his is the first face he sees when he wakes up. he sees a living, human person looking at him and everything so far just spills out of him and he cries, he cries like a baby does, curls his fingers into the man’s hair and heaves sobs that make his entire body tremble.
and he holds him, puts his arm around him and shushes him, tells him it’s okay. it takes a while for mann to notice the others. the man starts to talk — says his name is cooper, says he’s here with romilly and brand, says they’re here now. he listens to that voice, human and real, warm, latches onto the fact that he can feel cooper's breath against his face. the reality of it calms him, the voice soothes him, and cooper half lifts him out of his pod, helps him stumble out as his sobs die out.
he doesn’t want cooper to let go of him, at first, comforted by the hand on his shoulder, the other around his wrist (real skin! human skin, against his own!) feeling warm in the cold of the habitation. brand is shuffling through the supplies until she pulls out one of those shock blankets, wraps it around him. it’s not weird. they understand, they know — he doesn’t have to explain. a warm cup of tea is placed in his hand, and cooper sits right across from him, where mann can see him.
(romilly comes to him after, tells him — he was alone 23 years. he thought he'd orbit until the station would just power down. romilly's hand on his shoulder is steady, squeezes, and mann appreciates it. romilly's eyes are old, like his, tired.)
they're so excited by his finds and his data that mann almost forgets he forged it all. showing them reports of what they wanted to find, exactly what they'd want to hear; their faces light up, brand's smile is so hopeful and giddy. he almost forgets.
then brand dies.
it changes things. the truth comes out, and they aren't ready. that's why there was need for a lie in the first place. they can't concieve of this, can't leave their people behind. cooper says he's going home, like they have enough fuel to go to edmunds' and back, like cooper's the only one that wants to live, like his family is more important than the entire human race.
mann was right. empathy rarely extends beyond one's line of sight.
there was no concrete plan. there'd been no concrete hope that he'd ever be found. it shapes itself as things unfold. they're carrying out the mission here, even if it's useless and pointless. mann doesn't tell them, waits too long for the right moment. so he plays along, watches instead for another window of time in which he might make an escape. take care of the one thing in his way.
he takes cooper on a little walk.
killing cooper isn't easy. mann distances himself as much as he can; he's been this long without attachment, has nothing left on earth to live for. he just wants to stop cooper from going back, to stop him from potentially ducking up their mission. but coopers face —
he screams, yells, can't pretend it doesn't feel good to fight, to lie, to take control again. it feels so good. he's trapped beneath him now, and lifts his head, heavy with his helmet, to smack the glass of his visor against coopers.
there's a 50/50 chance you'll kill yourself! cooper yells, and mann thinks that barely hours ago he was already dead, and keeps hitting —
the hiss of success, cooper's whooping gasps, and mann is back on his feet. cooper writhes around, in agony, and mann thinks he should feel good about this, thought he'd feel victorious, but —
but he can't watch him die. he tries, thinks himself the better, stronger man -- but fuck, he can't. cooper's suffering, slowly being suffocated. the amonia in the air is just enough to slow this down into a near torturous death. mann talks him through it. tells him he's there for him, like cooper did with him, soothing. cooper brought him back, and now their roles are reversed. he tries to be kind, recites that poem, to make this easier, but then it's too much. then he gets scared.
he turns off the communicator.
it's his survival instinct that makes him turn around and climb away, it's that voice in his head telling him he's gone too far to back down now. it's too late.
he realises it's meaningless to try and convince himself cooper's death isn't on him as the habitat blows up under his eyes. romilly, he thinks, feels the weight of his hand on his shoulder like a ghost before it's swept away by the wind. romilly is on him. kipp is on him.
cooper, too, who's face was the first he saw after decades without another human being. the mission is more important than that, it's more important than his yearning to be with other people.
he is humanity's survival instinct, and he will do what it takes for it to survive.
switching back on only floods him with brand's shouts for romilly, cooper wheezing something, their voices overlapping. there's no time for anything — he reminds himself of the mission. save the human race. save yourself.
he climbs aboard the ship and if he thought he still had any left, he'd be leaving his humanity behind. it turns out it's already been chipped away by years spent on this treacherous land of ice.
his plan still seems solid, up until he's up in the air about to dock his their ship. bran and cooper are talking but he's blocking them out, trying to get the ship in place. eventually he shuts them off completely again, unable to stand coopers and brands voices, unable to focus with them echoing the small part of him asking what next?
it's not about them anymore, it's about the human race, and he's spent so long thinking of how he's failed (how he'd never considered he might) to save humanity — now it's all he can do. save the world, be the hero. be the bravest of them. if he has to do it alone, he can — he's not thinking about WHERE, on what planet — none of that is in the immediate, the part of him asking what's the plan after this? travel to edmunds', execute plan b? what if edmund's planet is just as horrible as his world? silenced in his rush of adrenaline, his urgency to dock the goddamn ship and take control over the mission.
he doesn't even realise cooper's alive. it doesn't click. he's telling brand he knows what he's doing — and then, it's ironic, because he doesn't even realise he's dying. it happens in the blink of an eye, and before he can register it, he's gone.
scattered among the wreck, into oblivion.
like he'd never really mattered.