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It was easy to forget that the only thing separating him and his partner from the black abyss of space was nothing more than the heavy steel walls of the ship. Once, Felix had thought that spending so much time in one of these things would go one of two ways: either he’d go stir-crazy and kill someone within a month, or he’d grow to love it.

In the end, it was neither.

In the end, spending long months cooped up with Locus and having nowhere else to go was simply boring. The ship sailed through space, coasting as it navigated the massive distance between planets with ease. Long distances, the ones so vast that thinking about was headache inducing, were traveled using the slipspace engines, but even that took its fair share of time. It wasn’t something he had expected when he had started doing this sort of thing, drifting around with Locus from place to place for whatever job they had secured. They spent time on space stations, on planets where they chased down their marks, but there was always this ship and the long months spent inside it.

Most of the time, Felix spent the hours bothering Locus, pestering his partner into arguments that ending in cold silence or - his personal favorite - rough sex in their room at the back of the ship. He worked out with Locus, ate bad meals with Locus, and slept in the same bed with Locus. They divided piloting between the two of them. Felix spent his time in the command chair drawing idly on whatever they had on board. It was better than the alternative, better than sitting and staring past all the computers and controls at the darkness.

This trip had Felix at the controls after the ship exited slipspace. He never handled that part, left it to Locus and only picked up after the ship slid out of slipspace, when looking out the glass would show planets or a distant star. He handled setting the course for their current destination, a space station between them and a distant planet. Millions of kilometers of empty space was between the ship and the station, and then some more before they would reach the planet. Of course.

“We really can’t risk it again?” he asked Locus, lounging in the chair. He meant diving into slipspace, maybe coming out somewhere closer to the station rather than the middle of nowhere.

“Not unless you want to miss it and turn the whole ship around,” Locus said from somewhere behind him.

Felix frowned at the blank windows, ignoring the moment of tightness in his chest. He listened to Locus’s footfalls trace a path back to their room and sighed. He spent three days taking control of the ship, checking its course and wandering around the ship to do other things before inevitably finding his way back into that chair.

At the end of the third day, he pushed Locus onto their bed and kissed him until the jackass gave him what he wanted. Felix rode his partner with his hands on the wall first, then on Locus’s chest, and finally with Locus holding him close. Locus’s hands were heavy on his back. The heat between them was nearly suffocating in the small, closed-off room. Felix loved it, and the knowledge that the scent of sex and sweat would hang in the air for days. He fell asleep afterwards, with Locus running a hand over his sweat-slicked skin and promising to take over the piloting again. Good, Felix thought. He hated that blackness that stretched across the view.

The next day, Felix was glad to put some distance between himself and the controls. When he pulled himself out of the bed, still naked, Locus was already in the chair, wearing the undersuit for his armor. After walking over and goading Locus into a brief kiss, Felix pulled his own undersuit on. The clothes he had worn yesterday were still on the floor of the room and though he had other things he could wear, the suit seemed like the best choice today.

That decision paid off when Locus called him up to the controls less than an hour later.

“There’s something on the ship,” Locus said. Felix was leaning against him, one arm thrown over his shoulder, looking at the same screen Locus was. “Foreign object. On the hull.”

Felix rolled his eyes. That tone of voice meant Locus blamed him, somehow, for this. “Alright. And you want me to do what exactly?”

“First, explain how you managed to miss this when you’ve been sitting here for three days.”

The correct answer was that he hadn’t been paying all that much attention, letting his thoughts wander once nothing interesting showed itself within the first hour.

Locus said, “I managed to find it within two hours. You would have left it there until we arrived at the station.”

“Do you want an award for that? Shiny medal to stick on the wall?” He grinned when Locus shot him an unamused glare. “We can put it above the bed and I’ll look at while we fuck and remember your great heroics.”

Locus let out a sigh so annoyed it was a growl. He turned back from Felix to the screens in front of him, and Felix leaned down to kiss his neck. In return, Locus raised one hand, planted it on Felix’s face, and shoved him away. “I want you to go out there,” he said, “and dislodge it.”

The good mood Felix had vanished instantly. His smile melted away and he took a step back from Locus, gaze sweeping over the windows before them. There was only one thing out there that he could see: A bright, burning star that served as this system’s sun. Nothing else was visible yet. He said, “Why can’t you do it?”

“Because, Felix,” Locus said, “that foreign object attached to our ship is a tracker. It’s sending a beacon through space to whoever put it there, and it’s broadcasting where we are.” He still wasn’t facing Felix, looking at the various screens instead. Locus was starting to lose himself to this job, some menial task he felt had to be taken care of now - and not by him. He said, “I’m going to stay here and make sure no one tries to sneak up on us.”

When Felix spoke, his voice sounded doubtful, and he was thankful for that. “You really think someone is going to be able to follow us through fucking slipspace?”

“We can wait here to find out, or you can do what I asked you.”

He knew Locus was right. In their work, someone tailing them was never good news. And in this ship, they were vulnerable, more so than on any planet. Still… “Yeah, but why don’t you do it?” he asked.

Locus turned his head then to land his unwavering stare on Felix. “If you had found it,” he said quietly, “then I would have gone. But you didn’t find it. You sat here, and did nothing. Stop arguing.”

He listened then, leaving to get ready. There wasn’t anything else he could say, without admitting to the first tendrils of icy fear gripping his heart. And there was no way in hell he was going to tell Locus the pathways his irrational thought process was taking.

Felix walked to the ladder near their room, their access to the lower level of the ship, and took his time going down it. Usually, he dropped down without bothering with the rungs at all. The lower level held their armory as well as the secondary airlock. The main one was upstairs, used to connect the ship to docking stations. The one down here was for maintenance, the one installed for emergency uses, the one Felix always joked about jettisoning Locus out of.

Those jokes were always in poor taste, he thought. He was lucky Locus ignored him every time he let one slip out.

The closed airlock was mocking him now, waiting to be opened and for Felix to be the one pulled from it. He ignored it for now, turning his back on it and facing the armor instead. The suits of heavy armor were locked up behind a rounded, transparent sheet of glass. On one side of it was the lockers for their guns, all of that locked up tight as well. On the other side were two suits used only for exiting the spacecraft - exo suits built of a material that looked like it would fall apart rather than hold fast. But every piece of that suit was engineered to withstand space. To keep someone alive, down to the ability to cycle oxygen and the magnetic boots to keep the wearer anchored to the ship.

He didn’t care for the extra suits and rarely bothered with them. Leaving the ship midflight was rare enough that, up until now, he had managed to divert anything requiring one to Locus instead. Their armor worked just as well, making the heavy suit an option here. The magboots and the perfectly sealed suit would keep him safe, allow him to travel in space for a short period of time - but Felix didn’t like that either. Felix liked the walls of the ship on every side of him, the last and only thing between him and nothing.

He pulled on one of the spare exo suits, sliding it on over the undersuit. The exo suit was loose, but too much. It was more or less one large piece that felt awkward to pull on as he stuffed one limb after another into it. The helmet, the boots, and the gloves were the only separate pieces. That, and the oxygen supply. Felix pulled on as much as he could before he stood at the bottom of the ladder and yelled up: “Locus! Yo! Come here and help me on my suicide mission.”

Make it sound like a joke and not like his heart was trying to jump out of his chest already.

With Locus down there, Felix was secured and ready to go in no time. He held the helmet in his hands, looking down at the reflective visor and wondering how much force it took to crack it. The thought had fear flourishing through his chest again, cold and horrible. Locus was behind him, rechecking the setup on the oxygen, and where a cable would attach to his suit.

The cable was just an extra precaution. A way to ensure that Felix could make it back to the ship if he slipped, if the magboots failed. He had accepted Locus’s insistence on using it, just as he had accepted letting Locus double check all of the suits’ systems. Locus handed him tools, a few small things. A tool with a flathead, to help if he chose to use his strength alone to dislodge the tracker; a torch to burn it off - used oxygen, Locus said, don’t abuse it; the last was capable of shocking it, in case it was attached with its own electronic circuitry. Felix wasn’t so sure how much sense that last part made, but he wasn’t listening all that much, so he didn’t argue.

The boots felt like anchors when he turned to face Locus and said, “Kiss for good luck?”

Locus sighed as if Felix was wearing down his very nerves. He still leaned down and kissed him, and Felix couldn’t stop himself from reaching up with both hands to grasp at Locus’s shoulders. Locus made a low noise in his throat, one of surprise, and Felix tightened his arms around Locus’s neck. As if kissing Locus would keep him here. When Locus pulled back, he pushed Felix’s arms back. With his hands tight on Felix’s shoulders, he said, “I’ll keep in touch through the headset.”

For a moment, Felix didn’t understand. It was obvious, though. There was a comm system wired into the exo suit’s helmet, short-range frequency only, and any headset lying around this place would be able to find it. He had a sudden image of Locus sitting in the command chair wearing the suit and only the helmet of his armor and smirked.

Before he slid the helmet over his head, he winked at Locus. Said, “Call me soon, babe,” with a fake smile painted on. Once the helmet was on, the smile disappeared and Felix was examining the HUD instead. Could look at his own vital signs, the oxygen supply, the status of magboots - working, thankfully. Locus opened the airlock door, and Felix forced himself to stand in it. He waited for Locus to hook up the cable, check it twice to make sure it would hold.

Before he left, Felix said, “I’m not leaving until you’re talking to me,” aware that it sounded stupid and childish. He frowned, told himself he should be able to go out there without Locus’s voice in his ear, but Locus agreed.

Then there was nothing. Locus left, the airlock shutting behind him and sealing shut.

If Felix turned his head, he wouldn’t even be able to see his partner, just the heavy airtight door behind him that was nearly identical to the one in front of him. He was vaguely aware of a mechanized voice alerting him to the pressure change. He knew the airlock was regulating to the flat nothing outside of it, and told himself it’d be fine.

He could do this.

Even if all he could really hear was his own heavy breathing layered over his hammering heartbeat.

* * *

It took Locus less than two minutes to be upstairs, to find a headset, and to have it linked to the frequency in Felix’s suit. He was pulling up Felix’s vital signs on a screen as he spoke, just Felix’s name. The answer was a low hum, acknowledge that Felix heard him. “Open the door,” Locus said. “Unless you want me to do it from here.”

Felix’s laughter rose from the headset. It sounded shaky. “Trying to get rid of me?” he asked. “That’s just cruel.”

Locus thought that Felix’s voice wasn’t as strong as usual. That the taunts were lackluster and wilting. He ignored it, noting Felix’s heartrate and breathing instead. “I doubt even space would keep you,” he said, “It might just give you back.”

The response wasn’t about what he had said. There was a few seconds of silence and then Felix said, “Where is it? This thing you’re making me go out here for.”

He relayed the directions to Felix and then reminded him that he had tools, if he needed them. Then he was listening to the faint sound of the airlock opening through a small outburst of static. He reached for the headset to adjust its setting, clear out the static, and a sudden alarm jolted him upright.

The screen for Felix’s vitals was flashing and Locus reached for that instead to stop it, watching the sharp spike of Felix’s heartrate fall again. Over the headset, he called for Felix. “Are you alright, Felix? What happened?”

“I’m fine.” It was rushed, too quick of a response, but Felix assured him that nothing happened. “Totally fine,” he said. It sounded like his voice was shaking. Must be more feedback issues. Locus settled back in the chair, adjusting the headset’s channel and keeping an eye on Felix’s vitals.

* * *

Felix had control over himself up until the airlock opened and all he saw was black. Distant stars littered the view but he barely registered that. All he saw was the blackness and the promise of cold and silence so heavy it could crush him. He forced himself to move, grasping the edge of the airlock and pulling himself out. He drifted, and, for an instant, forgot about the cable tethering him to the ship, forgot about Locus on the other end of the headset. Felix forgot about everything but the sensation of floating, drifting away from the ship, and panic seized him tight. It didn’t fade until he managed to get his feet on the side of the ship; the magboots engaged instantly.

He wasn’t surprised to hear Locus’s voice, but he knew his answer was too given too fast for it to sound natural. He wanted to curse at himself but bit his tongue to stop it. Didn’t want Locus to hear. He stood, taking one slow steady step forward. The boots held him down, made it harder to walk, but it was security.

The side of the ship he stood on faced away from the sun, leaving Felix in darkness. He could see the light as he turned, slowly, observing everything around him - or the ultimate lack of anything. There was the ship, the light from the star glinting off the metal, and nothing.

Literally. Nothing.

Once, he had heard a space marine talk about being outside a ship like this, staring into the void. That marine had said it was magnificent, the most amazing thing anyone could ever experience. To face the universe, the marine said, and have to acknowledge how insignificant and small a single person really was would be unlike anything else. It was awe inspiring,

Felix would have to disagree.

Space wasn’t awe inspiring.

It was deadly, frightening. To take away anything that grounded someone was the worst thing he could think of, something he had never been able to imagine until he had taken that first step into space. Back then, he hadn’t be certain if he could even move. Today, he had to force himself to take slow, careful steps, walking up the side of the ship until he was in the light. And then he stopped, stood still, and once again took in the great blackness that was space. He stared until he felt that cold fear threatening to immobilize him.

He moved, and found himself focusing on his feet with step. There was no sound out here. That sense had been snatched and given away to nothing, leaving him with only the sound of his breathing and the way the suit rustled when he moved inside of it. He felt his feet hitting the hull of the ship, saw it, but didn’t hear it and fear and panic rose inside him. The silence was going to kill him out there, he was so sure of it. Never missed ambient noise and the whirring of the ship’s machinery until he came out here.

Again, Felix froze. He took deep breaths to calm himself - and failed, because all he could think about was how easily he could die out here. Just float off into the void, and no one would ever find him and it would be so easy, so simple, so quick - seconds, and he’d be gone.

Felix said, “Hey? Locus?” and tried to pretend the panic wasn’t bleeding into his voice.

Locus’s voice was clear, right in his ear, and Felix sighed when he heard it. “What is it, Felix? Did you reach the device?”

Right. The whole reason he was out here. “No, uh… Just wanted to ask you something,” he said, starting forward again, hoping he was getting close to it.

“Go ahead.”

“Can you talk to me?”

A pause. “About what?”

“Anything.”

Hearing Locus’s voice so close was good, calmed his nerves a bit. Even if all Locus managed to talk about was where they were headed, the station so far away that it wasn’t even a speck in the horizon yet. They were going there to refuel, restock some things, and Locus asked him, “Would you like to get dinner there?”

Felix grinned inside the helmet, shaky and unsteady as he trudged forward. “Yeah. Sure. Is it gonna be dinner time by then?”

“Might be. Or breakfast.”

Either was fine with him. He kept his eyes on the ship as he moved, and not the star not the void, just the ship, and Felix talked with Locus about this space station. What they could eat, if the station had any tourist-y spots or if it was all just business. Because if it had some kind of attraction for tourists, like some of them did - movies or museums; one of them he had visited even had a park with a fountain and fake grass - Felix was determined to go there. He was going to spend as much time out of the ship as he could.

Didn’t matter that the next stop after that was a planet, because on that planet, he and Locus had a target. Felix listened to Locus talk about the planet, not really saying anything. At some point, he stopped paying attention to the words and just enjoyed the sound of Locus’s voice, the closeness of it. It was almost soothing.

He wasn’t sure how long it had been when he found what he was out there to get. Some clunky thing attached to the ship, nothing fancy. There was no obvious way to tell it was anything foreign, except that it was a distinctly different color than the rest of the ship. Felix paused, Locus’s voice fading into the background as he tried to decide how to do this.

He dropped to one knee - or started to, but when he felt his foot leaving the ship, that fear snapped around him again. Felix dropped his foot onto the ship so hard that the absence of the sound it should have made was painful. He was squatting then, both feet firmly on the ship. “Found it,” he said, cutting across whatever Locus was saying. “I’ll have it gone in a bit, won’t take long at all.”

He was sure of that. He bypassed the flathead tool, grasping for the torch at his side instead. Fuck what Locus had said about not using it. This was going to get it off the quickest. Felix could already see where it was adhered to the ship, the device set onto some kind of platform that rose an inch or two off the hull. He prodded at that with one finger before deciding it wasn’t going to budge, and turned the torch onto the device instead.

The flames started, burning underneath it, and Felix realized Locus had stopped talking. Once again, he was out there without any sound but what he made himself. He willed the torch to do its job faster, but it kept that same steady pace.

It occurred to him while watching the flame distort the device’s casing, that he should have been able to smell something burning. Maybe the suit blocked it out. He certainly hoped so because if space sapped out scent as well, he was never going out into it again.

When the device started to pull loose, that was when he switched tools, snapping the torch back into place and using the flathead to force the thing off. It rose, slowly but surely, drifting away from the ship.

And Felix reached out for it, grasped at it. He missed and, with a sudden clarity, had the idea that this stupid tracking device was what could happen to him. The thoughts already plagued him, but they were blossoming and making his chest constrict with fear. He saw himself, disappearing into this vast, empty abyss. Just out of reach of someone - of Locus, he thought. Locus would definitely try to catch him.

If Locus was even there.

He wasn’t sure what was more terrifying, disappearing and knowing Locus had just missed him or dying out here with Locus never knowing what happened.

Felix let go of the tool he held and ignored it as it too floated away. He lunged - a foolish stupid impulse - and grabbed at the device again. This time, he caught it, and held onto it like it meant something. Like he could do something with it. He kept it in his hand until he saw the blinking notification on his HUD that his magboots were disengaging.

One panic-stricken second was all it took for Felix to lose his footing and then he spun. He tossed the device away without looking at where it went, reaching for the cable with one hand, gripping it tightly like it could put his feet back on something solid. He twisted, kicked for the surface, and felt nothing. No give, no surface, nothing.

If he died out here because of some dick’s tracking device, he was never going to forgive himself.

He started to pull himself back to the ship by the cable and stopped. HIs hands shook when he let go of it, and all he could think was that if he couldn’t keep a steady grip, he was gone. He couldn’t remember the cable being attached to him, but he knew it was on the ship and it was his lifeline.

In the emptiness, Felix cursed softly.

And just like that, Locus’s voice was back. “Felix? What happened?”

Felix didn’t answer at first, breathing deep and staring at his hands. At the ship beneath him.

“Talk to me, Felix.”

Locus sounded like he was worried, but it was reassuring just to hear him.

“Tell me what happened. Did something go wrong? Are you alright?”

Felix wanted to speak, tell Locus to shut the fuck up. That he was fine, always fine, nothing wrong over here. He wanted to, but he couldn’t. The words died in his throat and left a sour taste in his mouth. So Felix focused on the ship instead, on pulling himself back to it. He listened to Locus telling him to say something, that he just needed to stay calm and say something.

When Felix’s feet hit the ship and the HUD flashed again, he could feel his legs shaking. Then, when he opened his mouth, the words spilled out - “I’m fine, Locus. Stop bothering me. You’re like this annoying insistent whining that just doesn’t know when to fucking quit.”

All of it sounded angry and he wished more than ever that Locus would keep talking to him.

Locus said, “Did you get rid of it?”

“Y-Yeah… Yeah I did.” He cast a look around himself, and managed to make out what he thought was the device floating beyond the ship. “it’s gone. We’re all good.”

“Get to the airlock,” Locus said. “I’ll meet you there.”

Felix knew then that Locus wasn’t going to say anything else unless there was a good reason. Say, an emergency where Felix was actually in danger and not just making a fool of himself in the great void between worlds.

He wanted to kick himself, but he also wanted to puke. Every step he took was too much effort, using too much energy and making his way back toward the dark edge of the ship wasn’t helping him calm down. By the time he reached the airlock, Felix wanted nothing more than to lay down and not get up until the ship was docked. He wanted to pretend this never happened. He wanted to never go out there again.

The airlock was still open and Felix dragged himself into it. He set his feet on the floor of the ship and took a moment to compose himself before moving to close the outer door. Hopefully Locus could handle the pressure issue from the other side, because Felix was done. He leaned against the wall by the door, and waited for the other one to open, for Locus to come to him.

* * *

Whatever had happened out there, it would remain a mystery to Locus. He knew that the instant Felix had spoken again and snapped at him. Felix was stubborn, bullheaded, and arrogant. Nothing was going to be said unless he wanted it to. Locus had watched Felix’s vital signs, seen the rise and how long it had taken for everything to calm down. For Felix to be more steady.

Though he would likely never know what happened to Felix out there, Locus was positive that it had shaken Felix to his core.

At the airlock, Locus opened the inner door for it and found Felix leaning against the wall, pulling his helmet off and breathing like he had run a marathon. Locus stood where he was, watching, and eventually Felix headed his way. He looked tired, the glare he gave not nearly as scathing or judgmental as usual. He shoved the helmet he held into Locus hands and then walked past him, silently stripping the exo suit off. Locus went to help, setting the helmet where it belonged and taking the tools from Felix. As soon as he set his hands on Felix’s shoulders, he felt the smaller man shaking, trembling.

Judging from the way Felix turned to face him, the alarm in his eyes, he wasn’t happy about Locus knowing. “Look,” he said. “Don’t - “

Whatever else he wanted to say died on his lips as Locus tugged him forward and pulled him close. He set a hand on Felix’s back, ran the other through Felix’s hair, and listened to the annoyed noise Felix made. Hands gripped at his sides and Locus pressed Felix as close to him as possible.

Then Felix shoved him back, glaring before he averted his eyes. He went back to pulling the suit off before Locus could reach for him again.

“You didn’t have to go out there,” Locus said.

Felix’s reply was supposed to have been laughter, but it sounded strangled and completely devoid of humor. “You said get the thing off the ship,” he said. “So I did.”

“If you had told me - “

“Told you what?” Felix was out of the suit now, kicking one of the boots over as he walked backwards toward the ladder. “Enlighten me, Locus, what could I have said to you that would have worked?”

He considered not answering, letting Felix escape upstairs where he could close the issue off for as long as he wanted. “You could have started with being afraid to go out there,” he said, and Felix’s protests ran over his words. Locus ignored the interruption, eyes on Felix, watching as he gripped the ladder with one hand. “I wouldn’t have sent you out there if I knew, Felix. You have to tell me these things.”

“I wasn’t afraid.”

“Felix.”

“I wasn’t.”

“I could see your vitals,” Locus said, crossing over to him. Felix jerked away when Locus’s hand touched his shoulder. “I saw your pulse spike, how irregular your breathing was.”

Felix scowled, starting up the ladder. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

Locus sighed. Stubborn as always. He followed Felix up, and then into their room at the back. “Did you know half of what you said to me out there sounded different from usual?” It was like speaking to a brick wall. Felix wouldn’t even look at Locus, picking his clothes from the day before off the floor and stuffing them into a compartment on the wall. To Locus, it was simply Felix searching for an excuse to ignore him. “Fear was in your voice,” he said. “I understand, Felix. Being afraid of space is nothing to be ashamed of.“

“You don’t get it,” Felix said. He was quiet, standing at the edge of their bed. “I’m not afraid of it, I just… I don’t like it.”

An understatement, but he wasn’t going to argue.

“The silence is the worst,” Felix continued. “Aside from how easy it would be to die out there - yeah, the silence is the worst.” How like Felix to keep talking once he started, no matter how much he had resisted. He didn’t look at Locus, and Locus didn’t move. He just listened as Felix told him what he had heard, what he hadn’t heard. Then Felix said, “You, too. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. But I could hear you, and… It helped.”

Locus said nothing, watching Felix and wanting to comfort him. That look on Felix’s face, the fatigue and faraway look in his eyes, it meant that there was very little he could do right now without pissing Felix off. What Felix needed was time to himself, to stop being angry at himself, at Locus, possibly at space itself.  

When Felix told him to leave, Locus left. And when Felix exited the room a little under a hour later, neither of them brought the trip outside up again. Locus had questions, mostly about what had happened when Felix went so silent but he also wondered what it was about his voice that helped Felix. He thought of telling Felix that though he had been so afraid, he had gone out there and accomplished his goal, and had come back alive.

He said none of it, and let Felix lean over the back of the command chair instead. And then he lifted an arm to accommodate Felix when the other invited himself into Locus’s lap. He kept the ship on course and said nothing about how Felix had draped his arms around Locus’s shoulders, tucked his face into Locus’s neck, and was pointedly avoiding looking out into space.