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Minor spoilers for a book/movie subplot.

A Dream of Autumn

Chris Beck is not superstitious. He doesn't believe in luck; thorough prep and hard work, that's been his philosophy throughout med school, the Air Force and astronaut training. So when they get the news that Mark Watney is alive, he's impressed, aware of how much easier it would have been to die than go on. Later, when the Ares 3 crew gets personal messages from him, he looks at the words "Tell Johanssen how you feel about her.", and reckons that if there's anyone in the history of the world who knows about regrets and if-onlys, it's the lone man on the red planet.

The thing is, there are rules against fraternization. Fool around? Commander Lewis would shove him out of the airlock. There's monitoring everywhere, he can't just walk up to her and say, "Hey Beth, I can't take you out for dinner and a movie, but maybe we could hold hands during a briefing or something." Jesus, he might as well just space himself.

He has to be circumspect. That means being hyper-aware of camera angles and locations of all the audio pickups. Chris gets his hands on one of the whiteboards and a dry erase marker. He'll write it down; as long as he doesn't brandish it at the camera, he can wipe his words and there's no incriminating evidence.

Johanssen makes it easy for him. He's heading for his bunk to contemplate the wording of his declaration as she's drifting the same way. She smiles and says, "I'm so glad they decided to let Mark contact us. It was good to hear from him."

"Yeah, he's a great guy," Chris says lamely. He gives her a little nod and they drift to where there's a semi-dead zone of surveillance. "I'll bet he's got a list a mile long of things he wants to do when he gets back."

They both know it's a huge 'if', but it gives Beck a chance to write: I WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW I REALLY LIKE YOU.

"I've got a list like that," she says as he turns it her way. She stares at it and finishes, "I guess we all do."

Under that: I'M SERIOUS, JO.

In fifth grade, he gave Lisa Kincaid a really nice Valentine's card when everyone else was swapping cheap Power Ranger and Hot Wheels shit. And then he'd forgotten to sign it. Crappy planning, Beck, he says to himself.

Johanssen makes an imperious gesture. Tamely, he hands over the whiteboard and marker, and imagines what she's writing. Probably warning him to keep his distance or she'll report him.

"I'm looking forward to a real bed," she says as she writes. "Something that's wide enough to roll over in."


Chris blinks. He knows without a doubt that he's blushing. "Really?" he manages.

She pulls out a scrap of microfiber cloth from one of her pockets and wiped the words away. "I'm also looking forward to a bubble bath," She's writing again, "and an evening on the couch with a pizza and all the episodes of 'Mysteries at the Museum' I've missed.


He can feel the big, stupid grin on his face as he reads her message.

"What do you want you do?" She asks, as if it's part of the casual conversation they've been carrying on for NASA's benefit. He reclaims the whiteboard.

"I miss weather. I'd like to go for a walk in the rain."


Johanssen nods, smiling. "What about an autumn afternoon, when the sky is big and blue and the leaves are all colors and the breezes swirl them around in little whirlwinds." That's possibly the longest non-work related thing she's ever said to him.

It's such a clear image, he pictures them strolling hand-in-hand through the vivid landscape, laughing and kicking at piles of leaves.

"Ducks honking overhead as they head south for the winter," Chris surprises himself by adding.

"Of course, on Earth right now, it's currently July." Johanssen yawns. "I'll see you later, I need to crash.

"Sweet dreams," he says, wiping the board clean and continuing to his own bunk. It won't be this autumn, he thinks, but next year? Maybe. They've admitted their feelings, that's the first step.

More than anything, he hopes Watney makes it. He wants to shake the guy's hand, buy him drinks and thank him. Chris Beck knows he wouldn't have taken the risk without his prompting. Sometimes a guy can get lucky by being spontaneous.


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September 2017

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