Alexis awoke to pain, and something moving, prodding, crawling inside him.
The last thing he remembered was boarding the ark ship he had been conscripted onto, being installed into the stasis pod he was told would be his home for the next immeasurable number of years, and falling into the numbness of nothingness. No one was told how long the voyages would take; they simply signed up, selling their bodies in exchange for a promise of adventure, a new life far away. He had expected to wake up on a new world, not to be shocked into awareness like this.
His immediate reaction was to cry out, from the pain and for help, but when he tried to form the sounds his lips wouldn't move. A panic spread rapidly in his mind as he realized that it wasn't only his mouth—none of his body would move. He couldn't even open his eyes. Though his mind still felt somewhat foggy, he could feel all his bodily sensations, but he had no control of himself whatsoever.
He itched to reach, to grab at his abdomen, at the source of the pain, stretching, and pressure he felt somehow coming from underneath his skin. Like something was squirming around inside him, struggling to get out. He felt his heartbeat increasing, thrumming at a rapid pace, and a sense of dizziness overtook him. His hands, though he could not move them himself, spasmed reflexively into rigid claws. He tried with all his might to force his vocal cords to produce any sound.
Then he felt a clammy hand on his face. "Alexis, oh! Shhh, Alexis," said a man's voice. There was someone there. Someone who would help him. Alexis felt tears build at the corners of his eyes, relief flooding him. This person would see what was happening to him, and help him, return his ability to move and relieve whatever it was that was causing that terrible sensation inside him. He felt the stranger's hand move across his cheek, and the edge of a finger wiped one of the tears from his eye.
"It's all right, Alexis," the man said, urgently, very close to his ear. "I've got you. I'm not going to lose you. Try to relax. I'm going to get you back under stasis. Please, Alexis, you must be strong."
What is happening to me?! Alexis wanted to yell, the man's words doing little to assuage his fear, but then he felt the calm coolness of stasis slipping over him, slowly overtaking the sensations of semi-consciousness. As he slipped into the darkness, the last feeling that remained was that pain, the sensation of something struggling to break out through the tissue of his belly.
When Alexis awoke the second time, the sensation in his abdomen was completely gone. It felt like waking from a dream. He came out of it groggily, eyelids trembling as they blinked open in the harsh artificial light. Pained, he squeezed his eyes shut again.
"Ah, yes, of course. My apologies, Alexis. I'll dim the lights for you."
Alexis's entire body tensed. The voice. It was the same man he had heard before, in that horrible night terror that had paralyzed him. Had it been real? Or was it some terrible dream? Blindly, he lifted his shaking arm from his side, sliding it onto his abdomen. Through the light fabric of his shirt, he felt at his belly. Nothing. There was nothing poking, prodding up from inside him. Nothing moving about under his skin. He slid his hand higher up his stomach. Nothing—
He stopped as his fingers passed over a soft lump, just below his chest. It felt like a thick pad of material underneath his shirt. Perhaps a bandage.
Trembling, he reached down to the edge of his shirt, lifting it up to slide his hand up his bare stomach.
"Alexis," said the man from very near in front of his face, and Alexis yelled hoarsely, his arm twitching up off his body. He felt himself caught around the wrist by a warm hand. Alexis's eyes flew open, no trembling and slow blinking this time. His heart thudded in his chest.
A man was leaning over his stasis pod, very close. He held Alexis's wrist firmly, while with his other hand he reached out, cupping the side of Alexis's face. Alexis twitched a little when the fingers touched his cheek, but he couldn't move away. The touch was soft, gentle, and somehow familiar. The man's eyes warm and full of concern. He looked older than Alexis, but not by that much, perhaps a decade or so. He was wearing a light blue uniform that Alexis remembered suddenly, from his orientation. Alexis relaxed slightly, though his breathing was still loud in the otherwise silent chamber.
"Doctor," he said. "You're a doctor."
The doctor smiled at him, stroking softly along Alexis's cheekbone with his thumb. The other hand, that had caught Alexis's arm, lifted it and laid it gently across Alexis's chest, holding it in place there. Alexis could feel his heartbeat clearly beneath his hand, slowly becoming more calm and steady.
"That's right, Alexis," said the doctor. "My name is Dr. Beaumont. I'm one of the ship's alert physicians." Alert physicians—Alexis remembered that term from his orientation. They weren't as extensively trained as the full ship's physicians, but there were more of them, and each would be activated one at a time to wake whenever the ship needed someone to check on its passengers. "How are you feeling?"
How? He felt…
"Something—" he croaked, his hand tensing and spasming as the jumbled memories swarmed in his head. He tried to push the hand down to his abdomen, but Dr. Beaumont held him firmly but painlessly in place. "Something was—inside my—"
"Shhh," Beaumont soothed as his free hand brushed up into Alexis's hair, carding lightly through the strands. It sent a gentle tingling sensation through him, and once more he felt himself relax. "I meant right now, at this moment. Do you feel any pain? Headache?"
Pain? No, he felt no pain, now. Muscles twitched and tensed sporadically all over his body as all of him returned to awareness. His body was somehow sore, worn out all over, as if he had been exercising for a very long time. But he wouldn't quite describe that as pain. Not like—not like in his dream.
"Something happened to me," he said, his voice rising fearfully, as he thought of those nightmarish sensations in his gut. "Please, doctor. What was it?"
"We'll talk about it later," said the doctor, smiling at him again. "But there's nothing you need to worry about. I have everything under control. I swear it, Alexis. And no pain right now? Anywhere?"
"No, I don't…" He thought again of the searing sensation in his abdomen. It was not the same as this, which felt like ordinary muscle soreness. And he remembered them telling him that this type of fatigue was supposed to be normal when reawakening from stasis. "Not pain."
"Good, good." Beaumont stopped stroking Alexis's hair and released his hold on his arm, lifting a tablet from the shelf beside the stasis pod and inputting something on it. Alexis watched him. This doctor might only be an alert physician, but he seemed very confident, like he knew what he was doing. Like everything was fine. That should have felt reassuring, and to a degree it did, but he still hadn't said anything about what was going on. What Alexis had felt before, when he couldn't move… and just now, when he had been touching his stomach, the unfamiliar bandage he had felt underneath there—
"Alexis," said Beaumont, turning to him again. Alexis drew in his breath sharply as the doctor reached over him and cupped the other side of his head this time, rubbing a finger over the shell of his ear, the edge of his jaw, his hairline. This doctor was extremely physically affectionate… but Alexis could not say that it upset him. In truth, the touch felt good. He supposed he had been without touch for so long in stasis that his body was hungry for it, even if it hadn't felt that long to him mentally, and he allowed himself to lean slightly into those fingers.
"Stop worrying," Beaumont continued. "I will tell you everything. Right now, you need to focus on getting your strength back. You've been through a difficult ordeal, and it's always hard awakening from stasis after so long. We don't want to subject your body to any unnecessary stressors right now."
"An ordeal," he had said. Alexis swallowed, and wondered what that meant. His mind was swimming with endless possibilities. But now, more than anything, he wanted to be out of his pod, which felt suddenly small, like a prison, trapping him. "Can I—can I sit up?"
"Not right away," said Beaumont, smiling at him, still petting him comfortingly. "I'd like you to try eating some solid food first, if you would. Do you think you could do that for me?"
He phrased it as a question, but Alexis knew it was no question at all, and he nodded shortly, his head still cradled in the doctor's hand. He was rewarded with an even larger smile, one that crinkled the corners of the doctor's eyes. Beaumont's eyes were striking, Alexis thought absently to himself. Piercing. He was hit with the sudden feeling that they could somehow see deep inside his body, even without the aid of medical instruments.
"There's a good boy," the doctor said, and stood up, finally, from the side of the pod.
The doctor walked away, and when he finally vanished from view down a corridor, Alexis quickly lifted his arm off his chest and shakily thrust it back underneath his shirt. He lifted the flimsy material and brushed his hand up his torso, over his ribcage, to the edge of his chest. His breath caught in his throat. Indeed, as he thought, he was bandaged there. Did that mean what had happened in his nightmare was real after all? Had something been crawling inside of him? Feeling as though he might throw up, Alexis began to peel up the edge of the bandage, craning his neck to look down at himself. Nothing looked different about his abdomen now. It lay as flat as it ever had, or perhaps a little more so, from the loss of muscle he had experienced while in stasis. But under the bandage…
He finally peeled back the edge of it, lifted his neck up with all his strength, and stared. There, on his stomach some inches below his left nipple, was some kind of hole or divot in his skin. It looked something like a belly button, but with some pieces of skin overlaying it, like a kind of flap. His hand trembled as he inched his fingers closer to it, tracing around the puckered edge that formed where it met the rest of his skin. He felt only a light sensation, as if he were touching himself through a thick sweater, and then he pressed his finger further inward, and began to feel slightly ill when the flap of skin seemed to fold inward underneath his touch, to give way.
Then he heard footsteps approaching him, growing louder. Alexis quickly pulled his finger away, pressing the edge of the bandage back down, tugging the hem of the shirt over his belly, and folding his arm up on his chest as it had been when Beaumont left him. The doctor returned, smiling as he walked to sit once more next to Alexis's pod. He was carrying tubes of nutritional paste, and he held one out to Alexis, who lifted a weak and shaking arm up to take it.
"Very good, Alexis. Let's see if we can get some of that inside you."
Alexis lifted the plastic tube to his mouth and began eating. The paste didn't really taste good, didn't taste like much of anything, but it went down easily enough, and the doctor nodded encouragement as he ate. When Alexis finished, the doctor handed him another tube, but he had barely started eating it before his stomach started to feel uncomfortably full. He felt like he could feel the food inside him, churning, moving—
He pulled the tube away from his lips, the taste of bile in the back of his throat. "I can't— I can't eat any more. I'm—" He could feel his stomach clenching and spasming.
The doctor reached over him, laid a hand upon his belly, and began to rub it gently. "There, now, Alexis. One more. You need to recover your strength." As Beaumont rubbed in a circular motion, Alexis focused on his breathing, and shortly he began to feel a little better. The bile receded back down his throat. He shakily raised his hand, holding the tube back to his lips. He tried to focus on eating slowly, directing all his willpower to ignoring the feeling of pressure and stretching in his stomach. To not think of what it reminded him of. But he couldn't quite force the thoughts out of his mind. His heartbeat began picking up again, and his skin felt clammy. Then his throat convulsed, and he yanked the tube out of his mouth, raising his head up as he spit the food onto his chin and neck, retching and coughing.
"Oh! Alexis. My poor boy, here, let me…" Beaumont rose quickly and disappeared to the side of the chamber as Alexis lay there, his chest heaving in short, quick breaths, liquidy paste sliding down his face, dripping off his chin. His face felt hot and his eyes blurred as they filled with tears. It was so humiliating. What had become of him? He couldn't even feed himself, couldn't eat something as simple as a few tubes of nutritional paste without spitting it all over himself. Then Beaumont returned quickly, a wet towel in his hand, and Alexis felt his shame intensify as the doctor began to gently wipe him clean, like an infant. And he really was like one. Trapped in this pod, weak, helpless.
"There," said Beaumont, wiping the last of the paste off his neck. He folded the towel over and patted the side of Alexis's brow with the clean side of it.
Alexis sighed, letting his eyes drift closed and his breathing slow. The cool, damp towel felt good against his skin. Then he felt Beaumont's fingers card into his hair, combing soothingly through it, and once again that felt good too.
But even touch could not reassure him completely. When he had calmed further, he opened his eyes again. Beaumont was sitting by his side, staring at him warmly, cradling the side of Alexis's head and running his fingers through his hair.
"What…" Alexis tried again. Maybe the doctor would answer him this time. His throat was still hoarse, but he cleared it and spoke. "What happened to me, doctor?"
A pause. Beaumont's eyes grew distant; his smile turned into a slight frown. Just when Alexis thought he would not answer again, Beaumont spoke. "An incident," he said. "Several passengers were affected, including yourself. The ship activated me as alert physician."
Alexis's mouth felt dry. "What kind of incident?"
"You were infected," said Beaumont, "with a parasite. It somehow boarded the ship, and was able to penetrate your stasis system as well as that of several other passengers. I'm still not entirely sure how it managed that. But… the ship woke me, and I was able to intervene just in time."
"A—" Alexis's mind was spinning. A parasite. Then his nightmare… the thing crawling around inside his stomach, struggling to burst out of him was—"The others," he croaked. "Are, are they all right too?"
"No," Beaumont said with a somber tone. "I'm very sorry to tell you, but the others died." Alexis felt as if a rock were suddenly pressed to his chest. Died. Had he been in danger of dying too? Or was he still? But before he could ask, the doctor's somber expression changed, a smile once more taking over his face as he continued, "But you, Alexis. You were extraordinary! The things I'll be able to learn, with your help…" Beaumont was staring off into space with an excited, hungry gleam in his eye, his knuckles white as he squeezed the side of Alexis's pod.
Alexis felt confused. Learn? How to treat the parasites? Did this mean the doctor had fully cured him? What of the strange wound on his chest? "So I… Doctor, am I going to die too?"
This question drew Beaumont's eyes and full attention back to him again. "Die? Oh no, my darling boy. There's no danger of that any more. As I said, your recovery has been miraculous. Beyond miraculous, even. It's given me the opportunity to discover so much more, things that will have a real impact on our future."
Alexis didn't understand any of this. Well, perhaps these parasites were an ongoing danger, and the doctor had now learned how to combat them. Alexis felt relieved, at least, lucky that he had lived, when others had apparently died. But… "Are you going to put me back in stasis again? Or… can I get up, and walk around a bit first?"
"Oh! Yes, my apologies. In order for you to fully recover your strength, indeed, I will need to keep you out of stasis for a short time." He frowned. "I don't know about walking around right away, but you should be all right to try once you've had some more food first. Why don't we make another attempt in another couple of hours?"
"All right," said Alexis. His body did still feel heavy, and he let his eyelids drift closed. Sleeping for a short time wouldn't be the same as fully entering stasis again. As he passed into unconsciousness, he raised his hand over his belly again, lightly resting his fingers on the edge of that bandage, thinking faintly before he dropped off that the doctor had not even mentioned the strange wound and what had caused it, or whether it would heal.
When Alexis attempted to stand several hours later, he was shaky, but with Beaumont next to him with an arm wrapped around his middle, he was able to do it. Walking was something else entirely, and he was only able to take a few steps before his legs turned into jelly.
"You're doing splendidly," the doctor assured him, continuing to support him as he led Alexis back to sit on the side of his pod. "I'll bring you some orthotics to assist you in the meantime. It takes the effects of stasis longer to wear off the first time you come out of it. I'm sure your muscles will have recovered further after another few days, but you needn't worry too much about it. You'll be back to normal in no time." As he lowered Alexis into a sitting position, his hand brushed against the location of the bandage on Alexis's stomach.
"Normal…" Alexis murmured, lifting his hand to press on the location of his wound, feeling the shape of the bandage through the soft material of his shirt. "Doctor, I… earlier I reached under my shirt, and I felt this bandage. And the wound underneath it. What is it? Is… is it another port for stasis I forgot about, or is it because of the parasite? It—it doesn't seem like it's healed. Does that mean that I—" Flashes of pain and strange abdominal distentions raced through his mind.
"Ah! I'm sorry I didn't explain it before. No, you're right, that has nothing to do with stasis. It was a complication from the incident, as you said." Beaumont smiled at him. "But it's perfectly all right. Fully healed."
"But… when I pressed on it earlier, my finger seemed to go inside of it. How can it be healed?"
"Now, now. You shouldn't do that. I put that bandage on there for a reason, you know." Alexis flushed slightly at the doctor's chiding tone. "But no, it's perfectly fine as it is. Yes, you're correct, the passage hasn't fully closed up. But it is healed nonetheless. That was rather part of your miracle, actually. The parasites, once matured, attempted to escape their hosts, of course, and in all other patients this resulted in their death. But you, Alexis! Somehow the passage through which the first one escaped healed in you, and thereafter, each subsequent parasite also used that passage, and didn't do you any harm."
"Each—" Alexis felt ill. "Each parasite? Doctor, I can only recall vague memories of one incident of that creature moving around inside me… Do you mean there were more than one? Are there… are there still parasites inside me now?!"
Beaumont frowned, and moved closer to him, grasping his shoulder firmly. "Alexis. What did I tell you? You need to recover! You must avoid stressing your body by worrying about such things."
"But are there—"
"No. I told you, you're fully healed. You don't need to worry about the parasites any more. Trust me, and trust that I can manage your care. Now breathe slowly."
Alexis tried to do as he was told, looking down, catching his breath. It was true that Beaumont was a physician, and he had shown nothing but the utmost care for him so far. Alexis had always trusted doctors, anyway, had taken them at their word and not questioned their word. Why should he, when they were the experts? Of course Beaumont would do what was best for him. He really shouldn't worry himself. If anything, he should try to make the most of his remaining time outside stasis, though he didn't know how long that would be.
"All right," said Alexis. "I will try. I'm sorry I have caused so many problems for you."
"It's no problem at all, Alexis. Please, let me go and fetch those orthotics for you."
For several days, Beaumont cared for him and helped him gain his strength back. Alexis knew he would feel weak when existing stasis. It had been fully explained to him in orientation, but he hadn't expected to felt quite this drained, this worn out. Like his body had had all of its energy sucked out. Well, he supposed it was worsened because of the parasites. He was still not entirely certain of everything that had happened, but whenever he tried to press Beaumont for additional details, the doctor had insisted that Alexis shouldn't worry about such things and should focus on his recovery.
Alexis still wasn't sure what to make of Beaumont. The doctor had exhibited nothing but concern for him, which he supposed was a good quality in a physician, but his affections toward Alexis seemed to go beyond a simple bedside manner. He continued touching and stroking his face, hair, and body often. At first Alexis was too weak to protest such actions, but even if he had been able to resist, honestly, he found the touch a bit comforting. Even as he regained more strength and was finally able to walked around almost entirely his own power, he allowed the doctor to continue touching him, though the behavior did strike him as a little odd. That kind of intimate touching between strangers certainly wasn't normal. But maybe being an alert physician on an ark ship did that to a person. Being alone for so long, being woken up by the ship whenever something went wrong while the rest of the ship's passengers all slumbered on. Alert physicians committed to voyages knowing most of them would never reach their destination, would grow old and die and be replaced by another before that ever happened. It wasn't something Alexis would ever have wanted for himself, though of course he was no medical practitioner. But thinking of it, the loneliness of Beaumont's existence, made him start to feel some tenderness toward the older man. And with only the two of them awake on the ship, Alexis felt somewhat lonely himself.
Whatever his peculiarities, at least Beaumont seemed quite adept at his trade. Within a week, Alexis had regained his strength, and Beaumont made approving noises each time he examined him, poking and prodding. He paid particular attention to the strange wound, and Alexis wondered whether the doctor had been honest with him, if it was truly healed. It didn't seem like it could be the case when it was not fully closed, but he couldn't see why Beaumont would lie to him. Well, if he was completely healed, then he supposed soon he would be returned to stasis again, and it would no longer matter. The next time he woke up, it was very possible Beaumont would have died during his lonely, solitary watch. The thought filled Alexis with a little sorrow and guilt, and when the doctor stroked lightly at the back of his hand after examining him, on an impulse Alexis turned his hand around and grasped Beaumont's fingers, intertwining them with his own. The doctor startled, and then stared at him with eyes so full of feeling that Alexis was a little embarrassed, and felt his heart beating faster as he held their clasped hands together. It was the least he could do, to return some physical comfort to the person who had cared for him so well.
After another few days, when Alexis was finally able to walk on his own again, Beaumont smiled at him and said, "Very good, Alexis. I think we're ready to proceed now."
"Yes, with your further treatment."
Aleix frowned. "But I thought—you said before that I was healed."
"Yes, yes, you are, but you see, I told you that you were the only one to survive. And of course I wondered how that could be. When I studied the effects of the parasites on your body…" His eyes gleamed. "It was already extraordinary how you were able to survive being infected, when everyone else perished. But there's something else going on that I don't understand. I need to observe more."
Alexis faltered. "You…" He looked down at his abdomen, clenching his hand in the front of his shirt. "But what are you going to do? Why is it necessary?"
Beaumont sighed, exasperated. "Alexis. Surely you must agree that these parasites are dangerous. And we must stop them from infecting other crew members in the future, must we not?"
He could not very well argue with that, although he was not happy about it. "I suppose so… Does that mean you aren't going to be putting me back into stasis yet?"
"Oh, on the contrary. I think you're ready to return immediately. But," he added as he reached forward and took Alexis's hand, "I may need to reawaken you in the future, as part of the procedures. You won't mind that terribly, will you?"
Alexis still didn't quite understand any of this. He remembered what he had felt before, that pain, and the thing moving around in his abdomen, pressing up from his belly. "These procedures—are they going to hurt? Will there be something inside me again? I don't want—"
Beaumont squeezed his hand, a warm, comforting pressure. "Please, Alexis, don't worry about that. I will take care of everything. I promise you. You can trust me."
And because it seemed like the only thing to do, Alexis let himself give in and trust.
So Alexis returned to stasis, until Beaumont woke him again.
His investigative procedures were still ongoing, Beaumont told him, and because of them he would have to wake Alexis up periodically. Truthfully, Alexis found he didn't mind so much this time. It was far easier emerging from stasis the second time, and although the doctor could sometimes be slightly overbearing, Alexis began enjoying his company. There was something about that intense focus, all directed on him, that made him shiver in a way that was not at all unpleasant. Plus, there was all the touching. On this second occasion of being awake on the ship together, feeling physically stronger and a bit emboldened, Alexis dared to touch Beaumont back at times, just casually. Beaumont seemed startled at first, but not unwelcoming to such attentions, and so it continued progressing between them.
"Must I go into stasis again?" Alexis sighed, when the doctor told him it was time.
"I know you don't want to," said Beaumont. "But it will seem like no time at all, and I promise you, I'll be here when you awaken again."
And he was. It helped Alexis get through those strange periods of stasis, knowing he had someone to wake up to who was looking forward to seeing him. He had been excited when he was conscripted for this voyage, but a little frightened too, traveling so far away with a group of people he had never met before. But now he had Beaumont, and if he sometimes woke from stasis feeling like he had had unpleasant dreams, nightmares, about the parasites moving around inside him, the doctor's bright eyes and pleased smile always made him happy to wake up, and helped him forget those discomfiting dreams.
Finally, after several more repetitions of this process, and an increasingly bold series of touches and caresses between the two of them, Alexis got up his nerve and kissed his doctor on the mouth, pulling him down into the pod, just before he was set to reenter stasis. He supposed it was a bit of a cowardly move, for if Beaumont didn't return his feelings, Alexis wouldn't find out until he reawoke. Or perhaps Beaumont would simply not wake him back up. That time, he dreamed more clearly than usual. He was slightly delirious, and everything was hazy, and there was an intense pressure in his stomach, but Beaumont was there, whispering to him soothingly, pressing kisses to his mouth and face. And when he awoke, the doctor's face was the first thing he saw, before Beaumont leaned in and kissed him for real. Alexis smiled tiredly as he kissed him back.
This development in their relationship made it easier to withstand the tedium of the barren ship. There were no beds on ark ships, but they made love on the floor, and sometimes in Alexis's pod. It was more comfortable, although it felt a little claustrophobic to him, and when Beaumont stroked a hand over his belly while pressing into him, Alexis sometimes had flashes in his mind, memories of those parasites and the other nightmares he had had since then while in stasis. But Beaumont always fucked him lovingly, gently, and when Alexis felt those terrors he simply kissed the doctor firmly and tried his utmost to put all bad thoughts from his mind.
It was some time later, coming out of stasis once more, that instead of a kiss Alexis woke to find Beaumont greeting him with a frown. "Darling, I must talk to you about something," the doctor said.
"What's wrong?" Alexis asked, sitting up in his pod.
Beaumont seemed to consider before answering. "You know that I have told you you were cured, but also that I have continued tending to your care, all this time. Even though you are not in danger of dying because of what happened before, there are things I must continue to do for your own well-being."
Alexis frowned. "Yes, of course I know. That's why you must keep taking me in and out of stasis." He smiled then, coyly, sliding a hand over the side of his pod, touching the backs of Beaumont's fingers tenderly. "Although I hope that is no longer your sole motivation for doing so."
Beaumont flushed and smiled back at him, his eyes full of warmth. He turned his hand over and laced their fingers together, squeezing Alexis's hand. "No, of course not, my love. But I'm afraid—there is a procedure I've been performing, you see. And I have tried to do it only while you are in stasis, but I am beginning to think I may need to attempt it while you are awake as well."
Alexis's felt the smile drop off his face. He could not say he liked the sound of that. "What does this… procedure involve?"
Beaumont squeezed his hand a little tighter. "It won't be pleasant, but you should be able to bear it. But we don't need to do it right away. Would you care to lie with me?"
Alexis said yes, and didn't even have cause to exit his pod yet, for Beaumont climbed into it with him. They traded sweet kisses and Alexis sighed happily when Beaumont pushed into him, telling himself that it would be all right, that he could withstand whatever procedures the doctor deemed necessary, as long as he got to keep this.
The next day, Beaumont told him it was time. Alexis was a little startled, for he had expected to have more time to simply relax with his lover, but he did not complain.
"It would be best to do it in your pod," Beaumont said. "Although I will not activate stasis. Also, you will need to remove your shirt."
Alexis did so, and settled himself in his pod. The doctor hooked up his few stasis ports, but did not activate him, so he was not sucked into the familiar artificial sleep. He lay back and tried to relax, nervous about what the doctor was going to do. Beaumont left him for a short time, then returned holding a strange container Alexis had not seen before. It was similar to a bowl, but he could not tell what was in it.
"Now," said Beaumont, "please lie back and stay still," said Beaumont. "This may cause you some discomfort."
Alexis shuddered, but did as he was told. He felt the doctor's hands on his chest, unbuttoning his shirt, spreading it open. Then Beaumont touched his spread-out palms to Alexis's skin, pressing into and stroking him. Alexis shuddered further and arched up into his lover's touch. Even if every time he awoke from stasis felt like just the next day, his body might have been held in that frozen condition for months, years, perhaps decades. Every time, it was like his first time being touched in so long, and he felt incredibly sensitized to Beaumont's hands and kisses. And the doctor was ever so affectionate toward him, especially since they had begun sleeping together. It was impossible to suppress his body's reaction to him. But Alexis knew this pleasantness was not to last.
"Are you ready, Alexis?" asked Beaumont, confirming his suspicions.
Alexis nodded, and Beaumont reached into the hole on his chest with one of his fingers. Alexis drew in his breath sharply as the digit pushed into him, prodding deeper. Beaumont began to move his finger around in the hole in a circular motion, twisting and angling it, stretching the opening out. It was not incredibly painful, but it was uncomfortable, and made Alexis feel dizzy and ill.
"Alexis," Beaumont said. "I am going to add another."
This made his discomfort increase significantly more. He bit his lip and tightened his fists against the increase in pain, and told himself he had to bear it. The dizziness and nausea grew.
Then, with two of Beaumont's fingers already inside him, Alexis felt a sudden new sensation, and craned his neck to look down and see what it was. The doctor was leaning his head over Alexis's chest, mouth pressed to that wound held open by his fingers, pressing his tongue into the hole, licking at the puckered edges that surrounded it. Alexis shuddered and moaned. Beaumont had never touched him there before, on that wound, which was usually covered by a bandage when they slept together. Truthfully, the wound itself did not actually have much sensation, and Alexis couldn't imagine that what Beaumont was presently doing was actually medically necessary. But it did not hurt him, and meanwhile… Though he could not feel it very well, it was undeniably erotic to look at. Beaumont was so intent on his actions, pausing not a moment as he licked over the surface of the wound, dipped inside of it, fucked his tongue in and out of Alexis's hole. Even though it didn't feel particularly pleasurable, watching the bizarre act began to make Alexis grow hard. He remained with his head craned up like that even though it pained his neck, breathing hard, watching Beaumont's fingers and tongue work inside him, stretching the hole out further and further. And then the doctor drew his mouth back, and inspected the result of his tender ministrations.
"Yes," he said. "I think it is ready now."
Alexis turned his head, and saw Beaumont reach over the side of the pod, into that strange receptacle he had seen before. Out of it, he drew a strange, small object. It was spherical and almost translucent, with an eerie iridescent sheen to it. It wobbled between the doctor's fingers, making Alexis think of gelatin. Through its semi-translucent surface, he could see some kind of darker dot or shape deeper inside it.
"What—what is that?" Alexis asked, his throat dry.
"Hush," said the doctor huskily, his eyes dark. "Do not worry. This is only a mechanism for delivering medicine. It will help you."
Beaumont lifted the sphere to the hole, still stretched open by the fingers of his other hand, and pressed the weird object against the opening. It felt slightly cool and slippery against him, although Alexis could only feel it well against the skin around the outside of the hole. It seemed slightly too large to pass into him easily, but then Beaumont pressed on it, and the jelly wobbled where it was pressed against his skin, and the shape of the object began to distort, forcing it to change its shape and slide into the hole.
It still did not go into him easily, and Beaumont pushed it as it slowly progressed. As it finally slid the rest of the way into him, Alexis's body felt queerer, and his dizziness increased. The doctor lifted another of the spheres, and Alexis let his head fall back again as Beaumont passed it inside him.
"How many of those are there, doctor?"
"A fair amount," replied Beaumont, taking a break in between handling the spheres to reach up and stroke Alexis's face comfortingly with the back of his hand. "Please bear it, darling. I will be as gentle as I can."
Alexis closed his eyes, and tried to even his breathing. His erection from before had already subsided from the queasy sensation that now grew inside him. Lying there in stillness, the procedure felt excruciatingly long, Beaumont's hand slid up his bare chest with each additional jellied sphere he brought to press inside him. Progressively, in addition to the general feeling of unwell, Alexis began to feel a sense of heavy fullness overcome him.
Alexis moaned, struggling not to curl up upon himself. HIs abdomen clenched and unclenched, sending shots of pain through him. "It hurts—" he said, and oh, there was nothing crawling in him, but aside from that he was so reminded of the parasites. "Please, doctor, I cannot take any more."
"Shhh," said Beaumont. He removed his fingers from Alexis's wound, and with one hand began to gently rub his belly while with his other he reached up and stroked his hair, pushing the strands off Alexis's sweaty face to tuck them behind his ear. "Relax, now, darling. Just breathe. Let your body settle and calm. Everything will be all right."
Alexis tried taking deep breaths, focusing on the feeling of the doctor lightly massaging his belly in a circular pattern. His tissues there felt so tender, sensitive to touch, his skin twitching and jumping under Beaumont's fingertips, but as the doctor continued, and made calming noises and gently stroked his hair, Alexis felt his body begin to relax, and his breathing slowed and he let his eyelids drift closed. It was almost as though he were in a trance, only focused on the rhythmic repetitive stroking of the doctor's hands on his swollen belly, which gradually grew less and less painful as his muscle cramping subsided.
Finally, when he felt almost ready to drift off to sleep, the doctor stopped stroking him, and he felt a soft press of lips against his temple. "There, Alexis. Very good. Now, I am going to resume. There are only a few more."
Alexis heard this, distantly, but couldn't quite focus on the words, and moaned softly when he felt those fingers enter him again, pressing open his wound. But his body was so weak now, so completely worn out, that he just lay there limply, groaning intermittently as Beaumont passed the last few globules inside him. His belly felt full to bursting, bulbous and lumpy, and when he forced open his eyelids part of the way and gathered enough strength to glance down, he could see it, stretched out, a mass of round bumps showing through from under the surface of his skin.
"That is all, love," said Beaumont, and kissed him again on the face. "You have done so well. I must only take a few measurements, and then I will return you to stasis again. Is that all right?"
"Yes," said Alexis faintly, almost a whisper. He closed his eyes again and could already feel himself sliding toward sleep even without the effects of statis to pull him under. Although he had performed no exertion himself, merely lain there as Beaumont filled him, he felt completely exhausted, worn out. The ache in all of his muscles was only surpassed by that insistent pressure from within, that it seemed almost impossible to hold inside himself.
But it was not enough to tether him to wakefulness; as the doctor fussed over him, he drifted to unconsciousness, and soon thereafter to the deeper sleep of stasis once again.
It was after the second time Beaumont performed that procedure on him while he was awake that Alexis stumbled on the doctor's research notes.
Beaumont was tidying up Alexis's pod and happened to leave his tablet lying unattended. This time, Beaumont had not put Alexis into stasis immediately after filling him with the spheroid globules, instead insisting that Alexis remain awake for some time so he could observe him. Alexis was uncomfortable, but he was not filled quite as full this time, so he could manage to move around on his own. Bored and filled with idle curiosity, waiting for Beaumont to finish what he was doing, he picked up the tablet and began to read what was on the screen.
And it was all there. There was a new, entirely distinct sensation of pain deep in the pit of his stomach, but he knew it had nothing to do with the spheres currently inside him. No, this was a fully emotional pain, and yet the weight of it, as it settled in him, felt even more heavy than that from his physical load. There on the screen, he scrolled down and read all about it. The next stage in the doctor's experiment: implanting the subject with the modified alien parasites while awake.
The subject. Him. He was the doctor's experiment. All this time—all his nightmares in stasis, when he thought he had just been dreaming, remembering that original painful incident. Beaumont had been reinfecting him with the parasites intentionally. Over and over and over again.
He scrolled further down the screen, reading more. About the effects of the parasites on his body that Beaumont was studying. There was something about physical changes to the host. Alexis's hands began shaking, and his vision grew blurry, and he could no longer make out the words.
It was some time before Beaumont noticed, and then only because Alexis started to hyperventilate. "Alexis," he said, walking toward him. From the fear in Beaumont's eyes, it was obvious he knew what Alexis had seen. "Darling, wait. Please, let me explain—"
"You—all this time, you have been putting them inside me on purpose! Over and over again! It wasn't medicine, like you said! You weren't treating me for anything, trying to heal me, but experimenting! Using my body like it was just— just—"
"Alexis. My love, please." Beaumont reached out toward him, but Alexis backed away. "Everyone else the parasites infected died, but you… Alexis, they changed you. Something they did to you, to protect their host's body… you can't die, darling. Not while they're inside you. Not from disease, from starvation, from dehydration. Maybe from old age, eventually, and well, you still could die from some kind of violent accident. You haven't seemed to be impervious to sharp or blunt trauma, from what I've tried. But the passage that healed while still providing a way out of your abdomen allows them to exit you without killing you each time, which permitted me to investigate further, to try to find a way to modify the creatures and their development inside you. Just think!" His eyes shone. "Think of what this could mean for humanity's future! If we can find a way to harness these parasites, to make them remain dormant inside you forever. We're out here, searching for a new place to call home, traveling so far and so long. I likely won't even get to see where we eventually end up. But what a contribution we can make, Alexis, the two of us! If I can study you, can learn how your body adapted to the parasites, and they to you. If I can determine how to make them remain dormant permanently. I have already lengthened the process. I might even have achieved it, this time. I won't know until I'm able to observe you in stasis again. Then, darling, once I perfect it, I can attempt to replicate the process in other crew members here on the ship. If the parasites are always dormant, there will be no need to worry about them damaging bodies when they emerge." He smiled, clear and bright, filled with excitement from his own words. "This will be my life's work, Alexis. My contribution to our species. I may be only a lowly alert physician, but they will remember me for this discovery forever. Surely you can understand how important that is!"
Alexis's head was spinning. He could only take in about a third of what Beaumont had said. He felt the bulging heaviness of his belly, which he now knew was filled not with medicine but the very parasitic eggs that had nearly killed him. "No…" he moaned. "No, you can't—what are you saying, I can't die? Am I even human anymore? What have you done to me?!"
"You lied to me! You tricked me!" Alexis yelled, grasping the edge of his stasis pod, wavering unsteadily on his feet, the weight in his stomach throwing off his sense of balance. "I loved you, and you betrayed me!"
"Calm down, Alexis—" Beaumont took another step toward him.
"No! Don't come any closer to me." He shoulders heaved with labored breaths, and he tightened his grip to steady himself. "I never agreed to this! T-to be experimented on!"
Beaumont looked at him imploringly, holding his hands in front of them. "Darling, please. You did agree to this. It was all in your contract—"
"My—my contract?!" Alexis felt hysterical. "You pretended to love me, and you would defend yourself with my conscription contract? This was not in any contract! To be cut open! To have parasites growing inside me, over and over again! Because you put them there!"
"Your contract, Alexis, was very clear that the expedition's medical officers could take whatever steps they deemed necessary for the survival of the mission. That is all I am doing, my darling. I am doing this for you, and for everyone. Please." He took a step closer, reaching out as if to touch Alexis's face, but Alexis jerked back.
"Liar! You're lying! How could this possibly be—"
"It's necessary, Alexis. What you are—what we're doing together is a gift for all humankind. It's so important. I tried it with others but none of them were strong enough." Alexis's mind swam further at that. The others that had been infected. Had their deaths truly been accidents? Or had Beaumont experimented on them intentionally? Had—had his initial infection itself been part of the doctor's plan from the very beginning?
Beaumont's eyes were wet with tears, those striking eyes that Alexis had so loved gazing into. "It had to be you, Alexis. You're the only one who was able to withstand it. I know it's hard, but think of the contributions you're making. This isn't simply science, this is survival. This is our whole future at stake. You're saving all of us, my darling. Please… you know I would never want to hurt you. I love you."
But Alexis was not listening to him anymore. He darted his eyes wildly around the corridor, his mind racing, trying to think of a way out. But here in space, where could he go? All this chamber held was the stasis pods. Ark ships were intentionally designed to be as sparse as possible.
Except… there was one way he could escape. To remove himself from the ship entirely.
He took off down the corridor, running as fast as he could, clutching his rounded belly. Beaumont called after him, but Alexis knew where he was going. He only remembered vaguely when they had pointed it out during his orientation, but he had walked past it enough times since Beaumont began waking him from stasis, since the ship was not very large and there being nowhere else to go. And there it was, off the end of one corridor. Another pod, but different from the rest, this one designed to separate from the ship. A shuttle pod, for use in landing on potentially inhabitable planets, or in case the ark ship were destroyed. As Alexis opened the hatch and stepped through it, he heard Beaumont's footsteps coming down the corridor, heard him calling after him, but it was too late. The doctor was too slow. Alexis sealed the hatch and jammed his fist onto the control panel. He didn't care where he went, selecting a course that took him as far away from this ship as fast as possible. He searched the panel frantically and finally located the homing beacon switch, turning it off. He could hear Beaumont directly on the other side of the hatch from him, banging on the walls separating them, yelling, "Alexis! Please, don't do this! I need you, Alexis, and you need me. I'm not certain I've stabilized them yet, and if they all hatch you'll die without me. Darling, please! Don't do this to me!"
This caused a little lurch in his stomach, because he really didn't want to die, but what kind of life did he have here, tortured and experimented upon, betrayed by the person he had thought he loved? And it was too late to reconsider it anyway, for the pod separated with a sudden lurch, and then Alexis was just holding on, closing his eyes and bracing himself.
The shuttle pod was so much worse than being in stasis.
Alexis hadn't really thought about it, when he ejected himself. He was angry, and just wanted to get away. Wanted to escape from the betrayal of a person he had trusted, had shared himself with, who had simply been using him and doing unspeakable things to his body all this time. In truth, he hadn't known if he would even be able to escape for long. He wondered if Beaumont would be able to quickly track him down and retrieve him. But somehow, it seemed he had succeeded.
But now that he was away, there was nothing. He was cold and lonely in the emptiness of space. He believed the shuttle pods were supposed to have a portable stasis system built into them, but this one seemed to be damaged, and he was left stranded in the world of real time. There was a small provision of rations in the pod, which he devoured quickly, and then the thirst and hunger began to overtake him. It got worse and worse, his throat burning, the grumbling pain in his stomach piercing, and he wondered if the cramping of his belly would disturb the clutch of parasitic eggs inside him. But it didn't seem to, and then it appeared that Beaumont's theories were right, for after his thirst and hunger grew more and more severe, finally, the pain began to subside. He had nothing to eat or drink, but it seemed less and less important. And soon Alexis felt—fine.
So he was immortal. At least until, or unless, these parasitic creatures hatched out of him. He wouldn't age; he couldn't die.
Alexis wondered how long he could stay here before going mad. If he did go mad, would he be able to tell? He woke, and he slept, but there was nothing to do in this tiny capsule in the middle of space. He felt his belly, pressed his hand against the lumps there inside of him, and wondered whether the alien creatures could sense any of what was currently happening to him. He banged his fists against the side of the capsule, once, to see what damage he could do to himself, but that pain was real and the parasites did not protect him from that injury. Perhaps they helped him heal more quickly… he could not tell. He didn't know how long it took, but he did eventually heal. But he hadn't enjoyed the pain, so he didn't do it again.
He thought about Beaumont. The man he had trusted. Whom he had slept with, had developed feelings for, had thought he loved. Alone as he was now, even having been betrayed, he couldn't help but miss the man's easy, warm caresses. How his eyes lit up when he looked at Alexis; how he treated him like he was all that mattered in the world. Even when it had turned out that had been built on a lie… Alexis found himself missing it, wishing he could forget what he had learned, could go back to what they had before. He even considered it, a few times. He had located the escape pod's distress signal, and knew that if he activated it, the ark ship would send a retrieval drone to find him, if it were close enough to pick up the signal. And Beaumont would be able to recover him. It would be so easy to return… No! He tried to hold on to that spark of betrayal, the hot anger in his gut, the only thing that kept him from flipping the switch. But as time went on, it became harder and harder to remember why it had felt so important.
He supposed if he waited long enough, Beaumont might actually die. Possibly the doctor had halted the ark ship and put himself back into stasis while Alexis was away, but if he went on for years, decades, centuries, with the parasites inside him keeping him alive all that time… as an alert physician, Beaumont would still have to wake occasionally to watch over the rest of the passengers, and he wasn't expected to survive the entire voyage. How long would it take before he would likely be dead? Or until he was so far away there was no chance of one of the ark ship's drones recovering him? Either way, if Alexis waited long enough to activate the switch, he might be rescued by someone else instead. Once he activated it, the ship or any other ark ships or drones that passed near enough would be alerted to his coordinates. He remembered from orientation that there were thousands of ark ships like his, and surely they would send even more in the future, so it was not entirely impossible. He might be able to return to the peace of true stasis, and then to wake up again like a normal person, like everyone else, when they finally reached their destination. If his parasites remained dormant that entire time, no one would ever know about them. He could live like a human again.
So he turned the thoughts over and over in his mind, considering his course of action, dreaming of his ex-lover, fighting madness and delirium… Until finally, after some unknown length of time, he felt it, that sensation still familiar even after so long, deep in his belly. Not sharp yet, but unmistakable: the feeling of being prodded and poked from within.
Beaumont had not achieved the dormancy he had sought. The parasites were going to hatch.
Everything was brought into sudden relief. He realized that he was going to die out here. If the parasites hatched out of him while he was alone, they would almost certainly still exit him through the same passage they always did, so he would survive initially, but what then? There was no escape from this pod. He was suddenly extremely aware that he had no idea what the doctor did with all the parasites that had hatched out of him after they emerged. What would they turn into? If trapped in here with him, would they kill and eat him? Even if they did not, he knew that once they had all emerged from his belly, he would no longer be immortal, and would be sure to die in a short period of time from dehydration and starvation.
Alexis did not want to die.
Trembling, breathing heavily, his stomach clenching around the alien creatures stirring within, Alexis pressed the distress call switch.
He was found by a drone. He was too delirious to take note of what ship it was from, but when he exited his pod and fell onto the ship, he had not expected anyone else to catch him.
"Alexis. Oh, my darling, oh, Alexis."
Beaumont's arms were strong and warm around his body. Alexis closed his eyes and let himself enjoy the feeling of their touch. Beaumont repeated his name like a mantra and touched him everywhere, hands sliding over his back, shoulders, arms, then cupping his face as he leaned in and kissed him desperately on the mouth. That too, was comforting, though Alexis had no strength with which to respond. The doctor's tongue probed at his lips and he lets his mouth fall open, allowing it inside, letting himself be filled.
As Beaumont continued kissing him, his hand slid up Alexis's belly, tunneling beneath his undershirt. He pressed his hand over Alexis's stomach, where he could feel the parasites inside moving, churning, preparing to hatch.
Beaumont pulled away from him urgently. "Oh," he said. "There's no time. Quickly, darling, quickly, into your pod. They are going to come out."
Alexis was too weak to walk, but he had lost a great deal of weight during his time out in space, and Beaumont lifted him easily in his arms as Alexis clung to the front of his shirt.
"Please," he moaned, and he could feel them now, their activity increasing. Perhaps they had been stimulated by his motion once he left the shuttle pod after being still for so long. As the creatures burst out of their eggs and began to press sharply against the inside of his stomach, he yelled.
Beaumont got him into the pod, but there was no time to ease him into stasis. The first parasite began forcing itself out of the passage from his stomach, and Alexis screamed. It was not at all like Beaumont's methodical stretching of that opening. The creature was sharp and hard, forcing him open, dragging itself out of him. He could feel the others scrambled to follow. He caught one glimpse of his belly before the pain became too much, and he saw one of them, black, almost like a large spider, but shining, glistening. The skin on his belly protruded out in so many sharp, hard angles, constantly moving and reforming its shape as the parasites' legs poked against him from within. He saw Beaumont reaching in, trapping the creature that had emerged from him, and then his head fell back and he lost consciousness.
When he finally awoke later, he felt exhausted from his ordeal, but his surroundings were warm and familiar, like coming home. He remembered then that he was back on the ark ship in his own stasis pod, so different from the cold shuttle he had spent so long trapped in. And he knew that this time he would not be alone, that though he might be sleeping, Beaumont would be here watching over him.
Beaumont. Who had lied to him. Who had been intentionally implanting him with alien parasites all this time. He forced his eyes open, and saw the doctor there, as he always was, and would always be, standing next to Alexis's pod.
"Will you put them inside me again?" Alexis asked sleepily. He felt his eyes drifting closed as the doctor worrying over him, double-checking all his vitals and connections. Assessing the trauma to his body from birthing the clutch of parasitic creatures.
Beaumont paused, and then said, "Yes. Yes, I must…. You have realized now, haven't you, Alexis, how important our work is? That's why you came back to me. So you must know, you must understand. You know that you are mine. I have to continue the work, darling. I'm so close. I know I can do it." He leaned over him and lay his warm hand against Alexis's cheek. "Please, my Alexis. Trust me."
"Mmm," said Alexis. It was the answer he had expected. And he supposed it was true, he really did belong to Beaumont. No one else had ever possessed him so completely, inside and out. He sighed, leaning his face slightly into that soft caress. How he had missed those hands. Though he was not yet under stasis, he could already feel himself drifting off, and let sleep take him before the machine pulled him under.
It wasn't so bad anymore. The nightmarish experiments had grown familiar. In the twilight of semi-stasis, it became easier and easier to think of them as strange dreams even though he now knew they were real. And at least there was also the calm, comforting touch of Beaumont's hands and the reassurance of his voice probing at the edges of Alexis's consciousness. The creatures scuttled around in his gut but he let his mind unfocus and drift away, and it was almost like he was not in his body at all.
When Alexis awoke from stasis the next time, his body felt different, somehow. Heavier.
Beaumont was there, as he always was. "Here you go, darling." He offered him a tube of nutritional paste. Alexis would have reached up to take it, but his arms felt so heavy, and then the doctor held it to his lips without Alexis needing to say anything, so he simply closed his mouth around it and ate.
"I had to make some changes, Alexis. For your own safety. For your own good. I can't have you leaving me again, you understand?"
"What…" Alexis's mind was still fuzzy. He didn't understand what Beaumont was talking about. And then—his body. So heavy. He tried to move his arms again, but he couldn't lift them. Then he lifted his head slightly, and looked.
There were medical ports all over him, hooked up to a multitude of thick cables, wiring him into the pod. He wasn't chained down, but he might as well have been. He could feel himself, but he couldn't move the rest of his body at all.
"You must understand," Beaumont said, and when he leaned over Alexis and kissed him repeatedly on the mouth, on the cheek, his eyes were shining. When he pressed their cheeks together Alexis felt the doctor's warm tears on his skin. "I'm doing this for you, my darling. For us. I can't let anything happen to you, or let you hurt yourself. Of course, we won't be able to sleep together anymore, like this, but it is necessary, my love. To protect you."
Alexis felt very calm. He wondered whether Beaumont had given him something to make him feel that way, or if it was simply his own reaction to the situation. "It's all right," he said. His throat felt thick, and his words sounded strange to his own ears, like he wasn't the one speaking them. "I understand."
"Oh, Alexis!" Beaumont exclaimed, and kissed him again, and Alexis kissed him back as well as he could, focusing on the point of contact between their bodies, only that, and nothing else.
In some ways, it was the same as it had ever been. He slept for long periods of time in stasis, he withstood the twilight nightmares as best he could, and he awakened to Beaumont's hands and lips on his skin. Coming out of it was always the most relieving part, returning to sensation, and the moment when he could just focus on the feel of the doctor's body and lips against his and forget that everything else around him—his body, the ship, everything—was even there.
Finally, one of those times, he woke to a Beaumont who was more exuberant than he had ever seen him before.
"I have done it!" the doctor exclaimed the minute Alexis's eyes blinked open, laughing with pure joy as he threw himself over the side of the pod, wrapping his arms around Alexis's shoulders, kissing him all over his face. "I was successful! Oh, darling, I always believed I could do it. But it's done now, it's truly happened, I'm sure. They are fully dormant, and stable. Do you realize what this means? Eternal life! No more worrying about disease, or aging! Once I can replicate these results in others, humanity will be unstoppable! And if I can't achieve it in my lifetime… at least there will be you, Alexis, left to future generations. Your body can show them the way. They can continue my work, to make sure this joyous discovery is spread throughout all our new worlds."
Alexis supposed he had things to feel happy about too. If the doctor was right, there should be no more experiments now. At least no new eggs put inside him, or creatures hatching out of them. He was stuck with just those living in him. He could feel them, bulging inside him, a lumpy, bulbous mass. There seemed to be more than had ever been in him before. He wondered how he would be able to eat with them filling so much of his stomach, but then, he supposed, he didn't need to eat anymore, did he?
"My love," Alexis said, tongue heavy in his mouth, his words slurred just slightly. "I'm so very happy. Would you—would you lie with me?"
Beaumont stilled. "Alexis…" And he was peppered with kisses, hard and wet, on his mouth, the side of his face, his ear. "Oh, Alexis, I love you so much. And I would love nothing more. But you are too weak to do that anymore, and I can't chance damaging you."
"Not to make love," said Alexis. "Just… just to lie next to me. To hold me. Please… since I returned, you kiss and touch me, but you have not actually taken me in your arms since the day I came back."
There was a pause. And then, "Of course, my darling. Let me just—I'll need to rearrange some of the wiring."
Alexis waited. Beaumont fussed over him and the pod, shifting things around, creating a space for his body to fit. The machine was not built to hold two people, but there was a slight amount of room, and Alexis had lost so much weight since he first embarked on his journey, anyway. At last a space was cleared, and Beaumont stepped carefully into the pod, setting his tablet down on the panel beside it.
Alexis could not shift his own body, so it took most of Beaumont's own effort to slide him over, creating enough space in the gap between Alexis's body and the shell of the pod for Beaumont to lie down on his side. Alexis's turned his head to the side, his heart pounding in his chest. Beaumont's face was very close to his, warm and open. A face that had by now grown more familiar to Alexis than any other, perhaps even his own. He raised his arm shakily, with great effort, and weakly stroked his finger over Beaumont's cheek. "My doctor," he murmured. Beaumont's eyes were dark and intense as he leaned in, and Alexis pressed back into the kiss, letting his arm fall over Beaumont's shoulder.
Beaumont drew closer and closer to him as they traded long kisses. He pulled Alexis against his body, and even through the mass of tubes and ports trapped in between them, Alexis felt the warmth of Beaumont's limbs, wrapping around him. Alexis's one arm was trapped under his own body but he lifted his other weakly, wedged between the doctor's back and the edge of the stasis pod. Then, with great effort, keeping his lips on Beaumont's the entire time, he lifted his arm higher, feeling the strain in his shoulder, groping blindly against the side of the pod, until he felt the edge at the top.
He pulled his mouth away from Beaumont's, and the doctor immediately fell to kissing at his neck. Alexis stretched his head up, baring more of his neck to Beaumont's lips, and allowing Alexis a clear line of vision to look over the side of the pod, to the very top, so he could see the object he had found with his hand. He navigated the screen on the tablet shakily, and finally having found the correct command routine, he pressed the screen to execute it, withdrawing his hand back into the pod just as the stasis shield slid into place above him.
Beaumont did not realize what had happened at first, still kissing Alexis's neck, and Alexis let himself relax and enjoy it, but the sound of the stasis pod sealing itself finally distracted the doctor, and he turned, craning his head to the side, confusing evident in his voice as he said, "What, what—"
Then Beaumont's eyes grew wide, and he tried to sit up, as difficult as it was with the two of them pressed so closely together. But his head hit the stasis shield, and he could not sit up fully. "What has happened?! Why did it close?" He was hunched over awkwardly, ineffectually pressing against the hard shield above them.
"I did it," said Alexis.
"You…" Beaumont turned to look at him, his eyes wild. "Alexis, you—what are you talking about? What did you do?! My God, Alexis, what have you done to us? All of my research! Alexis, don't you realize that if I'm stuck in here with you while you go into stasis, I'll die? The only way to force the pod to open from the inside is if your body is injured!"
Alexis could feel stasis beginning to fill his body through all those connections the doctor had put in him. "I'm going to fall asleep," he said, his words beginning to slur. "Please, my love, kiss me one last time before I go."
"Don't you understand, Alexis?!" Beaumont yelled frantically, grabbing his face with too much force, squeezing it. "I finally succeeded! You are immortal! For the system to wake you up now, I would have to damage you beyond belief! That would destroy everything. All my work! And the parasites, if they're disturbed, if their dormancy is ruined—I might never achieve the same results again! How can you do this to me?! My God, Alexis, please, please—"
And as Alexis drifted off into pleasant nothingness, all sound fading into white noise, the last thing he felt was the warmth, always the same, Beaumont's hands on his face, their bodies pressed together, the most comforting feeling he had ever known.