Friction

Nov. 3rd, 2016 03:38 pm
nrgburst: (Johanssen NoYes)
[personal profile] nrgburst

Title: Friction (Newton's First Law Ch. 2)
Fandom: The Martian
Characters: Christopher Beck/Beth Johanssen, Melissa Lewis, Alex Vogel, Rick Martinez
Rating/Warnings: T, language (but if you've seen the movie or read the book, well...)
Word Count: 5500 or so
Summary: Because sometimes our own biology creates conflict


A/N: I’m assuming the Hermes looks like the one in the movie and crew quarters are in the two blocks of the centripetal loop we were never given a clear view of. I’m also assuming that it’s Vogel/Beck/Johanssen in one and Martinez/Watney/Lewis in the other- splitting the crew up for redundancy in case one block is compromised for any reason. I think that works with the descriptions we get from the book too, so I’m running with it.

***


The pretending becomes even harder.



Not that they work in constant proximity, but the size of the ship and familiarity with their crewmates present multiple challenges to keeping things secret.

It might be easier if he wasn’t feeling so euphoric. It’s distracting, and as he discovers, hard to hide without conscious effort.

It’s usually just him and Lewis first thing in the gym. (Vogel had adjusted his schedule an hour later so Martinez wouldn’t be alone in the gym after they left Mars.) They work out in relative silence- both of them have their media players on and headphones in and they rotate off the different machines and weight training area by indicating whichever they intend to use next with gestures.

He doesn’t even realize he’s smiling- he’s just thinking about Beth and trying to decide if it will be obvious if he brings her her morning coffee when Lewis gives him a knowing smile.

“Looking forward to your video call later?”

He blinks and turns down the volume on his headphones. “Sorry?”

“You’re smiling.”

“Oh! Yeah, of course.” Shit. “My sister’s doing the honors. Will be nice to talk in almost real time.” That part is honest, at least.

She smiles. “I know. Although I guess we have it easier than submarine crews in a lot of ways: we had communication blackouts while on classified missions, so we’d have no civilian contact until we could call from port. Plus there won’t even be a time difference despite the actual distance.”
There’s a wistfulness there that she can’t quite hide, but Chris understands her need to try to stay positive. “Technology and good ol’ CST. Vogel says his wife made the trip to Houston to take advantage of it.”

“Yeah? We’ll have to remind him to tell her try some crawfish or fried shrimp tails. Oooh, and a queso from Torchy’s! Chicken and waffles. Ugh.”

He laughs. “Okay, the last is practically a heart attack on a plate.”

“We only live once, Doctor Beck,” she says teasingly.

He grins and ducks his head. “Ahhh, I have to say it’s on my list once we get back too. That and you ever have the Alfredo from Carrabba’s?”

She groans. “Have I ever! I swear, Houston has the most amazing restaurants…”

They talk food and he heaves a mental sigh of relief that he’d managed to recover from being so stupidly careless.






 

He’s not as lucky with Vogel, but that’s almost a relief.

They’re both standing at the espresso machine in the Rec when Vogel speaks up.

“So Johanssen was upset by the contingency plan?”

Chris strives to remain casual, keeping his eyes on his empty cup as he scrambles to think. If Vogel had heard even that first outburst… “Yeah, it threw her for a loop. She just needed to get the probability in perspective, though.”

Vogel nods, pursing his lips. “Ah. That is good. I ah, was surprised to hear you… ‘comforting’ her last night.”

Chris cringes and exhales, glancing around quickly. Lewis and Martinez are laughing over something at the table several meters away, and Beth hasn’t arrived yet.

“Ah- Sorry about that,” he says quietly.

Vogel tilts his head and shrugs lightly. “No matter. You’ve always been a quiet neighbor and I put on my headphones when I realized. And I am very happy both of you are… feeling better. But perhaps her quarters will be more discreet if you wish to ‘comfort’ her again.”

Chris nods, feeling awkward. “Thanks. Again- sorry.”

Vogel smiles dismissively and takes his coffee cup back to his table.

Chris is glad he’s got an excuse to face away from the Rec for another couple minutes while he takes his turn at the machine though.






 

Beth has mostly rationalized letting her feelings get the better of her. After all, if everything goes as planned, their working relationship shouldn’t really be impacted: she works mostly with Martinez and Lewis doing a mix of maintenance and comms while Chris primarily does research in the Bio lab.

She very deliberately avoids thinking about how much worse it will feel if the re-supply fails. Storing grief for future use won’t help anybody, and the only thing she can control is whether she does her job perfectly.

She’d mentally dismissed one role he performed for all of them, mostly because she’d never needed much medical care beyond the occasional bandage and tube of antibiotic cream. Hermes’ centripetal gravity and state-of-the-art air filtration system greatly reduced the development of most of the ailments that usually afflict astronauts, from motion sickness to infection. There were no new viruses or half-cooked foods to get them sick and they all consumed balanced diets and exercised diligently. Sure, he performed weekly med/psych evals, but they were routine ‘still healthy’ checkmarks at this point and just a couple hours a week.

So she’s horrified to realize Chris Beck is both cause and cure for a sudden and pressing medical problem.

The timing couldn’t be worse. She has so much to coordinate: they all have video calls that she’ll have to patch through various satellites; they’ve just turned off Hermes’ centripetal rotation engine and she has multiple systems checks to run because of that; she’s uploading and downloading as much as she can while they have practically unlimited bandwidth; CAPCOM keeps sending updates and for fucks sake.


She has a UTI.


She’s had them before, which is why she knows exactly what’s wrong, but god.


It’s going to be awkward as hell, and things between them are already so emotionally charged. She’d basically taken a sledgehammer to all the carefully maintained barriers between them last night and she feels oddly exposed and breathlessly exhilarated all at once. What she wants is the time and space to parse it all properly, but for now there are far more important priorities.
And she needs treatment ASAP: UTIs can lead to serious kidney infections and microgravity exacerbates infections of any kind.
She hadn’t been counting on this kind of burning biological retribution for breaking the rules once.


Well… more than once.


The memory of how utterly shameless she’d been makes her cheeks flush while she doggedly queues downloads before running the initial systems check. She feels guilty as hell. Part of why she was chosen for the Ares 3 mission was because she could do her job despite extreme physical discomfort, and she’d basically brought this on herself.

But Lewis is talking to her husband, Martinez is inspecting the rotational engine, and she doesn’t actually need to sit here while the computer processes. That should give her the minutes she’ll need to discreetly zip down to the Bio lab.





 

Chris sips another coffee while he does the final check on Watney’s zero-g plant growth experiment data. In light of Watney’s absence, NASA has suggested ending the current experiment to free up the crew, but Beck doesn’t mind keeping it up. Plus having something both useful and familiar to do once back on the Hermes might aid with Watney’s rehabilitation. Dr. Shields will probably give him an idea of what to read up on during the conference later, but he makes a mental note to ask. He has ten months to prep, and he’d rather be over-prepared than under.

A box pops up on the screen, indicating that the analysis of the blood he’d drawn from himself that morning was complete, and he taps it open for a quick look. He scans the graphs and swipes a few times before he stops short, blinking with consternation.

He’d expected a slightly higher cortisol reading from the lack of sleep, but his cortisol and testosterone levels are way over his usual average, plus his serotonin is dramatically depressed. If Beth’s levels are also whacked when he does her weekly check, it shouldn’t be hard for the trained doctors at JSC to surmise why two of the crew have developed concurrent spikes across their hormonal levels.

Crap.

Even if they manage to hide the truth from most of their crewmates, their physiology doesn’t lie. He’s not comfortable with asking her to help fudge the data either, even if the results are empirical evidence of the abrupt change between the two of them. After all, it’s a single data set. Elevated hormone levels can be due to many different factors, and it should be easy enough to explain the cortisol levels anyway: their lives depend on this re-supply and they’re all juggling heavy schedules.
It’s actually fascinating, to see what he’s feeling reflected so plainly onscreen. He almost wishes he could measure his neurotransmitter levels- his brain is probably awash in record levels of dopamine and vasopressin.

“Doctor Beck?”

Chris turns and smiles automatically, feeling his heart rate jump at the sight of her. But Beth looks harried and she’s still wearing her Sys-Op headset: she’s supposed to be on the Bridge.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, concerned. She doesn’t look as miserable as she had last night, at least.

She bites her lip and winces. “So. This is mortifying but- I think I need some antibiotics.”

His eyes widen and he shifts from worried lover to clinical empathy immediately. “What are your symptoms? When did they start?”

She eyes him with a kind of awed fascination before she inhales and sheepishly confesses.

“It… hurts when I pee. Which sucks because I feel the urge every few minutes and I really shouldn’t be leaving my station at all today. I’m pretty sure I have a UTI.”

He closes his eyes as guilt hits him like a sucker punch. “…And I gave it to you. Shit.”

He gives her the biomonitor to put on while he keys up her chart and drug tables before he unbuckles the harness holding him to the couch and pushes over to the storage containers housing the Hermes’ pharmacy. “I’m… really sorry, Beth. I should have thought of it.”

She cringes and waves her hand slightly. “No, I should have. It’s been years since I’ve had one, and everything was so… I was too caught up to leave the room to pee. Just me being stupid.”

He quickly doses pills from a container into a bag, chagrined. “Well, you weren’t the only one. It’s my job to look out for your health and anticipate problems- I didn’t.”

It’s a relief to see that her temperature is still normal, but he can’t help but worry that what he’s handing her isn’t a cure. “These are analgesic painkillers. Two at a time, repeat every four hours as necessary. You should feel some relief twenty minutes after taking them, so get them down ASAP. I can only get you the antibiotics after I get a urine sample- I have to know which bacteria are causing the infection before I prescribe anything.”
He hesitates, cringing inwardly. “If the need to urinate is really urgent, the EVA suit diapers-“

“Oh my god!” She covers her face. “I think I’ll be okay just queueing tasks and running for the toilet until the meds work. But I’ll keep it in mind just in case.”

He nods, scrubbing his hand awkwardly over the back of his neck as she removes the biomonitor. Talk about a firsthand lesson in why doctor/patient relationships are forbidden. But she’s his patient first and foremost, so he keeps going.
“Okay. Please drop off the sample as soon as you can. The zero-g kits are in every washroom but I have a videoconference in about twenty minutes with JSC Med. So if I’m not here, leave it in the sample case and I’ll analyze it and bring you the antibiotics as soon as I can.”

She nods and then her eyes widen and she holds a finger up to ask for silence before she taps her mic on and pushes back towards the door. “Copy that, Houston. Give us a couple minutes to get the diagnostic running and I’ll report back. Hermes over.”

He sighs as he watches her disappear towards the reactor room before he stows the medication again and mentally kicks himself.


Good job, Beck. A+







 

As soon as the conference finishes, he rushes back to the Lab, already worried about letting the infection fester in her body for another hour. But her sample is waiting, diagnosis takes only a couple minutes, and he manages to catch Beth in the corridor while she’s on her way to the Bridge.

“Johanssen!”

He holds up a bag of pills but he offers her a pumpkin seed bar first.

“You need to eat something before taking these. One now, then after every meal and before bed, and I’ll re-evaluate in the morning to make sure they’re working. How’s the pain? Any fever?”

She shakes her head, glancing up the corridor towards the Bridge and keeping her voice low. “I’m okay- the painkillers helped a lot. But thanks- can you-?”

Chris helps take out a pill and then unvelcroes his pocket to take out a pouch of water while she quickly unwraps the bar and takes a bite.

She gives him an exasperated look when he watches anxiously while she chews.
“Stop looking so doomsday serious! You’re going to make me laugh!” she complains, covering her mouth.

“Sorry.” He smiles apologetically. “UTIs can lead to-”

“-kidney infections, like Fred Haise had on Apollo 13. I get it. But I’m not dehydrated, feverish or throwing up. And I’ve been to this annoying rodeo before, so I went to get treatment right away. I know my own body, Chris. Don’t beat yourself up, okay?”

She holds out her hands for the pill and water and he relaxes marginally after she swallows it.

“Fine. But it’s my job to keep an eye on your health, and your immune system functions better in gravity. So I’m going to keep a close eye on this, okay? And… no sex until I’m sure you’re in the clear, so tell that prick to keep his bacteria laden parts to himself.”

She laughs and slips the pills into her flightsuit pocket. “Okay, Doc. Thanks.”

She reaches out to grab a handhold to propel herself and pauses, looking shyly over her shoulder. “Making out should be okay though, right?”

God, how is she so perfect?

“…Yeah. Yeah, that should be fine.”





 

Chris keeps a careful distance from her all day, mindful about keeping his gaze from lingering and she’s just as deliberately poker faced.
He thinks they’re doing admirably well at playing it cool, especially with the nagging worry about her UTI in the back of his mind. It helps that other tasks demand their attention: Beth spends even mealtimes on the Bridge continuing to Sys-Op and study Vogel’s workspace, and when he isn’t planning and prepping tomorrow’s possible EVA, he’s doing PR tasks that Watney would have been responsible for.
There’s also the bright spot of talking to Amy and just being her brother for five minutes. She’d even managed to get him choked up in her inimitable way: “You’ve never not been part of my life, you know? So just… be careful. It’ll be a long time before I can take you for granted again.”
Everybody’s exhausted after the frenetic day. The view of Earth, beautiful and blue, growing in the Bridge windows only reminds them that they’ve chosen not to go home yet, and transit time around their world will be brief. So he doesn’t feel totally obvious when he says he’s going to bed early a few minutes after Beth makes her departure back to her room, hurrying through his evening hygiene routine before quietly knocking on her door.
“Come in!” she calls.

He can’t help grinning when Beth immediately sets aside her laptop and propels herself toward him. And god, how good it feels to catch hold of her and kiss her like he’s been aching to all day. The zero-g just adds to the giddy feeling, and they both laugh when they bump into her door and then the ceiling.

“God, this is worse than before. I couldn’t stop thinking about you all day,” she complains between kisses.

“Me neither. I had to remind myself not to stare about fifty times. How are you feeling?”

She scowls. “Seriously, Beck? Isn’t medical crap on the list of things you should never talk about on a date?”

He grins, delighted. “Is this a date, then?”

She pretends to consider. “Well- I suppose you brought me food and drink earlier, but… you didn’t actually pay for it, so-”

He laughs. “You’re a tough sell, Johanssen.”

She smiles wickedly and links her arms securely around his neck before she kisses him again, pushing gently off the ceiling with a couple fingers so they float slowly towards her bunk. “The kissing is pretty dreamy, though. And you brushed your teeth, so you’re extra minty fresh and delicious. Hmm, I might have to reconsider…”

He helps adjust their position so that her back hits the mattress and then he grabs hold of the bunk to anchor them. Even cooperating, it isn’t easy to squeeze under the elasticized sleeping sheet meant for use in zero-g, and they end up having to leave the opening half unzipped. Still, it keeps them in place and trapped cozily together, which is all they need.

Sighing with satisfaction, Beth cuddles up against him. “So I never did this with a boy in high school, but I bet I can still figure out how to get to third base…”
He can’t help hesitating at that, and she sighs, exasperated. “I’m fine. The pain is gone, and I’m taking my medication as directed, okay? My real problem is that my bossy doctor won’t let me have sex just when I’m horny and in need of distraction…”

His lips twitch. “That pedantic jerk. How dare he prioritize your health.”

“Tell me about it. We’re missing the chance to do it in zero-g.”

He snorts with laughter. “You know how often I get that question in emails? Can’t believe NASA still refuses to send married couples up to SpaceX.”

“See? We could be doing it for science. Such squandered opportunity.”

He sobers- she’s only half joking. “…Beth.”

She swallows and blinks hard. “I know. I’m trying not to. But I told my Dad I’d come home no matter what and… Just kiss me, okay?”

He does, and if it quickly turns from comfort into a mutual expression of desire, it does the trick anyway.




After, when they’re both breathless and sweaty and sated, laughing about humping with their pants on like desperate teenagers, he presses another kiss to her shoulder and considers.
“You know, we’ll have to turn off centripetal rotation before we get Watney, too.”

She eyes him speculatively. “Huh. True.” Her eyes sparkle with wicked promise and she smiles as she turns to trace his ‘14’ tattoo. “Guess we could put it on the Bucket List after ‘Walking on Mars’.”

He’s struck with adoration all over again as he looks at her, so playful and relaxed, the matching number 15 on her shoulder. “Have I ever told you how amazing you are?”

She laughs, but he can tell by the way she lowers her eyes and flushes that the words affect her more than she’d like to admit.



 


The re-supply goes without a hitch. Chris doesn’t even need to step out of the airlock, and Beth allows herself a brief moment to close her eyes and breathe out after she confirms that even the seal is a perfect fit.



They’re all going to be okay.



Dinner that night is jubilant. JPL has generously sent two packages of wine in the supplies, and they all agree to open one now and save the other for after they get Watney. So they’re all flush with a little more than just success and hope, and she’s not the only one who is blinking hard after Lewis gives a short speech to conclude the meal.

They’re still in real-time range for IP calls, so she isn’t surprised that the crew heads back to quarters straight after dinner.

Beth stays in the Rec though, sitting cross-legged in her usual spot on the sofa as the residual buzz wears off, watching Earth retreat into the distance.

It’s sobering: it’ll be nineteen months before they’ll see home so clearly again. They’re moving at such velocity that by the end of the week their planet will appear little larger than the moon, and eventually its orbit will bring it out of their rearview completely.

When they’d first decided to rescue Watney, she’d just assumed it would be another nineteen months of maintaining the ship and crew relationships to and from Mars with one big mission in the middle. She’d told herself that if that long-frustrated spark fizzled between her and Chris they would still be close friends, and that was enough.

And then she’d basically Trojan horsed that well-established, fully functional program.

Being with him gives the next nineteen months uncharted emotional territory, and the stakes for everything are always higher in space: screwing this up might mean strained relations between the whole crew for months, even if it’s beyond thrilling to finally be his lover.

She ponders pros and cons and hypotheticals for a few minutes, but she’s not surprised when she sees Chris slide down the ladder.

He approaches, head tilted curiously before he sits at his usual careful distance from her.
“You didn’t have anyone to call?”

She shrugs and looks away. “It’ll be easier for my mom if I email. Someone always ends up crying if we talk. I’m not good with… emotional stuff.”
He nods, waiting. And her heart aches a little: he knows her so goddamn well. So she just blurts instead of continuing to agonize over it in her head.
“We can do this, right? Without screwing up? I feel like an asshole going behind Lewis’ back when she trusts us so much.”

He raises his brows and considers for a long moment before he replies. “Honestly? I think we’re doing well at keeping things neutral around the others so far, even though I’m feeling…everything for you right now. We both know how important the mission is, how we need to maintain good relationships with a ship and crew this size. It’s not like either of us to be thoughtless or careless.”
She nods and he continues. “But let’s evaluate: do you think we’ll favor each other unfairly or allow our feelings for each other to adversely affect anything? Have we done it already?”

She braces her head on her hand as she ponders. It’s comforting somehow to sit next to him like they’ve done for months. “I don’t think so? But I doubt I’m judging with a hundred percent objectivity. I mean, that UTI thing was so awkward but you kind of…switched gears to doctor mode and then…” She closes her eyes and laughs self-deprecatingly, “…it was just as bad as talking to any other doctor about needing help with your private parts.”

He chuckles along with her. “We’re trained to just treat the patient. Seriously. I mean, I was embarrassed too, but that was mostly because I failed the ‘Do no harm’ part of my oaths. On top of being reminded that I violated doctor/patient ethics…”

She frowns when he shrugs uncomfortably. “Well- what are the possible consequences for that?”

He gives her a wry look. “Nothing if we keep things secret.”

She raises her brows skeptically. “Okay, but home free is nineteen months away. Lewis is smart, and she knows us both really well.”

He inhales and tries to think about it objectively. “Consequences will probably depend on if our relationship actually causes a strain on the mission. Which, again, is unlikely if we keep things strictly under wraps. So I would say that is our top priority.”

She eyes him and nods. He avoided answering the question, which probably means the worst-case scenario is pretty bad. But she agrees with his assessment, which is the part they need to focus on. “Right. So do we need to do anything different? I mean, Lewis and Martinez are never in our section anyway and Vogel already knows.”
She flushes despite herself. “…I talked to him yesterday because I felt bad about…disturbing him, and he was pretty blasé about it. Said if we were quiet, it was none of his business how we spend our private time.”

Chris raises his brows and smiles wryly. “Yeah, that’s basically what he said to me, too. So…sex only in your room? And…we take hygiene precautions until our microbiomes sync up so this is hopefully your last UTI? I’ll have to notify Lewis if you have any recurring medical issue.”

Beth feels her face heat again but she ignores it. “Agreed. And we should probably hang out here as much as we used to. If we keep sneaking off early together, everyone’s going to notice. But until the transmission lag gets noticeable we might have some leeway there.”
She looks around the quiet room and huffs a laugh. “This is so normal but so weird at the same time! Why did I think this was a good idea?”

He eyes her and smiles knowingly. “So we can’t distract each other with the physical part. Plus the view is pretty amazing tonight.”

She sighs and rubs her forehead. “See? You really get me. It’s scary- it shouldn’t be this easy.”

He bursts out laughing at that. “We’re positing solves and you think this is easy?”

She shoves his arm, although she can’t help grinning. “You know what I mean! The you-and-me part, not the intersection of you-and-me with everything else. Although I made the brilliant move of sleeping with my best friend. Who the hell am I supposed to complain to now if he pisses me off?”

He leans back his head earnestly. “You’d better tell me right away if I’m pissing you off.”

She inhales and searches his eyes, hugging her knees. “Same. The secondary priority has to be that we keep us working. No matter what.”

He nods, frowning slightly. “We’ve always respected each other. I don’t think that’s going to change, even if… us shifts.”

She lowers her eyes. “Couples fight about stuff that friends don’t. The boundaries are different.”


He gives her a wry look and gestures restlessly. “So we talk about them and figure it out. They made damn sure we could cooperate and resolve problems before they shot us up here, right? And honestly? …The you-and-me part is just as important as the mission to me.”


She has to look away at the rush of emotion his words invoke before she blinks and smiles shakily. “Yeah. I totally agree.”


They both fall silent, staring contemplatively out the windows for a minute.


“I’m really glad we’re in this together,” she admits softly.

The way he looks at her makes her nose and eyes sting all over again.
“Yeah, me too.”





 

At first, it’s just an observation Chris makes: Martinez keeps yawning during his physical.

“Rough night?”

“Ah- just up late talking with Marissa. It’s like being in high school again, you know? We’d talk until one of us fell asleep- or her mom busted in and took away her phone.” He laughs. “Those were good times. I think she still hates me for corrupting her little angel, if you know what I mean.”

He winks and Chris snorts with laughter. “You’re lucky you made it the alter, man.”

“I know, right?”


But he still laughs with relief when he sees Martinez’s blood analysis later.


Biology to the rescue.





 

They’re all stoked when Lewis gives them two days off earlier than expected. They’ve earned it, and it’ll be nice to sleep in with Beth in the morning.


But he needs to tell her a couple things first.


“So we might have a problem. But I think it’s going to be okay as a one-off, and we can probably avoid setting it off in future by not sleeping together the night before our physicals.”

She gives him a puzzled look, so he grabs his tablet off the floor next to the bunk and pulls up his workspace to explain.

“I analyze our blood every week. Have to track everything so I can tell right away if there’s a potential problem. And this here… is me.”

He tabs over to the hormone graphs. “This yellow block is cortisol, and the light blue over here is testosterone. And now this… is this week compared to the past four.”


Her eyes widen when she sees the dramatic difference in the overlay. “Oh wow. I’m guessing that’s a big red flag?”


He tilts his head, trying to explain with proper clinical detachment. “There are a lot of factors influencing hormone production. Circadian rhythms, diet, activity levels, etc. Cortisol is produced in response to stress, serotonin is influenced by mood and light exposure and astronaut supplements are designed to increase testosterone production to prevent osteoporosis. But concurrent spikes in these specific hormones? Yeah, this poor guy probably just entered an intense new relationship. Although he could just be overworked and doing strenuous physical labor.”


She smiles, oddly touched. “Your hormones have no chill?”


He shakes his head and smiles. “My endocrine system, yeah. I’ve read the research, but it’s another thing to see the data up close and personal.”


She glances at him and he can’t quite meet her gaze. She knows him well enough to understand when he’s trying to say something without being too pushy or obvious.


“Mmm. Are my readings the same?”


“Well- not exactly since you’re female and we didn’t have sex a bunch of times the night before, but…” He brings up her graphs next to his and his voice goes kind of gruff. “By odd coincidence, you also exhibited unusually low serotonin and elevated androgen and cortisol levels this week.”


She tilts her head, puzzled. “I don’t get it. Shouldn’t getting each other off be relieving stress?”

He doesn’t answer for a moment. “Well, the current hypothesis is that it’s not sex drive causing the higher cortisol levels. People can have sex without getting their feelings involved.”

She stills and touches the tablet gently as understanding dawns. “…But this is what falling in love looks like.”


He swallows and nods, suddenly indescribably nervous.


Beth inhales jaggedly as her eyes fill. “Chris Beck, you are the nerdiest romantic ever. And I love it.” She turns and buries her nose in his chest. “ I love you.”


He closes his eyes at the shaft of emotion he feels, holding her tight. He was pretty sure but it’s so, so good to actually hear her say the words. “…God, Beth, I love you, too.”


She smiles tremulously and pulls him down to kiss her, although her eyes widen and she stiffens with alarm before their lips touch.

“Wait, why aren’t you worried? Won’t JSC Med notice?” she demands.

“I was,” he admits ruefully. “Until I realized how much sex the rest of the crew has been having.”


Her mouth falls open and she recoils from him with shock. “Wh-at?!”


He has to laugh. “Mind out of the gutter, Johanssen! Just ‘cause you barged into my room and seduced me-“

“You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”

“-doesn’t mean our crewmates have also turned into reckless rulebreakers. We’ve been in easy transmission distance of their partners for about a week. Practically no time lag. You know nobody has ever studied the effects of phone sex on hormone levels? Which is funny, because in some of the studies, they used a picture of the loved one to trigger the hormonal response.”

She covers her face and laughs. “Oh my god! Okay, now I don’t feel so guilty about finally getting laid.”

He raises his brows teasingly and grins. “Basic biological drive. Makes a nice pattern for us to blend into, at any rate. Which reminds me…”

Her breath hitches and pupils dilate with anticipation and he can’t help grinning, even as he tries to act nonchalant.
“You’re infection free and cleared for sex again. If, you know, there’s someone you want to do that with.”


She doesn't say anything this time, but her enthusiastic response still tells him all he needs to know.






A/N: Maybe I shouldn’t have based the titles on physics because this chap was all bio but hey, we’re all nerds here, right?
Researching this stuff was actually really interesting. If you want to look deeper into it, Helen Fisher's papers and talks on the intersection between love and biology are a great place to
start. (But feel free to tell me if you think I’ve interpreted the science wrong- I’m happy to edit.)

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