Judson wondered if he would ever see Stefan again after the incident in South America. Although badly injured by that strange green light that had surrounded the jade Mayan altar, the man had simply disappeared while everyone's attention was elsewhere. It was likely that one of his men had helped him escape before the Governor could have him arrested.
Over a year had passed without any word of what had happened to him even though Judson asked around whenever he was in a friendly port. Despite Stefan's bad feelings towards him, he had never stopped caring for Stefan. He wished he'd been able to convince him that it really didn't matter which of them found the treasures, that it was for both of them to share. All of it. Many a time, Judson wished he knew why he had this strange ability to find things. He wished he knew how it worked so he could share even that with Stefan. It was just something he had been born with, some innate sixth sense. Some of his earliest memories were of locating lost items for first his mom and dad, and later for friends and others. He'd simply taken that skill and used it on a grander scale, eventually buying the Vast Explorer from the profits.
Stefan had a different set of skills and that was how their paths had crossed originally. Judson had needed an experienced dive master, one who could work in tight spaces and with an underwater dexterity that seemed to escape the majority of divers. He knew Stefan could have earned a lot of money diving for the oil companies, fixing their rigs and securing their drills but, like Judson, Stefan had yearned for adventure and the open sea.
Even after almost two decades, Judson still loved the life he had chosen. He loved the mystery, the puzzles and the quests. He doubted he would ever tire of poring over old maps, charts, and manuscripts, seeking the tiny clues that slowly fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle until X marked the spot.
Stefan had seemed to love the life too, often spending hours by his side going over those old documents and helping Judson refine his outlandish ideas and theories until Judson knew deep in his bones that they were looking in the right place. Then they would dive together, swimming side-by-side into the ocean depths, drawing each other's attention to the little things like shoals of exotic fish, pink coral on a reef, and the waving tentacles of brightly colored sea anemones. They would follow the deep ocean currents from Judson's marker, looking for a treasure that did not have to be precious metals or stones. Sometimes the treasure was simply the ship's name and a figurehead slowly rotting in the depths.
Perhaps if it had stayed that way then they would still be working together but some of their finds had brought them to the attention of the media, and before he knew it, Judson had become well known on the Discovery Channel while Stefan was left in his shadow. It had never been intentional. He guessed fame was fickle in that respect, but the resentment had started to build with Stefan spending less time by his side searching for clues and more time in the local bars drinking liquor and listening to the jealous ramblings of others, who convinced him that he was being used by Judson.
Judson had never truly noticed how often Stefan touched him until it stopped; a slap on the shoulder, a hand on his arm or pressed to the small of his back, a ruffle of his hair when they found something of greater worth that might pay for boat repairs or mooring fees. He missed the touches as Stefan became more and more withdrawn, until one day, Judson lost him altogether.
He'd found a new crew quickly, but as much as he had loved Gabe and Mac, it was never the same, as if part of him was missing. Now even they had gone, off to start new chapters of their lives while he was still content with what he had. Except contentment was not as fulfilling as the excitement that had once consumed him. At first he had put that down to age, aware that he was no longer a young man on the brink of a first discovery, but this past month alone on the boat had given him plenty of time to dissect his life. Apart from occasional moments of triumph, the thrill of the hunt had started to wane after Stefan pulled away from him.
It was a shock to realize that he missed Stefan.
He missed his smile--both the triumphant one when they found some hidden clue, and the softer one that spoke of their friendship. He missed those touches--the soft caress of fingers when Stefan wanted to gain his attention, and the warm press of a hand against his skin when he wanted to show him something. He also missed Stefan's company, recalling the way they could talk long into the night discussing plans, theories and old legends from around the world, or simply lie around on the deck reading books in companionable silence. Stefan was so much like him in that respect whereas Gabe tended to stay below with his computers and Mac preferred either sunbathing or cleaning her guns.
No one else had understood him the same way as Stefan, and no one else had ever fired up his imagination so strongly. They had been friends, and they had been partners in every way but the one that should have mattered most. Only now did Judson realize how clueless he had been about matters of the heart. His life with Stefan had been another puzzle--a double sided jigsaw. All the pieces had been right in front of him but he'd spent his time putting their life together from the wrong picture, missing all the obvious clues--the smiles and touches that spoke of more than mere friendship but of deep affection too. Of love.
He had loved... still loved Stefan, and with realization came the knowledge that Stefan had loved him back.
For a moment his mind went blank, as if cleaning a slate inside his head. He knew that feeling well, knew that it was a precursor for a whole new adventure, and it did not take much to realize that he would be seeking a far greater treasure than mere gold and jewels. He would be searching for Stefan.
A month later, Judson followed his sixth sense to a small island near Jamaica. It had been used by pirates as one of their many hidden bases scattered around the Caribbean to avoid the British. To this day, the population had the mixed blood of their pirate and native heritage so it was not unusual to see beautiful coffee-colored skin and blue or green eyes.
Judson found Stefan kneeling on a stretch of sandy beach, setting out dive equipment from a small shack that boasted personal diving experiences--for a price. He looked good. Beautiful even, with suntanned skin and dark hair that flopped over his forehead. A young couple were hovering around as if trying to make up their minds so Judson stepped in quickly.
Judson saw the way Stefan's shoulders tensed before he placed the oxygen tank down carefully and half-turned. His face was an emotionless mask.
"I've been searching for you."
Stefan tilted his head. "And now you've found me. But then, you were always good at finding whatever you were looking for." Despite the words, his voice held resignation rather than malice or resentment. Stefan's lips twitched in mild annoyance when the young couple walked away, and he gave Judson his full attention.
"Sorry," Judson murmured at the loss of a potential client.
"No you're not."
Judson gave a soft laugh. "No. I'm not."
Stefan took a deep breath. "What do you want from me, Judson?"
This was the moment Judson had dreaded even though he had practiced a speech in front of his mirror every day for the past month.
"As much as you're still willing to give."
Stefan gave a wry smile. "That depends on what I'll get in return."
Judson's mouth went dry, aware that he was about to open himself up for a heartache if Stefan no longer wanted the same as him.
Slowly, Stefan climbed to his feet and brushed off some of the fine sand before stalking towards Judson. He stopped when they were barely a foot apart. Judson felt a surge of hope when he realized he could see the emotionless mask slipping. Once more Stefan was waiting, just as he had waited when they worked together all those years ago; waiting to see if the touches, the smiles and the friendship could lead to something more. Judson raised both hands to frame Stefan's face and leaned in, drawing them into a first kiss that was barely the brush of lips. When he pulled back, the mask of indifference was gone completely.
"I hate you," Stefan whispered.
"No. No you don't," Judson replied just as softly, and this time when they kissed, the final puzzle piece slotted into place, and he felt complete.