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“You okay?” Lewis asks Beth as she pokes listlessly at the cobb salad she now regrets ordering.

Beth loves blue cheese, but her cousin Sylvia got pregnant a few years ago and would not shut up about soft cheeses and listeria, so every time Beth tries to fork a hunk of it and put it into her mouth, she feels the heavy aura of the disapproval of her mother.

“Who fucking knew space would be the easy part,” Beth groans, shoving the cheese violently onto her bread plate.

 

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ARES III CREW RETURNS HOME

WELCOME HOME, WATNEY

WATNEY BACK ON EARTH: CELEBRITIES REACT ON TWITTER!

--

 

The first few weeks back on earth are hard.

The false gravity on the centripetal floors of the Hermes provided only a weak replication of the real force of gravity, and they’d been gone slightly more than twice the length of the original mission. When they land, the first week is spent with the medical team to assess the effects of the prolonged zero-gravity and radiation on their bodies.

(It is so strange, feeling the hard pull of gravity anchoring her to the ground after being light for so long. Her bones ache for days as her joints remember the weight of her body. She finds herself missing it, that weightless feeling of space, being away from all the things on earth that drag her down.)

“Well,” Martinez quips after their first full day back on the ground, shoving squares of red jello into his mouth and then pointing his fork like a microphone at Watney, “now that we’ve broken the record for most continuous time spent in space, what are you gonna do next?”

Watney gets a squirrely look on his face, which has filled out nicely after months of proper food. “Probably break a few more records reaching out to Guinness about some of our extra curricular activities.” Watney follows up his dig with a waggle of his eyebrows at Chris, who rolls his eyes and pokes at his Chocolate pudding. “Then Disney World.”

Though there is light joking between the crew, mostly in the form of ridiculously veiled banter about space boners (because Mark is exactly fifteen years old), she knows that the crew has not revealed the escalation of her relationship with Chris. It is a contravention of the explicit rules regarding fraternization between crew members, and though they’ve committed worse crimes during their mission, it is a trespass that would normally be reported regardless.

Following NASA protocol, upon initial clearance by medical division, Lewis is required to give a full debrief of the mission first, followed by Martinez, and then in descending order of rank. By the time they get to Beth, the lowest ranking member of the crew, the interview panel’s questions focus primarily on her role in disabling the remote override functions of the Hermes software.

They don’t ask her a single question about the breach of protocol between her and Chris, which tells her that NASA either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know. In the midst of the media shitstorm that was Watney’s abandonment and then celebratory spin of his retrieval, NASA seems content on riding the lull of relatively positive media coverage of their success. Internally, no one wants to linger on the fact that the crew committed mutiny, nor do they want to dredge up new problems.

“They mostly wanted to know specifics about the crew’s mental state during the decision to pull the Rich Purnell maneuver and about Watney’s vitals and course of treatment after we picked him up,” Chris confirms to her after she finishes her own debrief and they finally let her rejoin the rest of their crew; containment protocols dictate mandatory isolation until debriefing is completed. “I don’t know if the rest didn’t say anything or if NASA just doesn’t care to investigate it, but they weren’t interested in our bunking arrangements for the last year.”

Even so, Beth and Chris are careful to maintain a healthy, but unsuspicious distance, trying to slip back to the way they’d been during mission training and the intial trip to Mars. She’d thought Chris was attractive the first time she met him nearly six years ago, a little more preppy than the kind of men she’d typically gone for, but undeniably charismatic. He was funny and charming, but until he’d wrapped his hand around her wrist to comfort her, their ship hurdling back to earth without Mark, she’d had no idea he was interested in her in the slightest.

Now, it feels nearly impossible to look at him without feeling the tug of an attraction that is no longer keeping her buoyed from the despair of bereavement or fear, but the result of something far more significant than that. Beth watches Chris talking with Dr. Juong, a friendly chat between two colleagues, and she has a sense memory of him sliding his hands up her thighs, of the dampness of his breath as he whispered shockingly sweet filth into her ear. The safety she’d felt in the cage of his arms with his hips pressing hard into hers.

She misses it.

But day after day, she goes to bed alone, down the hall from the bed that Chris currently occupies. She sits next to Martinez in the mess and laughs at Watney’s terrible jokes, wishing she was next to Chris, shoving an elbow into his side when he inevitably begins to throw barbs at Martinez and Watney as Vogel and Lewis sigh in frustration, the parents of an unruly crew. She misses the safety of that bubble they’d had on the ship, despite the danger, the times they had worried if they’d make it back home at all.

The only person they haven’t seemed to fool is Annie, who maintains a displeased, slightly stressed expression around the crew, but particularly when she catches Chris and Beth together. She squints at them like they are tiny nukes waiting to explode in her face, like a parent who has caught her child climbing out of their bedroom window at night.

“Don’t make my life hell,” she tells them without looking up from the message she’s typing on her phone, perfectly channeling the knowing voice of Beth’s mother.

 

--

IS IT THE REAL WATNEY? NASA WORRIES RESCUED ASTRONAUT IS REALLY AN ALIEN CLONE

EXCLUSIVE: RELEASE OF ARES III CREW DELAYED A WEEK

--

 

Shockingly, of all the crew members of Ares III, Chris turns out to be the most jaded by the experience, which is saying a lot considering Mark nearly starved to death, abandoned on a planet alone. While Martinez and Lewis are resigned to never flying again, to being expelled from NASA despite their success, Chris seems to revel in it, like it’s a passive way of telling NASA to go fuck themselves.

“He may look like Leave it to Beaver but he’s a little more Rebel Without a Cause on the downlow, hmm?” Watney says with a satisfied purr.

Chris puts in his resignation as soon as he’s fully cleared by medical and the crew is released. (There’s a boy that was never the dumpee, Martinez tells her over a game of gin that he’s losing badly.)

Though they are forgiven for their mutiny, NASA tends not to forget, and Mitch Henderson is the first casualty of the fallout from Ares III, announcing his retirement the day before Chris resigns from NASA. The crew is livid, particularly Lewis and Chris, who vocally express their displeasure to the highest ranking officials they can get to visit them.

“I got an offer,” Chris tells her after Mitch’s announcement, which none of them believe for a second is voluntary despite the protestations of NASA. He’s pulled her aside in one of the smaller common rooms that is empty save for them; it’s also one of the few with no security cameras in the vicinity. “Johns Hopkins.”

“Baltimore?” Beth asks, more than a little surprised.

They’ve all lived in Houston for the last few years, prepping for the Ares mission, though Beth still has a property in San Francisco that she’s been leasing out for the last five years, and had been living with Lewis in Houston before the mission. Chris sold his condo in New Haven shortly after signing on for Ares III and let the lease on his house in Houston lapse after they’d moved into the dormitories at NASA. Everything he owns is back in Hartford in a storage locker not far from his parent’s house.

“Yeah.” Chris is looking at her like she’s three seconds from bolting, a strange, nervous look on his face that sets off her own anxiety. “They had made an offer before I accepted Ares III, so I made a call a couple day ago. They still want me. Offered me a teaching position at the hospital that will let me also practice significantly, develop a program of my own.”

Beth’s chest tightens so sharply it’s hard to find the breath to speak. “You called them.”

“Yeah.”

Maybe this is Chris’s way of ending it. Maybe he’s giving her an unspoken ultimatum. But both of those things seem too incongruous with the man that Chris is. There is nothing about the way that he’s holding on to the edge of her sweater, the cotton wrapped right around his fingers, that is cold or threatening. She’s known men like that before, men who have expected to lead and her to follow, and Chris has never struck her as one of those.

“So you’re taking it,” she says, already knowing the answer.

If she’s fair, deep down, she knew they would eventually come to this place. Even if NASA doesn’t ask, they must tread carefully. There’s no way that Beth can follow him to Baltimore, not now, not without raising suspicions and causing a world of trouble, and the thought of being this close to him for months on end but not touching him feels like a deep cruelty. Perhaps him leaving is a kindness.

“I promised them a year,” Chris says. “They didn’t want me on contract, but I told them that I would try Baltimore for a year, then assess.” He uses the edge of her sweater to tug her in gently, their thighs bumping together. “I figure it’s close enough to Langley and a short flight to MIT. If you’re still leaning that way. Anything else… we could figure out.”

He tugs a bit on her sweater gently, urging her closer, and the tightness in her chest begins to slowly ease.

They’d had months to think about what they’d do once they got their feet back on the ground, though it hadn’t been a topic that she or Chris had explored in any great detail. She knew he was done with NASA, but she had spoken to him about possibly staying on with them, either at Johnson in Houston or Langley Research in Virginia. MIT, like Johns Hopkins for Chris, had been actively recruiting her for a teaching position at the time she accepted the invitation to be a last minute candidate for the Ares III mission. But NASA had always been the goal, the thing she had dreamed of as a kid, the thing she never thought she’d be able to do. The idea of giving it up, of trading the stars for a job at a desk or in front of a blackboard… she can’t do it.

“I think…” Beth says quietly, letting Chris run a finger over the back of her hand. “I think I want to stay.”

This is the test. Houston isn’t a couple hours by car. Houston is a four hour flight, it’s ties to a place that Beth knows Chris is feelings particularly sore on these days. It’s living in his past when he clearly wants to move forward. With Langley or JPL in Pasadena, they could pretend; Houston is different.

“Then stay,” Chris says, with a shrug. “We’ll figure it out.”

 

--

MELISSA LEWIS HONOURED AT THE WHITE HOUSE

WATCH NOW: ALEXANDER VOGEL RETURNS HOME TO A HERO’S WELCOME IN BERLIN

--

 

Chris heads out to stay with his mother for a few weeks before going on to Baltimore. His father is on the campaign trail, the popular senator from Connecticut already eyeing primary season next year, but his mother is staying at their New Haven compound.

(She’s dating a boy who has a compound. And not a survivalist one.)

Beth goes home to San Francisco. Though her place in The Mission is currently vacant, the last tenants moving out while she was headed back to Earth for the second time, she goes home to her parents’ place in Bernal Heights. Despite the fact she stopped living with her parents around the time she turned sixteen and left for MIT, they still keep her room in pristine condition for her visits home.

Chris calls her the first night.

“It’s strange being back here like this,” she says, looking up at the Vampire Weekend poster hanging above her bed. Her entire room is a mishmash of the strange evolution she went through as a teenager - from tomboy to rebellious to something a little in between. “I was weird fifteen year old, dude.”

Chris laughs. “My mother keeps asking me what I want her to make for dinner and if I need socks or pants while she’s out running errands like I’m twelve again. I think she’s got empty nest syndrome with Lily finally married off and living in Seattle. Thank god Sam’s giving her a grandkid in a couple months or I feel like she’d lock me in the basement to keep me from leaving,” he says seriously, though the affection is thick in his voice. Such a mama’s boy, Beth thinks.

“I was the only kid in this house. Mom had a breakdown when I got into MIT, but I think she and Dad ended up loving the freedom when I left. By the time I started my doctorate at Stanford, she was pretty chill about me moving back to California.” Beth laughs. “She was slightly less chill about my return from Mars, though.”

“I miss you,” Chris says suddenly, the longing in his voice a near visceral thing.

“I miss you too,” Beth says, a reflexive answer she realizes is not only entirely true but has the same amount of yearning as what she’d heard in his voice. She’s never really had this with a boy before, too busy with her nose in a book, a whiteboard full of equations in front of her, or a laptop under her fingers.

It scares the everloving shit out of her.

It had been easy earlier in her career to decide what was important to her, what took precedence. It had never been boys. Not her first boyfriend, a guy from her AP physics class who let her take a hit off his joint for the first time while they were necking in his parents’ Volvo. Not her last serious boyfriend, the one who bought a ring, but then unceremoniously dumped her when she told him she was moving to Houston to work for NASA.

Beth’s focus has always been the work. First into machines, into the binary code that made them hum. Then into the stars, the black of space and the red dust of Mars.

Now, she doesn’t know where to focus. She’s never had a time in her life when she didn’t have a goal to meet or a dream to strive for. It feels like being a rudderless ship, not having that stretch of her life mapped out in front of her.

They find out shortly after they are discharged that Martinez and Lewis will not face a court martial, that the extent of their mutiny was hidden from public consumption, and in the desire to see the matter closed, the Navy and Air Force will instead be issuing a formal, written reprimand that will sit in their official record, but will not enough to trigger a discharge, nor to officially bar them from space travel again.

Sure enough, NASA comes knocking when Beth puts out her feelers about remaining with the agency. They’ve caught some flack over Henderson and Chris’s departures, as well as Lewis and Martinez’s reprimands, so she thinks the timing is partially good luck and partially their realization that the environmental bug is larger and scarier than anticipated.

And, as Kapoor and Sanders tell her, they want to make sure no one like her can ever pull her stunt again.

“Basically, I want to make sure that no one like you can ever do what you did up there again,” Kapoor says, his mouth trapped in a perpetually stressed out frown. “No hacking the system, no jumping over code.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Beth says, pushing her luck. She may not be the most apt at interpersonal relationships, but she knows how to read when someone wants her, and NASA is not being coy about keeping her.

Kapoor pulls off his glasses as Sanders lets out out a beleaguered sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose.

The job offer is sent to Beth the next day: a three year contract in Houston fixing the environmental bug in the Ares IV system, and team lead on redeveloping the system for the Ares V mission.

“Take it,” Chris tells her over the phone. “If it’s what you want, take it. I told you we’d figure it out, and we will.”

“But it’s three years, and Houston isn’t exactly a stone’s throw from Baltimore.”

Chris makes a dismissive noise. “I’m only leasing a place here, and I told you Johns Hopkins was just a year if I wanted it to be. Houston has a few great hospitals if that’s the long-term plan.”

In her nervousness, Beth blurts out, “Don’t do that. Don’t…” Change your life because of me.

Given the silence on the line, the latter half of the sentence isn’t needed to get her meaning across. She regrets the words as soon as they leave her mouth.

“Beth.” The disappointment is heavy in his voice.

Recounting the story later over the phone with a friend, the guilt of Beth’s passive rejection of Chris hits her two-fold, but she can’t help listening to the part of her brain that reminds her of how understanding Jaime had been before he’d dumped her for taking the NASA job.

(Forget the fact that we’d have to move to Houston… you’d be gone for two years, Beth. Two years! Did you even think about that? I’m not some dog that you can leave behind to wait for you.)

Leave it to Maria to set her straight.

“Don’t throw this away,” Maria says, the line filled with the loud noise of one of her kids screaming down the hall. Maria is the strange mutant that has managed to balance having kids with a brilliant career in a highly technical field, a feat that few of the friends Beth had made at MIT had achieved. Maria had also offered Beth a job with her robotics company a number of times, but Beth hadn’t been keen on moving back to Silicon Valley. “Listen, I’ve known you for half my life, and you’ve spent the majority of that time trying to do incredible things. You’ve done them! Now it’s time to build yourself a life on Earth, babe.”

“But--”

“I know you, despite your attempts to be oh so mysterious and cryptic,” Maria continues, talking over Beth’s objection. “You’ve always done this with boys. It’s not an either/or equation, Beth; you can have a boyfriend and a career. You dated a couple shitheads that resented what you were capable of, but from the sounds of it, Chris isn’t one of them. He’s told you he’ll work around whatever you choose, so don’t throw that away, you idiot. You know how rare that is?”

One of Maria’s kids screams MAMA! in the background before the soothing, deep voice of her husband trickles over the line, soothing their child.

“Even Frank told me he’d divorce me if I took that job in Kentucky a couple years ago.” Maria takes a deep breath before continuing on, her Spanish accent coming out as her words fly at warp speed. “Which, in retrospect, was good because god, Kentucky, can you imagine? So stop trying to make every single piece of this fit perfectly all at the same time, because newsflash: it never does.”

She can practically hear the grin in Maria’s voice as she adds,”Besides, this one’s got a cute ass.”

 

--

MARTINEZ’S WIFE WALKS OUT: YOU CHOSE WATNEY OVER OUR MARRIAGE!

WATNEY BACK AT NASA? HERO OFFERED TOP TEACHING POST IN HOUSTON

--

 

Even with Maria’s intervention, Beth can admit that she does not handle the Chris situation particularly well. Relationships have never been her forte, even the ones that haven’t been long distance. Most of the girls Beth knew from school had it all figured out before they hit their twenties: how to balance, what to do, how to just be in a relationship. Moderation in this regard has never come easy to Beth, hating vulnerability and compromise in equal amounts.

Ambition and compromise rarely go hand in hand, and the majority of her life has been devoted to the former, ignoring the latter.

She’s so busy she forgets to call most of the nights she promises to. He calls and texts semi-regularly, mostly just small check-ins. He emails her photos of the plant his mother buys him and that he promptly kills by forgetting to water it, and she texts him photos of the pet rabbit that one of her team members asks her to babysit while she takes her family on vacation to Hawaii.

The kid named it Bruiser? Chris texts her at 2am, proving that his sleep regimen has not improved much earth-side.

Chris is the one to fly down to Houston every few weeks to spend a weekend in Beth’s bed. Ostensibly, it’s because it’s easier to sell Chris returning to Houston for lingering NASA business than Beth flying to Baltimore if they’re caught by the media. For some inexplicable reason, the press are still relentless about running stories on the Ares III crew despite the few months of near non-stop coverage, the features suddenly becoming less about the mission and more about them.

Watney still gets the worst of it, photographers camping outside of his house in Chicago most days to catch him when he leaves. They’re aggressive and rude, and sometimes they trample over his garden, which drives him absolutely nuts.

(I should call the cops on them, Watney says, but there’s this guy with a big sign that says TELL ME THE TRUTH ABOUT THE MARTIANS, MARK, and I’m kind of loving it, Watney tells her over the phone.)

“You could come down to Baltimore next time,” Chris says one night in bed, letting his warm hand wander over her bare back. He trips his fingers gently down her vertebrae until he gets to the swell of her ass, then drags them up slowly again. She’ll have to get up soon; they didn’t use a condom this time, and the mess between her thighs is cooling into something thoroughly uncomfortable. But every time she tries to push off him, he tightens his hold, and she can’t bring herself to break it.

She misses this. Being held. Back on Hermes, with the bunks as tiny as they were, most nights were spent bent into each other’s bodies, overlapping limbs and too much body heat. She didn’t know how much she needed it until she didn’t have it anymore.

(Bu she’d never tell Chris that. Never tell him that she found it hard to sleep at first without his thigh pressed between hers, without the rise and fall of his chest under her arm.)

“What possible excuse would I have for visiting Baltimore?” Beth asks cheekily.

“You mean besides my handsome face? Well, there is a miniature crime scene diorama exhibit at the Science Center.” Chris grins - the kind of half-smile that makes Beth near angry over how tight it makes her chest feel. “I also happen to have a really nice bed that you’ve never lain in. Nobody can catch us if I just keep you in it all weekend long.” It’s the kind of shit that Chris says that gets her going far more than any of the weird dirty talk that Jaime had been into.

“King size?”

He flips them over, nudging her legs apart until he can slip between them. Leaning down, he places a wet kiss on her breast, just above the nipple.

“Yep,” he says thickly, his eyes trained up at her face as he slides down her body.

 

--

ARES III LOVE STORY: ARE BECK AND JOHANSSEN AN ITEM?

CHRIS & BETH: DATE NIGHT IN HOUSTON

--

 

3 missed calls - Annie Montrose

Annie: call me asap.

Annie: you there?

 

4 missed calls - Chris Beck

Chris: Beth, call me now. Annie needs to issue a statement. Tmz has shots of us from the other night.

Chris: I’m sorry.

 

Watney: jesus, is that an appleby’s parking lot? do you need me to speak with him about how to treat a lady?1

Missed call - Watney

Watney: seriously. appleby’s.

Watney: it’s a good thing he’s pretty because otherwise he’d never get laid.

 

2 missed calls - Annie Montrose

Annie: WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT MAKING MY LIFE HELL?

 

“Yes, I heard the question, and my answer is the same as the last three times you’ve asked me, Robert. NASA does not comments on the private lives of its employees. I’d also like to add that Dr. Beck is a private citizen, no longer in our employ. It is and will always be the stance of the administration that we protect the privacy of our employees, and therefore we will not be commenting further on any other speculation in regards to Dr. Johanssen’s private life.”

 

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JOBECK WATCH: IS CHRIS BRINGING BETH HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS?

‘SHE HAS TROUBLE LETTING PEOPLE IN’: BETH’S FIRST BOYFRIEND GIVES US THE INSIDE SCOOP

--

 

The first week of coverage is enough to make Beth long for the solitude of space. She wakes one morning to find a dozen photographers waiting in parked cars outside of her house, screaming her name and questions about Chris at her as she jogs to her Prius, the coffee inside her travel mug sploshing dangerously against the sides until it seeps out, burning down over her hand.

A few go so far as to follow her during her commute to work, tailgating her all the way to the guard station on the Johnson Center grounds.

When a photographer is caught in her backyard, trying to take photos of her living room through the back windows, Sanders assigns some temporary security to her house. She doesn’t tell Chris, who is dealing with his own spotlight in Baltimore and clearly not enjoying it based on the cranky texts she gets periodically through her day.

They followed me into STARBUCKS. Not sure who the fuck wants to watch me order a black coffee, but sure okay.

Chris’s family has always been in the public eye, but she’s not sure if this further invasion is worse for him than it is for her. For Beth, it’s a strange but obnoxious novelty she’s sure will wear off. For Chris, it’s a creeping encroachment of the microscope he’s been under most of his life. His family is as close to American royalty as the US constitution allows; between politics, power, and vast wealth, Chris’s family has always been in the spotlight.

But the occasional story about the Yale graduate with a penchant for blondes and a sharp mind wasn’t this kind of spotlight.

Two weeks later, Sarah from SatCom texts her about the photos some enterprising paparazzi takes of Chris out to lunch with one of his work colleagues. It’s pretty obvious that they’re nothing more than friends, but TMZ posts them under the headline “DR. LOVE TAPS ANOTHER WORKPLACE ROMANCE?”, which pisses her off, but sends Chris straight over the edge given it’s paired with the news of Beth’s upgraded security which hits the net around the same time.

“She’s fucking married,” Chris hisses into the phone. “And you’ve got fucking creeps climbing over your back fence. I don’t even know why people care.”

The next day, Annie helps solve the blinding mystery that seems to stump Chris. “You’re both young, brilliant, attractive, and fucking each other. And he comes from old money and a serious political dynasty,” Annie says, peering at her phone. Something on it is annoying her, as per usual. “I swear, if my goddamn comms manager sends me another press release with Kapoor’s name spelled wrong, I am going to strap him to the next rocket headed to Mars.”

Beth plays with the label on the tea bag hanging out of her mug nervously. “Is this going to die down?”

Annie finally looks up. “Normally, I’d say yes, but the lifecycle of this thing seems to be immortal. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve got legitimate news organizations picking up that story about Mark having been experimented on by martians.” She throws up a hand, her face painted with disbelief. “Vogel seems to be the only one to have escaped this madness, so I’m really starting to think we all need to move to Germany. And that just doesn’t work for me. I don’t even like Oktoberfest, and sauerkraut makes me gassy.”

Even though they know it will fan the flames, Chris doesn’t cancel the ticket he had booked to come down to Houston for a long weekend later that month. Normally, she’d pick him up from the airport, but he tells her not to bother, that he’ll catch a taxi to her place while she’s at work, let himself in with the key she had made for him the last time he was in town.

(I lost them at BWI, he texts. No sign of them at IAH!)

When she gets home, the smell of something amazing hits her face, and she begins to salivate. Between the two of them, she is decidedly less domestic; Chris loves to cook, whereas her idea of cooking dinner usually involves breaking open a bag of semi-wilted asian salad. But god, she loves it when he cooks for her, and he seems to genuinely enjoy it, so she’s encouraged the habit as it usually ends with her well fed, lazing on the couch with him in a food coma.

“Hi,” Beth says, tilting her head back for the light peck he offers her as she walks in the door. “Oh wow, something smells good.”

“Thanks,” Chris says in greeting, reaching over to push the light cardigan off Beth’s shoulders and toss it on the back of the small couch in the living room. “Had to make a run to the store because you literally didn’t have a thing in your fridge that didn’t look like one of Watney’s lab experiments.”

“Come on, that’s an exaggeration.”

“I had to buy milk, Johanssen,” he scolds. “The shit you had was nearly a month past its best before date.”

“It was fine!” Beth protests in vain. She knows the state of her fridge; what isn’t take-out containers and a few pre-made salads is probably from the last time Chris visited her.

“It was another few days from being cheese, babe,” he says, letting the endearment roll off his tongue with a practiced ease.

“So what you’re saying is you found fresh cheese. I don’t see the problem here.”

He laughs, ducking down to kiss her, this time not a peck. As he pushes the kiss deeper, she feels the last few weeks sloughing off of her, her body relaxing into the memory of this, how easy it can between them when they are left blissfully alone.

Naturally, it does not last.

“My mother wants to know if you’re coming over for Thanksgiving,” Chris says as they eat, the small talk taking them only halfway through their meal. “Which is nice because other than her extending the invitation, she’s not talking to me.”

While Chris’s relationship with his father is a little strained - the kind of weird lack-of-affection cliche that seems to run deep in the rich, white families of the East Coast - she knows that Chris is exceedingly close to his mother, so the news is surprising. “What? Why?”

“I may not have told her about us, and she’s pissed she found out from CNN,” Chris says. The look on her face probably doesn’t hide the sting of his words as he stumbles over, “Oh god, no. Beth. Listen, I don’t tell her much about my private life or who I’m dating - I haven’t since I was twenty.”

If he thought that answer was any better, he is sadly mistaken. Her voice is monotone when she answers, “Okay.”

“Christ,” Chris sighs, reaching up to run his hand through his hair. “God, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s just… my mother has this thing where she absolutely does not know how to moderate expectations or pressure. The second I tell her about a girlfriend, it’s invite her over and can I have her number? and how long until you’re getting married and you will never get a fucking breath in again. I lost my first girlfriend at Yale because of her meddling, and given how you--”

He suddenly bites his tongue, and the look on his face is squirrely enough that Beth sure as hell isn’t letting this go.

“Given how I…”

“Listen, I get that you’re not about commitments at this point, and I’m trying to respect that.”

The rational part of Beth brain knows that this isn’t unfair, that she’s given him plenty of evidence to support this belief, but the stubborn part of her bristles. It wanders too far into accusatory for her tastes, especially considering Chris has made no overt allusions to commitment in the past. “I’m sorry, what gave you that impression?”

Chris takes a deep, frustrated sigh, and she’s learned over the past few years exactly what that sigh means. Of the two of them, Chris is more deliberate with his stubbornness, but it’s just as feisty as her own when it comes out. “Oh, I don’t know, the fact that you never come to Baltimore, that the second I talk about what do at the end of the year, you back out of the conversation like I’ve got a ring in my hand and an apron to put on you.”

Suddenly, she’s not all that interested in eating the rest of her pot roast. She pushes back from the table and crosses her arms over her chest. “That’s not fair. We were trying to keep a low profile.”

“It’s Baltimore, not LA, Beth. Come on.” He abandons his own plate as well, but drains the rest of his pinot like a parched man. “I’m not trying to fight here, but at a certain point, you need to make a choice. I’m in. I’m waiting for you, and I told you I would wait. But you can’t ask me to wait and keep quiet, but get angry when I respect your wishes.”

When they fuck that night, it’s weirdly tense.

Chris is already in bed when she emerges from the bathroom, her hair stuck up in a ponytail and her face cleaned and exfoliated; assuming the cold simmer of their fight in the kitchen is still bubbling, she climbs into bed, murmuring a quiet goodnight before giving Chris her back.

Instead, Chris rolls over as soon as she turns off the lamp, tucking himself up behind her. He wastes no time skimming his hand down her abdomen and under the waistband of her sleep shorts.

“Don’t be mad,” Chris says, letting his hand stroke over her cunt. Her body is treacherous in its response, growing wet instantly, easing the way for his fingers as he presses them farther into her.

“Chris.” The word is halfway between a scold and a plea to continue.

The sex is always a bit rough after a fight, the catharsis coming through their bodies instead of the words they can’t bring themselves to speak to each other.

She’s already come once under his mouth by the time he eases into her, pressing her thighs wide until they ache with the angle they’re stretched to. Beth had tried to grasp at his hair, to tug his mouth down to hers to taste herself on it, but he responded by pinning her wrist to the mattress, unwilling to be moved by her demand. Even now, the wrist is still pinned, and the way he looks at it, small under the expanse of his large hand, makes it seem as though he wishes he had the leverage to get both of her wrists under it.

He hadn’t bothered to take off her shirt (a Yale shirt she absconded with the first time he made the trip to visit her in Houston), just shoved up over her breasts in his eagerness to fuck her, so while he doesn’t kiss her like she wants, he does lean down as he thrusts roughly into her, licking and sucking at her nipples until she grows frantic with it.

“Don’t fucking tease,” Beth growls, which only results in Chris grinning meanly, slowing his thrusts until she growls again. That earns her a particularly slow and brutal push into her, deep enough that she lets out a shocked gasp. The feeling of fullness makes her thigh twitch like she’s touched an exposed wire, her body eager for more than her mind isn’t sure she can handle.

After, he pulls out only long enough to manhandle her onto her stomach, reaching under her to lift her hips as she scrables her hands to find purchase in the sheets. He’s on his knees behind her, moaning roughly as he pushes his cock back into her.

“You love it,” he says, wrapping a hand in her hair to pull her face out of the pillow, finally giving her the messy kiss she’d been after on her back.

(Later, after he’s fallen asleep, their bodies still sweaty and soaked with their coupling, she admits to his placid face, “I told my parents about us.”

The smile that curls ever so slightly at the corners of his mouth lets her know that he is absolutely not asleep.)

 

--

‘HE ABANDONED HIS DUTY TO THE CREW’: SENATOR WEIGHS IN ON THE BECK SCANDAL

CHRIS BECK TO LOSE HIS LICENCE?

--

 

They’d both known the implications of the revelation on their reputations and their standing at NASA, but given the high profile, political nature of Chris’s family, they’d failed to consider partisan politics as part of the equation.

Once the strange voyeuristic glee of their relationship dies down, a few right-wing sites start making hay of their relationship and just exactly when did it start? Were they busy screwing on the taxpayer’s dime? Soon, the stories shift from focusing on their relationship to trying to suss out exactly when it started.

And the implications of that are staggering.

When the ranking Republican senator from Georgia (who just so happens to be a long time friend of a Governor running in the Republican primaries) starts making noise about it in the news, the situation hits absolute rock bottom. There are rumours that someone is planning to make a grievance against Chris with his medical board given his role in on the mission, that he was not only a scientist, but technically the medical officer on board and thus acting as a physician for the crew.

“A doctor sleeping with his patient!” some asshole pundit on Fox News bleets out with faux concern as Beth holds back the urge to throw her coffee cup through her tv screen. When the asshole in the cheap suit starts talking about rescinding Chris’s Bernicker Prize, she turns off the tv and lets out a feral scream.

How the everloving fuck does the connecticut medical examining board have jurisdiction in motherfucking S P A C E? Martinez texts her a few hours later.

Ignore the bullshit, Lewis texts shortly after. This will die down. Do not let Beck stew on it or talk to anyone.

Because Annie’s recipe is subtlety, she just texts, DO NOT SAY A FUCKING WORD, over and over again the day the rumours about a grievance hit. Beth sends a few texts to Chris, then an email when she doesn’t hear back. All go unanswered.

He doesn’t manage to ignore her phone call though. Chris is so quiet on the phone that it makes a shiver run down Beth’s spine. He sounds so resigned, and it breaks Beth’s heart.

“The only people who know what happened between us were on the Hermes with us, and they’d never say a damn word.” Beth has always been fiercely protective about the people she loves, and to watch Chris be raked over the coals like this through no real fault of his own is getting her back up in a way that she has never experienced before. She’s not much of a fighter, but she desperately wants to punch someone right in the face. “You’re not going to lose your licence over this. Even Annie - who, let me tell you, has the disposition of Chicken Little - is calling bullshit on all of this.”

His voice is ridiculously calm and quiet when he responds, “They’re not wrong, Beth.”

Beth feels her jaw clench in frustration. “You were the flight surgeon, Chris. You weren’t my family doctor, you didn’t didn’t leverage your position to get something out of me that I wasn’t entirely willing to give anyway.” Before Beth snaps at him, she tries for a little humour instead; she knows that Chris has a disturbing amount of guilt in him, despite being a lapsed Catholic. “I’d also like to point out that I had all control over the Hermes life support systems, so technically I was the one keeping the rest of you gophers alive, so don’t give me that abuse of power shit, please.”

“It was my duty…”

“It was our duty to return the Hermes to earth, to leave Mark on Mars. Fuck duty. Sometimes duty isn’t right. We broke some rules, Chris. Together. Anything beyond that is, frankly, really insulting to me.”

Chris is quiet.

“I know this is shitty, and I understand you’re hurting. But please don’t make this truly ridiculous shit real in your head, because it’s not. And you know it.” Beth misses Chris so acutely at this moment that it’s a physical pain. She wishes he were here so she could hug him, notch her head under his chin because he’s so goddamn tall. The world is scary and shitty, and though her brain hasn’t quite gotten the memo, she feels safe with him.

He’s the kind of guy that buys things like milk and eggs and cereal without a cartoon character on the box, who remembers to file his taxes and do his laundry before he runs out of clean clothes. He’s together in a way that Beth feels like she’s falling apart. The difference between a grown adult and a twenty-something living off ramen and bad tv.

“I know,” Chris says after a pregnant pause.

“How bad is it? Over there.”

“I spoke with our lawyer, and she’s pretty sure it’s just a lot of noise given the entirely speculative nature of everything so far. But it’s not good for Dad’s campaign, which is why I’m sure Senator Miligrand is beating this drum so loudly.” Another sigh. “I’m sorry.”

“Please don’t apologize to me - you haven’t done anything wrong,” Beth says. It isn’t lost on her how Chris has picked up the entirety of the flack regarding their relationship, even though the both of them had broken the rules. He’s older. He was the ship’s medical officer. She was a lesser ranked crew member. All the excuses for her behaviour were simply more bullets in the gun aimed at him. “I’m sorry this is such a nightmare for your family.”

Chris laughs, but it’s not a happy sound. “That’s definitely not your fault.”

A few weeks later, Beth offers to fly up to Baltimore to visit him. He turns her down, tells her that there’s now more photographers waiting outside his place than there were before, and he wants to try and let things die down, that he doesn’t want them to start focusing on her again.

(She’d found out from Watney that Beck had thoroughly lost his shit when the reporter had been found in her backyard. He was the one who called up Sanders and got you that protection detail. Annie said she could hear him yelling through the phone from the other side of the room, Watney admitted.)

She’d said yes to possibly coming down for the Beck Family Thanksgiving when he’d asked her back in October, but when Chris doesn’t bring it up as the date inches slowly in mid-November, she doesn’t push the issue either. Instead she spends Thanksgiving with her parents in San Francisco, travelling up to Portland for a few days to visit her cousins before flying back to Houston.

He texts a few times, wishes her a happy Thanksgiving, but doesn’t mention the rescinded invitation. Beth tries not to feel bitter over it - truthfully, she had been worried about meeting his family, particularly in the wake of the scandal their relationship had turned into - but she can’t help but feel stung that he just let the date slip by without even mentioning it.

She doesn’t answer the text he sends her on Thanksgiving with a little turkey emoji, childishly deriving pleasure from his multiple texts of, Beth? that follow her stony, sustained silence.

“He’s a fucking mess right now,” Watney tells her over dinner at the hole-in-the-wall Italian place that he’s been raving about for the last week.

They have a standing dinner date on the first Thursday of every month now that he’s back in Houston, teaching at NASA.

“I know you think he’s got his shit together, but… it’s not that simple.” Watney puts about a pound of butter onto a roll and shoves it into his mouth. After Mars, he’d put on weight well, but he has a hard time keeping it on. Watching him chow down on meals that would have Beth on the treadmill for a couple hours to work off is obnoxious. “For a long time, together was paired with tightest asshole on the east coast. He just didn not know how to unclench. That’s why it ended with that neurologist he was seeing in Denver before we left. He doesn’t need that - he doesn’t need a little clone of himself, he needs someone that will make him pull the giant baton of repression out of his ass every once in a while.”

Beth lets out a laugh, but her heart isn’t in it.

“The problem with the giant ass baton of repression is that without it, he’s far more squishy and hurtable, and he’s not used to taking these kinds of hits, particularly when they’re about someone he cares about. So cut him some slack,” Watney says. “He’s been better with you. I’ve known that kid for a decade, and I’ve never seen him as happy and relaxed as he is with you, the media bullshit notwithstanding. And, despite your extreme neuroses, he’s good for you, too. You just need to stop thinking so much and start boning more.”

Beth flips him the bird. The woman in an expensive-looking maroon dress and too much eyeliner at the next table gives her a dirty look, but Beth can already feel her mood improving. Watney has always been the best at this, at turning a stressful or depressing situation on its tail with his ridiculous humour and levity.

“I need little Beck babies to spoil rotten and turn into nightmares that haunt their parents, so you assholes make this work, okay?”

“First of all, Johanssen-Beck, and second of all, speaking of boning, who’s been planting their flag in your ass lately? I heard it’s some three foot tall green dudes, but in this day and age, one must always question the veracity of the mainstream media.”

Watney rolls his eyes. “You sound like Martinez.”

 

--

TROUBLE IN PARADISE? JOHANSSEN AND BECK ‘LIVING SEPARATE LIVES’

NO SIGN OF BETH AT THE BECK THANKSGIVING

--

 

To: amontrose@nasa.org
From: mwatney@nasa.org
Date: November 12th, 2037; 05:49 UTC
Subject: Breaking News

Mark Watney Anally Probed on Mars! Has He Brought Back an Alien Hatchling Inside Him?
http://www.therealnewstheyarehiding.com/americafirst/space/watney-space-baby.html

 

As a single father, I need all the help I can get: http://www.babiesrus.com/registry/37364/marks-anal-baby.html

MARK

 

 

To: mwatney@nasa.org
From: amontrose@nasa.org
Date: November 12th, 2037; 11:34 UTC
Subject: Re: Breaking News

I hate you.

-A

PS: I bought you the Marvin the Martian mobile. Enjoy.

 

--

MELISSA LEWIS JOINS ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION

IS JOBECK DEAD? BETH AND CHRIS SPENDING CHRISTMAS APART

--

 

She drives almost sixty miles outside of Houston to a small, cramped Safeway to clear them out half of their pregnancy tests. She thinks about Mark’s flippant comment about babies at their monthly dinner and her stomach roils, flipping hard enough that she puts her foot over the brake, thinking about deceleration and how long it would take her to throw open the door to puke. In the end, she makes it to the parking lot without losing the little lunch manage to eat.

She’s nearly four weeks late.

(They’d skipped condoms the last time he visited her in Houston because she’d forgotten to buy them on the way home and they were both too lazy and too worried about being spotted to go pick them up. It hadn’t been the first time they’d skipped the condoms, and she’s always been methodical about following her course of Alesse, so they’d thought it would be enough.

They were wrong. Clearly.)

The woman behind the cash, likely her mother’s age and wearing mascara so thick it clumps in strange places, looks up up as she rings in the fifth pregnancy test.

Whatever is written on Beth’s face can’t be all that great, because the corner of the cashier’s mouth twitches up in sympathy as she reaches for the sixth and says, “Here’s hoping you get the answer you want, hun.”

Sitting on the edge of the bathtub in her house in Houston, it is not the answer she wants.

Two lines. A line and a cross. Two lines. Two lines. A line and a cross.

Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant.

She doesn’t even bother with the sixth test.

 

--

RUMOURS SWIRLING: IS WATNEY A TAKEN MAN?

WATNEY AND NASA DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS SPOTTED AT HOUSTON HOT SPOT

--

 

Chris shows up with a ring.

“Are you for fucking real?” Beth says, storming into the kitchen, leaving Chris in the living room awkwardly holding the ring box in his hand. There’s a bottle of half-drunk wine on her kitchen table from the dinner she had Mindy over for a few nights ago that Chris keeps staring at when he thinks she’s not looking. “And don’t start with me, okay? I didn’t drink it.”

Chris looks affronted. “What? I didn’t say anything.”

“You do that a lot. Not saying anything. Like thanksgiving.” And now she’s just actively picking a fight. In a calmer state of mind, she’d know that she’s scared right now, that her punchiness is symptomatic of her lack of control. Of everything Beth has been covetous of, control of her body has always been paramount; though her diet has always been lacking, she’s been a gym nut for most of her life,and so goddamn careful about her birth control and regular physicals.

How the fuck did she let this happen?

Chris’s face clouds over.

“Really? You want to do this now?” In all the time they’ve spent together, Chris has never been truly angry at her before. They’ve had plenty of brusque words between them, a few spats over stupid things that had blown over with a few conciliatory words and some rough sex. But this is no spat, and Beth can feel the anger simmering in Chris’s voice as this all tumbles toward something that terrifies her. “Fine. Let’s do it, then. You want to talk about saying things? I can’t believe you told me over the phone, Beth.”

That has her panicking. She knew it the moment the words came out of her mouth that it was the wrong thing to do, the shocked silence that followed her admission confirming it. The careful, tender way he’d said, Beth. Are you sure?

“Would you have preferred I showed up in Baltimore?” Beth says, going for the jugular. “Because last time I checked, you didn’t want me there.”

“That’s completely unfair and you know it.” And yes, she knows it is entirely unfair, but she just doesn’t fucking care. “I wanted you to come for months and you never did. The one time you offered was the one time you knew I’d say no. And for good reason.”

She crosses her arms over her chest.

“You just call me up and tell me you’re pregnant, but not to worry. What the fuck, Beth. What did you expect me to do? You’ve been ignoring me for weeks, treating me like shit because you’re angry and are too fucking chicken shit to talk--”

“What!”

“Thanksgiving was a nightmare, okay? Dad was pissed, my mother was passive-aggressive. My brother would not stop bickering with my sister, not to mention the extendeds, which had all sorts of opinions on how my life is reflecting back on the family.” Chris’s face has gone a little red, and his voice is raised loud enough that Beth is happy she leased a detached house instead of the condo she had first looked at. “Shit is messy in my life right now, and every time you get a whiff of mess, you look for the nearest exit.”

That’s not fair,” Beth shouts. “I don’t have translation guide to understand the things that you don’t tell me. Instead of just telling me what the fuck is going on, you pretend the problems don’t exist or try to ignore them. They do exist, Chris, and there’s no ignoring this one.”

Chris lets out a growl and starts pacing, his shoes leaving print marks on her new rug. “Why the hell do you think I’m here? I’m not ignoring problems, just trying to give you what you need. I’ve given you all the space you wanted, I’ve never made you choose.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Beth retorts. “You give me all this space, then say it’s not because you want to give it, but because I need it. Makes it easier to blame the lack of decisions on me.”

“So you wanted me to put pressure on you about your future? Bullshit, Beth. Bullshit.” Chris has a mean sneer on his face, and it’s so foreign that for a second, she is truly scared. “If I pressure you, I’m the bad guy. If I don’t pressure you, I’m the bad guy. You’re looking for a reason to take me out of the equation and I don’t even understand why.”

Beth is beyond exhausted. She hasn’t slept well in weeks, and the increasing morning sickness has been taking its toll on her. The telltale tingle in the back of her throat has begun, the start of tears she prays she can hold off until Chris leaves, because she knows that it is exactly where this is headed.

“I’ve been honest about how I feel about you. I’ve never been ambiguous about what I want or what I’d be willing to do to make this work. I fucking love you. I don’t know what you want from me, Beth!”

Chris’s eyes flicker down to her abdomen, still entirely flat and covered by yet another shirt she stole from him. “By the way, I’ve had this since August.”

He leaves the ring box on the table.

 

--

WATNEY: NO I AM NOT PREGNANT WITH AN ALIEN

CHRIS BECK SPOTTED IN HOUSTON!

--

 

“He showed up with a ring,” Beth says, playing with her fingernails that have been bitten down to the stump.

“Yeah, he’s a rich, white boy from Connecticut, sweetheart,” Watney says, laughing at her through the phone. “That’s what they do. That and own ugly boats with stupid names.”

“I hate boats.”

“Everyone hates boats,” Watney sighs. “Even rich, white boys from Connecticut.”

There’s a moment of silence on the line, and Beth’s mind wanders to the last time she heard from Chris, the text that had pinged her phone an hour after he had driven away from her house. Just tell me what you want to do.

“I’m fucking this up.”

“Yeah, you are. But that’s okay. You just need to make sure you unfuck it.”

“I don’t know how. I’m not… I’m not built for this. I can’t figure out how to make it work without fucking it all up.”

“You managed just over a year in space, and we were flying through it at the about ten times speed of sound in a tin can that could fail and kill us at any moment.” Watney’s tone edges on incredulous. “I don’t understand why on earth it is that much more difficult… on earth.”

“I cannot take your puns today, Mark.” Normally, Beth loves that Watney is the kind of guy to turn a truly shitty situation into something she can laugh about, but this isn’t something she wants to laugh about. Ever. “I just… I don’t even know why he wants to bother. I’m so fucking shit at all of this.”

The line goes quiet for a moment.

“Please don’t with the self-effacing crap. That kid was gone on you the second you walked into the training center and opened your mouth. By the time we got to space, it was so painful to watch,” Watney says. “Did he tell you I used to bug the shit out of him in those data dumps we’d send to each other when you were headed back to get me? I could not understand why he wouldn’t just make a move. He had this weird fucking belief that you weren’t interested in him even though I was the one who had to clean your palm and face prints off the glass on the observation deck every time he did an EVA.”

“You did not.”

“Please! Listen, I’m not judging you: the boy is pretty as hell. But you’ve been operating under this strange assumption that you are somehow more invested in this than Chris is, and I’m here to tell you that you are dead wrong. I see you, kiddo, and all this I can’t do it is just cover for wanting to detach because you think the end is coming and you’re getting ready for it.”

Beth tries to speak before Watney plows through her protest. “You are two people who would be perfect for one another if you could just figure out how to stop trying to figure each other out. He’s busy trying to figure out what you want and you’re busy trying to figure out what he wants, and in the end no one is getting what they want. It’s amazing how two people can be so smart and yet so stupid.”

He caps off his diatribe with another put upon sigh.

“And whatever happens, can you get them to give you a different moniker? Jobeck is the fucking worst. It sounds like the scandinavian villain in a Bond movie. The worst movies. Like Licence to Kill bad.”

Beth shakes her head. “We can’t all be as lucky as you, I guess.”

 

--

MONEY: THEIR RELATIONSHIP IN PHOTOS (SLIDESHOW)

‘NO COMMENT’: MONTROSE STILL MUM ON HER GROWING RELATIONSHIP WITH AMERICA’S SPACE HERO

--

 

The blue cheese mocking her from the bread plate is finally scooped away by Lewis, who shoves it into her mouth.

“See, I get to eat the cheese because I practice safe sex,” Lewis says.

“Ha. Ha.”

Lewis grins, but her mouth soon turns troubled, the edges folding into a frown.

“I’m not going to pretend this is easy. I truly get where you are coming from. I spent eight years dating men I met through work and it was hell; I thought that being with guys who were like me would be easy, but instead I ended up with guy after guy who resented and was intimidated by my success.” Lewis spears the last piece of blue cheese. “You know where I met my husband? A karaoke bar. I was singing Chiquitita, drunk as hell, and he was sitting in the front row.”

“Oh my god,” Beth says with a laugh, imaging the Commander drunk on a stage singing ABBA. To say that Lewis has layers would be an understatement. When Beth had first met her, she’d just seemed so goddamn intimidating, a woman with a frame of pure steel. But now that she counts her as a friend (even though she has never broken the habit of thinking of them by their last names, the one last carryover of the Ares III mission), she can see the bits of softness and fun that reside below.

“He was weird and different, and I spent the first year of our relationship pretending I didn’t give a shit because I’d been burnt too many times. But he hung in there. The good ones aren’t the ones that fit, Beth. They’re the ones that stick it out when things sometimes don’t.”

Even though she knows Watney would likely slap her upside the back of the head if he could hear her now, she says, “I don’t know how to do this.”

“No one really does, but that’s not it. The question is, do you want to do this? That’s the question,” Lewis says. “It’s not easy. But if you told him you didn’t want to keep it, if you told him you wanted to keep working at getting on another Ares mission, would he listen?”

“I don’t know.”

A lie. And Lewis susses it out instantly, shaking her head. “I think you do.” She motions for the waiter to bring the check; one thing Beth loves about eating out with her is how the waiters seem to hover around her, intimidated and yet awestruck in equal measure. “And if you throw that away because you’re scared of what it means, then you’re an idiot, Beth.”

 

--

ANNIE MONTROSE: THE REAL STORY BEHIND THE WOMAN WHO STOLE WATNEY’S HEART

RICH PURNELL NAMED NEW ASTROPHYSICS DIVISION HEAD AT JPL

--

 

This time, she doesn’t ask. She books the flight to Baltimore and catches a taxi to his house.

It takes her nearly two minutes to work up the nerve to ring the doorbell.

“Beth?” Chris says as he answers the door, rubbing his eyes like he can’t believe she’s standing on his doorstep in the cold, the only scarf she owns wrapped around her throat and doing little to protect her from the east coast chill.

“Can I come in?”

Chris still looks a bit shell shocked to see her, but snaps awake at her request, nodding as he steps aside to let her in. “Yeah, of course. Sorry.”

The house is beautiful - large and surprisingly light considering it was clearly built in the mid-twentieth century. He’s got a bunch of furniture she know is borrowed from his parents, and the place is done up in warm woods and neutral colours that makes it feel homey in a way her place in Houston does not.

Suddenly, she’s hit with a deep regret that she never took up the offer to visit Chris in Baltimore. He was right: she would have loved it here.

They make it to the living room before Beth swings around, resting her thighs against the back of the couch.

“First off, I’m sorry I told you on the phone. It was a shitty choice, and even though I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly, I never stopped to consider what that was like for you. It wasn’t fair for me to get upset at your reaction, and I do know that you were trying to do the right thing.”

“Beth--”

“No let me get it all out,” she pleads. “I… have to say this. You need to hear it. And after, you can tell me whatever you want, okay?” Chris answers with a nod, stepping toward the frame of the entrance to the living room and resting his hip against it.

Beth jerks off her scarf, suddenly far too warm for the room even though Chris has always kept his living quarters on the edge of uncomfortably cool.

“You scare the shit out of me,” Beth says, clenching her hands at the admission. Chris’s mouth parts like he’s about to say something until he snaps it back closed again, remembering what she asked of him. “I want to feel like I have… enough. On my own. I’ve never had to rely on anyone before for anything except my parents, and even then, I had left for school when I was sixteen and never went back. I spent my entire life moving toward this… thing. And anyone who ever said they were with me eventually dropped me because of it. I’ve learned the hard way not to rely on men who tell me to trust them, that tell me they are willing to compromise.”

Her mind is suddenly flooded with all the people who have disappointed her, who have promised her something only to break their word, to leave her. She’s always been the type of girl to carry her scars deep, but the deeper they are, the fresher they keep.

“Beth,” Chris says, stepping forward to touch his fingers to the top her hand, waking her from the mental black hole.

“I’m not used to people sticking it out,” Beth continues, turning her palm to stroke Chris’s fingers before letting them fall away. “I kept… waiting for you to get tired of it, of me, and the longer you stuck it out, the more suspicious I got. And all that shit with your family and the press just made it feel like we were in this balloon ready to pop. That had been ready to pop the moment we touched down.”

Beth sucks in a deep breath, trying to keep her voice steady. “It was easier up there because we were both headed to the same place. And I knew it. Everyone else I’ve been with has always been headed in a different direction, said they were fine with it, but eventually got tired of the distance. So when we got back and you left NASA, I just... I expected the same thing. I didn’t want to get attached to the idea of getting to keep you because I didn’t think I was going to be able to. And I know it’s only because I want to.”

“Want to?”

“Keep you.” She juts her chin toward her tummy, still mostly flat. “And it.”

As her pulse begins to settle, her piece said, she can see Chris’s mouth quiver like he’s desperately holding back a smile.

“My turn?”

“Your turn.”

Instead of speaking, Chris steps into her space, tilts her head up and kisses her so thoroughly that when she pulls away, she’s entirely out of breath.

“I’ve always meant to keep you,” Chris says, the space between their mouths so minimal that she can feel the brush of his lips as he speaks. “The rest… the rest is only noise. I just need to know that you’re in too. Because I meant what I said: I’m in.”

There’s no hesitation in Beth when she answers, “I’m in,” letting Chris press his mouth to hers again, his hands slipping inside of her coat to push it off of her shoulders, grasping at the belt hooks in her jeans and using them to jerk her hips into his.

They fuck on the couch, a little frenzied and a lot desperate, Chris’s forehead pressed to hers as he lets his hips jerk against hers with the force of his orgasm.

“Marry me,” he says, far less of a question than the first time. He’s still inside of her, and when his hips shift, driving his cock deeper as it softens, she lets out a strangled moan. She wants to keep this feeling forever - filled, safe, owned.

She’s still scared of what this means, of trusting that things won’t fall apart, but she needs to bury that feeling deep too, let it die inside of her with the scars that people who were unworthy of her left behind.

“Yes,” she answers.

 

--

MARRIED: BECK AND JOHANSSEN ELOPE!

WAS IT A SHOTGUN WEDDING? JOBECK EXPECTING A BABY!

--

 

Rose Johanssen-Beck is born on an early saturday morning, arriving a week late and thoroughly pissed off.

“She has her mother’s keen sense of timing,” Mark says, leaning over to look at the baby in Chris’s arms. Even though it’s been nearly a day, his eyes still seem a little puffy; he’d cried pretty hard the first time the nurse placed their daughter in his arms, overwhelmed in a way that Beth can entirely sympathize with. She’s still somewhat terrified of what they’ve done.

“Oh, I’d also like to point out that a promise was made to me regarding the name of your wee one, so I am here to collect on said promise.”

Her eyes narrow. “First off, I made no such promise; you told us that we were going to name our kid after you,” Beth says, leaning up against the headboard. “Second, I’m not naming my daughter Mark, for god’s sake.”

“Markina! It’s unusual.”

Chris is barely even conscious of their argument less than a foot away from him, he’s so wrapped up in the snoozing baby in his arms.

“I’m going to name her fucking POTATO if you’re not careful.”

“You realize I’m definitely going to call her tater tot now, right?”

Chris lets out a happy sigh, pushing his finger into his slowly-waking daughter’s grasping hand.

Four years later, Marcus Johanssen-Beck joins his sister at seven pounds, three ounces, born two days before the launch of Ares V.

 

--

 

BETH JOHANSSEN TEAMS WITH SPACE X TO LAUNCH NEW CIVILIAN SPACE FLIGHT SERVICE

MARTINEZ: ‘MY WIFE SAYS NO MORE MISSIONS OR SHE’S DIVORCING ME’

MELISSA LEWIS PROMOTED TO VICE-ADMIRAL

ALEXANDER VOGEL EXPECTED TO WIN SEAT IN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

CHRIS BECK JOINS CEDARS-SINAI AS NEW CHIEF OF INTERNAL MEDICINE

THE MARTIANS HAVE RETURNED FOR WATNEY: ‘THEY CAN’T HAVE MY ALIEN BABY’

HAS MONTROSE FOUND HERSELF HUSBAND NUMBER THREE?

ARE MONEY HEADED DOWN THE AISLE?! WE HAVE THE INSIDE SCOOP!

ANNIE MONTROSE ON ENGAGEMENT RUMOURS: ‘NOT A CHANCE IN HELL’

MR. AND MRS. WATNEY: EXCLUSIVE HONEYMOON PHOTOS

CHRIS & BETH: IT’S ANOTHER GIRL!