, makes sure the collar is folded back into place properly. More care than Goodnight takes, really.

Billy turns back to Goodnight. The Sarcophagus has only got low lighting, her default setting for late night, so it’s hard to read Billy’s expression -- or at least Goodnight tells himself that’s why he’s staring openly at his friend.

Goodnight passes him the bottle. Billy takes a drink without looking away.

“You’re expecting nightmares tonight,” Billy says.

“Yeah,” Goodnight says.

Goodnight closes his eyes. His mind is beautifully blank, and the only things he feels are exhaustion and the distant nausea of profound drunkenness. And then a hand resting on his shoulder. Gently, he thinks. A gentle touch. It kind of breaks his heart, though he doesn’t know why. “Let’s get you to bed,” Billy says. Goodnight thinks he nods in response. He’s not sure.

They make it to Goodnight’s room somehow. Goodnight nearly runs into the doorframe. He hears Billy sigh, maybe, and the other man is catching him again because apparently he was falling over again, who knows why? Next thing Goodnight knows he’s sitting on the edge of his bed, and he’s opened his eyes to see Billy unlacing his shoes.

“Uh,” Goodnight says.

“Shh, Goody,” BIlly says.

“Okay,” Goodnight says.

Billy huffs a laugh, but not one of his short, biting ones, a different laugh, a new laugh. Aware of his level of stupor, Goodnight tries not to let his eyes drift closed and prays he remembers this image. Billy unlacing his shoes, removing both of them and leaving them by the bedpost. Billy standing up and shaking his head, saying, “I can’t believe you just pass out in these suits half the time.”

“Not half the time,” Goodnight protests.

“What, more often?”

Goodnight makes some vague noise of protest, and Billy laughs again, tugging Goodnight’s necktie out from under his vest and shirt. Goodnight can just barely feel Billy’s fingers undoing the buttons of his vest, then slipping his suit jacket off his shoulders, the vest too.

“Overcoat suits you better than me,” Goodnight says sleepily.

Billy ignores him. Goodnight feels Billy sit down next to him. The silence is weird and makes Goodnight’s stomach turn. He somehow makes his way to the attached washroom to relieve himself. Washing his hands, he’s too drunk to quite see his own face in the mirror.

When he stumbles back into his room, Billy is flopped on his back on Goodnight’s bed, arms sprawled out like the crucifixion. His eyes are closed. The lights are already dimmed, but Goodnight fumbles for the switch and turns them down to five percent, just the barest ambient light. He collapses into bed directly on top of one of Billy’s arms.

Billy grumbles in complaint but doesn’t move.

Goodnight wants to stay awake and savor the moment of having Billy Rocks in his bed if only ‘cause they’re both too drunk to walk right, but the exhaustion and alcohol are too much, and the last thing he’s aware of is Billy rolling onto his side to face Goodnight, a little bit closer even as he tugs away his trapped arm. Then, blackness.

25.
He wakes up with a fuzzy tongue but tucked under his bedding somehow. Alone, which of course, but it also feels wrong, and it takes him a moment to realize why. It feels like midmorning. He can tell someone slept on the other pillow. Billy, he thinks dizzily, and instinctively he grabs for the pillow to pull it to his chest. Something he’d feel horrified by were he more awake, less hungover. Now, though, he just falls back asleep.

26.
Usually by the time Goodnight wakes up, Billy’s already in the kitchen or their shared common area, reading or doing his fancy target practice or whatnot. Today, by the time Goodnight’s showered and made himself presentable, he collapses on the common area couch and thinks that the ship feels strangely empty. There’s a note, he realizes, on the table, which is in familiar handwriting: “Went into town on errands. Back soon.”

Reasonable, Goodnight thinks. But he wishes Billy’d waited. Goodnight’d gone with him. Stayed sober the whole time, even. But, hey, maybe something personal. Best not to pry. Man deserves his privacy.

27.
Something’s off when Billy gets back, but Goodnight doesn’t know what. He figures Billy’s good at giving him space when he’s moody and tries to do the same, but after the third hour of Billy throwing bullseyes with his knives on the target mounted on the wall, Goodnight kind of gives up and goes back to his room to finish off the fifth of whiskey they’d brought back from the bar. He flicks through the bounty list for a few minutes. By the time he wanders back out, Billy’s gone, presumably locked up in his room, doing whatever he does in there. Goodnight wants to knock on the door. He doesn’t.

28.
“I was thinkin’ it’s time to maybe move on,” Goodnight says the next day, lounging on the couch, idly shuffling cards, pretending there’s no tension in the air. “Dunno where. Keep skippin’ down the Belt, maybe head back towards Jupiter, I ain’t got plans.”

“We’re not far from the Tijuana biodome,” Billy says, a little too quickly. He’s in the attached kitchen, cooking something. “Haven’t been there in a while.”

“Me neither,” Goodnight says. He can tell something’s going wrong, but he doesn’t know what. It’s the same feeling he gets when he’s at the controls of the Sarcophagus and she shifts a little wrong and he’s scanning the panels desperately for some blinking light or klaxon to reveal whatever it is he shoulda known all along. Bad landing pads, left rear engine short on oil, back-up oxygen scrubber needs replacement. Goodnight’s waiting for the emergency to start.

29.
Halfway through the 16-hour journey to Tijuana, Goodnight is in his room, dressed in shirtsleeves, a little tipsy, when Billy knocks on his door.

Goodnight walks over to open it, Could yell for the ship to do it herself, but the Sarcophagus doesn’t always pick up vocal commands. Goodnight doesn’t mind so much. Likes the quiet. “Why, to what do I owe the pleasure?” he drawls at Billy, who’s still all dressed up in his vest and jacket.

Billy hands over a package wrapped in brown paper. “Your favorite strain,” he says uncomfortably. “That much should last you at least a couple months, as long as you’re sparing.”

The package is heavy and smells so familiar it makes his heart ache. “That’s awful kind of you,” he says, “but I gotta say, Billy, this feels an awful lot like a good-bye present or something of the sort.”

Something in Billy’s expression goes dead. “Get some sleep, Goodnight,” he says.

It’s not until the door closes that Goodnight realizes how bad Billy calling him by his full name feels. Jesus, he thinks, where’d I fuck up? Get too drunk one too many times? Stare too long at him? Make something too obvious? What’d I do?

Goodnight sleeps uneasily. He wakes in time to negotiate landing the Sarcophagus, even though the autopilot takes care of most of it. He avoids leaving the deck for a few long minutes, surveying the early dawn grayness of the biodome. When he forces himself back to the common area, Billy is standing there with his one bag, looking uncomfortable.

“It was a fine thing, travelling with you,” Goodnight says. “You’re welcome back, uh, absolutely whenever strikes your fancy.”

Billy nods stiffly. Goodnight goes to open the ship’s door for him. Shoulda programmed his handprint into the security system. Too late now.

Before Billy steps out into the dark, he grabs Goodnight by the back of the neck. A little stunned, he lets Billy pull their foreheads together. Their noses are brushing. “Take care of yourself. Don’t drink too much,” Billy says. “Go somewhere you won’t get into trouble. Not here.” And then he’s gone, and Goodnight stands there for a long minute, watching Billy walk away, before he can bring himself to close the door.

He doesn’t hand roll quite so well as Billy, but he does his best and smokes a cigarette fast and falls asleep on the couch.

30.
It’s a week before Goodnight’s outta food. He manages to leave the ship for the first time since touching down. The biodome sunlight makes him squint hard, so used to the dimness of the ship, and the entire walk into the town he’s closest to, nervousness creeps up his spine. He feels like Billy could be standing behind the next tree he passes, sleeping in someone’s abandoned car, and that the moment Goodnight stumbles on him, he’ll glare and say, “I thought I told you to leave,” and that’ll be it, Billy’ll be gone forever. But the only life he sees is a couple birds circling in the sky, and there’s nobody in the outskirts general store besides the shopkeeper, so Goodnight buys his staples (bread, butter, meat, liquor) and leaves.

31.
His dreams shift uneasily between beginnings of nightmares and snippets of Billy’s voice. In the middle of the night, he gets up. First he showers and gets off, not for the first time, on the image of Billy kneeling in front of him, imagining a version of that night but where Goodnight’s closer to sober and Billy’s nimble fingers go for his belt instead. He dresses. Then he crosses the ship barefoot to Billy’s room. And for the first time, he opens the door.

It looks pretty much like it did when Billy moved in: just the bed and dresser and mirror. Billy left his training sandbag. The sheets are still on the bed. Goodnight doesn’t have to think about it, just curls himself up in the middle of the mattress and remembers with a pang of betrayal exactly what Billy smells like. He falls asleep and doesn’t dream any better.

32.
The next day, he’s angry. This might have to do with how much he’s had to drink and when he started drinking, but this time when he walks into town he’s not nervous. He needs an answer. Needs to know.

It isn’t ‘til he’s been walking a good forty minutes that he wonders if Billy’s already skipped town or skipped the biodome completely, hitched a ride on an outbound ship to somewhere distant, somewhere Goodnight’d have to spend months to find. The sun’s starting to set by the time he hits the first bar. He tips double on a half-pour of whiskey and asks if the bartender’s seen an Asian man in a navy vest any time recently, one who mighta ended up in a fistfight or quickdraw contest. The bartender says maybe. Man who came through a few days ago, maybe Chinese, but he stayed quiet, just two drinks and then he left. Why’s he asking? You some kinda cowboy? He an outlaw? Goodnight says no, nothing like that, just an old friend he’s trying to track down, and he leaves.

Second bar, bartender shrugs and says too many people pass through for her to remember. Third bar, the same; fourth bar, bartender says there was a quickdraw contest two nights ago, but she doesn’t know who it took place between -- “If it doesn’t happen inside, not my business,” she says.

Fifth bar, it occurs to Goodnight it’s getting late. He’s hovering uncomfortably near sober. He orders a double at the sixth and final bar he thinks there might be in town. The bartender shrugs and says, “Lotta foreigners comin’ through,” like it’s possible to be foreign to a man-made biodome, but Goodnight holds his tongue and tips and leaves.

It’s a long walk back through town, then towards the ship. Goodnight wonders what he’ll do next: if he’ll search every bar on Tijuana by foot, if he’ll hit the next major asteroid, how long he’ll look before giving up. Eventually his thoughts fall silent. He concentrates on putting one foot in front of the other. There’s the beginning of a blister on one heel. Maybe he’ll sleep in Billy’s room again tonight. He wonders how long it’ll be before Billy’s sheets smell more like him than Billy.

When he sees his ship, he sees smoke.

He pauses for a second, adjusts his hat and squints. The smoke dissipates. Then another puff of it, obvious against the black silhouette of the Sarcophagus.

It takes effort not to run.

Billy stays reclining against the ship, doesn’t get up to meet him halfway or anything. But as Goodnight gets closer, he maybe sees why: Billy’s got a black eye and blood dried around his nose, giveaway of a now-staunched nosebleed. At first, there’s relief and concern dueling inside him in equal measure, but then he gets close enough to see the bloodstain on Billy’s shirt and it’s just concern.

Goodnight helps Billy up. “Shoulda told you not to get in trouble,” he says. “How long you been waitin’, gettin’ blood on my ship?”

Billy grimaces and takes his cigarette from his mouth. “Long enough for blood to dry.”

Goodnight takes the cigarette and takes a drag, turning to exhale smoke away from Billy’s face. “Lemme get you cleaned up,” he says, handing the cigarette back.

Billy nods. There’s something guarded about his expression, but Goodnight’s not about to ask, not about to risk Billy bolting again.

Inside the ship, Billy sits down on the couch without having to be asked. He finishes his cigarette while Goodnight dredges up the medical supply kit he keeps in the kitchen. Goodness knows they’ve had use enough of it between the two of them.

He sits on the low table, in between the wide V of Billy’s sprawled-out legs, and, finally close up, holding still, he can see all the physical injuries of God knows how many fistfights. He dabs at the crusted blood on Billy’s brow with a sanitizing wipe. Billy winces but doesn’t say anything, dead cigarette butt still dangling from his lower lip. Goodnight takes it and drops it in the ashtray, then wipes away the blood crusted below his nose. “Should ice this,” Goodnight murmurs, examining Billy’s black eye but not touching it. Billy doesn’t respond.

When he tugs at the bloody fabric above Billy’s ribs, he only barely flinches.

“Need to take a look at this,” Goodnight says. “Sorry.”

Billy shrugs vaguely.

Goodnight lets the fingers of his right hand rest at Billy’s top button for a moment. Billy doesn’t pull away. Goodnight clenches his jaw and starts unfastening Billy’s shirt, then his vest, and carefully peels the fabric away from the wound.

“Didn’t expect you to still be here,” Billy says. “Then wasn’t sure if you were coming back to the ship.”

It’s a shallow wound, if broad, probably a lucky dodge away from a gunshot, the bullet grazing his ribs. Goodnight does his best to clean the edges, vaguely glad it’s already started scabbing over. “How’d this happen?” he asks.

“Why didn’t you leave?”

Goodnight is sure his face is flushing, but he’s still got his hat on, is hunched over Billy’s wound. He does his best to tape a bandage over it without too much pressure. Billy’s a good sport, only hisses in a gasp once.

“I told you to leave,” Billy says as Goodnight sits back to examine his handiwork. Billy’s left eye still seems sunken by the bruise, and his nose is starting to darken, but he looks a little better.

Goodnight has to look away from the portion of chest revealed by Billy’s open shirt. “Couldn’t bring myself to leave quite yet.” He shrugs and starts to stand up, but then Billy leans forward, grabs one of Goodnight’s knees, and Goodnight freezes.

“I told you to leave,” Billy repeats.

“Then why’d you come back?” Goodnight manages to say. His voice sounds hoarse even to his own ears, and he’s trying desperately to look anywhere besides at Billy. “If you wanted me to leave and thought I’d leave, why’d you come back?”

Nothing but the sound of the both of them breathing, trying not to look at each other, Billy’s hand still awkwardly on Goodnight’s knee.

“What’d you go and leave me for?” Goodnight asks. It comes out in a whisper.

Billy leans forward off the couch. This close, Goodnight can see the burst blood vessels in his eyes, and he can’t look away. Billy’s hands both go to Goodnight’s collar, and then Billy is yanking him closer, and their mouths collide. It’s a brutal, needy kiss that leaves Goodnight absolutely speechless. Billy is still holding onto his collar when he pulls back to stare Goodnight dead in the eyes. “Why’d you stay, Goody?” Billy asks. His voice, for the first time that Goodnight can remember, is shaking.

“I think we got similar reasons,” he whispers.

Billy yanks at his collar and growls something Goodnight can’t quite make out; all he knows is he’s tumbling forward onto Billy’s lap, trying to avoid Billy’s injured side. He straddles Billy’s legs and leans in to kiss him again, gently this time. Billy’s knocked his hat off, has his hands in Goodnight’s hair, and Goodnight is so full of relief and awe he feels dizzy. When he pulls away to catch his breath, Billy nips at his throat, and Goodnight has to fight hard not to buck his hips into Billy’s. “Your side,” he mumbles.

“Don’t care,” Billy says, kissing his way down to Goodnight’s collar. He tugs at Goodnight’s necktie. “Too many layers.”

Goodnight nuzzles at Billy’s hair and goes in for another kiss. “Please come sleep next to me,” he says. He’s been bracing himself against the back of the couch with both hands, but he leans back a little, presses one hand to Billy’s chest. He can feel the other man’s heart pounding, soft skin, the hard contour of muscle, then the edges of Billy’s bandage. He strokes the skin just above the bandage, a little terrified he’s just crossed a line, that Billy wants him but not like that.

“That all we’ll be doing, sleeping?” Billy asks.

Goodnight has to duck his eyes away from the way Billy is staring at him for a moment -- pure focus and heat. “Well,” Goodnight says, “I was thinkin’ I’d leave that up to you.”

Billy rolls his eyes and pushes Goodnight off his lap. “Lead the way,” he teases.

It’s strange, walking side-by-side with Billy again after a week, a week that felt much, much longer, and it’s even stranger having Billy’s hand on his back so possessively. He’s used to the small, polite touches they’d afforded each other until Goodnight was too drunk to stand, in which case Billy’d never been shy about hauling him around, but this, it’s -- it’s different.

In Goodnight’s room, Billy discards his shirt and gets started unfastening Goodnight’s all while backing him towards his own bed; when Goodnight’s calves collide with his bed Billy pushes him down and crawls over him. Goodnight closes his eyes as Billy tears his necktie off, then kisses the revealed dip of his throat. “Thought the whole point of this was you holdin’ more still,” he manages.

Billy makes a noncommittal noise. When he lets Goodnight sit up to finish taking his shirt off, they both stare at each other for a moment. Billy has two broad stab scars on the left side of his chest and worse up his forearms. Goodnight huffs a laugh when Billy traces the scars covering Goodnight’s right shoulder and whistles.

“Last battle?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Goodnight says. And then gently, firmly he pulls Billy in for a kiss, then pushes him down on the pillows. No use reopening a wound, after all. Nothing to do with enjoying the way Billy goes pliant underneath him at all.

“I can’t believe you didn’t leave,” Billy says as Goodnight nips his earlobe.

“I couldn’t bring myself to,” Goodnight confesses into the junction between Billy’s neck and shoulder, too embarrassed to look up. “Thought about it. Couldn’t. Was out lookin’ for you in every bar I could find when you stopped by. Glad you waited.”

Billy is running one hand idly up and down Goodnight’s spine, drawing circles on his lower back. “It was here, you know,” he says.

“Hmm?”

“I don’t know if you remember. You were drunk, and I carried you all the way back to your room.”

Goodnight stills. Billy noses at the top of Goodnight’s head. “Of course I remember,” Goodnight murmurs.

“Well, you had a lot to drink.”

He laughs a little. “True.”

“I slept next to you the whole night. You had nightmares. Bad ones,” Billy says into Goodnight’s hair. “I couldn’t even wake you up. But holding you seemed to help. And the whole time, I couldn’t stop wanting you.” His hand on Goodnight’s back stops moving, and Goodnight hears Billy swallow. Silence for a moment. “Felt wrong,” Billy finishes.

Goodnight kisses the side of his neck again. “Didn’t want to take advantage of a drunk old soldier, mon cher?” he teases.

Billy lazily swats at him. “Something like that.” Goodnight feels some of the tension in the other man’s shoulders ebb away. “That, and the feeling snuck up on me.”

“And you don’t like getting snuck up on.”

Billy corrects him, “I don’t get snuck up on.”

“‘cept by me, I guess,” Goodnight says, a little smugly.

“Shut up,” Billy says, and grabs his face to kiss him hard.

It’s probably mostly due to exhaustion, but afterwards, Goodnight sleeps like the dead. It feels like a good omen. He wakes up to Billy’s solid warm body behind him, one arm looped over Goodnight’s stomach. Goodnight rolls over to face the other man and tries not to grin too broadly at having Billy next to him. His black eye looks a little better.

Billy knocks their foreheads together. “Where to next?” he asks. “Tired of Tijuana. Can’t stop getting into fights.”

Goodnight chuckles. “I didn’t have anything particular in mind ‘sides following you,” he says.

He’d meant it as a joke, but he realizes after he’s said it that it was the truth, maybe a bit more revealing than he’d meant to be. Billy is quiet for a long moment, then kisses Goodnight’s forehead and pulls away quickly. “Wherever you go, I go,” he says hurriedly. Then, as if to clear the air of sentiment, “Let’s make breakfast.”

Goodnight doesn’t care where they go next. They could idle in deep space for a month for all he cares, just as long as Billy’s on board with him and doesn’t mind. He reaches for one of Billy’s hands and kisses it. “Good plan,” he says. He feels more rested than he has in years. His body aches from the previous night’s exertions, and he needs a shower. It might be the happiest he’s ever felt. “Good plan,” he says again.

“I know,” Billy says. “My plans that don’t involve leaving you and getting drunk in every bar in Tijuana are always good.”

Goodnight’s laugh is loud and startled. He has the strangest feeling things are going to be just fine.