As I break through the water's surface I gasp, sucking air into my starving lungs. Smiling, I admit to myself that I'd almost pushed it too far that time but secretly I'm pleased. It's taken me months but my lung capacity is back up to where it was before my stay in prison.
I stretch out onto my back, luxuriating in the feeling of water flowing around me, supporting me. I can feel its caress even through the rubber of the wetsuit I'm wearing. My body floats calmly in the relative stillness of the water confined inside Aquatica's structure and I find myself thinking about the strange behaviour of one Tom Scoggins, resident facility engineer of the Aquatica research team.
I try to keep out of the way of most of the higher ups here at the facility but since Scoggins is in charge of video surveillance, he's never far away. It's his job to monitor activity in the water when I'm working with the sharks. I've noticed that he watches me a little more... intently... than is strictly needed, but I keep that thought to myself.
I am finally a free man. I know better than to rock the boat. But I do wonder. Maybe he's worried about his expensive video equipment. I'm not sure if the Doc made my prison background common knowledge.
The chill seeping into my bones brings me out of my thoughts. It's strange but my mind always seems to center on Scoggins whenever I let it wander. Must be a side effect of prison life. I smirk as I roll back over and pull the mask down over my face.
I dive, and then swim slowly down to the long tunnel that connects the inner pool to the surface. I concentrate on the air in my chest and the feel of my muscles shifting, working to propel my body along. I'm aware of the fullness of my lungs but I'm not worried. I know the exact distance I have to travel. I know exactly how much air I need.
I pop through the surface of the inner pool like a seal coming up for air. As I look around and reorient myself, I realize Scoggins is waiting for me, as if conjured by my passing thoughts. He is across the room, behind a row of computer monitors, pacing nervously like a caged animal. I shake the water from my hair and face and pull myself clear. "Is there a problem?" As far as I know the sharks are penned securely. I can't think what else could be bothering him.
He paces for a few minutes more, shooting me strange looks as he moves. Finally he stops, gestures towards the pool with his hands and explodes. "How can you stand it?"
I blink at him in confusion. "You mean the sharks? I grew up around deep sea..." I don't get to finish my sentence.
"No! I mean the water!" He is pacing again. Fingers that would normally be dancing over machinery are madly combing over his short hair. "You spend hours working in the water. You spend most of your free time in the water. You even sneak in midnight swims. How the hell can you stand it?"
For a minute I don't understand what he's raving about. So what if I like to hang out in the water? Then it dawns on me. I've never seen Scoggins near the water. He never goes close to the inner pool. Even when we are at surface level, he always seems to keep a large distance between himself and the open sea. "You're afraid of the water."
It's a statement, not a question. I don't need to call him on it. As soon as I had the thought, I knew it was true. It explained all the odd looks he'd been tossing my way. To somebody who has a fear of water, someone like me must seem insane.
"No! I just... I just don't see the appeal, that's all." He looks down at the machine he's standing in front of and starts fiddling.
Yeah right. That comment couldn't convince a deaf man. Scoggins crosses his arms over his chest. His body language has gone from nervous to belligerent. I guess he's taken my silence the wrong way.
"Scoggins..." I start to say something to unruffle his feathers but once again he interrupts me before I can say anything.
"Look! I'm not afraid okay! Just because I don't understand why you'd want to spend your time splashing around like a seal on speed, doesn't mean anything! I... I'm just... curious, that's all."
Uh huh. Tell me another. "Scoggins, it's okay. I understand. Everyone has a fear. If they say they don't, then they just haven't discovered it yet."
Scoggs is eyeing me warily. I can tell he's trying to decide whether or not he can trust me.
"Everyone has a fear huh? So... what's your fear then?"
Even though his face is expressionless, I can hear the anger below the surface of the words. He probably thinks I pity him.
"Spiders," I say instantly, smiling when his jaw drops. Then his mouth snaps closed.
"Very funny," he says from between clenched teeth.
I sigh. Now he thinks I'm making fun of him. "I'm not joking. I really am scared of spiders. I think it's all those legs and how fast they move. I never know which direction they're going to run in."
At his expression, I can't help but laugh. "Luckily for me, there’s no such thing as sea spiders. I'd be in big trouble then."
He joins me in my laughter and his whole body relaxes completely. His smile lingers afterwards and he looks at me thoughtfully.
"What about crabs?" His lips quirk. "They'd probably qualify as sea spiders -- fast with lots of legs. You afraid of them too?"
Glaring at him in mock anger, I shake my head, sending water droplets flying everywhere. "I wasn't until you pointed out the similarities. Thanks a lot!"
He chuckles at my performance. Then his face falls into a strange expression -- a mixture of longing and desperation. He comes out from behind his computers, moving towards me hesitantly. His gaze skitters away from me to the pool in the background and then back to stare at my chest. "I have nightmares... about... about drowning. I dream of water closing over my head, of not being able to breathe." He pauses, then swallows and suddenly I notice how pale he is. A few more seconds pass and then he raises his gaze to meet mine.
He's staring at me intently now. I see admiration in his eyes and I know instinctively that he is embarrassed by his fear, by his inability to cope with something most people don't have to think twice about. I slick back my wet hair, and then gesture toward the elevator. "How 'bout I dry off and then we talk?"
His smile lights up his whole face.
We're both quiet as we ride the elevator down to the crew quarters. Scoggins is shifting his weight from one foot to the other and I smile. If he were any more nervous he'd jump out of his skin. "Relax. I don't bite."
He flashes me a lopsided grin, and then shrugs. "Yeah well, you haven't exactly been Mr. Sociable, you know. This is a little weird."
It's my turn to shrug. "What can I say? I'm not much of a people person. Growing up at sea does that to you. Anyway, I don't think you're in any position to judge what's weird."
He gives me a questioning look and I can't help but grin. "What's weirder than a guy who's afraid of water working at a job that will put him in constant contact with it?"
The glare he fixes on me is set on kill and it makes me chuckle. The elevator grinds to a halt. The door slides open and we both step off. Scoggins is fidgeting again. It makes me wonder what I seem like to people that I make him this nervous.
"Um, my place or yours?" he blurts out, then flushes as he realizes how it sounds.
I smile again. It's strange how his nervousness is affecting me. It makes me want to get to know him, to put him at ease. "Might as well make it mine. I have to get changed anyway."
"Right. Okay. Um... I'll just follow you then."
I lead the way down the narrow corridor to my quarters wondering what Scoggins is hoping to get from our conversation. Talk isn't going to cure his fear. I find myself pondering what could have triggered his phobia.
A few minutes later we're standing outside my door. I push it open and enter with Scoggins following close behind. My quarters are strictly functional - one room, a bed, a small place to store clothes, a couple pieces of furniture and a tiny bathroom.
Scoggins is standing near the door trying not to seem to obvious about looking around. I'm sure this place must seem bare compared to the others. I've never been one for having lots of personal possessions. Or displaying them for that matter.
I gesture to the chair, grab some clothes out of the closet, and disappear into the bathroom.
While I'm changing, I think about what to say to Scoggins. The sea has always meant freedom to me. It's not something easily understood by people who don't feel that connection. I shrug my shoulders at my reflection in the small mirror. I'll just tell him the truth. What the hell. He already thinks I'm weird.
Exiting the bathroom, I glance at Scoggins who's sitting on my lone chair. He looks so uncomfortable. I feel a sudden surge of admiration for him. Like he said, I'm not the friendliest of guys and yet he worked up the courage to approach me.
I move to sit on the small cot across from him. Funny, now I'm the one who's nervous. I've never been very good at sharing myself with others. I take a deep breath to steady my nerves. "Okay... I like the sea because..." I pause. Jesus! I sound like I'm narrating some kid's composition assignment.
Scoggins leans towards me expectantly, like he's anticipating some profound answer that will give him a reason not to be afraid anymore. "Scoggins, I swear if you laugh at what I'm gonna tell you, I'll feed you to the sharks!"
He frowns at me fiercely. "Hey man! I told you. I'm the last person that'd laugh at you."
Fine. I guess I should get this over with then. Irrationally, I suddenly wish I'd just growled at him when I'd found him waiting for me. Then at least I wouldn't have to be sitting here. With a sigh, I flop back onto the cot, shaking it a little.
I stare at the ceiling while I gather my courage. "I don't know if I can explain it so you understand but the sea's like home to me. I was practically born on it. I learned to walk on the deck of a boat before I'd ever set foot on land." I roll over onto my side so that I can see Scoggins. He looks surprised... and... very interested.
"So your parents were like what... marine biologists or something?"
The idea is so ridiculous that I'm immediately struck down by laughter. The cot shakes alarmingly as I convulse and I clutch my stomach as if that will help with my control. The expression on Scoggins' face isn't helping matters. He's so astonished that every time I look at him, it just sets me off again. Finally, I squeeze me eyes shut and force myself to slow my breathing.
When I'm calm again, I wipe the tears from my cheeks. I'd forgotten how mellow a good belly laugh could make you feel. I open my eyes and sit up, looking at Scoggins. "More like or something. My parents were deep-sea fishermen. And old fashioned. Very old fashioned. They didn't put much stock in science."
I smile, remembering how my parents would talk about the rhythms of the sea and how it was more than facts and quotas. They always said knowledge was important but that it shouldn't obliterate emotion. I focus outward again. "I guess today they'd be considered anarchists. They weren't really into owning land and being tied to the government. I remember how my Dad would complain about all the paperwork that went with getting his fishing license every year. The sea was their existence, so I got to know it at an early age. It got to be my existence too."
Scoggins looks awed. "Wow."
The word is barely breathed into the air. Then his face loses the amazed look. Now he just seems sad. "Scoggins?"
He sighs and squirms in his chair and for a minute I think he's not going to answer me. "You make it look so easy. How come it doesn't frighten you?"
He's staring at the floor, either afraid or ashamed to meet my gaze. So I throw the question back at him. "How come it frightens you?"
He looks up, startled. "I don't really remember all of it. I was pretty young," he says slowly. "I remember playing by a swimming pool. Then water closing over my head and not being able to breathe. Someone screaming... darkness... hands grabbing at me, hurting me... someone hitting my chest..."
Oh shit! I slide off the bed and kneel in front of Scoggins, alarmed by the way he's gasping for breath. His face is blank and I realize he's back at that pool, reliving that moment, drowning all over again. I grip his shoulders and shake him but he's still gone and now he's beginning to shudder in earnest. So I do the only thing that comes to mind. I draw back my hand and slap him, hard.
His head snaps back and he blinks and focuses on me. His pupils are huge; his face is bloodless; his breathing is still nothing more than gulps for air. He is shaking so hard that I suspect he would fly apart if not for my hands on his shoulders.
My thumbs start to move on their own, making small circles in the shallow depressions on either side of his collarbone. I hold his gaze and say softly, "breathe with me, Tom."
I'm not sure if it's my hands on his neck or the fact that I called him Tom for the first time in our acquaintance, but he's actually listening to me. As his breathing slows to match mine, his quaking lessens also. For several minutes, all that can be heard in my quarters is the sound of us breathing.
Up close like this, I see that Scoggins isn't all that much younger than I am. I thought he was younger. I guess it's the hyperactivity. He flits around those machines of his like a butterfly.
I watch him carefully, relieved to see that he's relaxing. Since we're staring into each other’s eyes, now that his pupils have returned to normal, the first thing I notice is the colour of his eyes. Grey. Like the sky's first hint of a storm. The second thing I notice is that my thumbs are still stroking his neck.
Scoggins seems to realize this at the same time I do because my eyes widen in the same instant as his. I snatch my hands away and scramble to my feet, embarrassed beyond belief. I turn around but the problem with quarters this small is that there's no place to run. I consider fleeing but hell, this is my place. Maybe I should just throw him out.
Turning back, I see that Scoggins is shaking again. His lips are twitching. I suppose I should be glad he hasn't run screaming from my quarters. That would really go over well with the people here.
"I guess we've found something else you're afraid of."
His voice is full of amusement. I frown and glare at him but he just shakes his head.
"Oh no. I'm not falling for that 'I'm mean - steer clear of me' routine. Not now that I know you're not like that."
His eyes are lit with the smile that his mouth is desperately struggling against and I throw up my mental hands. No point me freaking out if he's not going to bother. "So, you're not... upset?" I ask tentatively. I may not be much of a people person but I'm beginning to like the guy. I'm beginning to think being his friend wouldn't be too much of a hardship.
"Nah. Heck, you probably saved me from having a heart attack."
He frowns suddenly and I worry that maybe he's changed his mind about not being upset. "What?" His brow wrinkles a bit before he answers.
"Kay, I get your parents. The sea's their livelihood - no choice there. I get you the kid - no choice there either. What I don't get is you the man. What makes you wanna spend twenty four hours a day in the water?"
I shake my head and collapse back down unto the bed, rolling over to face him. "You're right. You don't get it. It's not about choice. It's about need. I need to be near the sea. Think about it this way. What's home mean to you? Generally speaking I mean."
He frowns again and leans back in his chair, fingers twitching like he needs a keyboard in order to think. Then he looks at me and smiles. A real smile this time, not one of his half grins. "Comfort. Security. A place where you can be yourself."
I match his smile with one of my own. "You got it." For a moment, we both grin at each other and a warm feeling uncurls in my gut. Then he looks away and the moment is broken.
"Do I get to ask a question now?" Now that I know what sparked his fear, I'm curious to find out why he's doing what he does.
"Why are you working around the sea if open water scares you?" He shifts uncomfortably in his chair and I think about telling him he doesn't have to answer if he doesn't want to. I don't want to push him.
He shrugs. "Would you believe I'm fascinated with marine life? But since I couldn't overcome my fear, marine biologist was definitely out. I figured this was as close as I could get. I still get to observe and learn - just not directly."
I nod. That makes sense. Suddenly, a yawn wells up inside me and as I release it, I realize just how tired I am. I rub my hand over my face. "Sorry man," I mutter. It only takes a few seconds and then he's yawning too.
He shakes his head and then flashes me a grin. "I swear it's like a rule of the universe," he says as he gets to his feet. "When one person yawns, everyone else follows."
"Domino effect," I say, grinning up at him. It's amazing how much I've smiled in the short time we've been together.
He laughs. "Yeah. I guess I'll get out of your hair. Thanks for... you know."
He's turning to go when I call out his name. "Scoggins." He turns back to me and I smile at him. "Anytime you want to talk, you know where to find me." He ducks his head then makes eye contact again. His smile is wicked.
"Yeah, playing with the sharks."
I throw my pillow at him as he escapes out the door.
I kick my feet slowly, trying to stay relatively in one place as I wait for Momma Shark to come in range of my tranquilizer gun. Unfortunately, unlike dolphins, sharks can't be trained to hop up unto the loading platform. I have to get in the tank and convince them. I grin around my mouthpiece as our Gen1 notices me and heads over to investigate. It's just as well. I'd be out of a job if they did.
The gun kicks me back in the water slightly as it fires the dart and I wait to make sure she's solidly out before I guide the floating body over to the metal plank. I position her and myself and then jab the button that sends us on our way upward. I keep a close eye on her in case she makes any sudden twitches while she's under.
The platform comes up out of the water and into the Wet Lab. The Boss Lady and the two other Docs move forward and start attaching their bits and pieces of equipment. Scoggins is at his monitors as usual, though he does look up to give me a smile. At last they're all set and they start extracting the stuff that's paying my wages.
Scoggins is calling out vitals as the rest of the team works. He keeps flashing me these looks. I expect I'll hear about it on our next break. Makes the job more interesting he does. Now I'm seeing it through his eyes. Trying to guess the next off the wall question he might throw at me.
Finally they're done with their poking and prodding. The Boss hits the release button and I replace my mouthpiece as we begin to sink. Scoggins makes a motion with his head and I nod, knowing he'll slip away to meet me below when everyone's off testing the samples they collected. There really isn't a lot for him to do between tests. Machines don't need much maintenance.
I stay with Gen1, keeping her floating and in motion so that her gills will continue to process oxygen. Slowly she comes awake and I get the hell out of there while she's still too groggy to think about whether she's hungry or not. After I change out of my wetsuit into regular clothes, I tend to the suit and the tank before leaving the small storage room to walk back along the corridor of Sub Level 3. I hear a noise up ahead of me and smile as Scoggins sticks his head around the doorway.
"Hey. Do you think Preacher would give us some booze if we bugged him enough?" His grin is infectious and I chuckle and shake my head.
"I think I'd rather take my chances with a feeding frenzy than burst into Preacher's kitchen unannounced. Besides isn't it too early for drinking?"
He shrugs. "Whatever. I think I need something after seeing you up close and personal with Mrs. Jaws."
"Oh? Don't tell me you hit the bottle every time I get in the water with them." He moves aside to let me go through the doorway and then falls in beside me as we continue on our way. "That's a hell of a lot of drinking over the last eighteen months."
He snorts in response. "I've only recently developed the urge."
The meaning implicit in that sentence hits me so suddenly that I almost stop mid-stride. Could he be worried about me? It sure sounds like it. It's been a long time since anyone cared what happened to me. I glance at him out of the corner of my eye as we walk along. He's deep in thought from the look of it.
We come up to the holding tanks viewing area and I stop as the sharks glide by the thick glass. For a minute we both stand there watching them. "How come you aren't afraid of them?" he asks offhandedly. "After all," he says with his trademark smirk, "they're eating machines with really big teeth. You'd be an appetizer to them."
Shark. The word conjures images of blood and death like no other. Even though the number of species of sharks capable of such destruction is very small, those are the ones people think of. Most people's knee-jerk reaction is fear. It's not hard to understand why. Like Scoggins pointed out, sharks are effective and efficient killers.
"Behavioural characteristics," I say casually. At his look I grin and elaborate. "Sharks react to certain things in certain ways. Different sharks react to different things but they're all pretty much consistent in their behaviour. If you know what to look for and don't act like prey, you're pretty safe with them." I chuckle. "Providing they're not hungry."
I press a hand against the cold glass imagining the weight of the water that it's holding back. Scoggins takes a step back as Gen2 slides through the water and gets as close to the barrier between her and us as she can. As her unblinking eye peers at us, I can't shake the feeling that she's looking at us the way we're looking at her. Which is ridiculous.
I shrug off the strange emotion and move back to join Scoggins where he's standing. Gen2 continues to... for want of a better word... study us, her tail undulating to keep her stationary.
I can feel Scoggins shifting nervously beside me. I don't blame him. That unblinking stare is disconcerting. The moment stretches and then suddenly, with a flip of her tail, Gen2 is gliding away. I turn with Scoggins to continue on down the corridor but something niggles at me and out of curiosity, I move back into visual range again.
A few minutes later Gen2 is back. And she's brought friends. And they're all hanging suspended... staring at us. Fuck, this is weird.
"Carter?" I turn to Scoggins slowly, not really wanting to take my eyes off the three sharks in case they do something else odd.
He nods to the scene in front of us. "What's going on?"
I look back and watch Momma shark and her two cohorts still staring. "I haven't got a clue and I don't like it," I grumble at him as I begin to move down the hall. Scoggins hurries to keep up.
"That was seriously freaky Carter. What was that all about?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe they were just curious?" I think about the Doc's great plans for the 'brain fluid' she's been extracting and testing. I suddenly wonder what having their brains tampered with will do to sharks. Hell, we don't know that much about human brains. I sure hope she knows what she's doing.
"Well, made me feel like an extra in the Birds," Scoggins says with a shudder.
"The Birds?" I ask as I push the thoughts about the sharks' strange behaviour out of my head. Scoggins stops so abruptly that I take a couple of steps before I realize he's not with me anymore. Turning around, I shoot him a questioning glance.
"What planet did you come from?" His expression mirrors his voice. Extreme astonishment reigns supreme.
I blink but I don't get a chance to insult him back. He pushes by me, hands gesticulating wildly.
"Geez Carter! It's only like one of the best films ever! Directed by a master! Subtle! Yet spooky!"
A couple of long strides bring me back to his side. He's muttering under his breath. I'm pretty sure the word uncultured passes his lips.
I can't help a grin. He's entertaining at least. "Can I defend myself?" I ask trying to keep the smile out of my voice. Laughing will just get me a longer rant.
"No!" he says firmly as we continue on down the corridor.
A few seconds of silence pass measured by our steps.
"So." Scoggins exhales the word on a long puff of breath. "What's your excuse?"
"How bout grew up on a fishing vessel? How bout didn't go to school like everybody else? How bout no tv on my boat?" Scoggins is looking sheepish and slightly uncomfortable.
"Sorry man," he mutters. "Sometimes I forget you've lived a different life."
I find myself thinking that Scoggins has no idea of exactly just how different my life has been. And I'm not talking about being a fisherman. From being self-taught by my parents to the two and a half years I spent in jail, circumstances have made me into the person I am today. I push him into the elevator. "No harm done. Wanna join me for lunch?"
"Yeah sure," he says leaning back next to me in the elevator as the door closes and it lurches up to Sub Level 2.
"I wonder what's on the menu for today." I have to say I admire Preacher's talents. I can't be all that easy to keep the taste buds of thirty people interested.
Scoggins' stomach growls loudly. "I guess it's wondering too," he says and then chuckles.
The elevator comes to a stop with a little bump and shaking my head at him, I follow him through the elevator's opening doors and into the corridor. We walk the rest of the way to Preacher's kitchen in a companionable silence. However, when we approach the entrance Scoggins touches my arm and then pauses.
He makes shushing motions and sneaks up to the double doors with all the skill of soldier. Bursting through the doors, he booms out a greeting that makes Preacher clatter his pans and gets Preacher's parrot squawking.
It only takes Preacher a few seconds to get over his shock. Then he picks up a large knife. "You!" Pointing the knife at Scoggins, Preacher moves out from behind his table. "Didn't I tell you to stay out the hell of my kitchen!"
Scoggings ignores the imminent danger and starts poking around the table. "Yeah yeah. What's to eat?" He lifts a domed cover off one of the containers and his eyes get huge. "Jackpot!" he says in glee. "Cake!" His hand approaches but Preacher pushes him aside and wrestles the cover from him.
"Man, get outta my kitchen before I cut your balls off and stuff 'em down your throat!"
Scoggins looks at the cake and then looks at Preacher pleadingly. Preacher glares at him, then grabs a couple of plates of food and shoves them into Scoggins' hands. "Here! For you and Blondie over there. Now get out of my kitchen!"
"Get out of my kitchen!" the parrot squawks.
Preacher glances at the parrot, a proud expression on his face. He frowns a few seconds later though as the bird adds 'dickhead' followed by a raucous squawk.
With an amused smile, I drag Scoggins out of the kitchen before he starts arguing with the bird.
We stumble back out into the corridor and I rescue the plates from Scoggings. "What was that all about?" I ask as we head back the way we came.
Scoggings shrugs then grins. "Made his soufflé fall. He's still holding a grudge."
I shake my head. "You're weird. Are we eating in or out?" I'm not much for crowds. I'd rather eat in either of our quarters but if he wants to sit up on surface level, I won't argue.
"Let's eat at my place," he says and walks off leaving me still holding the plates. I hurry after him marveling at how well he gets me doing what he wants.
The trip in the elevator up to Sub Level 1 takes only a few seconds and then I follow him down the corridor to his quarters. He ushers me inside and I look around for a place to set the food. I am at a lost to find any. Every available flat surface is covered with books or magazines or bits and pieces of machinery.
"Um." Scoggins looks around and quickly moves to clear a spot on a small table. "Uh... Put it here."
I do as I am told, then step back. Scoggins looks around again, and then makes a small pleased sound when he discovers a couple of chairs buried under a pile of clothes. Dumping the clothes on the floor, he moves the chairs next to the table and motions me to sit down. I can't help a chuckle as I do so.
He shrugs as he sits next to me. "So I'm not Mr. Tidy. Sue me."
Looking at my plate, I sigh as I realize we both forgot to grab cutlery. Oh well. I pick up a meatball. "No big deal. It's just a surprise. You're very methodical in the lab." I pop the meatball into my mouth after I finish speaking, then lick my fingers. Looking at the rest of the food, I figure either we're going to have to go back for cutlery or just eat the meatballs. Spaghetti is not meant to be eaten with your fingers.
"That's work," he says around a mouthful of food. "This is me."
"Okay." I nod in understanding. Sometimes the person we are bares no resemblance to the person we let the world see. There's something else I've been wondering about though. "And the water phobia?"
He's quiet for so long I don't think he will answer me.
"I think... I think if my parents hadn't made a big deal about it I might have gotten over it," he begins slowly. "But... Well, I guess it really freaked my mom out and she got really paranoid about letting me near water. My dad was always yelling at her about babying me."
With a sigh, he pushes his plate away. "I guess it all got tangled up in my head and now it's an automatic reaction."
I stare off into space, thinking. "How ingrained is it?" I turn my head. My gaze catches his and he looks away quickly. But not before I witness the shame in his eyes. "Hey." I put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't." I pause, not really knowing the right thing to say. "I think... you're really brave."
"Yeah... right," he snorts. "Don't worry Carter. I'm a big boy. You don't have to patronize me."
"I'm not! It takes a lot of courage to face your fears!" I insist.
"Maybe. But I'm not really facing my fears am I?"
Looking totally down, Scoggins pushes away from the table. "Look, I'll see you later okay," he says, politely dismissing me. I start to say something but then decide to leave before I put my foot in it any further.
The moon is full and hanging low in the sky, looking like you could reach out and touch it if only you could stretch just a little more. The night breeze is gentle, stirring little ripples over the trapped water, generating little laps of sound. It stirs my hair as I sit on the platform trying to figure out what's happening to me.
Scoggins and I have spent a lot of time together talking since the night we had our first real conversation. Considering he's got no practical experience, he knows quite a bit about what goes on under the sea. So I started telling him about all the different patches of sea I've become acquainted with over years of fishing with my parents. I told him about all the different underwater creatures I'd seen. He's like a little kid. Asking a million questions about everything. But I don't mind. Hell, I look forward to our talks.
I guess getting to know him changed my perspective because now I've started worrying about him. If just talking about an event that happened so many years ago could send him into a panic attack, who knows how he'd react to a real emergency. I mean it's not likely but if something happened, the only way out would be by water. I guess that's why I suddenly find my spare time and spare brain power occupied with trying to think of a way to help him deal with his fear.
I've never been very big on people. Outside of the needs of my body, I've never cultivated anything vaguely resembling friendship with anyone. My time in prison just served to make me even more of a loner. It was a case of either withdrawing into myself or going insane.
The people who took my self-imposed exile as a challenge soon learned to leave me alone or end up in the prison hospital. So how is it that one wise-ass techno geek has managed worm his way into my life. So much so, that I'm staying awake trying to solve his problems for him.
I can almost hear his voice in my head piping up with 'because I'm totally irresistible'. Great. Scoggins has taken over my brain. Ah well. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. He's taken over just about everything else.
It's frightening. I've never been so comfortable spending so much time with one person before. Now I regret my curiosity this afternoon that resulted in stirring up bad memories. I only wanted to find out more, because for some strange reason I'd really like to help him.
I'm standing on the surface level waiting for Scoggins. He's back to his usual self. I apologized for my blunder and explained why I had asked the questions. He apologized for being overly sensitive to the subject. It was awkward for a few hours but now everything's fine. I'm glad we sorted it out. I was kind of afraid he wouldn't want to talk to me anymore.
The few hours we spent tiptoeing around each other felt really odd. Like everything was just slightly off center. I guess I've gotten more used to the ease of his company than I was aware.
I've asked him to join me so that we can watch the sun come up. Most people don't get up early enough to really appreciate a sunrise. There's nothing more awe inspiring than the instant that night gives way to day. I always try to catch that moment. It seems to ground me somehow. I guess I feel like if the sun's up then all must be right with the world for at least one more day.
I have another reason for wanting him to join me though. After giving it some thought, I got this half-baked idea in my head. I figure if Scoggins can replace the bad memory he's got associated with open water with some good ones, maybe he could get a handle on his fear. At least enough to get him through a crisis. Hopefully.
But I'm not sure. I mean I not a shrink. And although I think that Scoggins would probably be as eager to see a head doctor as I would be, I'm a little nervous about going through with this. After all, I might end up making his problem worse. Scoggins seemed to think it'd be okay though. And that's why I asked him if he'd help me greet the sun. It surprised me when he said yes.
Actually, it surprised me that I asked. Scoggins seems to have the weird affect of making me act out of character. I don't usually warm up to people - if I do at all - that fast. Usually I hang around and observe them for a while and by then I've lost interest. Most people aren't worth the effort it takes to make them friends. Not so with Scoggins.
I've fallen into friendship with him. Something I have limited experience with. Which is why I'm standing here in the dark second-guessing myself. When I asked him to meet me here, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But now I'm nervous. I would have never thought I'd ever ask anyone to join me in this ritual of mine. This is a side of myself that I've never exposed.
I hear the elevator wheeze to a stop and I turn. A part of me wants to run but I wrestle with the feeling until it surrenders and fades away as Scoggins steps out of the elevator.
He looks spooked but determined. Crossing the distance between us, he moves to stand next to me. His fists are stuffed into the pockets of his jacket and he's looking everywhere but the water.
"You still want to do this?"
He looks at me and gives a sharp nod.
I've been thinking about how to go about this. Remembering the night he freaked out in my quarters, I decided that the best way is to keep Scoggins distracted from the water. So I move to stand behind him. Putting my hands on his shoulders, I ask quietly, "Is this as close as you want to go?"
His body tenses at my touch, and then slowly relaxes. Turning his head, he looks over his shoulder at me but since I'm standing behind him, it's not much of a view. He turns to face forwards again. "No, I can get closer," he says.
I tighten my grip on his shoulders for a second. He moves forward slowly and I move with him. It's like a game of follow the leader. We get about halfway to the platform's edge and then I can feel him starting to tense up. His breathing is starting to race. I don't say anything as he takes a few more steps. When he starts to tremble though, I finally speak up. "Hey, you don't have to push yourself."
He jerks to a stop and I slide my hands from his shoulders up to cup the back of his head. I tilt his head up slightly. "Forget about the water. Focus on the sky." He makes a strangled noise that would probably be a laugh if he wasn't gasping for breath.
Without thinking about it, I step closer to him. My chest is now pressed against his back and again I say the words, "breathe with me." For a few minutes he's choking on air but slowly he falls into my rhythm of breathing. "Keep watching the sky," I say to him. My hands slip from his neck to his shoulders and then I begin to rub my palms from his shoulders down his arms and back up to his shoulders again. Over and over. I'm hoping my touch will help him with the shudders.
I smile at the humour in his voice. If he can joke then his panic attack must be receding. "It won't be for much longer. Just stay focused on the sky and forget about everything else." He nods. Then the sun starts its daily journey.
It peeks over the horizon and the water off in the distance takes on a golden gleam. The night begins to lighten and the first tints of colour start stretch across the sky. His gasp as the sky is slowly set ablaze makes me feel good. I lean against him slightly and together we welcome the new day.
The afternoon sun is warm on my back as I perform an unscheduled overhaul of the facility's boat. It's nothing urgent but tinkering with the engine keeps me out of everyone's line of sight. Right now I don't feel much like dealing with my coworkers. Well... less than I usually do. Thoughts of how Scoggs felt in my arms this morning keep taking center stage.
I found it difficult to regain my footing after the morning got on its way. Scoggs unintentionally made it worse by practically floating wherever he went. Every time he got close enough to me to say something without being overheard, he thanked me profusely. I'm going to have to sit him down and make him realize that I had very little to do with it. Apparently, this is the first time he's been able to get over a water induced panic attack so quickly.
I'm glad I could help him. Considering he's filled my usually quiet days with bad jokes and good conversation, it seems a fair trade. In fact, it feels like I'm getting the better end of the deal. It's strange how you can live your whole life without something and then once you're exposed to it, you wonder how you ever did.
These emotions scare me. I thought I was only offering comfort. A focal point of contact for Scoggs to anchor himself to in the midst of his panic. It seems my mind is concerned with something else entirely. I need to sort out whether this feeling is because it's been so long since I've had contact with a warm body or if I am truly attracted to Scoggs.
I'm not sure what I'll do if I am attracted to Scoggs. Not because it matters to me that he's a guy but because there'll be the whole 'finding out if he's attracted to men' thing to go through. I don't want to lose his friendship.
I really shouldn't be thinking about this right now. There's too much to do. The Doc's been getting more and more uptight the last little while. She's been ordering more and more tests as if that will hurry the solution along. I suspect her backers are getting antsy. I should be concentrating on my job, not driving myself crazy with this new twist in my life.
Scoggs materializes like a wraith next to me where I am working, nearly making me drop the wrench I'm using in surprise. His smirk alerts me to the fact that it was a deliberate attempt to catch me off guard. I shake the socket wrench under his nose. "One of these days you're going to sneak up on me and I'm going to let you have it." He chuckles at me.
"So... what are you doing tonight?"
His voice is eager and he is rocking back and forth on his feet, moving to his own inner rhythm. He's like the sea. Even when he's at peace he is in motion. I smile and give him the answer he is hoping for. "Nothing. Why?"
He grins. "Just meet me in the Wet Lab tonight after shut down."
With that cryptic statement he's off again. Maybe I'm making a mistake by meeting him when I'm still feeling off balance but I enjoy his company too much to deny myself. I shake my head at his strange... well... normal for Scoggs... behaviour and go back to fixing the boat.
At the correct time I enter the Wet Lab looking around in the semi darkness trying to find Scoggs. I don't see him. Just as I start to wonder if this is just another one of his jokes, a hand falls on my shoulder. I spin around to see him standing behind me, grin fixed firmly on his face.
Glaring at him I move away letting his hand fall. I move to stand next to one of the many monitors in the lab. "What's this about Scoggs?"
He waves a video tape at me. "Tonight Mr. Blake, we educate you."
I raise an eyebrow. He smirks, and then wheels two chairs over to the main video surveillance monitor. Plopping himself down in one of the chairs, he pops the video into the machine and pats the other chair. "Grab a seat and prepare to be chilled."
Sitting down, I chuckle as he cracks his chair back and props his feet up on the desk on which the equipment sits. "What? No popcorn?"
His lips quirk. "Looked all over Preacher's kitchen but there was none to be had. Now shut up. The show's starting."
I glance at the monitor screen as the credits flash across its face. "The Birds? Don't tell me you put in an offshore video request." I wouldn't put it past him.
"Don't be silly! You don't think I'd sign on here and not bring some amenities with me do you? This is my own copy. Now will you shut up!"
The last bit is hissed and I decide to put off any more questions until after this... masterpiece... as Scoggs would call it.
I lean back in my chair and make myself comfortable. The movie opens slowly as far as I'm concerned. The girl's not bad to look at but I guess I have a short attention span. I quickly lose interest and switch from watching the movie to watching Scoggs watching the movie.
His gaze is fixed on the screen. I've seen him like this many times. When he's focused on something, things could fall down around his ears and he wouldn't notice. I guess he doesn't want to miss any details even though I'm sure he's seen this many times before. His fingers are tapping rhythmically on the arm of his chair. My mind suddenly flashes on the few times I've gone to movies or sat at home with dates.
I straighten in my chair a little. I don't know why I had that thought. This is not a date. I look at Scoggs again out of the corner of my eye. I have to admit that he's been more pleasant company than a lot of the dates I have been on.
Forcing my gaze back to the screen, I try to concentrate on what's happening. Again I am distracted by Scoggs. He's removed his feet from the desk and is now leaning forward in his chair; gaze still glued to the action on the screen.
My thoughts are still swimming around my head, slipping in and out of my mental grasp like seals playing in the waves. I don't know why this situation unsettles me but I feel as though I am reacting to it on more than one level. There is a sense of having done this before.
It's as though I'm responding to the fact that this is a somewhat cozy atmosphere even though Scoggs is not the usual player that would be in this setting. Shaking my head in disgust, I derail that train of thought before I end up missing the whole movie. I don't want to think about how Scoggs would respond if the movie ended and I hadn't paid attention.
The movie is over. Scoggs pops the tape out and then swings his chair around to face mine. "Well?" His voice is full of anticipation.
"Um. Well, I..." Oh heck. I can't lie to him even to spare his feelings. I take a deep breath. "I thought it was weird, Scoggs. Strange. Totally unbelievable." He's looking at me like I've lost my mind. Each additional word adding to his disbelieving expression until he's looking at me as though I had just declared that I was a triple headed alien.
"Unbelievable? What do you mean unbelievable?" he sputters. "It was great! The way each scene built on the next adding to the tension!"
He's swinging his arms as he talks and I take a step back to avoid being clunked on the nose. I just can't let it go though. "What's so great about it? A bunch of birds attacking people for no reason. That's a stupid story line."
Scoggs takes a big breath and raises a hand. I ready myself for the rant of all time. However, he merely shakes his head.
"Carter, Carter, Carter," he says pityingly. "That's the whole point of the film! It's spooky because you don't know why the birds are attacking. Sheesh!"
The last exclamation is accompanied by a wave of his hand. I step around him and clap him on the back. "Well, I do like the way they put the story together. It's a stupid story but it's a well-constructed stupid story. How 'bout we agree to disagree?" I grin at him cheerfully.
He glares at me for a minute, then mutters. "Try to educate the masses..." Shrugging, he elbows me in the ribs. "Yeah okay. I guess we can still be friends. Want to go raid the kitchen for a..." He looks at his watch. "...3am snack?"
Nodding, I watch him shut down the equipment, and then follow him out of the door.
Once again I'm waiting on the surface level for Scoggs. We've haven't missed a morning's sunrise yet. I have to smile. I may not be a shrink but what we've been doing seems to be working. We've worked our way up to platform's edge. Scoggs is really hyped. He's just now realizing how much he's accomplished. It makes him feel powerful I think.
There's a noise behind me and I turn to find him there, standing a few feet away from me. He always seems to appear just when I'm thinking about him. He's still nervous but he isn't twitchy like he was when we first started this. He smiles at me. I smile back and go to him.
"Hi. You okay?" I ask quietly. I put a hand under his chin and tilt his head so I can see his face under the lights that keep the Aquatica facility from becoming a danger to sea going vessels. I always ask him the same question every morning. I always touch him too.
At first it was just a way to distract him from his thoughts. A way to stop the panic before it got out of hand. Now I touch him because I like to. But I try not to think about that. I think he likes it too. At least he's never complained about it.. I really try not to think about that.
He smiles at me again. "Yeah, I'm fine. No nightmares. I can't believe it! I mean just looking at a swimming pool used to bring it all back. Now I'm communing with the sea!"
"Not yet you're not. But you will be." His excitement sets off a weird chain reaction inside me. It's like I'm happy because he's happy. It sort of frightens me. I'm not sure where this whole thing is heading, but I know for sure that it's heading somewhere. The question is, do I want to go there?
He looks expectantly at me and I realize the question is pointless. Wherever this is going, I can't back away now because I made a promise to Scoggs. He's expecting me to help him. I said I would.
And I've never broken my word.
I smile reassuringly at him and give his shoulder a squeeze before stepping away from him. Walking the short distance to the platform's edge, I motion for him to join me. It's taken weeks but he's finally able to stand here without panicking.
I take up my usual position behind him. This is also part of our ritual, along with the inquiry and the touches. It seems to help steady him to feel my presence at his back. The sun comes up slowly, changing the sky. The breeze off the water plucks at our clothes. I lean against Scoggs and absorb the silence.
I don't get to absorb it for long though.
Scoggs nudges me with an elbow. "Hey Carter, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Scoggs, how long have we been doing this? Hell, we're practically dating," I say with amusement. "You don't have to get my permission, just ask."
He chokes on a laugh and twists around to look at me. "You're a regular comedian aren't you. Now I know why you're so crotchety. You just don't want people to know what a shmuck you are," he says grinning at me.
I smile at him. "Ask your question, Scoggs."
His grin fades and he's looking at me seriously now. "What was it like for you in prison?"
Well, that answers the question I had about whether the Doc told anyone about my prison record. I can feel my expression harden, making me look as stony as I feel inside.
Scoggs looks embarrassed. "I was just wondering... you know, being away from the sea. I mean it's a real important part of you and..." He stops abruptly and shakes his head. "I'm babbling aren't I? Sorry man. You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
I turn him back around to face the morning sky. I don't really want to look at him while I talk about this. If I can talk about this. I think about what to say. About how to put something so emotional into mere words.
"Carter? Hey, it's okay. You don't..."
"Shut up, Scoggs."
He stops trying to turn around to look at me.
"It was hell," I say quietly. "Two and a half years... I'd never spent that much time on land before. It was like... like being away from a really good friend. I missed it. The only thing that kept me from going crazy was my memories. When I came up for parole and got offered this job, I jumped at the chance."
I rub his shoulders and lean next to his right ear. "Time to get back to the task at hand. I want you to look out at the water."
There's a brief silence, and I wonder if he'll let me change the subject so easily. Fortunately he doesn't say anything, only nods. Good. I don't really want to talk about the exact details.
His shoulders shift as he moves his head to gaze out over the water. He tenses immediately. "Easy. Nothing bad is going to happen." Small tremors start to shudder through his body. It's like we're back at square one again.
"Shit, Carter... I can't..."
I tighten my grip on his shoulders as his breathing accelerates. Over the weeks, we've been concentrating on getting him close to open water. This is the first time we've tried concentrating on the water itself. "Stay with me Scoggs. Breathe."
"Easy... for you... to say."
He's gasping the words and his shaking is increasing. I'm too close for a slap to work but... "When's the last time you slept with someone?"
I smile at his back. As I hoped it would, the question jerks him out of his panic. He's so shocked; he's forgotten to be scared. "Hey, I haven't had sex for nearly three years. I've developed an obsession." He's laughing now instead of gasping for breath.
"So what, you looking for a vicarious thrill?"
We both laugh and I notice that he's relaxing again. He leans back against me and reaches up to draw my hands from his shoulders to his waist. His fingers rub my wrists for a moment before settling over the backs of my hands. A shiver runs through me at his touch.
"This is nice. Being here with you I mean," he says quietly. "The sun's warm. I can hear birds. I can even taste salt in the air. I never noticed before. It's makes me feel... peaceful. I'm beginning to understand what you see in miles of ocean."
A part of my brain realizes he's distracting himself from what he's seeing by talking about what's going on with his other senses but the rest of it is getting tangled up on the phrase 'being here with you'. I'm thinking it's time to have that 'are you attracted to men as well as women talk'.
"Scoggs? Are you saying what I think you're saying?" He starts to turn around and I move my arms with him so that I end up holding him loosely while he faces me.
"Actually, I'm not really sure what I'm saying, Carter."
His voice is so quiet I can barely hear him and he's looking at my neck. I tilt his head up. "So, what are you sure of, Scoggs?"
He meets my gaze unflinchingly. "I'm sure I like being with you. I'm sure... um... I'm sure I like it when you touch me." He sighs. "Carter, I have no idea what's happening with me. I just know it feels good to be with you. I... I'm still trying to get a grip on the fact that you're a guy." His smile is self-mocking.
I nod in agreement. "I know how you feel."
He looks surprised. "Really?"
"Yeah. I pretty much got over any problems I might have had with the guy guy thing in prison."
At that, he begins to look a little green around the gills. I hurry to reassure him. "I didn't mean it that way, Scoggs. It's just that in prison a body is a body. I got pretty graphic proof that sex isn't just a male female thing. Not that prison is a great representation of normal relationships between men mind you, but I had plenty of time to think about the whole idea that men could be lovers as well as friends. So yeah, I know how you feel."
He's chewing his lower lip. It makes me focus on his mouth which makes me think about kissing him. I suppose I should be shocked by the thought but months of getting to know Scoggs and sharing his personal space seems to make it less of a big deal. "Can I kiss you?" I ask softly.
His eyes widen comically and his gaze drops to my mouth. "Um... yeah... okay..."
I lean towards him. He's still staring at my mouth. "Uh, Scoggs?"
He sounds distracted. I guess I should take that as a compliment. "Close your eyes."
His gaze snaps up to meet mine. "Why?"
"I can't kiss you unless you close your eyes." He looks at me like I'm crazy. "It's against the rules. The person getting kissed always closes their eyes."
He bursts into laughter. "Man, you are so full of it," he says when he can talk again.
"Look, do you want me to kiss you or not?"
He grins at me. "Sure I do. But I'm not going to let you until you tell me why you want me to close my eyes."
I sigh. "Because it makes me feel weird to have you looking at me when I go to do it."
He settles back into my embrace and closes his eyes. He looks very prim. Like a virginal sacrifice. That thought nearly makes me keel over with laughter. I smile a wicked smile, which he can't see. "Scoggs?" I whisper. "Can I kiss you with tongue?"
His eyelids snap open like venetian blinds. His expression is priceless. Then he realizes I'm teasing him.
He pokes me in the chest and glares daggers at me. He hasn't moved out of my arms though, so I'm not all that worried about it. I smile and rub his back. "I'm sorry. Look, can I kiss you before we become eligible for pension? I promise... no tongue."
He makes a little noise of irritation. "I don't think I want you to kiss me anymore. I'm suddenly not in the mood."
I tilt my head and study his face. His lips are frowning but his eyes are smiling. Okay then. "How bout I kiss your forehead? Your cheeks? Can I at least kiss your nose? It's a very cute nose. It deserves a kiss."
In the back of my mind is the thought that I'm babbling. Well... maybe not quite that but I'm pretty sure I've said more words since I've become friends with Scoggs, than I have in all my years before. I'd be embarrassed if he wasn't so much fun to tease.
He shakes his head and slides his hands up around my neck. He's on the verge of laughter again. "You're nuts. You know that, don't you?"
"I've been told so a time or two yes." I lean forwards and smile when his eyes close slowly. My eyes close too as I brush my lips against his. He tilts his head and our lips slide together. We explore the sensation for a minute or two. Then he draws back and I let him go. I open my eyes to see him looking at me thoughtfully. "What?"
"I've never kissed anyone with stubble before," he says with a grin. "It's weird."
I rest my forehead on his. "Weird bad or weird good?"
He shrugs. "Weird good, definitely. But it'll take getting used to."
My lips twitch. "You want me to go shave?"
He smiles. "Nah, just kiss me again. I'm sure I'll get used to it if we practice."
I kiss him again like he suggested. His mouth opens beneath mine and I hesitate. I don't want to take advantage if he's not sure. His tongue flicks out. Well, I guess I can consider that an invitation. I slide my tongue against his and he responds by deepening the kiss.
The feeling hits me from out of nowhere. It's like being caught in a big wave that rolls you to the shore, slamming you into the sand. Suddenly, I'm kissing him back hard. It's been so long since anyone's touched me with gentleness that I'm ravenous. All I can I feel is the heat of his mouth and the rasp of the cloth at his waist where I'm holding him.
I don't know how long I kiss him like that but a small noise on the edge of my consciousness draws me back. When I realize how hard I'm holding him, I let him go instantly. He's staring at me with wide eyes. His lips are swollen. I lift a hand and trace his lips gently with a finger. "Are you all right?"
He runs a shaky hand over his hair and takes a step away from me. "Whoa. That was... I didn't think it'd be like that." He inhales deeply and lets his breath out slowly. Lifting a hand, he puts it on his chest. "My heart's pounding." He looks at me, and then shakes his head. "Wow."
"Scoggs, I..." I'm not sure what to say. I don't really want to promise him I won't kiss him like that again. But this is as much new territory to me as it is to him. "I'm sorry I got carried away."
He catches my hand in his. "It's okay," he says softly. "You've been fasting. It's understandable you'd go a little crazy. We'll just have to make sure you're... adequately fed."
I stare at him. I'm grateful that he can be so understanding. Sliding a hand behind his neck, I pull him closer. He comes to me slowly. I guess he's expecting to get ravaged again. All I do though is kiss his forehead. He sighs then chuckles.
"We better get to work before someone comes out to hose us off."
My lips curve against his skin. I squeeze him gently, then let go.
Scoggs and I are sitting on the platform's edge. Well, he's at the platform's edge. I'm sitting behind him, my legs on either side of his. My arms are wrapped around him. Our hands are touching.
He shifts in my arms. "It looks so still. It makes you forget how powerful it is."
Scoggs really amazes me. It took him a few months but now he can look out at the water and feel the same sense of reverence that I do. I rest my chin on his shoulder. "The boat trip from the mainland was like a reunion voyage to me. I couldn't believe how much I'd forgotten. How it felt to have the deck swaying under my feet. How loud the roar of the waves could be. I stayed up on deck at the bow of the boat for the whole trip."
Scoggs twines his fingers with mine. "I had a friend fly me in. I kept my eyes shut the whole trip. They had to pry me out of the plane."
I rub the back of his hand with my thumb. "Well, I don't think you'll have to worry about that anymore. You've come a long way since then."
He twists around to look at me. "Thanks to you. You know, if the Doc ever lets us have any vacation time, we could go up together."
I kiss his nose and he wrinkles it at me. "I'd like that. I've never had a bird's eye view of the ocean before."
He leans in and kisses me. "It's a date then," he says when he finally pulls back.
I blink and draw a slow breath. "God, you're good at that. You make me crazy." He really does. The last few weeks have been interesting. We've gone from kissing to kissing and making out like kids. But it's all been above the waist. I don't even know what he looks like down there. We get all hot and bothered together then one of us leaves to go back to his quarters. I guess he's not ready for more but it's lonely jerking off alone.
Either my face somehow gives away what I'm thinking or he's suddenly developed ESP because he leans forward again and brushes his lips against mine. "You'd better hold that thought. It's time to punch the ole clock."
"I hate you." I move back so he can get up.
"Hey, keep insulting me and you'll never get into my pants." He holds out a hand. "Come on, once we get started the day will go quickly."
His offhand comment cuts to the core of my thoughts and I suddenly need to know. "Give me a hint, Scoggs," I say as I let him pull me to my feet. "Will I ever get into your pants?" I'm not sure what I'll do if he says no. I care about him. He's smart. He's funny. He's incredibly brave. I can't seem to spend enough time with him. Hell, I'm pretty sure I'm halfway in love with him already. But I really want to be with him completely.
His eyes suddenly lose their sparkle. "I don't know. I'm sorry. I've been kind of a tease haven't I? It's just... this is going to sound weird but the kissing... and everything else we've been doing... it's not all that different from what I'd be doing with a woman."
He looks away and sighs. "I guess... I guess I feel like if I let myself look at you like that or... or touch you like that, it'd mean that... I wasn't the person who I thought I was." He looks back at me. "I told you I wasn't sure." His raises his hand and runs a finger over my lips. Then he walks away.
I stare after him, thinking about my time in prison. I never felt any urges towards any of the guys there, so I never wondered if my sexual identity was changing. I realize now that something did change though. I guess being stuck in close quarters with a zillion other guys, sharing a shower, a table, a cell, desensitized me. To me it's another body just like mine. Nothing to freak out over.
Course, I never wanted to touch any of those other guys the way I want to touch Scoggs. I think it's because Scoggs is Scoggs that I'm feeling this way. He's become like the sea to me. Someone I feel at home with.
And that's the only good thing that's come out of my time in prison. The fact that I was forced to realize that partners didn't have to be limited to the opposite sex. The things that I like about Scoggs are the same things I like in women. Only the packaging is different.
I head off to the shark pens, still thinking. Scoggs said he didn't know if he could let himself go the next step with me. 'Didn't know' isn't the same as a definite no. Didn't know I can do something about. If there's one thing I've learned over the several months we've been together, it's how to get Scoggs to take that first step.
It's late but I can't sleep. I'm staring at the ceiling, wondering what the hell I'm going to do. Getting Scoggs to take the first step is a lot harder than I thought it would be. He's avoiding me. It's been weeks since the morning he left me standing alone on the surface level. It feels so wrong to be watching the sunrise alone. When he didn't show up that first morning after his revelation, I... it hurt. It felt like betrayal.
I never thought I'd miss anyone the way I miss him. I'm used to being alone, damn it! Or at least I was. Now, even my arms feel empty. I have to get him to talk to me. But he won't even answer the door when I go to his quarters. I refuse to believe he doesn't care anymore. I catch him watching me sometimes. His expression... he misses me as much as I miss him.
Sitting up, I stare at my door. This is stupid. I'm not going to let him throw us away just because he's afraid. I helped him deal with one fear. I know I can help him deal with this too.
I leave my quarters and travel down the corridors that take me to his. When I arrive outside his door, I lift my hand to knock, then hesitate. If I push Scoggs too much, I might end up pushing him away for good. For a few seconds I stand torn, my hand hovering just above the door's surface. Finally I decide I have to see it through no matter what may happen. Decision made, I complete the motion and knock on Scoggs' door.
No answer. Which means one of two things. Either he's not there or he's there but not answering the door. I knock several more times just to make sure and then move off to check out his usual haunts.
A short while later, I'm back knocking on Scoggs' door. There's still no answer but he's got to be in there. There are only so many places a person can go on a structure like this, so unless he's well and truly hiding and not just avoiding me, this is where he's got to be.
I bang my fist on the door again. I'm glad his quarters are tucked away off in a corner. That way if I have kick to his door in, it won't alarm the neighbours. I can hear movement inside now.
"Go away, Carter. I can't... I don't want to talk to you."
Well, this is progress. He speaks. I guess perseverance does pay off. I lean against his doorframe. "You're talking to me now, Scoggs. I'm not going anywhere. If you don't open this door, I'm going to still be here in the morning. You'll trip over me when you leave to go to work."
The sound of the lock being turned makes me smile. I move back as the door opens. He moves into the open doorway and I have to consciously keep myself from touching him. "Hey," I say softly.
He shakes his head. "Why can't you leave me alone?"
"I just want to know why that's all. Why you stopped meeting me in the morning? Why we don't get together anymore? I miss you."
"That's why. It's not fair to you."
"And turning your back on our friendship is? Look, I'm not going lie to you Scoggs. Sure, I'd like to do the horizontal tango with you. But not at the risk of our friendship." His eyebrows rise dramatically and I sigh. "Okay, yeah, I have a problem with the way we were flying solo but I'd rather jerk off by myself than never see you again."
He stares at me unbelievingly. "For god sake's Carter, why? I mean you don't have to do that. You could..."
"I could what? Take some woman to bed? Some guy?" I can't believe he doesn't get it. I feel like knocking some sense into his thick skull by banging his head against the doorframe. "I don't want someone else, Scoggs. I want you, you idiot. I love you."
I don't know who's more shocked by my admission, him, or me. His mouth falls open and he stands there gaping at me. I recover before he does and I tap his chin. "Close your mouth Scoggs. You look like a goldfish."
His mouth snaps shut and he turns away from me to go back inside. I follow him in. Suddenly he turns around and I almost collide with him. He stares at me for several minutes and I hold his gaze, hoping he can see the truth of my feelings in my eyes.
He exhales slowly. "I don't know what to say," he whispers. "I miss you like crazy but I don't think I can handle what you want from me."
My hand rises to touch him but I force it back to my side. "You don't have to handle anything you don't want to, Scoggs. That's the whole point. I'd be happy just to have us back where we were."
He moves away from me again. "I need to think."
"Carter, please. I never really thought about where we'd end up physically you know. Yeah, stupid me. I never really thought you'd want that with me and now you tell me you love me. I need... I need time, Carter."
A part of me wants to ask what the hell he was thinking about all the time we've been apart but I bite my tongue. Being an ex-fisherman, I know the value of patience. I can wait.
Being a fisherman may have taught me patience but I am discovering that it is not an infinite virtue. Unfortunately. Another week has gone by since I talked to Scoggs. I'm still watching the sunrise alone. I don't know why I bother. It doesn't make me feel the way it used to. I guess at some point, without me realizing it, Scoggs and the sunrise became linked in my mind. Closing my eyes, I tilt my head towards the sun's warmth. The low murmur of the water becomes more focused and I let its steady rhythm soothe me.
Behind me, I hear the elevator start up and the calm that I'd gained in the last few minutes deserts me. My insides clench. When the elevator clanks to a stop, I can't turn around. I'm afraid to. So I stand on the platform's edge, looking out at the water. When he comes to stand next to me, it takes all my focus not to collapse in relief.
I turn sideways so I can look at him. He turns to face me fully and I'm surprised by what I see. Dark circles under reddened eyes. I guess he's been having trouble sleeping. Even though we work together, I don't really get to see him face to face very often. I'd had no idea he wasn't holding up well.
I know I shouldn't be glad about that but a small part of me was pretty sure that he didn't feel as deeply for me as I do for him. As awful as it sounds, seeing him looking the way he does, makes me feel like he's actually been affected by what's been going on between us. "You look like crap."
Scoggs snorts. "Oh, thank you very much. Look, if I wanted to be insulted, I'd have gone to talk to Preacher."
We continue to stare at each other. In his eyes I can see his uncertainty. As much as I want to open my heart and welcome him in, I have to be sure. I don't think I could stand to be rejected again. "What do you want, Scoggs?"
He looks away and I can see his throat working. "You. I want you, Carter. I... um... I spent some time... um... thinking about..." Suddenly he spins away from me. Just as quickly though, he turns back around. "I don't believe this! I don't think I was this nervous the first time I asked a girl out!"
That makes me laugh. "Are you asking me out, Scoggs?"
He glowers for a minute then his expression softens. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess I am." He steps up to me and puts his hands on my shoulders. "As I was trying to say before I tripped over my tongue, I've been thinking about what it would be like to have sex with you. I still don't know if I can do that with you, Carter, but I want to try."
He stares at me, waiting for my answer. 'I want to try.' It's not much of a guarantee against getting my heart ripped out but nothing in life is certain. At least it implies he's willing to make an effort. And if he's willing to try, then I can meet him halfway. I step closer to him and take him in my arms. We both sigh. It feels like coming home.
His hands slide around my neck and he pulls my head down a little and kisses me. A shy, sweet kiss. Not a kiss of passion but of friendship. Then he pulls back and looks at me. His expression is grave and it's all I can do not to flinch. Now what I wonder.
"You said you love me. How do you know? I mean I feel great when I'm with you and miserable when I'm not. Does that mean I love you too? What if I never feel the same way about you as you do about me? What if... "
Shaking my head, I pull him closer. "Scoggs, breathe!" I turn us so that we're both facing the water. "I didn't say it to make you feel bad, you know. I meant it when I said I'd be happy to go back to where we were."
His arm tightens around my waist. "That's not fair to you though."
I turn my head to look at him. He looks so serious. I guess he really is concerned about hurting my feelings. "Why don't you let me decide what's fair for me?" I give him a little squeeze. He sighs and nods his agreement.
It feels good to be working with Scoggs again. I mean really working with him, not the charade we'd been going through for the last little while. The Doc wants to run some more tests so he's making sure everything is set up correctly.
Standing behind him, I watch as he runs a final check on the monitoring system. His fingers are flying over the main computer's keyboard and I can't help thinking about how those fingers would feel on my body.
His tone makes it clear that he's been waiting for an answer to some question he asked. Only I haven't a clue what it was because I've been too busy fantasizing about his hands. "Uh... what?"
He turns his head to look at me over his shoulder. His smirk makes me think he knows what I was thinking about but he only says, "Shouldn't you be getting the shark ready?"
"Yeah, yeah. God, you're a worse slave driver than the Doc."
Scoggs snorts. "Maybe, but at least with me the perks are better. Speaking of the Doc, where is she anyway? And the rest of our intrepid crew?"
"The Doc's probably still in her quarters going over the test results she's got so far. God knows where Jim and Janice are. Probably off necking somewhere."
"You noticed the two of them getting cozier too, huh? I guess Janice knows what she's doing. Personally, I think she could do a hell of a lot better than him."
"Yeah, well you know what they say about opposites." I place a quick kiss on the back of his neck. Since it's the weekend, we're down to a minimum crew and I can get away with little displays of affection while we're working together because we're usually on our own. It's the only good thing there is about being short-staffed as far as I'm concerned.
I'm not sure why the Doc does it this way. It seems to me that it'd be in our best interest to have a bigger crew in case a crisis should arise, but then I'm not the one with the letters after my name.
Scoggs turns and makes shooing motions with his hands. "Go. Get to work, you lazy bum."
I leave, shaking my head and smiling.
Amazing. When I walked away from Scoggs with a goofy smile on my face, I gave no thought to how the day was going to turn out. Now I'm sitting in Scoggs' quarters wondering what the hell happened. My ribs and back hurt where I was slammed against the loading platform when Gen2 thrashed against me. I'm going to have to talk to the Doc about upping the tranquilizer dosage. I definitely don't want to go through another accident like that one.
Poor Scoggs. He would have seen it on his monitors. Right now, he's pacing around the small room, muttering under his breath like a madman. I want to go to him and hold him but I know he needs to move to get rid of the last of the adrenaline. It couldn't have been an easy thing to witness. I understand how he feels; I'm pretty wired myself.
His pacing brings him close to me and I hear the words 'coward and useless' muttered with venom before he's moving away from me again. It takes a second before I realize that his contempt is self-directed. I don't understand why though. I get up and intercept him on his next turn around the room, gripping his arms to keep him still. He looks up and the fear and anguish in his eyes is like a punch to my gut. "Scoggs? What's wrong?"
He pulls away from me, shaking his head. "I couldn't help you. You almost drowned because I couldn't help you." His voice is shattered and he's trembling.
I pull him into my arms without hesitating. I should have known he'd feel guilty about what happened today. I rub his back trying to calm him down. "Scoggs, it was just a stupid accident."
He makes a choked noise that's halfway between a sob and a moan. "Yeah, but if I'd taken just a bit longer to call the others, you'd... " He stops speaking and his hands tighten into fists on the fabric of my shirt twisting it out of shape. "Your oxygen tank ruptured. You weren't breathing when they got you out of the water." His voice is muffled by my chest. He lifts his head and stares at me. "Your heart stopped Carter! You could have died because I couldn't do anything to help you myself!"
I'd had no idea. The next thing I remember after being broadsided is lying on my back on the cold floor of the testing chamber. I just assumed that I'd only been knocked unconscious.
Suddenly Scoggs wrenches himself out of my grasp. He flings himself down on his bed, head sagging to rest in his hands. "I saw her thrash and hit you. I saw you get pinned against the platform." His voice is a tortured whisper. "I was up and over to the inner pool before I could think about it. But I couldn't do anything! I looked at the water and the thought of getting in... It was like it was when we first started out. I freaked. I was barely able to contact Brenda and get her to announce for the others to come to the chamber."
I kneel on the floor in front of Scoggs and put my hands on his shoulders. There's a brief sense of deja vu as I remember this is how it all started. "Scoggs, look at me." He lifts his head slowly and I look into his haunted eyes. "It wasn't your fault.. You did the best you could," I say slowly. I want to make sure he understands.
He's shaking his head. "Not good enough."
I kiss him to distract him from his self-blame. He doesn't react; he just absorbs my kiss. That's okay though. Right now, all I want is to show him that I'm all right.
A few seconds pass as I kiss Scoggs rather chastely. Then suddenly he's trying to devour me. I let him ravish me for a few more seconds, then ease myself away, gently holding his upper arms.
His eyes are tightly closed and he's struggling to bring his breathing under control. Finally he opens his eyes. His normally pale gray eyes are dark. Lifting his hand, he traces my cheek. "I nearly lost you," he says with a shudder. He leans in for another kiss, his mouth moving against mine with frantic desperation.
He lifts his hands and my shirt falls open under Scoggs' agile fingers. Then his hands move over my upper body the way they move over his keyboards.
Shifting my hands from his biceps, I tug his shirt out of his pants, intent on returning the favour but it seems Scoggs has a different agenda. He grabs my hands, forcing them to my sides. Parting slightly, we both gasp for breath. There is a strange look in his eyes.
We sit looking at each other for a moment, and then he's pulling me onto his bed. And I let him. I'm not an idiot. He twists me so that I fall onto the mattress. I can't stifle my gasp as my ribs and back file a complaint and I have to squeeze my eyes shut as a sharp pain jabs me. When I open them again, Scoggs is hovering over me, face full of concern. "Carter?"
I put a hand on his hip and stroke gently. "I'm okay. I don't think I'll be doing any calisthenics though."
He laughs softly. Then his expression changes. He's looking down at me, his eyes roaming over my body, drinking me in. Then he starts to remove his clothes.
The fog in my head clears and I sit up. Unwrapping him is something that I'd love to do. Even though we'd gotten back together, we hadn't gone any further with our physical intimacy. I hadn't wanted to push Scoggs into anything even though he'd said he was willing. But now that I'm seeing pale flesh slowly being uncovered, my fingers are itching to touch him all over.
I reach for him but he shakes his head. "Let me do this, Carter. I need to do this."
I lie back down. I understand his need to be in control of the situation. If it helps him to get over his undeserved guilt, I'm not going to argue. He's totally naked now, looking a bit embarrassed about it. I smile a little, trying to reassure him. I feel like gesturing to my crotch. My body's reaction to him should be more than enough of an ego booster.
I hadn't really thought about what he'd look like under his clothes. Well, I'd thought about it but I guess I didn't really think about the details. Like the fact that even though he's just a little bit shorter than I am, he's stocky where I'm lean. He's muscular in different places than I am too. I'm really beginning to wish he'd let me touch him. I want to map those differences with my hands. I want to trace the lines of his muscles with my mouth.
He's kneeling at the end of the bed now, tugging on my shoes. The rest of my clothes quickly follow. Then he starts to touch me in earnest. His hands glide across my skin first. Then his mouth follows the path of his hands as he explores my flesh.
I absorb his touches like a thirsty man guzzles water. God, it's been so long for me, I'd forgotten the special places on my body. The places that make me sigh and moan and cry out with pleasure. His hands are playing the rest of my body the way I knew they would but the way it makes me feel... I could never have imagined the sensations that are racing through my body. Every nerve seems to be firing simultaneously.
My awareness is so localized, that it's a few minutes before I realize that Scoggs has paused in his ministrations. I look down to see him hovering over my groin. He looks up at me, and then swallows. "Carter... do you want... "
"Scoggs... you don't have to." Not if it's going to make you look like that. Like you're going to faint dead away if I say yes.
He holds my gaze. "Would you do it to me?" he asks so softly, I barely hear him.
I stare back at him, thinking about what I would do when it was my turn to explore his body. Thinking about where I would touch him. Thinking about how I would touch him. Hell, I've always been one for an adventure so... "Yeah. Yeah, I would."
He looks down for a minute and then his lips curve into to a crooked smile. "Hell, I like it when women do it to me. I suppose it's only fair. Just... just don't get mad if I can't... you know."
"Scoggs.” I want to tell him it isn't a game of one-upmanship but he swoops down and gives my erection a tentative lick. His hesitant touch makes me tingle all over and I brace myself up on my elbows so that I can see him properly. He's staring at my swollen penis with a look of rapt concentration.
His head lowers and his tongue flicks out again, tasting me in quick little laps. Then he pulls back and I feel his warm breath ghost across my sensitive flesh an instant before warm wetness engulfs the tip of my penis. The rush of pleasure short-circuits my brain. My head hits the pillow and a harsh exclamation erupts from my lips.
I'm no stranger to sex but this is... Scoggs is thorough. Like he is with everything else. He lingers over my body like a connoisseur over a fine wine. It's a strange feeling. I've never been savoured before.
My hands clench in the sheets. I want so badly to touch him but I'd hate to distract him from the way he's nuzzling my groin. I decide that kissing isn't the only thing that Scoggs is really good at.
Suddenly the sensations stop and I open my eyes to see Scoggs lift his head and make a face. Uh oh. "What's wrong?"
He sticks out his tongue and plucks something off of it. "Pubic hair," he says in disgust.
I chuckle. I can't help it.
Scoggs glares at me. I immediately fall silent, wondering if the mood has been lost. I guess Scoggs doesn't think so because he's taking me into his mouth again. Gasping, I arch into his mouth as he suckles me.
And then I'm gasping for another reason as my body reminds me of the trauma it's been through. Biting my lip, I focus on letting the pleasure sensations override the painful ones. I've waited so long for this, there's no way I'm going to stop now that it's finally happening.
After a few minutes, I moan as he releases me slowly, his tongue sliding backwards over my swollen flesh. He teases the tip for a second before he frees me completely. Then he works his way up the rest of my body, placing warm open-mouthed kisses in a scattered pattern as he moves.
Finally, we're face to face. He's smiling down at me, his eyes bright with joy, laughter, and relief. He sighs my name as he stretches his body out on top of me.
We both cry out as our bodies make full contact at last. I forget that I'm supposed to be letting him set the pace. My hands immediately move to grip his hips, pulling him closer. It isn't enough. I thrust up against him and pull him down hard. He makes a little yelp of surprise as our groins grind together. Then his eyes grow wide and he repeats the motion.
In no time at all, we're moving against each other rapidly. With my one remaining brain cell, I think that I should really loosen my grip on his ass. I know I'm holding him too tightly but I can't force my fingers to work. All my brainpower is focused on keeping my hips surging against his.
Our cries fill the room and I can feel my body tightening. I manage to pry open my eyes and get them to focus on Scoggs. His face is set in a grimace but to me he looks beautiful. A few more hard thrusts and I'm screaming his name. Dimly, through my pleasure, I hear his answering cry, then I'm melting into the mattress and he's collapsing on top of me.
The afterglow is pleasant. Now that I have my brain back, I can feel the slight indentations my fingers made where I clutched him so tightly. I rub the area gently in silent apology, then move my hands from his ass to his shoulders and shift him off to the side a little. My ribs are making their displeasure known now that the emotional high has worn off. Feeling him shake in my arms, I panic, thinking he's already regretting what we've done. "Scoggs?"
He props himself up and looks down at me. It's not regret, but laughter that's making him shake. "Even in the middle of an orgasm, you call me Scoggs. You do know my first name, right?"
I glare at him in mock anger. "Hey, I could've called you by an old girlfriend's name, you know," I say in a huff.
His laughter fades away to a soft smile. "Good point. So... um... it was okay?"
I stare at him in amazement. "Scoggs, you were in the room while I was screaming my lungs out right?" How can anyone so smart be so insecure? My hands slide up and cup the back of his head. "Tom... " His eyes widen comically. I didn't think it was that unusual for him to hear his first name from my lips. "It was great. You were great."
He lowers his head and for a long while the only noise in his quarters is the soft wet sound of our kisses and the rasp of our breathing. Finally, he pulls away from me and snuggles down against my side. "It wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be," he mumbles against me.
"Really? It felt pretty damn hard to me."
His head snaps up and he scowls at me. "You are an idiot!"
I shrug my shoulders as well as I can with bruised ribs. "Must be the company I keep." I smile at him. The innocent look doesn't work as well on me as it does on him but I try.
"I could just throw you out of here, you know."
"You could, but think of how much more fun we could have if you let me stay."
He sighs. "Look, I'm trying to bare my soul here, do you mind?"
"Sorry. Go ahead."
He relaxes back against me. "As I was saying before someone interrupted me... "
"How rude!" What can I say? I love teasing him.
He props himself up again, being extra careful not to jar me. Looking down at me, he says solemnly, "I can tell this relationship is going to consist of you annoying me and me kicking you in the butt."
"As long as kicking isn't the only thing you do with my butt, I guess we'll be okay."
The expression on his face at my quip is comical mixture of curiosity and concern. I think back over the last few seconds and realize how it must have sounded to him. "Scoggs, it wasn't a proposition."
He shakes his head. "Maybe not at the moment. But... eventually..." The bed shifts under his weight as he sits up fully. "I was really worried about the whole 'I'm a guy - you're a guy thing,' you know. I mean that was the whole reason behind the minor meltdown I had. But... "
He looks down at the rumpled sheets, plucking at them with nervous fingers. "When they got you out of the water and the Doc was breathing for you and Jim was pounding on your chest... I suddenly realized that you're not just 'a guy'. You're Carter Blake. The guy who laughs at my stupid jokes. The guy who is taking the time to teach me how to deal with a stupid phobia. The guy who makes me happy."
Raising his head, he meets my gaze once more and reaches out to brush his fingers against my cheek. "It scared the hell out of me when I thought I was going to lose you, Carter. I don't want to waste our time together. I want to do everything with you."
I reach for his hand and press a kiss onto his open palm, then intertwine our fingers. Smiling, I pull him towards me. He leans into my embrace and wiggles until he's pressed against my side. Slinging an arm over my chest, he rests his head in the crook of my neck. I turn my head and press a kiss against his hair. "Scoggs, I can't tell you how glad I am that you decided to talk to me that night."
I feel his lips move against my skin. "Me too, Carter. Me too."
I'm not sure how long I've been lying in Scoggs' bed but it's been long enough that we've both fallen asleep. Wiggling my way out of his warm grasp, I sit on the edge of the bed just watching him. With a sigh, I force myself to move, intending to pick up my clothes and get dressed.
"Going somewhere?" Scoggs' voice is muffled by the pillow. I thought he was asleep but obviously not.
"Just heading back to my quarters," I say softly, not wanting to drag him out of sleep. He sounds like he's hovering on the edge.
He rolls over onto his back, stretching as he does so, giving me a perfect view of his body. His eyes remain closed. "What's the rush? You have a hot date?" His voice is expressionless but his words reveal his concern.
Moving to the side of his bed, I bend over and kiss him thoroughly. "No hot date," I say after drawing back to inhale. "Just didn't know if you wanted to deal with people seeing us leaving here in the morning."
His eyes are open now, staring at me intently. "Nothing to deal with. If they can't handle it, that's their problem not mine." He flushes and looks away. "Besides... I don't... I don't think I could sleep tonight without you here."
His hesitant confession starts a warm glow inside me. I pinch his hip, smiling as he jumps and shoots an annoyed glance at me. I climb back into bed and lay down next to him, raising myself up so that I can get a better look at him.
Surprisingly, he blushes. I guess he's still not all that comfortable with the physical part of our relationship. "Scoggs, if you're not sure..."
He puts a finger on my lips. "I'm sure. It's just... you're so much better built than I am," he blurts out.
I stare at him. I'm sure my mouth is hanging open. "Scoggs, don't be ridiculous."
"It's true," he insists. "You're so... so... sleek. You remind me of a dolphin." He grins. "Sleek and sexy."
I'm stunned. I've never been one for self-absorption. To me, my body's just a tool I use to get things done. I'm aware of its desirability only by way of the fact that I didn't have to work too hard to get dates. And I've never heard my body described in such terms before.
My hand reaches out and cups the back of his head. Drawing him closer, I spread little kisses across his face. "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," I whisper against his skin.
Reaching for his hand, I run my fingers over the back and fingers of it. Then I turn it over and do the same thing to his palm. He shivers a little at my slow strokes.
After a few more caresses with the tips of my fingers, I stretch my hand out over his, palm to palm. My hand is slightly bigger than his, my palm rough with calluses where his is merely thick. Even our fingers are different.
Scoggs stares down at our hands, then back up at me. I smile at his puzzled look. Lacing our fingers together, I rub my thumb over the small patch of skin I can reach. "You're different, Scoggs. Not worse, just different." I lift our joined hands and rub them against my cheek. "I like your differences."
He stares at me, and then shakes his head. "I'd never have guessed that under your crusty exterior, you're a marshmallow."
With a laugh, I pull him down and drag the covers back up over our bodies.
He settles down against my side and for a short time, silence reigns.
A very short time. "Yes?"
"Did you... you know... uhhh... have sex... in prison?"
There is a nervous tremor in his voice and I sigh. I was wondering when we were going to have this conversation. "Do you mean have sex or do you mean get raped?" I ask bluntly.
He sucks in a breath and goes still next to me. Then the bed moves and he's leaning over me, his face pale. "Well? Were you?"
"No. Got beat up a lot though over it though. Learned to sleep with one eye open. Sex is like an animal thing in prison. People grab it wherever and whenever." I shudder as I remember some of my narrow escapes.
"Sorry. I just... I just wondered."
I smile at him to show I don't mind the questions. He leans down and kisses me very gently, drawing a happy sigh from me. I pull him back down beside me and we settle down to sleep.
It seems like only a few minutes since we went back to sleep before Scoggs is shaking me awake. Prying one eye open, I stare at him blearily. "What time is it?"
"A couple of hours before the sun's due up," he informs me cheerfully.
My other eye pops open in surprise. "Why are we awake?"
Scoggs is sporting a mile wide grin. I'm not sure I want to know. He's practically vibrating with excitement. If he starts jumping on the bed, I'm out of here.
"I had this great idea!"
"Oh wonderful," I mutter. "I'd hate to wake up before God for a lousy idea." My comment gets me a nasty glare. Shoving my pillow around, I prop myself up and give him my undivided attention. "Okay. Spill it."
"I want you to teach me how to swim!" He announces it like a royal order.
I frown as I consider the logistics of teaching someone with hydrophobia how to swim. "Scoggs, I don't..."
His hands make a shushing motion. "You can do it!" he insists. "Better yet, you can get me to do it! Look at how far we've gotten! Please Carter. It really freaked me that I couldn't help you." He brushes his fingers softly against my bruised side. "You know. If it should happen again, I need to be able to do something."
Taking his hand in mine, I shake my head. "Scoggs, there's a big difference between getting you to approach the water and getting you to swim."
He grips my hands. "I know that. I trust you Carter."
And that's all it takes.
He's right. I am a sap.
Looking at Scoggs' hopeful expression, I know there's no going back to sleep. I slide back down onto the bed and he follows me, lying next to me quietly. Closing my eyes, I try to figure out how to tackle the problem. I'm not naive enough to think that just because Scoggs can now stand the sight of open water, he'll be able to handle getting into the water much less coordinating the mechanics involved in swimming.
"Thinking," I mumble just to let him know I'm not ignoring him deliberately. I feel him relax against me as I continue to turn things over in my mind. "Scoggs? Exactly what is it that scares you about water?"
"Uhhh... drowning?" He shifts and curls closer to me. "I just can't seem to get past that thought. Logically I know getting into the water isn't going to cause me to drown, but I can't convince the rest of me. Although, since we've been working on the problem, it's not as bad as it was. I remember when just thinking about it would make me panic."
I mull over his words as I consider the problem of getting around his fear. There has to be a way to -- as he said -- convince the rest of him. Rolling over so that we are facing each other, I study his eyes. They are filled with shadows of old fears and this only serves to reinforce my determination to help him. "I'll think of something."
"I know you will." His smile is soft, subdued. He curls an arm and a leg over my body, pulling me close. "There's still time before the sunrise," he whispers.
I can't stop the smile that spreads across my face.
"Did you see the Doc and Jim having a powwow after that last batch of tests?" Scoggs asks, nearly knocking me aside as he enters my quarters.
I shake my head at him fondly as I close the door behind us. "Yeah, I noticed that. Noticed them having quite a few heart to hearts actually. Wonder if Jan has anything to worry about."
Scoggs snorts as he sits on the chair I indicate. "From the Doc? I doubt it. She's so wrapped up in her work, I'd be surprised if she had anything else on her mind. I bet it's all work related."
He looks at me expectantly. "So. You said you'd thought of something you're hoping will work. Why are we here instead of Wet Lab?"
I pull another chair up a few inches across from him. Our knees are almost touching. "Because, O impatient one, we have to start slow. Okay, I want you to take a breath and hold it for a few seconds before you exhale."
Scoggs does as I ask, his eyes clearly showing that he thinks this is a waste of time. "Where was your breath?" I ask once he's able to speak again.
"In my mouth. Carter, what are you..."
A shake of my head interrupts him. "Was it? Take another breath." He inhales and I lean towards him and tap him on the chest. He exhales quickly and grins.
"Okay, I get it. I was wrong. It's in my lungs. But what's that got to do with anything."
Getting up, I move the small table over to where he's sitting. "It has everything to do with it. You panic because you don't think you'll be able to breathe in the water. Well, the thing is, you don't breath in the water. If you're not toting your own oxygen, your face is always out of the water."
Scoggs' face goes slack as my comment registers. If it weren't such a serious matter, I'd laugh at his expression.
He swallows. "It can't be that easy. I'd have thought of that if it were that easy."
"I don't know if it'll be easy," I throw over my shoulder as I disappear into the bathroom. I re enter the room a few minutes later with a huge bowl that I borrowed from Preacher, filled with water. I place it on the table. "You're fighting a pretty ingrained panic reflex. But I'm hoping if I teach you how to get the air you need, you'll be able to handle it."
I sit down across from him again and tap the bowl. "This is going to be your swimming pool. Take a breath and dip your face in. When you need to exhale, turn your head so that your face rolls out of the water. Your ear will get dunked but you'll be able to exhale out and inhale in before turning your head back the way it came."
Scoggs is sitting motionless, still staring at me. He blinks slowly. "It can't be that easy," he whispers.
"Maybe not. But we've got nothing to lose by trying it, right?" The words are barely out of my mouth before he's jumping up, knocking his chair over, sweeping the bowl off the table, and drenching me.
Now it's my turn to stare at him. "Tom?" I'm so shocked; I actually use his real name.
He glares, and then points his finger at me. "You... You... You think you're so smart! You and your stupid bowl! You... You don't know how much I missed out on! How many times I ended up making a fool of myself in front of people! It can't be that simple!"
Ah. The lightbulb snaps on. "Tom. Are you mad at me or are you mad because if this works you could've been free ages ago?" I keep my voice level. Letting him know that I'm not mad because he yelled at me.
For a few minutes all is silent as he stares at the floor. Then he picks up the bowl from where it fell and goes into the bathroom to refill it. He returns and places it on the table, then bends and tips his chair back into position. When he finally sits down, then he looks at me.
"I'm sorry. I just... I can't believe this never occurred to anyone."
I return his stare. "It's understandable though. Your mother was afraid and your dad was focused on stopping your mom from smothering you completely. It's not surprising that getting you back in the water was the last thing on their minds. Now's your chance to get a little of your own back." I nod toward the bowl of water. "Your pool awaits."
He grins at me and takes a breath.
I'm standing in the Wet Lab's inner pool, soaked from the waist down. Scoggs is standing on the edge, looking down at me. He's chewing his lip. Tonight's the big night.
We spent the last few weeks working on his breathing. Teaching him how to relax so that he breathes properly. Time to find out if this is going to work or not.
He's been standing there for quite a while now and I'm wondering if I need to say something. I don't want to force him but I think if he doesn't take this step now, it's going to really bring him down and discourage him. Just as I'm about to speak, he moves down the stairs that lead into the pool.
The last step that he's standing on puts the water at thigh level. I'm so proud of him. I move through the water towards him slowly. When I reach him, I rest my hand on his back. "You're doing great," I whisper in his ear. "Remember your breathing."
"Right. Breathing," he mutters.
Noticing that he's got a death grip on the rail of the stairs, I cover his hands with my own. "Do you want to stop?"
He jumps at my touch and then shakes his head. "No... But I'm not sure I can do this by myself."
He's scared but not panicked. His breathing is still regular. Which for him is a big deal. I lean in closer so he can feel me behind him. "You don't have to. I'm here with you. I won't let anything happen to you."
He closes his eyes. "I'm gonna let go now." After a tiny sigh, steps off the last step onto the bottom and pries his fingers off the rails.
Immediately I wrap my arms around him. "You did it!" I can feel him fighting his tenseness.
"I'm standing in what amounts to the shallow end of a pool. Yay me," he mutters.
I turn him around slowly. Not wanting him to get startled by the resistance of the water. His eyes are still closed. "Tom. Look at me."
His eyes snap open and I can't help but chuckle. That always gets his attention. Sliding my hands from his shoulders, I cup the back of his head. "Don't sell yourself short. Several months ago you couldn't even stand the sight of water. You're incredible."
A few minutes pass as he stares at me in silence. Then he smiles his usual cocky grin. "I know," he says, leaning in to kiss me.
I laugh into the kiss. He's going to be fine. If he's making jokes, everything is going to be all right.
I break the kiss and move back a little, motioning for him to try and join me a little further out in the pool. I'm almost as excited as he will be once what he's done tonight finally sinks in.
He hesitates and I hold my hand out to him. "Do you trust me?"
A smile blossoms and he takes several shaky steps towards me, gaze locked with mine.
His hand slips into mine, gripping solidly. "Hell yeah!"
I match his smile. He's going to be just fine.