There wasn't much to do on the ship that was taking them to Samoa, but Dr. Wave tried his best to keep himself busy. He walked from one end of the deck to the other, roamed the open cabins, and talked to anyone who would give him a minute of their time. He scribbled everything down in a notebook, even if he knew that he'd never publish a word of what he'd seen on the Austral Island. For humanity's sake, it had to remain buried under the sea. No matter. His burning thirst for the island's secrets was gone, his enthusiasm replaced by disappointment and bitterness.
He didn't want to be alone, but he also didn't want to talk to Doris and the others. Because he was there. Sticking to the edges of their group and watching the others with a half-smile, Skipper looked so much like the man Wave had believed to be his friend that he couldn't stomach it. So he kept to GAIL's people, even if the company of military men usually made him uneasy.
I didn't use to mind him, though, did I, he thought as he turned to look at the endless blue sea around them.
He was a coward. Here he was, watching GAIL's men play cards and pretending to laugh at their crude jokes while his sister was with that monster. They had kept Skipper's rampage a secret from the children and only told them of his betrayal, but Wave knew what he'd done to Lady Lynx. He'd seen her injuries. He should have kept Doris by his side, but he'd left her behind because he couldn't bear to deal with his own broken heart. He truly was a pitiful failure of a man and a brother.
The sound of footsteps made him turn around, and if not for the railing, he would have jumped straight into the ocean. He let out an embarrassing high-pitched squeal, but at this point everyone was used to that from him, so nobody paid him any mind.
“S-skipper! What are you doing here?”
Skipper pointed a thumb behind his back. “Doris asked me to get you. We're about to have lunch.”
How dare he talk like that, like this was just another day on the carrier, like he hadn't shown his true colors? The arrogance of it made Wave's head light with anger, and he was suddenly on his feet, glaring up at the man who was towering over him.
“You! Don't you ever talk to my sister again!”
Skipper cocked his head to the side. “Oh? Are you worried I'd do something to her?”
“Then why are you here and not with her to make sure I don't touch her?”
And just like that, all of Wave's anger and bravery were gone, and he wanted to turn into the slime he felt like and slip through the deck boards. Skipper had always been good at reading him and putting into words exactly what was going through his head. Even when he'd used it to take jabs at him, Wave had seen it as a sign of their friendship. He'd never had many friends in life, but that kind of thing was something you did with someone who mattered to you, wasn't it? Doris certainly never missed a chance to make fun of him.
“Well... That... She's with Yuu, isn't she?”
“And you think he'd be able to stop me if I decided to do something?”
Wave swallowed. Of course not. Yuu was just a kid. On the island, it had been so easy to rely on him and Gorg, but they were back in the regular world where aliens and ancient technology didn't matter. Skipper could snap Yuu's neck with one hand if he wanted.
Just as he was imagining that, Skipper put a hand on Wave's shoulder, and he just about peed his pants.
“Don't worry. I have nothing against her. I won't touch her.”
“L-like I'll believe your promises, after what you did!” Somehow, Wave found the courage to shove Skipper's massive hand away and stomped past him in search of the others. He tried his best to look defiant, but his knees were shaking. He didn't believe for a moment that Skipper wouldn't hurt Doris because he cared about her. He just had nothing to gain from it now, but if that ever changed...
He didn't care about any of them. If he could sell everyone on the ship out for some more money, he'd do it in a heartbeat. Wave had been sure he'd never hate anyone as much as the people in charge of GAIL, but Skipper had proved him wrong.
For the sake of Doris and the others, he forced his anger away when he reached them. The children were sitting on the deck, each holding a plate of canned soup that they'd heated in the galley. They were laughing and planning all the things they'd do when they were back in New York, and their happiness made Wave feel a little better. Soon, he'd have to think about how he'd take care of four children and a dog when he had no job or home and had blown all his savings on this expedition, but for now he pushed that thought aside and joined them.
“Where's Skipper?” Yuu asked, and Wave realized that the man hadn't followed him.
“I don't know. Maybe he had something to do.”
“His soup is going to get cold.”
“Hmph, like that's our problem,” Doris said, and Wave felt a rush of affection that she at least hadn't just forgiven him. He recalled how many times she had told him Skipper was suspicious and there was no way a man like that would be friends with a useless academic like him without ulterior motives. She'd been right. She was always right, now that he thought about it, but he just kept getting swept away by his dreams.
“Yeah,” Alois agreed, poking at the plate of soup with his foot like he wanted to knock it over. “It's his fault everyone on the island almost died. If Manon hadn't –”
“Let's not talk about that,” Yuu said and guided the conversation back to what Alois and Sara wanted to learn in the States and take back to their people. Wave kept quiet and ate his soup. Skipper didn't come back during the meal, and even though he'd told him to stay away from Doris, he couldn't help but feel like he'd been let down again.
Skipper didn't talk to him again for the rest of their voyage. As far as Wave knew, he didn't talk to the others, either, except Yuu who was the only one to seek him out. Whenever Wave spotted him, he was alone, watching the sea or napping on the deck. If their eyes met, Wave made an angry face at him to let him know what he thought of him. What he got in return was an amused smirk, which only made his fury burn brighter. How dare the bastard make light of his feelings and act like none of what had happened mattered?
And then, after barely two days, they reached Samoa. Everyone poured from the ship, happy to be on safe land again. Lynx promised them a ride back to the States as an apology for everything that she and her group had put them through, and Wave was more than happy to accept. It was one problem less to worry about.
It was when they were having dinner on the day before their flight that he realized he hadn't seen Skipper since the ship had reached the island. He didn't know when he'd come ashore and where he'd gone, and the thought made him nervous. Was he gone? Or was he still around, watching them?
As soon as he could, he pulled Yuu aside and whispered into his ear, “Do you know where Skipper is?”
Yuu gave him a confused frown. “No, he didn't tell me what his plans were. Didn't he tell you, either?”
“Me? Why would he tell me?”
“Oh, hahaha, that wasn't real, Yuu. He was lying to us the whole time, remember?”
There was a hurt look on Yuu's face. Poor boy. He'd probably seen something like a father figure in Skipper, after having lost his own so recently. Another sign of what a failure Wave was. His mentor had placed his son in his care, and he was so terrible at taking care of him that he had to look for guidance in a man like Skipper.
“Dr. Wave, I don't think that's –”
He patted Yuu's shoulder and gave him a sad smile. “Don't worry about it. If he's gone, good. We should forget all about him. And you should call me Tom. We're starting a new life together. I'll look after all of you.”
“Right...” Yuu didn't sound convinced, but Wave didn't bother to think about which part of what he'd said was making him doubtful.
Arriving in New York was a great relief to Doris. She'd been more homesick on the island than she'd let anyone in on. At the same time, seeing the joy on her face was a grim reminder of everything they'd lost. GAIL had wrecked their home along with all their belongings, and with the corporation in shambles and dealing with their international downfall, there was no point in asking Rod for any compensation. He no longer had a place to call his own, either.
Wave knew that if he didn't do something soon, Doris's happiness would turn into sorrow. He should have taken care of her when their parents had died, but he'd had his head in the clouds, so she had taken care of him instead. She'd done all the housework, reminded him to pay the bills, and whatever pocket change she'd gotten out of helping around in the neighborhood had gone into buying groceries. If he'd been a hopeless dreamer, she had been a strict realist, simply because he'd left her no choice.
He had to start doing better. He was laughing stock in the academic circles and didn't think he could handle any normal job for long, but he'd try. He'd scrub floors and do night shifts at burger joints if it meant his sister could have a real home again. No more dreams of grand adventures and changing history with his publications. He'd make up for everything that Doris had lost because of her worthless brother.
And Yuu, Alois, and Sara, he thought. Logically, he knew that he could never get the kind of job that'd help him offer a home and a decent life to four children. It couldn't work. Yuu had mentioned he had family back in Japan who could take him in, so maybe... But it'd break Doris's heart to be separated from him. He couldn't ask him to go back. And Alois and Sara were all alone in a new country. After everything they'd done to help them on the island, it was only right to give them something back.
He wanted to tear his hair out, but he forced a smile on his face as they were walking on the pavement and looking for the right address. An old friend from college had a nice place in Brooklyn and had promised to let them stay while he was visiting his parents for a week. After that, he didn't know what they'd do.
“Alright, here we are! Make yourselves at home, but don't break anything! Mike said he's got blankets and pillows in some closet, so let's look for them,” he said when they arrived. The landlord had given him the keys, along with a suspicious look. Wave guessed a group of one man and four children, all ratty and dirty from travel, had to look very out of place in such a nice neighborhood.
He took a seat in the kitchen and sighed. He felt like he didn't have the strength to ever get up again. The sound of the children's happy chatter as they were putting together their sleeping area in the living room only made him more depressed. How would they feel when he let them down?
“Tom? Are you okay?”
He lifted his head from his hands and looked at Doris. She was giving him a concerned frown, and he thought he deserved a punch for that. In what world was it okay that a girl had to worry about her adult brother?
“Oh! Yes! Just a little tired.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely! Well, maybe I'm a little sad that all of Austral's secrets are now buried in the ocean, but –”
“Don't lie to me, Tom. I'm not stupid. I know we're in trouble.”
“W-what? What do you mean?”
She sighed in exasperation. “I know we need money and a place to stay. Do you think I don't know those things don't just magically appear? I've lived with you for years!”
Wave let out a weak laugh. “I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to worry about those things at your age. It's my job to take care of you, but I'm a total screw-up.”
“I know,” she said and took a seat by his side. “But you're my brother. We'll figure something out. Maybe if I don't go to school –”
“No way, Doris! All of you go to school! I'll work from dawn to dusk. I'll go begging to all my old friends. Maybe even Walter. I'm sure he'd throw me a bone just to see me humiliated like that, hahaha...”
“Don't be an idiot. Something will come up. Maybe we can talk to dad's relatives.”
“Maybe,” Wave agreed, mostly to make Doris stop trying to reassure him. “I'll go to the bank tomorrow. I should have some money left. If it's enough for a few months' rent, we could get our own place. Then I'd have some time to look for a good job.”
“There you go,” Doris said brightly, maybe a little too much so. “Everything will work out! You'll see.”
“Yes, I'm sure you're right. Why don't you go back to the others? I'll fix us something to eat.”
“Are you kidding? Your cooking is terrible! I'll cook, you make yourself useful somehow,” Doris said and all but shooed him out of the kitchen. When he got to the living room, Yuu, Alois and Sara all turned away and started acting like they'd been in the middle of something. Maybe they'd heard what they'd been talking about. Lovely, now all four of them knew he couldn't take care of them like he'd promised.
Oh well, he thought. Maybe that'd make the disappointment a little easier to bear once everything crumbled to dust around them. Thanks heavens Mike was a teetotaler because if there had been a drop of alcohol in the apartment, Wave was sure he would have drowned himself in it.
The next day, he went to the bank as soon as it opened. The children came with him, but he made them wait in the park a few blocks down the street. He'd taken some spare change Mike had lying around in his apartment and given it to them so they could buy themselves breakfast.
He'd replace the money later, he thought for the fifth time to stop feeling guilty. He wanted to laugh at himself, but he figured he'd save it for later when he found out just how much money there was left on his account.
Half an hour later, he emerged from the bank and started walking towards the park, his feet unsteady and eyes unseeing so that he kept bumping into other people in the street. He found the children sitting on a bench and eating hot dogs, and he sank onto the empty spot between them.
“Well? How was it?” Doris asked.
Wave didn't reply. He felt Doris grab his shoulder and shake him.
“Tom? Tom! What is it? Was there any money at all? Are we in the red? You can tell me!”
“Yeah!” Alois agreed. “We'll help you! Sara and I can find work!”
“And me! Don't worry, Dr. Wave!” Yuu said.
“We're rich,” Wave muttered.
The children grew quiet and stared at him in confusion.
“What? Do we have more than you thought? How much is it? A thousand? Two?” Doris asked.
Wave didn't know whose voice it was that bellowed the question. Maybe all four of them.
“There are millions of dollars on my bank account,” he said.
After that, a mess of excitement and bafflement swallowed them. Wave felt like he was in the eye of the storm as the children yelled and speculated to each other. Doris hugged him and cried into his shoulder, and he realized just how much the whole thing had been weighing on her. But none of it felt real. He knew where the money had come from, but he couldn't bring himself to say it.
Thankfully, someone else could.
“Skipper! It must have been him!” Yuu said. “When I talked to him in the brig, he told me he'd been paid millions for the job.”
“How could it have been him? He doesn't know Tom's bank account,” Doris said.
“He's got CIA connections. I bet it's a piece of cake to get that kind of info.”
“Okay, then I have a better question. Why would he give the money to us after he worked so hard to earn it?”
“I... don't know,” Yuu said. “Maybe it's his way to apologize?”
“Bah! If he cared, he would have never sold us out in the first place,” Wave said, spitting the words out like they burned his tongue. “And if it's an apology, then it's not accepted!”
“But, Tom –”
“Don't worry, Doris. I'm taking the money. I'd be crazy not to. But if I see that bastard ever again, I'll show him!” Wave said and slammed his fist into his palm.
“Easy to say now, but I bet he wouldn't act so tough if Skipper was really here,” Alois whispered to Sara.
Wave acted like he hadn't heard that. It was true. He was scared of the man Skipper had turned out to be. Whatever his reasons for giving them the money, Wave would count himself lucky if he never saw him again.
The children wanted to celebrate their sudden new fortune, so he took them out to a fair and a restaurant. They deserved something nice, he figured, to make them forget about all the fright and dangers they'd suffered on the island. He wanted a break, too, but for him that meant a cup of tea and time alone with his thoughts, so he hoped he could get the others tired enough that they'd go to bed early.
That night, he tip-toed out of Mike's apartment with a mug of hot tea and a handful of cookies and took them up to the roof. Or so he planned, but the door was locked, so he had no choice but to sit down in the dark hallway. It was probably for the best. It had become winter during their time on the island, so he'd have frozen to death in just the over-sized bathrobe he'd borrowed.
He couldn't deny that the money took a load off his shoulders, but he also couldn't say it made him happy. Not even after he realized that he wouldn't have to do any kind of work. He could pick any topic his heart desired and spend the rest of his life researching it, even if nothing productive ever came of it. That had been a lifelong dream.
“Hmph,” he snorted and crossed his arms on his chest. He didn't want his dreams fulfilled by him. Not anymore.
The bastard had a lot of nerve, disappearing without a word and then dumping a fortune on him. Was it supposed to make things better? Wave didn't want his money. He wanted back the long nights they'd spent on Skipper's boat and talked about his research, the feeling that someone so amazing wanted to be his friend and liked him even if he was a hopeless star-gazer.
It had been too good to be true, just like Doris had told him over and over.
“Dammit!” he swore and tossed one of the cookies at the wall. He wished he could do it with the mug, but he was worried Mike would get mad.
Right, Mike. It wasn't like he was all alone. He had other friends. It was just... Skipper had meant so much to him. He had been someone completely unlike him. Wave had admired him for his strength and courage, neither of which he felt he had, and it had made him feel so woozy that someone like that had wanted his company. Usually, people like that mocked him.
“Dr. Wave? Are you here?”
“Huh? Yuu, is that you? What are you doing here?”
“I couldn't sleep, and then I noticed you were gone. I got worried.”
“Worried? About me?” Wave laughed. “Well, I guess you have every reason to, considering how clumsy I can be.”
Yuu didn't join his laughter. The sound of his footsteps came closer until he sat down on the floor next to Wave.
“Are you thinking about Skipper?”
“W-what? Why would I be thinking about him?”
“I am, too,” Yuu said. “I wonder where he is right now. And if he's thinking about us.”
“Hmph! Probably in the middle of tricking some other poor suckers into trusting him so that he can sell them out to the highest bidder.” He imagined Skipper being nice to someone else, offering them his coffee and the smile that made the scar on his face stop being scary. The thought made him seethe, but not in anger. Mercy on his soul, he was jealous.
“I think he felt bad about what he did to us. That's probably why he gave you the money. To say he's sorry,” Yuu said.
“If he felt sorry, he could have said so to my face. I'm sure he just felt a little guilty and wanted to smooth things over so he could move on and forget about us.” Then again, the amount of money he'd gotten was quite an overkill if that was the case.
“I don't think Skipper's the type to feel guilty for things he does to people he doesn't care about.”
He certainly hadn't felt guilty about beating Lady Lynx. There had been no reason to do that. Skipper could have reached his goals with a gun pointed at her. But he'd thrown her around, hit her, humiliated her, and taunted Rod for not being able to do anything to help her. Only a monster would do that. He hadn't shown a moment of remorse.
But he couldn't say that to Yuu. Someone so young didn't have to know of that kind of horrors, especially now that Skipper was out of their lives.
“How did you meet him?” Yuu asked.
“Ugh, that was a scene straight out of a movie. I was walking home late because I'd been so absorbed in my research at the library, and these thugs decided to mug me. I was sure I'd die, but then Skipper showed up out of nowhere and beat them up for me. He bought me a drink to help me calm down, and then he made sure I got home safe and sound.”
“Oh, wow, that's –”
“Of course, now that I think about it, it was all fake. He had sent those thugs himself so he could make contact with me and win me over. What a fool I was, hahaha.” Wave took off his glasses and wiped at his eyes as they suddenly started stinging.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, yes. Sorry. It's just... I really, really liked him, so it's going to take some time to get used to the idea that he never liked me at all.” He sniffled, hating himself for being this pathetic and that he was telling it all to Yuu.
“But I'm sure that it wasn't all a lie! I told him that I refused to believe it was just a job for him when I went to see him the brig. I think he was having regrets about what he'd done. And he had the time and means to leave the island, but he stayed behind to die with everyone. I can't believe that everything was meaningless to him!”
Alright, maybe it hadn't been meaningless, but it clearly hadn't meant enough. Skipper had still sold them out to the CIA, knowing that the superpowers of the world would destroy the island once they had all the details. He'd known everyone who stayed would die. It was his fault Manon had decided to sink the island once more and that all of Wave's research had been for nothing.
Yuu had had to say goodbye to Gorg, and yet he was still defending Skipper. But maybe that was just in his nature. He'd learned to get along with Rod and Lynx as well. It would have been admirable had it not been so foolish. One day, someone would abuse that trust and ability to forgive.
He was about to tell Yuu that maybe he was right and send him back to bed, just because it wasn't right that a kid his age was helping him deal with his broken heart, but then Yuu spoke again.
“And you know, I think he was scared.”
“Of what you'd say to him if he tried to apologize. When I saw him in the brig, I thought he looked so small and weak. I think he already hated himself so much for what he'd done that he couldn't bear to hear that we hate him, too.”
“Yuu, that's –”
“And he stopped talking to everyone on the ship! I tried to ask him why, and he just said you didn't like him being around us. I'm sure he only listened because he thought you'd yell at him if he didn't.”
Wave wanted to laugh at the idea that anyone, especially a man like Skipper, would be worried that he'd yell at him. He doubted he could have managed much more than an angry squeak. That was part of the problem, he realized. He didn't know how to accept that someone who had made him feel so safe now frightened him.
He'd trusted him. He'd been sure there was no danger in the world that Skipper couldn't protect him from. Instead, he'd stabbed them in the back and betrayed them for money. No, worse. He'd never been their friend in the first place. Everything had been a lie.
The only reason they'd boarded the ship in peace was that everyone had been so grateful to be alive after Manon had stopped the missiles from destroying the island. Leaving Gorg behind had been hard on everyone, and nobody had wanted to ruin Yuu's moment of goodbye. The children had easily fallen back into old patterns and treated Skipper like nothing had ever happened. Wave supposed that the only thing in a long time that he could give himself credit for was telling him to stay away from them. It was the only act he'd managed as a responsible adult during the entire expedition.
“I think you should have talked to him before we reached Samoa,” Yuu said.
“Maybe,” Wave said, hoping to make Yuu stop. Then he could stop thinking about what-ifs. He didn't want to talk to Skipper. He didn't want to understand why he'd sold them out or hear if he regretted it or not. It didn't change the fact that he felt betrayed and humiliated. And if Skipper had shown all these guilty faces of his to Yuu but not to him, that just meant that it was Yuu he cared about, not him.
“I'm sure we'll meet him again,” Yuu went on, voice confident. “And when we do, things will be better.”
“Sure, sure. But now's your time to go to bed. If Doris wakes up and sees that you're gone, she'll have a fit.”
“I'm not tired,” Yuu said, then yawned almost right after. He let out a sheepish sound and got on his feet. He made it a few steps down the stairs, then turned back to talk to Wave again.
“I don't think Skipper is a bad man,” he said.
Wave sighed and took a sip of his tea, now lukewarm, after Yuu had disappeared down the stairs. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps Skipper wasn't a bad man. But he wasn't a good man, either. If they ever met again, Wave wouldn't be able to trust him. Skipper was one of those dangerous men he loathed, men who served only money and had no higher principles or dreams. Unimaginative barbarians.
He hadn't robbed him only of his ambitions to discover ancient secrets and to offer something valuable to mankind. He'd had more dreams than that, ones that seemed so silly now. But even if they'd been broken, he couldn't let go yet. It'd have been so easy if he could have just hated him and put all this behind him.
He hoped he'd never see him again. Because if he did, and if Skipper showed enough remorse – or faked it, most likely – his resolve just might crack. He was weak like that. He knew nothing good would come out of forgiving a man capable of the things Skipper had done, and yet he was scared he might do it.
“Get a hold of yourself, Tom,” he muttered to himself. The children needed him. He had to find something useful to do with his life. He couldn't just lie back and do nothing because he had Skipper's money. If they met again, then at least he wanted to face him as someone who'd moved on and done something on his own merits.
Yes, he decided. He'd use the money to give the children everything they needed, but he wouldn't spend a dime on himself. Or if he did, he'd put it back once he was earning something. Maybe he was a hopeless dreamer who'd had his heart kicked around, but even he had his pride.
Being petty wouldn't heal his wounds, but it'd made him feel a little better and give him the strength to think about the future. Maybe Skipper had given him the money to make sure he'd feel indebted to him and always think of him when he did something with it. Ha, the joke was on him. Suddenly, Wave found himself hoping that they would meet him again, just so that he could rub it to his face that he hadn't needed the money to rebuild his career.
“I didn't need you!” was what he wanted to say when that day came.
He fumbled for his glasses on the floor and put them back on. Feeling so much better, he hummed merrily to himself as he began to get up and return to Mike's apartment. In a treacherous corner of his mind, there was a voice asking whether he wasn't just about to live a new lie, this time one he'd invented himself, but he was quick to silence it. Only seeing and hearing what he wanted was what Doris called his greatest weakness, but at times like this, it was a blessing.