Theo thought it would be awkward to see Dimitri the next day; the drive back to the ship had been quiet and a little strange. Shade had many stories to tell him about the things xe had learned while spending time at the house, but all Theo wanted to do was sleep. When he got to his quarters he saw the scarf that Dimitri had given him draped over the chair at his desk and he sighed, frustrated.
But the next morning when Dimitri showed up he was in his usual high spirits, and he mentioned how everyone suggested that they both return for another meal soon. It felt like a ridiculous proposition, but Theo didn’t tell him that in fear that it would hurt his feelings — even though he thought again that he shouldn’t care.
The repairs still went on, though, and the ship was beginning to look more like it had before Theo had crashed it. Metal beams were brought up from the farm with the help of Yura and Misha, who also stuck around to help install them and play a game of cards with Shade that they had apparently taught xem when they had visited for dinner. The noise on the ship was strange for Theo, but he realized when he heard the loud laughter of the twins in the mess it didn’t bother him how he thought it might. It wasn’t until the ship went quiet again that he thought how troublesome it all was.
Deck five was soon spotless, and then engineering on deck four. Dimitri kept interrogating Theo on what he should do with the arboretum on deck three, but he didn’t have any answers for him. He would surely kill any plants that Dimitri thought to install; the engineer left it alone for the time while they cleaned up deck two. When it came to repairing the bridge, the twins returned to help with some of the larger repairs, and that night Theo could not seem to get out of returning to the Croft house for dinner.
Everyone was just as thrilled to see them again for a second time, especially the children who demanded all of Shade’s attention. It seemed that xe had invented a game of displaying shapes and figures on xyr face and the children took turns trying to guess what sort of creature xe was imagining. Theo sat in the corner of the sitting room with a mug of hot chocolate smiling to himself as he watched the display. He tried not to noticed Dimitri watching him, too, and Lux and Harmonia gossiping by the fireplace and pointedly not looking at him.
The weather was cooling quickly, and all of the wheat had been harvested for the season. The fields were no less impressive cleared and cleaned, ready for the next season of planting. They stretched out wide and far; Theo learned that the Croft farm was one of the largest farms on the moon.
Another dinner invitation, and it was cool enough when Dimitri picked them up that Theo thought to wear the scarf from the festival. Dimitri almost looked surprised at the sight of him but he smiled wide. Theo looked away, feeling embarrassed. The truck had its roof attached now, to keep out most of the cool, but Theo kept his window cracked for the breeze and fresh air. That night after the meal was done and the dishes had been cleared, he sat on the porch with Dimitri, who told him more stories about the stars, and other nearby astronomical objects.
Theo wondered to himself again why Dimitri was still here, if the idea of travel appealed to him so much, but this time he didn’t pose the question. He hadn’t liked the discomfort on the other man’s face, when he should have been smiling. Lux brought them hot cider in tin mugs, but they did not linger. When they opened the door, Theo could hear the children laughing with Shade inside.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Dimitri suggested after a moment, and Theo agreed wordlessly with a little shrug.
They didn’t head to Dimitri’s barn; instead they took a worn path that curved the other direction. Theo didn’t ask where they were going — it wasn’t like it mattered. The cider was sweet and spicy, and he held the mug with both hands for the warmth. The silence between them had become comfortable, somehow, but Theo didn’t think about it too much, or question it. If he did that it would frighten him too much, like everything else about Dimitri, so instead he just focused on the crisp air, and the sound of Dimitri’s boots on the gravel.
They came to a pen, attached to the second barn on the Croft property. Dimitri set his mug on one of the posts and put two fingers in his mouth to let out a low whistle. Moments later, a large fluffy beast came trotting out of the barn. Mila.
Theo’s eyes narrowed and he looked at Dimitri skeptically. He had done his best to steer clear of these creatures during his visit to the farm, not wanting to relive his first encounter with them. He took a step back from the fence.
Dimitri laughed as Mila came up to the gate, reaching out a hand to pat her nose. She brayed happily. “The sheep won’t hurt you, you know,” he told Theo, looking over at him with a little smile. “They’re very friendly.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Theo answered, defiantly sipping his cider from a distance.
“I’ve had Mila since she was a foal,” Dimitri went on absently, gently stroking the animal’s fur.
Theo didn’t understand why he told him this, but he didn’t say anything. He just watched Dimitri’s hand, gentle through soft fur, and the faraway look on his face. After a moment he stepped closer, only a little, and Dimitri glanced over at him with a smile.
“Come here,” he said, reaching for his hand, and Theo let him take it. He gently placed his hand on Mila’s nose, it was cool and velvety, but Theo could only think about the weight of Dimitri’s hand on his, warm and reassuring as he showed him how to stroke the fur back on Mila’s face.
“I feel stupid,” Theo said after a moment, and Dimitri laughed, dropping his hand. But he still pet the animal, who brayed softly at the attention. He frowned slightly, and then looked over at Dimitri who seemed pleased. “What?”
“Nothing,” he answered, reaching back for his cider. “Told you, she’s not so bad. Once you get used to her.”
That was like a lot of things here, Theo thought, but he didn’t say anything. “Do you ride these things?” he asked instead.
“Yeah, wanna go for a gallop?”
Dimitri laughed at his bluntness and leaned against the fence. “You’re an interesting person, Theo Altair,” he said after a moment, his voice much too soft. This would have made Theo nervous, if he thought too much about it.
“Oh?” Theo asked instead, not looking at him. He liked the way Dimitri said his name, but he couldn’t thinking about that for too long, either. He scratched Mila behind the ear a bit; she seemed to like that. Dimitri didn’t clarify, and Theo looked back at him curiously.
“Yeah,” was all Dimitri said, a bit cryptically, and he downed the rest of his cider. Then he whistled at Mila a bit, who stepped back from the fence to trot back to the barn after a little bray that seemed to mean goodbye. He took Theo’s hand in his, and led him back to the house.
Theo could not sleep that night; the sensation of Dimitri holding his hand would not leave his mind. Lying in bed he clasped his hands together against his chest, as if he might be able to keep the feeling there too, close to his heart like a secret. It was too much for him to feel stupid or angry about it, now he was teetering somewhere closer to sadness. He did not deserve the other man’s kindness; he didn’t deserve to feel warm and happy when he saw Dimitri smile. It felt vaguely selfish for him to think that he did, to think that anything could ever be different for him.
Theo thought that he had to leave soon, before it was too late. It already felt much too late.
The next morning he felt tired and moody, and he didn’t speak to Shade as he prepared his breakfast in the mess, even though xe tried to strike up conversation about the repairs for the day. There wasn’t much left for them to do, he thought, he would just have to keep himself together for another few days, a week at the very most, and then he could disappear. That was what he was best at, anyway. Time would pass and Dimitri would forget about him, as would the rest of the Croft family, and Theo could live out the rest of his life in dirt and muck, hunting bugs and death. It was settled.
In spite of all of this, Theo still met Dimitri at the airlock, like he always did. It would have been suspicious for him not to, he told himself, but he still faltered when Dimitri smiled warmly at him. They made their way to deck one, so that they could begin the repair on the outer hull above the bridge. Dimitri climbed through the hatch and Theo climbed up after him, peeking his head out as the engineer began to set out his tools. There was a cool breeze and it felt calming; Theo did not climb all the way out of the hatch.
“I’m going to run diagnostics down here,” he said instead, before ducking back into the bridge before he could read whatever expression was on Dimitri’s face.
But he didn’t follow him back down, and Theo sat at the operations console while listening to Dimitri work above him. Shade appeared to run the diagnostics xemself, and the shapes on xyr face went a bit confused. “What are you doing here?” xe asked suspiciously.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” Theo snapped, looking away from xem and back at the screen in front of him.
Shade stared at him for a moment longer, before climbing up to hatch to join Dimitri. Theo could hear Dimitri laughing at something xe said, and it made his frown deepen. The numbers and check marks swam in front of him; he hated doing diagnostic work. And he once again felt a bit stupid, alone listening to the sound of footsteps on metal above him. He spun out of the chair and left the bridge without a word to the others.
He stepped into the lift, but after the door closed he didn’t know where he meant to go. He should have been atop the ship helping Dimitri, but he couldn’t stand the idea. “Deck four,” he commanded after a moment, and the lift began to drop.
The door slid open at engineering, and Theo stepped forward to the panel in front of the warp reactor. They had begun to pump in fuel bought from a visiting freighter to ready the ship for flight, and the glow had begun to get stronger. Theo couldn’t decide how it made him feel; usually this was one of the more comforting spaces for him on the ship, but now, staring into the light of the fuel breaking up, getting ready for flight, he felt empty.
He left engineering and went back to the lift, which took him up to deck three. The airlock was open, and he sat down in the cool breeze. From here, he could again hear Shade and Dimitri working, occasionally chatting with each other. They were far enough away that he couldn’t make out what they were saying, and for this Theo felt oddly grateful. He pulled his legs up, holding his knees to his chest like he might be able to ball himself up to stay safe.
But he already felt safe here, didn’t he? And it was all Dimitri’s fault, Theo thought bitterly. No, that wasn’t particularly fair. It was his fault for getting attached to Dimitri in the first place. It never should have gone this far; this was just supposed to be a simple fix-and-leave situation. Now it did not feel so simple.
He stared out into the sky, practically cloudless, although it looked like a storm might be heading in for the evening. It wouldn’t be much longer now.
It rained heavily all day the next day, the sky dark and gray, which meant that they could not work on the hull. At this point, interior work was best spent separate, cleaning rooms individually to get them done faster. Theo would not allow Dimitri near the quarters on deck one, for fear that he would discover some secret of his past, which frankly felt a little foolish even to him, but the engineer did not seem unmoored by this. Those rooms were basically done, at any rate, and Theo didn’t bother entering any himself.
Instead he took the lift to the astronomy research lab on deck two, and began to pick through the mess. It wasn’t one of the labs they ever had much use for, and Theo couldn’t remember ever spending a lot of time there. Shade liked it, because it was somewhere xe could learn about whatever systems they happened to be near. Theo had the stray thought that Dimitri might like it too, considering how much he liked to observe the sky from his little moon. The thought irritated him as he repaired cupboards, cleaned down panels, and he couldn’t have gotten out of there fast enough.
From there he went down to the cargo bays, which hadn’t taken much damage but he needed to take stock of supplies for whatever job he might take next. There was a chance they would have to stop on Keria to pick up more traps, which he wasn’t particularly keen on, but it was better to take note of it now so that when they left they could make a speedy exit.
Theo could hear Dimitri’s voice from the moment that the lift doors opened, coming from the arboretum. He frowned and tried to ignore it, heading the opposite direction. Behind the cargo bay doors, he couldn’t hear him any longer, but it was only a small relief. He spent the next couple of hours searching and reorganizing containers, taking notes on a small pad, and making a mental tally of how much his purchases might cost. He wondered if he could find somewhere to order ahead, and they could swoop in quickly to pick them up, and then get the hell out of here at warp speed.
Now he felt insane.
Eventually he began to feel a little hungry, too, although he wasn’t exactly eager to leave the safety of the cargo bays. When the doors opened, he couldn’t hear Dimitri’s voice any longer, and he didn’t even look toward the arboretum as he headed to the lift. The idea that he should retrofit the arboretum into more storage came to him suddenly, and it felt a little cruel even if he didn’t know why. There wouldn’t be an easy way to scrub the memory of Dimitri off of this ship, at any rate.
Deck two seemed quiet when the lift doors opened, but when he walked across to the mess hall he saw that Dimitri and Shade were sitting at a table quietly discussing something amongst themselves. When they saw him they stopped, and Dimitri smiled wide. “Hey, stranger,” he said warmly, and Theo realized it was too late for him to turn and leave.
There was his usual lunch set neatly in the fridge for him, and he had the childish urge to ignore it and only reach for a pouch of water. That voice that sounded like Boss in the back of his mind was telling him to suck it up, and to eat his damn sandwich like a normal person. He sighed to himself and carried the foil wrapped sandwich and a pouch of water to the counter.
Dimitri watched him curiously, but didn’t say anything. Shade’s face looked indifferent, but Theo thought they both looked suspicious — even if he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. “What were you talking about?” he asked dully, tearing into the sandwich.
“Ah—” Dimitri started, glancing at Shade.
“Just the hull repairs,” Shade finished for him.
“Right. The weather should clear in a few days,” Dimitri said, looking back at Theo with a little smile. “We can finish up then.”
“Great,” Theo answered, staring out the window as he ate his sandwich. He could hardly see through the sheet of pouring rain. He felt awkward in the silence, but at least there was the sound of water against glass and metal. He didn’t know what to say and he couldn’t look at Dimitri without feeling even more awkward, and he wished that he had never even left the cargo bays. He should have just hid down there until the engineer left for the day.
“So, it looks like we might be able to do a test flight soon,” Dimitri said after a long stretch of nothing but the sound of the downpour outside.
Theo looked at him, his brain temporarily stuck on the way he said we and he fought the urge to yell at him. Couldn’t he see that he was just making this worse? “That’s good,” he said instead, not telling him that he had no intention of taking a test flight. He crumpled the foil his sandwich had been wrapped in and tossed it into the compactor. “I have more inventory to do.” It was a lie, but it got him out of the mess.