Chapter 1: Novus
“Novus Mundus?” Eli asks, and if his tone doesn't convey his skepticism, his raised eyebrow certainly does.
“Yeah, it means 'New world',” Volker answers.
“I know what it means, okay,” Eli says, slightly offended. “But it sounds gross.”
“It is kind of a mouthful,” Lisa cuts in. “How about just Novus?”
“That doesn't make sense! That just means 'New',” Volker argues.
“Yeah, but it sounds so much better,” Eli says.
And that's how it is decided, in the end. They go from New World to just New, but Brody decides to keep quiet and go with it. It's their world, they can call it whatever the hell they want. It doesn't even really matter anyway.
“Hey,” Volker says, when Brody finally sits down to join him for dinner. “How was your day?”
Brody gives him a slight smile and takes the corn cob Volker holds up for him. It doesn't taste anything like corn, and it's an alarming shade of purple, but Inman says its nutritional value beats most of the other things they've found on Novus so far. He bites into it as his eyes land on the flickering campfire in front of him.
“Long,” he answers. “And less productive than I would've liked.”
Volker takes another one of the corn cobs for himself. “Young still moping?”
Brody grunts in agreement. “We also need to find a better way to filter our water supply. Lisa found some micro-organisms in the drinking water.”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“Where is she, anyway?”
Volker is quiet, and when Brody looks up from the flames he sees the unhappy expression on his face. He looks exhausted, but it's more than that. It makes something clench in Brody's chest.
“...She's with Greer. Again.”
They sit together in silence, and Brody doesn't necessarily like touching people, but when it's Volker it's okay, so he bumps his shoulder against him amicably.
Volker huffs out a breath. “She's never going to look at me that way, is she?”
“She loves you. She'd never do anything to hurt you,” Brody answers matter-of-factly. Volker can take that however he wants, because it's true in all ways. Lisa knows she's bad at commitment. She knows getting involved with Dale might mean having to break his heart. And Brody suspects she also knows about his own feelings for Dale, and that she doesn't want to hurt him either.
“Ugh, I'm going to die alone,” Volker grouses, but he sounds like his heart isn't really in it, anymore.
“Nah,” Brody says, taking another bite of his cob. “I'll stay with you.”
Volker laughs, and Brody finds his own lips quirking up in answer.
“I'll take it,” Volker says, and bumps his shoulder against Brody's, this time.
Brody feels a warm feeling spread across his chest, and smiles complacently as he takes another bite of the purple corn and stares into the fire.
Things are going well.
Well, they're going fine. They still need to find a better way of filtering their drinking water, and the shelters aren't nearly where they should be in view of the possibly harsh winters they might be facing on this planet – but overall, things are going well.
Until Volker gets sick.
The three of them are together when it happens. Volker has been looking more pale, lately. Clammy and dizzy, and more than once he's ignored their queries in favor of staring straight ahead into empty space. But when he collapses, when he faints and lands against Brody's shoulder unconsciously, that's when they realize something is very wrong.
Lisa runs for help; she has longer legs, she's faster, and Brody wouldn't have left Dale in anyone else's care right now anyway. He waits with Dale's unresponsive body as his mind goes in ever tightening circles of 'No, this can't be happening, no'.
When TJ finally shows up, she shoos him to the side, but she allows him to keep Volker's hand clamped tightly in his own.
Renal failure, TJ says.
Nothing she can do short of a kidney transplant, and with the lack of medical supplies – with the lack of even the most basic testing equipment – there's no way she can help Volker.
Brody wants to hate her. He wants to blame her, and yell at her. But the tears in her eyes are real, and he can't get angry at her when she so obviously wishes there was something she could do to help Dale.
He nods and holds his head up high, and when everything dies down, when people get back to their own campfires and their own tents, he walks into the woods and cries.
“'S going on?” Volker asks, when he finally wakes up.
“Dale,” Brody says, and he can't stop the quiver from sounding through in his voice.
“Shit, is it that bad?” Volker asks, and the small laugh he lets out sounds raspy and unreal, and Brody wants to cry and scream and pull out handfuls of his own hair. Instead, he smiles at Dale and watches his pained chuckle turn into a more painful cough.
“You'll be okay,” he lies, and closes his fingers around Volker's wrist. To check his heart-rate, he says. But he knows that's not why he does it at all.
Volker is not okay. He gets sicker and sicker, and an ever strengthening sense of impending doom keeps Brody's mind in its tight clutches.
Sometimes, they watch the stars. It's one of the few things Volker can still do, mostly because it doesn't involve him standing up, or doing much at all.
Brody lays out a blanket and lies down next to Dale, and they point out stars and give them names. He tries to burn it into his mind, the feeling of Volker's shoulder against his own, of his arm as it moves to trace the edges of the 'Guitar' constellation they'd named yesterday.
“Look, that's a fridge.”
“...That's a rectangle,” Brody answers.
“So? Fridges are rectangular.”
“Yeah, but... It just looks like a rectangle, why don't you call it that?”
Volker huffs out a small breath. “Are you kidding me? We are the first people even looking for constellations on this planet, we can put anything we want up there! It's a rectangle, sure, but we could call it a fridge, so I'm calling it a fridge.”
Brody has to laugh, if only to keep himself from crying. He swallows thickly before speaking again.
“Alright. Fridge it is.”
Two nights later, they find 'Destiny'. Not the ship, of course, but a constellation to represent her. After Volker's death, Brody will look at it and think of him. He won't tell anyone for a long time, because he wants that memento for himself.
Eventually he'll compile a book with all the constellations he and Dale find, though.
It won't seem like enough. It'll never seem like enough.
Brody isn't sure he can do this. Losing Riley... Losing Riley had been hard; the guy had been one of his best friends at the time, and his death had changed something for Brody. He'd become withdrawn, even more private than before, and the only ones to realize it were Volker and Park. They'd drawn him back out again, orbited around him until finally he felt ready to move on, to let people in again, even if only a very select few.
But right now, he doesn't know if he'll be able to do that again. Because losing Volker... Volker is his best friend, the best friend he's ever had, and they're lost – the Destiny is gone, Rush is gone, their last hopes of ever getting home are gone. He can't lose Dale, too.
Part of him is scared he won't survive this. Another part of him is scared because that thought doesn't scare him much at all, anymore.
He almost tells Dale. He almost says, 'If you die, I think I will, too.'
He doesn't, but somehow Volker still figures it out.
“Adam, you're their only engineer. They need you,” he says, seemingly apropos of nothing. Brody understands what he means anyway.
“Promise me,” Volker says, and his voice is rough and his eyes are pleading, and he circles his cold, clammy fingers around Brody's wrist in a vice-like grip.
Brody closes his eyes and struggles to get enough air. If he promises this, he won't ever be able to go back on it. He can't break it.
“Yeah, alright, Dale. I promise.”
It's one of the only times he ever sees Volker cry.
A few days later, Dale slips into a coma he'll never wake up from. Brody and Lisa sit by his side, each holding one of his hands with tears in their eyes. They know this is the end before TJ even speaks, and Lisa starts to cry when TJ shakes her head.
“I'm sorry,” TJ says. “There's nothing I can do.”
Brody would have noticed the gloss in her eyes, or the wet rasp in her voice, if he wasn't too busy praying to a God he doesn't really believe in for a cure, a miracle, anything.
It's quick, in the end. Four hours and Dale is gone, his last breath dissipated and his body cooling in the wind. Young puts his hand on Brody's shoulder and pries his fingers away from Volker's cold hand, and Brody doesn't remember much else of that night.
They bury Dale under a wooden cross, and somehow that hurts the most. It was the best they could do on such short notice, and everyone has been scrambling to get the housing situation back on track before winter falls, so the fact someone took the time to even make Dale a wooden cross is worth something, rationally speaking. But it's not. It's nothing, it's not good enough, so Brody doesn't say a word during the service, and the next day he starts working on a real headstone.
Scott tells him he should be building – he should be more worried about his unfinished cabin, because Lisa said the temperature is going to drop in a week or two, and his makeshift tent won't be nearly enough to keep him warm – but Brody ignores him, and when that doesn't work he glares at him until Scott leaves him alone.
He'll spend that first winter in Lisa and Greer's hut, and by the time spring comes around, he's finished Volker's headstone. It has his name and his doctorate degree – because Dale hated it when Rush dropped his title. Brody spends weeks thinking of what to put beneath it, beneath his date of birth and death, and settles on a string of notes from Also Sprach Zarathustra. Almost no one recognizes it, but that's not the point anyway.
It was something that Dale loved, and it will be something that is tied to him forever now.
Volker is gone, and Brody truly is alone.
Lisa hugs him sometimes, and cries on his shoulder, but it's not the same. She has Greer, she's pregnant, she's happy, even when she's sad.
Brody isn't happy. He wasn't happy even when he was, and now that Dale is gone, everything feels even emptier, even more pointless than before.
“I miss him,” Lisa says. And Brody doesn't say that he misses Dale too. Because it doesn't bear saying. It's the truest thing in the universe, he misses Dale, and saying it out loud would only cheapen that.
The first year after Volker's death – and that is how he measures time now, AD; not anno domini, but After Dale – a lot of things change. Lisa has her first baby. So do a lot of others. The village is starting to take shape, people are building more; a forge, and a tall fence around the border, and even something like a corner store, where people come to trade their excess food and their crafted things.
Everyone seems to be moving forward, moving on, and Brody feels like he's standing still. He can't let go of Volker, and the only thing that takes his mind off it is the thought that somewhere out there, Destiny is still floating around. He thinks the wormhole was destabilized by a solar flare, something that Eli concurs with, but they argue about whether they've gone ahead in time, or back.
Everything feels unsure, but if there's one thing Brody knows, it's that Rush is a tenacious son of a bitch, and that if he's still out there, he'll come back for them.
He'll come back.
And that doesn't make any of it okay, it doesn't fix everything. But it's something, and that's all he has anymore.
“Come on, Adam, have dinner with us,” Lisa says, and she nudges her shoulder against his. And that's it. He can't take it anymore.
“How can you be so damn happy all the time?!” he bursts out. Dale is dead, he doesn't have to say. She knows it, and he flinches a little at the flash of pain on her face.
“I'm just trying to help,” she says, and he has to look away at the wet gleam in her eyes. “You're not moving on.”
“I don't want to move on,” he snaps.
“He wouldn't have wanted this. It's tearing you apart, and it's not getting any better.”
She's crying now, and he feels his shoulders tense up even further as he refuses to look at her. He doesn't want to come to dinner with them. He doesn't want to sit there and be reminded that she named her son Dale. He doesn't want to hear the name and have it mean something other than the gaping hole in his heart – in his life. Every time he hears people all over town yelling the kid's name, a glimmer of hope springs up in his chest. 'Dale,' his heart sings, every time, and the crushing sense of loss that follows doesn't ever get any less devastating.
“I can't, alright? Not now. Not yet,” he says, and he hates his voice for sounding like he's pleading, even if he is.
She hugs him, and he pats her on the back as he tries to keep his own emotions from showing on his face.
“Okay, Adam. Okay.”
They're quiet for a while, and then Lisa steps back.
“You know you'll always be welcome in my home, right?”
He gives her something that hopefully resembles a smile, even if he isn't sure when the last time he smiled actually was.
He never does take Lisa up on that invitation for dinner. His days seem to morph into one another, and as Novus blooms, he grows gnarled and dark.
“Rush will come back for us,” he says, to whoever is willing to listen. Less and less people are.
But Rush will come, he knows it. This can't be it. This can't be everything. This can't be what his life will be. This is not what he envisioned when he gave up being Brent Langham to become Adam Brody.
This can't be it.
He doesn't speak to Lisa anymore. She waves at him when they meet in the street, but he usually avoids eye contact. He usually avoids going out at all, actually.
It's been ten years, and her Dale is nothing like his Dale. The kid is a menace, hollering and crashing into things and generally making such a ruckus Brody can hardly concentrate on whatever project he's working on. He yells at the kid to get away from his yard, to go play somewhere else, but realizes his mistake when the kid seems to think it's funny and spends the rest of the week kicking a ball against the wall of his cabin.
Lisa and Greer put a stop to it when they find out, but when Lisa knocks on his door to talk about it, Brody pretends not to be home.
He doesn't want to talk to her. It's too painful. She's moved on, she's happy, and he's still here. He's still missing Volker and waiting for Rush. He feels static, standing still, while everyone he knows keeps going faster.
Sometimes he wishes he could let go. He wishes he could get lost in the maelstrom of everyday life; find someone to settle down with, have some stupid kids, open a bar.
He can't, though. Volker was his... maybe soulmate is too maudlin, but that's what it feels like.
He wishes he'd known how much he cared before it was too late. He wishes he'd said something. Even if Volker had rejected him, at least he'd have gotten it off his chest. Now it just feels like a dark, heavy piece of lumber he carries around right below his heart, and nothing he does makes it hurt less. If anything, he's scared it's only growing, like a tumor, until one day it will consume him completely.
Every time he speaks with Eli their conversations devolve into arguments about whether they moved backwards in time, or forwards. Eli is convinced they went back. Brody knows they went forward.
A few years in, these arguments used to rile him up, get him angry. Part of him had been more vehement than was probably necessary because he wanted to blame Eli for everything that happened. It was Eli's math, Eli's idea, and that made Eli directly responsible. Brody would argue and debate and yell at him, and in a way it had been... not fun, not good... but right, somehow. It used to bring a detached wave of relief, because at least he wasn't completely gone yet. At least something could still make him feel passionate, alive.
But he can't honestly keep blaming Eli for what happened – because he knows he himself stood behind the plan as much as anyone; the only person who truly objected was Rush – and the fire behind it has gone out.
Nowadays, the arguments have become circular, and tired, and unfulfilling, and he gets the impression Eli only starts these conversations to keep him engaged.
It feels too much like pity, and he hates it.
He barely speaks to anyone, anymore. Most people get angry at him now, when he tries to tell them Rush will come. A select group of people think he might have a point, but most of them seem more preoccupied with their dissatisfaction with Young and Camile's leadership than with the actual thought of Rush still being out there.
He doesn't want to be here anymore.
He wants to get away.
He stays. Because he's still needed here, and he promised Volker.
But as time goes on, he becomes more resentful. Kids born today won't even realize who Volker is. The only Dale they'll care about is Dale Park-Greer, and Brody can't understand how people can keep living like everything is alright. How they can give up hope that they will ever be rescued. How they can settle for life in a settlement. It's absurd.
Young's kid, Sara, is a bright young thing, and for some reason she's interested in engineering. She's very quiet and serious, and when Young asks him to teach her, he acquiesces. He's turning fifty-seven this year. He should make sure some of his skills transfer before he gets too old to do anyone any good anymore.
She listens to him, and sometimes she asks exactly the right questions, and there are days when Brody merely feels unhappy, rather than empty and hollowed out. She learns quickly, and Young nods at Brody meaningfully every time they spot each other on the street. Sara will be their next engineer.
It takes years – mostly because he doesn't have the same access to learning materials he had back on Earth – but he teaches her all he knows. Sometimes he talks to her about his theories, about Rush still being out there. She listens, avidly at first, but as the years go on, she becomes more skeptical.
“I don't know, Mr. Brody,” she says. She's twenty-six, and heavily pregnant with her second child. “If you moved forwards in time, wouldn't Doctor Rush have been here already?”
He sighs, because she doesn't get it. It's not that simple, and if she still doesn't believe him after hearing every argument in his arsenal, she never will.
He thinks about leaving again. This time, it would be different. He wouldn't leave his old shipmates high and dry; he's provided them with a new engineer.
He isn't needed anymore, and getting away from it all won't mean breaking his promise to Volker.
Thirty years after Dale's death, Brody moves away. A number of people follow him, disgruntled with the current affairs in town, hoping for a brighter future elsewhere.
Sara is upset to see him leave, and Lisa frowns an unhappy frown and forces a hug on him, even if they haven't spoken in fifteen years. Young gives him a strong handshake and claps him on the shoulder, and Brody thinks he really doesn't have anything against the man himself, even if this migration is seen as mostly a political statement.
They settle on a piece of land, and Brody names it Futura. He doesn't need anyone to tell him it's ironic because his whole problem is that he can't let go of the past. He needs someone to laugh at him and tell him it's a font, and when no one does – because everyone who followed him here is too young to even know what Microsoft Word is – he misses Dale so much it tears the air from his lungs.
Thirty years, and it still feels like yesterday.
They build Futura, and it's a lot quicker than it was back on Novus. They get their houses in order before winter hits, and everyone makes it through without any problems.
In some ways, it's better. Living here, where not everything reminds him of Volker, makes it easier to forget, sometimes for hours on end.
Still, the one thing that he can't do here is visit Volker's grave, and he's never been a sentimental man, but the thought of not paying his respects on the anniversary of Dale's death is unbearable. So he plans a trip, and he visits Volker's grave on the day of his death.
He doesn't leave flowers, because Dale wouldn't have cared to get flowers from him anyway. Besides, there's already a bouquet at the foot of the stone when he gets there, and he knows that's from Lisa and Greer. Instead, he brings things he thinks Volker would've liked. The first year, he brings a split gemstone he'd found around the outskirts of Futura. It's the size of his fist, and the black crystals shimmering inside it remind him of the cosmos. He's sure Volker would've thought it was neat. He's pretty sure Volker would've been able to tell him the name of the gem, or at least its Earth equivalent. He thinks maybe Lisa could tell him, too, but it's been so long since he last spoke to her. It's not the type of thing he can take to her. Not anymore. The second year, he brings something he whittled. It's a small elephant, because Dale had once told him baby elephants were his favorite animal. Back then, Brody had made a teasing remark about it, but now it doesn't seem funny at all anymore. Elephants don't forget. Neither does Brody. In a sad way, he thinks Dale would have appreciated that.
It becomes tradition to bring little gifts to Volker's grave on his anniversary – like offerings – and Brody knows it's stupid, but it makes him feel better, so he keeps doing it.
As the years go on, though, relationships between Futura and Novus become strained. The Novus people seem to think they need a new name for their town – since Novus is the name of the planet – and the only reason they haven't gone through with it yet is because apparently Young doesn't think it's the best idea. It seems like a rather unimportant discussion to Brody, but people on both Novus and Futura get into heated debates about it, to the point where they halt communications altogether.
Every time Brody comes back to Novus, he gets more looks. People see him as the leader of Futura, which – in his personal opinion – is a bit of an exaggeration. Sure, it had been at his initiative that they'd left Novus. It had been his idea to name their new land Futura. But it's hardly like he's politically active.
The relations between Novus and Futura are not something he spends much time contemplating, but whenever he visits Volker's grave, he's harshly reminded that not all is well.
During his eighth trip, someone yells at him to go back to where he came from. He intends to ignore it, but Young – graying and old – shows up, and chews the teenager out in a way that leaves even Brody feeling embarrassed for the kid.
Afterwards, Young comes up to him, and puts his hand on Brody's arm.
“I understand,” Young says. “As long as I'm around, you'll always be welcome here.”
Brody feels something hot and painful in his chest, and nods at Young. It might look curt, but it's meant to portray his gratitude, and his understanding – because Young knows the pain of losing a loved one just as well as Brody does – and maybe it's meant to be an apology as well. Because he'd never intended for anything like this to happen. He'd never wanted to create this conflict between Young's people and his – he barely even thinks of them as 'his people', because really, all he'd wanted to do was get away from the pain and the regrets that lurk in every corner here.
Later, when he's standing in front of Volker's headstone, he admits to himself that moving away didn't help as much as he'd hoped it would. Not at all. Maybe the hurt he'd tried to flee lies not within the physical space around him, but within himself.
Still, he's made his choice. This is who he is now.
He's been living in Futura for thirteen years when news of Lisa's illness reaches him. She's dying, she doesn't have long, and Brody doesn't even have to think about it. He goes.
He travels to Novus – now Tenara, named after Young's death in a move that Brody finds so ironic and insensitive he's glad he doesn't live there anymore.
He's an old man, now. The pace he travels at pushes him beyond what he can comfortably handle, but the thought of Lisa dying before he gets to say what he has to say... it's unacceptable.
And this is becoming a painful theme in his life, isn't it? Waiting too long to say what has to be said, to do what has to be done. He's had years, years, to apologize to Lisa. To tell her it wasn't her fault that he pulled away, that he simply couldn't deal with her moving on when his own life felt like it ended when Dale died. He needs to tell her now, before it's too late.
It isn't until he starts seeing the contours of Tenara that he starts feeling hesitant. Because she'd told him he'd always be welcome in her home, but it's been decades, and he can't help the creeping fear that she might not feel that way anymore.
He pushes on, though. He's come this far. He has to try.
Brody ignores all the eyes trained on him as he makes his way through the town, and finds himself standing in front of Lisa's house. He hasn't even raised his hand to knock when someone opens the door for him. A man, handsome, somewhere in his forties, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, stands in the door opening and gives him a weary smile.
“Mr. Brody,” he says, with a slight incline of his head. “Please, come in. Mom hoped you would come.”
With a shock Brody realizes this is Dale. Their Dale. He feels a dizzying rush of surreal awareness shoot through him as he follows the man into the house.
And then, after all these years, he sees Lisa again. She looks different, older and weaker. But at the same time it's still her, she's still the friend he'd made on Icarus – the beautiful, optimistic woman he'd loved easily, despite the fact that she was his polar opposite in many ways.
“Adam,” she says. Her voice is soft, and her smile is tired, but it's enough for him to step forward, to sit down on the edge of her bed, and to take her hand in his own. “I knew you'd come.”
He looks down at their entwined fingers and wonders if that's true. If she truly had believed that, or if she's lying now to make him feel better. The idea that she's trying to cheer him up on her own deathbed breaks what little is left of his heart.
“I'm sorry, Lisa. It was never you.”
She squeezes his hand, and he looks up into her face.
“It was Dale,” she says. “I know.”
He takes a shaky breath and squeezes her hand back.
She dies that evening, and while it is one of the saddest days in Brody's life, he feels deeply grateful as well. Because at least he got to say goodbye. He got to set things right between them. And he got to confirm that she'd always known about his feelings for Dale, and that she accepted it unquestioningly.
There's a special place in his heart for Lisa Park. There always will be.
When he gets back to Futura, he starts on the designs for the land's first park. Lisa had loved plants; she'd been brilliant with the hydroponics lab on Destiny, all those years ago, and her garden on Novus had bloomed beautifully from the second year on.
Brody builds a park in her honor – a place full of life, and beauty, and color. As the years go on, the trees grow and the plants bloom, and it becomes one of the few places where Brody can find peace. He thinks she would have liked it.
Four years after Lisa's death – it's been forty-seven years since Dale died – Brody feels himself preparing for the end. His days are growing shorter, and he knows he hasn't got long.
He's an old man, now, and in a way he's still exactly who he was when he first set foot aboard the Destiny, but in another way he seems like a completely different person. He isn't so certain about whether the solar flare flung them forwards in time, anymore. In fact, over the past year, he's allowed himself to think on why it would be better if the unstable wormhole had sent them back in time, instead. It would explain why Rush hadn't come here, yet. It would mean there still might be a rescue, or even an alternate timeline in which everything turns out better.
It's foolish, probably, to speculate on such things now. To hope. To wish and pray that somehow, some way, things could still end up okay for him. Or maybe not for him, but for some alternate version of him.
Still, Brody is close to death, he knows he won't be here if or when Rush comes for them, and this empty hope is all he has left.
He clicks on the kino, and sits back slowly to make his recording. He's quiet for a long time, but when he starts speaking, the words that have been piling up behind his lips for decades are finally said. It feels better, to let the words fall out. To let them go, to set them free.
Maybe afterwards, he'll finally be able to move on peacefully.
This message in a bottle will be the last thing he sends out into the universe.
Volker swallows thickly, and looks over at Brody. The recording Eli has found in the Tenaran archive is old, it's of Brody, and Eli had looked kind of guilty and sad when he'd given it to them.
“You should probably watch this together,” he'd said earnestly, and when Volker had asked what it was about, he'd just shrugged and shaken his head.
So they're sitting here, together, alone in one of the smaller control rooms, waiting for the recording to start playing.
Something on the screen clicks, and Brody enters the picture. He's old, really old, and he looks unhappy. Dale thinks it's not the kind of unhappy you get from a bad day. It's the kind of unhappy that's sunk so deep into your bones you don't even realize it's there anymore. The kind of unhappy that becomes such a big part of you that it's all other people see when they look at you.
His heart clenches at the thought of Brody living like that. He'd thought it'd been bad knowing he died too quickly to leave any kind of impact on the descendants at all, but for the first time since this whole business began, he thinks maybe there are worse things than dying young.
The Brody on the screen looks lost for words, until he takes a deep, shaky breath, and starts talking.
“If Eli turns out to be right, this video is to me… and… and Dale Volker, if he’s still alive.”
Chapter 2: Epilogue
Dale watches that old version of Brody talk, on the screen, and feels his heart clench tighter with every passing second. He hadn't realized, he hadn't known, but seeing it like this, with his own two eyes, is almost too much.
He wishes he hadn't made fun of Brody for calling his country 'Futura' so much, because while it had been funny at the time, right now it just seems cruel.
Brody is completely silent beside him, and he doesn't dare look over, because his eyes are wet and he doesn't want Brody to see he's on the verge of tears. He really doesn't want to look over and see Brody being on the verge of tears either, if he's honest, because that would be enough to make him start crying, and he hates crying.
“I've spent so many years wishing I could have said the things I needed to say before it was too late,” the Brody on the monitor says. “I wish I'd told Dale about my worst memory. That I'd shared my deepest fears with him. That I'd told him I knew he put that silicon-based engine grease in his hair, and that it looked good.” Old Brody lets out a pained chuckle that turns into a wet, hacking cough, and Volker has to turn away.
“Pause it,” he says, head angled to the side, and Brody reaches over to the console to stop the video.
He can feel Brody's eyes burning a hole into the side of his head, but he refuses to look up.
“You okay?” Brody asks eventually, and his voice sounds completely normal. Not the brittle, wavering sound of that older version on the recording. Not even a hint of emotion, and for some reason that angers Dale. He looks up into Brody's face, because how can he just sit there and not feel like his heart is being ripped out when that alternate version of himself has obviously spent his entire life miserable and alone after—oh.
Brody may not have sounded upset, but he certainly looks it. His eyes are glossy and his mouth is set into a frown that doesn't seem entirely conscious.
“I... No, that's...” Volker starts. He looks down at his hands, and feels himself helplessly carding through possible things to say. “Are you?” he asks in the end.
He's not even completely sure what he's asking.
Brody is silent for a long time. “...I got struck by lightning once.”
Volker frowns, because he already knows – Brody has told him that a while ago, and this seems like a very odd way to change the subject. He gives Brody a confused look.
“That's uh, my worst memory,” Brody finishes awkwardly.
Oh. He kind of wants to reach over and grab Brody's hand. Anything to make him look a little less lost, to make him look a little less like that unhappy, older version of him on the screen. Brody is his best friend, the best friend he's ever had - because while Dale used to surround himself with people who enjoyed his company and thought he was funny, he never really had actual friends. He never felt like there was someone he could call if he got stranded by the side of the road with a flat tire. He never had that certainty that there would be someone there for him, when things got bad. He never felt like he'd actually shared himself with anyone, had ever shown anyone more than his likable facade. Not until he got stuck on this Ancient rust bucket. Not until he became friends – real friends – with Adam Brody.
Even Lisa, whom he loves and cares for more than he's ever cared for any woman he's met, doesn't truly know him, because he's never felt safe enough to show her the real him. And when he'd tried, he found out she'd already found someone else, someone better, and that had hurt, but it hadn't been unexpected. Deep down, he'd known she wouldn't go for someone like him. Even Rush had known. And he's glad he found out before he actually bared his soul to her, because it would've made everything awkward and painful and just... it would have been bad for everyone.
So he's reluctant to give in to his urge to nudge his fingers against Brody's hand, because what if he ruins what they have now? What if Brody pulls back, not just physically, but emotionally as well? What if he loses his best friend? He'd rather stay close to Brody as his friend, than lose him altogether because he wants to make their relationship romantic.
He keeps his hands folded together in his lap.
“And your deepest fear?” he asks, trying not to look too intense as he studies Brody's face.
Brody averts his gaze. His eyes skim over the monitor quickly and then drop lower, to the corner of the room.
Once again, it's quiet. It's not... it's not an awkward silence, per se, but it's loaded. Volker feels his heartbeat thrum loudly against his ribcage.
When Brody finally looks up, Volker has to ball his fists to keep from reaching out for him, because he looks miserable.
“That, probably,” he says, with a small nod at the screen.
Volker doesn't know what to say, but right now he's pretty sure watching the video would be less painful than watching the real Brody sitting next to him. He gives a shallow nod, and says, “Let's continue watching.”
Brody gives him an unreadable look, and puts the video back on.
“Everything I did here, my entire life, has been a waste. I've been hoping and regretting and staying still, because I couldn't let go. I couldn't let go of my fears when Dale was still alive. And I couldn't let go of my regrets when he was gone.”
The Brody on the screen rubs a shaky hand against his eyes, and Volker feels like crying himself. Because this sounds like... like he was very important to that Brody. There was definitely love involved, even if maybe not the same type of love that Dale feels. He wishes he had more courage. That he could just lean over and put his head on Brody's shoulder without feeling like he was forcing Brody into deciding whether to change everything they have into something romantic, or toss out their friendship altogether.
Because that's a risk he's not willing to take.
“So if by some unimaginable stroke of luck, you're watching this... Do it. Take that chance. It doesn't matter what the outcome is; it'll be so much worse if you keep it in.”
Volker feels his breath catch, because it's like that older Brody is speaking directly to him. The video cuts off, then, and with a deep ache in his heart he realizes that that Brody is dead. He died, alone, on a strange planet, believing in something that he must've known he'd never see himself.
“Dale,” Brody says, briefly interrupting the silence between them. “I think I... I think I should tell you something.”
Volker looks over at him, and suddenly there's something fluttery and warm in his chest, and that's hope, because Brody looks... Brody looks nervous, and upset, and there's a flush creeping up his neck.
And what if Brody feels the same way?
Volker uses the momentum of his hope to do something daring. He slides over on the bench until their arms touch. “Okay,” he says, his heart beating an anxious rhythm in the back of his throat. “Tell me.”
Brody angles his face to him, and wow, he's really close. Their noses are almost touching, and Dale can barely get his eyes to focus on Brody's dark ones without going cross-eyed.
For a second he thinks Brody is going to say something, but then he closes his eyes and presses his lips against Dale's, and everything kind of... stops. A quick, jittery loop of 'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,' plays through Volker's mind, and for some reason he doesn't think to react before Brody is pulling back again.
Brody moves away, slides backwards on the bench. He looks resigned, and the smile he gives Volker radiates unhappiness. “I, uh. That. That was what I wanted to say. Sorry.”
Brody gets up from the bench, then, and Volker watches with growing alarm as he starts making his way to the door.
“Wait,” he says, and before he knows it he's up as well. He crosses the few steps from the console to the door and curls his fingers around Brody's wrist.
Brody pulls his hand back, but Volker holds on.
“Say it again,” he asks, and Brody just looks confused – he isn't getting it – so Volker wraps his free hand around Brody's neck and pulls him closer for another kiss. This time he puts all his conviction behind it, and after a few seconds of shocked stiffness, Brody's shoulders relax and he lets himself sink into their kiss.
Brody makes a small noise into his mouth and folds his arm around Volker's back to pull him closer, and Dale feels himself smiling against Brody's lips. Because this is something he's wanted for a while, and it's not like he usually gets what he wants.
Not unless it's the really important things.
And this... this just may be the most important thing of all.