2004 Stories

Contains stories depicting real-life public figures engaged in completely fictional, false and untrue activities. Nothing in it ever happened. Nothing in it ever will happen. These stories are a work of fantasy and satire which in no way professes to express the truth about the life, thoughts, feelings, desires, opinions, beliefs, activities or sexual orientation of any person mentioned herein.

Futures Possible

for inbetweens
by airgiodslv

Pairing: Various combinations of DW, DM, BB, and EW.
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.
Notes: For the slasha, baby challenge and inbetweens, who requested sci-fi AU and smut. A coda refers to a piece of music which is written once, and then repeats exactly as written within a larger piece whenever the symbol for it reappears in the music.


The cube turns, the sand drops, and everything starts again. Return to the last critical juncture. Return to the falling.

It's a small expedition, mostly because they don't expect to find anything here. The ship is big enough to house five, but is crewed only by three: a scientist, an engineer, and a federal representative supposedly in place to make decisions and sort out any paperwork. It's an easy job, really, considering that they only expect to find rocks and soil on this planet.

The preliminary reports show nothing alive, which is a pity because the atmosphere is perfect for carbon-based organic life. The government could probably introduce foreign plants and animals and start a colony within a few years, if all goes well. That's the hypothetical projection, anyway. The planet has been surveyed briefly, and there's not supposed to be anyone here.

Dave had expected Bill to be bored out of his mind, taking soil samples and running analyses, but in truth he's cheerful about their mission. "It's like a stray dog," he had said a few nights ago, when Dave had stopped in at the lab to see how things were going and seen the tables covered in sheets of chemical read-outs, alkaline and salinity charts, graphs of areas upon areas that show nothing but rock and dirt. "I have to take an interest in this planet. No one else wants it."

The government does, of course, but only for the purpose of turning it into something else, something that will suit their needs. They want another large, stable geographic range with a healthy atmosphere, so that they can ship out any native species and turn it into Little Earth XXI. Dave doesn't mind, honestly; they aren't taking the planet away from anyone, and it isn't currently serving a purpose as is. Dave suspects that Bill disapproves of halting a planet's natural biological course and altering it beyond repair, but as Bill regularly reminds them, he's a scientist, not a god. And not a government official.

Dave, as the resident government official, is beginning to tire of the monotony. He doesn't even have a lot to report on, as Bill does the write-ups on things that Dave doesn't understand, and there's really nothing exciting that Dave can publish to generate interest. They haven't even found water yet, which is the only real disappointment of the expedition so far. If they had found water, the planet would have been worth more. Although, as Bill pointed out, then it would have gone from being classified as a potential colony site to drilling as a water source for Earth and the already existing colonies.

So no water, besides the small amount in the atmosphere, no plant life, certainly no animals. Nothing for Dave to do except plan the next short-range scouting expedition and entertain himself with electronic libraries, and late-night poker games, and keeping Dom from overhauling the entire ship while they're grounded on a dust-ball of a planet, trillions of light-years from Earth.

Dave had expected Bill to go crazy with inactivity, but he really should have known that it would be Dom who went first. There isn't a lot for an engineer to do when the ship isn't in crisis, or even running more than basic power and filtering, and Dom has a critical habit of getting restless. If Bill wasn't here, Dave thinks that Dom would already be stir-crazy and difficult to manage. But federal rules preclude pledged couples in the service from being separated for more than three months at a time if at all possible, and Dom and Bill have been together now for two years, give or take.

It's lonely sometimes, being the odd one out, but Bill and Dom aren't like some couples; they work hard to make Dave feel welcome and included, and he appreciates it. He knows they sacrifice a lot of their free time alone together in order to socialize with him, and he's grateful for that. But every couple has in-jokes and silent communication, especially once they've been together for a while, and Dom and Bill are closer in that respect than most. Sometimes Dave suspects that they speak their own language, and only use Standard when he's around, out of courtesy.

It's been nearly five months, and they've covered a good 1/16 of the planet's surface. Bill's thorough, but he works fast, and it's not like they have a lot to document. The ship is well-stocked for distance travel, and Dom keeps the power charged and running at full strength. They won't need to return to Earth for another seven months, at least, and then it's likely that they'll be sent back out rather than replaced. The government doesn't like to switch teams mid-job, and they're now the resident experts. They probably won't end up doing the entire planet on their own, but they'll survey the majority of it.

Dave sometimes wishes that the future didn't look quite so...repetitious.

Survey of cave G-3, day 247. There's nothing that sets this cave apart from any of the others scattered across the planet's surface, but they still have to investigate. Map it out, take samples, get dirt on their clothing and dust up their noses. Dave is at least grateful that they're leaving the ship today; it's a nice change from listening to classical music and snooping around the lab seeing if Bill needs help with anything. He can tell that Dom is eager for a change as well, stretching his legs and breathing non-recycled air for the first time in a few days. Bill is mildly unhappy about something, but Dave doesn't ask what. There's a tiny frown lurking around the edges of Bill's usually open and smiling face, probably something to do with Dom. It usually is.

This cave has three chambers that branch off immediately from the mouth, one small, room-sized and barely large enough to stand up in, so they start there. It doesn't take long, there's really nothing to see. Sometimes Dave has visions of these caves as they will be in twenty, thirty, forty years...turned into dwellings, coated with plast-al and divided up into bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, all the appropriate areas needed to turn a things of nature into a thing of man. Made civilized by rugs and wall-hangings, urbanized by furniture, shelves, and technology.

They flag the first chamber with an ID tag in neon orange, with a number and an electronic signal that they can chart once they get back to the ship. Dom picks at it while Bill stores his samples, peels off a tiny strip of the encasement and twists it around his fingers. Dave watches and doesn't say anything because he knows Dom is restless, as bored as Dave himself is, and chiding him for tampering with federal property wouldn't accomplish anything but raised hackles and disgruntlement. They can't afford to be at odds with each other, not on an expedition this small. They'll be together for a year; of course there are small spats, but nothing that can't be smoothed over after a good night's sleep and an offer of smuggled brandy and poker.

Dom is first off when they head into the second chamber, probably hoping to sneak a few of the prettiest rocks they find into the cargo pockets of his suit to add to his collection. Dave deliberately turns a blind eye to what is, strictly speaking, an illegal operation, and lets Dom pick out whatever shiny bit of rock or wind-blown glass catches his eye. Again, what does it hurt? And it gives Dom something to occupy himself on these day trips, something to look for.

Bill is bringing up the rear, and bumps into Dave when he stops suddenly in the narrow tunnel, caught by surprise at finding Dom standing motionless at the very end of the passage. "What...?" Bill's voice asks behind him, but Dave has followed Dom's gaze and his warning gesture to the corner of the large, domed chamber, and he sees immediately why Dom stopped.

There isn't supposed to be anyone here. But there is.

Dave has his firearm in hand after a single, endless second of shock, and moves to step in front of Dom, who by federal law isn't permitted to go armed in unknown territory. He hears Bill's gasp a moment later, and Dom's soft noise of protest as Dave shoves him gently back and aims steadily at the body on the floor of the cave. The body doesn't stir, and might not even be alive; it's been draped with a charcoal-grey piece of cloth in what looks suspiciously like a funeral arrangement. It isn't laid out formally, though; the body is resting on its side, partially curled into a fetal position, facing the wall. Dave can't tell from here whether it's a male or a female, although his inclination, judging by the short hair and the lack of excessive curves, is to guess that it's an adolescent.

"Don't shoot," Dom whispers, but Dave doesn't waste the concentration it would take to answer, edging slowly closer to the body. He knows Bill will handle Dom, and that leaves him free to handle this. There has been no physical response to the sound of their voices or his approach, or even the threat of a weapon, but that doesn't mean anything. It could still easily be a trap. There's no such thing as a native population on this planet.

Closer inspection shows that the fabric covering the body is medium-quality, serviceable but obviously industrial-grade, not warm enough to keep anything comfortable down here once the planet's rotation takes this side of the surface out of its sun's direct beam. Which means that this body is either freshly dead, or very newly arrived. With a warning gesture to the side for Bill and Dom to stay back, unwilling to glance over his shoulder to make sure that they are indeed out of harm's way but trusting Bill to see that they are, he gives the body a firm nudge with the toe of his boot and takes two steps back, out of range and with his firearm at the ready.

The body slumps partially forward onto its stomach, and then reverses direction and rolls onto its back, the sheet of fabric pulling free as it does. Alive, then; Dave's finger increases pressure on the trigger just a tiny bit in preparation for whatever happens next. The body lies inert for the moment, giving Dave an opportunity to evaluate it. Not an adolescent after all, just small in stature and lightly built, probably just recently graduated into adulthood. Finely boned and undeniably human, and clearly - now that the fabric has been half-removed to bare pale-smooth skin - male.

Dave has had just enough time to take a breath and think about kicking it again when the boy's eyes open. Huge eyes, neon-laser blue, which lock immediately on Dave with no sense of threat, and perhaps even a hint of hope and relief. And then the boy sighs softly and parts his lips, and the eyes close again. Behind him, Dom makes another disbelieving noise of protest, and this time Dave does take a step forward, apply another careful nudge between the boy's ribs.

Dave can feel Bill come up slowly behind him when the boy's eyes open again, which means that Dom can't be far behind. "My name is David Wenham of the federal government of Earth," Dave says slowly. "Can you understand me?"

The boy's eyes open slightly wider, and there's something going on behind them, for just a fraction of a second they lose focus, distant, and then sharpen again. "Someone came," the boy says in Standard, in a high, clear voice without accent. He blinks, and Dave eases off slightly on the firearm trigger, although still holding it at the ready. Then, "I can't breathe," the boy says, a simple statement, and his eyes drift closed again.

"Bill?" Dave inquires neutrally, not shifting his attention from the boy's motionless body, and hears the snap of a first-emergency kit being opened as Bill slowly moves past him to kneel at the boy's side.

"He's breathing," Bill reports, and Dave takes a half-step to the side, to get a better angle for a shot in case the boy wakes up and decides that he doesn't like being touched. "No major injuries that are immediately apparent, and I think he's out again. We should be safe taking him back to the ship."

"Is that what you're going to do?" Dom asks from somewhere just behind Dave's left shoulder, and Bill squats back on his heels to look expectantly at Dave with a minute shrug of deference. Dave nods, giving the prone body another brief once-over to make sure there isn't anything suspicious hidden on the boy's person. It would be difficult to hide anything, with no clothes and lax limbs, and they can immobilize the boy's body by wrapping it in the grey cloth until they get back to the ship and Bill can give him a more thorough inspection.

"I don't really see another option," Dave points out, already stepping carefully forward to tug the fabric completely clear of the body, ensuring that there isn't something concealed beneath it. "At least not a humane one." The ship is small, but one more passenger won't tax their supplies, and if the boy's story is good enough, it should be enough for them to take a break from this and return to Earth. They certainly can't leave him here alone. Dave nods permission for Bill to start wrapping him up, and relaxes his weapon arm a fraction further.

"Let's bring him in."

Dave is waiting with Dom outside the plexiglass-enclosed examination room when Bill finishes checking over their newest acquisition. Bill looks tired, and Dave isn't sure if that's because he now has a living specimen to deal with, or if whatever was bothering him this morning is still weighing on his mind. Bill's a private man, and Dave respects that, so he won't ask. He will, however, be standing by with a sympathetic ear whenever Bill needs to talk.

"How is he?" Dave asks when Bill comes out, stripping off his medical gloves and tossing them into a sterile trash bin on his way over to meet them. Beside him, Dom bites a nail and worries it between his teeth, sharp eyes darting from Bill to the still form in the examination room and back again. Dom hadn't said much, these last few minutes while they'd been waiting, had just paced in front of the observation window and occasionally frowned at the whitewashed walls of the science lab. Dave considers his preoccupation with the boy, and wonders if it's just the possible opportunity for something new and different that's keeping Dom on edge, or if it's something more.

Bill shrugs eloquently, folding his arms in a characteristic gesture of stubbornness. Dave frowns slightly when Dom moves to automatically mirror the posture, creating some sort of standoff that Dave isn't sure he wants to read into. "He's physically healthy," Bill reports, shifting his weight to settle more firmly into what Dave thinks of as his scientific mode. "No malnourishment, no injuries beyond a few scrapes that seem to have come from the cave floor, no sign of anything out of the ordinary. He can't have been there long, we already know that there's nothing around for miles."

"We think there's nothing," Dave corrects, rubbing a hand over his chin thoughtfully and grimacing at the feel of day-old stubble. "We assumed there was nothing in G-3, either. We can't take anything for granted." He looks back through the window at the boy, who has been covered with a paper sheet, chest rising and falling evenly. "You said there were scrapes?"

"He was either crawling or slithering over rock," Bill confirms. "The skin is abraded on his knees, elbows, and hips, and there is rock dust native to the planet inside the abrasions. I would say he crawled on his own to where we found him."

"Crawled from where?" Dom asks, frowning, and Dave glances at him before looking back to Bill, silently echoing the question.

"Not outside of the caves," Bill hazards, cocking his head to one side. "At least, that's my guess. The dirt on his body was all of the same type, and the same on the fabric we found him under. I'll have to run soil analyses to be certain, but I don't think he walked under his own power into the caves. The sand outside is notably different." He gestures to Dave's suit, where the white heavy-duty cloth is stained with both light beige and darker brown. "Someone must have dumped him."

"So we're not alone here," Dave concludes, and Bill nods wearily.

"He can't have been in those caves for much longer than a day, two or three at most. There's no sign of dehydration, and we know there's no water here."

"Assume," Dave corrects again, but he's in agreement. His gaze turns back to the boy on the table, frowning. "We still haven't checked the third chamber in G-3. We can't be sure that there aren't others."

Dom stirs a little, restless as ever. "It's too late to go down there now," he says, although Dave can tell that he wants to go anyway, to have an adventure and play explorer while the discovery is still fresh. Dave doesn't blame him; he's half-tempted himself.

"The surface is below freezing," Bill says, sharper than is his wont, and Dave looks at him in surprise. Bill visibly takes a breath and starts again. "We don't have the equipment for a full-scale nighttime expedition, and we'd be all but blind. I think we should wait. Although," he continues unhappily, jerking a shoulder in the direction of the examination room, "If there are any more like him, with as little protection from the cold, they won't last until morning."

It's a sobering thought. Dave weighs possible consequences in his mind, one against the other, and comes up with a conclusion that he doesn't really like, but will have to be satisfied with. "We can't risk it," he says firmly, and Dom twitches a little, but doesn't protest. "We can't send one person alone, and Bill's right, we're not equipped to send more than that after sunset. We'll go first thing in the morning to look for other survivors."

It's his decision, and while neither of the others look overly happy with it, they won't challenge him. The question of what to do with their refugee now raises its ugly head, and Dave scrubs at his chin again, about to make a proposition for it when Dom interrupts.

"He said he couldn't breathe," Dom says abruptly, and Bill's eyes flick to him, a second before Dave turns. "Is he breathing now?"

"His respiration is normal," Bill responds tentatively, and Dave raises an eyebrow at his hesitance. "I didn't see anything wrong with him, physically...but that in itself is abnormal," he points out. "I would expect to see evidence of violence, or injury, or at least abandonment in a hostile environment. I didn't see any of those." He pauses, obviously considering his next words, and Dave frowns.

"Yes?" he prompts, although the possibilities are already showing themselves slowly. A spy, an escaped prisoner, a refugee from a war they know nothing about...this kid could be anything. No identification, no statement, no evidence pointing towards an origin. They have literally nothing to go on.

"There was no blood," Bill admits, posture changing as he clasps his hands in front of him, more worried now than defiant. Dave has always been good at reading body language, and he doesn't like the shift. Bill pauses again before continuing, clearly thinking through his words and what they might mean as he speaks. "A lot of scrapes, skin peeled back, and fairly badly in spots, but no blood. Not even a nick. I'll draw some tomorrow for analysis, of course, but it just seems odd. To be surrounded by rocks with no clothing on, and to avoid even the shallowest cut that would draw blood."

Dave blinks, eyes drawn back once again to contemplate the unknown boy on the other side of the plexiglass wall. Bill adds, "I don't know what that means, you understand," and Dave nods. He looks at Bill and sees only general unhappiness, at Dom and sees eyes bright and eager with inquisitiveness. And something else, something sharper. Dave doesn't know what the two of them would see, if they looked at him now. He doesn't know himself.

"Tomorrow," he decides, shaking his head. "Tomorrow we ask questions."

Bill is in the departure bay even before Dave arrives, getting all of his equipment in order and checking each item personally before packing it away. Dom is nowhere in sight, and Dave assumes that the boy they picked up yesterday is still safely locked inside the spare set of crew quarters. It's a double bunk, so he'll have plenty of room, but Dave isn't quite ready to let him have free run of the ship yet. Not until they know more.

"Sleep well?" Dave asks pleasantly, beginning the familiar checklist of tools and equipment needed for a planetary expedition. After a moment in which Bill still hasn't said anything, Dave turns to look at him, frowning at the way Bill's lips are thinned and pressed together. "Bill?" He pauses, considering the worst and cursing himself for not asking immediately. "Did our guest make it through the night all right?"

"He made it," Bill answers shortly, tugging a strap on his satchel viciously snug. Dave winces sympathetically, but doesn't comment. Bill is an exceptionally even-tempered man, but eventually even he reaches a breaking point. Dave wonders how he didn't see this one, whatever it is, coming sooner. Bill finishes tightening the satchel to his liking and looks up at Dave, expression grim. "Our little wonder boy got out last night."

"Out?" Dave echoes blankly, and then frowns. "That's impossible." He's checking the catch on his firearm even as he speaks, thinking lightning-fast about where he could have gone, what he could have done, how much damage he could have caused. After all, why run away from your rescuers unless you mean harm? "How long has he been missing?"

"He's not," Bill replies, swinging his satchel up onto a shelf and crossing his arms over his chest. "Dom found him in the botanical bay around midnight, making friends with the plants. Or so he says." Bill's tone is not as skeptical as it is scathing, and Dave wonders again with concern just what is creating the rift between the two of them. "I wasn't there." Suddenly the ire is gone, and Bill only looks tired and drawn. "Dom escorted him back to his temporary quarters and left him there, with the promise that he wouldn't try to leave again on his own."

"Where is he now?" Dave asks, finding his tongue in spite of his mind's whirling through possibilities and alternative plans. If the boy can get out of his quarters, he can likely get out of any other room they put him in, and they can't very well take him outside the ship and leave him there whenever they go on expeditions. It's not safe to have him unaccounted for until they find out why he's here, and who else is out there that might have an interest in him.

"Dom's gone to bring him here, let you decide what to do with him," Bill answers, and pauses to take a tight breath before continuing, obviously debating whether or not to speak. "I don't like it."

"Neither do I," Dave assures him, leaning back against the shelving unit to think. "We can bring him along with us, but that means someone will always have to keep an eye out for him, make sure he doesn't lead us into an ambush of some kind. We still don't know who he is or why he's here," Dave points out, and Bill nods curtly in agreement. "If we leave him here, someone will need to stay with him. I am not," Dave emphasizes, "leaving him alone on this ship."

"Don't leave Dom with him," Bill says suddenly, and Dave's eyes narrow, attention focusing sharply. Bill flushes slightly but doesn't back down, posture aggressive and determined.

"What do you know?" Dave asks, thinking back to Dom's reaction to the boy yesterday and not seeing anything overly suspect. He gestures to Bill's scientific instruments, packed away neatly in their cases for travel. "You need to go down to take samples. I'm the only one who can go armed, and if we do find anything amiss, I should be there as the federal representative to make the decisions and file the report." Dave shrugs, tilting his head as he watches Bill. "Dom is the obvious choice."

Bill grimaces, but doesn't contradict him. "I know," he answers. "And I don't know anything, or even suspect. I would tell you if I did." Bill turns one of the tubes in his sample tray, shaking his head. "I just don't like it. Dom..." Pause, and Dave knows this is another hard thing for Bill to say. The only negative side to working with pledged partners is that it's difficult to play them against each other. Or altogether too easy. Dave sets that thought aside as too grim for the moment, and returns his attention to his team member as Bill resumes speaking.

"Dom makes friends easily," Bill explains slowly. "And he trusts easily. Too easily. He'll give an abandoned puppy his heart, just because he thinks it needs him. And sometimes he'll be right. But sometimes that puppy will turn around and bite him on the arse." Bill shakes his head again, obviously uncertain. "I trust Dom. I do. But look at last night. He didn't go report directly to you or put our unknown guest under guard. He just took the boy back to his room and made him promise not to come out."

"You think he could be influenced," Dave concludes, and spends a moment gazing unfocused at the wall as he thinks it over. "You're right, of course. But you or I can't go out alone, and if one of us stays..." He shrugs. "Who can we really afford?"

"Let me stay," Bill says unexpectedly, and Dave raises his eyebrows, prompting further explanation. "You need to be there, to record what happens, as you said. But you're only going out today to look at the third chamber in G-3, and I don't have to be there for you to take soil samples." He pulls out a couple of tubes and holds them out for Dave to take, eyebrows furrowed. "The main purpose of this expedition today is to find out whatever more you can about where he came from, and you don't need me for that." Dave takes the sample tubes carefully and examines them, turning them over in his hand as he considers Bill's words. "Just bring me whatever you find for analysis, and take Dom with you."

"That's still assuming that we don't take him down with us," Dave points out, but he's already mostly convinced. The boy shouldn't be able to cause trouble under Bill's watchful guard, and Dom has more physical strength anyway, should they need to bring back any more bodies. It's a sound plan, one that he can't find any real fault with.

"I'm not going back there," says a high, quavering voice, and Dave knows who it is even before turning, can tell from the way Bill's lips thin as he looks past Dave to the doorway. Dave turns around slowly to face the boy, who is now - thankfully - dressed appropriately in a borrowed jumpsuit taken from storage, with Dom hovering a few paces behind him in the doorway. He's still star-pale and waifishly slender, but there's a wiry strength in him that radiates out from his core, and from those brilliant sapphire eyes, which is currently centered in defiance. It's not just rebelliousness, though; Dave catches the slight trembling in the boy's limbs, the quiver of his lips as he attempts to stare Dave down. The boy is genuinely scared, and Dave finds that very interesting, indeed.

"Fine," Dave agrees, before Dom can say something in the kid's defense. "You'll remain here, with our chief scientist, Bill." He doesn't miss the sharp glance Dom throws in Bill's direction, or the way the boy's eyes flick nervously from Dave to Bill and back, following Dave's easy gesture. "Our engineer, Dom, and I will go down to the cave, and you and I will talk more when I return. Is that acceptable?" It doesn't really matter whether it is or not, that's what's happening. But Dave wants to see the boy's reaction before he acts, to catch any sign of triumph or cunning.

There is none, only a startled glance sideways at Dom. "Engineer?" The boy's gaze skips Dave and rests on Bill, apprehensive and obviously considering. "Scientist?" He doesn't seem overly upset by the titles, only surprised and possibly slightly dismayed. Dave wonders what that means, if the boy was expecting something else from his rescue party.

"Yes," Dave answers, in measured tones. "This is a science expedition, scouting the planet for resources and habitation. Do you live here?" The boy only shakes his head mutely, so Dave continues, pressing on. "How long have you been here? Was anyone else with you?" Slight distress along with the headshaking this time, so Dave sighs and decides to let it rest for now. The interrogation can wait until they return, hopefully with more evidence and a better idea of what's going on. He tries one last time, remembering the reaction it got last time. "Are you certain you don't want to come down with us?"

"No!" The word explodes out of the boy, and he pales immediately, as if shocked that such vehemence came from him. He stammers a little in a rushed explanation, rocking nervously on the balls of his feet. "You can't take me in there and leave me again, you can't. It took you so long to find me, I don't know if you will again. I don't want to be alone..." The boy's lips tremble, sucking in air to bring some colour back to his cheeks. "Don't leave me."

"Fine," Dave cuts in smoothly, as reassuring a tone as he can provide while still remaining distant. He would rather the boy feel wary of him than look to him as some sort of savior; the former will likely yield better results when Dave really starts asking questions. "You'll remain here, with Bill, while Dom and I finish exploring. You are to do exactly as he says, do you understand?"

The boy nods shakily, visibly beginning to calm, and Dave turns to take the satchel Bill offers mutely with a soft exhale that he fights not to turn into a frustrated sigh. "He wasn't down there alone for long," Bill murmurs softly into Dave's ear as they trade gear, and Bill shows him wordlessly how to use the sample collectors and tags. "It's not possible."

Dave nods acknowledgement and slings the satchel over his shoulder, adjusting the heft until it sits comfortably. He turns back to Dom and nods his head towards the waiting departure bay doors. "Let's go."

They'd forgotten to flag the second chamber in their haste and excitement the day before, but it's still easy to remember which chamber they found the boy in, and the small chamber to the side is still tagged and undisturbed, exactly as they left it. "Let's check the one we found the boy in first," Dave suggests, already squinting into the dim light and turning on the switch that warms up the phosphorescents in his jumpsuit. "Make sure there isn't anything we missed."

Dom shifts behind him, restless as always. They're halfway down the tunnel before Dom speaks, abrupt and yet offhand; studied casual. "His name's Elijah." The words aren't a challenge or a reprimand, only a statement of fact. As if Dom wanted to set the record straight before Dave talked about a fellow man as less than equal again. Stray puppy indeed, Dave thinks wryly, and ducks to avoid hitting his head as he reaches the lowered lip of the tunnel mouth as it opens into the chamber they found the boy - Elijah - in.

"Is it?" Dave asks, starting to the immediate right and working his way around the perimeter of the chamber, inspecting the dirt for signs of disturbance, evidence half-hidden in the dirt, anything they could have passed over yesterday while distracted by the presence of a living being. He doesn't see anything yet besides dirt and a few pebble-sized rock fragments, but he's determined to keep looking until he's certain there's nothing of interest here. "What else did you find out?"

"Not much," Dom says, and shrugs. He hasn't moved from the tunnel mouth, is instead looking over the walls of the chamber with glittering eyes, taking the whole picture in from a distance while Dave looks up close. "You heard most of it. He said he was down here alone, for a long time, until we found him. That's all he told me."

Dave pauses halfway around the perimeter of the chamber to look back over his steps, assuring himself that the ground has been covered before continuing. "Bill says he couldn't have been down here for longer than a few days," Dave reminds him, walking on slowly until he reaches the spot where they found Elijah and crouches down beside it to brush his hand over the surface of the cave floor. "Maybe he was delirious, thought it was actually longer."

"I'm just telling you what he told me," Dom returns, stepping out to follow Dave's path along the perimeter, his attention on the walls rather than the floor. Dom's hands run over the surface of the rock wall, skimming it and glancing up to the domed ceiling as he does so. "He didn't seem very delirious when we brought him in. Just exhausted."

"Was he exhausted last night when you found him in the botanical bay?" Dave asks casually, standing after a fruitless search through the shallow layer of rock dust. He dusts his hands off and stuffs them in his pockets, glancing sideways at Dom as he starts walking again, completing the first circle.

Dom doesn't give anything away, but Dave doesn't really expect it. Dom must have known that Bill would tell Dave what had happened, and that they would discuss it before his arrival. "No," Dom answers. "He seemed better. Still tired, but more aware. Alert." Dom pauses in the same place that Dave had, looking down at the spot where they had first seen Elijah's body. "I don't think he was suffering from long-term isolation, if that's what you're asking."

"I'm not sure what I'm asking," Dave muses, taking a step in towards the center of the chamber and beginning a second round, slow spiral in towards the focal point. "I just know that he isn't showing evidence of starvation or exposure, and yet we find him here alone, in a cave in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by areas that we've already charted." He crouches down again to pick up a small rock, turning it over in his fingers. "Would you say he could have gotten those scrapes on his knees and elbows in here?"

Dom frowns for a moment, looking at the cave floor, and then shakes his head. "I don't think so. Even to cause something as mild as a burn or a rash, he would have had to have been dragged, and that doesn't make any sense." Dom steps away from the wall, crouching down to balance on his heels. "There are no marks to suggest a body being dragged, and those would show up in other places than joints. The placement of the scrapes says he was probably crawling." Dom pinches a tiny measure of dirt between his forefinger and thumb, rubs them together to sift the dirt until it all falls back onto the cave floor. "But not in here."

"Where, then?" Dave asks rhetorically, but Dom has an answer anyway.

"The third chamber," he replies, shrugging and rising from his squat. "Bill said he didn't have sand from outside on his clothes, either." There's a gleam in Dom's eyes as he speaks, the excitement of a detective on the trail, or a hunter tracking prey. "There's nowhere else for him to go."

"The third chamber, then," Dave agrees, completing his circuit and coming to a standstill in the center of the room. He stoops to place one of Bill's injection tubes against the cave floor, turns it on and waits for the 'whoosh' and beep as it extracts a soil cylinder. "I've got the sample from this one. Let's tag it and move on."

"There's nothing here," Dom says disappointedly, when both of them emerge from the tunnel into the third chamber and pause at the entrance to look around. "No one else. Not a sign."

Dave feels the same keen frustration, but he doesn't give voice to it, simply steps to the right and begins to survey again, just as carefully as he had with the last chamber. "We don't know that yet," he points out calmly, feet marking a path along the chamber's perimeter. "There could be something small, a piece of evidence or a clue." He looks back at Dom speculatively, wondering how much else their guest had said to Dom that hadn't yet been shared. "Did you expect someone else alive?" he asks casually, turning back to his study of the rock floor.

"Not after the temperature dropped last night," Dom retorts, and there's just a hint of accusation in his voice, not enough for Dave to call him on but still present, still biting. "Why, did you?"

"No," Dave answers honestly, stooping to touch the floor of the cave in front of his feet. "Or I would have checked this chamber first." He won't shy away from that; he knew the possibilities, and the risks, and chose what seemed to be the best course of action. The lack of bodies in this chamber does a great deal to ease his conscience, and he doesn't deny it. But he would have accepted the consequences for that, too, if they had found any. He taps his fingers against the cave floor and straightens, looking over at Dom, who has taken a parallel path on the other side of the room. "So is this the room where the scrapes came from?" he asks curiously, scanning the floor of the entire chamber briefly to see if he can spot any unevenness of terrain.

"Yes," Dom answers, busy studying a spot on the wall where a sizable chunk of rock juts out sharply from the rest. "I think so. There's not as much dirt in here, it's all rock. More sharp edges for skin to catch on." He sniffs a little and turns back to the floor in front of him, starting to move forward step by careful step. "I don't see any blood, though."

"Neither did Bill," Dave reminds him, and is about to start walking again when a glint from the center of the chamber catches his eye, set off by the glow of the phosphorescents. "Dom," he calls sharply, and Dom turns, frowning, and walks to meet him. "What is it?" Dave asks, and Dom crouches to investigate, fingers delicately picking out the thumbnail-sized shard of dully gleaming metal.

"It's a circuit," Dom answers after a moment of study, and turns to look for more, balancing steadily while his blunt fingers search over sharp-edged rock. "Here's another one...no," he contradicts immediately, holding up his find and squinting at it. "This one is a piece of wire." Dave holds out his hand to see, and Dom passes over the tiny components without a word, returning to his search for more pieces of the puzzle.

The piece of wire is so small it's almost invisible in Dave's palm, and only the slight glare from the light gives it away. A fragment, clearly not complete or attached to anything, totally unlike the small but obviously whole circuit lying beside it in Dave's hand. "Could the government make something like this?" Dave asks, peering at the tiny wonder of metal and near-invisible electronics, only apparent through the neatly serrated edges of the circuit and the slightly off-tone shine of different metals.

"Yes," Dom answers, still searching with hands and eyes for any other pieces of evidence that might be present. "But they didn't, I can tell you that." He sits back on his heels, jaw set. "The government has put restrictions on all technology beyond a certain level, and the companies that manufacture any such items are strictly supervised and owned by the federal branch of engineering and technology." He nods at the items in Dave's hand, resting his arms on his thighs. "Those are definitely beyond that level. But they aren't ours."

"What are you saying?" Dave asks, feeling his skin go colder at the thought. "That there are aliens out there?"

"No," Dom answers immediately. "But there's a healthy black market out there, and the government confiscates creatively-designed little toys like this nearly every week." He stands, apparently satisfied that there's nothing else on the ground in that particular area, and steps over to squint at their discoveries. "We might be dealing with illegal technology dealers."

Dave looks up at the chamber, seeing no further clues in the austere rock walls and empty space. "And what does this have to do with a naked human boy wrapped in a cloth and left to die?" he asks rhetorically, gaze shifting back to Dom and eyebrows arching.

Dom shrugs, and his hands fidget restlessly at his side before he gives in and reaches to take back the newest of his treasures - acquisitions far beyond rocks and glass, to an engineer - for further study. "I think," he suggests offhandedly, already lost in contemplation of the tiny circuit, "that that's really more of a question for Elijah."

Dom does a good job of evading Bill as soon as they get back to the ship - at least that's what Dave assumes he's doing, since he grudgingly left the discovered electronics in Dave's care. He might also be doing some research; there isn't a lot about circuitry that Dom doesn't know, but when he finds something that baffles him, he works until he's mastered it. Either way, once they regain the departure bay, Dom disappears and Dave is left alone when Bill shows up a few scant minutes later.

"Where is he?" Dave asks as soon as he sees that Bill has come by himself. "I want to talk to him." He slings the satchel onto the counter and begins unloading gear, separating the actual finds from the unused equipment.

"He's sleeping," Bill says shortly, coming over to stand beside Dave and glance at the samples he's brought back; soil and rocks in sterilized containers, neatly labeled for Bill to analyze later. "I locked him in the spare crew quarters until you got back. Not that it will do any good," he points out, and there's a sourness in his voice that Dave didn't expect, not from Bill. "He'll just let himself out again. He won't tell me how he does it, but he got out at lunch as well. So," he finishes, picking up a sample tube delicately to inspect the contents, "Talk to me first."

Dave pushes the other tubes towards Bill and leans back against the counter, brow furrowed. "What have you found out?" he asks, wondering how to confront Elijah with what little he knows, how to dig for answers by asking the right questions. Perhaps Bill has insights that Dave doesn't.

That hope is immediately dashed when Bill speaks. "Not much," he answers, and there's more than a little frustration in his tone this time, enough to make Dave wonder how exactly Bill's afternoon with Elijah was spent. "He's informed me that I'm not 'the one,' which I gather has something to do with Dom, and as that leaves only you to negotiate with him, I wish you luck." It's contempt laced with annoyance, as Bill's eyes flick up to meet Dave's, sharp and hard, crystalline. "Nothing about where he comes from, why he's here, who came with him. Nothing. All cryptic half-sentences and evasion."

Dave rubs his chin as he thinks, warned by the way Bill's hands are curling and uncurling that this is not a good time to bring up whatever's going on with Bill and Dom. Particularly whatever would lead Elijah to think that the two of them are not to be talked to, because as of this morning, Dave remembers the general concern that Dom would talk too much to their guest, and possibly compromise the ship's safety. "You didn't know what we know now," he says instead, shifting to a neutral topic and the mystery that is pressing most prominently on his mind. He digs around in one of the hip pockets of his jumpsuit until he finds the cold shards of metal, and brings them out for Bill's inspection.

Bill frowns, as Dave knew he would, puzzled by anything to do with technology or electronic hardware. He understands things on a screen, Dave knows, but making sure that the screen displays properly is all Dom's responsibility. "What are they?" Bill asks, not reaching out to touch, simply looking hard at the glinting bits of metal in Dave's cupped hand, brow furrowed as if concentrating hard enough on them will make it all come clear. "Pieces of something? A computer?"

"We're not sure," Dave answers, prodding the circuit with his finger until it flips to lie on its other side, displaying a copper-green sheen. Their total sum of their findings is a circuit, two bits of wire - one of which Dom found at the mouth of the tunnel, confirming their hypothesis that Elijah had started out in the third chamber and crawled to the second, for whatever reason - and what seems to be a connector of some sort, unfortunately not designed in a way that might allow it to link to the circuit. Dave pauses before continuing, pursing his lips slightly as he studies the components. "Dom says they're black market."

Bill actually whistles, low and thoughtful. "Dom would know," he admits grudgingly, finally reaching out to lay a finger against the tiny connector. His eyes flash up to meet Dave's, narrowed and scrutinizing, his head jerking towards the bay doors that lead to the rest of the ship. "You think he's a dealer?"

"I don't know," Dave answers reluctantly, curling his hand closed around the pieces and restoring them to the safety of his pocket. "You said he's asleep?"

Bill shrugs. "He seemed tired earlier. Said he was going to lie down. I didn't stay with him, just monitored the locks on his door from the command center. That was nearly an hour ago, though." Bill pauses, cocks his head. "He could still be asleep."

Dave buttons the flap on his hip pocket and shakes his head with a grim smile. "Not anymore," he answers simply, already heading for the doors. "It's time to have a talk."

Dave is waiting in the spare crew quarters when Elijah returns, nearly twenty minutes after Dave had left Bill in the departure bay. Elijah freezes like an animal in a searchlight when he sees Dave sitting on his bunk, but doesn't flee. He takes a moment to settle, and then shifts his weight to stand calmly in the doorway. His chin tilts up a tiny fraction again, that same hint of defiance he showed this morning, and Dave smiles in return, expression bored and slightly amused. "Come in," he urges mildly.

Elijah takes two slow steps away from the door and halts again, bright eyes watching Dave warily. It's going to be like that, then. Dave struggles with the desire to sigh dramatically and gestures to the bunk opposite him instead. "Please," he tries a second time. "Have a seat. I just want to talk to you for a bit."

"About what?" Elijah asks, body swaying slightly forward, then away, and finally forward enough to propel him into motion. He perches on the edge of the bunk across from Dave and folds his hands in his lap. Nervous, Dave thinks. But then, he has every right to be, if what Dom says is true.

"Where were you?" Dave asks instead of answering, tilting his head to regard the young man he's been unexpectedly saddled with. "Just now," he clarifies, when Elijah doesn't immediately answer. "I've been waiting for you, you know."

There's a long hesitation, and then Elijah speaks, reluctance in every syllable. "With Dom."

That answer is unexpected. Dave takes a moment to consider the information, blinking and fighting to keep his expression neutral. "Doing what?" he asks, and Elijah's eyes grow even more guarded. Dave thinks he sees them darken slightly, but that could be a trick of the light, of the planes of Elijah's pale, sharp-angled face. He's quite pretty, Dave realizes. Pretty and young in a combination that keeps making Dave want to classify him as a boy, when he's not. He's old enough to be involved with something like the technological black market. Old enough to be dangerous.

Another long pause. "Talking," Elijah finally answers neutrally, hands clasping loosely on his lap.

When no more information is forthcoming, Dave takes an educated guess. "He told you about what we found on the planet." Elijah nods slowly, and Dave sits back with a tiny frown, pondering. It's a double-edged sword, and one he hadn't thought of this morning when Bill had mentioned Dom taking in pets. Just as Dom might break down and go to lengths to shelter Elijah, so might Elijah confide in Dom and tell him things that will help them all to piece together Elijah's story. "You realize how this looks, I'm sure," Dave offers, leaning forward again to address Elijah more directly. "Do you want to tell me your version of the story?"

Elijah hesitates, and then shakes his head, mute. Dave bites back another urge to sigh and tries a different tack. "If you don't tell me," Dave confides slowly, "Then I'll be forced to draw my own conclusions. And those, based on the evidence I have, might lead me to turn you in as an illegal technology dealer." Elijah's eyes widen, clearly shocked, and Dave continues speaking evenly. "The nearest satellite prison moon isn't far from here. I can take you directly there, have you tried and taken off this ship until a ruling authority determines your guilt. Or innocence," he adds, because Elijah has started shaking his head, and looks terrified that Dave might actually follow through with his threat. "Is that what you want?"

"Please," Elijah says, and Dave thinks it might be the first thing he's said, besides the demand not to be taken back down to the planet, that hasn't come out sounding forced. "Let me stay here. I won't be any trouble, I can help your...your expedition," he says carefully, and Dave wonders grimly just how much Dom has been telling Elijah about them. "Just don't take me back, don't take me there. I'll do anything..."

"Elijah," Dave cuts in gently, and then he can't say anything else, and realizes a moment later that it's because Elijah is kissing him. Sloppily, full of fear and vibrating with tension, but it's definitely a kiss, and Dave is too shocked to do anything but blink. Elijah takes his lack of resistance as compliance, climbing in his lap and forcing him back until Dave discovers with considerable surprise that he's flat on his back with Elijah straddling him, lips still pressing determinedly against his.

Dave manages to break away before Elijah grows even more desperate and tries to touch as well as kiss him, and gently eases Elijah away until he can sit up again. He wipes his mouth distractedly and blinks at the wall for a moment before he can turn back to look at Elijah, and sees him practically cowering against the foot of the bed, eyes wide and fixed on Dave, the last traces of defiance gone completely.

"Elijah," Dave says again, slowly and gently, "I don't like boys. Not like that." Elijah doesn't react, watching as if waiting for the death-ray to fire. Dave clears his throat and continues, as evenly as he can manage after having been kissed and nearly mauled by an unknown boy on a spare single bunk. "But given your actions, and your reluctance to speak, I feel as if I don't have any choice but to take this ship to the nearest adjudicating authority, and let them deal with you. Illegal technology dealing is a fairly serious crime, I don't think I need to tell you that."

"You can't," Elijah answers automatically, stating facts as if this is a perfectly reasonable argument. "They'll need identification. They'll want to know who I am, just like you did. They'll want me to explain things."

"Well, yes," Dave answers honestly, puzzled as to why Elijah thinks Dave doesn't want the exact same things, and why he believes that an adjudicating authority will be that much worse than a federal representative. "But you'll have the chance to tell them your side of things, and you'll get a fair trial. You'll have an attorney..."

"I won't!" Elijah cries, and Dave recoils slightly at the tension under Elijah's skin as he crouches, muscles ready for attack or flight. And then he leaps, and Dave throws his arms up in a warding gesture before he realizes that Elijah has gone the other way, across the room. Dave shifts to stand, half-balanced on the mattress, until he goes cold at the sight of Elijah, frozen and trembling in the center of the room. There's something in his hands. A cube of some sort, alien and inexplicable, too complex in its designs and many-shifting faces for Dave to comprehend at a glance. And Elijah is doing something to it.

How could they have missed this? How could Elijah have hidden a weapon - for that's what it has to be, a bomb or perhaps a miniature firearm - on his person and smuggled it onboard the ship? How could they have let this happen?

"Elijah," Dave says steadily in a low, non-threatening tone. "Don't do this." Elijah shakes his head, backing away a few more stuttering steps as he presses and rotates the sides of the cube. It's hypnotizing; Dave can hardly tear his eyes away from it to meet Elijah's frightened, regretful gaze.

"You don't understand," Elijah says, and his lip trembles as he speaks. "I don't exist."


Dom sometimes wonders what his life would be like right now if he and Bill weren't pledged. He makes the mistake of saying as much to Bill, in the wee hours of the morning when they've had a bit too much to drink and are in the middle of that sleepy, lazy sex that comes about when two guys are drunk enough to be horny and sober enough to be capable. Bill is moving in him, slow and lethargic, and Dom is raising his hips at the end of each thrust with an idle, bored ripple that provides just enough stimulation to make them both sigh without wanting more just yet. He thinks somewhere in the back of his mind that they ought to be timing this one, because it's fairly impressive in length already and they haven't even really gotten going yet. That's not the foremost thought in his head, though, so instead he says what's on his mind.

"Do you ever wonder what we would be doing right now if we weren't together?" he asks. And Bill just stops. Dom frowns up at him, wriggling his hips a bit in encouragement, because this throws the timing off, or would if he was doing it. "Why'd you stop?" he asks, mildly annoyed, and Bill glares at him before shifting his weight onto his elbows and resting his upper body on Dom's chest. Uh-oh. Not good; looks like they're going to be here for a while. Dom knows better than to talk during sex, he really does. Just...sometimes he forgets.

"What do you mean, 'if we weren't together?'" Bill asks in a voice that could freeze pond water, and Dom almost flinches. Almost. "Where do you want to be? You think I'm holding you back, is that it? That you're getting crap assignments because you're chained to me?"

Dom shifts nervously and stops when he feels the swollen slide of Bill inside of him, thick and weighted. "No," he answers, more seriously aggravated now because Bill is taking things too seriously, like he always does, when all Dom means is that maybe their lives would be different. Undoubtedly their lives would be different, because the government has to work to get pledged couples in long-term assignments together, and liberated folk like their representative Dave have much more freedom in terms of upward mobility. He doesn't think Bill will understand that part, though; or maybe just doesn't want to admit it.

"I just mean, where do you think we would be? What kind of assignment? You'd be doing something with plants, I'm sure," he assures smoothly, because Bill has a soft spot for botany, and most of the time flattery on that front will work wonders when Dom's in trouble for something.

Not this time, though. "And you'd be doing something with artificial intelligence and cybergenetics," Bill sneers, and his hips rock forward, just a fraction, and Dom bites his lip. "But instead you're here with me, working a survey mission on a crate that you could have designed three improved versions of before we ever left the Earthdock."

"And you're here with me, analyzing rocks instead of trees," Dom points out, but apparently that was the wrong answer, because Bill's lips curl and he pulls out just enough to thrust back in, hard. And One God, but Dom loves it when Bill gets like this, when the soft-tongued scientist gives way to the human animal beneath, and love is just one step away from brutality. When Bill fucks him in this mood, Dom can usually come without his cock ever being touched. "Don't you ever wish?" Dom gasps, arms unfurling over his head to press against the wall, giving him that much more leverage.

"No," Bill snarls, heaving himself up so that the muscles in his arms stand out, clear and defined on either side of Dom's head, and Dom clenches his teeth together and hisses on an inhale when Bill snaps his hips and his words together. "Because I'm with you."

Dom's forgotten the argument by this point; all he wants is more of Bill in him, more skin flushed with anger and arousal, more stars behind his eyelids when Bill thrusts and Dom can't keep from groaning. "Harder," he begs, and Bill is wild-eyed with fury but too worked up to stop, and every punishing stab of Bill's cock against his prostate makes Dom claw the wall behind him in a frantic attempt to get away and closer at the same time.

"I hate when you get like this," Bill growls, while Dom arches his neck and moans, and the sex gets rougher with every passing second. "I hate that you make me this way. I hate it."

"Yes," Dom breathes, fucked into ecstasy, and comes.

It's an old argument. That doesn't stop them from having it, but it does mean that within a few days, tempers will cool and all will be forgiven. Dom isn't honestly all that annoyed, but he knows that Bill is even angrier because of it, because Bill lost control and Dom didn't care, just like always happens. Dom gets restless, he wants to be doing things, and Bill frets because he feels guilty over tying Dom down, even though Dom chose to be tied, and would choose it again, even if it means his career is at a standstill while he gets assigned to expeditions like this one, surveying a colonization site for the next grand Earth expansion. Dom wants to work with cutting-edge technology, be in on every major discovery. So what? He wants Bill more.

Which is why he's here, on yet another trip through a cave to look at rocks and dust and the general lack of life that this planet seems to offer. Strictly speaking, he doesn't need to be here. Dave is there to be the leader, or whatever, and Bill is there to collect little containers of dirt that look the same as all of the other containers of dirt he's picked up over the past however many months. Four. Five. Nearly five. And still no sign of anything Dom finds in the least interesting.

He picks up things that glitter, things that shine, because they aren't metal and electronics and data, but they're pretty, and they're the closest things he has. News doesn't generally travel to survey ships, and Dom has read the most recent editions of every technology data publication he has on board, several times over. It's enough to make a man go crazy. And now Bill is pissed at him, which means Dom is not only going to be bored, he's also going to be horny. And bored. He hasn't even found any interesting rocks yet.

Dom hangs back while Bill takes soil samples and notes, while Dave inspects everything like the hard-working federal representative he is. Dom tries to catch Bill's eyes, to see if Bill is still upset, but the fact that Bill stiffly refuses even to grant him that means that the answer is most likely yes. A few pebbles lying on the uneven ground take the brunt of Dom's frustration, kicked hard enough to skitter down the passage they're about to explore. He wanders while Bill and Dave are doing their surveying, just a short distance down the tunnel going in the opposite direction, the one which will be flagged last. It's nice, sometimes, to be the first one to poke around. Especially on a dried-up planet like this one, which shows no signs of having been poked in its entire history, even by anything so insignificant as an insect.

He comes back when Bill starts packing up, and then has to wait again while everything gets put away in its proper place. His fingers dig, absently but with determination, at the neon ID tag that marks this cave chamber as something now belonging to humans. To the government. Dom thinks it would be funny if the government screwed up and lost this planet, or just forgot about it, for so long that when another expedition came along, they would go into a tizzy over the signs that someone else had been here first. Maybe even still was. And all because a box somewhere didn't get ticked. Dom snorts to himself and continues worrying at the tag. It would serve them right, the fuckers.

He peels a strip off of the ID tag and toys with it, half-aware of Dave watching him as he does. Dave is probably fretting, the perfect government pen-pusher, determined to make everything go the way it's supposed to. Dom picks a little more at the tag and then abandons it. He'd thought those things were supposed to be indestructible, or as good as. What good is a marker if it doesn't continue to mark after you've left it? He smiles a little to himself, amused by his own black humour. Then what would the second team think? They'd have to start exploring all over again, with no clue that some other sorry fucker had already been there.

Dom starts off when Bill straightens, hefting his pack into place. He's still restless, itching beneath his skin, eager to find something worth noting, something that will hold his attention. Maybe a water source; he could design a pump then, maybe play around with water-power generator ideas. That would be a good project to pass the time. He has enough spare parts on board to tinker around with, hopefully cobble something together that could produce electrical power, even in a small amount. He might not even use a motor, if there's a current that can be naturally channeled and increased...

Two steps into the chamber and he stops dead. He was right, all along, and he never knew it. There has been someone here before them. In this very cave, no less. There still is.

He's peripherally aware of Dave and Bill coming up behind him, and Bill's familiar little shocked noise, exactly like the one he makes when Dom sticks his tongue in Bill's ass. Then his view is blocked, and Dom wants to swear up a storm because their boy scout is pointing a weapon at the only other living thing they've seen in nearly half a year. He starts to speak and then thinks better of it, settling for a disapproving grunt instead, but then Dave starts closing in on the man on the ground, a very thin man, covered in a sheet, and Dom can't stay silent.

"Don't shoot," he warns, although it has suddenly occurred to him that anyone they find here might very well be dead...is probably dead, in fact...and if such is indeed the case, the guy on the floor probably won't mind too much. But he looks like he's just sleeping, kind of curled up and peaceful, at rest, and if Dave gets all defensive and shoots before they find out, Dom is going to rip him to shreds. Dave is still moving slowly, stalking a stationary target with all the finesse of someone who quite obviously has a desk job, and Dom grinds his teeth in frustration but holds his tongue.

Bill is beside him, one arm half-held out in entreaty, probably expecting Dom to do something crazy like rush Dave and grapple with him for the weapon, or yell to warn the sleeping man that he should run before it's too late. Bill has ideas about Dom that Dom doesn't bother to correct, because it would be useless to try, and really, it's just funny when Bill gets everything wrong. Dave makes a shooing motion without looking back at them, and Dom folds his arms over his chest and glares at Bill wordlessly. Bill gives him a glance but doesn't respond, just looks away again at the man on the ground.

When Dave fucking kicks the man, without even saying anything, Dom loses his temper and starts forward. Bill grabs his arm and yanks him back, and they have a brief struggle that mostly consists of stubborn tugging and glaring, and Dom opens his mouth to speak when he realizes that the man is lying on his back and looking at Dave. They've found a live one, and this could be the best fucking thing to ever happen to this ill-designed expedition.

And...fuck, but he's pretty, too. Dirty but pale, so the skin just kind of gleams through the patches of dust, and with the most breathtaking eyes that Dom has ever seen on anyone, male or female. Just staring up at them with a look that says they're the best thing that ever happened to him, too, and something inside Dom, right beneath his stomach, does a little flip. Dom makes some sound - he's not sure what, the beginning of a groan, maybe, or just a toneless articulation of want - and Bill looks at him sharply, like he knows exactly what Dom is thinking right now and what just did the belly-flop in his gut.

Well, it's probably true. They've been together for two years now, and Dom isn't particularly hard to figure out. If you put something that gorgeous in front of him and then give it that soft, pleading look in its off-worldly eyes, of course he's going to want it. So would any hot-blooded guy who hadn't seen anyone besides his pledged partner and their boring-as-an-old-tack federal watchdog in too damned long. Dom has a fleeting thought of sirens and sailors, but then the kid's eyes slide closed again, and Dom is slightly disappointed by the lack of a proper dramatic confrontation, but mostly too busy marveling at the fact that the kid is still somehow alive and here, as if waiting for them to find him, and pretty enough to be a poster boy for the Cadets.

When Dave doesn't say anything and instead fucking kicks the kid again, Dom has had enough. He pulls free of Bill and starts in, but Bill has unfortunately anticipated this and moved between Dom and his intended federal target. Dave gives his standard introductory spiel, and Dom twitches a little with impatience, but the kid...he's looking at them, yeah, for just a second, and then he blinks and Dom inhales like he's only just realized he's been holding his breath. "Someone came," a high, breathy voice says, and Dom feels like he's floating on top of the world, swollen with pride and confidence. He's a rescuer, they all are. Victims look up to rescuers, they develop hero-worship. Dom's a hero.

Then, "I can't breathe," and a look of pain, but also realization and acceptance, as if the kid just wanted them all to know that he was dying before he went ahead and actually did it. Dom blinks and Bill is moving past him, answering the summons from Dave that Dom's brain only now registers as having heard. Bill kneels beside the pretty boy, and now Dom's stomach is churning a little in a strange combination of lust and shameful guilt, because his pledged partner is right there helping the kid, touching him, and really, is it Dom's fault that they look so good together? Or that of the two of them, Dom wouldn't know who to choose, because Bill is everything, is home and companionship and deep, steady friendship, but this other is...new. And Dom doesn't even want to admit to himself how much he's been longing for that.

"He's breathing," Bill says a moment later, and Dom feels an unexpected stab of disappointment at the thought that now Bill won't give mouth-to-mouth, if he even would have, and fuck all, but that would be hot. Even if Dom doesn't want both of them together. He just wants...well, both of them. But separately. And hey, it's far too soon and altogether the wrong time for him to be having these kinds of thoughts. "No major injuries that are immediately apparent," Bill continues blithely, thankfully unaware of Dom's wandering thoughts, "and I think he's out again. We should be safe taking him back to the ship." And there it is, they're taking him back with them.

"Is that what you're going to do?" Dom asks, just to be sure, because sometimes Dave makes odd command decisions, and neither he nor Bill are really in a position to fight him on them. Where this is concerned, Dom just might, if he thought that Dave was seriously making a mistake. But no one would leave a naked - gorgeous, One God, that skin - kid in a cave in the middle of a fucking desert planet if they had even the smallest bit of heart. And Dave is no basilisk, he'll do the right thing. Dom just wants to be absolutely certain.

Dave apparently agrees with Dom's mental assessment. "I don't really see another option," he says reluctantly. "At least not a humane one." And that's all Bill needs to start wrapping the kid up in his sheet, arranging him as comfortably as possible. Dave undoes Bill's efforts by tugging the sheet off completely - and Dom inhales, surprised and aroused, at the boy's nudity and at the look Bill gives him, measuring and even - and then drops the sheet back down for Bill to resume the bundling. Dom steps in as soon as Dave points the damned weapon at the ground, and murmurs to Bill that he'll carry the kid back to the ship.

The bundle in his arms is warm and soft when he lifts it, limply melting against him, and Dom shivers, just a tiny bit. Bill leads the way at Dave's commanded, "let's bring him in," and doesn't look back at Dom or what he carries. So they're at odds again, over more than just a miscommunication. This time, it's the honest communication that will probably hurt them the most.

Because if Bill asks if he wants this, Dom will have to say yes.

Dom has to let go far too soon, and he thinks that Bill knows it, because when Dom offers to help Bill with the health check, he is flatly refused and hustled out of the examination room with little ceremony. He fidgets on the other side of a plexiglass viewing wall while Bill strips away the sheet and lays out his patient, and then the strangeness of having Dave next to him while Dom plays voyeur becomes too distracting, and he goes off to find something to eat. His mind is running ten miles a minute, full of questions and possibilities, none of which are coherent enough yet for him to put into words.

There's no one for him to talk to about them, anyway; Dave doesn't have the imagination, and anything Dom says will probably only cause him to worry about possible hazards and dangers of having a stranger on board. Bill would listen, but Dom isn't quite comfortable enough with his thoughts yet to be able to defend any inquisition Bill poses. And that's how Bill's brain works. It's a scientific brain, ruthlessly trained to poke holes in hypotheses and find the flaws in logic, and Dom doesn't have a strong enough argument to stand on right now. All he has are ideas, and Bill doesn't have much patience for ideas without backing.

Dom gives up on food after rifling through their storage section twice and not finding anything that looks appealing. He's not honestly hungry anyway, just restless. His wandering feet take him halfway to the science bay before he realizes it and turns around, heading for the engine room instead after a brief calculation of how long it would take Bill to do all of his tests and analyses. But only a few steps away from the engine room he stops again, tugged by the desire to be there when Bill comes out and says whatever it is that he has to say, and knowing that as far as concentration goes, he won't be able to get anything done on the engines anyway. Not that there's anything to do, which puts the final screw in the transceiver and sends him back towards the science bay.

Dave is waiting in the science bay when Dom returns, still as patient as ever, watching Bill work with mild interest. Bill has covered the kid with a clean sheet and looks to be just finishing up, tapping away at the computer screen while his patient sleeps, or lies unconscious, one of the two. Dom is disappointed that the kid hasn't woken up to talk to them, but that feeling is second to the anxiousness of not knowing why the kid hasn't woken up, and tied with relief that Dom hasn't missed anything important.

"Did he wake up at all?" Dom asks in a low voice, hushed even though he knows the walls are soundproof, and that his words won't wake up the silent sleeper on the other side of the plexiglass. Dave shakes his head and answers in the negative, so Dom turns to watch with him, pacing a little after too many minutes of inactivity, until Bill rolls his shoulders a little, dims the computer screen, and steps out. Bill doesn't seem angry anymore, which is a good sign, but he is unhappy, and Dom can't tell whether it's because of him or their nameless guest. He bites his thumbnail while Bill strips his gloves off and disposes of them, and risks another couple of stolen glances at the kid inside the examination room.

"How is he?" Dave asks before Dom can, and Bill shrugs a little and closes himself off, arms folded over his chest. Dom frowns and echoes the movement before he even realizes that he has, partly out of sympathy and partly because he wants Bill to know that he's going to be just as stubborn as Bill is about this, whatever the results of Bill's tests say. He's not just letting Dave send away the only other person on this One God-forsaken planet, not when they have the chance to interrogate him and learn more about what happened that caused him to be left here alone. At least, they're assuming that he's alone. That hasn't actually been proven.

"He's physically healthy," Bill answers, and his voice has smoothed into 'auto-report' mode, the one he uses in lectures and debriefings. He ticks off his findings one-by-one, analytical and objective. "No malnourishment, no injuries beyond a few scrapes that seem to have come from the cave floor, no sign of anything out of the ordinary." Except that the kid is out of the ordinary, just by being here, and all of them know it. Whatever he is, for whatever reason he's here, there's nothing ordinary about it. People don't just come to this planet; few enough even know if its existence. "He can't have been there long," Bill concludes. "We already know that there's nothing around for miles."

Dom is about to give his response to that when Dave does it for him. "We think there's nothing," Dave points out, and Dom nods silently in agreement. There's so much out there that they don't know yet, and this planet, this cave, is only one grain of sand on an infinite galactic beach. They can't claim anything for certain. "We assumed there was nothing in G-3, either," Dave continues, and Bill's mouth twists, but he doesn't offer up any defense. "We can't take anything for granted."

Dave looks through the viewing wall and Dom shifts, wanting this part to be over, wanting to talk to Bill alone so he can get the real information, the speculations and theories, the details that Dave doesn't care about or think to ask for. How long could he have survived down there? How far could he have traveled from a home base? How many others might there be, in caves like the one they explored today, possibly awaiting rescue? Is he even human, as they define the term?

"You said there were scrapes?" Dave asks, and Dom's attention jumps back to the present, focusing on Bill and what scraps of information he has that machines and medical instruments alone can provide. It's not enough, won't be enough until Dom can talk to the kid and fill in the blanks, discover which pieces they're missing to the puzzle.

Bill nods shortly, and Dom's eyes narrow slightly with thoughtful interest at his answer. "He was either crawling or slithering over rock. The skin is abraded on his knees, elbows, and hips, and there is rock dust native to the planet inside the abrasions." Bill pauses, branching the distance from scientific fact to educated guess neatly as he offers his own professional opinion. "I would say he crawled on his own to where we found him."

Interesting. So the kid either started weak or got there fast, if he wasn't able to even walk leaning on the cave walls. Unless he'd started out somewhere without walls or supports, and only eventually ended up at the caves. "Crawled from where?" he asks, trying to remember what their map of the area looks like, and where the kid could have presumably wandered down from.

Bill gives Dom a bland look, as if proving to both of them that Dom isn't going to be forgiven and welcomed back into Bill's good graces just like that. Dom grits his teeth and tries not to look visibly frustrated while he waits for the answer, knowing that Bill can't get overly snappish without clueing Dave in on the fact that his two fellow expedition members aren't currently on the best of terms. "Not outside of the caves," Bill answers grudgingly. "At least, that's my guess." He elaborates after another moment of careful thought, and Dom has to restrain himself from climbing out of his skin with impatience.

"The dirt on his body was all of the same type, and the same on the fabric we found him under," Bill explains, and Dom blinks. The sheet. Dom had forgotten about that. Could anyone crawl through or into caves while physically exhausted and still manage to hold onto a flimsy piece of fabric? And if so, why would they bother? Dom yanks his attention back when Bill continues speaking, even though his mind is clamouring with questions. "I'll have to run soil analyses to be certain, but I don't think he walked under his own power to the caves. The sand outside is notably different."

One of the things that constantly amazes Dom about Bill is his perpetual ability to miss big fucking clues. If the kid had walked, he wouldn't have been crawling. If he hadn't crawled, there would be no sand-induced abrasions, no stains on fabric that wasn't dragged through the dirt. If the kid had walked until he reached the cave and then fallen, there would be no mark to prove that he had ever been anywhere else outside of the cave. Just like the government ID tags they leave behind everywhere they go. Who's to say for certain that they aren't retracing someone else's steps?

"Someone must have dumped him," Bill says quietly, and Dom's stomach clenches. What possible reason, what motive could anyone have for abandoning a kid, naked in the middle of a rock-infested desert? His brain is poking holes in that theory before another second is past, pointing out all of the reasons why it doesn't make sense. If he was supposed to die, why not kill him and dump the body? Ensure that no one came along, like they did, and found him before the lack of food and water did him in? And if he was supposed to live, why not leave him with some equipment, supplies, fucking clothes, for the love of the One God. And why in hell's name give him a useless fucking sheet?

"So we're not alone here," Dave says suddenly. Dom thinks that is just about the stupidest thing any one of them could have said right now. As if there isn't a kid lying right there on the other side of a plexiglass viewing wall.

"He can't have been in those caves for much longer than a day," Bill says, blithely ignoring Dave's inane observation. "Two or three at most. There's no sign of dehydration, and we know there's no water here."

But there could be, Dom thinks. They just haven't found it. Dave echoes his thoughts a second later, which annoys Dom more than he would admit to anyone else. "Assume," he says, and Dom shifts a little, tired of this agonizingly pointless conversation. "We still haven't checked the third chamber." Dom freezes in surprise, remembering his few steps down the third passage before they had found the kid at the end of the second, and how he had been so fixated on the one being they'd found that it had never occurred to him that there might be more, that close. Dave finishes his thought again, puts it into spoken words. "We can't be sure that there aren't others."

Dom's brain is on fast-forward now, speeding through the day's events, and all they could have missed, and the amount of time that has passed since they returned to the ship. "It's too late to go down there now," he determines, although most of him thinks that it can never be too late to look, never too late to save a life if there's someone in need. And there could be. They had never asked.

"The surface is below freezing," Bill snaps, and Dom jerks out of his terrified, guilt-ridden trance to see Bill staring at him, tense and sharp-edged. Of course Bill knew what he was thinking. And would go to any lengths to make sure that Dom didn't act on his desires; that's what Bill's eyes tell him now. No matter what, Dom will not leave this ship until Bill decides it is safe. It's pointless to argue.

"We don't have the equipment for a full-scale nighttime expedition," Bill continues after a pause, reacting as he always does to Dom's answering spark of belligerence. His tone is soothing, understanding, but there's steel beneath it, and Dom know he won't be swayed on this point. "And we'd be all but blind. I think we should wait." The humanitarian comes out, though, Dom can see it in Bill's eyes as he gestures in the direction of the examination room. "Although if there are any more like him, with as little protection from the cold, they won't last until morning."

Dom gnaws on a hangnail and thinks hard, because even if the decision isn't technically his to make, he and Bill nevertheless have a say in what happens on this ship and on the planet. But the kid had acted as though he'd been waiting for a long time, and there had to be some reason he'd been left with a sheet, and left alive to boot. Dom wouldn't be as quick to state with certainty that the kid couldn't make it one more night. He has a strong feeling, in fact, that the kid would have survived somehow no matter whether they showed up this day, or the next, or the one after that. He has the look of a survivor.

"We can't risk it," Dave says firmly, speaking for all of them, and Dom has a fairly venomous retort on the tip of his tongue at the presumption, but manages to bite it back for the sake of peace. There are other things he needs to argue for, and will do so when the time comes, but until then it's best to appear compliant. Dave continues as if there was never even the possibility of one of them questioning his authority. "We can't send one person alone, and Bill's right, we're not equipped to send more than that after sunset." Dave nods, satisfied with his own conclusion. "We'll go first thing in the morning to look for other survivors."

Something ticks at the edge of Dom's mind, and he turns to Bill, suddenly curious. "He said he couldn't breathe. Is he breathing now?" It's an odd statement, because none of them has ever had problems breathing on the surface of the planet, and it seems strange - more than strange - that someone else would be struggling. It's just another random clue, another piece of the puzzle that doesn't quite fit.

Bill frowns a little, obviously puzzled by the question, but answers easily enough. "His respiration is normal. I didn't see anything wrong with him physically..." He trails off, and Dom knows that Bill is starting to see the same things that Dom himself has, the questions that don't yet have answers. "But that in itself is abnormal," Bill muses. "I would expect to see evidence of violence, or injury, or at least abandonment in a hostile environment." Not that hostile, Dom thinks. He could survive there. He and Bill, if their ship crashed, could stay alive for quite some time, given the proper resources, and possibly even thrive. Bill blinks, looking straight at Dom as he finishes. "I didn't see any of those."

"Yes?" Dave asks impatiently, as if there's more to be said; and maybe there is, because Bill looks abruptly uncomfortable and appears to pick his words carefully. "There was no blood," he says, and Dom frowns at him, bewildered. "A lot of scrapes," Bill explains, clasping his hands worriedly in a way that makes Dom want to hold him and whisper nonsense words into his hair. "Skin peeled back, and fairly badly in spots, but no blood. Not even a nick."

Bill shrugs a little, and Dom swallows, unable to make this piece of information fit anywhere. "I'll draw some tomorrow for analysis, of course, but it just seems odd. To be surrounded by rocks with no clothing on, and to avoid even the shallowest cut that would draw blood. I don't know what that means, you understand," Bill finishes unhappily, and Dom exhales through his nose, concerned now and impatient to be with Bill, to touch and talk to him in softer words than the ones they're using now. Things always make much more sense when the two of them talk it over together. They always have.

"Tomorrow," Dave says, and Dom is already stepping forward, glad that the meeting is officially coming to a close, because he can't stand to wait much longer before spilling everything out. "Tomorrow we ask questions," Dave clarifies, and Dom wants to laugh in his face.

He's already started asking them.

Bill doesn't want to talk, a fact which is made crystalline clear by his avoidance once Dom carries their mystery visitor to the only available spare crew quarters and locks him in for the night. It's hard to just leave him there, knowing that he'll be waking up in a strange place without anyone around him to explain. But they don't even know for certain that he'll wake, or whether he'll be particularly friendly once he does...although Dom considers this a moot point, as the kid was friendly enough the last time he talked to them. Still, the wrath of Bill is more to be feared than the confusion of a complete stranger, as Dom knows from experience.

So he walks away after securing the door from the outside, and returns to their quarters, where Bill is nowhere to be found. The ship just isn't that big, Dom could probably track him down within five minutes unless Bill was truly determined, but it really isn't worth it. If Bill needs time, Dom will give it to him. He sits down on their shared bunk and flips through an old data publication, and then gets bored with that and pretends to listen to a modern symphony, until niggling curiosity gets the best of him and he slips out, creeping down the hallway to the one place on this ship he really shouldn't be anywhere near.

He fidgets for a bit outside the door, because it seems rude to just walk in unexpectedly, even if the kid hasn't woken up yet, but every moment he spends standing in the hallway is another one in which he could get potentially caught by Bill or Dave, so self-preservation eventually wins out and he keys the locking mechanism. It's dark inside, except for the tiny overhead sink light that Dom left on in case the kid woke up disoriented and couldn't find his way to a luminary touch pad. Dom takes a hesitant step inside, just far enough that the door slides closed behind him, and clears his throat.

"Hello?" he calls tentatively, and takes another step forward when he hears no reply. Still unconscious, then...except for the fact that both bunks are empty, and only the slight creasing of the covers on one gives any indication that anyone was ever here at all. Dom swings around, wary, and reaches to the side to cue the lights. But there's no one waiting in the shadows, no one hiding just out of sight. No one here. The kid's gone.

Dom swears and checks the door logs; and sure enough, there's a recorded entry between the time Dom dropped the kid off and the time he returned, an entry time-stamped nearly fifteen minutes ago. Dom hits the wall and checks the logs more closely, finding no forced entry - or exit - through the lock, and no explanation for the kid's absence.

His first thought is that Dave came back and picked the kid up for interrogation when he woke up, maybe even with Bill's knowledge and complicity. Dom starts for Dave's quarters and then halts, uncertain. If that in fact wasn't what had happened, he would be getting the kid into a hell of a lot of trouble, and all totally unjustified. No one had actually told the kid that he had to stay in that room, and if the lock had malfunctioned somehow, or he if had tripped it by accident...Dave is likely to take prisoners first and ask for explanations later, and Dom won't play that game. He can't alert Dave or Bill to this until he either finds the kid, or knows for certain that he's no longer on the ship.

Again, there aren't a lot of places to look. Dom half-expects to run into Bill instead, and he's on guard against that possibility every time he pokes his head into another room to check for occupants. He skirts the science lab, knowing that's the last place Bill was and where he's still most likely to be, if he isn't with Dave having brandies and talking; a common pastime for the two of them, and an event that Dom wholeheartedly avoids.

He comes to a full stop outside the botanical bay, because that's Bill's sanctuary, and there are several different reasons that he's reluctant to violate it tonight, but eventually the urge to find their missing guest wins out, so he hits the door panel and cranes his neck around to look in.

The kid starts when he sees Dom, eyes wide and skin flushed, looking for all the world like he's been caught in the middle of some illicit and intensely personal act, instead of simply standing there with one hand gently touching the leaves of one of Bill's prized plants. He jerks his hand back at the sight of Dom coming towards him, and stands nervous and awkward in place as Dom strolls up to lean against a work counter, a few feet away.

"You're lucky I'm the one who found you," Dom informs him lightly, resting one arm on the counter and half-smiling at the kid, who looks guarded but determined not to back down. It's a combination that leaves Dom both amused and impressed. "Bill doesn't take kindly to people messing with his greenery," Dom explains, still friendly, and then cocks his head. "What's your name?"

Bright blue eyes continue to watch him warily, but the kid's posture relaxes slightly, tension draining in tiny increments from the whipcord-thin body. He's wearing the spare jumpsuit Dom left out for him from storage, which must be easily two sizes bigger than he is, making him look younger and more vulnerable than he had even before, clad only in a sheet and nothing else, cradled in Dom's arms with only a layer of paper between their skins.

"Elijah," the kid answers softly, while Dom's brain tries to override his body, which is remembering exactly how that other body felt pressed against it. He blinks, off-balance, and frowns thoughtfully.

"What, like the prophet?" Dom asks, remembering theology lessons and college studies, the coming of the One True Prophet. Supposedly the mouth of the One God, and had caused quite a splash upon arrival. It seems rather presumptuous to name a child after him, considering who he was. Kind of like naming a family pet after an archangel.

"Yes," Elijah answers. "Like the prophet." Neither one of them makes a move after that; Elijah is studying him, and Dom is too busy drowning in incredible blue eyes. It's a bad idea, and he knows it. A bad fucking idea. He might just do it anyway.

He clears his throat when the pause creeps on for too long, shrugging apologetically. "Dom," he offers, but doesn't extend a hand. His palms are sweaty, and besides, he doesn't think that physical contact will help anything right now. He watches Elijah instead, friendly but curious, and making no attempt to hide it. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," Elijah answers simply. He glances down and to the side, where leaves explode riotously up and out from a simple white pot. Slim white fingers reach out to touch, caress gently. "The plants help." His gaze flickers up to Dom and back down, lightning-strike-fast, leaving shock and the impression of burning heat behind.

Dom mulls that over, straightening slightly and taking a casual step towards Elijah, who tenses minutely but doesn't move. "Do they remind you of home?" he asks, looking down at the plant that Elijah is currently - for the sake of the One God and lack of a better word - fondling, trying to remember what this particular species is called.

"Sort of," Elijah answers, and sidles neatly when Dom starts to get close, circling a work station and reaching out to a plant on the other side, something completely different that Dom doesn't even vaguely recognize. "Not really. I just like them."

"How long have you been on this planet?" Dom asks offhandedly, keeping the plast-al counter between them to let Elijah's nerves settle, but leaning on it to provide an illusion of intimate conversation. "Not a lot of trees down there. Did you miss them?"

Elijah's eyes say he knows what Dom is doing, is perfectly aware that this isn't an idle question, that there are motives behind every inquiry. But he just hesitates and then nods, eyelashes lowering as he looks down at the leaf caught between his fingers. "Very much. I haven't seen them in a...a long time," he answers, and then those eyes flash up to meet Dom's, sharp and almost accusing. "I didn't think anyone would ever come. I was starting to lose hope that they would."

Dom frowns, intent on the quarry now, mind ticking off points, evidence, phrases in an attempt to make the overall picture one of clarity and coherency. "Who left you behind?" he asks, leaning forward even further on his elbows, hungry for explanation. "Did you crash here?"

"No," Elijah says simply, and doesn't answer the first question, turning instead to touch another low-flowering plant, teasing the thin leaves between his fingers. Dom curses himself for giving Elijah an opportunity for evasion, and rounds the corner of the work station slowly, taking his time so that Elijah has time to see him coming and adjust; which he does, circling the plant so that they are eye-to-eye when Dom finally stops.

"How did you get out of your room?" Dom asks idly, reaching out to toy with the leaves as well because it gives him something casual to do, feeling the slick slide of them beneath his fingers as he traces their fragile veins. "I locked the door so you would be safe."

Elijah shrugs, not looking up to meet Dom's eyes, showing the first signs of dishonesty in his reticent reply. "I asked the door to let me out," he says. "And it did." His eyes seem darker now, a deeper shade of ocean blue, and Dom feels himself straining forward even though he doesn't physically move. It's not possible, what Elijah is saying; the doors aren't voice-command triggered, and even if they were, it wouldn't override Dom's manual lock. A door wouldn't simply open because someone wanted to walk through. Would it? But he has no other explanation that makes sense, so he takes it at face value, and resolves to explore further at a later time.

"You should stay there for now," Dom says, and his voice has gone low and growly somehow, and Elijah's breath might have just caught at the sound of it. "You're safe there, and I'll come to get you in the morning."

"I'm safe here," Elijah whispers, and his fingertips brush the back of Dom's hand as their hands quest over the leaves, another electric shock that makes Dom shiver and want. Elijah's eyes are wide when they look up, open and trusting. "Aren't I?"

"Yes," Dom manages, barely able to think between Elijah's eyes and Elijah's soft, hesitant touch, and the breathy way his voice asks Dom to be his savior. But there's Bill in the back of his mind, and Dave, and they can't do this, not here, and not now. "You should go back to your room," he murmurs, and Elijah's lashes flutter with the puff of Dom's breath, soft and yielding. "It's late." His fingers brush Elijah's again, something of an apology, and something of a question. "Will you ask your door to let you out in the morning?"

Elijah smiles, infinitely gentle, and Dom's mind blanks with the heat of that gaze. "No," he answers softly, and breathes Dom's air as he inhales. "I'll ask you."

The lights are off when Dom returns to his quarters, and there is a small lump on the bunk that he instantly recognizes. Bill is back, then, and already asleep. Dom winces a little at the thought of the conversation they will undoubtedly be having in the morning, and tries to creep as silently into the room as possible, not wanting to disturb Bill's sleep.

The light turns on when he's only a few steps from the bunk, and Bill's gaze is mild but completely alert as he shifts to look at Dom. Neither of them say anything for a moment, and then Bill almost sighs and unwinds enough to ask. "Where have you been?"

Dom takes the last few steps to the bunk and undoes the buttons of his jumpsuit, glad of having something to do with his hands besides nervously fidget. "I waited for you," he answers truthfully, shrugging his shirt off onto floor and tugging at his belt buckle. "And then I went to look for Elijah."

Bill's eyes gleam, and then faster than Dom can track, he's on his knees on the bunk, replacing Dom's hands on the buckle and sliding it smoothly free. "You found him, I presume," Bill says shortly. "Since you seemed to have learned his name." His fingers pluck the buttons of Dom's trousers one-by-one, gradually freeing them to fall. There's something hidden beneath the calmness of his tone, but Dom can't figure it out, distracted by Bill's deft hands and the guilt of what he himself is concealing.

"He was in your botanical bay," Dom replies, with a gasp of surprise because Bill's fingers have slipped into the placket of his boxers and curled around his cock, tight dry heat. Bill's eyes narrow and he yanks upwards on Dom's cock once, twice; finishing the erection that Dom has been fighting all night. Bill curls his fist around Dom's cock and pulls, and Dom follows the tug as best he can, tumbling awkwardly onto the bed and just barely managing to toe off his shoes before he goes.

Bill's fingers move hard and fast as he pushes Dom down onto the bunk, scraping raw over Dom's cock until he can feel the burn along every inch of skin. "Did you let him out?" Bill asks through gritted teeth, and Dom fights for breath to answer, getting a false start when he opens his mouth to speak and then groans when Bill's hand twists viciously over the head of his cock.

"No, he let himself out," Dom admits, starting to pant and push his hips up into every rough pull. "I went to find him and take him back. He didn't hurt anything, though, I looked." And he had, more or less. Nothing had seemed out of the ordinary, and he hadn't thought to look closer. Really, what is there to hide in a room full of plants?

"Did you tell Dave?" Bill asks, his rhythm slowing as the information sinks in, and Dom growls at him until it picks back up, shaking his head in negation.

"Tell him tomorrow," he says, balls tightening and lifting, close so close so close... "Made him promise..." Another gasp, another hard shudder; "Not to leave the room until I came for him."

"Made him promise?" Bill sneers, and he pumps violently twice more before Dom throws his head back and comes, arching into Bill's grip with a breathless cry of release. "You're so stupid, Dom," Bill says, but there's no heat in his voice, only a kind of sad acceptance. "So trusting."

"I trust him," Dom gasps, turning his head to press his cheek against the pillow and look at Bill, who is watching him with bright eyes.

"That's because you want him," Bill says evenly, and Dom's eyes widen. Bill shakes his head and wipes his hand off on Dom's boxers. "You trusted me, too."

Dom blinks, confused. "I still do," he answers seriously, and reaches for Bill to reciprocate, but Bill pushes his hand away and turns over to sleep. Dom closes his eyes and settles back to wait for morning.

Bill is gone by the time Dom wakes up, so he takes a hot shower and deliberately doesn't think about anything, and by the time he's put on fresh clothes he feels ready to face the day. Elijah's door is locked when Dom arrives outside of it, so he crosses his fingers and utters a quick prayer, and then keys the locking mechanism.

Elijah looks up when Dom enters, calm and expectant, dressed in the same over-large jumpsuit. "I'd almost given up on you," he says mildly, and Dom can't figure out whether he's teasing or not.

"Yeah, well, I'm not a morning person," Dom mumbles, but it's just another reminder that Dave will be chomping at the bit to get going, and he should really get Elijah to the departure bay before Dave decides they need to leave. He isn't sure how this is working, if Elijah is going along, or if Dave is just going to ask him questions and then leave him behind. He assumes the former; Dave isn't exactly known for trust, and by now Bill will have told Dave about Elijah's disappearing door trick. "Are you ready?" he asks, and Elijah nods, rising to follow Dom into the corridor.

"Sleep well?" Dom inquires, because it's as good a conversation prompt as any, and Elijah is remarkably quiet, pacing alongside him obediently with hardly a sound and no hesitation. He takes the turns smoothly, not leading but never checking in place, either, as if he knows the way and is simply allowing Dom to escort him there. "Did you get something to eat?"

Elijah chews on his lip and lengthens his stride a bit to keep up; Dom only notices because the rhythm changes, and then Elijah matches him as neatly as if they paced together every day. "Yes," he answers. "And no, I'll have something later."

Dom can't remember if there's even food in the storage section in Elijah's inherited quarters, but he thinks not. He hadn't thought of it last night, and that room hasn't been used by any of them since they left the Earthdock. There has been no need to supply it, and it's a wonder that there were even covers on the bunks and a jumpsuit in the stowaway trunk. He feels guilty suddenly, for treating Elijah as if he were a prisoner, or a machine, not a real person who needs fundamentals like food and water.

He starts to apologize just as they reach the doors of the departure bay, but Dave's words reach him clearly, "...still assuming that we don't take him down with us," and everything in Elijah's posture goes abruptly rigid.

"I'm not going back there," Elijah states defiantly, breaking into the conversation, and Dom winces in sympathy at the way Elijah's body vibrates, singing with anxiety and tension. He's clearly upset, and Dom has every intention of defending his wishes, even though he secretly wonders what happened down there to trigger such a strong reaction, and whether bringing Elijah back into G-3 would cause another one, maybe one that would lead them to some concrete answers.

Dave's voice is soothing, as if he'd already suspected as much and made plans for that very contingency. "Fine," he assures Elijah calmly. "You'll remain here, with our chief scientist, Bill." Dom's gaze snaps to Bill suspiciously, wondering just what the two of them have worked out in his absence, and why it involves Bill being alone on the ship with Elijah while Dom explores cave chambers with their federal representative, because surely Dave isn't going to head out by himself.

Bill meets his gaze calmly, with that look in his eyes that says this is all for your own good, Dom, I'm doing this for you, and Dom wants to drag him off into the hallway so that they can have this out once and for all, but they haven't got the time, and Dave is speaking again. "Our engineer, Dom, and I will go down to the cave, and you and I will talk more when I return. Is that acceptable?" Suspicions confirmed, and Dom isn't happy about this at all, but at least it isn't Dave left to interrogate Elijah while Bill and Dom torment each other with pregnant silences and cutting platitudes. Although in the end, perhaps that would be best for everyone involved. Pity they didn't ask Dom for his opinion before they went ahead and made up their minds.

"Engineer," Elijah states suddenly, and Dom is startled out of his cynicism by Elijah's still-unnerving gaze on him, with what looks to be a touch of fear or dismay. Dom wants to pounce on that, to pursue it until he knows what Elijah expected, and why the idea of Dom being an engineer is so clearly a disappointing thought, but Elijah has already moved on. His eyes are on Bill, doubtfully evaluating. "Scientist?"

Why? Dom wants to ask, but Dave is dismissing Elijah's reactions and any further questions by plowing on. "Yes. This is a science expedition, scouting the planet for resources and habitation." Don't tell him, Dom thinks. Make him wonder. Make him ask, and find out what he expects. Don't tell him all of that or we will have nothing left, and he will have everything. "Do you live here?" Dave asks, and again they've regressed to the level of the inane. Dom wonders if Dave seriously sees Elijah as a child, if he doesn't see beyond the fey features and adolescent body to the presence and intelligence behind those disarming eyes.

Elijah shakes his head, so Dave predictably launches into a string of questions, none of which Elijah will, of course, choose to answer. Too many questions, not at the right times. That was Dom's mistake once last night. Dave needs lessons in the art of subtlety if he plans to take charge of the interrogating. "How long have you been here?" Dave demands. "Was anyone else with you?" And the kicker, as Elijah starts to visibly come apart, "Are you certain you don't want to come down with us?"

"No!" Elijah bursts out, and then visibly makes an effort to recover, trying to smooth over the outburst with explanation, when all that comes out is disjointed babble. "You can't take me in there and leave me again, you can't. It took you so long to find me, I don't know if you will again, and it went so wrong last time..." His entire body trembles, and Dom suddenly sees everything that the poise has been hiding, the utter exhaustion and stress beneath the coolly collected facade. "I don't want to be alone," Elijah pleads plaintively. "Don't leave me."

"Fine," Dave agrees without visibly seeming moved, while Dom is torn suddenly and sharply between the half of him that wants to stay because Elijah needs to be taken care of, and the half of him that wants to stay because something is wrong here, something isn't as it seems, and if he leaves Elijah alone on this ship then anything could happen...

"You'll remain here, with Bill, while Dom and I finish exploring," Dave orders, as if he and Bill hadn't already decided that between the two of them before Dom ever arrived with Elijah in tow. "You are to do exactly as he says, do you understand?" Elijah nods, and Dom feels as if he's wound so tightly that his teeth ache, bound up by the desire to do something and not sure exactly what. Bill and Dave exchange murmured words and expedition gear, and Dom can't stop staring at Elijah, wondering what part of him is real, if it's any or all. He wants to tell Bill to be careful, but he can't say why, exactly, and he knows that Bill won't take that seriously. Bill will say that he's always careful.

Dave looks expectantly at Dom before he can come to any sort of conclusion, and jerks his head in the timeless gesture of impatient command. "Let's go," he says. And Dom doesn't have any choice but to obey.

G-3 today looks just as inhospitable as it did the day before, but this time Dom thinks it's because his attention is divided between what they might find and what they've already found. The phosphorescents illuminate everything around them with a dull, cold glow, and Dom feels twitchier than he ever has before on one of these trips, half expecting to see movement in every shadow, eyes watching him from the heart of the darkness. "Let's check the one we found the boy in first. Make sure there isn't anything we missed," Dave calls back, and Dom shivers but tries to suppress it, forcing himself to think about more pleasant things.

"His name's Elijah," Dom offers, sidestepping slightly to avoid an outcropping of rock to his left. Dave ducks as he reaches the chamber proper, and Dom follows suit, closing his eyes for a half-second so he doesn't have to see, because something in him feels like it could happen again, that they'll walk into this chamber and there will be another kid here, one who looks exactly like Elijah...even though Elijah is on the ship, Dom knows, with Bill. So it's not possible for him to be here.

And there's nothing, no one in the cave chamber besides himself and Dave, so he takes a shaky breath - stop being so jumpy, Monaghan, settle - and just barely manages to catch Dave's casual, "Is it?" as they start exploring. "What else did you find out?" Dave asks, and Dom watches him start to scuff through the dirt, looking for signs of life or hints of others. They won't find any, Dom thinks, and doesn't know why he's so certain, but he is. They looked yesterday; there's nothing here. They took the only thing that was here with them, and now it's on their ship.

"Not much," Dom says when he's shaken off the odd feeling, realizing that Dave is still waiting for an answer. He shrugs awkwardly and tries to remember if he learned anything of value, besides the fact that Elijah can apparently talk to doors. "You heard most of it," Dom points out, looking at the walls and still feeling wrong somehow, off-guard. "He said he was down here alone, for a long time, until we found him. That's all he told me."

Dave's halfway around the room now, and Dom is impatient, eager to move on and abandon this exercise in futility. "Bill says he couldn't have been down here for longer than a few days," Dave parrots, and Dom is annoyed that Bill can make such statements, when they don't know anything about Elijah, really, they haven't even seen his blood...why does that bother him? Why does it bother Bill? Dave crouches on the ground - deja vu, the same spot where Bill knelt only yesterday to check Elijah's vital signs - and sifts through the dirt contemplatively. "Maybe he was delirious, thought it was actually longer."

Dom abruptly can't stay in place any longer, so he steps out to join Dave in his circuit, studying the rock that makes up the walls of the chamber. "I'm just telling you what he told me," Dom replies defensively. And he's not honestly sure how much of that they can believe. "He didn't seem delirious when we brought him in," Dom points out. "Just exhausted." Or shamming. Damn himself for having these thoughts, but he can't seem to stop. He wasn't thinking like this yesterday; why is he suddenly so suspicious?

Dave stands and looks around tiredly. "Was he exhausted last night when you found him in the botanical lab?" he asks, hands jammed into his pockets. It's getting to him, too, Dom thinks. It's getting to all of them.

He keeps his voice deliberately neutral when he answers, trying not to think about Elijah's fingers brushing against his, Elijah's breath sharing his oxygen, Elijah's eyes looking right through him and smiling. "No," he says simply. "He seemed better. Still tired, but more aware." He pauses, trying to remember exactly what had seemed so changed about Elijah last night. "Alert. I don't think he was suffering from long-term isolation, if that's what you're asking."

How many days before abandonment on a desert planet changes you? How long before you only have certain things to live for, and will go after them at any cost? They've been assuming Elijah was only here for a couple of days; hell, even Dom was thinking more in terms of a week or two. But how can they know for sure? How long has Elijah been waiting for someone to rescue him, and what does it mean that it was them?

"I'm not sure what I'm asking," Dave says, and Dom wasn't imagining it; he does seem tired. Worn, somehow, as if making a discovery like this has taken a toll he never expected. Dave starts to spiral, a slow, gradually tightening curve that will bring him eventually to the center of the room. "I just know that he isn't showing evidence of starvation or exposure, and yet we find him here alone, in a cave in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by areas that we've already charted."

No signs of starvation. Dave's right; Elijah had been slender, but not emaciated. They'd seen him completely naked, and his ribs weren't jutting out, nothing unhealthy in his appearance at all. And yet he hadn't eaten last night when he woke, when by all rights he should have been starving, and he passed again on food this morning. How long, indeed?

"Would you say he could have gotten those scrapes on his knees and elbows in here?" Dave asks, interrupting Dom's thoughts. Dom looks at the cave floor and sees only dirt, fairly fine-grained; no rocks, not even many small pebbles. He shakes his head, and then tries to replay the scene in his head, to imagine what would leave physical evidence like that on Elijah's body.

"I don't think so," Dom answers slowly. "Even to cause something as mild as a burn or a rash, he would have had to have been..." Dom blinks, looks again at the floor and remembers the marks Bill described. A lot of scrapes. Skin peeled back. "...dragged," Dom finishes in surprise. "And that doesn't make any sense. There's no marks to suggest a body being dragged, and that would show up in other places than joints." Not to mention the fact that then there would have to be someone else here to do the dragging, and Dom definitely isn't ready for that.

He sifts a pinch of dirt between his fingers, thinking furiously. "The placement of the marks says he was probably crawling." That's what Bill said, anyway, and Dom trusts Bill's opinion. Besides which, it makes sense. But where they are now doesn't. He shakes his head again and sits back on his heels, scanning the chamber. "But not in here."

"Where, then?" Dave asks, which is exactly what Dom is thinking as well, only he thinks he knows. How far could Elijah get under his own power? "The third chamber." It's the only thing that makes sense, if they keep all of the clues Bill gave them in play. And they really can't afford to ignore them, there's just not enough to go on otherwise. "Bill said he didn't have sand from outside on his clothes, either. There's nowhere else for him to go." Which isn't strictly true. If Elijah can walk through locked doors as if they don't exist...there's nowhere he can't go.

"The third chamber, then," Dave says decidedly, and Dom stands to look at him, meeting Dave's eyes across the room. He wonders if Dave is really expecting to find all of the answers in one room, when the three of them haven't been able to put it together even with Elijah in their custody. Dave takes a soil sample, which Dom considers utterly useless, but he doesn't say anything. "I've got the sample from this one," Dave announces unnecessarily, and Dom looks at the mouth of the chamber, leading into the passage. Dave straightens and fumbles with Bill's equipment, playing the part of the scientist. "Let's tag it and move on."

Dom is already halfway to the tunnel.

When they walk into the third tunnel, Dom doesn't have his eyes closed. And it's the same as the second, in every way that matters. "There's nothing here," he states flatly. "No one else. Not a sign." The disappointment is nearly crushing. He had been certain that whatever they were looking for, they would find it here.

"We don't know that yet," Dave retorts optimistically, already moving past Dom to begin his investigation. "There could be something small, a piece of evidence or a clue." Playing detective now, Dom notes. Always playing someone else's role. And then Dave turns, looks straight at Dom, as if suddenly half-remembering something and wanting it verified. "Did you expect someone else alive?"

Dom hadn't, but he doesn't know why. "Not after the temperature dropped last night," he hazards, because Bill had said nothing could survive. Even though Elijah obviously had. Unless he really had been placed - planted? - here on the very day that their team set out to explore G-3, and who knew that date besides them? Who knew where they would be on one day out of limitless others? "Why?" he asks suddenly. "Did you?"

Dave bends to touch the ground, looking for something. "No," he answers absently. "Or I would have checked this chamber first." Dom suddenly wonders why they hadn't. Or why they hadn't split up, so that no one had warning, and there was no other way out of this cave but to pass one of them. They should have done that, he thinks. Should have cornered whoever was in here and given them no choice but to explain.

"So is this the room where the scrapes came from?" Dave asks suddenly, and Dom is pitched out of his own private near-hysteria into reality again. He looks down at the rocky cave floor, runs a finger over it to test the jagged edges. There's one spot in particular that has caught his interest, and he halts in front of it now, reaching out to touch the sharp stone.

"Yes," he answers confidently. "I think so." Elijah was here, and then he moved to the other chamber. Why? Why leave one, just to go to another? Why not move to the mouth of the cave itself, where it's much more likely that you'll be spotted? "There's not as much dirt here," Dom points out. "It's all rock. More sharp edges for skin to catch on." He drags his forearm across the jutting rock, testing the pressure through the fabric of his jumpsuit. Slight burn, but he knows for certain the skin isn't broken. Elijah had no such protection, however. And there are no stains on the rock that he can see, no telltale splashes of red. "I don't see any blood, though."

Dave doesn't seem to think that's important. "Neither did Bill," he says reassuringly, and Dom wants to say that's why they need to look for it, but that logic doesn't make sense even to him. Dave takes a few steps forward, off-course from where he had been walking, and Dom frowns just before he sees the look on Dave's face and his stomach drops. "Dom," Dave says, and suddenly it's hard to breathe. "What is it?"

Dom meets him in the center of the room, and drops to the floor to look closer, to pick up - by the One God, this is it, this is the clue they've been missing - a very familiar piece of metal barely half the size of its traditional counterpart.

"It's a circuit," Dom answers blankly, although this circuit isn't like any he's ever seen. It isn't stamped, there's no manufacturing seal on it, and the wires appear to be crossed in a pattern that Dom doesn't recognize. There are so many of them, as well...too many for such a tiny thing, the complexity is incredible. What this circuit is a part of must be one of the most amazing machines ever invented.

The rush of excitement that follows has him scanning the ground feverishly, picking out the tiniest gleam and reaching for it in the hopes that it will be metal and not glittering rock. "Here's another one...no," he says breathlessly, plucking the torn fragment from the ground. "This one is a piece of wire." Dave holds out his hand to take the components, and Dom dumps them into Dave's palm distractedly before returning to his search through the scarce dirt.

"Could the government make something like this?" Dave asks wonderingly, and Dom shakes his head before rethinking and changing his answer.

"Yes," he admits, mentally flipping through his catalog of government-made parts and equipment. Maybe. It's possible. "But they didn't, I can tell you that." There's nothing else here, the ground is clean. Dom sits back on his heels and thinks hard, fitting this piece of the puzzle together with the others. It fits, he realizes. Only too well. "The government has put restrictions on all technology beyond a certain level," he explains. "And the companies that manufacture any such items are strictly supervised and owned by the federal branch of engineering and technology. Those are definitely beyond that level." He nods at the electronics Dave is currently holding, and takes a deep breath. "But they aren't ours."

Dave looks as if he's just been told that the universe was designed upside-down and backwards. "What are you saying?" he demands. "That there are aliens out there?"

No, Dom thinks. Too easy. Too obvious, wrong answer. Besides which, aliens don't explain Elijah. And Elijah is what this puzzle is all about. "No," he says out loud, and it feels right. The more probable answer isn't much better, but it is at least in plain sight. "But there's a healthy black market out there," he says confidently, not sure if he should really be telling Dave this but knowing, knowing that this is the missing link. "And the government confiscates creatively-designed little toys like this nearly every week."

He gets up and moves, too restless to stay in place. They have the clues, but there might yet be more, and he needs to be certain. He needs to make a move before Dave does, because Dave could ruin everything. "We might be dealing with illegal technology dealers," he adds, to stave off more questions. It's possible, and makes perfect sense. It's an answer that should appease Dave and his reports. It isn't the one that Dom think is the real answer. It isn't the correct one. But Dom isn't ready to share that one yet.

Dave, however, has found the main problem in their deductions, the one factor that refuses to fit. "And what," he asks slowly, "does this have to do with a naked human boy wrapped in a cloth and left out to die?" Not left out to die, Dom thinks. Left out to disappear. But he can't be sure yet, and there's only one person who can be.

"I think," he says as he reclaims their only evidence, probing the tiny circuit with barely-restrained energy, "that that's really more of a question for Elijah."

Elijah isn't in his room when they return to the ship, which isn't really a surprise. He isn't in the botanical bay either, which is the next place Dom thinks to look for him, and Dom checks the science bay and the command station before he finds Elijah in what is nearly the last place Dom would have expected him to be.

"You were waiting for me," Dom states as he walks into the engine room and sees Elijah standing beside the computer, gazing at him. Elijah nods, and Dom takes an educated guess, skirting the electrical console and stalking Elijah slowly across the room. "You know what we found."

Elijah nods again, unmoving, simply waiting for Dom to come to him. "I knew you would," he answers softly, and Dom slows, wary now that Elijah is here and clearly offering no resistance. "You found it last time. I didn't know what I'd lost, so I couldn't hide it from you." His eyes are guileless, open but not yet bereft of hope. "Tell me exactly what you found."

"Why, so you can hide it?" Dom asks, but Elijah doesn't flinch, doesn't back down. Dom moves carefully, keeping his body between Elijah and the door, getting closer with every step. Elijah may be able to get through doors, but Dom sure as hell isn't going to let Elijah get through him. "What do you mean?" he asks, watching Elijah watch him, feeling the delicious pull of the current between them that seems to grow stronger with every inch of space Dom eliminates. "When was last time?"

"Today," Elijah answers, and then Dom is right there, in front of him, and Elijah doesn't even tense. Doesn't flinch. They've done this before, Dom thinks, only he can't remember. "Tell me," Elijah pleads, and his eyes are wide but his lashes still manage to droop, soft, so soft...

"What are you?" Dom breathes, and he would reach out and touch except that he thinks he would burn, that Elijah would hit him like a lightning strike and then it would all start again, with no way out.

Elijah laughs, high but still smoky, somehow; sensuous. "What, you don't even have a guess?" he asks teasingly, and somehow one of them has shifted, because Elijah's chest is pressed against Dom's, and Elijah hasn't moved, so Dom assumes it must have been him. "You figured it out last time," Elijah whispers, and he's close, too close, and Dom can't think.

"You're an A.I.," Dom breathes, and Elijah doesn't tell him he's wrong, just watches solemnly with huge eyes while Dom tries to take it all in. "That's why you don't eat," he wonders aloud, and is rewarded with a fractional nod. "That's why you didn't die. You could have lived forever down there."

Elijah shakes his head, just as minutely, and Dom finds himself leaning closer, until they are only inches apart and he can feel Elijah breathe. "I was dying," Elijah corrects softly. "I would have died yesterday if you hadn't found me."

Dom summons every tiny piece of knowledge that he's ever collected on artificial intelligence, and every single fact tells him the same thing: this isn't possible. Elijah is light-years beyond anything that any scientist, programmer, or bio-engineer has ever dreamed of creating, and it just isn't possible. "You can't die," Dom repudiates calmly. "You're not real."

"I couldn't breathe," Elijah whispers, and they're sharing air again, their lips only a butterfly-wing apart. "And I'm real enough for that."

Dom can't breathe, either; Elijah is stealing the air from his lungs. His heart is pounding, and it seems incredible that this is a machine, an artificial creation, and not a person at all. Not real. "How real are you?" Dom asks, because the way his body is responding tells him that Elijah isn't just a machine at all, that there's more here, and he wants it all.

Elijah's lashes dip, and the hunger in Dom's body surges, pressing him forward against Elijah's torso and hips so that Elijah can feel it, too. "What are you really asking?" Elijah whispers, and Dom doesn't wait any longer to find out. His lips are pressed against Elijah's a nanosecond later, and his momentum has taken them both against the computer wall, where Elijah finally has to stop, pinned by Dom's hips. Elijah's mouth opens for Dom's tongue, perfectly responsive to every touch, every hint of pressure, and Dom growls against Elijah's lips.

"You taste real," Dom hisses when he finally breaks away, and Elijah blinks at him with glazed eyes, chest heaving.

"I am," he answers seriously, and Dom shakes his head.

"A.I. technology is illegal," Dom whispers, although his body doesn't care, doesn't even care that Elijah is a creation of man rather than the One God, and Elijah shudders as Dom grinds against his hip, ocean-blue eyes rolling back as he gasps. "That's why you were abandoned," Dom hazards wonderingly, eyes devouring every tiny change in Elijah's features, every sign that he feels this as a man, not processes it as a machine. "The government was going to find out about you."

"No," Elijah protests, but he can't say anything more because Dom's lips are covering his, stealing any sounds he might have wanted to make. Elijah's tongue is dry but still slippery from Dom's saliva, and when Dom coaxes it into his own mouth he feels almost as if he can suck real life into it, curl around it until Elijah becomes as real as Dom himself is. But if Dom is honest with himself, he doesn't really want that. This is the engineering find of the century, and it's in his hands. Elijah could belong to him.

"What are you?" Dom whispers again, because his hands are working at the belt of Elijah's jumpsuit and unbuttoning his trousers, and everything he touches feels like skin. Not possible, he thinks again, but oh, it is. Not only possible, but real, and within his grasp. Elijah is someone else's dream come true, and now he's Dom's dream as well.

Elijah makes a soft noise that sounds almost like a moan when Dom bites down on his perfect, pale throat, and his hips buck against Dom's where they are pressed together. "Cybersynthetic," he gasps, and he sounds like he's begging, writhing in Dom's grasp. Dom wonders if anyone has ever touched him before, if he's ever touched himself. If it's even possible for him to experience this on the level that Dom wants to achieve.

Dom's eyes narrow as he tears himself away from feasting on Elijah's neck, and his gaze travels hungrily over Elijah's body. "How functional are you?" he asks, and his hand slides into Elijah's trousers, finding wiry synthetic curls and soft-but-firm artificial skin. Dom's eyes fix on Elijah, who gazes steadily back at him. "You're not hard," Dom says, and Elijah's lashes flutter with his breath, just like they did before, softly yielding.

"Do you want me to be?" Elijah asks softly, and the flaccid cock in Dom's hand swells, stiffens. Dom's breathing is erratic and stilted, air sucked in mindlessly through the red haze of arousal that seems to be guiding his actions right now. "I was designed for it," Elijah whispers, and that's all Dom can take.

Elijah moans much louder this time, as Dom strokes him urgently and leans in to capture Elijah's lips again, suckling his tongue until Elijah is responding with nothing more than the occasional weak flicker of movement and soft, pleading whimper. When Elijah's body goes limp and his hips are pushing desperately into Dom's hand, Dom pulls back and drops to his knees, while Elijah looks down at him in dazed bewilderment, lips parting in a surprised 'o' of understanding.

Elijah's cock juts out, swollen and still perfectly white, with no blood beneath the skin to flush it into a facsimile of life. It's slender, just like the rest of him, and slightly curved, like the false horn of a unicorn. Dom takes him in slowly, all the way to the back of his throat, and Elijah's fingers curl into the tangled wires of the ventilation grate behind him as he hisses his surrender.

This didn't happen before, Dom thinks as he swirls his tongue once and Elijah lets go and cries out, head banging back against the computer wall as his pelvis arches towards Dom's mouth. This is new. This is...

He doesn't have time to think anymore, because Elijah is starting to move with him, and Dom has to concentrate to keep from gagging. His last thought before preparing to swallow, as Elijah's balls draw up and he starts to beg in breathy pants for release, is to wonder whether Elijah knows how to come.

Bill is in the science bay when Dom goes looking for him, but this time Dom doesn't have the answer Bill really wants, so he can only give him the truth instead, and hope that it doesn't destroy them. Bill looks like he expects it, like he knew what would happen from the moment Dom went missing, maybe even from the moment he first saw Elijah. He looks vulnerable, and like he's trying very hard not to be.

"I won't ask," Bill says softly, but Dom shakes his head. It's too late for that, and he doesn't want any lies between them. He's never kept anything from Bill, and he doesn't want to start keeping secrets now.

"I was with Elijah," Dom confesses, and when Bill look at him with the question in his eyes, Dom can only nod painful affirmation. He'd completely lost his head, and this will be the price. He knows that. He even knew it then, he just didn't want to admit it to himself, because that would have meant denying something else.

Bill closes his eyes, and Dom's heart would break if it could. He doesn't know anymore if it can, or it surely would have before he ever kissed Elijah and broke his pledge. "You didn't have to tell me," Bill says, and Dom shakes his head but doesn't have anything to say in his own defense.

"I did," he admits finally. He spreads his hands, and says the only thing that matters, what Bill probably doesn't want to hear. "I'm sorry."

"I know you are," Bill sighs, like he does every time Dom stays out all night working on a project, or sets the kitchenette on fire trying to cook something from scratch like a cater-chef, or kills one of Bill's plants by forgetting to water it for days while Bill is away on assignment. "You're always sorry."

"I am," Dom promises, but he doesn't have anything besides that; no explanations, and no real regrets. He needed Elijah, like he needed air. He had to solve the puzzle, and the puzzle turned out to be more than he bargained for, and Dom fell headlong into it, knowing perfectly well what he was doing when he allowed himself to fall.

"Why, Dom?" Bill asks in bewildered frustration, running his hands over his face. "What's so fascinating about him? Why, of all the people out there, did you decide to want the one we know nothing about?"

But that's why, Dom thinks. That's the reason. He shrugs helplessly and sits on a stool across the work counter from Bill, spreading his hands flat against the cool surface. "He's an engineer's dream," he says simply, and knows that Bill hasn't come to the same conclusion he has by the blank look on Bill's face when he speaks. Dom gropes after an explanation that Bill will understand, and finally settles on the simplest of all: the truth. "He's an A.I.," Dom says plainly, and watches Bill's eyes slowly widen as comprehension dawns.

"He's not human," Bill says wonderingly, and then shakes his head in wordless reproach. "Oh, Dom. He's just a toy to you, isn't he? He's not even real." Bill still looks tired, but the terrible sadness has melted into something else, something much harder and grimly determined. "He has to be disassembled," Bill insists firmly. "He has to be shut down. A.I. technology is illegal, Dom, you know that. And you know why. It's for the best that we deactivate him now, before he falls into the wrong hands."

No, Dom thinks, but someone else has already said it. "No," Elijah forbids from the doorway to the science bay. "I won't let you. You can't." His gaze turns on Dom, wide-open and bruised. "Why did you have to tell him? You've ruined everything," Elijah proclaims, and Bill is somehow standing while Dom sits, paralyzed with shock, and Elijah's hands fumble around the edges of a cube that Dom can't wrap his mind around, but would give almost anything to possess, to figure out...

"Don't," Bill says sharply, and like a douse of cold water Dom realizes that the thing in Elijah's hands might be a laser, or a bomb, or....no. It can't be...he can't possibly... "Whatever you're thinking of doing, Elijah," Bill warns slowly, "Don't do it."

Elijah's expression is determined, just shy of fierce, and Dom thinks blankly it's too late to stop it now, although he doesn't know why. Elijah shakes his head, hands twisting, turning, changing, and Dom feels something start to slip.

"You'll have me dismantled," Elijah retorts, and there's nothing but desperation in his eyes as everything starts to fade out around them. "You'll kill me. It wasn't supposed to be like this," Elijah moans, and his eyes are electric fire. "It wasn't supposed to go wrong this time."

"Elijah," Dom yells. "Wait!"

But it's already too late.


The only tricky thing about being pledged to Dom, in Bill's opinion, is that you have to be able to accept having someone's wholehearted love and devotion, while still understanding that their brain and yours are never truly going to mesh. Dom tries, he really does, but he just can't stop thinking. Not even when they're together like this, glued skin-on-skin by a film of sweat as they make love in their bunk, alcohol-haze slowing the pace until Bill feels as if this is what eternity would be like, could he bottle it and hold on forever.

Dom has already slipped once, with Bill's fingers inside him, preparing and lubricating, by calculating the exact number of hours, minutes, and seconds they have left before they need to start getting ready for the morning's exploration of cave G-3 on the planet's surface, and Bill had worked hard to keep from getting upset. He knows it's not an insult, that no one can make Dom's brain stop completely for any great length of time, but he does wish that Dom would think before he speaks. The only comfort is that Dom hadn't even considered that Bill would be insulted by his wandering attention, which means that Dom probably really isn't all that bored, but it's still a bit of a blow to Bill's pride.

Bill adjusts just enough to give Dom more friction where he wants it, teasing him along until they decide to start screwing in earnest, and that's when Dom makes slip number two, gazing up at Bill with a curious look on his face. "Do you ever wonder what we would be doing right now if we weren't together?"

Bill stops thrusting, caught completely off-guard, and Dom's expression changes to mildly annoyed. "Why'd you stop?" Dom asks, and that's it. Bill can't do this if Dom is not only not helping, but also actively hindering. No man's ego deserves to be bruised quite that badly in one night due to lack of thought and courtesy. If Dom is bored with the sex, that's one thing. But if Dom is bored with them, then Bill bloody well isn't going to do this anymore.

"What do you mean, 'if we weren't together?'" Bill asks, and the look on Dom's face says he gets it, he knows he's in trouble now; although Bill's mind cynically points out that that doesn't necessarily mean that he understands why. This hits too close to home, though. Bill knows Dom is frustrated by this expedition, going out of his mind with inactivity, and Bill has felt guilty over it in silence for months. If Dom is going to start blaming him now, they should bloody well get this in the open. "Where do you want to be?" he demands, and Dom squirms slightly, awkwardly. "You think I'm holding you back, is that it? That you're getting crap assignments because you're chained to me?"

Dom rushes to placate him, just like he always does, and Bill hates that he's always the one made to feel as if he's being irrational and overreacting. "No," Dom says soothingly, although there's something else laced in, a trifle of impatience that they're even having this discussion, which only makes Bill want to grind his teeth and pound Dom into the mattress. "I just mean, where do you think we would be?" Dom continues, and he's given up on the squirming now, it seems, probably because when Dom squirms, Bill slides, and that's a distracting sensation to deal with in the middle of what looks like it could be a fairly serious argument. Bill briefly considers pulling out but decides against it, because a rather nasty and dark side of him wants to see Dom squirm this way, impaled like an insect mounted for display.

"What kind of assignment?" Dom presses, and Bill takes a second to marvel that he's really not giving this up, he's actually trying to talk Bill into fantasizing with him instead of apologizing and begging Bill's forgiveness for even thinking such a thing at such an incredibly inappropriate moment. "You'd be doing something with plants, I'm sure," Dom enthuses, and that's the final straw, because not only does Bill know that Dom is using Bill's secret weakness against him, he also knows where Dom's vulnerability is, and what he's probably thinking about right at this very second.

"And you'd be doing something with artificial intelligence and cybergenetics," Bill retorts, making the words into an insult which they really aren't; he fully supports Dom's passion for 'thinking' computers, and knows how frustrated Dom is by the strict and incredibly limited regulations placed on such research by the government. But he also knows that Dom had to pass up a consultant position on the Ezekiel project in order to spend this year with Bill doing survey work, and the guilt stings. He says what they're both thinking, puts the knowledge into words instead of unspoken, filed-away thoughts. "But instead you're here with me, working a survey mission on a crate that you could have designed three improved versions of before we ever left the Earthdock."

There are times when Dom's completely earnest cluelessness makes Bill just want to scream. "And you're here with me, analyzing rocks instead of trees," Dom says reassuringly, and Bill doesn't think, just snaps his hips forward hard, and Dom's fingers scrabble for purchase on Bill's slick skin. "Don't you ever wish?" Dom moans, and his hands rise to push against the wall, thrusting down further onto Bill's throbbing cock. And Bill can feel himself losing control, feel his restraint unraveling and snapping thread-by-thread in spite of every bit of reason that warns him not to, so when Dom's body begs shamelessly for more and harder, Bill can't help but give it.

"No," Bill answers angrily, while Dom's eyes glaze over and he licks his lips reflexively, shoving back against Bill as hard as he's able to from his prone position. And this is the thing that Dom never gets, because it doesn't occur to him that people can want something and still walk away from it, can be tempted and still want to resist. Dom doesn't see the consequences, only the action. Whereas Bill holds some things as more than sacred, and his pledge is among them. "Because I'm with you."

If the point gets through to Dom, Bill sees no sign of it. "Harder," Dom groans, and Bill is mindless heat and fury now, thrusting deeper into Dom as if he can somehow fuck his point into Dom's scatterbrained head, and it's rather ironic that Bill's now achieved that one thing he wished for earlier, to actually make Dom stop thinking. Dom loves this kind of sex, the raw, animalistic fucking that Bill loses himself in and feels incredibly guilty for afterwards. He shouldn't want to hurt Dom through an act of love, and Dom certainly shouldn't enjoy it, shouldn't beg Bill for more, harder, faster, deeper, just like that, yeah. Making love is sacred, too. And there's no love in this, only sex.

"I hate when you get like this," Bill pants, angry at himself and at Dom for bringing them to this, wanting to weep because Dom doesn't see it, Dom is scrabbling blindly at the wall behind him and moaning like a whore in heat, while Bill's heart wants to break and can't. "I hate that you make me this way," he snarls, and Dom cries out, arching to meet him and baring his throat for Bill's teeth. Bill bites down, taking what's been offered, and Dom shudders beneath him, breaking apart.

"I hate it," Bill whispers despairingly, but Dom is already sun-blind and gasping, and Bill doesn't think that he hears.

When they make it down to the surface, after too little sleep and no words exchanged besides those necessary for basic communication, Bill is rethinking the entire fight. He knows Dom didn't mean anything he said in the way that Bill heard it, and that Dom is honestly bewildered right now and not angry at all, which makes Bill the bad guy for not forgiving him and moving on. But it's just hard, forgiving every time when Dom doesn't think before he speaks, and Bill can't even forgive himself yet. Dom hadn't been bleeding last night, but he had been moving gingerly this morning, and Bill's heart wrenches every time he sees Dom pause and inhale sharply.

Work makes it easier, gives him something to think about; or rather, a way to not think, in the mindlessly repetitive tasks of soil sampling and measuring, mapping out points for later integration into the terrain plots. They start with the easiest chamber, and Dom wanders off alone somewhere while Dave hovers, standing by with labels and free hands in case Bill needs them. Dave suspects something's wrong, Bill can tell, but he knows from experience and a longstanding friendship that Dave won't pry unless he feels it's absolutely necessary. Which is something of a reassurance, that Dave doesn't think this fight is that bad in comparison to others, that he's willing to wait until Bill comes to him rather than pulling Bill aside immediately for a talk.

The first chamber is explored with minimal time and effort expended, and then they're off to the second. Dom takes the lead with the enthusiasm of pent-up energy, cabin fever showing in the way he stops to stretch occasionally and constantly reaches out to touch things. Dom is always touching things, always fidgeting, and it makes Bill smile reluctantly now, even if he is still hurt by what happened between them. Dave is in front of him, loping along without any rush, as dependable and steady a presence as he always is; which is why it startles Bill when Dave stops suddenly, and Bill can't react quickly enough to keep from bumping into him.

"What...?" Bill begins in annoyance, but he gets his answer as soon as he takes a step to the side, and sees what the other two are staring at. A human body, lying on the cave floor, wrapped in a blanket. Something so improbable as to be nearly impossible, and yet here it is, in front of their very eyes. And something in Bill, something he doesn't fully understand, isn't really surprised. He feels as if he should have known they would find someone, should have told Dave to start with this chamber, because there was going to be someone in it. He gasps anyway, because it is a shock, at least to the part of his mind that didn't for some reason expect something like this, didn't recognize the sight in the chamber and immediately say yes.

"Don't shoot," Dom says insistently, and Bill realizes that Dave has his firearm out and is aiming with professional and unflinching accuracy at whoever it is that's with them in this cave. Bill takes a step forward automatically, assuming a defensive place at Dom's side and holding out his arm in a warning for Dom to be still, because they don't know who this is or why he's here. It is a he, Bill's certain of that, even if he's isn't completely sure why. Just like he's certain that there's no danger here, at least not yet, and he's only waiting for Dave to lower the firearm so that he can do his job. Dave prods the man gently with the toe of his boot, and after a moment of slumping forward, their unexpected find rolls over and opens his eyes.

Bill has seen that face before. Impossible, but he has. He remembers it, and the memory comes along with a surge of fear and anger that he doesn't know what to do with, is completely unprepared for. No one else could have eyes like those, skin that perfectly and suspiciously white. Bill knows him. Somehow. It's just out of his reach.

Beside him, Dom makes a soft noise in the back of his throat, and Bill knows without looking what Dom's face looks like right now, but he looks anyway, he can't help it, and the hopeless jolt of something not at all like jealousy nearly kills him. Dom has never been any good at hiding his emotions, it's something Bill loves about him and always has. But it hurts now, stabs to the heart, because desire and lust are written all over Dom's face, and Bill knows without the slightest doubt that it's not for him this time.

The man is slipping into unconsciousness again, and Bill opens his mouth to speak a warning, to inform Dave that one of them needs to do something to keep him awake if they can, but Dave knows and is already taking care of it, nudging the man again without his firearm's aim ever wavering. Dom starts to pull away, but Bill moves faster, putting himself in front of Dom, between him and this presently unknown quantity. Nothing in Bill trusts this man, this blue-eyed and eerily familiar stranger. Nothing. He doesn't usually make snap judgments, so the feeling surprises him, but the unexpectedness of it does nothing to dilute its potency. He does not trust this man, and he has no idea why.

"My name is David Wenham of the federal government of Earth," Dave explains, clearly annunciating each word, and there's a spark of recognition in the man's unbelievable eyes, something familiar and knowing. He speaks Standard, Bill thinks, he must, or else he's just picked up on the term 'Earth' and knows what they mean. "Can you understand me?" Dave asks, and there's the flicker again, which clinches in Bill's mind the suspicion that this stranger speaks their language.

His suspicions are immediately confirmed when the man opens his mouth. "Someone came," he says in clear, unaccented Standard, but there's no surprise in it at all, just a statement of fact. He inhales, obviously only holding onto consciousness through sheer willpower, and Bill tenses, ready to jump in if necessary and tell Dave that they need to do medical treatment first, and questioning later. "I can't breathe," the man says, and Bill is moving before Dave even says his name, as soon as the man's eyes flutter peacefully shut.

Bill kneels carefully, keeping himself out of Dave's line-of-sight in case this is a trick, so that Dave can get a clear shot without Bill being used against them as a hostage. He resists the urge to cover the man with the blanket again, feeling Dom's gaze on him, burning even without Bill looking up to confirm and meet it. The first-emergency kit snaps open easily, and Bill moves with practiced competence through the vital sign checks, feeling for a pulse and leaning in to confirm the faint whisper of air coming from between the man's half-parted lips.

"He's breathing," Bill assures his silent audience, finding the man's pulse beneath his fingers and counting the beats until he's sure they're in the safe margin. He checks for broken bones quickly but thoroughly, and presses gently against the softer organs to make sure that nothing is out of the ordinary as far as first examination can tell, no broken ribs or bruised swelling. "No major injuries that are immediately apparent, and I think he's out again," Bill reports confidently. The words fall effortlessly off of his tongue, as if this is a diagnosis he makes every day, even though he's never done this before. Or if he has, he can't - quite - remember. He glances up to look at Dave, asking the question by making the statement. "We should be safe taking him back to the ship."

"Is that what you're going to do?" Dom asks anxiously, and Bill just waits for Dave to make the call, expression bland and patient. He'll say yes, Bill is almost sure of it. There's nothing else they can do, and there could be injuries that Bill can't find without further probing and proper medical instruments. Not to mention how cold this cave is going to become in just a few hours, if even that. Leaving this man here and unprotected is sentencing him to death, and they don't have that right. And besides, that same part of him that leapt in recognition is telling him that this man will be on their ship. Bill remembers...remembers?...him being there.

"I don't really see another option," Dave agrees. "At least not a humane one." Bill starts to bundle the man up for easy transport and then pauses when Dave stops him, and Bill knows he's looking for weapons when he pulls the blanket completely clear of the man's body, but that doesn't make Bill feel any better about the hitch he imagines he hears in Dom's breathing. He looks up to see for certain, masochistic as ever, and Dom's eyes meet his, burning undisguised and bright. Bill looks away and rewraps the man so that they can move him without much awkward struggling if he wakes and panics, and he's not at all surprised when Dom is the one to step forward as volunteer to carry him back with them, immediately after Dave says, "Let's bring him in."

It only makes sense; Dave needs access to his firearm, and Bill isn't strong enough to carry something that heavy for a relatively long distance. But it still hurts.

Bill shoos everyone out of the examination room when he starts working, even though he knows they only want to help, because really, both of them would be in the way for this, and Bill works best alone, when he can focus and concentrate on the job at hand. He replaces the dirty blanket with a standard-issue medical sheet, paper-thin and light, so Bill can fold it down as he needs to in order to check different areas of the body.

The first thing that becomes immediately apparent and stands out as strange is the fact that this is a very healthy young man. He's eaten recently, and regularly, because even though there isn't a spare ounce of fat on him, his body is fleshed out and curved in all of the correct places, down to the soft tissue between his ribs. He's slender, but not starving, and not malnourished, either; there's no sign of an imbalanced diet, no scurvy or calcium deficiency when Bill checks his nails and teeth.

There are scrapes, but also no injuries, which is another thing that jars with the way they found him, standing out as not-quite-right in keeping with what little they know and can reasonably assume. No defensive wounds from an attack of any kind, no broken bones from falls or fights, not even a bruise. No bruises. That's possibly the most unexpected of all, that a naked man in a rocky cave would sustain not the slightest bump which would leave a mark on his skin. White skin, too, the kind that bruises easily at the slightest impact. But there's no show of blood beneath the surface of the man's skin, no tender areas or swelling.

No blood. That catches Bill's attention next, and he starts to catalogue the scrapes he's made note of on the man's body, collecting samples from places where there is dirt caught beneath the peeling skin. But there's no blood, not even a drop, not the slightest tinge of dark red in any of the scrapes. The locations of the scrapes suggest that the man crawled somewhere, but again; no marks from a fight, nothing inflicted by more than a pebble-sized fragment of rock.

The boy's skin, pale as it is, still looks healthy, and his lips have the correct dark flush. He's had water within twelve hours, at least. However he came to be in cave G-3, whoever put him there, it wasn't done before this very morning. And that, considering the fact that they have found no water on this planet of any kind besides the very, very slight vapor in the atmosphere, just enough that they can breathe without drying out their lungs, is the most curious discovery of all. This man hasn't been out on his own, not on this planet, without a water supply. There's more to the picture that they don't know. Someone - or something - else is out there. Or else this man is nothing like what he seems, and that isn't a possibility that Bill is about to discount.

Whatever it is, they won't be able to look for it until the morning, and hopefully by then Bill's patient will be in better shape to answer questions. Although for the life of him, Bill can't figure out why the man is unconscious. No injuries, no signs of exhaustion, nothing in the scans of his brain...he should be awake and aware, talking to them. There's no reason that Bill can see for his lack of consciousness, no explanation. But he really is unconscious; Bill had checked his reflexes for any sign that the man was shamming unconsciousness before he ever sent Dave out of the room. And there's been not so much as a twitch since they brought him in. Bill simply doesn't have any answers.

He has to make his report anyway; Dave is still waiting patiently, and Dom, who has returned sometime within the last few minutes while Bill was examining the dirt he found on the man's body, is currently pacing restlessly outside the viewing window and glancing in at regular intervals. Bill needs to come up with something to say, and he knows already that they won't be satisfied. But unanswered questions are all he currently has to offer.

After the impromptu team meeting, Bill decides that he needs more time before he talks to Dom, to figure things out in his own head before he even attempts to determine what's going on in Dom's. He busies himself by going over the facts and what he knows about the man's physical condition, while Dom and Dave go off to find a space for him, and presumably some clean clothes.

The soil analysis only confirms what he suspects, that the man was not outside of the caves at any point in his recent history, at least not after his last thorough bath. Which isn't plausible, unless he was being carried, the way Dom carried him back to the ship. But that means there is someone else they haven't found and don't know about, and that thought is more than a little unsettling. There are just too many questions that don't have answers, and at this point Bill can't provide even a reasonable set of hypotheses. Worst of all, he feels as if he should have the answers, as if the vague wisps of thought and memory that have been plaguing him since this morning would explain everything, if he could only grab hold of them for long enough to actually see.

He sets aside his readouts and data after twenty minutes or so, and heads back to the quarters he shares with Dom. When he arrives, the lights are already off...but Dom isn't there. There's music still on pause in their wave playback, one of Dom's modern atonal symphonies, and an engineering data publication on the bunk, which means that Dom was here earlier, but has wandered off. Probably fairly recently, as the symphony is paused twelve minutes and thirty-seven seconds into the first movement. Bill turns the wave playback off and stores the data publication for Dom to retrieve later, changes into clean boxers and a sleep-shirt, going through his usual nightly preparations and ablutions, and then crawls into bed to wait for Dom.

As it turns out, he doesn't have to wait long. The door opens and he hears Dom pause, can make out his silhouette against the backlighting of the hallway, hesitant and uncertain. Bill has a suspicion of where he's been and what he's been doing, but he pushes aside the thought until Dom can either confirm or deny it, and waits until Dom has nearly reached the bed before clicking on the light. "Where have you been?" he asks softly, and hopes that he won't curse himself later for wanting to know the answer.

Dom's fingers worry at the buttons of his jumpsuit, still dusty and creased from the day's adventure. "I waited for you," he promises, but his eyes dart away when Bill tries to meet them, and he shrugs his shirt to the floor with uncharacteristic awkwardness. Bill's heart sinks even before he hears Dom's next words, almost knowing what they will be before they are ever uttered. "And then I went to look for Elijah."

The mention of a name is startling, particularly one so weighted and ancient...and familiar. It also means that his patient is awake again, and Bill thinks blackly that it hadn't taken long at all, once the man was alone with Dom. He knows that nothing happened, can tell by the way Dom stands, feet planted confidently shoulder-width apart, squarely facing Bill with nothing to hide. But Dom couldn't have had to look far, and Bill wonders why he felt he had to do it tonight. The answer is obvious, of course; Elijah represents a mystery. And mysteries, puzzles, challenges...they all draw Dom like light draws a moth.

Unresolved tension makes Bill sit up, batting Dom's hands out of the way so that he can touch, reassure himself that Dom is here, even with this guilty fascination he harbors for their mysterious guest. "You found him, I presume," he points out calmly, as if Dom had far to look, after locking him in a room and leaving him there. "Since you seemed to have learned his name."

"He was in your botanical bay," Dom answers forthrightly, and gasps on the final syllable because Bill is angry and frustrated and guilty, and the best way of dealing with those feelings seems to be by staking his claim on Dom's body anew, and reminding both of them of their relationship in the most explicit way possible. Dom's words spark something in him; rage at Dom's presumption, perhaps, at giving a complete stranger free range of the ship and allowing him into Bill's own sanctuary. But also fear, because Bill knows what Dom is like around strays and the defenseless, how strong that protective urge truly runs, and he's suddenly faced with what might happen if Dom decides that this...Elijah...needs his protection.

At least Dom isn't hard, hasn't been aroused by someone else and then left to come to Bill, because that would be impossible for him to bear. Bill jerks at Dom's cock, a little desperately, and Dom follows the pull of Bill's hand until he's stretched out on his back with Bill leaning over him, one hand continuing to relentlessly stroke as Dom tenses beneath him and starts to shudder. "Did you let him out?" Bill asks tightly, fearing the answer but seeing no other, and Dom starts to respond but suddenly Bill doesn't want to hear it, so he twists his wrist hard enough that Dom groans instead of speaking, biting down on his own tongue.

Dom shakes his head desperately, and Bill reluctantly slows enough that Dom can speak, trying to restrain some of the tension that's coming out in his rough jerking of Dom's blood-flushed cock. "No, he let himself out," Dom swears, and that really does give Bill pause, because he's sure that even at his most sympathetic, Dom wouldn't have left the door unlocked. "I went to find him and take him back." Dom's hips thrust up to meet Bill's fist, and he resumes the harder pulls, bringing Dom closer to the edge the way he likes and Bill hates, fast and raw. "He didn't hurt anything, though," Dom gasps, eyes closing as he struggles to breathe under Bill's assault. "I looked."

It's so absurdly touching that Bill can't speak for a moment, can only swallow at the simple statement, the knowledge that Dom thought of him even while his attention was occupied by Elijah. Elijah, who got out on his own, and could be anywhere on this ship at this very moment, could be doing anything without any one of them knowing about it. "Did you tell Dave?" Bill asks gently, and he eases his strokes into a more tender rhythm, keeping the pressure steady but taking more care, until Dom's snap open and he growls, and Bill remembers that Dom doesn't understand nor desire tenderness when it's offered like this. He presses his lips together and yanks, hard and dry, his palm barely lubricated by the thin trickle of pre-come seeping from the slit of Dom's cock.

"Tell him tomorrow," Dom promises, and he's close now, Bill can see it in the way he's stopped breathing except in harsh, erratic gasps, feel it in the way his cock throbs in Bill's fist. "Made him promise...not to leave the room until I came for him." Dom writhes, about to spill but not quite there yet, and Bill is torn between hopeless, overwhelming love and utter exasperation. It's something he often - and only - feels with Dom, and it drives him crazy every time.

"Made him promise?" Bill echoes, wondering if Dom can even hear himself, if he's actually thought this through reasonably. Dom doesn't answer, because he's coming, thrashing helplessly in Bill's grip and crying out a sound that thankfully isn't anyone's name, because either way that came out it would hurt. Bill eases Dom through the shocks and shudders with gentled hands, tracing the line of Dom's perspiration-damp cheek with his thumb. "You're so stupid, Dom," he whispers despairingly. "So trusting."

"I trust him," Dom breathes, chest heaving as his body comes down gradually from its high, and his face turns softly into Bill's touch, half-glazed eyes seeking understanding and support. Bill wishes he could give it. Could give more than this.

He shakes his head sorrowfully, and says aloud what they both know is the truth. "That's because you want him." Bill knows how blind Dom can be when it comes to love, and perhaps even more to lust, and he recognizes the look in Dom's eyes. Dom has found his new salvation, and nothing will be able to turn him from it until he decides to let it go. Dom's eyes widen, surprised at Bill's frankness, but Bill isn't finished. He reminds Dom quietly, "You trusted me, too."

Dom's eyes are bewildered and lost, obviously trying to understand and failing. "I still do," he says earnestly, but he denies nothing, and that Bill can't help but notice. It hurts, like everything about this hurts, and he tries to believe that this isn't already over, that he hasn't already lost. It's a hard thing to take on faith.

When Dom reaches for him, Bill doesn't have the heart to say no. He simply turns over, gently removing Dom's hand, and closes his eyes to feign sleep.

When Bill rises in the morning, it's not yet even two hours before their planned search of G-3 is scheduled to commence. He takes a very long, very hot shower, letting the water pummel against the worst of the knots in his back and shoulders, and then gets dressed and slips out before Dom can wake up and they're forced to talk. He wanders through the science bay, setting things in order and packing what he needs to take with him to the surface, and finally sets his satchel beside the door and takes an unscheduled trip through the botanical bay.

This is the closest thing he has to a home, besides his quarters with Dom. This is where he feels alive, and loved, surrounded by the plants he cares for devotedly every day as they grow and bloom, displaying infinitely varied leaves, stalks, and blossoms from all over the known galaxy. He takes half-an-hour to walk among them, watering those that need it, pruning here and there, talking softly to them in reassuring murmurs of praise and encouragement.

The ones in the first row aren't doing quite as well as he'd thought they were, although there isn't that much of a change, really, just...well, the one about to blossom yesterday almost looks as if it has closed up further today, and the leaves on another are drooping slightly, instead of being firm and strong. All of them are dry, right down the line. He wonders if he missed them somehow while walking through yesterday, but that doesn't happen often, as he gives them all individual care and attention every morning and every evening, It's possible, he supposes, only...Dom had said he and Elijah were in here yesterday. There's nothing Bill can think of for them to have done that would have caused so mild a reaction, but he resolves to ask Dom anyway. After the surveying.

Dave joins him in the departure bay with fifteen minutes to go before they leave, and Bill's sincerely glad that it's him, rather than Dom. He doesn't want to talk to Dom yet, but Dave's reliable presence is a relief, his friendship a reassuring constant, and Bill doesn't mind coming clean with him about a few things, before they are joined by anyone else.

"Sleep well?" Dave asks cheerfully, checklist in hand, ticking off boxes one-by-one as he double-checks his scouting equipment. Bill hadn't, of course, not after the most recent unpleasant turn of events between himself and Dom, and that makes two nights without a decent amount of sleep. No wonder he's feeling out of sorts. Dave turns to look at him when Bill has had several moments to speak and still hasn't come up with the correct words, and his frown is familiar, one of a good man worried about a friend. "Bill?" Dave asks, brow furrowed in concern. "Did our guest make it through the night all right?"

Elijah. Always back to Elijah. "He made it," Bill responds more tartly than he had intended, yanking on a strap hard enough that his entire satchel jerks, snugged up tight. He forces himself to look at Dave, to just say it out loud and get it over with. "Our little wonder boy got out last night."

Dave is predictably unconvinced. "Out?" he queries, frowning at Bill. "That's impossible." But even as he says it, Bill sees the grim possibility in Dave's eyes, and he's checking his firearm in the next instant, testing the catch and the ammunition. "How long has he been missing?" Dave asks grimly, and Bill inhales, startled. It hadn't occurred to him that Dave would be instantly willing to take things that far, to classify a human being in the same category as a rabid animal. Or perhaps the comparison is more accurately that of an escaped prisoner awaiting trial, guilty until proven innocent.

"He's not," Bill says firmly, and forces himself to meet this head-on, crossing his arms and turning to face Dave down before they lose control of the situation over a simple misunderstanding. "Dom found him in the botanical bay around midnight, making friends with the plants." Bill pauses, aware that he's speaking based on hearsay, and that Dave will understand and recognize the distinction. "Or so he says. I wasn't there." Dave relaxes slightly at the admission, so Bill squares his shoulders and pushes on, determined to have a say in this. "Dom escorted him back to his temporary quarters and left him there, under the promise that he wouldn't try to leave again on his own."

It sounds weak, just like it did last night when Dom said it to him, but Dave doesn't appear to question the worth of that particular statement. "Where is he now?" he asks instead, and to Bill's relief he sets the firearm aside, resting it on the counter with his pack.

"Dom's gone to bring him here, let you decide what to do with him," Bill says, because that's his best guess, and it's what they discussed last night. And so help him but by the One God, if that isn't exactly what Dom is doing, Bill will string him up by his ears for it. Dave nods, and Bill takes a moment to debate the wisdom of speaking his mind versus saying nothing that would upset Dave, and eventually decides that some things have to be said. "I don't like it," he states plainly, and sees Dave's eyebrows arch slightly in surprise.

"Neither do I," Dave agrees reassuringly, taking his ease against the shelving unit behind him while he thinks it over. "We can bring him along with us," Dave points out, "but that means someone will always have to keep an eye out for him, make sure he doesn't lead us into an ambush of some kind. We still don't know who he is or why he's here." Bill nods, and Dave pauses a moment as if to reflect before continuing. "If we leave him here, someone will need to stay with him," Dave says firmly, and levels a no-nonsense look at Bill in warning. "I am not leaving him alone on this ship."

Bill privately agrees, but that doesn't change the fact that there's something he fears more than leaving Elijah on the ship, something that seems only too likely to occur after the decisiveness of Dave's words. "Don't leave Dom with him," he blurts out, and then feels his skin warm slightly at his own boldness when Dave's eyebrows climb even higher. It feels like a betrayal, but he tells himself that it's for Dom's own good, for all of their good. Bill isn't ready to be so trusting as to throw his life away for someone he knows nothing about. Not yet. And he doesn't want Dom to be alone with Elijah. Not if he can help it.

"What do you know?" Dave inquires, and then starts listing factors that Bill has already thought about and found no way around. "You need to go down to take samples. I'm the only one who can go armed, and if we do find anything amiss, I should be there as the federal representative to make the decisions and file the report. Dom is the obvious choice."

Bill winces, disliking the baldness of the truth stated in such plain, uncompromising terms. He has no argument against it, only the feeling in his gut, and that really leaves him with nothing all over again. "I know," he says honestly. "And I don't know anything, or even suspect. I would tell you if I did," he assures Dave, rotating a sample tube absently as he thinks. He shakes his head, unable to explain in words what he knows in his heart. "I just don't like it. Dom... Dom makes friends easily," Bill says finally. "And he trusts easily. Too easily." Maybe that's being too harsh and not giving enough credit, but right now, convincing Dave that it's in everyone's best interests to keep Dom here is more important to Bill than being charitable.

"He'll give an abandoned puppy his heart, just because he thinks it needs him," Bill continues, gaining momentum as he goes. "And sometimes he'll be right. But sometimes that puppy will turn around and bite him on the arse." Bill shrugs, passionately moved but helpless to do anything about it, unable to keep Dom from being the person that Dom essentially is. The person that Bill fell in love with, the person to whom he is still pledged. "I trust Dom. I do," he vows, in response to Dave's skeptical look. "But look at last night. He didn't go report directly to you or put our unknown guest under guard. He just took the boy back to his room and made him promise not to come out."

"You think he could be influenced," Dave finishes, and Bill nods, unhappy but relieved that at least Dave understands, and can see the danger. "You're right, of course," Dave agrees reluctantly. "But you or I can't go out alone, and if one of us stays..." He trails off, spreading his hands, and Bill's stomach sinks even as his heart leaps at the germ of an idea. Dave shrugs and completes his argument with resolute logic. "Who can we really afford?"

"Let me stay," Bill begs suddenly, because all at once it makes sense, the logic swiftly assembling itself in his brain, and he should have realized before that this was the best solution. It's the only solution, and he doesn't know why he didn't see it before. Bill is the one who stays. He knows this with as much certainty as he knew that Elijah would come with them to the ship. "You need to be there, to record what happens, as you said. But you're only going out today to look at the third chamber in G-3, and I don't have to be there for you to take soil samples. The main purpose of this expedition today is to find out whatever more you can about where he came from, and you don't need me for that." He pulls out the sample tubes to demonstrate, popping the catch on one to show Dave how simple a task it is. Dave takes them from him and examines the controls, looking them over thoughtfully as Bill completes his plea. "Just bring me whatever you find for analysis, and take Dom with you."

"That's still assuming that we don't take him down with us," Dave admits, but he sounds as if he's in agreement, which lets Bill breathe more easily. If he can just keep Dom and Elijah apart for long enough to learn more, maybe this won't turn into the disaster that he dreads it becoming.

And suddenly they're not alone, and Bill thanks the One God that Elijah has arrived too late to stop them, if he wanted to. He isn't too late to give his opinion, however, and Bill clamps his lips together sourly as Elijah speaks. "I'm not going back there," he states flatly, and there's not even the slightest hint of wavering in his voice, not a chance that he could be swayed. Not Dom's doing, Bill can tell; Dom is standing behind Elijah in the doorway, looking just as startled by the outburst as the rest of them.

"Fine," Dave says promptly, and Bill knows they are switching to his plan, and somehow that makes him feel even better. He hates not knowing what's going on down in the cave, knowing there might be someone else out there waiting for them, but he hates more the idea of not knowing what's going on here on this ship, wondering if Elijah has set some plan in motion for destroying them all. And this is the right course. He feels it. This is the way it's supposed to happen.

"You'll remain here, with our chief scientist, Bill," Dave determines, and Bill squares his shoulders when Dom looks at him, meets the challenge in his gaze with nothing but strength and determination. This will be done his way, and Dom might not like it, but he'll have to obey it. That much Bill is going to demand. Dave continues without pausing, either not noticing or choosing to ignore what's going on between his team members. Knowing Dave, it's probably the latter. "Our engineer, Dom, and I will go down to the cave," Dave explains, "and you and I will talk more when I return. Is that acceptable?"

Elijah doesn't have a choice, and the expression on his face says that he knows it. He looks at Dom and Bill in turn, eyes dull with something that looks frighteningly like acceptance, like a knowing death march. "Engineer," Elijah repeats, as if it's been scripted for him, and his eyes close briefly as his lips form the second word. "Scientist."

It unnerves Bill for some reason, more than he would like to admit, but there's no time for him to dwell on it. "Yes," Dave confirms calmly. "This is a science expedition, scouting the planet for resources and habitation." Elijah takes in that information with no visible sign of surprise or interest, gaze unfocusing slightly as Dave begins to ply him with questions. "Do you live here?" he attempts tentatively. When that gets no response, he tries again. "How long have you been here?"

It's not good, Bill thinks. He won't talk. He has something to hide, and he's determined to hide it. Dave keeps trying, asks gently, "Was anyone else with you?" and finally gives up, exhaling a tiny sigh of frustration that Bill doesn't think anyone else sees. "Are you certain you don't want to come down with us?" he asks, and that finally garners a reaction from Elijah, although not one Bill was expecting.

"No," he says forcefully, and Bill sees Dom startle, while Dave blinks, taken aback. Bill presses his lips together tightly and glares, wanting Elijah to know that Bill is watching him. I know you, he thinks irrationally, because it feels true, even if it isn't possible. I know what you are.

"You can't take me in there and leave me again," Elijah protests, and Bill isn't moved, but he is put off-guard by it, by the genuine desperation in Elijah's voice. "You can't. It took you so long to find me, I don't know if you will again, and it went so wrong last time..."

Last time, Bill's mind echoes, and there are warning bells going off in his mind, only he can't figure out why. They haven't left anyone anywhere, certainly not this almost-stranger, and there's never been a last time that Bill can remember, except that something keeps teasing at the edges of his mind, always hovering just of reach. Something that tells him that there has been a last time, and that all of this has already happened. All of it. Déjà vu, except that it doesn't end with a single moment in time. The last two days have been like a dream that Bill has already had before.

"I don't want to be alone," Elijah says, and suddenly it's as if his entire attitude has changed before Bill's eyes, become yielding and desperate. He's appealing to each one of them, Bill realizes. Covering them with a range of emotions in order to trigger responses and get what he wants. Defiance for Dave, strength for Bill, and the lost, trembling exhaustion for Dom, who Bill can see reacting to it as if he's been kicked. "Don't leave me."

"Fine," Dave agrees. "You'll remain here, with Bill, while Dom and I finish exploring. You are to do exactly as he says, do you understand?" Elijah nods wordlessly, and Bill fights back a surge of triumph, hot and fierce, as Elijah looks at him with the knowledge in his eyes that he's lost. He's gotten part of what he wanted, he won't go down to the planet, but he wouldn't have counted on being left with Bill. And the two of them are going to have this out, before Dom entrusts any more of his heart to a cunning boy who has no scruples about abusing it.

"He wasn't down there for long," Bill murmurs before Dave leaves, and hoping that Dave understands the implications. "It's not possible." Not possible for Elijah to be down there alone, at any rate, and that's what Bill really wants Dave to understand. He hands over his satchel filled with scientific gear, and then silently presses Dave's firearm into his hand. Dave nods curtly, and Bill steps away to let them get on with it.

"Let's go," Dave says, and Bill meets Dom's eyes one last time as he shakes his head, obviously overwhelmed by everything happening at once. He grabs his pack without a word, though, and follows Dave. Bill pauses a moment to look after him, and murmurs the words beneath his breath like a prayer.

"Be careful, Dom," he urges softly, bowing his head as they leave. "Be safe."

Then he turns to Elijah, who is watching him steadily with an expression of complete knowing. "It's just you and I now," Bill says lightly, advancing slowly on the figure in the doorway. "Time to talk."

Elijah runs. Bill hadn't expected that, but it only makes him more determined, stalking after Elijah with all the inevitability of a sunset. Elijah doesn't flee, exactly, but he steps backwards through the open departure bay doors, and when Bill walks over to look out, Elijah is gone. There's only so far he can go, however, and Bill is ruthlessly thorough, checking rooms, hallways, and even maintenance closets with single-minded focus. He makes one side trip to the science bay on the way, but only for a moment, and then he's on the hunt again. A part of him knows that they are both moving towards the same location, and he doesn't know why he knows this, only that he's sure that when he opens the door to the botanical bay, Elijah will be on the other side.

And he is. He looks up when Bill walks in, with the same air of sad inevitability that had been on display in the departure bay. Bill keeps him cornered, doesn't allow Elijah the chance to slip past him. "You know what I'm here for," he says calmly, and Elijah nods, not moving from where he's sheltered by two potted Egyptian ferns with overflowing fronds.

"Questions," Elijah replies, and Bill gets the impression that it would have been sing-song if Elijah weren't looking so utterly hopeless. "You want to ask me questions. You always," he accuses without heat, "want to ask me questions." His eyes glitter a little, and a tiny smile turns up the corners of his mouth. "It was different last time, though. Last time you locked me up in that room again."

Bill's heart thuds, vague recollections floating past his conscious mind, too fragmentary to hold onto, only wisps of possible memories. "What did you do?" he asks, more breath than voice because a part of him knows that something happened, he felt terrible, and Dom...but Dom was in the cave...

"I got out," Elijah says simply. "I had to come here." He shifts a little, fingers straying to one of the ferns, reaching as if without Elijah's conscious direction to touch the fronds. Bill's eyes travel with the movement, his attention on the way that Elijah's fingers curl loosely around the leaves, caressing.

"How did you get out?" Bill demands, because no matter what happened 'last time', whenever that was, this is something he can pursue, a fact Dom gave him last night and which Elijah has just confirmed. "Dom told me he locked the door."

Elijah's smile is soft, just a little bit warm with pride. "I told Dom already," he answers quietly, and his fingertips feather through the fronds, dust-light. "I asked them to let me out. I can talk to things that are...mechanical. We speak the same language."

Mechanical, Bill's mind catches, and locks onto that word as if it holds all of the answers in itself. He doesn't know why, but it feels important, crucial, like something he's forgotten until only just now. Elijah smiles faintly again, sadly. "You're starting to remember, aren't you?" he asks gently. "I knew you would. I didn't think so, when I started the first time, but too many things have been...not-quite-right." He looks up, and Bill is suddenly terrified of the intelligence in that gaze, especially when partnered with such casual dialogue. "You know?"

Elijah's hand retracts, and Bill's stomach lurches as he sees the fern reach after it...no. Droop. The fern follows the motion of Elijah's hand as it drops, and hangs where it is, limp and less healthy than before. Bill's eyes snap up to meet Elijah's, filled with horror. "What have you done to them?" he breathes, remembering the plants this morning, the ones that didn't look quite as bright and shiny as the others. "What are you doing?"

Elijah shakes his head. "I'm not hurting them," he promises, but Bill can see the evidence against that case in the way the fern hangs, tired and low to the ground. "They'll be fine in another day, if we have one." Bill's mind whirls, and he tries to determine whether this is threat, warning, or idle speculation on Elijah's part, because when he says it, if we have one, Bill actually believes that they might not. "I'm taking what I need from them. Just oxygen, and water. They process it in a different way than people do." He holds his hand out in front of him, palm towards Bill, and smiles. "So do I."

Time freezes, and suddenly Bill remembers...something. Something about Elijah. Something he's never known, to be able to forget. "You've made me forget things," he says abruptly, and Elijah looks surprised, shaking his head after a moment of hesitation, but a moment is all Bill needed to be sure. "What have you made me forget?" he demands, beginning to stalk again, edging Elijah back along the far wall of the botanical bay. "What else...?" And then he stops, because he remembers, or at least he thinks he does.

"You've slept with Dom, haven't you?" Bill accuses, and Elijah shakes his head, but there's both truth and lie in his answer, and all Bill cares about is the lie. "You have," he breathes, and Elijah flinches, damning himself with one little telltale gesture. "You little whore," Bill says, and the anger feels good, is something he can count on, can believe in without doubting his own mind, because he thinks that this is slowly driving him insane. "When?" he demands, taking another step closer, and Elijah's eyes dart past him to the botanical bay doors, but he's frozen, undecided between fight-or-flight.

Bill answers his own question, with the only explanation that makes sense. "Here," he concludes flatly, and takes another step before stopping, just out of touching distance. "Last night." Elijah shakes his head desperately, but his eyes are hiding something, and Bill knows what it is. Bill thought he was protecting Dom by getting to Elijah first, but he's already too late. Elijah got to Dom before Bill even realized he was a threat.

Elijah is fast, but Bill anticipates the move, and he has the advantage of distance. Elijah slams into the work station with a thud as Bill tackles him on his way to the door and twists one arm behind his back, and as Elijah squirms in his arms, Bill pulls out the hypodermic needle he brought with him from the science lab and stabs it into Elijah's thigh.

Elijah shudders, freezing in place, eyes wide and surprised. He stops fighting entirely, which leaves Bill free to slowly draw the needle out and examine the tip of it, while Elijah watches him with black fate written in his eyes. There's no blood. Not a drop. Even if Bill didn't hit a vein, which is all too likely, he broke the skin. There should be blood.

He acts before Elijah has time to prepare a defense, spinning Elijah around and slamming him down hard chest-first against the work counter. Elijah fights him for the briefest second, but Bill pins him in place with his hips and brings his needle up into Elijah's line of sight, and all struggling abruptly ceases. "You don't bleed," Bill announces with what he considers to be exceptional calmness, in light of the situation. "Do you bruise?" He shakes his head, pulling Elijah back a little to slam his hips into the hard edge of the counter again, making his point as emphatically as possible. "I don't think so. Not without blood."

Elijah doesn't move a muscle as Bill deliberately positions the needle against the meat of Elijah's shoulder and slowly sinks it in. Elijah twitches, breath coming faster and filled with pain, but Bill still can't draw blood. When he pulls the needle out, Elijah's flesh closes around the puncture mark as if it was never penetrated. "What are you?" he asks, but Elijah doesn't have to answer. Bill already knows.

"A machine," he states wonderingly, his palm skating over the back of Elijah's neck, over fine hairs and goose-pimpled skin. "You're not even alive." Another piece falls into place, and Bill speaks without asking Elijah whether or not it's true. "And Dom knows."

Elijah stirs a little, but Bill keeps him trapped, tugging warningly on the arm twisted behind Elijah's back. He doesn't know if Elijah can be broken like this, but he strongly suspects, from the way Elijah's shivers and stills beneath him, that the answer is yes. Elijah's voice is high with pain, but amazingly meek when he answers. "Dom doesn't know," he states openly. "But he will. By the time he comes back from the cave, he'll know."

"They find something," Bill suddenly realizes, and the relief at knowing that Dom will come back unharmed is so great that he nearly relaxes his grip. He tightens it instead when he notices what he's about to do, and Elijah's breath hisses in a choked whisper and his eyes squeeze closed. "And you," Bill says tightly, slamming into Elijah with his hips because there's no other way for him to take out his frustration, the painful knowledge of his own impotence. "You seduce him. You get inside his head and twist him all up." Just like he's getting into Bill's head, but it's too late for that now. And if Bill is going to be the one to go down with this ship for the sake of the others, he'll gladly do it.

"Does he know you won't bruise when he fucks you?" Bill snarls, and Elijah tries to shake his head but fails, because Bill pulls him back again, just enough to slam him once more against the hard plast-al surface of the work station. "Would you bruise if I fucked you now?"

His own words shock him, and he knows that they shock Elijah, because everything in Elijah suddenly goes limp, and he shudders once, trapped and defeated. Bill feels a rush of power like nothing else he's ever felt, and every single second of frustration that he's had over the past two days suddenly surges forth to find one concentrated outlet. "Will he still want you if I have you first?" Bill demands, and his fingers curl and yank at Elijah's trousers, popping the buttons with the force of his anger. "Will you even tell him?" His own trousers are next; he undoes the buttons in vicious tugs, and shoves them down just far enough that his cock is free, hard and hot against Elijah's bared skin.

He reaches out to jerk open the drawer beside them, and wants to laugh out loud from the irony of it, of where they're actually going to do this and what he's going to use to do it. "Do you know what this is?" Bill asks, rolling the thick tube across the table's surface to where it stops in front of Elijah, who is still pinned and panting against the work station. Elijah hesitates and then shakes his head, and Bill pops the cap off of the sample tube with his thumb, holding it close to Elijah's nose so that he can inhale the fragrance.

"They make it from a tree discovered on Little Earth VII. It's like sap, only lighter, and less sticky." Bill dips his thumb in and smears the slightest trace across Elijah's cheek, and Elijah shivers again, eyes fluttering shut. "What will this do to you, do you think?" Bill asks idly, pent-up rage somehow being transmuted to tight, controlled fury. "Too much?" Elijah doesn't answer, probably because he doesn't know, and Bill pauses for only a moment, the sample tube full of sap poised in the air between them. "Say no," Bill states calmly, adrenaline coursing beneath his skin, through his blood stream, "and I won't."

Elijah stays silent for a few frantic heartbeats, and then he exhales softly and his muscles loosen, spilling him laxly across the surface of the work station. "Yes," he breathes, and Bill's vision turns red with triumph and animal lust. He inverts the tube and shivers as the sap coats his cock, oozing slowly along the length until he smears it in more thoroughly, and then positions himself with icy control, and perfect restraint.

Elijah lies still beneath him, a mechanical toy that won't bruise, won't bleed, won't break. Bill closes his eyes, hand closing hard around Elijah's white hip, and thrusts.

"Where will he go to find you?" Bill asks, tugging Elijah along by one elbow as they head for the botanical bay doors. Elijah stumbles clumsily behind him, dazed and fragmented. Bill won't let himself feel guilt, not yet. Not until he knows the extent of the damage that Elijah has done.

Elijah blinks when Bill pulls him to a halt, swaying slightly as he looks distantly through Bill, to somewhere else. "Not here," he answers finally, and then the words pull from him, reluctantly shared. "The engine room. He finds me in the engine room."

"How long?" Bill demands, and Elijah shakes his head helplessly, still looking dazed and completely undone. "How long?" Bill repeats, slowly and deliberately, and Elijah parts his lips but doesn't answer, gaze drifting again until Bill shakes him roughly, bringing him back.

"I don't know," Elijah whispers, and his eyes plead for Bill to believe him. In truth, Bill thinks guiltily, he wouldn't be surprised if Elijah no longer had enough strength in him to lie. But no guilt, not now. Bill pulls Elijah along behind him, calculating times and distances, and finally decides that he can't risk it, he has to be where he knows Dom will be, where Dave will be as well. Where all of them come together again, and this finally ends. Bill shoves Elijah hard, propelling him through the departure bay doors, and then sees with surprise that they're later than he thought. Dom is already here.

"Bill," Dom begins, while Dave stares at Bill as if he's lost his mind, and Dom frowns as he looks first at Bill, then at Elijah. "What...?"

"Tell them," Bill says fiercely, as Elijah sags, unsupported, and slumps against the wall. Dom takes a step towards him, but Bill's gaze freezes him, holds him in place. Dave hand moves slightly against his thigh, as if he's only waiting for Bill to give him a reason to draw his firearm and shoot. Bill is glad that Dave doesn't ask, because it would be a tempting thing to do. Make up a story and take Elijah out of their lives forever. If Elijah can die. They still don't know. "Tell. Them," Bill repeats, biting off the words, and Elijah looks up wearily to meet Dom's bewildered gaze.

"He already knows," Elijah answers sadly, looking at Dom in a way that Bill can't comprehend, can only regret his part in causing. "Don't you? You remember." And Dom's frown slowly eases, replaced by a look of complete shock and recollection, and he nods. Dave doesn't, Bill can see it on his face. Whatever has been happening to Dom and Bill, it hasn't affected Dave as strongly. Dave's expression says plainly that he doesn't even know what he's trying to remember, or that he knew there was something he had forgotten. But they have, Bill knows. They've all forgotten.

"You're an A.I.," Dom answers, calmly enough, the tiniest hint of a fidget lurking in his fingers where they brush against his trousers. "We found the pieces you lost, they were buried under a mound of dirt in the third chamber." He shakes his head, obviously struggling to make sense of it, and then looks back in apologetic regret at Elijah. "You should have hidden them in the first chamber. We didn't go back there."

"You would have only found them sooner," Elijah points out, and Bill turns to meet Dom's silently questioning glance. "And I didn't know. You wouldn't tell me what you'd found," he says wearily, sliding a fraction of an inch against the wall supporting him, "So I didn't know what to hide. And besides," he adds, looking at Bill with an expression that Bill can't fully comprehend, "it wouldn't have mattered. You've started to remember."

"Things that have already happened," Bill clarifies for Dave's benefit. "Things he's made us forget somehow." But Elijah is shaking his head, and Bill stops in surprise, sure that he had come up with the solution.

"Things that are happening now," Elijah corrects quietly, and the final clue slips into place inside Bill's head. He sees Dom get it at the same instant, and then he's shaking with fury, barely able to explain to himself why he feels so violated and confused.

"How many times?" Bill demands, advancing on Elijah, who is cowering against the wall, trembling. "How many times have you restarted this day?" Dom is at his side suddenly, a gentle hand placed on Bill's arm, and Bill realizes sickeningly how close he is to killing Elijah right now, if you can even call it killing with a machine. Dave is only a few steps away from him, firearm within easy reach, and the recognition of that impulse destroys any hope Bill has of ever following through on it. He is going to put an end to this, though, before they can repeat any more mistakes. Their worst one is standing in front of them, guilty and despairing.

"As many as I had to," Elijah says determinedly, and there's only the slightest quaver in his voice as he speaks, chin tilted up defensively. "I would have died. There were no plants, not enough air, not enough water...I couldn't breathe," he explains plaintively, and Bill shakes his head silently but doesn't speak. Dave's face is starting to change, understanding dawning as it has for Bill and then Dom, and Bill thinks grimly that none of them will forget this now, no matter what Elijah does, because they've all remembered it together.

"It took you months to find me," Elijah begs, and Bill might be moved to pity if he didn't know that Elijah has been ruthlessly manipulating them in order to ensure his own survival, driving them daily closer to insanity or some other fate too terrible to contemplate. "I was never in the right place, or you weren't, and there was no one else. And then you found me, I finally got it right, and everything went wrong." He sways, as if dizzy, and Bill still can't find words. Elijah's voice is hushed, saddened. "You weren't supposed to remember."

"But we did," Dom says, gruff but still amazingly gentle, and Bill can only wonder at the forgiveness and understanding that Dom seems to have in boundless quantities. Dave nods as Dom speaks, the final confirmation. "Or we started to. And every time you went back, it got worse."

"It's why I was dumped in the first place," Elijah whispers, and Bill could almost believe him to be on the verge of exhausted tears, if he didn't know better that Elijah was electronics and programming, and not actually human. "I was supposed to be perfect, but something went wrong. I'm flawed. He couldn't let anyone find out, and they would have, I make mistakes, I'm not real enough..." Elijah draws in a ragged breath, and his fingers curls into fists, which relax almost immediately. "So he left me here."

Who? Bill wants to ask, but before he can speak, Elijah's fingers uncurl completely, and he sees something that looks familiar, déjà vu again, and his breath constricts in his chest. He sees recognition on Dom's face, and on Dave's as well. They've all seen this. They've all been taken back. "And now I have to go back again," Elijah says resolutely, alien-looking cube held between his hands, the sides shifting in unfathomable patterns beneath Elijah's shaking fingers.

"Elijah, wait," Bill orders, panic rapidly rising to fog his mind as he recognizes what's happening, what's about to happen all over again like it has however many times before. "It won't work, you know that. We remember more every time, we'll know what you are. You can't just erase this."

Elijah's fingertips press in, and Bill swallows as the world lurches. "I have to," Elijah whispers, and Bill feels as if he's sinking, drowning under the weight of his own despair and the inevitability of a recurring fate that never has an ending. "You'll kill me otherwise. At least..." he swallows, and the cube's sides rotate, slowly grinding into place. "At least this way I'm alive."

Bill tries to speak again, and he sees Dave already reaching for his firearm, but this time Dom is ahead of them, taking slow, measured steps towards Elijah with his arms spread to the sides, palms upturned. "Elijah," Dom murmurs, and Elijah trembles, full body head-to-toe, as if hypnotized by Dom's gaze and slow, steady advance. "Don't do this. I swear to you," he promises vehemently, nearly within reach of Elijah now, while the cube spins and changes, and Bill begs silently for Dave to pull the trigger, even though he knows that Dom is deliberately blocking the shot, while everything in him says too late too late too late. "We won't hurt you."

Bill's stomach jumps as Elijah doesn't move away, allows Dom to finish his approach, and Dom's body presses gently and securely against Elijah's, one arm sliding around his waist to hold him steady. "Let me," Dom says softly, and Elijah doesn't move, doesn't protest, doesn't blink.

"Dom," Bill says quietly, giving permission, and Dom teases Elijah by rubbing their noses lightly together, nuzzling gently until Elijah yields and his lips part, upturning for a kiss.

And Dom pries the twisting, tangled cube of time from Elijah's fingers and shatters it against the wall.

And Elijah screams, but the sound is muffled by Dom's mouth.

And the world...shudders, but doesn't change. Doesn't shift. Bill remembers.

"We all make mistakes, Elijah," Dom whispers, as Elijah slowly crumples into his arms. "And then we learn from them."

Bill shifts position, unfreezing, and Dom looks over at him. "All right there, Bill?"

Bill nods, feeling the moment pass, settle into something new. "All right."

And time ticks on.



Slashababy 2004 Stories