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211 days and ten more minutes

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Mark opens his eyes, and he can see a white, curved wall, and there’s the hum of machinery. The air is cold, and the mattress under him is... a mattress. He’s exhausted, and he’s alive, and he’s on fucking Hermes, and he’s pretty sure he can hear Beck snoring nearby. He knows that snore. He’s in…Johanssen’s room? That’s a photo of her folks duct taped to the wall, Mark remembers her doing that their first night on board. Next to it, now, is a photo of Beck’s sister. He reaches out and touches them both, wonderingly. It’s unreal, thinking of everyone back on earth, of people he could maybe get back to. He puts that thought away carefully for later. He turns his head. He’s in Johanssen’s room, but that’s Beck sitting against the far wall, sleeping sitting up, his legs stretched out in front of him.

Mark lies still, barely daring to breathe - that’s Chris, right fucking there, and he’s made it, he made it off Mars and all of this is a fucking miracle, and that thought is overwhelmingly huge, but he doesn’t have to be stuck in his own head anymore; he can inflict himself on other people now, wonder of wonders.

Mark reaches out to tweak Beck’s toe, and would have made it except — ow — ribs. He takes a cautious breath instead: “Hey.”

Beck gives the slightest of starts, and blinks awake. “How you doing?” Mark asks.

“Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to ask that?” Beck shoots back; he’s always been slightly quicker off the mark straight out of bed.

“Whatever.” Mark waves a careful hand in some semblance of dismissal. “Did you spend hours creepily watching me sleep?”

“Nah, we drew straws and took it in shifts.” Beck smiles brightly. “We’ve all been creepily watching you sleep.”

Mark rubs his hands over his face, scrubbing at his grin. “Thanks.”

“How are you doing?” Beck asks seriously. “You conked out pretty hard after that shower.”

Taking deliberate stock of his body is not something he’s let himself do in a long while. “I’m fine,” Mark says. “Like, the ribs suck, but everything else is minor.”

Beck blinks slowly at him, like he’s cataloging all of Mark’s bullshit into sections for dissection. But he doesn’t push it, and, for that, Mark’s grateful. Sitting up is excruciating, and plenty of distraction for anyone. Getting out of the bunk is a whole other slow, careful process.

“What time is it?” Mark asks when he’s relatively upright. “Meal time, right?’

“Close enough,” Beck says, and helps him the rest of his way to his feet. “You remember your way around, right? You want a reintroduction tour?” Beck’s grinning, but it doesn’t escape Mark’s notice that Beck does, in fact, keep a low-level running commentary — stowage, duty shifts, time logs (still early enough to be breakfast, winningly) — as they clamber in towards the rec room. Even only having half the concentration, the chatter helps on so many levels.

What Mark wants is the lowdown on Johanssen’s room, but frankly, food is way more important than gossip.

~*~

The array of options for breakfast are dizzying. He stares at the racks for a long while, and then side-eyes Beck. “You’re gonna tell me I have to have protein shakes, aren’t you?”

“Not quite,” Beck says. “You’ve been eating actual food the whole time, so you get to have actual food now. Or, well, meal packets.”

“They have flavor. They have colors and varying textures, and I’m calling that food.”

“Touche.” Beck says, grinning, and starts going through the foil packets. “How many potatoes were you eating in a hit?”

“One,” Mark says, holding up his hands to indicate size. Beck makes a face and starts pawing through the meal packets.

“You can have half a serve of an ‘eggs’, or two-thirds of an ‘oatmeal’...”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. You’ve got liberated POWs to thank for that particularly ugly piece of knowledge. Or, well, you can’t, they literally died of overeating. It’s called refeeding syndrome.”

“Shit,” Mark mutters. “Fine.” He takes his ‘oatmeal’, and starts the nuking process. The others start drifting in as he and Beck are haggling over exactly how much two-thirds is.

“Fuck you, fractions,” Mark’s muttering just as the Commander ambles in.

“Nice to see your denial of the established world order is as unchanged as ever, Watney,” she says. About the only thing different is she very carefully doesn’t bump him aside to get to the drawers. He’ll take it.

He sits down at the rec table, bumping Martinez’s elbow on his on his left and only half-accidentally kicking Johanssen under the table. She cheerfully retaliates. Ow. His shin hurts, and all of him aches, and he feels the under-the-skin crawling that might be a fever, but he gives exactly zero fucks.

He looks around the table, and they’re very carefully not waiting on ceremony - like they ever had, but that wasn’t the point - digging in before he can open his own packet, and pointedly carrying on conversations over the top of him as he just leans over his packet and breathes in the smell. Eighteen months ago, it was gross. Now, well, it’s not potatoes. That first mouthful is fucking heavenly.

The second, third and fourth mouthfuls are just as great. But somewhere around the middle of those two-thirds, his stomach starts churning. He swallows carefully. Sweat is starting to prickle uncomfortably across his skin. Fuck this. The rest of the crew is doing a reasonable job of watching him without looking at him, so he waves his spoon theatrically; if he’s talking, he doesn’t have to eat as much.

“Hey,” he says. “You all lied and said nice things at my funeral, right?”

The side conversations dry up, hard. Everyone slips from pretending not to look at him to actually not looking at him - Johanssen down at her lap, Beck at the wall - and it’s Vogel that turns to him.

“We contributed our eulogies to the ceremony,” Vogel says carefully. “And watched a recording of the proceedings. Dr. Shields said it would be an important part of the grieving process. It was … unpleasant.”

Ah. Mark thinks about his parents’ front row seat and really thinks about the crew and how they didn’t even have that, and winces. “Yeah, okay. Sorry.” He forces himself to swallow two more spoonfuls, because he can’t speak with his mouth full, even though the nausea is worse and he’s pretty sure he’s starting to shake. It had been Mark’s job on the team — just as much as his botany and his engineering — to fill these horrible silences, but for once he just… can’t.

“You about done? NASA’s going to want a billion page report on you; we may as well get started.” Beck’s offer is a kindness - he’s taking Mark’s container and offering him an out, and Mark offers a relieved, nearly not-forced smile in return.

~*~

Mark’s sweating hard enough that when Beck raises the stethoscope and tells him to raise his shirt, Mark just strips it off, pain be damned. It doesn’t actually make him feel any cooler, but the stethoscope feels amazing. As do Beck’s hands when he gently touches Mark’s neck.

“Were you misusing anything while you were down there?” Beck asks.

“My right hand?” Mark offers.

Beck snorts. He’s gently tilting Mark’s head, touching Mark’s lymph nodes.

“I’m asking as your doctor, you jerk.” Beck’s smiling, though.

“Vicodin,” Mark admits.

“Uh-huh,” Beck says, almost absently. “How long for? And how much?”

Mark swallows and grimaces. “Not that long after I ran out of ketchup. Which was, um. A while ago. And I’d take, like.” Mark shrugs, one-shouldered. “It got sort of bad, in the rover, near the end.” He’s not sure what Beck’s figured out on his own, but the scabbed-over pressure sores were sort of hard to miss. “I think I worked my way through almost all of the supplies on that one.”

Beck, to his credit, doesn’t blink, even though his fastidious ass must have known exactly how extensive their medical supplies had been.

“I figured,” Beck murmurs. “How much were you taking?”

“…Two HP pills a meal,” Mark says, eventually. Beck’s hands barely pause. Mark can all but hear the shrug in Beck’s voice. “The resupply has oversupplied us with everything, basically. I’ve got other painkillers I can feed the rest of the crew. We might have to wean you down a little, but not by much.”

“Thanks,” Mark whispers. Beck is already digging around in the wall cabinets.

“You can do proper rehab back on earth, dude. I’m not dealing with your withdrawing ass up here.”

“Technically, as my flight surgeon, you’re just delaying the inevitable.”

Beck hehs, and returns with two very familiar white pills.

Mark nods his thanks, and takes the bottle of water, too.

“You gonna tell Commander you’ve got a junkie on board?” Marks asks.

Beck shrugs. “If it becomes mission-critical, sure. But your portion of the mission for the foreseeable future is a very important role of sleeping a lot. Also eating a lot.”

Mark sighs and rolls his eyes. “I’m serious,” Beck says. “It’s called ‘starting on the road to recovery after physically and psychologically traumatic experiences’. I’ve read papers on it and everything.”

Mark snorts this time. “Were they as boring as the papers you brought with you to Mars?”

Beck doesn’t quite smile, but it’s a soft, rueful expression. “These ones were slightly more mission-critical.”

Oh.

“Yay,” Mark raises the water bottle in salute. “I get to be your pet project, right? Do I get a hamster wheel to run on?”

“Yup.” Beck doesn’t miss a beat. “As soon as you finish sleeping a lot, you get to add in exercising a lot, too. It’ll be great.”

“Oh, joy.” The vicodin is circling inside him, entirely psychologically at this point, Mark’s sure, and he doesn’t care. He lies back under Beck’s direction, lets Beck check his ribs again and press gently on his abdomen with cool, dry hands. It’s so nice to be touched again. So nice. He tries to catch Beck’s eye, wants to say something, even if it’s just inarticulate gratitude, but Beck isn’t looking up. Beck’s staring down at Mark's belly. It takes Mark a moment to realize what the big deal is.

“Was that the…” Beck’s hand is hovering near the antenna scar. It’s an unremarkable thing, a white dimple surrounded by haphazard white dots. Beck probes it gently with his fingertips.

“Yeah. I got all of it, I checked and everything.” Mark plasters on a grin, hoping for a snort in response, but Beck doesn’t look up. “God, don’t you get all maudlin on me, too.” He’s trying for brash, but he’s not actually sure he can deal if Beck falls apart on him.

“I called it.” Beck is staring at the scar like he’s trying to memorize it, or maybe will it out of existence. “I declared you dead, and got the Commander moving into the MAV. I gave up on you first.”

That stings, somehow; the platitudes that had seemed so reasonable and easy to offer the Commander dry up in Mark’s throat.

“MAV tips,” Mark says instead, spinning it out carefully in his head. “Maybe some of us die there, maybe some of us are horribly injured, maybe we all live through it just fine. Comms are still fucked, our life support is that much more rationed, we die one by one. Or we kill ourselves early; plenty of morphine for all of us.” Beck flinches, but he nods.

So many fucking what-ifs. “Did Martinez run the numbers? On the probabilities of me surviving the storm? On nothing going fatally wrong in the Hab, or in the rover, or with your goddamn catch?” Beck is pale.

“Not that he told us about, but...”

“Of course he did. He’s the numbers guy. Millions to fucking one that I die. Impossible fucking odds. But this way we all got to live, at least until right now. Maybe something still goes wrong with the Hermes, okay?” He takes a breath.

“You called it,” Mark says, deliberately. Beck flinches, his eyes reddened. “You called it, but you caught me, too. You want to go pack your bags on a guilt trip, you can. But you were willing to go untethered - don’t try and deny that one, I heard that over comms. I owe you. You know how many beers that is? You asshole.”

Beck’s laugh is shaky, but it’s there.

“Besides.” Mark eases himself upright, settling back into the comfortable verbal groove. “If nothing goes wrong with Hermes and we make it home, I’m going to be the rockstar of the astronaut world. My poster will outsell Johanssen’s. Were you seriously going to deny me that?” He jabs his bony finger into Beck’s chest. “Rock. Star.” Beck gets his arms up, and gets most of the way into crushing Mark in a bear hug before they both remember his ribs. Beck redirects at the last second, goes for crushing Mark’s shoulders instead, and Mark finds his face squished against Beck’s chest, and he doesn’t mind a damn bit.

“I missed you,” Beck whispers. “I missed you so fucking much.”

Mark gets his arms up and holds on tight. “Missed you, too.”

It’s a long time before Mark can bring himself to loosen his grip, but eventually they break apart, and Beck turns away, busying himself with counting already neatly arranged bandages and suture kits.

The vicodin is softening the world nicely at the edges. The relief is loosening his chest, and apparently his tongue.

“So,” he starts. “You and Johanssen are sharing family photos, by the looks…?”

Beck fumbles with a handful of bandage rolls. They can have this conversation, as long as they’re not looking too closely at each other. Beck’s sorting and resorting their first aid stocks. Mark can oblige, and looks down at his hands in his lap.

“Yeah,” Beck says. “Among other things.”

“Good,” Mark says immediately. “I’m glad.” He means it. “How did our resident nerd react to your gallant advances?”

“She was the one who made the move on me, actually. Just before the resupply run.”

Mark stops and blinks. “Seriously?”

“It was — call it a complicated time.” Beck makes a grimace that Mark, maddeningly, does not know how to interpret. “We were possibly all going to die, etcetera.”

“And you said hell yes, right?”

Beck nods. He’s starting to blush, adorably. “Thanks for the email. It helped stop me from freaking out.”

“Good,” he says. “I figured my odds of getting off that rock were, you know. Low. I didn’t want you moping.”

Beck snorts. “I don’t mope.”

“Sulk?” Mark offers. “Stew? Wallow?”

“Grieve,” Beck says, softly, sincerely, and breaks all the rules of the last ninety seconds, and looks up, making eye contact. His face is open, calm and bare, and oh. There was that calm, intent face that Mark had fallen in love with during college. Damnit. The years between them have only made Beck look even better. Damnit.

“Yeah,” Mark says. “Sorry.”

The adorable red is intensifying up Beck’s cheeks, and he ducks his head away.

Mark stares. “You’re blushing.”

Beck quirks his eyebrows and doesn’t even try to deny it. “I told her, about us. Past-us. Whatever.”

“That’s… well. Interesting.”

Beck coughs. “She was… she was interested, to be honest. I mean we were —.” Beck gestures vaguely, nonsensically. He’s clutching IV butterflies in his other hand. Mark takes mercy and offers his arm for the blood draw. They’ve got all the time in the world to figure this out.

~*~

“Hey, man.” Mark boosts himself gingerly into the chair next to Martinez. “I’m sorry about the funeral crack.”

Martinez offers his fist, and they bump lightly. “I already beat you to the punch with your email, so whatever.”

Mark goes still. “With my folks? Shit, dude.”

Martinez shrugs. “They wanted to know about their dead son,” he says, contemplatively. “So I explained you were a rude bastard who always left the airlock open, never bothered to clean up after himself, etcetera, etcetera...”

The grin that spreads across Mark’s face is slow and wide. He closes his eyes briefly.

“Thanks, man.”

“Hey, no big. Least we could do, at the time. I mean, bringing back their dead son alive was pretty good, too, but...”

“Thanks for that, too. That was some good fucking piloting you did.”

Martinez twists in his seat and grabs Mark in a tight, one armed hug. Mark grabs the back of Martinez’s shirt, no less awkward and just as sincerely. “Yeah, well,” Martinez says, lightly shoving him off after a moment. “Don’t make me do it again, and we’re even.”

“Deal,” Mark says, fervently.

~*~

It’s Johanssen who figures it out for them, as it turns out. She waylays him in the rec room after dinner (half of a “pasta marinara”)

“If you want to be alone tonight,” Johanssen says. “Chris can set you up in the med bay. But if you don’t…” She finds his hand in his lap and squeezes it. He doesn’t want her to let go, but chasing her hand feels far too needy.

He nods gratefully. “Thanks,” he says. “I’ll see.”

He starts out in the med bay, and he really does mean to stay there. Martinez shrugs apologetically and sympathetically about the heating problem and helps him move a box of gear into the corner of the room. He sets up on the bed, which is like the lap of luxury after the rover’s “bedroom”. But twenty minutes of tapping away at his laptop and he’s so tired he’s missing keys, even without the suit to get in the way. He should sleep -- Beck has all but ordered him to -- but he persists. Keeps his back straight when he notices himself slipping, and keeps typing, even though he knows he’s entering dirty data and he’s just going to have to re-check and re-type this all come morning. But if he goes to sleep... he might dream. Mars dreaming had been close to the surface, the sounds of the Hab, the beeps of the rover, everything so close to killing him. He doesn’t know what his dreams will be like back on Hermes. He can’t remember dreaming on the way out.

He’s terrified that if he goes to sleep now, he’s going to wake up back in the Hab. That first night had been different -- he’d been clean for the first time, and dead on his feet and too tired to think. Now he has all this time to think, and all of his thoughts are orbiting tighter and tighter around useless anxieties.

He doesn’t want to be alone. Even if Martinez figures out how to fix the heating problem, he cannot bear to be alone in his own damn room. He pushes his laptop off and swings to his feet — a fucking luxury, still, after so many sols in the rover — and heads for Beck and Johanssen’s room.

~*~

Their door is open, but he knocks anyway. Beck is on the bunk, intent on his laptop, and Johanssen is sitting on a neatly made second bed on the floor, surrounded by computer parts and screwing something together. She looks up at the knock, and beams at him. On reflection, Mark thinks, there hadn’t been a second mattress there when he’d woken up. She’s already gathering her things together, clearing space for him.

“Hey,” he says, and hopes he doesn’t look as excruciatingly awkward as he feels.

“You look exhausted,” Beck says. “Lie down before you fall over.” Beck’s not far wrong, actually. “If it sucks too much for your ribs, we can take the floor.” Mark shakes his head; he slept in a tiny space in the back of rover for months, a whole floor with proper padding is luxury, dammit. He eases down, and settles onto his back. His eyes fall closed, and he’s quite sure he’s never opening them again.

Johanssen chuckles. Whether it’s at Beck or at him, Mark’s too tired to care. He can hear them shifting around, murmuring, then someone’s tucking him in like he’s five, and there’s a dry kiss pressed to his temple. He mumbles something, and then he’s gone.

~*~

Waking up is slow and drifting. This time he’s looking up at the bunk, and he’s got two creepy watchers dozing above him.

“Wha-time ist?” Mark manages.

Beck barely opens his eyes. “Uh-uh. You’re asleep still. We didn’t want to wake you up, so... ” He snugs an arm closer around Johanssen. “Sleep good.”

Chuckling hurts, but it feels great.

~*~

Hunger wakes them all properly around lunch time, it turns out. Well, hunger for them, and the sweaty shakes for Mark. Beck passes him a dose without a word while Johanssen’s dressing. They’re late for lunch, and the other three are kicking back in the rec room, tucking in and watching the show while Beck cruelly divides Mark’s food choices into “medically acceptable portions”. He takes two-thirds of a “chicken curry” and keeps every glorious mouthful down. It’s only after he’s full, and properly caffeinated, that he realizes that Martinez is smirking, and that it’s at him - at them.

Mark’s half way to opening his mouth before he remembers the Commander is in the room, so he settles for eyerolling and a “dude, really?” skeptical eyebrow raise. Martinez’s grin broadens into positively smug. Mark mentally throws up his hands and leaves Martinez to it.

~*~

“Hey, Watney,” Johanssen calls. “You’ve got mail. A lot of it.”

Mark peers over her shoulder at the screen and blinks at the sheer number of files coming in. He rather suspects the crew gave up their data allowances for him, but when he glances around, they’re all doing approximations of poker faces. “Dumping it on your laptop now,” Johanssen says, tapping away. “Godspeed. You might need it.”

He grabs his laptop and holes up in a corner of the gym with his headphones. It’s a carefully curated collection of emails and music and videos, he knows, but it doesn’t matter. NASA’s sent him the triumphant headlines of his rescue -- not, he notes, the headlines and ledes of his resurrection. He suspects not all of those had been cheerful reading. There’s a hundred good-news stories from around the world and a thousand well wishings from around the world, too, including the president sitting at her desk in the Oval Office, beaming at him and wishing him a safe journey home. There’s ... there’s a three minute video file from his folks. He sits with it for a long time before he can bring himself to open it, and he’s crying even before his childhood living room comes into focus. His folks are crying, too.

He cannot bring himself to record a message back, not yet. He writes an email with shaking hands: I love you. I’m healing up well. The crew are taking excellent care of me. I can’t wait to see you. Love to everyone. I love you I love you I love you.

At some point, Johanssen quietly comes and sits with him, tucking herself against his uninjured side. “Parents, huh?” she offers. “Who’d have ’em?” He chuckles damply. She doesn’t say anything about his tears.

~*~

“You’re still on sleep, then eat, then sleep some more duty, for the record,” Beck says, sternly. Johanssen is grinning, though, so it can’t be all bad. “But,” she says. “Once you can start working exercise and psychologically meaningful tasks onto your list, we’ve got something you might want to look forward to. Maybe.”

He follows them “up” the ladder. Eighteen months planet-bound has been more than enough to reset his awe meter: it’s exhilarating to lift away from the ladder, even if he’s had to become infinitely better at steering with his lower body. He’s figured out where they’re going even before they float out of the Semicone-A ladder and past the reactor. Still...

“We figure you get to take all this over, now.” Johanssen says.

“Ah, hell,” he manages. The UV lights give everything a reddish hue, but he knows the green underneath it, and knows the sheer amount of work in the flowers, the lettuce, tomatoes...potatoes.

He reaches out and strokes the familiar foliage, more choked up than he wants to admit.

“Hey, there,” he whispers.

“We’re about to have strawberries,” Johanssen says, gently parting the leaves so he can see.

“You guys did an amazing job,” Mark says. “How many seeds did you plant upside down?”

“Hey!” Beck says. “Only, like... um. Too many. Stop laughing.”

“You were right,” Johanssen says. “Planting seeds in zero-G is a pain in the ass.” She presses a baggie of seeds into his palm. “We kept some from each cycle for you. Have fun with that.”

She hasn’t broken contact yet. He looks down at the seed packet and at her fingers, both so them so full of promise. Mark raises the packet to his lips and kisses it, and then kisses her fingers in wordless gratitude. She laughs and pushes him gently, carefully away, sending him on a slow spin towards Beck. Mark turns his face against Beck’s neck as they slowly crash into each other, and then they’re sliding their limbs together and holding on. They’ve never hugged in zero-G before, but they fit together just fine.

“Thanks,” he manages.

Beck strokes his back. “Our absolute pleasure.”

~*~

It’s two days later that he graduates to a full meal packet, and he celebrates with Vogel’s
“sausages”.

“They’re good, da?” Vogel is positively smirking at him.

“Okay,” Mark says around a mouthful. “These are phenomenal. I’m a convert.”

Beck puts him on an “eat whatever you want, whenever you want” diet — which is the sort of diet Mark can get behind. It’s when he’s browsing the packet stocks that he finds the secret stash in the bottom compartments. He opens the drawer and there’s a note in the Commander’s hand. “Emergency Rations Only”. He sifts through them, curiously: mostly dinners, quite a few lunches… It takes him a while to realize the connection - they’re all the meal packets that contain potato.

He grins to himself, wryly, and closes the drawer untouched.

~*~

“That’s not a dumbbell, that’s like, a toothpick. An exercise equipment for dolls.”

“Yeah? Drop and give me twenty bicep curls then.”

“You don’t drop for bicep curls, jeez.” But he can do exactly seven before Beck is gently catching the weight from Mark’s fatigued hand.

“Fuck,” Mark mutters.

“It’s cool,” Beck says. “Seven on your left side, then.” He manages it, just. The leg lifts are worse, and the less said about the treadmill stagger, the better.

Beck helps him back to their room, patting Mark’s back consolingly. “You’ve got muscle atrophy. It’s pretty normal under the circumstances. You just get to add “exercise with gradually increasing intensity” to your schedule, while maintaining sleeping a lot and eating a lot.” Beck is being far too chipper. Mark lets Beck drop him into bed, which only hurts in an entirely manageable way, for once.

“I hate you,” Mark mutters, and Beck chuckles, which isn’t helping Mark’s bitterness at all.

“I know,” Beck says. “We’ll wake you for dinner.”

He falls into sleep like he’s falling back into orbit -- an uncontrolled, wild descent in a spacesuit that’s shrieking at him, and he’s scrabbling to seal his visor, scrabbling across the Hab floor in a fatigued, adrenaline-filled panic, trying to find Lewis’s music, trying to find something, anything, to play over the speakers, and he punches play with a gloved finger and everything -- stops. His suit goes quiet, there’s no hiss of escaping air, no panicked alarms except his own wheezing gasps. He hits play again and again, but there’s nothing. He’d welcome a dust storm if only for the noise, but there’s just his own heartbeat booming in his ears. His plants are dead, he’s killed his plants, and he is the only living thing on the whole planet and the only thing he can hear is his heartbeat booming in his ears and his ears are ringing with the hideous, hideous silence.

“Mark,” say the speakers. “Mark?” It’s Johanssen’s voice, and he jerks around, thrashing awkwardly in the confines of the suit. He can’t see her. “Mark, it’s okay. You just gotta wake up.”

I don’t know how, he has time to think, and then he’s thrashing against their hands, coming up in a burst of pain and complete disorientation.

“It’s okay,” Beck’s saying, and it takes a moment for Mark to be able to focus on his face, and to land back into reality with a grimace. They help him lie back down, and rearrange his blankets for him.

“This sucks,” Mark mutters.

“Yeah,” Johanssen says.

“And it’s dumb,” he says. “I did all my freaking out when I was awake, on Mars. This is stupid.” Beck hums like he’s about to wander into some reasonable, balanced medical reasoning as to why Mark is currently curled up, shaking, still trying to breathe evenly.

“I have a theory,” Johanssen says, mildly. She’s playing with his hair, and that should be dumb, but he tilts his head into her hands anyway.

“When we got our numbers,” she says, and that’s enough to make Mark open an eye, at least. “You were all staring at me weird because I was so freaked out?”

“We weren’t looking at you that weird,” Beck says. “Well, maybe a little.”

She glares at him, but keeps stroking her fingers through Mark’s hair.

“I was staring at you a lot,” Mark volunteers, but for once joking isn’t helping. She smacks his shoulder, lightly, and that does help.

“I hate needles,” she says softly, and that’s enough for Mark to open both eyes and raise his head a little. “They hurt and what if I flinch and etcetera...” She waves a hand impatiently at herself.

“You got your shots just fine,” Beck says, and Mark can hear the surprise in Beck’s voice, too. “And your blood samples, and...”

“Yeah, and that’s my point. They were all mission-critical: getting up here, or staying alive up here, or indirectly making sure that no one d--” Her voice catches. Mark had watched all of them doing this at some point: remember that someone had died, to them, and then that he was un-dead, and... un-grieving was taking just as long to settle into the crew. He waves her on, gently. “Point is,” she rallies. “Point is, I’d do anything, a thousand vaccinations, and twice that blood draws, to get up here, right?”

They nod.

“Tattoos aren’t mission-critical,” she says quietly. “I love them, and I’m glad I got mine, but no one was going to die because I didn’t have a thirteen on my hip. I couldn’t wrangle that into mission-critical.”

“Down on Mars -- and correct me if I’m wrong here -- everything was mission-critical. You spend the whole time in ‘I gotta do this or I die.’”

Heh. “I dunno where Lewis’s disco music fits into that, but yeah.”

“Now it’s just… I mean, we’ve got the ship to maintain, obviously. And our experiments are important, but really it’s just biding our time until we can get back home and do whatever. And waiting sucks.”

Mark thinks of all the hours and hours of air days in the rover. “Yeah, waiting sucks,” he says fervently. “Although you both make so much better company than potato plants or Martian rocks.”

That startles a laugh out of her, and Mark’s just about okay enough to grin back at her.

~*~

The next night, Beck’s wedged in the second mattress into the limited floor space, making the entire floor a bed by the time Mark comes back from hours of fiddly, satisfying planting. Johanssen’s already claimed the empty bunk for her computer parts, and claimed which side of the bed she’s sleeping on, apparently. She looks up from her laptop and beams at him.

“If you like,” Beck says to him, gesturing to the three person bed made up on the floor, and it feels like one of those split-second life-changing moments, like hitting send on his NASA application. And like then he’s flooded with fear and hope and ohgodwant.

“I’m kinda cramping your style,” Mark says. “I mean, not that you have much, you nerds, but that’s not the point. I can go back to the med bay, if you two’d rather...”

Johanssen bursts out laughing. She shoves her laptop away and gets up on her knees, beckoning him down to their level. He obliges, mostly steadily, and she grabs his hand, entwining their fingers.

“You wanted a dating pool that wasn’t nerds, you sure picked the wrong profession,” she says, and she rests their foreheads together. “Besides, this nerd helped get your sorry ass off Mars.” She grins impishly, and he’s grateful for that grin, for someone who isn’t going around brittle, like guilt might crush them.

It’s the most natural thing in the world to lean in and press his lips to hers. It’s a thank you, a chaste little gesture, and he’s pulling back, half-breathing an apology. Beck makes an objection of his own, half a second before she does: “When did you get to be such a gentleman, Watney?”

He laughs, then winces. “When I got two cracked ribs. When…” He knows that languid, hungry look of Beck’s - hell, it’s been literal years but his body still stirs in anticipation. Johanssen, he’s much less sure of. Her smile is softening into bashful again, but she’s licking her lips like she’s tasting him still. He glances between the two of them.

“Is this a pity fuck?” He’s only half kidding. “I mean, if ever there was a guy who’s earned a pity fuck, it’s me, right? Eighteen months abandoned on Mars, alone and despon --.” Johanssen hits him with a pillow. Then she nestles it against his chest and snuggles against him, so it’s not all bad.

“No,” Beck says. “But you really should still be abstaining from vigorous activity, which means we’re doing all the work here.”

“Doctor’s orders?” Mark tries for levity, but his voice is embarrassingly unsteady. “Says he who punishes me in the gym.”

“Something like that.” Beck is doing a good impression of deadpan, but there’s a grin around his eyes. Mark fumbles at the drawstring of his sweatpants. Technically, he can get his own shirt off with minimal pain, but he lets Johanssen grab the hem anyway.

“Like we said,” Johanssen points out. “We get to do most of the work.” And she helps him ease his shirt over his head, and Beck tugs off Mark’s pants, and then his own.

Beck leans back against the side of the bunk, and pats the bed between his legs. “C’mon over here.” He settles in behind Mark, bracketing Mark's legs with his own, guiding Mark back against his chest.

Even just the skin-to-skin contact is driving him crazy. He tries to splay his legs, but Beck gets in first, hooking his ankles over Mark's, spreading their legs together.

"Good?" Beck murmurs near his ear.

"Wider," Mark whispers. and they maneuverer until he can feel the stretch in his inner thighs, and he's getting hard utterly untouched.

"Like this?" Beck knows exactly how to pin Mark's wrists together against Mark's chest, and Mark flexes his fingers, relishing the restraint.

"Ribs okay?" Beck asks, and ha, Mark doesn't care about his ribs, and damn well says so.

He can feel Beck getting hard, too, against his lower back. Mark tries to press back, to give Beck something.

"Uh-huh," Beck says softly. "We're doing all the work, remember? Or, well, I get to watch the show; Beth gets the honors tonight.”

Johanssen is smirking at them both.

"I'm not..." Mark swallows, tries to get moisture into his mouth. "I'm not going to last long, here." It's somewhere between a warning and a plea for mercy.

'I'll go slow, then," Johanssen says, and it sounds distinctly like a threat.

She leans in close over them both, her breasts brushing over their hands, then her lips brushing over Mark's ear:

"What do you want?"

Dear god, he can't think. He's already got Beck pressed up against him, warm and solid and holding him together. He wants to run his hands over her, but if Beck lets him go, he's going shatter. He flexes his hands again and squeezes his eyes closed.

"Touch me," he whispers. "Please, please, just..." She rests her hands on his shoulders, and strokes firmly down his arms and up his forearms to his pinned wrists. "...yes" he manages. She kisses his forehead, and he blindly turns his face up to hers for a kiss. Her hair brushes his face -- Beck’s loosened her hair ties, and is stroking her back with his free hand.

She sits back out of reach, and it’s awful, but then she runs her hands over each of Mark’s feet, rubbing her thumbs over his soles until he sighs with pleasure. She works her way up his calves to his knees, and presses a grinning kiss to Beck’s knee on the way. Mark’s thigh is partly blocked by Beck’s leg, but she regards the tense tendons, raises her hand, and rakes her short nails down Mark’s thigh. Mark cries out, his body trying to twist on him, but Beck holds him steady.

“Again,” Beck says, as Mark gasps: “Harder.”

She lays more scratches, leaving white lines that raise to pink, stinging welts, and leaving him whimpering and sweating and trying to thrust uselessly into air. She starts laying kisses, too, over the welts and up, up, until she’s all but brushing his cock with her cheek. She pauses, lips still pressed to his skin, and looks up at them both, interestedly. Mark is losing the ability to see, but he’s pretty sure she’s smirking.

“Lick him,” Beck suggests. “Like you....”

“You got him?” she asks. Beck tightens his hands and presses down more firmly with his legs.

“All yours.”

She licks from his base to the tip, and Mark keens between clenched teeth. She grins against his dick, and takes the head into her mouth, and then deeper, and Mark can’t hold back, he can’t --.

“It’s okay,” Beck’s murmuring. “We’ve got you, let go, we’ve got you.”

She hums around him, and he comes uncontrollably.

By the time Mark floats back down into his body, he’s on his side, miraculously under blankets, and they’re snuggling in either side of him. He tries to mumble...an apology, gratitude, something, but Beck silences him with a kiss, and he falls the rest of the way down into sleep.

~*~

“Commander...”

She looks up from her tablet, and arches an eyebrow at him. It’s an interested, curious expression, even though Mark’s interrupting the end of her personal time.

“How you doing, Watney?” She nods to the chair opposite her, but he shifts on his feet.

“I’m good.” He settles on. “I’m really good.”

There’s a hint of a smile at the corners of her mouth. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

He shifts on his feet again.

“You got something you need to say, Watney?”

“Maybe,” he says.

“Is it mission-critical?” She’s not blinked yet, he doesn’t think. It’s unsettling.

“Maybe,” he says.

“Can you keep it from becoming mission-critical?”

That depends on them is the answer that comes to mind, but if they’ve pulled off that many months of this...

“I think I can, ma’am.” He nods. “I can.”

The hint of a smile hasn’t moved her mouth much, but it’s up in her eyes now.

“In that case, I think we’re good.” She raises her tablet. “Aside from you interrupting my personal time.”

“Yes, ma’am, sorry, ma’am.” It’s the most formal he’s ever been with her. Martinez and fear must be finally rubbing off. He beats a hasty retreat, and allows himself a deep sigh of relief. It doesn’t hurt, which means there’s two things to celebrate.

They celebrate both things with considerable vigor.

~*~

The home stretch…

“Hey, guys...” There’s a tentative knock on the door, then a little louder. “Guys?” It’s Martinez.

Mark keeps his eyes closed, because there’s no urgency in that tone, and he’s sure they’re not due up for another ten minutes. Beck is pressed against Mark’s left side, Johanssen is curled against Mark’s right.

Beck stirs just enough to manage a: “Yeah?”

“We’ve made good time on the approach,” Martinez says with more confidence this time. “We’re gonna start getting some good views of Earth in the next few minutes.”

Earth. Home. It’s a surreal thought.

“Thanks,” Beck calls. “We’ll be out...um.”

Johanssen mumbles something distinctly disagreeable and snuggles closer against Mark’s side. “Five more minutes?” Mark mumbles. Beck tugs at their blankets, but it’s only to get himself deeper.

“Ten,” Beck counters, half asleep again. They drift back under together, snug in a warm press of limbs and breath.