MAY 27, 2037
MISSION DAY 690
3 DAYS SINCE WATNEY INTERCEPT
208 DAYS UNTIL HOME
The day they spend inventorying the Hermes to determine the full consequences of breaching the VAL is one that Lewis would rather not have lived, if she’s being honest. She’s got a list of days like this running in the back of her mind, and in her lower moments, the day she left Earth sneaks its way into view. She’s kidding herself, of course. She wouldn’t have given up this journey for anything; the day they got Watney back onto the Hermes was absolutely the best day of her career, if not her entire life. It just...still needles at her that it was necessary.
She's been tucked into her bunk for close to an hour now, but she's as wide awake as she was when she first lay down. The NASA psychologists suggested adhering to a very regular schedule as a way to help reacclimate Watney to regular human contact and ease him back into "normal" life. No one is overly excited about a curfew, but they've done enough to piss off NASA on this mission that she and (by proxy) the crew had agreed readily.
If she doesn't fall asleep soon, she's going to need a lot of caffeine tomorrow. Today had just been inventory – tomorrow is planning and running the numbers and rerunning the numbers and report writing and reorganizing entire sections of the ship, and….
It's possible sleep just isn't coming in the face of her racing thoughts.
She contemplates what she's about to do for a perfunctory minute before rolling her eyes at herself and sitting up in bed. Lewis doesn't spend a lot of time kidding herself, and she's done this the last three nights in a row – of course she was going to do it again.
She leaves her bunk and heads to the end of the corridor that houses everyone's quarters. Watney hadn't been overly happy that medical was now his home, but her Commander Voice had sealed the deal. Readjusting to taking orders was evidently not the easiest task for Watney, but after Beck had read him the full account of his injuries and maladies (it had taken about 6 minutes just to list everything), he'd relented a bit and agreed that being near the drugs was likely for the best.
Besides, even blowing the VAL hadn't fixed the heating problem in Martinez's bunk, so he's still living in Beck's old quarters, and Beck had moved out of Johanssen's bunk and into Watney's in preparation for the rescue. Everyone’s been overly sensitive about Watney's loneliness (which is something he hasn’t been able to hide well), and the two lovebirds decided to go back to pretending nothing was going on. Lewis appreciates it, honestly, since knowing romance was brewing in her crew and being faced with the reality of it are two different things. It was probably unnecessary for Watney’s sake, though, as Beck and Johanssen are one of his favorite sources of humor these days. Apparently 543 sols all alone on an alien planet hadn't matured his sense of humor even a little.
She opens the door to the med bay and carefully creeps to the head of Watney's makeshift bed.
She knows that Beck has him on a carefully regimented dose of sleeping pills so that he'll be able to sleep well enough to heal properly, but she doesn't want to risk waking him. She's not sure there's enough Commander Voice in the universe to tame Watney if he discovers her watching him sleep.
That's exactly what she's doing, though – she's watching him sleep.
She had thought that losing a crew member was her biggest failure as a commander, but she’d found out she was wrong. Abandoning a crew member on another planet definitely trumped that.
But now she’s standing here in the med bay, watching that crew member’s chest rise and fall, taking in his gaunt face and freshly cut hair, and she knows she’s found her greatest triumph, as well. Her crew, ready to give up almost two years of their lives to save their colleague, ready to take orders and pull outrageous stunts to make this possible – they’re the shining star on her resume.
(There’s a voice inside her head reminding her of the danger and the unknown they’re all still facing – they’re not home yet. There's still ample time for this to go completely south.)
She takes a deep breath as Watney stirs on the exam table-turned-bed, his forehead creased. She takes a risk as he settles and brushes his hair back off his forehead. His face relaxes a fraction at her touch, and she smiles to herself.
She tells that voice inside her head to go shove it – if they've made it this far, they're going to make it home.
As she unconsciously matches her breathing to his, she focuses on that thought.
They're gonna make it home.
MAY 31, 2037
MISSION DAY 694
7 DAYS SINCE WATNEY INTERCEPT
204 DAYS UNTIL HOME
Vogel has been sitting at the desk tucked neatly next to his bunk for over an hour after lights out as he reviews the most up-to-date plan for getting them home. He thinks, perhaps, when they land, he will have to buy this Rich Purnell a liter of lager for his troubles. As he scrolls on his tablet, he notes again that Rich's math was dead on, and even with the unplanned-for difficulty of the intercept and the VAL explosion, they are well on track towards home.
The sudden thought of home strikes a chord within him in a way he was not expecting. No one on the Hermes would call him emotional – even his wife would not say that. He is calm and even-headed, his steady hands a great asset in the lab. Suddenly, though, the thought of Earth and all of the things it holds has overtaken him in a way that has him feeling off-kilter.
He thinks of his children playing in the yard, which leads him to thinking of grass and sunlight and the smell of sausages cooking. He thinks, strangely, of snow and the Weihnachtsmarkt back home. The smell of the air blowing across Die Weser. He thinks of the leaves falling and crunching under his feet as he walks around NASA Headquarters in the US. His two homes – both on Earth – waiting for him.
Vogel realizes that the words and equations on the screen in front of him no longer make sense, so he switches it off. He stretches as well as he can in his cramped quarters, trying to work the crick out of his neck. He rubs his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose before deciding he does not want to be cooped up here any longer.
Leaving his room, he heads out of the artificial gravity of the Living Module and lets himself float through the body of the Hermes. It is nice, still, he thinks, to be weightless – one of the things they all take for granted after being in space for so long. He lets himself relish it, slowly rotating in the open corridor.
After some time has passed, he knows he should head back to bed; they're on a tight schedule these days, and sleep is important in space – possibly more important than on Earth. Vogel feels an itch in the back of his mind, though, and decides to give in to it.
He grabs the handrails on the wall and propels himself back toward the LivMod. He steadies himself as the artificial gravity takes hold, and he walks silently past the row of bunkrooms, making no noise in his stocking feet.
At the end of the hall is the med bay, and he peers through the window on the door to see Watney flat on his back, resting peacefully.
He wonders if the Hermes feels like home to Watney now, compared to Mars. He wonders what it must be like to come home after all of that trial and uncertainty. He remembers the first time he left Germany, how coming home had felt. The smells of his city, of his mother’s house – how his mother’s cooking tasted even better than before. He wonders if Watney has experienced that, even with the somewhat clinical feel of the Hermes. Does the hum of the ion engine lull him to sleep? Does he smell something he thought he would never smell again?
Vogel decides not to enter the med bay, choosing instead of go back to his quarters. He has a moment of inspiration, though, and as he tucks himself into his bunk, he starts to think that perhaps Watney would like to feel more at home.
JUNE 2, 2037
MISSION DAY 696
9 DAYS SINCE WATNEY INTERCEPT
202 DAYS UNTIL HOME
Martinez slides open the door to the med bay and slips inside without waiting to see if anyone has heard him leave his bunkroom. He takes up his usual place near the head of the bed and leans comfortably against the wall.
"Sneaking around like this is a pain in my ass, you know," he whispers to the silent room.
He takes a second to look at Watney, like he's done for the past few nights. He's starting to look better after a week of sleep and real meals. It's still weird to see him this thin, but that’ll change soon. He was always too handsome for his own good anyway, the jerk.
Martinez shakes his head at himself and looks down at his hands, his rosary wrapped around his fingers.
He knows the rest of the crew isn't particularly religious – vocally so, even – but they've always been respectful of his beliefs. Figuring that out was one of the first things that tipped him off that they could all live like this together for the whole long trip. He knows he's a smartass, and he can take as good as he gives, but there are things in this world that are important to him, things that he’s serious about. Flying and his faith are two of them. Knowing he could trust his crew with those things was a big relief.
"You'd better actually be asleep for real, you know. I'm not putting up with any crap from you about how I'm getting soft or about my gooey center or any other dumbass comments like that just because you're a good fake sleeper."
He says this a little louder than his first whisper – testing Watney like this has become part of his routine in the last week...plus it's just good sense, you know? Gotta make sure a dude's really asleep before you go admitting you care about him out loud.
“I missed you, man. Really really missed you. It’s a relief to have you back, weird pirate fixation and all. You had us all pretty worried.”
When Watney doesn't stir at his words, he nods absently and tries to clear his thoughts.
“You keep trying to thank us for coming back for you, but what were we supposed to do? Follow the rules? Obey orders? Leave your ass to die on Mars and get all the fancy memorials while we went home empty-handed? ‘S not our style.”
Martinez laughs at himself a little, standing in the dark in the middle of the night talking to his unconscious friend. He reaches over and puts his hand on Watney’s, gently, and bows his head. He crosses himself and begins to pray quietly.
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”
JUNE 7, 2037
MISSION DAY 701
14 DAYS SINCE WATNEY INTERCEPT
197 DAYS UNTIL HOME
Johanssen bounces her head to the Sgt. Pepper streaming through her headphones as she types briskly before double-checking the list on her screen against the written list Lewis had made and nodding to herself. Plans are coming along well, and having something to focus on that isn't life or death or the sometimes mind-rotting boredom of space is doing her good.
She hopes Mark is going to appreciate it.
Johanssen and Watney hadn't been fast friends, but what they’d lacked in speed, they'd more than made up for by becoming thick as thieves about a week after they met. Watney had been the first person on the crew that she'd clicked with, and their relationship had made it easier to get on with Beck, and then Lewis, and eventually Martinez and Vogel.
When it comes right down to it, she and Watney share a sense of humor, though they tend to express is in very different ways. She's always been quiet and sharp and a little standoffish, and Watney – for all that it’s sometimes overbearing and often annoying – is open and warm and full of huge smiles.
She’s the baby of the crew, and Watney had immediately treated her like a sister without treating her like a little sister, which still means more to her than she'd ever say to him.
The weeks on the Hermes between leaving Mars and deciding to pull the notorious Rich Purnell Maneuver had been...rough. Like. Really, really rough, even after they found out that Watney was still alive. Everyone had drawn into themselves: nobody ever talked back to Lewis – who had gone stony, Martinez stopped cracking jokes, Vogel largely stopped speaking, and Beck...
Well. She and Chris had cried a lot, but no one else ever needs to know about that.
The three of them had been especially close during training, and losing Watney had rattled Chris in a way she wouldn’t have expected from someone as pragmatic and even-keeled as he usually was. And Beth has never been afraid of her emotions, or of expressing them when the situation calls for it, but she hadn't been prepared for the gnawing ache left in Watney's absence.
That’s really what it had been, losing him. It was a giant, gaping void that you felt in every room of the ship.
On the trip to Mars, Watney had known exactly how to get on Lewis’s nerves in a very calculated way that helped her relax and brought out her humor. She hadn’t bothered letting it out much without him. Martinez and Watney had developed the most ridiculous, bickering bromance, but Martinez without Watney hadn’t bothered razzing the rest of them. It had hit them all hard, and it probably hit her and Chris hardest. At least they’d had each other, though, right?
She shakes her head to clear her thoughts – Watney’s back! He’s just down the hall from her, and he’s safe, and he’s in one piece, and they’re going home! They’d even had a little “200 Days Until Earth” party the week before! Gone around the room and let themselves have an indulgent moment about their big plans for when they get back. It had gotten a little misty, especially when Vogel and Martinez talked about their families. Everyone laughed when Lewis told them about the weird disco convention she and her husband were going to next year.
What Beth is most excited about, if she’s honest, is a big plush bed and a hot tub and a week or two alone with Chris and room service, but she wasn’t about to say that in front of the entire crew. Everyone has still been pretty great about pretending nothing special is happening – it’s good for morale, she thinks.
She finishes the email she’s been working on for the last little while after one final check against the very secret plans the crew has been working on. It’ll be a miracle if they pull this off, but Watney deserves it.
She gives the email an innocuous title (even if she’s the only one who looks at the folders before the data dumps back to Earth), and makes a mental note to slip it into tomorrow’s upload.
Johanssen pulls off her headphones and shuts down the screen near her bed. She’s tired, and she’s ready to sleep, but she has one thing to do first.
She sticks her head out of her quarters and glances around to make sure she’s alone before padding down to the med bay. She slips inside quietly and gracefully and walks up to Watney’s bed just like she’s been doing for two weeks now. She looks down at him, sleeping peacefully, and gives him a quick peck on the forehead.
“Thanks for coming back,” she whispers as she lets herself out and closes the door behind her.
JUNE 8, 2037
MISSION DAY 702
15 DAYS SINCE WATNEY INTERCEPT
196 DAYS UNTIL HOME
"HE’S DEAD, COMMANDER," Beck shouts, strapping himself into his seat in the MAV. The storm is raging around them, they're about tip, and he's trying to yell around the lump in his throat. He can hear her start to make a response, and he cuts her off.
"HE'S DEAD, ALL RIGHT? HE'S DEAD, MARK’S DEAD. WE HAVE TO LEAVE BEFORE IT'S ALL OF US."
The words echo around the MAV, with Martinez and Vogel and Johanssen staring at him as Lewis finally appears on the ladder into the control room. He closes his eyes as the commander straps herself in, and he feels the thrusters rumble beneath them.
His mind is a litany of hesdeadhesdeadhesdead as he starts to feel the force pressing him down into his seat. He manages to open his eyes – wanting to take one last look at Mars before they leave forever – and he startles to see a lone figure on the surface, waving his arms frantically, starkly visible even in the storm.
He strains against his harness, trying to cry out, trying to warn the commander and the rest of the crew that Watney is still down there, but it's in vain.
He can hear Watney on comms, suddenly, screaming, accusing him. "I’M NOT DEAD. How could you leave me behind?"
He tries to sit up, he tries to yell back, he tries to do anything, but it's futile, he's trapped in place. He tries to suck air into his lungs, but he's choking. He's suffocating. He claws at the straps holding him down and –
Chris Beck sits bolt upright in his bed, sweat pouring down his brow, guilt sour in his stomach. He rubs his eyes roughly and runs his fingers through his hair, making it stand on end (he can tell it's getting too long...it's time to ask Beth to cut it). He instinctively reaches for her to his right before remembering that he's not bunking with her anymore, he's living in Watney's quarters while Watney coalesces in the med bay.
The nightmare is still vivid in his mind, and his adrenaline is still pumping while he takes deep breaths to calm himself down. He looks down at his hands, balled into fists, resting on the blanket and tries to get himself to count to ten.
He closes his eyes as he starts to count, and by the time he hits nine, he feels stable enough to open them.
It's 2037 now. He's in Watney's quarters on the Hermes. He's in space, but he's pointed toward Earth. He's ok. Beth's ok. The commander and the rest of the crew are ok.
Mark is ok.
He lets these facts sit in his brain, trying to let them calm him. He knows himself, and he knows he's not gonna be sleeping anytime soon, so he throws off the covers and puts his feet on the floor.
As far as he knows, everyone has been pretty good about keeping curfew the past couple of weeks. It's harder than you'd think to get away with creeping around after "dark" in a space as small as they're in. He figures he can head to the med bay without any trouble, and if anyone happens upon him, well. He's the doctor, isn't he? Watney may be doing so well that he's throwing constant fits about being stuck in med bay, but it's still his responsibility to make sure that his patient is properly cared for, isn't it?
He grabs his robe off the hook on his door and throws it on over his sweats. He smooths his hair and checks himself in the mirror before sliding the door back and padding out into the corridor.
It's strange. He was on the Hermes for months on the trip out to Mars, and he's been on it even longer since leaving. He knows every nook and cranny, and he hasn’t found it eerie in a long time. Still, though, with the curfew and the lack of noise aside from the distant hum of the ion engine, he feels a distinct chill run down his spine.
It's like when he stayed the night at a friend's house growing up and woke up thirsty in the middle of the night. He'd known it was ok to go find a glass of water, but that didn't stop him from feeling like he was breaking the rules, creeping in the dark around someone else's home.
Beck realizes he's been standing still in front of his door and rolls his eyes. He starts moving, taking a quick moment to hover in front of Beth's door. He decides now isn't the night for it, but he really misses having her curled up against him. She's so tiny, despite how physically fit and strongly capable she is, and he's always loved the feeling of tucking her securely under his chin.
Tonight isn't about her, though, he tells himself. Tonight, he needs to check on Watney. He needs to know he's ok. He's Watney’s doctor. He needs to check on his patient.
It's an excuse that rings thin even in his own ears.
He walks down to the med bay and lets himself inside. He does a quick status check of the room and the supplies and the patient. Watney’s curled up on his side, which can’t be super comfortable on his ribs. As he takes a closer look, he realizes that Mark’s face is screwed up in what looks like pain.
Watney starts murmuring softly, and he’s moving his head in a jerky motion. Beck realizes that he’s probably having a nightmare, familiar as he is with the subject.
It’s not a comfortable thing to watch, and he doesn’t want to leave Watney alone like this, so he reaches down, grasps his shoulder, and gives him a little nudge.
“Watney. Hey, Mark,” he says when there’s no response. He raises his voice a little. “Mark. Wake up!”
Watney comes to with a start, sitting straight up and then groaning as his ribs protest. He looks around, trying to figure out what’s happening.
“Hey, Watney. You ok? You were having a nightmare.”
“Oh. Is that what that was? Well, that’s a relief,” he replies, his voice rough from sleep.
“Isn’t it? I, uh. Had a similar problem myself tonight.”
“Is that why you’re creeping in my room like a...weird creeping person?”
“I’ll have you know that I am a very professional physician who was doing his very professional job and checking on his patient in a non-creepy manner.”
“Sure, bud. Whatever you say.”
They both chuckle lightly before falling quiet. The silence stretches for a moment before Watney speaks up again.
"I don't know, man. It's like...I didn't have the luxury of nightmares when I was down there. I was too focused on surviving and too tired from trying to make it happen. Now it’s like all those nightmares are in a hurry to make up for lost time."
Beck doesn’t have a good response for that, so he just squeezes the hand he left on Watney’s shoulder in solidarity. Watney looks up at him with slightly shiny eyes.
“It’d be great if I could get my emotions under control. The NASA shrinks have told me it’s normal to have ‘strong emotional reactions to random stimuli’,” he says, and Beck can hear the air quotes in his voice. “I’m not sure anything that I do can really be considered normal, but hey. At least the largest space organization in the world is trying to tell me it’s ok to cry like a small child all the time.”
Beck huffs a laugh and nudges Watney over so that he can sit down next to him.
“Yeah, well. When we get home and have to do all of the debriefing and interviews on The Today Show and everything, I promise I won’t tell the whole world that their hero Mark Watney is a big, fat crybaby.”
“That means a lot to me, Beck. It really does.”
“You know I’ve got your back.”
Watney laughs and leans into Beck’s shoulder. Beck knows how touch-starved Watney’s been, and he pushes back against him. Figures the least he can do is let his friend know that he’s here and he cares.
They sit in silence for awhile longer, and Watney starts to doze on Beck’s shoulder. He eases Watney back into bed and tucks him in (which Beck will never admit to doing).
He leaves the med bay and heads back to his room, and he decides to tell the commander in the morning they should up the timeline on their little plan. Dude apparently needs more comfort than they’ve been providing, and if having the whole crew together for something fun does Beck some good as well, he’s not gonna complain.
JUNE 13, 2037
MISSION DAY 707
20 DAYS SINCE WATNEY INTERCEPT
191 DAYS UNTIL HOME
Watney sighs and flops from his side onto his back. He's most comfortable on his side, but his ribs are still tender, and he can't stand lying that way any longer.
Beck's been weaning him off of sleeping meds, which is good because he's starting to actually feel like a part of the human race again (he very admirably doesn't start laughcrying at that thought, which he thinks demonstrates how good he's getting at being a normal human). The downside, though, is that he's tossing and turning and very emphatically not sleeping, which isn't super fun.
He’s decided that he’s going to demand his quarters back from Beck any day now. He’s back up close to 100% – minus those pesky ribs – and he wants the comfort of his old room. If he whines a little and plays up his sad, sad life, he bets he’ll get his way. Besides, he knows Beck is ready to be back with Johanssen. This way they can blame it on him. It’s cute how they’re tiptoeing around the subject, in a way, but he’s known that Beck was head over heels for Johanssen since about week three of training, and it was getting a little exhausting watching him pine.
He tries to rearrange his blanket and get comfortable, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe he should go to the gym and walk the treadmill, working on regaining some semblance of physical fitness or something.
He knows he’s not gonna do that, but it’s a nice thought.
He knows how to deal with boredom, at any rate, so he settles in for a nice long session of Staring At The Ceiling, which had been one of his go-to activities on Mars.
He’s managed to complete the first 30% of the ceiling in his range of vision (yes, Staring At The Ceiling has rules and structure, thank you very much) when he thinks he sees someone pass the window to his room.
He wonders which one of them it is this time. They all think they’re so sneaky and stealthy, but he caught on to his slew of nighttime visitors about a week ago. He would call them on it if he didn’t need it as badly as he does, which is shockingly, embarrassingly badly. He’s so grateful for all of these visits that he’s gotten really good at appearing asleep when he’s not. He closes his eyes and evens his breathing and waits for whoever’s interloping tonight.
As he tries to make sure he looks as asleep as he isn’t, he hears hushed whispers outside the door. Apparently, his interloper isn’t alone.
It’s killing him not to sit up and try to see who’s out there, but he decides to wait it out. The voices get louder for a moment – is there a third person now? – and then they’re gone.
And, look, there might be a curfew and everything, but if there are some late night shenanigans happening on the Hermes, he’s not gonna be the only one left out. He throws off his blanket and swings his feet around to the floor at the same time the med bay door slides open.
Watney looks up and blinks at Lewis, who looks like she got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Vogel is right behind her, peering over her shoulder, and he can see a mess of legs and feet behind him.
Looks like the gang’s all here.
“Morning, commander,” he says.
“Watney. We, uh. We thought you were sleeping.”
“We were all apparently on our way in to –”
“To creep on me while I slept?”
“Well,” says Lewis, cautiously. “I suppose that’s accurate, even if I would’ve phrased it differently.”
Watney calls out to make sure everyone can hear him.
“Come on in, I’m sure we can squeeze six full-grown people in here with no discomfort whatsoever!”
He hears Beck’s voice from beyond the door.
“Look, if we’re all up, why don’t we just go congregate somewhere with elbow room.”
Watney agrees with this very astute suggestion, as does the rest of the crew, apparently, as they disappear quickly from his doorway.
He gets to his feet, wincing as his ribs give a twinge, and he follows them out into the body of the ship.
Space has been pretty good for his broken ribs, he muses as he floats along behind Lewis. Takes all the pressure off and lets him breathe easy.
He’s the last to slide down the ladder into the rec area, and as he jolts to a stop on the ground, he takes back his praise of space because the sudden transition from zero gravity to artificial gravity is a bitch on his ribs.
He tries not to show any pain on his face because everyone but Beck either gets doe-eyed or carefully looks anywhere but at him when he does anything that reminds them of his...recent circumstances. As the thought crosses his mind, he realizes Beck isn’t in the room and wonders where he is.
He realizes suddenly that they’re all looking at him – staring really – which he feels is a little rude.
“What? What’s on my face? I know don’t smell this time, Beck’s been making me shower far more than is actually necessary!”
It surprises him a little that Vogel is the one to break the silence.
“We, ah. We have put together a little present for you.”
That brings him up short.
“We tried to get NASA to send some goodies on the resupply, but they weren’t too keen on that after the first shuttle mishap,” Johnassen chimes in when he doesn’t reply. “So instead, we decided you might want some media that wasn’t made in the 1970s.”
Johanssen smirks at Lewis, who openly smiles.
Beck suddenly appears on the ladder from the main body of the ship with a big pile of blankets slung over his shoulder.
“Does he know about the slumber party yet?” he asks.
“I was just getting to that part,” says Johanssen.
Wait – slumber party???
When no one responds, he realizes he hasn’t said it out loud. He’s still having a little bit of trouble making sure inside thoughts stay inside and outside thoughts get vocalized
“Wait – slumber party??” he says.
“Yep. Believe it or not, it was the commander’s idea,” answers Beck, starting to herd them all into a group in front of the command monitor.
“I thought, if the whole crew was already awake and out past curfew, we might as well have our surprise party now,” says Lewis.
“This is a surprise party?!” exclaims Watney, whipping around as he tries to look at everyone at once, suddenly very excited.
“Yep. Sorry we’re fresh out of cake,” says Martinez. “Candles probably aren’t advisable in our current locale.”
Johnassen rolls her eyes and finally fills him in on what’s happening.
They’re going to watch the 2036 World Series. They’re going to do this because it was the Cubs versus the Yankees. They’re going to sit on a pile of blankets together and watch the Cubs play in the World Series.
The Cubs were in the World Series last year and NOBODY HAD TOLD HIM!!!
He feels like his eyes are about to pop out of his head!
Based on the concerned look on Beck’s face, he probably looks like it, too.
“I… You guys,” he starts. “I don’t know know what to say.”
Oh shit. Here come the tears again. You spent a couple of lousy years stranded on Mars and suddenly you can’t control the waterworks.
He waits for the sarcastic comment, for someone to break the sudden emotional tension and point out that it’s just a game, that there’s no crying in baseball, et cetera.
It doesn’t come, though. The rest of the crew are looking a little glassy-eyed as well, and Johanssen moves to his side and tucks herself under his arm. Her movement breaks the spell that’s fallen over the room, and he finds himself at the center of a large group hug.
Watney squeezes his eyes shut against the tears that threaten to come pouring out. He’s got one arm around Johanssen and the other around Beck, and Lewis has grabbed him – gently – around his midsection. He’s got one hand on Vogel’s shoulder and the other on Martinez’s, and he feels more at home than he has since he left Earth. He’s completely overwhelmed, and he says the only thing he can think to say.
“Thank you,” his whispers, to the family that’s circled around him. “For this. For coming to get me. For dealing with my stupid pirate jokes and my horrible stench and my broken ribs. Just. Thank you.”
“Anytime, man,” someone replies.
He pulls them all in a little tighter, takes a deep breath, and speaks.
“You know,” he says. “When I was down there, after the storm...when I realized I was all alone on Mars with no way to contact anyone and no way to get home...at first I was really afraid.”
He waits a beat.
“I was petrified.”
The whole crew groans as one. Everyone lets him go, Lewis shoves him playfully, and he sees some eyes roll.
As they pile the blankets on the floor and settle in to watch Game 1, he looks around and thinks that, yeah, it’s pretty good to be back.