Isaac expects that he's dead, when the Brethren Moon's overtake his mind and leave him in the darkness for what feels like an eternity but is simultaneously only spare moments of rest, compared to the endless days he's spent fighting them to the point of his own exhaustion to find any respite from the hordes. He's quite sure of it, in fact, because for what reason would the eldritch abominations let Carver and him live? They would only be a threat to the rule that the Moons must intend to place across the galaxy, if you can call utter devastation and the devouring of the populace by undead monsters like the Necromorphs rule.
That's why, at first, he thinks he's woke up in some benevolent afterlife when he opens his eyes and finds himself lying under sheets the shade of his RIG, a soft emerald blue, listening to waves lapping softly at a shoreline just outside the window to the right side of the bed, covered by curtains that are a cream so pale it could nearly be called white. He sits up slowly and looks around, finding that he's alone in the room, which is his first warning that this isn't what he thought it was, after all.
He throws the sheets off of his legs to find that he's wearing a thin pair of grey flannel pants to match the thick white cotton shirt on his upper half. He scratches his chest absentmindedly as he rises to his feet with a degree of uncertainty that they'll hold him after the chaos of the Brethren Moons' rifling through his mind when they had assaulted him in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. He wonders where Carver is as he emerges, and then supposes he and Carver probably won't be seeing each other again if this is in fact some sort of afterlife scenario. He and the other man weren't that close, after all, so there's no reason for him to manifest here.
Isaac paces down the hallway towards a more open room at the end of it. There's a small door at the end, behind him, that leads into another bedroom, and one opposite his own that is empty besides a washer and dryer. Beside his own door, closer to the open room that he assumes is a living area of some sort, is a bathroom, with seashells seemingly glued to the mirror.
He emerges into the living room and halts in place, staring at Carver, who apparently is going to be part of whatever this is, seeing as he's standing there staring out the front window, on the same side as Isaac's room, facing out towards the sea. The other man is in a similar outfit to Isaac, which makes him wonder if maybe they've been placed here on purpose. It could be a way station of some sort, he thinks, and soon they'll be parting once more.
"Clarke," Carver notices him, turning, brow furrowing low and knitting his scar into a squashed line across the left side of his face. "You're here, too."
"Where exactly is 'here?'" Isaac inquires, finding he's not groggy from sleep, and that his voice isn't scratchy with it.
"See for yourself," the soldier points, stepping aside and crossing his arms so that they flex tensely across his chest. Isaac doesn't take that as a good sign, a sinking kind of feeling making its way into his gut as he approaches the window to peer out between the vinyl white panels making up the open blinds across the front window. At first, all he sees is the sea, a deep blue shade under the guise of midnight.
Then, he raises his eyes to the sky, and his stomach feels like it's going to drop right out of his body with the sudden weight that he feels within it. The Brethren Moons hover there, all seven that he saw in his vision, ranging across the sky in size and distance from one another. The nearest one feels familiar, and he wonders with an absent aching if that's the one that had invaded their minds when they were still aboard the Terra Nova in orbit just beyond the New Horizons Lunar Colony.
So, they're not in any kind of benevolent afterlife. They're probably not even in a malevolent one. They are, for some unknowable reason, still alive, and planet-side.
"Welcome back to Earth, Isaac," Carver says behind him, grim. "We're their prisoners."
Isaac doesn't sleep or eat for the two days that follow, and, so far as he can tell, neither does Carver, who spends most of his time either staring out the window, refusing to leave the small house that they have been placed in on the beach, or laying on the couch, arms alternating between crossed across his chest or tucked behind his head. He stares at the ceiling and doesn't speak when he does this. When he looks out the window, he mostly curses and asks Isaac what in the hell they're going to do now.
The engineer, in his own right, is some kind of genius, or at least knows quite a bit about both his vocation and the Markers. Despite this, he's got absolutely no clue what they're supposed to do when there's seemingly no cities for as far as the eye can see, no other people, and, certainly, no ships. They're effectively trapped here, with the cabinets full of canned food, pallets of bottled water and a tiny closet with fishing equipment in it to keep them fed and watered. That, to Isaac, at least, is more terrifying than the Necromorphs have ever been; the idea that they are never going to leave this place, that they will remain the Brethren Moons' prisoners forever more.
He does, however, go outside, unlike the soldier, and finds his way a few hundred meters down the beach, to where there is a small dock made of old wood, bleached white-grey by the elements. Beside it bobs a small rowing boat, only large enough for two or three people, with a few inches of water in the bottom. He resolves to find the problem and fix it, but realizes its in the make of the thing just looking at it. Whoever put the wood together left small gaps that are letting in water; Isaac would disassemble it and rebuild it, but he doesn't know anything about boats, only spaceships.
At first, he's confused why in the course of the days, he never sees the sun rise; and then he realizes that the Moons have blocked it out, leaving them in a state of forever midnight; in addition, their proximity has halted the tides. The water never moves closer or further, other than to lap gently at the sand. Isaac stays away from it, because he's afraid that, with the Earth most likely infested by Necromorphs, the oceans might be infected as well.
He drinks a water bottle slowly over the course of those two days, uncertain of how they're going to stay alive once the canned goods and bottled water run out- though there is a massive amount of both, and very little of anything else in the small house, which means that it's going to be a long, long time before they have to worry about matters such as those. Isaac wonders why the Brethren Moons would go to such trouble to keep them alive; what gracious wardens they are, watching over their tiny seaside prison so closely.
Inevitably, he worries about Ellie. Did she make it back to Earth, only to be torn apart or infected, transforming into one of the grotesque monster she spent so long hating, so long fighting? Or did she end up imprisoned as well, perhaps on her own beach somewhere, waiting on the end to come at last?
He voices these concerns to Carver.
"Who gives a shit, anymore?" the soldier answers. "I'm so goddamn tired of hearing you and Ellie talk about each other. Even when she was with Norton, it was always 'Isaac, Isaac, Isaac.' Jesus."
"I give a shit," Isaac says, a little indignant that the other man is so flippantly tossing aside a woman who had helped so much, who he had even gone out of his way to save, as well, by the end of their time on Tau Volantis.
"Well, that's your problem, Clarke," Carver says, chilly, and gets off the couch to go to the window, scowling at the Moons so that his scar draws taut and shiny across his face. He's not shaved in the time they've been here, and neither has Isaac, so the bottom part of it is covered by short, dark whiskers that grit against the edges. The engineer paws at his own face and goes to the bathroom, leaning over to stare at himself in the mirror before deciding to let it go for now. What point is there in shaving for no one?
The third night, Isaac finally decides to sleep, crawling back between the blue green sheets and closing his eyes as he curls low, tucking his toes across each other. In his dreams, he finds himself standing on the beach, turning and looking for the tiny house. He can't see it anymore, but he knows that it's just out of sight, so he tries to run towards it, but finds his feet can't make him move across the soft granules of the sand.
When he stops trying, he finds he's no longer alone.
Nicole strides towards him from the tree line, wearing a white sundress with yellow flowers on it. She'd never worn such a thing in as long as he knew her, before the Marker warped her in his mind, so he knows this is a manifestation of the Brethren Moons, and not the actual Nicole come to visit him in any true capacity.
"Isaac," she says, and he expects her to add on, 'Make us whole,' but she just stares at him in silence instead.
"Nicole," he says, slowly, and reaches out to touch her. He can't feel her, because this is a dream, but she's solid enough that his hand stops when it meets what looks like her shoulder. He wraps his fingers around the skin there, almond pale, and she tucks her own across it. He imagines he can feel her fingers, cool and small, across the back of his palm.
"You need to trust me," she tells him, and her voice is gentler than it ever was when the Marker spoke through her, but there's still something immediately sinister about it, something that makes him want to recoil. She holds on to him, though, and doesn't let him go. "You need to learn to trust the Moon. Only then will you truly be free."
"Leave me alone," he tells 'Nicole,' afraid that this 'trust' will turn him into a raving disciple of the Marker like Stross, or, worse, a Necromorph, and she frowns at him, parts her thin pink lips for a sigh. It looks like she's wearing lip gloss, and he imagines she probably is. It's one of the ways he had liked her best, before the Ishimura.
"Fine," she says, and now it's snappy. "But just remember, you can be free. All you have to do is trust."
She lets go of his hand, and takes a step back, gazing at him from underneath her blond locks as they fall into her face. Isaac swallows hard to keep himself from calling out to her, asking her to come back. It was so hard to let her go the first time, back on the Sprawl. It's almost as hard this time, until he realizes his feet are rooted in place, as if he's in quicksand instead of on a beach beside the sea.
He can't speak until she's gone, and then he wants to call her name and make her return.
Instead, he wakes up.
Isaac makes himself a can of beans and eats them in the back-most area of the house, the chair he sits in at the small tile table pressed against the wall so that he can barely see anything but the lapping waves out the window across from him.
Of course, he can also see Carver, who has finally dozed off on the couch, one arm raised over his head and the other tucked across his chest. Every now and again he snorts aloud, or mumbles something under his breath, sounding like, "Danik, no," or "Damara." Isaac only knows one of those names, and guesses that the other man is having a nightmare about their time on Tau Volantis, or something similar, perhaps with someone from his past tossed in, like Nicole. He wonders if maybe Damara is Carver's wife, the dead woman from the picture he saw aboard the Eudora when he woke up from leaving the New Horizons Lunar Colony.
Isaac has a little less than a fourth of his can of beans left when the soldier suddenly jerks awake with a muted shout, coming to his feet with his hands raising before his face, and a fist flying as though there is someone in this place to hit besides Isaac, who's nowhere nearby. He raises his eyebrows and stops with a spoonful of beans half out of the can, eyes darting between Carver and the empty space.
"Bad dreams?" he asks, to break the silence that was otherwise filled only by the other man's panting breaths as he stood there, shoulders slumping like Clarke had never seen the soldier slump before. His back is wet with sweat, red shirt turned dark maroon, as if he's bleeding from some invisible wound.
"How could you tell?" Carver bites out, and heads down the hall, presumably to change his shirt. Neither of them have used the shower yet, probably because they're both afraid the water will carry the infection and then they'll end up turning and eating the other's face. Eventually, Isaac knows, they'll have to. For now, he makes Carver a can of beans as a kind of consolation, and sets it on the small, varnished wooden coffee table in front of the sofa where he spends most of his time.
When the soldier comes back, he stares at the can as if it's an alien presence equal to a Necromorph, and then looks at Isaac as if he's sprouted Slasher arms.
"What's that?" he asks.
"Beans," Isaac says plainly. "I thought you'd be hungry. You haven't eaten since we got here."
"I'm not hungry," Carver says, and it sounds petulant. All the same, he takes a seat and stares at the beans in the can before looking reproachfully at Clarke. "You didn't give me a spoon."
"Right," the engineer starts, and grabs a spoon from the drawer, carrying it over to the other man and passing it off. Carver starts eating, and Isaac goes to count the silverware so he can find out how long they can eat from them before they'll have to risk washing them off.
Carver eats his beans in silence. Isaac counts spoons. For the first time, he notices his stomach isn't simmering with anxiety.
After that, Carver becomes more active. He does sit-ups and push ups, one-handed, every morning and every night, until his shirts are soaked through. He never takes off his shirt, though, always goes to his room and changes afterwards. He never stays in there, though, always emerging to sleep on the couch. Isaac wonders, the first few nights, if perhaps Carver doesn't have a bed, but then he checks when the soldier is eating a can of chicken soup and discovers there is most definitely a bed, bigger than his own, with olive green flannel sheets on it.
The other man still doesn't really talk all that much to him, though, so he keeps to himself about it and doesn't ask.
A week after Isaac gives Carver the can of beans, Carver ventures outside for the first time, and takes a run around the house, and then up and down the beach, for a long time. The engineer follows him outside and goes down to the tiny dock to stare at the boat and wonder if he could find a way to fix it if he spent enough time looking at it. He has quite a lot of experience with spaceships, after all, and those are much more complicated than rowing boats, as far as he knows.
"What are you doing?" Carver asks, taking deep, heavy breaths, as he walks over to Isaac, hands on his hips. The front of his shirt is soaked through with sweat, dark like the sky, which means the back is too.
"I'm trying to figure out if I can fix this boat," Isaac answers, instead of telling Carver that when he runs out of shirts, they're going to have to wash them with the water and take their chances that there's infection in it.
"I used to go out on the water and fish with my dad," Carver says haltingly. Clarke wonders why he even tells him when its so obvious by the heavy way his brow furrows that he doesn't want to talk about it any further.
"Do you want to help?" Isaac asks, then, because he's not sure how else to carry on the conversation.
"The wood's warped," Carver tells him, and looks away. "It's already ruined. I'm surprised it hasn't sunk yet."
"You'd be surprised how well ships can stay afloat, sometimes," Isaac says, thinking of the Ishimura, and its dock at the Sprawl.
"Sure," the soldier answers, and Isaac wonders if he's thinking of the Sovereign Colonies fleet derelict above Tau Volantis. Those ships stayed afloat, faithful even without their crews there to care for them, to run upkeep on them in any way, to pilot them at all, for two centuries before being destroyed by the aliens' Brethren Moon. Something is sad about that, the ruin of something so strong and supple.
He stares at Carver for a long moment and only looks away when the other man starts to appear confused at why that is.
The other shoe drops three days later, when Carver comes walking in with a deep frown on his features after going to change when he finishes with a workout on the living room floor. He's still wearing his sweat-soaked red shirt, and if Isaac is being honest, he smells like it, too. He needs a shower very badly, not just dumping bottled water over himself on the sand like he's been doing. Not that the engineer has room to talk.
"I haven't got any clean shirts left," the soldier tells him plainly.
"I guess we have to do laundry," Isaac says, and lets that hang in the silence between them until he really feels how absolutely absurd the whole situation is. Two grown men, refusing to do laundry out of some abject terror surrounding the water involved in the task. There's nothing that they can do but do it.
He walks purposefully to his room and collects his dirty clothes from where he's piled them on the side of the bed and then walks to the tiny room with the washer and dryer. Carver ghosts along behind him in surprised silence, watching as Isaac discovers detergent to his right, which he adds immediately as he switches on the water and then oh-so-gingerly dumps his clothes into the stream. He disappears for a moment and then returns. Isaac takes his clothes and adds them to the load of laundry before stepping back, proud of himself for achieving that task without fully panicking over the thought of being infected by potential Necromorph spores in the water.
"Well," Carver says, "Okay." He looks into the washer, and then, shrugging, strips his shirt off over his head and deposits it with the rest, his muscles all faintly shiny with drying perspiration. Isaac really can't help but look, curious about exactly how much more built and chiseled the other man is than him. He's certainly got more mass, and his abs show more than Isaac's do, especially when he has his shirt half-over his head and his stomach is flexing.
"Anyway," Isaac says, hoping that Carver didn't notice him staring, and returns to the living room to wait for the washer to complete its cycle.
The soldier shrugs his shoulders, popping his back audibly, as he enters the room following the engineer, and then goes in the kitchen to dig out a can of food for his lunch.
"Can I borrow one of your shirts?" he asks, when he's got it opened and has started eating. Isaac starts, surprised, and nods.
He goes to his room and retrieves a white tee, which will certainly be too small for the soldier, who is wider in the shoulders by a couple of inches and certainly broader in the chest as well. All the same, he delivers it to the other man, who dons it, stretched out across his muscled torso.
Isaac is very glad when the washer gives him an excuse to leave the room as it buzzes aloud to announce its completion, because he'd never noticed how attractive Carver was until today, seeing him in his own shirt, too snug, with a look of satisfaction on his face as he ate. Something about his jawline and his eyes, maybe. The engineer isn't sure, but it has to have something to do with structure, because everything does, when it comes to his interests. It's part of why he chose the career he did, and why he's so frustrated he doesn't think he's going to be able to fix that tiny little boat outside at the equally small dock.
He puts the clothes in the dryer and hopes they don't shrink too much. That would make it a little bit hard to live with Carver as long as they'll have to without developing a larger crush on the younger man.
When he leaves the small room, Carver has gone to take a shower.
Seeing as Carver doesn't turn into a Necromorph and gut Isaac in his sleep, they suppose that the water must not be infectious, and Isaac goes ahead and takes a shower as well. When he gets out, the soldier has refilled all of their empty water bottles from the tap, and he thinks that's very brave, but also resolves to keep drinking new, fresh ones as long as humanly possible- which, all things considered, will be a while, given all of the pallets of the stuff they have.
Isaac thinks Carver might have noticed him staring, though, when he had his shirt off the other day, because he acts a little shifty when he's working out from then on, always glancing at Isaac with his brow furrowed a little bit. Sometimes, he looks comically focused, his tongue stuck between pursed lips, peeking out pinkly from between them.
He resolves to leave Carver be, and definitely not do anything further that might be construed as flirtatious. He's got no idea how the other man would respond to that, and considering they've got a long time left in this place, he'd rather not end up at each other's throats any more than they might already.
The Brethren Moons should have killed them. They should have turned them into mindless members of their army of the undead. This is much more cruel than that, this eternal suffering.
Isaac goes outside to swim in the sea, once they know that the water is not going to poison them and make them become mindless monsters slave to the seven Moons above them. He strips his shirt off over his head and then sheds his flannel pants, standing there uncertainly in his boxers staring at the water as sand granules seep softly in between his toes.
Then, he just decides to go ahead with it, and starts to walk into the surf. It's not warm or cold, but almost room temperature, as it runs across the tops of his feet.
"Wait up, Clarke," he hears, and turns around to find Carver, who'd been on a run up and down the beach, shedding his shirt and his pants, tossing them down beside Isaac's own. He stretches and then jogs past the engineer, slowing when the water makes it to his knees and walking out further into the water.
Isaac follows the soldier until they're both paddling slowly, hovering in the waves a few feet apart from each other. Reflected in the waves are the round shapes of the Brethren Moons, hanging like radiant gods in the sky above, with the midnight colors surrounding them reminding him of a bruise discoloring it all.
Below the waves, Carver kicks his legs, and his feet brush bare against Isaac's. He shivers and goes to paddle away from the other man.
"Clarke," Carver calls after him, and he turns back, blinking saltwater from his eyes to see the soldier better, to take in the moonlight shining pale across his tan skin, his black beard coming in. He's not got a mustache to complete the look. Apparently, his whiskers don't like to grow there.
"What?" Isaac asks, when Carver doesn't say anything else.
"Nothing," Carver says, after a long moment, and he looks slightly frustrated for some reason as he treads water with his thick arms.
When Carver shaves the next day, going back to thin whiskers across the base of his jaw and a patch lining his chin in a handsome kind of way, Isaac supposes he'd better shave, too. He stares at himself in the mirror after his shower, feeling the gentle warmth of the steam that remains in the room, and the scratchy lining of his beard on his face, grown in full now. Then, he takes a razor to it, paring it down until its barely a shadow on his skin. He's glad to see the parts of it that are grey going.
He doesn't like to be reminded of his age. He's forty nine, unless he's missed his fiftieth birthday since there's no calendars in this beach house, and Carver is thirty seven, unless he missed his. He's not sure why Carver's age is relevant, but of late the other man has been feeling very suddenly important to Isaac. Maybe it's because it's like they're the only two people left in the world.
Isaac examines himself in the mirror again, satisfied to see himself looking more fresh without his beard, in spite of the scars from his encounters with monsters over the years. He scratches his chest hair and then dons his clothes again, stepping out and letting the steam dissipate, which feels just a little disappointing. There's something ethereal about it that he appreciates that he might not have, before all of this. Quiet things like that are growing to have more of a meaning than the violent scream of stomping a Necromorph's head in to help get at a kit of gel to seal his wounds and clean them.
"You copied me," Carver says, sounding amused but not smiling, when he sees Isaac standing there in the bathroom door's threshold.
"I guess I did," Isaac says, but doesn't smile, either. He's thinking about the sea, and that tiny boat, again.
He goes swimming most 'nights' after that first one, letting the saltwater buoy him under the watchful eye of their wardens, as if to challenge them to force him under. Sometimes, in his dreams, they do, their roars rising in his ears until he can't hear the waves, or Nicole's hands wrapped around his shoulders to hold him down. He never sees Ellie in his dreams.
Some nights, Carver joins him. Tonight is one of those, the soldier a little late from his night run, swimming out to meet Isaac where he bobs, staring at the dock instead of the Moons.
"What's up with you?" he asks.
"I'm thinking about the boat again," Isaac says.
"Let the boat go," Carver says, and its got dual meanings. "No one could fix that old thing."
Isaac wonders if he's fixable, or if he's just getting more broken, more water seeping inside of him, every day here, every night. Maybe those dreams are part of it, the Brethren Moons hollowing out and filling him up with something other than himself the same way the Markers must have tried to.
Maybe he should let the boat go.
Carver's feet brush Isaac's under the water again, hot to the touch, somehow, and slightly gritty still from his barefoot run on the sandy beach. His eyes are very warm and very brown. Isaac finds he wants very badly to kiss the other man right then, but does his best to restrain himself, thinking that the last two people he kissed were stolen from him by the Markers and the Moons. He doesn't want to lose Carver, too.
"You keep looking at me funny," Carver says, when Isaac never answers him, just stares at him and then slightly past his shoulder, past the dock, at the waves on the horizon, black and blue meeting in rippling lines like broken blood vessels.
"Yeah?" Isaac asks, and realizes a second too late how flirtatious it sounds, at least to his own ears. There's something tauntingly warm to his voice, that's most of it.
"How long have we been here?" the soldier wants to know, and his feet brush the engineer's again under the water. The latter looks down.
"Maybe a month," Isaac says, but second guesses himself. "Maybe almost two." He doesn't say it, but it's hard to keep track of time, even for him, when there's nothing but the blurring of eclipse days and dark nights. He just wakes up and eats and swims and sleeps at his own leisure, as if he's not in a beachside prison of a house. His only chores are the laundry, which he has elected himself to the permanent task of, maybe because he likes to wash Carver's clothes, and making his own bed each morning, or after he washes the sheets. Carver washes the dishes and rearranges the two main rooms. He never rearranges his bedroom, because he still never has bothered to use it.
Isaac doesn't mind. There's something that aches in his chest when he sees the soldier sleeping there in the living room with an arm above his head and across his chest, now.
"Why?" he asks, when Carver doesn't say anything else.
"No reason," the other man says, and his feet brush Isaac's again. This time, they both look down, and then up at each other.
Then, Isaac kisses Carver, unable to stop himself as he leans in, their forearms knocking together roughly as they tread water. The soldier's lips are chapped and dry, but hot like his feet were, almost feverishly so. He tastes like cinnamon toothpaste, mostly, which makes the engineer wonder if he brushed his teeth before he came to swim, for some reason. He also tastes a little bit like something warm and undefinable. Isaac would like to know what he smells like, but there's water in his nose so he can't tell.
When Carver pushes him away, his eyes are the color of caramel, ringed in shadow.
"What the hell, Clarke?" he asks.
"I wanted to do that," Isaac says, because that's his only explanation.
"Well, you did it, so I'd hope you wanted to," Carver says, which is more neutral, and less angry, than the engineer had been expecting after being pushed away. Come to think of it, Carver's hand is still on him, big and warm and rough-smooth with callouses, his thumb pressed against Isaac's sternum and his fingers across his trapezius muscle. His arm is heavy where its weight rests via his palm, and the older man has to tread water a little harder to stay afloat.
Isaac doesn't say anything else. Carver removes his hand and swims back towards the shore, where he stops and turns around to stare at Isaac, his hair wet to the top of his head. The engineer stares back, and then follows him, unsure of where this is leading, but glad that his only companion left in the world appears to not hate him for kissing him.
When he reaches Carver, the man grabs him and tackles him. There's laughter between them as they wrestle momentarily in the damp sand, and Isaac gets the clue that this is some kind of wordless, decisive foreplay. He lets the soldier win, as he probably would have, anyway, despite Isaac's having longer legs. Carver is an inch or two taller than him, and carries more muscle. That gives him the advantage.
For a moment, they pant, as Isaac lays there, pinned to the wet ground. The water rushes up to find them, wetting his back, coating his toes in grit. He feels like he's in a much safer version of this part of his dreams than the one where Nicole drowns him, only he knows he's awake. This isn't a dream, only feels like one.
"I'm topping," Carver tells him, gruffly, and grabs for his pants, taking out a foil packet from the pocket of them and tearing it open to apply the protection as he shimmies out of his undergarments. Isaac goes to follow suit, and Carver, strangely, helps him, until they're both nude.
The engineer stares up at the soldier, who adjusts himself between the other man's legs, shifting until he's securely placed.
"Wrap your legs around my waist," he orders, as he rubs his fingers against Isaac, coated in extra lubricant.
Isaac complies, and Carver slides in a couple of inches before pausing, breathing. Isaac's breaths rasp faintly, reminding him of the metallic sound of his breathing in the suit, on the Ishimura, on the Sprawl, on the Sovereign Colonies flotilla and Tau Volantis and the Terra Nova.
He supposes he'll never hear that exact sound again. He's okay with that. He prefers this one, unfiltered, and honest in its nature, a gentle panting as the two of them shift together, until Carver is fully sheathed in Isaac's body. He feels not quite whole, but certainly filled, and arches when the soldier moves again, wriggling his hips faintly as they find a rhythm together, a strange kind of staccato of flesh and sweat and seawater under his back and under Carver's knees, buried in the sand to make trenches.
Isaac enjoys their song, and stares into Carver's caramel brown eyes, locks himself inside the shadowy rings around his irises like he's in a cage match. He listens to the rhythm and then listens to it end with each of their grunts turning to groans, and then, at last, more of that breathing.
Carver goes inside, and Isaac stays in the sand, letting it stick to his skin. He feels big enough to take on the Moons.
When Isaac goes inside, Carver is showering with the door to the bathroom shut. He stares at it for a moment and then goes in the kitchen, getting both of them a can of beans. When Carver emerges, he walks by, stares at the couch, and then, skittishly gazing at Isaac with wide brows and wider eyes, turns and goes down the hall. He goes in his room and shuts the door for the first time since they got here.
Isaac decides that the best and brightest response to this problem is to eat both cans of beans and then go to his room, too. He crawls between his blue green sheets, thumbs a seashell he's just noticed embedded in the right side of his headboard, and then lies there waiting to sleep.
Nicole appears in the doorway and walks towards him. He sits up, but she wordlessly climbs atop him, pressing him palms against his chest. Her hands are small and cold, he imagines, nothing like Carver's big, warm ones. He hears something, and realizes the house is filling up with water; the Moons have shifted, and the tide has come at last.
Isaac doesn't know what it feels like to drown, but he thinks this must be something like it, the feeling of pressure both ballooning in his chest and collapsing in on itself at once, until it feels like he's either going to crumble or pop, or both. She opens her mouth to speak, but all that comes is a harsh humming sound, emanating from her as lights glimmer deep behind her eyes and within her throat; where once there was blue, there is now only red, a crimson as bright as the sun he doesn't think he'll ever see again. Maybe he's okay with that.
Maybe, he doesn't need the sun. Maybe all he needs is the Moon.
Isaac stays in bed the next day, even when Carver appears just beyond the threshold of his room and stares at him, confused, brow low and scar knit close together as he scrunches his face in some unknown emotion. He can still feel the pressure of Nicole drowning him in the house; moreover, he can still feel the gravitational pull of the Moons, trying to yank him into their orbit, trying to get him to give himself over to them in some intrinsic way, rejecting the red light of the burning sun.
He doesn't emerge until late in the evening, and then it's only to retrieve a can of chicken salad to eat, politely looking away when Carver glares at him from the place he's doing one-armed push ups on the floor in the living room. There's a tension between them that feels like in these few short hours, it's developed to the point that it's prepared to snap. It feels like the second in battle when he's got his plasma cutter trained on a Necromorph's leg, knowing it's his chance to take it off before he dies.
Instead of arguing with Carver, he eats his chicken salad and then goes outside. Instead of swimming in the sea, he walks down the sand in silence. Instead of stopping, he keeps on going for what feels like hours.
When he turns back, he's barely past the pier. The Moons are inside his head, doing something unnatural to him.
Carver comes outside when Clarke is sitting by the pier, toes in the water, and walks past him, wearing a long sleeved red shirt and black cargo pants that cover all but his bare feet as they sift the sand while he walks. The engineer, against his better judgment, follows the other man, and this time they are able to leave the dock behind them, turning to a tiny spot of bleached wood in the moonlight before disappearing altogether for its minuscule size.
Isaac realizes he wants desperately to return, to climb in the boat and sail away from this place. The walk on the beach with Carver is doing something to quiet his mind, but the silence is ruining whatever that something is. The distance between them feels insurmountably great, and he feels like he's alone on the Ishimura again, all of the people he knew lost to the Marker, even though he knows that's overdramatic.
Then again, maybe it's not. John Carver was his last companion in the whole galaxy, after the Necromorphs literally took everything away. Now, if this is their everyday, he has nothing.
Isaac stops and watches Carver keep walking. When he is small, a red and black spot on the far beach, the engineer turns around and returns to the prison house, walking down the pier and climbing into the boat. His pants get wet, and he has no paddle, so he braces on the dock and kicks himself off. He'll be rid of this boat, either because it will sink with him in it, or because he will climb out for some reason and let it drift away.
Nicole is an imagined figure before him, and he lays back in the boat as she presses a hand against his head. It hurts horribly, but he lets her do it, because he doesn't know what else to do. He doesn't want to scream, but thinks he might when he sees the Brethren Moons looking down at him, almost as if they are turning to follow his slowly growing separation from the land. Isaac doesn't trust those damn Necromorph masses one bit, and he opens his mouth.
"Leave me alone, Nicole," he says, and she rears back, looking horribly offended, before backing up into the water and disappearing.
He can hear sand being kicked up, roughly, and he looks back to find Carver running down the beach. He isn't sure if the soldier is running to get to him, or if he's just running because that's what he does, but it somehow makes his decision for him. He takes a leap of faith out of the boat and into the waves, swimming back towards shore as the old wooden thing rocks across the waves and moves towards that bruised horizon they know all too well now. He swims through the water, staying under for the most part, not looking towards Carver, and surfaces at last when he finds he can stand again.
Isaac walks onto the shore and peels his shirt off, tossing it into the sand. Carver watches him, once again looking like the engineer has sprouted Slasher arms from his shoulders, judging from the expression on his face.
"What were you doing?" John asks.
"I had to get rid of the boat," Isaac answers, and he feels more clear headed than he has the whole time they've been here.
They sit together on the couch for a long time, until Carver puts his arm over Isaac's shoulders and inclines his head and falls asleep, taking deep breaths and releasing small grunts now and again, periodically murmuring that name, "Damara."
It sounds more at peace, now, than it did before. Isaac wonders why the urgency is gone from his voice.
"Who's Damara?" he asks Carver, when the other man wakes up.
"How do you know that name?" the soldier asks, looking away, refusing to meet Isaac's eyes.
"You were saying it in your sleep," the engineer tells him, because what reason is there to hide? That he was listening to Carver? He's already laid all of his cards on the table when it comes to the other man, in exposing his interest via that kiss and the night before, on the sand, in the surf.
"My wife," Carver says at last, after thinking for a long moment, like he can't decide if he wants to expose this part of himself to someone again. "She was... everything to me. We fought, but we both did our best. We had a kid, I mean. We had Dylan. I lost both of them, though, because of Danik. He killed them, and got them turned into- what, reanimated- by the damn Marker I was supposed to be protecting on Uxor. It all happened so fast I didn't even have time to think about what was happening. I thought I was going to die there, too, until Langford- she called and said my wife, Damara, she'd been looking into the Marker Source. She thought that she'd found a way to track it down once and for all. So we went to two stations, fought the Necromorphs on both, and then Ellie shocked to Tau Volantis when she found the Source my wife had been leading us to."
"Damara is the reason we almost beat them," Isaac understands, at last seeing. It's not meant to be critical of them, just honest. Damara had given them their best chance at destroying the Necromorphs once and more all, but in the end they had failed, in assuming that the threat was gone with the destruction of a single newborn Brethren Moon.
"Yeah," Carver says, and scrubs at his eyes, suddenly wet. Isaac lays a hand on his shoulder.
"She wouldn't be mad," Isaac says, suddenly, feeling like Carver needs to hear it. "She wouldn't be mad at you, that you didn't finish the Necromorphs. I don't know what- what the Moons are telling you, but it's not true."
Carver nods and lays down abruptly, putting his head against Isaac's thigh.
"Goodnight, Clarke," he says.
"Goodnight, Carver," Clarke answers.
Isaac lets Carver find him on the beach the next 'morning,' knelt down and sawing at a tree with their largest knife.
"Why are you trying to cut the tree down?" Carver asks, sounding like he's about to laugh at loud at the engineer.
"I want to make a better boat," Isaac says, rubbing sweat off of his brow and turning to face the soldier. "I thought maybe since you know about boats, you could help me. Together, we could make a boat that could actually float. Then, we could fish, and have fresh food instead of just the cans."
"Oh," Carver says coming up short, and then he goes back to the house and returns with a tool kit, setting it down and taking out a small axe to pass between his hands thoughtfully.
Then, he takes a swing at the tree, and, for all Isaac's work, it only takes that one hit to knock it down. They watch it fall together, and Isaac takes a seat on his haunches to appreciate the view of Carver's back as he chops down the next tree, and the one after that.
It's even better when the Sergeant takes off his shirt.
"Clarke," Carver says, later, when Isaac is pounding nails into the panels of wood all night long, bending them across each other and trying his damnedest to put together the frame for the boat. His fingers are raw and red, a few places splintered and a few places bleeding, but he doesn't seem to want to stop, resolutely ignoring the soldier's attempts to speak to him. "Clarke. Clarke. Isaac!"
At the sound of his first name, Isaac looks up in surprise, and blinks at Clarke innocently as a deer in the headlights.
"We can finish it later," Carver says. "We've been working for almost a whole day, and you haven't even slowed down. Relax. It's not going anywhere."
"What about you?" Isaac asks, baring his feelings once more. "Are you going to leave when this boat is done?"
Carver doesn't really understand the context of the question, doesn't really see a clear origin for why the engineer is even asking such a thing.
"No," he says, "I'm not going to leave, Isaac."
"Okay," Isaac says, and lets Carver lead him inside, following behind him and watching his feet shift the sand this way and that, into tiny grain mountains. He wonders if maybe, just maybe, there's a chance for this after all.
Carver washes Isaac's wounds in the sink, gently brushing his thick, warm thumbs across the places from which blood seeps.
They sit on the couch together, after, and Carver wraps his arm around Isaac again. This time, Isaac falls asleep first, his head tilting forward and his breath coming in short, staccato blasts that would remind him of that night on the beach if he were awake, instead of the metallic rasps of his breath in the RIG.
"Goodnight, Isaac," Carver says quietly, his voice soft and low.
The engineer does not dream of Nicole. He doesn't think he ever will again.
They finish the boat six months later, with short spurts of work interspersed with rest, urged into being by Carver insisting, sometimes with a burst of temper, that they take a break in order to allow their hands to heal from blisters and bloodspots created in the course of the work. Isaac begrudgingly accepts this, and, by the end of the project, they work silently together, a pair of men who know each other well enough to not need words to put together panels of wood under the moonlight and the watchful eyes of the Brethren.
It feels like a tiny act of rebellion when Isaac pounds the final nail into the boat, there on the beach that the Brethren Moons imprisoned them on. The nail is yanked from a windowsill in the house. The windowsill will curl, Isaac thinks, but they will be okay. It will give the house by the water some character, Carver tells the engineer, when he worries over removing some part, even so small, from a completed structure.
They push the boat into the water the next day, and watch it float beside the pier, larger than the last one was, and certainly more well made, and less bleached by age. Soon, it will be, but, for now, it's a rich light wood color.
"Do you want to...?" Isaac starts, gesturing at the boat.
Carver considers it for a moment, seems to think about saying yes, but then says, "Maybe we should wait to take it out until we have a paddle, so we don't lose it in the waves."
"Sounds good to me," Isaac says.
"Do you want to swim, instead?" Carver wonders, but he's already stripping off his black cargo shorts, cut off from the pants that they once were with a pair of kitchen scissors. The brims are greying from use, and fringes hang against his knees before they hit the sand and he hopes free, heading for the surf.
"Are you sure?" Isaac asks, brow furrowing. The last time they'd swam together was that night that they had had sex on the sand afterwards, the seawater under his back and Carver's knees.
"I'm sure," Carver says, decisively. "Come on, Isaac, it'll be fun."
The engineer shrugs and sheds his white shirt, tossing it next to Carver's pants. He removes his flannel pants, which are tattered at the ankles, needing badly to be cut down like the other man's have been. He paces into the edge of the waves, and lets the water dance between his toes before he follows Carver out to the sea, where they float across from each other for a moment before the soldier starts to swim laps.
Isaac is less regimented than the other man, a result of his not being in the military, to be sure, and so he just bobs in the waves and watches the dark sky above them shine dimly, the Brethren Moons watching in what he imagines would be displeasure at their making a home out of their prison. He laughs at them, and Carver pauses in his swimming to eye the engineer in questioning.
"I think they're angry with us," Isaac tells him, and that makes the other man laugh, too, though maybe a little bit more tersely than the first of the two of them.
"Let them be," Carver says, swimming over and bumping his feet against Isaac's under the waves. Isaac bumps them back, and takes in the heated look in Carver's eyes. They swim to the shore, and grab their clothes from where they left them on the sand, their boxers soaking wet and stuck to their thighs, as they head inside to the seclusion of their tiny home on the beach, where they supposed to be imprisoned.
"Are you sure?" he asks, when they're inside, the soldier kissing him suddenly and heatedly against the wall. His lips are as Isaac remembers, if not perhaps more feverish than before, and more insistent in their nature this time around. Carver nods.
"I'm sure," he says, and it's decisive. Isaac watches him take out protection, and then they're both shedding their soaked undergarments, stripping them down their legs, struggling with each other's momentarily before agreeing to take on their own as leg hair ends up caught and pulled painfully. They are laughing as they remove the last of their clothing, this time, and it feels better than the last, for some reason, despite that they've barely even begun yet, not yet joined.
Carver lifts up Isaac, thick arms under his legs to wrap them around his waist. The engineer clings to the Sergeant closely, wrapping his arms around his neck and feeling the flex of the muscles in his back, the pounding of his heart in his thick chest. Isaac's pounds just the same as their staccato rhythm begins again. He finds that he does not just feel full this time. This time, he feels whole.
Late that night, after Carver falls asleep on the sofa, shirt balled up red on his abs, one arm behind his head and one slung across his chest so that his fingers dangle towards the floor, Isaac lays down on the floor across the table from the other man and dozes off. He dreams of the sun, of its red glow through an overcast sky full of thin russet smog, or something similar. The smog clears, and the glow makes the water on his skin brilliant. He does not dream of Nicole.
He dreams, instead, of a shirt that matches the burning sky, of cut off cargo shorts the shade of darkest night, and of eyes the color of caramel brown in a tan face with a scar that's easy today, not taut, not bunched, drawing down to lips that match a strong jaw. He dreams of Carver, of his sudden laugh, of his halting voice, and of building a boat with him to take out onto the waves.
Isaac is a pragmatist as much as he likes to try and be optimistic, and Carver is a cynic, so they aren't unrealistic in imagining that they'll spend forever here together. Eventually, the Brethren Moons will tire of the games and their not paying off in the payment of torment they had initially intended, and will send the Necromorphs to finish the pair.
This morning, however, they wake together in the largest bed in the house by the sea, with the sheets thick and flannel in the shade of olive green, Isaac spooned in the larger man's arms as Carver's voice sounds, gravelly, with a groan, "Five more minutes, Isaac."
"Okay, John," the engineer laughs at the soldier.
Isaac supposes that five more minutes aren't going to hurt anything that badly, in the grand scheme of things.