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I bet on losing dogs

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Chapter One: Holden

 

Holden liked to think of himself as a progressive guy. He could be pretty self-congratulatory about it, if he was being brutally honest. His parental structure being what it was, he knew firsthand how complicated relationships could be and how little gender played into it, so nothing phased him, love was love and he was incredibly open. In theory.

“So they stole a bunch of dried beans,” Amos said, his voice flat.

Naomi said, “An insane amount of beans. A year’s worth.”

“Are we talking garbanzo or kidney?”

“Black beans.”

“Oh, shit, it's serious.”

They sat up in ops, Amos slumped down in a couch, Naomi and Holden perched by the comms panel. Alex was in the cockpit, launching them after a bullet of a warship speeding away from them into nothingness.

Amos said, “They’re smaller than us and they’re going faster. How many beans can they have?”

“I don’t think we’re talking about just the cargo hold, here. Not canned beans. I think mostly every square foot of that ship is filled with dry black beans.”

“On the ground? They’re just like … stepping on them?”

“Based on the amount they stole, yeah.”

“That’s one of the most upsetting things I ever heard.”

“These are tough times.”

Holden had written off his interest in men as boyhood curiosity because that’s where it began and ended. If he had to dig deeper into it, he’d say that it had been a natural misstep: he learned at a young age that sex was something he enjoyed, something important to him, so he dove into that using the tools available to him at the time. He’d discovered women a bit later and that’s when it all came together for him. So he experimented as a kid, but lots of kids did and it was all natural.

Amos said, “So let's slag ‘em and make ‘em refried. We’ve tried calling, yeah?”

“Yeah. No response—not a let it ring type thing, either, a flat out refusal.”

“Brutal. And we were threatening?”

“Hugely.”

“So, turn them into an empty, faintly warm two metres of space. What part of this am I not getting?”

“We need those beans. They know that, and that’s why they’re not scared.”

Amos had all but dissolved into the crash couch. He set his knees apart wide, his worn jumpsuit struggling to contain his curved thighs. He rubbed a hand over his jaw and Holden could hear the scrape of his stubble.

When his feelings for men raised their head in his adult life, he got uncomfortable. It had happened a few times in the past and he realized it was whenever he had a male friend he found attractive, like the unlikely alignment of planets in a doomsday theory. He’d spin off into a neurotic loop of am I gay? I could be with him. Does that mean I’m gay? If he’s attractive and I like him? I could be with him. Nothing materialized and he’d worry himself sick, and then eventually, it would fade away. But every time it happened, he thought, this is the one that’ll do it.

Amos said, “This is less glamorous than that greasy scrap metal haul, and I mean it.”

Holden snorted. “What, you thought pirates would be out here stealing space diamonds?”

“No,” Amos said, noticeably sullen, “I just figured cooler than beans.

Alex came over the speaker. “If you’re so bored, go tinker with the engine room like you said. I know five degrees ain’t got us boilin’, but she’s burnin’ hotter than we need. Either fix her or seal her up or somethin’.”

Amos groaned and hauled himself to his feet in one fluid motion.

“Okay, okay, you got me.” He pulled his t-shirt out of his tied-off jumpsuit and scrubbed it up over his face, exposing his furred abs and the tip of the gnarly scar that bisected his abdomen. In the low-ish light, his skin shone with sweat. “I’ll do my fucking job.”

Alex said, “Give it a shot. You might like it.”

This loop of neurotic questioning was happening to Holden now. Amos would be Amos, a loud mouth, a friend, his family, and then he’d blink and he would be a man, biceps and scarred knuckles, a strong jaw, an omnipresent smile. They were two different things. He wasn’t sure when that started or if it had always been there. It was something he thought about in his quiet moments and he hadn’t had many of those lately, so it wasn’t that bad. But sometimes it was.

Amos said, “Well, lemme check it’s not gonna slow roast me. Who knows what’s changed in twelve minutes.”

He braced his arm above the wall terminal and leaned against it, just marginally uncomfortable at 1.3 g. The valley of muscle that dipped into his spine was deep enough to be shadowed stark and warm like an oil painting even in the utilitarian lights, and Holden thought of incandescent bulbs and fireplaces and other locations it would be good to lay a comfortable rug in front of.

He said, “It’s heat, not radiation. It won’t kill you.”

Without looking up, Amos said, “Famous last words.”

He wasn’t classically attractive and Holden had never heard anyone talk about him like he was, but he thought he was handsome. He had always been jealous of his size, his muscles, his massive frame, which he seemed to haul around so easily; he was almost as tall as Naomi and Holden hardly reached his chin. And he had a nice face—maybe not refined, not sharp, but he had a full mouth, long eyelashes and bright, clear skin. He was someone you remembered. Holden, on the other hand, had lived his life knowing that he was very pretty but ultimately forgettable.

Naomi was looking at him. “Jim?”

“Hm?”

“You with me?”

“Fully,” he said. “Beans.”

“We can’t shoot because we’ll destroy the beans. With the shortage and the astronomical value, it would be … There’s a reason Fred told us no.”

“So we’re supposed to collect a bunch of loose beans floating around in vacuum, one by one?”

“We’re supposed to not blow up their container at all,” Naomi said, “i.e., the ship. We can suck them up under thrust once we get a surrender and board, and a hundred people on Tycho can eat for two weeks.”

“Fascinating.”

Amos said, “If I’m not back in twenty, I did my best.” He turned to head down the lift to the lower decks and his damp shirt stretched against his pecs and clung to his stomach. “You’re welcome,” he said as the doors closed behind him.

All of this made Holden jumpy and awkward in a way he hadn’t been since he was young. He liked sex and he knew how to work with women: it was about being forward, open and honest, and if you kept that in mind, it wasn’t too difficult and it was always respectful. With men, he had no precedent. Instinct told him to be forward, but there was forward and then there was stupid. He’d been told often enough that he was hard to place between the two. He wondered if Amos would find that charming and didn’t know how to rest until he found out.

 

 

Amos had the reactor sealed up in nothing flat and later confided, “Sometimes it’s just fun to complain.” Over the next day, they kept chasing the tiny, rickety ship full of beans and tried to contact them with no response; Holden recorded and sent a number of increasingly threatening, smarmy messages and was surprised by how dejected he was when they didn’t work.

Alex said, “They’ve gotta stop sometime. Probably don’t take much fuel to run that rig, but they’re doin’ something with the beans.”

Holden asked, “And what do we do when they get wherever they’re going?”

“Board ‘em,” Amos said. “Kill ‘em. Take the beans.”

“I still think this is one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done.”

Naomi said, “Food supply is serious.”

“No one’s dying over beans!”

“People are already dying over beans.” Naomi squinted at him. “But, we’ve been making food more relevant than beans for hundreds of years. If they weren’t so valuable, I’d say they could keep them.”

Holden didn’t know why he was so defensive of beans. “Beans are one of the most nutritionally whole natural foods we have. They built human civilization.”

Amos slumped down in his crash couch. “Yeah, and now we can make a tube of goo that costs a fraction of what it’d take to grow a single bean and it’s got a hundred times the nutritional value of anything that comes outta the ground.”

“Beans are a chance for rich Earthers to feel nostalgic and culturally relevant,” Naomi said. “The whole ‘real’ food thing is based in elitism and it’s archaic.”

“I mean … I think it’s more than that,” Holden ventured. “You can’t ignore the cultural impact of thousands of years of traditional food production on Earth just because we’ve gotten more efficient at it. Tradition is an important cornerstone of any culture and I feel like—”

Naomi cut him off. “You’re not wrong, you just sound like a dick.”

“Hey!”

Amos started to leave. As he passed Holden, he slapped him on the back.

“I’ll shoot the shit with ya, Cap. Us backwards-ass Earthers gotta stick together, eh?” He winked at Naomi, who made a face at him. “Meet me in the galley when we’re done all our stuff and we can reminisce like a coupla old geezers.”

 His hand was still on Holden’s shoulder and it was heavy and warm and distracting. Warning klaxon went off in Holden’s head.

“Sure,” he said anyways, ignoring them.

 

 

He didn’t know where Naomi and Alex were, but they weren’t in the galley when he showed up and he had to accept the possibility that they weren’t invited. Amos sat alone at the table in front of a container of cheap scotch and two bulbs, fiddling with his hand terminal. Holden scuffed his feet to make himself known and Amos looked up and beamed at him. He jumped to a series of conclusions.

Amos said, “I wasn’t sure if you were serious.”

Holden feigned disinterest. “Scotch is scotch.”

He lowered himself into the seat next to him and Amos started pouring drinks. He knew why he was there, but couldn’t imagine why Amos was suddenly eager to make friends. Likely, it was a funny little novelty. Holden had no illusions: Amos didn’t even call him by his name—any of his names—and any real friendship existing alongside that was unlikely. And it’s not like they didn’t have the opportunity to bond before now and had chosen not to take it.

“What’s up with this?” he asked.

“Hm?” Amos slid one of the bulbs towards him.

“We’ve been running odd jobs for Fred for, what, six months now? Seven?”

“Something like that.”

“Plus everything before it. And I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve hung out just you and me.”

Amos shrugged and smiled and he was a little coy about it.

“You’ve been talking to me more lately,” he said. “Figured you had something to say.”

Holden frowned. Something about how cryptic Amos was made him attractive and he hated it. Holden told everyone everything and the idea of someone playing their cards so close to their chest, flashing as many fake smiles as Amos did, was illogically alluring. It bordered on exotic. When he sat down and thought about it, he knew almost nothing about Amos and that made him want to learn more.

The last time they’d been on Tycho, him and Naomi had a raucous night out, just the two of them. It had been wonderful and loud and fun and by the end of the night they were both blackout drunk, laughing and falling into bed together. The next morning over coffee and painkillers, she’d smiled slyly at him and said, “So do you want me to set you up with him or do you think you can handle it?” Apparently, he talked. He’d spoken to her about men before, but that was the first and only time he said anything about Amos.

“Not really,” Holden lied. He sipped his scotch; made of something other than grain, faintly sweet like mold. “I don’t talk to Alex much, either. I’ve got him pencilled in for a two o’clock bonding session tomorrow.”

Amos laughed, which was generous of him. He also didn’t call him out on his obvious non-answer. He sat back in his chair with his drink resting on his knee and he looked perfectly at ease. He wished he could wade through life with the ease that Amos did, not aimless or uncaring, but just like everything was easy. He wasn't sure everything was easy for Amos, but he made it look like it was. Water off the back of a duck.

He realized neither of them had spoke for about a minute and wondered if maybe that was why they’d never spent time alone together before.

“Do you actually not like beans?” he tried. Amos shrugged.

“Not my favourite part of a Mexican breakfast.”

“Huevos rancheros.”

“Yeah. I’m a big salsa fan. And those little tortillas, the good ones, where they sorta taste like flowers?”

“Those are good,” Holden agreed. He look a long pull of scotch and his head spun. With nothing to say, he took another, then another. Amos laughed at him.

“Earth,” he said, prompting him.

“Earth,” Holden said back. He wondered if Amos knew he didn’t care if they talked about Earth or not. He was definitely making fun of him. He had no idea how he was supposed to make a pass at someone like Amos; beating around the bush seemed stupid when Amos himself said everything with the blunt force of an axe but he couldn’t do it, not when Amos had given him no indication that he was interested. “It’s … nice having someone else from Earth around,” he tried. “I love Naomi and Alex, but it’s different.”

Amos laughed again. “We have never talked about Earth, Cap.”

That was intentional. From what Holden pieced together about Amos’ life on Earth, he could tell that although they were both American, they grew up under vastly different conditions and that his complex but loving childhood in Montana was not Amos’ experience at all. With that being said, he didn’t talk about Earth much with anyone who was from there: if you voluntarily lived in space, you usually had reasons to leave.

He said, “Yeah, but you still get it. It’s just a thing.”

“You’re the only Earther I know who loves Earth so much.”

“It’s where I was born, of course I love it!”

“That ain’t an of course, most people don’t. You’re just a country boy.”

An embarrassed flush rose up Holden’s neck. “I’m not a country boy.”

“You’re a bumpkin.” Amos leaned in, smiling wolfishly. “You’re just also a fancy spaceship captain, so people glaze over the weird little Americana thing you got going on.”

Holden knew he was seeing things that weren’t there. Amos couldn’t read his mind and didn’t know that he’d been on it so often recently. He didn’t know that Holden was thrumming with nerves and anticipation over being alone with him. He wasn’t flirting, he was having a drink with his friend and Captain, or at most, he was teasing him. Holden, on the other hand, was flirting.

“Aw, c’mon,” he laughed, “there’s gotta be stuff you miss about Earth. Things you can’t get anywhere else.”

Amos sat back and considered this, taking a long pull of scotch. “I dunno, man. Most of my favourite stuff you can get anywhere.” His favourite stuff was evident to anyone who had talked to him for two minutes and Holden didn’t need to ask for clarification.

“There has to be something.” He became aware that he was closer to him than he was a minute ago. “Like, I miss fireworks. They’re not the same out in space—you know when there’s an event, the Fourth of July or something, and they set off a bunch over a lake and everything just lights up? You can’t get that out here.”

“Yeah, fair enough. Lemme think.” Amos scratched his face and hummed thoughtfully. After a moment, he said, “Bikini tan lines.”

“Beaches!” Holden said excitedly.

Amos pointed at him and said, “Grimy swimming pools.”

“Forests.”

“Old-ass movie theatres.”

"Buses and trains.”

“Thunderstorms.”

"Grass whistles.”

Music,” Amos said emphatically. “That’s what I really miss. Going to shows and shit, that’s the best. Just getting shitfaced and letting some dude with a twelve-dollar guitar blow your eardrums out.”

“You can see a concert off-Earth.”

“Not the same. The places aren’t the same. I wanna go to a show in some guy’s basement, or in a bar that smells like some guy’s basement and slings beer that tastes like vinegar. You know—every counter and table is sticky as hell, there’s a couple fightin’ in the only biffy, you bump into a guy and he loses his fucking mind.” He smiled at Holden. “You strike me as part of the couple fighting in the bathroom, eh, Cap?”

“Yeah, well, you’re the guy who knocks my teeth out when I bump into him.”

Amos roared laughing and slapped him on the leg.

“Yeah, yeah, you got me there.”

He had a soft, unguarded look on his face, doubtlessly thinking back to a dozen memories of grimy bars and shitty rock music that Holden wasn’t privy to. Holden wondered, not for the first time, whether they would have been friends if they met under different circumstances. They hardly became friends under the circumstances they did meet under—in all his years on the Canterbury, Amos was just Naomi’s crass, hulking assistant. Naomi hadn’t been his friend, either, and for all the trauma they’d been through in the past couple years, he couldn’t imagine his life having gone any other way. He forgot who he had been before.

“You know what my favourite thing is?” Amos said suddenly, still looking dreamy and distant. He took Holden’s empty bulb and refilled it. “When you’re at a show with a girl, right? And maybe you been up front dancing or moshing or whatever, real physical, and then you move to the back to chill and grab a beer and catch your breath. And she stands in front of you to watch the band and rests back all against you, just chilling, sippin’ her beer, and your dick’s resting right in the crack of her ass. Half hard, for sure.”

Holden laughed. Amos went on.

“You know what I mean. It’s all easy, you’re just chillin’, but it’s a promise of a fuck later. Sexiest thing, I swear to god. Fucking intimate. Makes your heart hurt.”

Holden wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Amos wax poetic, but if he had, it had been about sex. Maybe more specifically, about women. He was looking at him like he was waiting for him to say something, leaned in like he was sharing a secret. Holden’s head was swimming. Amos’ lips were dry and he had a razor nick on his jaw. Without thinking, he reached out and slid his hand down his arm, just below the sleeve of his t-shirt.

The second their skin touched, it was electric and he forgot to pull away. He couldn’t remember the last time they’d been so close in a non-lethal situation and he could smell the sharpness of the alcohol on his breath, the sweetness, and for a few of the longest seconds, they both just stared.

Then Amos looked down at Holden’s hand on his arm and back up, and Holden saw the exact second he got it. His eyes went wide and his entire body switched on, like shifting gears.

“Oh!” he said, loud and sharp. There was a long pause. Holden snatched his hand back. “Well, shit.”

Holden immediately stood and strode over to the coffee maker like it wasn’t an ungodly hour to make coffee. Like maybe a portal would pour out of it and take him anywhere else.

“Never mind,” he said quickly.

Shit!”

“I said never mind!”

He whirled around and Amos was rubbing the back of his head, slumped down in his seat. For a few painful seconds, they just looked at each other.

Then Amos said, “We gotta talk about this.”

“We don’t.”

“We’re gonna.”

“We’re really, really not.”

Amos watched him some more. He felt a tension headache build behind his eyes.

“I’m gonna let you start this one, Cap,” Amos said slowly. “The ball is … really in your court.”

Holden hopped up to sit on the counter to have something to do. In the silence that followed, he thought of a thousand ways he could phrase what he wanted to say and all of them were a trainwreck.

“Wait,” Amos said, “I lied, I’m starting. You’re still with Naomi?”

“Yes,” Holden snapped.

“Because if she’s got the wrong equipment for the work you wanna get done, that’s probably something you should be telling her.”

“It’s not like that.”

“But I’m talking about the right thing, right? You were making a pass at me?”

Holden groaned and pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes to get away from Amos’ stare. “This was a bad idea.”

“There was an idea?”

“Give me a second.”

Amos relented. He crossed one ankle over the other and waited and Holden kept his hands on his eyes for a few long breaths. He thought he was better prepared. He didn’t come up with anything helpful. Seconds ticked by and the silence became more stifling than the possibility of a misstep and he said, “Lemme explain. You like sex, right?”

Amos whistled. “This is the worst conversation I’ve ever had.”

“Answer me.”

“Alright! Yeah, I like sex. So what?”

Holden took his hands off his eyes. Amos had his legs stretched out and his chair swiveled towards where Holden perched on the counter. His hands were folded pensively over his stomach.

“Alright. Well, me too. But—”

“Seriously, the worst. I know where you’re going with this, spit it out.”

Listen. You never want … something else?” he asked, his voice sounding stilted even to him. “Different stuff?”

Amos just looked at him, not quite wide-eyed but intense, unblinking, his jaw set. Not spooked but extremely apprehensive.

“They’ve got stuff for that,” he said slowly. “So you can, uh … do that with a girl. But you know that. If that’s …”

He trailed off. The conversation was like pulling teeth, like yanking your fingernails out one by one. Humiliation burned in the back of Holden’s skull and he regretted saying anything so, so deeply.

He heard himself say, “It’s not the same,” and the regret settled in a little deeper.

Amos was hard to read at the best of times and hardest then, his face a mask. Equal parts surprised, awkward and maybe, somewhere in the exact angle of his eyebrows, reluctantly curious.

He was reading too far into it: it was a grimace. Amos was grimacing at him.

“I’ll bet not,” Amos said.

Holden wanted to launch himself out the airlock. There was an added layer of discomfort because they both knew they were talking tangentially about Naomi without actually talking about her and he could see the cogs turning in Amos’ head as he considered this.

Desperate to steer the conversation anywhere else, he panicked and asked, “Have you ever been with a guy?”

Amos rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not talking about that right now.”

That wasn’t no. No meant no and anything else meant not no. Holden’s mind spun off in ten different directions before he reeled it back in. He wiped his palms on his thighs.

“Okay. Alright. Fair.”

Where was he supposed to go from there? The conversation had already veered too far into pity fuck territory and that was so far from what he wanted. He didn’t know how to phrase it if Amos didn’t already know and he couldn’t parse his expression: it was gentle and open but not apologetic, which he expected.

Eventually, Amos chuckled thinly.

“Tell you what. When we’re back on Tycho, I’ll hook you up at this one real fancy brothel the boys were talking about, alright? They got everything. You’ll find … something. Whatever floats your boat.”

That was rejection. Returning a serve. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

It was a stupid thing for Holden to admit to himself, but it had been a long time since he’d been rejected. Longer since he’d been rejected and had it not eventually work out for him in the end, and he imagined it wouldn’t here.

“Right,” he said tightly. He didn’t want Amos to think he was mad at him, because he was allowed to tell him no. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so embarrassed and it was insane that all the death-defying firefights in the world couldn’t harden him enough to handle his sexual advances being spurned. Humans were fragile. Men were fragile.

“Forget it,” he said, hopping off the counter. “Forget I said anything. I’m drunk.”

“You are not. C’mon, don’t—”

“Yeah, I am. Forget it.”

“Cap—”

Holden was already at the hatch and he climbed down without saying anything else.

 

 

The tiny pirate ship full of beans docked at a nowhere station on a rock hardly bigger than a warehouse complex and for a time, at least, Holden put his knot of Amos-related humiliation aside.

“Do they work off that hunk of metal?” Naomi asked. Holden was peering over her shoulder.

“Pirates,” he reminded her. “Probably not a huge profit margin in stealing beans from relief ships.”

“Fair enough.”

“If we dock and take their beans,” Amos said from behind them, “can we ransack the station for other pirate booty?”

“More legumes?”

“Whatever it is, we’ll bring it back to Tycho. If we’re doing this, we should at least be Robin Hood about it.”

Holden glanced at him and he was already looking back. He looked away. “Noble.”

“Yeah, well. That warm, fuzzy feeling, you know?”

It’ll pass, Holden told himself. You’ll forget and he’ll forget and it’ll go back to normal. He hadn’t told Naomi about it but something about the way she’d been talking to him said she knew. She always knew.

Alex parked them at a reasonable distance and left the cockpit. When he entered ops, none of them were talking, and out of the corner of his eye he saw him look from himself to Naomi to Amos, silently questioning. Holden’s regret dug deeper at having ruined their precarious team dynamic and he felt worst for Alex, who was the furthest out of the loop.

“What’s the plan?” he asked slowly. “Ain’t responding to auto docking, but there’s plenty of space to just pull up next to ‘em, hop out and give ‘em the gears. No way we can’t get into their systems to unlock doors. Naomi?”

“Already on it.”

Amos said, “So we fuck them up and steal the beans back, then pillage their little hangar for whatever else?”

“I figure, yeah.”

“Sweet. Who’s going?”

Holden turned around and again, Amos was looking at him. He raised his eyebrows pointedly.

“Me?” Holden asked.

Amos’ eyebrows climbed higher. “Usually you.”

Naomi chirped, “Always you.”

“Not alone. Alone?” Alex looked at each of them again. “That ain’t how we do things.”

“Of course not alone,” Amos said. Holden suppressed a wince. “I know the drill.”

Every time they looked at each other, he could see his hand on his arm again. He could see Amos’ awkward grimace as he fumbled his way through a conversation about sodomy and hear him suggesting he find a fancy male prostitute next time they were on Tycho.

“Yep,” Holden said, as cheerful as a dead man. “Let’s suit up.”

 

 

They didn’t talk as they suited up and grabbed guns, a rifle for Holden and a shotgun for Amos. They didn’t talk as Alex brought them to rest on the empty expanse of rock next to where the pirates’ ship sat, or as they stood in the airlock and let it hiss around them. Amos shifted the gun on his shoulder and the armor on his arm clacked against Holden’s.

As the door cycled open, Amos said, “You’re not allowed be mad at me over this.”

Holden hit his chin switch and hissed to him, “Private channel.”

Amos griped, “Oh, whatever,” and switched channels anyways. “There.”

“I’m not mad at you and we’re not talking about this right now.”

“Alright,” Naomi said in their ears, “I got their airlock open and they’re probably going to notice. Get in there.”

Amos said to Holden, “You’re lucky we got kneecaps to bust,” and then the door opened and he hopped out. Holden kicked on his mag boots and jumped out after him.

Up close, the little ship they’d been chasing was a bucket of bolts. Obvious patch jobs marred the hull and the thing was put together like a garden shed, not even half the size of the Roci. They slowly made their way across the surface, up a lift elevator that Naomi got open and then through a series of locked doors down a covered gangway towards the ship. Stray beans dotted the space around them like flies. They knocked out two young guys that were pushing shipping containers on dollies down the gangway, after Naomi’s insistence of, “Don’t shoot them, they’re like, twelve.”

They stood in the airlock of the shoddy pirate ship. Amos swung his shotgun back onto his shoulder and said, “We got a minute ‘til this thing’s done. Is now a good time?”

“No.” Holden said.

Naomi said, “No what?”

“Not you. Sorry.” Holden switched channels. “No,” he said to Amos.

“We’re gonna have to. Wanna tell me what you’re so mad about?”

“I’m not mad. We’re just in the middle of nowhere stealing two tons of beans back from a bunch of teenagers, and it’s stupid and I wanna go home.”

“Home?”

“On the Roci. Going somewhere else.”

“Right. Well, you sound mad.”

The airlock cycled open and just inside the ship, they found another young kid sucking up floating beans with a shop vac. He had busted teeth and thick, tall hair, and he was an Earther, which Holden was surprised by and then felt guilty for being surprised by. When he saw them, he twitched violently. “Hey!”

Amos pushed off the wall and lunged at him. The kid brandished the nozzle of the shop vac like a club, mis-timed his swing and sent himself spinning in a tight circle. Naomi laughed in Holden’s ear and Amos landed his tackle as the kid spat profanities and tried to get away.

He twisted the kid’s arms behind his back and cinched them with a zip tie. The kid yelped and Amos smacked him in the back of the head.

“You’re a fucking pain, aren’t you, you little bastard?” Amos looked at Holden. “What now?”

Holden brushed beans out of the space between them and the air current caused more to float back in. Amos hit the kid in the back of the leg and made him drop to his knees as Holden stepped up to him.

“You could’ve answered our messages and saved us both some time.”

The kid sneered up at him. “Fuck you. My boys’ll be here any second to—”

“What, those skids with the dollies? They’re out cold.”

He blanked. Holden felt bad for him.

“This is the first time you’ve been boarded, isn’t it?”

No! We fragged the last guys who tried and we’re gonna fuck you up, too!”

Amos laughed. “It’s his first time.”

The kid sputtered and tried to turn towards Amos, but Amos slapped a hand on top of his head and turned him back towards Holden.

Holden said, “What’s your name?”

“What do you care?”

“Common decency.”

He squinted up at him.

“Rockford.”

Behind him, Amos snickered and Holden ignored him.

“Okay. So who were you gonna sell the beans to, Rockford?”

“Who do you think?” he spat. “Rich fuckin’ Earthers. Who else gives a shit about beans?”

Amos said, “Don’t get him started on beans, Rocky.”

“I hate to break it to you, but you’re an Earther,” Holden said to Rockford. “You sound like an idiot saying Earther.”

“Fuck you!”

“Regardless, we’re giving your beans to the OPA, so say goodbye. You think that relief ship you stuck up wouldn’t report them missing?”

“You’re gonna give ‘em to a bunch of skinnies? Good fucking luck. They wouldn’t know what to—”

Holden snapped, “Shut your fucking mouth before—”

“Before what?” Rockford sneered. He nodded his head at Amos and said, “Gonna get your beefy boyfriend here to st—”

Holden cracked him in the nose with the butt of his rifle and he dropped like a stone, gushing blood that beaded and wobbled in the air around him. Holden did it before he even thought about it—the second boyfriend was out of his mouth, he was moving, and then Rockford was on the ground.

Amos grabbed his arm and even through his suit he could feel his thumb pressed hard to exactly where he would need to push if he wanted to break his wrist. “Jesus, Cap, what—”

He shook him off more violently than he needed to. “Don’t.”

Amos took a big step back with his hands raised. Holden felt a flush roll up his neck. He was acting stupider than the stupid kid.

Naomi said, “Jim …”

“Also don’t,” he told her. She didn’t say anything else.

He glanced at Amos and the surprise on his face said he knew this wasn’t about beans. Everyone knew it wasn’t about beans. Being embarrassed wasn’t about toughing it out and that made it so much worse than anger or sadness or anything else. It felt childish and dirty like a suckerpunch. You could have righteous anger, but you couldn’t be noble and humiliated.

Rockford gurgled on the floor between them and tried to push himself upright with his arms still secured behind his back. If Amos said anything about how they should talk about this, Holden was feeling stupid enough to deck him, too.

“Well.” Amos sighed tiredly and picked up Rockford by the back of his suit. “Better start sucking.”

 

 

If there was anything as awkward as silently collecting beans with someone you had unresolved feelings for, Holden hadn’t experienced it yet. He wanted to take control of the ship and get it under thrust so they could sweep up the beans, but Naomi said the thing was flashing half a dozen different warnings and she didn’t trust it to not blow up. Most of the beans were in neat shipping containers in the cargo hold, but the ones floating around the other parts of the ship—enough that they would have rolled around on the floor a few inches deep at 1 g—needed to be collected. Rockford and the kids were tied up in the gangway, Amos was hauling containers out of the cargo hold and onto the Roci and Holden was vacuuming up black beans in an ugly little galley.

Amos was done before him and joined him on the ship’s cramped personnel deck with a bag he swung around to scoop up the last few beans like he was catching butterflies. Holden pointedly didn’t speak to him. He still couldn’t believe he hit that kid over something so stupid. He was losing it. Naomi hadn’t offered to help with the bean collection and he assumed it was to give them time alone.

Amos said, apropos of nothing, “You’re being a bitch, Cap.”

Holden kept his head down. “That’s fair.”

For about a minute, Amos swung his bag in silence. Holden didn’t know how he was supposed to fix this and the longer he went without saying something, the worse it was. He was being a bitch, but he wanted more time to get out of it.

“I dunno what you’re so mad about,” Amos grumbled. “It’s not like I said no.

Holden froze for one, two, three heartbeats. Then he whipped around.

He shouted, “You did say no!”

“I thought we weren’t talking about this!”

“You told me to get a hooker!”

For the first time since all this started, Amos looked slightly frazzled.

“I panicked!”

Holden blinked. Amos’ face seemed genuine, stuck in a wince at himself.

“You—what?”

“I panicked,” Amos said again. “You—”

Alex’s voice sounded in their ears. “Y’all’re about done down there, yeah? We can probably header. The last few ain’t gonna do us any good.”

Holden and Amos looked at each other. Amos’ mouth was still open but he’d stopped talking, and his hands were out in front of him like he was about to explain something, but they didn’t move either.

He slowly raised a hand and clicked on his suit comms. “Be right there.”

 

 

Chapter Two: Amos

 

Amos didn’t have a ton of experience saying no.

Saying no to stuff was generally a less fun and less interesting experience than saying yes, so he tried not to do it if he could help it.

Holden presented a weird gray area.

He thought about it as he poured coffee in the morning, once the Roci was gliding back to Tycho at a leisurely 0.3 g to rest their bones, stuck in his own head. It wasn’t a no forever, it was a no then. Holden wasn’t bad-looking. Amos didn’t have a rubric for judging the attractiveness of men. It was a yes or a no, and ninety-nine percent of the time, it was a no. But then, there were the yesses. He supposed that dimples, thick, dark hair and an alright build counted as a yes. Holden could stand to get more sun and he was shorter than most guys, even Earthers, but he got the job done. He had a nice smile and he was probably decently hung if the amount of ass he ran through on the Canterbury was any indication. And those baby blues. Amos decided that these things mattered to him. He didn’t know what to make of them, but he knew they made Holden a yes.

He said no because it was messy and he wasn’t a fan of messy when there were so many uncomplicated ways to get laid. He said no because he wanted to talk to Naomi about it, and because Holden had been weird even before he made a pass at him and it would be bad if the two were related. He figured if he played it off like a joke, he could see Holden’s reaction, and boy, had it been bad. It made it messier. He hadn’t seen Holden in a day and a half.

He found Naomi alone in ops and when he got there, he realized he had no idea how to start a conversation like the one he wanted to have. He didn’t think Holden was lying, but he needed to know for himself that him and Naomi had the same set of information. He just couldn’t think of a tactful way to phrase I think your boyfriend wants me to fuck him.

He settled into one of the crash couches and she heard him and turned around.

“Hey.”

“Hiya. Whatcha doing?”

She shrugged. “Trying to set up what we’ll do with this shit when we’re back on Tycho. Why?”

“Nothing. Bored as hell and I haven’t talked to you lately. You got a sec?”

That got her attention. She turned to face him and fixed him with a quizzical gaze. “Uh, yeah. No problem. What’s up?”

He held up his heads. “Nothin’, nothin’, just—you know. Doing a pulse check. How’s everything going with the captain? You guys good?”

“Peachy,” she said slowly, squinting at him. “Why, what did he tell you?”

“Nothing. Not much. We—had a weird talk the other night is all. I dunno.”

“I thought so. Weird how?”

He figured he’d better go for it.

“Weird like about relationships and stuff. You know he’s into dudes?”

Naomi didn’t look the least bit surprised.

“Oh, that. Yeah, he told me about that pretty early on.”

“No shit?”

“Well, you know he’s like that. His whole cards on the table kind of thing.”

“Yeah,” Amos said, scratching his head. “Yeah.”

“I told him he can see whoever he wants, but I’ve got two rules—shower if you come to see me afterwards, and don’t tell me the gory details unless I ask.”

Amos raised his eyebrows. “So you’re down with him banging people who aren’t you?”

“Guys? Sure. They’re … a different category in his head. As long as we’re good with each other, we’re good. And I can go with women if I want to.”

Amos tried not to drown in that information. He had a job to do.

“Right. Fair. I feel like if I were you, I’d have a rule like ‘no fucking people I hate.’ That’s what I’d pick.”

She gave him a Belter shrug. “If he fucked someone I hated, he’d be smart enough to not tell me about it. Or ideally, he’d be smart enough to not do it in the first place. He doesn’t need me to tell him that.”

Amos turned that over in his head. “You and I are friends, though. Good friends. Fuck, great friends.”

She smiled a funny little smile.

“So he did ask you.”

He grimaced. “Didn’t ask so much as propositioned, but yeah, that’s the lay of it.” He told himself he wasn’t going to ask for permission, but when it came down to it, he raised his eyes to hers and said, “That cool?”

Of all things, he didn’t expect her to laugh at him.

What? Yeah, it’s—wait, you turned him down?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Because of me?”

“No, ‘cause of him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He made a vague gesture with his hands.

“He’s … got a lot going on. You. The Roci. The entire solar system. Dunno if I wanna get mixed up in that just for a half-decent roll in the hay.” At her frown, he corrected, “Uh, a fully decent roll. Mind-blowing. I’m sure he’s a fucking sultan in the sack, alright? Sorry. Fuck, this is weird.”

“Hugely,” she agreed. “Jim is … a complicated guy. But if it’s something he wants, I trust him. Believe it or not.”

Amos nodded, still thinking about the aforementioned roll in the hay. Naomi was a ten, so she must have had a decent frame of reference for what constituted a good lay, and she’d given Holden her seal of approval. Amos never thought about that before and his mind wandered. It was a massive psychological mess that he found it attractive for a guy to be good with women.

Naomi asked him, “Did you know?” and he squinted down at his laced fingers.

“Mostly. Lately, anyways. I figured, he’s being all sweet, he either likes me or he wants something from me.”

He was pretty sure Naomi stifled a laugh. “Or both.”

“Both,” he agreed, vaguely embarrassed. He didn’t like being talked about. Thin cracks were showing up in the pads of his fingers from work and dryness and his nail beds were dirty. Eventually, he said, “Would you ask him for the gory details about me?”

He looked up in time to catch Naomi smiling a surprisingly lecherous smile and it made him laugh. “I might be curious.”

He wanted details about them. He remembered what Holden said when he suggested a strap-on and curiosity burned in his chest. Again, he fought it down. Not the time.

“Don’t do anything I don’t want you knowing about. Got it.” He leaned in and leered. “If you’re so curious about me, you could get the deets first hand. I’m pretty equal opportunity.”

Naomi was hardly trying to hide her amused smirk and Amos was trying to school his face into something smarmy and funny and less nervous. Naomi had her jumpsuit tied down around her waist and under it she wore a white sleeveless top, cut just low enough in the front for him to see a suggestion of her small, pert breasts. He’d always found her attractive in a way he never paid much attention to; they were friends before anything else and that was more important to him than getting his dick wet. With that being said, if she were involved in the act Holden was suggesting, it would be a different ball game.

She stood and with a light touch to the console she glided past him, letting her fingers lightly graze his arm.

“I appreciate that you’re trying to make this straight, but don’t bother. I won’t tell anyone.”

He was still trying to sputter out a response when she was halfway down the hatch, and then she was gone and he was left with the unfamiliar feeling of being unsure of himself. But he had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do.

 

 

Chapter Three: Holden

 

Over the span of two days, Holden had gotten good at making himself scarce. He picked something about the ship that he didn’t know anything about, downloaded all the manuals for it, read them, then tried to do something about it. First, he picked the lighting systems, then the specific kind of biometric locks on the lockers in their cabins. It wasn’t going well, but it ate up a lot of time. He had a lot of questions that under normal circumstances, he might ask Amos, but that wasn’t the point. Amos was in the machine shop taking apart the dozens of electronic baubles they pilfered from the pirates’ hangar and Holden had been everywhere else. At that moment, he was lying on a couch in ops, reading a manual on water filtration systems on his hand terminal. He would read for another half hour, then try to improve the water that came out of the little tap in the galley that was supposed to be better than the regular water but was actually far worse.

The hatch opened and closed.

“Hey.”

It was Amos. He didn’t look up.

“Yeah?”

“Come drink with me.”

“No.”

“I know you’re not really working on anything.”

“I know.”

“Then how come?”

Amos’ voice was closer. Holden tapped at his terminal like he was busy.

“You know why.”

He thought he heard Amos sigh, and then nothing. There wouldn’t be footfalls in the low gravity. He wondered if maybe he’d left and refused to look. He’d be an adult about it later, when he was done reading the water filtration manual. He’d sit Amos down and talk to him about all of it as soon as he had a chance to repair his bruised ego, because he couldn’t be level-headed before then. He wasn’t being level-headed now.

Amos put a hand on his shoulder. Not his usual bone-shaking clap on the back, but a regular touch.

“C’mon,” he said, his voice closer still. “Give it another shot.”

Holden nearly dropped his terminal on his face. “What?”

He turned around and Amos was already halfway through the room. “C’mon.”

What?

Amos waved a hand at him and dropped down the hatch. Holden shoved his terminal into his pocket and loped after him. He found him in the galley sitting in front of the same container of scotch as before and he didn’t like the parallel. He took a few steps into the room.

“What’s this?”

Amos smiled widely and slid an already-full bulb of scotch towards him. It glided across the table and stopped at the far edge.

“Camaraderie, asshole. Drink.”

Holden took the scotch and finished most of it in one pull. He drifted into the seat next to Amos, eyeing him warily. He looked happy and calm and not at all … panicked.

“How’s it going?” he tried. Amos sucked his scotch.

“Great. I did fuck all today.”

Holden smiled. “Same.”

“It’s nice, right? If I’m gonna be bored, I at least wanna be relaxed.”

“Not bored and stressed.”

“Exactly.” Amos took the bulb from him and their fingers brushed. He refilled it and handed it back. “Even professional kneecap busters gotta take breaks.”

Holden laughed. Already, it was easier than before. He talked and Amos talked and he always had a scotch in his hand. He forgot to be angry and embarrassed because he was too busy laughing. He told a story about a friend of his growing up who was obsessed with the idea of making his own space suit and Amos told him about the first time he stole a car. He talked about a woman he dated once who was a famous psychic and Amos told a story about one of the first ships he was on, where he was mistakenly in their system as a line cook and he didn’t correct anyone for two months.

Holden could hardly speak through his laughter. “Why didn’t you say anything? On day one?”

“I thought maybe I’d make a good chef! Some guy asked what I was doing in engineering and told me to haul ass up to the galley and I remember just thinking … Huh. Alright.”

“Is that why you’re good at cooking?”

“It helped, yeah.”

Holden chuckled and shook his head. They fell into a comfortable silence. Amos’ head was down, watching his hands bobble his bulb of scotch back and forth. He looked up and caught Holden looking at him.

“You think someone picked up that distress signal for Rocky and his bros?” he asked.

“Probably.”

“Probably,” he agreed. “That or he drowned in a bubble of his own nose blood.”

Holden winced. This was a segue. “I doubt it.”

“We didn’t crack it back into place.”

“Nope.”

“We coulda, I guess. Would’ve been polite.”

“He was a pirate.”

“Yeah, fair enough.” Amos filled his bulb. “You hit him pretty good.”

Holden’s bulb wasn’t empty yet. Amos was lapping him. “Yep.”

“Reminded me of a certain detective friend of ours,” Amos said carefully. Holden rubbed his neck.

“I guess.”

“Not that he was … well, maybe he was a bad guy, but you know what I mean. Like I said.”

“I know.”

“Also, while we’re on the subject—if you want my professional opinion, he had the hots for you.”

Holden’s knee-jerk reaction was rage and a scandalized kind of don’t speak ill of the dead. He looked somewhere else and counted to ten.

“Your professional opinion in what capacity?”

“As someone who also sort of has the hots for you,” Amos said cheerfully. He held up the scotch and said, “Top you off?”

Holden’s lizard brain said the fuck do you mean ‘sort of’? but he reigned it in. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Yeah,” he said instead, slow. “Sure. Thanks.”

Amos smiled at him. Holden was on high alert. He watched him fill another two bulbs with the same anxious intensity of either predator or prey, or both. He didn’t think Amos Burton of all people would be capable of putting him on edge, but he supposed it was his own fault. He started it and it was naive of him to think Amos wouldn’t finish it.

Amos said, “You really need booze to grease the wheels, eh?” He handed Holden the bulb and quickly added, “No judgement. You know I drink like a fucking fish.”

“N—yeah. Kind of.” Holden gingerly took the drink. “It helps on special, awkward occasions.”

“Gotcha.” Amos sipped his. “Not like you’re being a coward or anything. It’s awkward as hell, for sure.”

Holden winced. “Ideally it wouldn’t be.”

“Yeah, but what are you gonna do? Two guys trapped on a ship together month in and month out, and also we’ve been friends for a few years and crewmates for whatever before that. Lotta sticking points. You’re doing alright.”

Holden squinted at him and cocked his head.

“Sorry, but—hold on a sec. Last week you told me to go buy a strap-on, and now you’re … I won’t pretend to know what you’re doing.”

He started half a dozen next sentences—what are we talking about here? What’s changed? Are you down?—and they all sounded slightly wrong, so in the end, he didn’t add anything. Amos’ mouth pulled to the side, not a wince, not a smirk.

“I’ve been thinking about it, not gonna lie.” He spoke with the casual assuredness of someone who never rehearsed what he said and Holden envied him. “It’s not like I wasn’t thinking about it before, but a guy—a good buddy of yours and the captain of your very, very small crew—puts his hand on your arm and tells you he likes dick, it sends you for a spin, you know? ‘S natural.”

Holden felt his ears burn. “Right. Sorry.”

Amos waved a meaty hand at him. “No sorry. I just mean it took me a second.”

“And me being being a jerk to you and beating up a kid fresh out of puberty has nothing to do with this?”

“It’s sweet that you think you could pressure me into anything, Cap.” He met his gaze. “You’re not half as smooth as everyone says you are. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“Naomi,” Holden said. “Often.”

“She’s smart, that one. You hold onto her.”

“I’m trying to.”

Holden sucked at his drink. His eyes flitted from the bow in Amos’ lower lip to his thick fingers to his pale eyelashes and he thrummed with the feeling of being on the precipice of something big, all nerves and motion. It felt like the crackling, flirty energy he was imagining the last time they sat there, except this time he was sure it was real. He didn’t know what to do with it. Every second that passed he told himself go for it, get in there, grab him, and he was so close to doing it.

Amos sighed, set his drink down and hauled himself to his feet.

“Alright, listen.” He took a single bounding step around the table and Holden instinctively stood to meet him. “Lemme see something.”

Before Holden could say anything, Amos grabbed his face with one massive hand and kissed him.

He assumed there wouldn’t be much kissing and it was a revelation to be wrong. It went from zero to sixty in nothing flat with a burning intensity that he assumed—hoped—was the chemistry Amos was looking for. Their lips parted, Amos’ tongue slid against his and it was deep and frantic and made his head spin and adrenaline prick at his fingers. He sunk into the kiss and tried to ignore the way Amos had to stoop down to reach him. He dragged his hands down his unyielding arms and dug his nails in and Amos bit his lower lip. He twisted his fist in the sleeve of his shirt and held on when Amos grabbed his ass and lifted him to straddle his thigh, easy in the low gravity, and then he didn’t have to stoop anymore.

He was a surprisingly good kisser, attentive and hard and just the right kind of wet, and it felt almost like a fight at first with each of them struggling to seem like they were the one in control, as if one of them had to be. He ran his hands over Amos’ buzz-cut head and realized he didn’t care if he was the one who was in control.

“Got your verdict?” he mumbled, laughing against his lips. Amos pulled him in and pushed his hard-on against his thigh.

“Seems like it.” He ran his mouth up the column of Holden’s throat and breathed in. “Gonna need more evidence, I think.”

A feeling Holden could only call conquest burned in his chest. It was unnecessary and unwelcome and it wasn’t about that, it never was, but he was still human and it was deliciously satisfying to get something you never thought you could get.

“Sounds good,” he said faintly, a hand trailing over Amos’ shoulders. “You wanna …”

“Unless you wanna do it here.”

Holden would never admit to considering it.

“We can do better.”

Holden slipped out of his grip and let his heels float to the ground. He slid his hands down Amos’ arms and watched them go, looking small and tan against his pale skin. Amos watched them, too. He let go well before he got to his hands. Amos grabbed his shoulders, spun him around and gave him a nudge towards the hatch.

“Pushy,” Holden said.

Amos laughed at him. “You like it.”

Holden said nothing, because he did like it. He didn’t know what that was supposed to mean and tried not to think about it. None of it felt real and as he climbed down to the personnel deck he wondered whether it would ruin their friendship, whether he cared. He didn’t think Amos had ever ruined anything that he didn’t intentionally try to ruin.

“Is this a pity fuck?” he asked, not turning around as he went down the hall. He expected a snicker and got a flat, serious voice.

“Again, have I ever done anything I didn’t wanna do?”

“Fair enough.”

Amos put his hands on Holden’s shoulders again and steered him towards his own cabin. “My place.”

Holden didn’t argue. He’d never seen Amos' cabin but it, predictably, looked just like his own. It was more cluttered—clothes on the floor, bottles and tubes and bulbs on the cabinets next to the bed—and it was stuffy and dark and smelled like him. He took a few steps in and heard the hatch shut behind him.

“Nice setup you got here,” he said.

“You should see the upstairs ensuite.” Amos’ hands settled on his hips. “We just got the tile redone.”

“Ritzy.”

Holden turned around. Amos was slouching, bent towards him, his face hanging above his. They spent one breath there with tension taut between them.

Amos mumbled, “You’re smaller close up. Look at this shit,” and ran his hands up Holden’s sides, where the distance from his thumb to his fingers spanned most of his ribcage. Holden leaned up towards him.

“Is that a deal-breaker?”

“Nah. Kinda sweet. You talk big.”

Holden kissed him. Amos pulled him in so hard he floated up off the ground and he all but devoured him, kissing him so hard he struggled to keep up. His height made Holden bend back and Amos clutched at him and there was something rushed and desperate about it, like they were afraid of being caught or running out of time when in reality, they were neither. Holden took his face in his hands to try to slow it down and Amos followed his lead and then it was deep and intense and his brain turned to mush. He felt his hands at the zipper of his jumpsuit, slowly pulling it down, sliding it off his shoulders. Holden couldn’t remember the last time someone undressed him and not the other way around. He fumbled with the knot Amos tied his jumpsuit sleeves in for a few long seconds before Amos laughed against his lips and nudged him away to put some space between them.

“This ain’t a two-man job.”

Holden was clumsy in his eagerness and there was nothing sexy about a man wrestling his way out of a jumpsuit. It was Amos’ cabin so he didn’t know what to do with it once it was off and stood there in a t-shirt and briefs holding onto it like a shy little boy. He was never like this with women. Amos peeled off his own and kicked it off his feet, surprisingly artful in microgravity. His briefs failed to hide an obvious erection and given the circumstances, he seemed fine with it and let Holden look at him. His tight t-shirt had ridden up and exposed his defined abs and his scar. His thighs looked like something carved from granite. Holden was sure he’d seen him naked before but couldn’t remember when; up until recently, it hadn’t been information he cared to file away.

“You can change your mind,” Amos said suddenly, less like he was nervous and more like he was explaining something simple or reading a manual. “Making out’s a lot different than seeing a guy’s hard-on. We can go back to that, if you want.”

He didn’t want. He knew what he wanted but he couldn’t say it. Amos would get it because he always got it, and then Holden wouldn’t have to say I want you to fuck the hell out of me because I can’t stop thinking about it, but don’t ruin our friendship while you’re at it because you’re one of three people who mean the world to me.

He said, “No, this is good,” and dropped his jumpsuit on the floor. “C’mere.”

In one big step Amos was next to him and he grabbed his face in his hands and kissed him again. He pushed his hips forward without thinking about it and Amos pushed back with a groan low in his throat that gave Holden goosebumps. Amos pulled his shirt off him and eased him back to the bed—hardly big enough for the two of them—where they settled down, slow and weightless.

He never thought much about his own size when nearly everyone in his life was bigger than him, but when Amos dragged one of his massive hands up between his legs and palmed his dick, he thought about it. He felt like an Easy Bake being compared to a real oven: cute, but at the end of the day, it was unsatisfying and inefficient to cook a brownie with a light bulb.

Amos didn’t laugh. Holden thought he might. Instead, there was the slightest hitch in his breath as he felt out the shape of him through his briefs. It didn’t seem like he thought it was funny. His wide chest pushed Holden back into the gel of the mattress, his arm cocked back, his palm against him.

Holden whispered, “If you ask me if I’m sure one more time, I’m spacing you.”

With a twist of his wrist, Amos dug his hand into his briefs and took him in his fist. “I wasn’t gonna.”

For a while, it was one-sided. Amos got his underwear down around his thighs enough to jerk him off, his grip tight and slow, the sharp bridge of his nose resting against Holden’s temple. Holden dug his fingers into his forearm, not stop or go but stay, and tried to breathe. He felt like a knock-kneed teenager, experimenting when he wouldn’t be caught. Like a sailor unexpectedly impotent on a windless day, or an honours student flunking a test written in a foreign language: in a different context, he’d know what he was doing. He felt Amos’ hard dick pushing into his thigh.

“Sit up,” he said faintly, tugging the edge of his briefs. “Off.”

Amos chuckled, let him go and dragged his hand up his stomach. “I gotta say, I didn’t think you’d be such a pillow queen.”

Holden fixed him with what he thought was a withering glare, but Amos burst out laughing.

“Keep it down!”

Amos snorted, “That’s what you’re worried about them hearing?”

He knelt on the bed and pushed off in a short bounce that gave him a couple feet of air. The funny little maneuver he did to get his underwear off was far from artful but off the charts for efficiency, and then he was flicking them to the floor and pulling off his shirt by the scruff of the neck.

Holden was suddenly very, very sure that he’d never seen Amos naked before because he was sure he would have remembered it. He swore his dick was as thick around as his wrist and he must have made a face, because Amos cackled at him.

He took it in his hand and said, “It doesn’t bite,” with an unbelievable amount of mirth and smugness in his tone.

Holden couldn’t stop looking at it. “I don’t believe you.”

Amos slid closer and before Holden could overthink it, he wrapped his fingers around him. Unbridled glee radiated off him and he said, “Alright,” aimless and happy and endlessly pleased.

Amos’ dick made Holden’s hands look small and he hated it. He tried not to think about it. He tried not to think about how long it had been since he had a dick in his hand that wasn’t his own or about the scratchy feeling it left in his chest. Amos made another vaguely contented noise and turned his face to rest in his hair and he was surprised by how embarrassed he was.

He was overthinking it. He knew that. Sex was supposed to be one of the only things he could do completely effortlessly and he was fucking even that up. If he kept it up, he’d chicken out before either of them got anything out of it and they’d pussyfoot around one another for a month or two before reluctantly returning to the level of friendship they’d been at before, as some masculine pseudo-ghosting. He could see himself doing it. So, instead, he put a hand flat on Amos’ chest until he laid back, then took his dick in his fist and his mouth and sucked.

Amos laughed in a sharp, surprised yawp. His hand came up to Holden’s head on reflex and then dropped back down.

“I was k—” His voice cracked. “—kidding about the pillow queen thing.”

Holden didn’t dignify it with a response. He closed his eyes and focused. He didn’t have much experience being on his current end of this equation and knew that Amos—like him—had a lot of experience being on the other end. He listened to every sound he made, every stuttered breath and swallowed moan, and paid attention. He took him in his throat and Amos’ back arched off the bed, his heels digging in somewhere behind him. But again, he laughed, and this time Holden pulled off him and sat up, earning a pained gasp.

“Something funny?” he hissed.

“Nothin’ funny.” Amos was noticeably out of breath. He looked at the ceiling and ran a hand up Holden’s arm sort of aimlessly, like soothing a skittish animal. “Just—can’t believe you’re doing this.”

There was something soft in his tone, embarrassed and awestruck and genuine, so Holden kept sucking him off. Amos swore and curled a hand around the back of his neck as he moved. He felt bad for calling him out. He wished he could shut up for once in his life but it was never something he’d been good at, as the whole solar system was aware of.

Amos said, “I’m not gonna lie, there’s been some times when you been saying some bullshit and I was dying to shut you up, and it woulda been a lot easier if I’d thought to stick my dick in your mouth.”

Holden pinched his thigh and he winced and laughed. A second later, he slid a hand into his hair. Holden kept going. His jaw ached and his wrist was stiff but he couldn’t remember the last time his mind had been so quiet.

“Cap—” Amos said, his voice tight, and Holden was too busy to say don’t call me that here. “Not to tell you what to do, but this is clearly a no-holds-barred kind of thing, so—I’m gettin’ real close, and I can go again, but if I’ve been reading you right I think you’d rather I put it in before I bust, eh?”

Holden choked. Amos laughed and quickly said, “Sorry, sorry, no laughing.”

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Sorry. You can laugh. You always laugh.”

Amos seemed to like that. He sat up on his elbows and Holden sat up from between his legs. Amos was flushed across his cheeks and down his throat, smiling in an obviously bit-back way that said I wish it were appropriate for me to be smiling like an idiot.

“Am I right?” he asked.

Holden sucked his teeth. “You’re not wrong.”

Amos smiled like an idiot.

“I’m good with that.”

“Yeah?”

“Real good. Do you—” He craned his neck to look at or for something. “D’you want condoms? I’m clean, I can show you my last physical if—”

“It’s fine. You’re—yeah. It’s good. Do you have—”

“Drawer on the left.”

Before Holden could get anything, Amos flipped up and drifted to the left side drawer and got a bottle of something. There was a lot Holden didn’t want to talk about—lube and condoms were bad enough—and he hoped that Amos’ not no earlier meant enough experience that he didn’t have to. Evidently, it was. Amos put a hand on his shoulder and motioned for him to turn around and lie down.

“For starters,” he added.

Holden laid on his front with his arms folded under his head. He felt loopy and slow and his mouth was dry, and he was so hard it ached. The mattress shifted under them as Amos moved his weight. Cold, wet fingers stroked up from his balls and pushed inside him.

His back drew up tense at the sensation and it was hard not to push back on him. He slowly worked him open, his other hand on his back or occasionally moving his thighs apart. Everything was less funny then. He could hear Amos breathing. He didn’t think he made much noise, but he could have been wrong because Amos knew how to crook his fingers just right, how to move and what to look for to make him twist and buck against the bed. Every sound he made, he thought, shut up, it’s Amos, and then it would feel so deeply, illogically good that he’d forget and moan into his arms.

Amos pulled out and slid his hands up Holden’s sides, pressing in hard, almost like a massage. His skin was faintly slick with sweat. “You good to go?”

Holden gave a noncommittal mm. The bed shifted again as he moved and Holden tried to keep still. There was the click of a cap and the hard press of Amos’ thighs against the backs of his. His wet cock head slid up his ass and back down and pressed against him.

“I’m gonna need a bit before I can look you in the eye after this,” Amos said, his voice a deep rumble. “You gotta take a breather before you can be friends with a guy after seeing his asshole.”

Holden laughed despite himself.

“You don’t even want to pretend to be romantic, huh?”

“Do you want me to be?”

“I dunno. No.”

It took Amos a second.

“Wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world,” he said gently. He leaned forward and tucked his face into the crook of Holden’s neck. “You smell good,” he said, his lips moving on his skin. “I wasn’t gonna say anything, but ever since I known you, you got this … smell. Drives me fucking nuts anytime we’re near each other, like right up close. I hate it and I dunno what it is, your skin or your hair or some mammal instinct bullshit or whatever, but you smell so fucking good.”

Holden’s breath caught. “That’s—”

Amos pushed inside him without warning and he felt the warmth of his breath as he laughed.

“I meant all that,” he whispered, “I just also wanted to fuck with you.”

Every muscle in Holden’s body was tense and straining and trying to accomodate, all the air knocked out of his lungs. Amos was hardly halfway in.

“Breathe,” he heard him say, close. His hands held his hips. “You’re good.”

It was mind-numbing and overwhelming, painful, sweet, hard, everything. It had been so long. He felt Amos’ chest against his back, his shuddering breath, his sandpaper hands. Neither of them moved, and he pushed in. Holden’s hands made fists.

“You’re good,” Amos said again, his voice hoarse. Holden didn’t argue. He saw stars. He felt him pull out and drip more lube on and slip between his thighs when he pushed back in. When he was all the way in, he groaned, “Fucking shit.”

Holden was sick with the combined thrill and nausea of a high g burn. All he could hear was his own heartbeat. His dick was pressed against his belly and he wanted friction, something, anything. He wanted Amos to jerk him off. He wanted to fuck his mouth. Amos started to roll his hips, easy at first and then harder and harder with an ebbing away of self control and the reluctant sobs of pleasure ripping out of Holden’s throat.

“Fuck,” Amos swore, his breath hitching with every thrust, “you’re so—”

“Stop—”

—tight—”

“—talking!”

Amos laughed. “You don’t like it?”

“Of course you’re a talker,” he snarled. Amos pulled all the way out and slowly, inch by inch, pushed back in. Holden could hardly breathe.

Amos said, “You like it,” and he could hear his grin. Then he was hammering into him and Holden’s back arched into the bed, his knees dug in and his hands scrabbled for purchase. Amos was loud and he was strong and heavy and it was exactly what he wanted, hard, fast and so nonsensically perfect. He let go, tried to breathe, tried to keep quiet and let himself be pulled under.

Amos leaned down and spoke with his lips on the shell of his ear. “Ride me.”

Holden opened his eyes. “No.”

“Please. I’ll come if you ride me.”

“Why would I want that?”

"’Cause you’re a good listener and you remember I can go again.” He slid down and sucked at the junction of Holden’s neck. “And ‘cause I want it and you like me, so you want me to get what I want.”

Holden could hardly string a sentence together, let alone hold a debate. “Good argument.”

Amos might have kissed him, or else just bumped against his hair. He picked him up and flipped them over so Holden straddled his waist and his head spun with the movement. It was weird, looking down at him. Intimate. He stretched for the lube and dripped more on and Holden watched his obliques shift as he moved, realized he was doing it, then looked away. Amos pulled him into position and lined up. He braced his hands on his chest without thinking too much about it, looked him dead in the eye and sunk down.

“Oh.”

He took a shuddering breath. Amos’ mouth fell open. He shifted his weight forward and Amos’ hands slid up his thighs, and then he had to look somewhere else. He moved and worked up a rhythm and Amos swore under him and arched up, his hands not guiding him as much as feeling his motions, sliding back to grab his ass. Holden kept his eyes closed. It was painfully intimate and every time he moved, hot spikes of pleasure drove up through his belly. He could feel Amos going tense under him, urging him to go faster, and in another life he might have slowed right down and teased him, leaned back on his hands and watched him babble and beg. But they weren’t there yet. His thighs ached and his heart was banging against his ribs and if he came first he’d never forgive himself. The angle was perfect and he rolled his hips and got a particularly vibrant fuck! out of Amos, who dug his thumbs against his hip bones.

“That’s it,” Amos panted, his back arching up, “just like that, that’s—fuck—”

He practically bucked him up into the air as he came, his hands crushing his hips to keep him in place. He felt him pulse inside him and it was repulsive and mindlessly sexy all at once and he couldn’t take his eyes off him and his straining muscles and the pleasure playing over his features. He clutched one of his drawn-up knees to keep from falling backwards and his dick dripped onto his stomach.

Before Amos had even opened his eyes, he had Holden’s dick in his hand. Holden jolted at every touch, bore down him and came, almost too overwhelming, too intense, too unbearably good. He was hazily aware that he was being loud. Eventually, he opened his eyes. He didn’t remember having shut them. His cum was streaked up Amos’ chest and stomach and he was looking up at him with the most amused, bewildered expression.

“You put on a helluva show,” he said, noticeably breathless. He was still inside him. Holden could hardly hear him over the rush of blood in his ears and he didn’t want to look at him, but he couldn’t look away. Without the frantic haze of lust making everything seem like a good idea, it was awkward.

Holden said, “Thanks,” like an idiot.

“You made a fuss, but you ride dick like a champ. You done that before?”

“Nope. Had it ridden plenty, though.”

“Well, shit. You’re in the wrong line of work.”

Holden lifted off him and tried not to wince. “I should quit being a spaceship captain and have sex for a living?”

“I mean, consider it. I’ve paid more for worse. ” Amos scooted over to let Holden lie down next to him and still the two of them didn’t fit; Amos’ leg hung off the far side. Their shoulders were jammed together and after a moment, Amos lifted his arm and nudged Holden with it until he let him put it behind his head.

Holden sat up. “One sec.”

He stood, snatched a t-shirt off the ground and pulled it on. He realized too late that it wasn’t his, but it would have been worse to take it off. He tried to plan what he would say if he ran into Alex or Naomi wearing Amos’ shirt, but by the time he got to the head, he still didn’t have anything.

He cleaned up, pulled off Amos’ shirt and twisted around in front of the mirror. There was a reddish pressure mark or bruise on his clavicle and on one side of his hips that he hoped would fade by morning, plus a faint hickey on the back of his neck that he didn’t think would. He was sore and uncomfortable and at the same time he was buzzing with a funny, manic energy. The depressing realist in him had expected a couple bumpy handjobs followed by a week of Amos confining himself to the engineering bay, and adjusting his expectations to a new reality was proving difficult. There would be Amos, maybe or maybe not holed up in engineering and avoiding him, but likely not, if how easy things had been so far was any indication. Amos would have memories of Holden riding him and sucking his dick and he couldn’t get those back. Every time Holden spoke to him from this point on, he would have to acknowledge the possibility that he was remembering how he’d looked while sucking his dick and he couldn’t stop him. He hadn’t thought this through.

He put his shirt back on. He glanced towards the door and, confident in his solitude, lifted the collar of the shirt to his nose and breathed. It smelled like sweat. Of course it did. He thought of Amos mumbling against the back of his neck about the way he smelled and wondered if he was making it up.

Back in his cabin, Amos was lying with his arms folded behind his head, his eyes closed, looking impossibly pleased with himself. His chest was clean and Holden said, “If you used my shirt, I’m gonna kill you.”

Amos didn’t open his eyes. “I’m not an animal.”

Holden took off his shirt and sat next to him. It was funny to be around him naked in the absence of sex. His dick was thick even when it was soft and Holden didn’t envy him much for having to haul that rig around in environment suits and armor. At worst it was a disaster waiting to happen and at best it was an inconvenience. Somehow, he knew Amos didn’t mind much.

“You good?” Amos asked. “I didn’t break anything?”

Holden slid to lie down next to him and he stretched out his arm so he didn’t elbow him in the head.

“No gore,” Holden confirmed.

“Good.”

They laid in silence for several minutes. Holden’s leg hung off the side of the bed and he tapped his foot against the floor. His side was pressed against Amos’ and the man radiated heat like a furnace. Holden worried he’d nod off and sleep uninvited in his cabin.

More just to say something than anything else, he said, “You’ve done that before.”

“Hm?”

“I refuse to believe you’ve never done that before. You …” He hesitated, put off at himself. “… know where everything is.”

Amos barked out a laugh.

“Yeah, alright, fair. Just guys I worked with when I was a kid, not in a long time,” he said, airy like it didn’t matter, and maybe it didn’t. “Too young and ugly to get girls, and we didn’t wanna mess with that. You know? A girl you gotta be great to, ‘cause you don’t wanna be an asshole. But sometimes you’re just looking to fuck around, so it was easier to fuck around with each other than be trapped on a ship with a bunch of women you ghosted.”

“That seems like an oversimplification.”

“What, you didn’t do it like that?”

He had. He didn’t know many guys who hadn’t at least once, and it wasn’t that there weren’t women on their ships, it was that it made things complicated. He thought of all the skinny young marines he fooled around with when he was a skinny young marine, all the times he sucked and got sucked after an overly celebratory night, his hands shaking with liquor and the specific kind of adrenaline that happens when you’re lucky to be alive.

He said, “No, I did. I just never heard it explained like that.”

Amos seemed to like that answer.

“That’s funny. You as a smarmy li’l jarhead, gettin’ all handsy after a lucky win.” He turned his head towards Holden. “You think we’d’ve messed around back then?”

He thought of the few men he hooked up with back then and in hindsight they all looked uncomfortably similar to himself. Back then he would have thought Amos’ buzz cut was ugly and that his height and build were threats. It only took him a second to decide to tell the truth.

“Probably not.”

“Yeah, sounds about right.” He rolled over on his side and lifted up on an elbow. “You wanna go again?”

His face was open and honest and plainly eager and it gave Holden pause.

“Yes,” he said slowly. Neither of them was hard and he couldn’t decide what he wanted to about it. “What do you …”

Amos caught him looking. He chuckled and ran a hand down his side to curl around his hip.

“Give it a sec.”

He leaned over him, braced himself on his forearm and kissed him.

For some reason, Holden thought the kissing part was over. It seemed too intimate after what they’d done, where before it had been a necessary step. Kissing someone after they’d been inside you was something else entirely and it implied feeling, not just a prelude to a fuck.

His eyes rolled shut anyways.

They made out like a couple of horny teenagers with nowhere to be; Amos smelled like sweat and sex and and his lips were kissed-out and raw and he didn’t think about anything else. He dragged his hands up his back and Amos slid a thigh between his legs and boxed him in with his massive arms. The closeness felt claustrophobic. He rubbed off against him and felt him get hard too, unbearably hot against him.

“C’mon,” he said, aware of the impatient whine, and tried to turn over. Amos stopped him.

“Nuh-uh. Other way.” He put a hand on Holden’s shoulder and laid him back down, easing his legs apart. “I wanna see you.”

Holden nearly choked. Embarrassment rose up his throat and he fought it down. He didn’t like being told what to do. He wondered what Amos was getting out of this. He watched him drip lube onto his dick and fuck his fist, kneeling between his legs, and figured maybe it was obvious. But Amos didn’t like being told what to do, either.

He looked at him as he put it in, his eyes dark. Holden didn’t realize he was holding his breath until his lungs burned. Amos swore and hung his head and buried himself inside him in one long thrust, his hands around his waist.

Fuck, I will never get tired of that.”

Holden closed his eyes and felt his breath on his face. He was raw and sensitive from earlier and he wished his thighs weren’t shaking. Amos started bucking into him and he couldn’t hear over the static in his ears. He grabbed one of his knees and pressed up, and Holden dug his fingers down the rolling muscle of his back and held on, every inch in his body tense and straining. It was so intense that it was almost unbearable, almost not good, and he teetered there on the precipice. His world narrowed to callused hands on his thighs, breath in his hair and the insatiable feeling of letting go.

He didn’t mean to come. Amos rose up on his knees a bit higher or did something and kept doing it and doing it and he couldn’t find the words to make him stop or do anything other than shout as he came. It was a world of difference to come from getting fucked and he missed it, he missed how insanely pleasant-unpleasant it was, how it was so good it circled back and made him want to die.

“Oh, shit,” Amos laughed, out of breath. “What are you, fifteen?”

Holden dropped back against the bed. “Fuck you.”

“Maybe if you play your cards right.” Amos’ face hung above his, flushed and amused and full of awe. “That good?”

Thoughts floated disconnected in his head. Amos was still inside him and every movement of his body short circuited the sentence he was trying to put together. “Hm?”

“That’s what I like to hear.” Amos laughed and ran his mouth up his throat. “I’m gonna keep going.”

Yeah.

He was hardly lucid after that, drowning in pleasure, exhaustion, the firing of overstimulated nerves and Amos babbling sweet, horny nothings, inarticulate curses mixed with good, tight, fuck, there, yes. He sounded happy. Holden was glad it wasn’t a total disaster.

He had no idea how much time passed before Amos slowed down, reached between their bodies and palmed his new erection.

“This is flattering,” he said, smiling against his temple, his skin wet with sweat. “It likes me.”

Holden hummed at him. It wasn’t his best work, but it was there. Amos gave him a few tight strokes before redoubling his efforts, all but folding him in half with his hands against the back of his knees. One of his heels hit rhythmically against Amos’ back. Sweat had stuck his hair to his forehead but he couldn’t free a hand to swipe it away. He thought of their list of things they missed about Earth and added banging headboards to it because the slap of skin, you could get anywhere.

“There we go,” Amos breathed, his thrusts getting frantic, “I’m almost—oh, shit—”

He fisted his hand in Holden’s hair as he came and Holden wasn’t sure he meant to. His mouth was open and silent in ecstasy against his cheek and his massive shoulders shuddered and everything hung there for a second, endless, out of time, weightless. Holden’s head was pounding and every inch of him ached in some way or another and he could have sunk right through the floor and melted away. Amos’ heaving breath was like the tides, in and out, moving against him. Burning hot like a summer day.

Amos ran a rough thumb over his cheek and brought him back. “Did you pass out?”

He laughed hoarsely and pushed him away with rubber arms. He went, pulling out and sitting back, and he could breathe again without his weight. “You’re not that good.”

“I'm not bad, either.” Amos ran a finger up Holden’s dick, lying hard in the crux of his thigh. He flinched away. “You want?”

Holden waved a hand. "Fuck, no.”

“Aw, c’mon.” Amos grabbed his hips and dragged him closer to the edge of the bed, then kneeled on the floor between his legs. “Jim Holden’s no quitter.”

“I’m gonna kill you.”

“You couldn’t squash a fly right now.” His voice was sleepy and loopy and giddy and even the feel of his breath made Holden’s dick twitch. “I think I’m safe.”

He licked him once, twice, then started to suck. Holden yelped and twisted away and folded an arm over his face to muffle his noise. He wanted him to stop or never stop or just suck him off until the end of time or the apocalypse, whichever came last. Amos laid his forearm across his hips to keep him still and a moan rumbled from his throat through Holden’s whole body. It was a dizzying and unbearable plod towards climax and Amos seemed happy to get him there, electing not to shrug off his feet from where they dug into his back or shake off the hand clutching his head.

“Don’t stop,” Holden breathed.

Amos pulled off him and he came against his cheek, dripping down his knuckles. It was quick and sharp like a beautiful knife in the gut. He heard Amos laugh and his ears were rushing again.

“Goddamn,” Amos said, sounding far away, “you can go.”

He couldn’t move, or didn’t. Amos let him go and ran a hand up his leg and he heard him moving around, doing something. He didn’t care. His body thumped with dissipating adrenaline and pleasure and he could feel his blood buzzing, pricking in his fingers. The air recyclers chugged and the cabin still stunk of sweat and breath and semen. The bed dipped as Amos sat next to him and then stretched out. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever been so relaxed in his life. His leg was hanging off the side again and pulling it back up seemed like a Hercluean task not worth the effort.

Amos said, “Tell me you’re done now.”

“Was this a chore for you?”

“Shit, no, but I gotta take dick pills if you wanna go again.”

“I’m done,” Holden sighed, and he sounded so blissed out that Amos laughed at him. He settled into the bed and groaned, and then they went quiet. Holden knew he had to leave before he fell asleep. He’d sleep in his own bunk, not Naomi’s. Amos didn’t say anything about leaving yet and he appreciated it; if he had to stand up now, he’d fall over. For a while, they laid there next to each other, basking.

“If you had told me two years ago,” Holden started slowly, “that we’d be doing this now, I’d’ve knocked your teeth out.”

“Hey, you started it.”

He closed his eyes.

“I know, but still. Do you even like me?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean—we were on the Cant for how many years and we hardly spoke? Are we friends like how you and Naomi are friends, or are we just … both here?”

“Aw, fuck you,” Amos scoffed, not angry. “A guy kisses you on the fucking mouth and you’ve got the stones to ask if you’re friends?”

Holden opened his eyes. “That’s the weirdest sentence I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“Of course we’re friends, you asshole. You guys are like my family. Shut up.”

In his most self-deprecating moments, Holden felt like he was the only one who cared about their ragtag crew. He didn’t want to embarrass himself by imagining relationships that weren’t there, because at the end of the day, they were brought together by coincidence—they hadn’t chosen one another, but they were there anyways.

“Just making sure,” he said, his voice quiet. Amos bumped their shoulders together.

“Nah, I get it. I mean … you’re that guy.”

“What guy?”

Amos counted off points on his fingers.

“You get women without even trying, so guys keep their distance and you end up with a lot bros and no friends. You tell people your opinions without being asked and you think that makes you right. You’re not doing anything wrong enough for anyone to think you’re an asshole, so they feel guilty when they think you’re an asshole anyways.”

“Can you stop?”

“My point is, you’re better when you get to know you.” Amos stretched his arms out. “On good days, I feel pretty lucky that I’ve gotten the chance to.”

“Is this a good day?”

“This is the best one we’ve had.”

Holden got that feeling again, like he did when Amos talked about something he actually cared about or when he made him laugh: this could be something it isn’t. He thought about a different life and different circumstances, a timeline where the word boyfriend didn’t make his stomach flip, one where he stepped onto the Cant for the first time and immediately noticed the big mechanic with the bright eyes and warm smile. A timeline where the mechanic noticed him back.

“Jim?”

“Hm?”

“You with me?”

Holden turned his head. Amos had a strong profile, a sharp jaw and a nearly-big nose. His throat shone with sweat.

“You only call me Jim when one of us is about to die.”

Amos gave a Belter shrug. “We’ve never done this before. Maybe this is a time when I call you Jim.”

Holden was struck by the thought that they could do this again and that if they did, Amos might say, Jim, you got a sec later? so innocuous, and he’d know what it meant. The scenario gave him a funny feeling he didn’t have words for. He remembered his scalding look when he’d said lemme see something and kissed him just to see if he could, if he’d like it, and the thought of seeing that again made his blood pressure jump.

Holden said, “That was a lot.”

“I guess so, eh? I was kind of a dick.”

“It’s fine.”

Amos turned on his side towards him and it felt like he was watching him very, very closely, despite his lax expression. When he spoke, it was obvious that he considered every word.

“I don’t know anyone like you. You win every time and you still feel like an underdog.” Amos paused and his eyes flitted over his face. “Makes you wonder what we think you can do.”

Holden kissed him.

He had no excuse. Neither of them was trying to get riled up and he kissed him anyways. He felt his breath against his lip and his eyelashes fluttered on his cheek as his eyes fell shut. He put his hands on his neck, sucked his lower lip and listened to him make a soft noise in the back of his throat. Time felt slow and syrupy and he was sure it was from dehydration but it made everything crushing and intense anyways.

Amos pulled away and rested his forehead against his, and for a few long moments, they breathed the same air. Then quietly, more quiet than Holden had ever heard him speak, he said, “You be careful with that, Cap.”

He was too close to him to see anything and he closed his eyes. “With what?”

Amos said nothing. He should be careful with the kiss, he figured. With all the tenderness behind it. A fresh wound someone could jab their fingers into.

His heart beat a little faster, like a trapped rodent. He felt lightheaded. It passed.

“Gotcha,” he said quietly.

Amos slid his hand down his arm, then let him go and rolled onto his back.

“Chill for as long as you want. Get your sea legs back.”

“Thanks.”

He’d stay long enough to get his racing heart to slow down and then he’d get dressed and go. He’d make sure he grabbed his own shirt off the floor and he’d shower after he slept, before he saw Naomi. He’d be perfectly normal when he spoke to Amos the next day and there was nothing he could do to hide his hickey, but that was something he could live with.

He fell asleep and stayed asleep, then woke up hours later and realized where he still was.

Amos was in bed with him; he could feel the bulk of his body pressed up against his back and thighs. He had his arm folded under his head and he was snoring softly, his dick resting in the cleft of his ass. Holden drifted back to sleep.