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Heart Like a Wheel

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Afterwards, after the long, languid kiss in front of thousands of spectators, they are mobbed by the crew of both their rig and ship and any other crew caught on top of the massive alien craft. There is jubilation and relief and a sense of camaraderie that none of them have felt in their lifetimes.

Later, they will liken it to a post-war feeling, like soldiers wandering the streets kissing unsuspecting nurses.

Both sides, the US, and Russia and anyone else who’d been brave enough to get involved in the first place, back off quickly. Terrified by the seeming interminable walls of water, the Cold War has essentially come to a halt. How that continues in the future, no one’s quite sure. But for now, humanity embraces, too caught up in the joyful relief of having dodged a sure death to care much about Russian spies.

The appropriate authorities, FBI, CIA, and several other covert organizations arrive minutes after the alien ship floats them to shore. Everyone steps on land, grateful to feel its solid but yielding surface. Questions are asked, the crew is tested, poked and prodded, until finally their health and threat to national security is found to be satisfactory.

The rig is towed to dry land, and almost as if they’re aware it’s safe to go the massive craft slowly sinks out from beneath them, ships regaining their displacement in the water, and within minutes, it’s gone completely.

Bud watches with Lindsey tucked squarely in his arms, both wrapped in blankets and wearing new, dry clothing supplied by the medical team that examined them, as the ships bob offshore. He’s careful not to hold her too tight after catching sight of the bruises and burns on her chest resulting from her all-too-recent resuscitation. She’s also got two cracked ribs from that and a host of other minor bumps and scrapes resulting from their underwater bumper boat adventure with Lieutenant Coffey.

Benthic Petroleum is profusely thankful, and happy the majority of the crew is safe. The fact that the rig is salvageable seems to be the icing on the cake. They’ll all be paid handsomely and compensated accordingly, the rig crew is promised, and once the various agencies have learned that it was Bud and, in part, Lindsey, who saved humanity from certain death, promises of even more auspicious perks are mentioned. The President may want to talk to them, Medals of Honor are mentioned and even more financial promises are made.

But, for Bud and Lindsey Brigman, and the rest of the rig crew, simply a shower and a warm bed are all they need right now. So, without further ado, they’re choppered off to New Orleans, and soon Bud and Lindsey are fresh and clean, snuggled together in a king-size bed in the Windsor Court Hotel, as the sun sets on the day they’ll never forget.

Bud gazes out at the waning orange light, Lindsey tucked against him, sleeping soundly after a warm shower and a hefty dose of painkillers. But Bud turned down the proffered pills, wishing instead to feel every single cut and bruise, every pulled muscle. He’s never felt so alive as he does right now, a man who only hours ago experienced his own impending end. 

And now the woman, who, days before, ensured him she’d be divorcing him, lies in his arms for the first time in, god, years, in the impossibly soft, cosy bed, breathing quietly, warm against his chest. In the quiet stillness of the room he listens to her heart beating, and he almost wants to laugh with glee as it is the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard.

He’s nearing sleep now, he knows, and as the last vestiges of day slip down past the horizon and the city and their room darken, Lindsey’s living lullaby of lubs and dubs ushers him off to sleep.

 

Ω

 

It turns out the promises made on that day are meant to be kept and soon Bud, and the rest of the crew are media darlings, with every news station clamouring for their story and how they saved the world. Despite some initial hesitance on behalf of the intelligence community, Bud, Lindsey and the rig crew do one interview with CNN, one week later.  They are warned to keep anything classified classified, and are forced to gloss over the actions of Lieutenant Coffey.

Soon after (after, Bud gleefully informs Hip and One Night, Lindsey calls her lawyer and withdraws her petition for divorce,) they get their promised triple-time paychecks from Benthic, and then, a few days later, each of them receive a compensation check from the government that makes the first check seem utterly insignificant and leaves them all light-headed.

Bud Brigman hasn’t been near this kind of money in his entire life. He stares at the check, as Lindsay sleeps, taking an afternoon nap in the hotel room that has been their home for the past ten days.

He glances at her, beautiful as hell even in sleep, and makes a decision. He takes a taxi to the bank and quickly deposits it, buys a car and stops by his apartment, loading the few meagre possessions he owns into it.  Then he walks into a realtor (he’s always loved this city) and walks out two hours later holding the deed and the keys to a two-storey four-bedroom home on four acres in River Ridge (with a pool, of course.) He heads back to the hotel.

He doesn’t know how she’ll react. He knew he had to do it, though. He’d been living like a frat boy in the years since they split. Hell, even before they split. He knew she had wanted structure, wanted him to finally grow up, he’d never had the money or the guts to do anything like this before.

He gingerly enters the room, finding her at the window, looking out at the city below, lazily sipping some tea. She turns and her face lights up when she sees him. His gut drops, and he steadies himself on the dresser. God, she’s beautiful. And it seems almost too much when she gets up to walk over to him, that dazzling smile still on her face. He wonders, idly, if he’s dying, right now, on that rocky outcrop and everything that’s happened since then is merely the fevered dreams of an oxygen-deprived mind.

“Where’ve you been?” she asks, still grinning, stepping up to him and kissing him, leisurely. He needs her shoulders to steady him this time, wrapping his arms around her neck so his knees won’t give out. She pulls away, her limpid brown eyes lidded, still expecting an answer.

He smiles, he can’t help himself. “I, uh, was getting some things done.” Some things I should have done a long time ago, he thinks but doesn’t say, and hands her the two sets of keys.

She stares at the metal objects in her hands for a quick second, before looking back up at him bemused but clearly still amused, a half smile pushing up the corner of her mouth.

“What’re these for?” she asks, looking back down at them, and then back up at him. Her smile has reached the other side of her mouth now and he can tell now she’s cheerfully curious.

“These,” he says, delicately tapping the car keys, “are for a 1987 Mercedes 300E.”

She lets out a little gasp, her head sharply rising to look at his face. “Bud, you bought me a car?”

He smiled. “Us, hon, I bought us a car. And a goddamn nice one at that.”

She laughs that laugh that makes him feel all fluttery inside, and he gestures to the other set of keys.

“And this is for the front door of 234 Garden Road, River Ridge, Louisiana.” He ignores her scoff of disbelief, pointing to the other key on the ring, “And this one’s for the back door.”

She laughs again, floored, and looks up at him incredulously. “Good Lord, Bud, you bought a house?”

He smiles. “Us, Lins, I bought us a house. And I promise you you’re going to love it.”

She looks back down at the keys in her hand, and when she looks back up, there are tears pooling in her eyes. She doesn’t look happy, not completely, but she shares that smile of nervous hope that he’s wearing right now. He can see her thinking about it, weighing the possibilities and consequences.

She looks back down at the keys, and a little laugh escapes her throat. He laughs, too, relief flooding him, his heart resuming a normal rhythm. He pulls her into his arms, hugging her to him gently, mindful of her still-healing wounds.

He wipes away a tear from her cheek, and she lifts her chin to look into his eyes.

“No crying, remember?” he says, and she half-laughs, half-sobs, and kisses him squarely on the mouth.

Chapter Text

Neither of them has owned a home before, and certainly not one of this size and grandeur. A month later, they still find themselves wandering the house or the grounds, goggling at the lush surroundings.

It’s hot and humid as hell in New Orleans in late August and with no jobs to answer to for, they split their time between their air-conditioned bedroom and the poolside chairs.

It feels good to just be, and to let time heal their physical and emotional wounds. They’re warned by the company psychologist that they may suffer after-effects from their ordeals, and they attend biweekly therapy sessions to counteract the possibility of what she calls post-traumatic stress disorder.

They both occasionally awake with nightmares, horrible ones their brains trick them with, waking up gasping for air, or screaming, or sometimes even crying. But as time goes on these incidents become rarer, and as Lindsay’s physical scars start to disappear their psychological ones begin to diminish.

Still, he’s hesitant to let her out of his sight, or, sometimes, even out of arms’ reach. Thankfully she clings to him at times as well, and they find themselves closer than they’d ever been before.

The sex improves as well, although it’s always been pretty damn good, and they have a great time exploring this newfound intimacy.

The stifling summer fades into a slightly less stifling fall before their comfortable routine begins to become routine, at least for Lindsay. He could spend the next year lazing around the house and yard with her after what they’ve been through but her nature is to work, and by mid-October he can sense her restlessness growing.

She had set to work decorating the house with their considerable budget, but now that’s done to her satisfaction, the yard has been landscaped, the pool cleaned, the gardens tended to.

One day at the end of October she comes home with a particularly sour look on her face, and he watches her sullenly putting away groceries from his seat on the couch. He sighs, steeling himself, and walks into the kitchen as she places a particularly large pineapple in the fruit bowl.

“Something wrong, Lins?” she looks up at him, the scowl temporarily replaced with surprise.

“Hey,” she says, with little affect, and he steps toward her, now a little concerned. She sighs, the scowl returning.

“Lindsay,” he says, softly, his hand reaching for hers. She doesn’t pull away but doesn’t respond to his touch, either, so he tries to catch her eye, but she looks away. “Did I do something wrong?”

She sighs at this question. “You could say that,” she says, glancing at him with a look that could wilt flowers.

He sighs. He’s still holding her hand, so he pulls her closer to him, trying to catch her eye. She yields a little, but still stubbornly resists looking him in the eye.

“Honey, I can’t apologize if I don’t know what it is I’ve done,” he tips her chin up with his free hand and looks her straight in the eye. “What is wrong?”

She breathes heavily a few times, her mouth pursed. He’s about to get angry when she drops the bomb.

“I’m pregnant, Virgil.”

He drops her hand and steps backward.

“That’s what’s wrong,” she says, in a voiced strangled with anger and tears and turns and leaves him standing shell-shocked at the kitchen counter.

When the shock wears off, he realizes he should hardly be surprised. They’ve been spending a great deal of time in the bedroom and they’d been careless more times than he cared to remember.

He sighs. He knows why she’s angry with him, with herself, with this whole situation, but it doesn’t quash that nascent feeling that leaves him trying to keep the corners of his mouth down. It’s the same feeling he felt when she didn’t slap his face upon being presented with the keys to this house. Hope. He allows himself a small smile and a little laugh. He’s happy, he realizes, way happier than he’d thought he’d be.

And why shouldn’t I be? He thinks, anger surging through him. Months ago he’d watched her die, then come back to life. He thought he would die. God, almost half his crew died. So was it so surprising that the creation of a new life filled him with hope? He sighs, thinking of her, and the anger starts to fade.

He finds her later sitting at the windowsill in their bedroom, the late-afternoon sunlight streaming in. She looks up briefly when he walks in, but can’t seem to muster even a greeting. He steps toward her cautiously.

“You know what’s ironic?” she says, surprising him. He steps closer, her question drawing him in.

“What?” he responds, reaching the window and gently joining her on the seat.

She turns to look at him, her scowl replaced with a rueful smile. “When I left you I wanted...I thought I—needed a man who matched my new position. I wanted to be part of higher society, I guess, I wanted to fit in with the other guys in the front office,” she laughs, mirthlessly, hazarding a glance at him, “and now, here we are, living the high life and all I want to do is get back on that rig. Get my hands dirty.”

At this, he smiles, reaching forward to take her hand. She yields this time, her slim fingers slipping around his hand, squeezing it gently.

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do around here for eight months, Bud.”

He laughs softly and is surprised when she does too, in spite of herself. He moves over to her, pulling her next to him.

“Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean your life has to stop, Lindsay, jesus,” he says, trying to catch her eye, “you might not be able to dive, but you can ask Benthic if they’ve got a desk job for you in Houston.” She shrugs beside him. An idea hits him. “You could get your Ph.D. Then you won’t have to bitch about being called Mrs. Brigman anymore. You could be Dr. Brigman. Has a nice ring to it.”

She laughs, finally. “As promising as that idea sounds, Mr. Brigman, I think it takes a little longer than eight months to get a doctorate.”

“Well, you can start it. Knowing you, and your brilliant intellect and spectacular work ethic, it won’t take you very long at all,”

“If you’re trying to butter me up by flattering me so I’ll forget your involvement in this little situation we currently find ourselves in, I regret to inform it that it is...not working.”

He mock-gasps. “My involvement? Who was the one who offered to go buy some condoms that first time you forgot a pill? Me. To which you said...” he ends, pointing at her.

She rolls her eyes. “I said, ‘Ah, screw it.’ And then we...”

He smiles and shakes his head. “That happened a few times, Lindsay.” He sighs, caressing her arm with his hand. “I just figured you were okay with whatever happened. You know? We’re married, living in a big house we own outright and have financial security for at least ten, fifteen more years if we play our cards right. I just thought, you know, you were ready.”

She’s quiet for a few seconds. “I...don’t know. Maybe I was. I got comfortable, Bud, that’s why I forgot all those times. It wasn’t like after we got married, when we were scrimping and saving and spending months at a time on a ship, or in a rig. I had to remember! Otherwise I’d lose my job. I got comfortable! But, then I started to get bored here. I miss the rig, Bud, I miss diving, and I want to get back to it. That’s why I was angry, and disappointed.”

He gives her a reassuring squeeze, turning to kiss her temple. “I know, but you can get back to all that afterwards, I promise. I’ll stay home with the baby and you can go work on the rig.”

She laughs, and turns to look at him. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“You’re goddamn right I am, Ace,” he says, eliciting a smile from the nickname.

“So you were ready—you are ready for a baby?” she asks, some surprise in her voice.

“Hell yeah! Lins, if it were up to me we’d have three kids already,” he admits, and watches her eyebrows rise in surprise.

“Wow, I didn’t know. I mean, we never really...talked about it—”

“We didn’t get time, or there was never a right time.”

“No, I guess not,” she says, regretfully. She takes a deep breath beside him. “Oh, god, I’m so sorry, Virgil.”

He turns to her, surprised. “Sorry for what?” he asks, incredulous.

“I’m sorry for leaving you behind. One Night told me what you said, and I just, I just had an epiphany, of sorts,” she’s looking straight at him, trying her best to keep the tears at bay, “I’m sorry for pretending I didn’t love you all this time, for making you feel you were less than me, for Michael, for everything I ever said to you to because you didn’t deserve it, any of it. You were so true, and so loving—” She sniffs, trying to hold back the tears.

“Hey, babe. Don’t worry about it, okay?” he wipes the few tears that fall away with his thumb. “If it matters, Lindsay, I fell in love with you about two minutes after I met you. And I never stopped.”

“Oh, Bud,” she says, sniffling, “that’s about two minutes before I fell in love with you.” He laughs, and she follows suit, lifting her head to look at him, “it was about ten seconds after the first time you told me to keep my pantyhose on.”

He laughs, pulls her close and kisses her forehead. “I forgive you, Lindsay, for all of it. God knows I wasn’t the easiest person to live with—“

“You got that right—”

“Lins!”

“Sorry,” she whispers.

“What I was trying to say is, it doesn’t matter anymore. We’re having a baby.” He says the words with as much wonder as he feels at the thought. Lindsey is here with him. A couple months earlier their marriage was all but dead, and now they’re going to be parents. It’s hard to keep the smile off his face and she sees.

“We’re having a baby,” she repeats, and he hears the apprehension.

“You scared?” he asks, kissing the top of her head.

She laughs, flightily. “I’m terrified, Virgil,” she says, and pulls away to look at him. “I’m not exactly mother material.”

“How do you know?” he asks, affronted. How can she say something like that? “You were the best mother that rig ever had. You always knew what was wrong, where to fix it. Before any of us.”

She laughs, incredulous. “Bud, that was a big hunk of metal. This,” she said, and her hand goes to her abdomen, where it rests with a tenderness that gives him a pang in his gut, “this is going to be a tiny little person.”

He's not used to Lindsay professing even a passing lack of confidence in her own abilities. Everything was a contest to her that she had to win. He expects her to approach motherhood the same way, but looking at her, her face pale and drawn, he can tell she's struggling. He won’t make fun of her. She needs him now more than she ever had.

“Lindsay,” he starts, his tone one that brooked no argument, “you are the most capable person I know. You designed that rig so well it kept us all alive. You make grown men fall to their knees and cry. You can take care of a baby. You’re going to be great at it. And you know what? If you need help, I’ll be here. Every day, every hour. I’ll be here, okay?” She nods, and he can tell he's getting through to her.

“We can do this,” she says, her voice a little calmer, a little more confident.

Chapter Text

October quickly becomes November and finally the oppressive heat and humidity begins to ease in southern Louisiana. Lindsey’s sick as a dog nearly every morning and some afternoons, and on the rare occasion, evenings.

Bud does all he can, holding her hair back, rubbing her back, sitting with her on the bathroom floor for hours, and he is like a godsend to her. She never imagined she’d feel this awful, the way her mother had seemingly breezed through five pregnancies. Her resolve wavers at times, and she panics, crying and moaning that she can’t do this. Bud only wordlessly rubs her back, or envelops her in a hug, whispering that she can, that she's been to the other side and back, so she can surely do this.

But then it will let up for a day or two and Bud will cook her whatever she wants and her determination comes back. She will get through this. And Bud is making life as easy as possible for her, doing housework and yard work; cleaning out the gutters and the pool, mowing the lawn and trimming the hedge.

A few weeks into December, nearing the end of her first trimester, the nausea eases up, and then, as they near Christmas, it all but disappears, and almost like a switch is flicked, she feels like herself again.

She feels like dancing and finds it hard to stop smiling, especially around Bud, whom she knows it has taken a toll on, too.

And something else starts to happen that simultaneously terrifies and exhilarates her—she’s starting to show.

Though she’s lost ten pounds, she still finds her jeans have been a little difficult to button the past few days. As her appetite comes back, and the weight comes back on, it gets so hard to button them she takes to wearing a pair of tights or even Bud’s sweatpants around the house. He loves the fact that she’s showing, of course, and when they’re making love he pays such tender attention to the growing mound below her bellybutton it almost makes her cry.

Still, it’s unnerving, and she stands in front of the bathroom mirror often, turned to the side, staring at and pressing on the area. She can’t say she likes that something else is taking control of her body; she’s always needed to be in control. She hates how the hormones make her feel—weak, tired and emotionally unstable, all things she, as a woman working in a man’s world is not allowed to feel. So in a way she’s glad for the extended vacation from Benthic. She’s glad to be in the safety of this house with Bud, who never judges, never tries to undermine her because she shows a little weakness.

On top of all this, though, she’s starting to become very attached to this tiny growing lump. Her hand often resting on the area unthinkingly and she is sometimes surprised at the intensity of the feelings she has. The need to protect and nurture is so instinctive and primal, types of emotions she has never been particularly familiar with, it scares her sometimes.

She loves this baby not because it is hers, but because it’s theirs. A product of love she never thought she’d find, and which continues to surprise her every day. She loves this baby because it is part of him. And if it inherits even a quarter of what made him him, she will be smitten from day one.

They creep up on Christmas with rain and thunder, to which Lindsey has become accustomed and even sometimes misses. Summer and some of fall in Louisiana was oppressive and sticky, the only relief a refreshing thundershower nearly every afternoon. In winter it is cooler, the temperature at nights sometimes dropping below freezing, but they still get the occasional violent rainstorm that leaves motorists stopping on the side of the road and pedestrians running for cover.

In the middle of this downpour she is home alone on Christmas Eve, Bud having gone out to finish the last of his shopping.

 Today is the first day of her second trimester, according to her doctor, and the risk of miscarriage will drop sharply in the next few weeks. It’s relieving but also a little terrifying to her. This is the point of no return, she’d thought as she woke up that morning, I’m almost certainly going to have this baby.

The phone rings, surprising her, and she gets up to answer it. She’s astounded to hear the other woman’s voice, low and strong at the other end of the line.

“Hey, Lindsey!” One Night says with more affection than Lindsey’s ever heard her use when speaking her name.

“Uh, hey, One Night!” Lindsey manages to get out, doing her best to sound cheerful.

“It’s been a while, I know, I’m sorry I didn’t call you or Bud, I just needed a little time to—”

“Decompress?” Lindsey supplies and they both laugh a little. It was true, if not literally. They’d needed the time alone to deal with what happened, and heal.

“Yeah, something like that,” One Night replies, “so how are you and Bud doin’? I still can’t believe you two are back together.”

Lindsey smiles in spite of herself. “You know, sometimes, I can’t either. But it’s been great, One Night, we haven’t been doing much and it was just nice to relax for a while.”

Was nice? Does that mean you’re not relaxing anymore? ‘Cuz I’ve got some news for you,” One Night drawls conspiratorially.

Lindsey sits up straight, now completely at attention. “What is it?”

“Well,” the younger woman starts off slowly, “I got a call from Kirkhill the other day. He says the rig can be repaired and they’re going to start it after the holidays.”

Lindsey sighs deeply, trying her best to set her tone completely neutral, “Oh yeah? Well that’s good news.”

“Yeah, yeah, well, that’s not all,” she says, “They’re going to start the deep-sea trial up again, once it’s repaired. April fourteenth, they said. They called me and pretty much everyone else on the team. They’re probably going to call you two, soon.”

Lindsey’s found her heart rate has gone up a little. They’re putting the rig back down there already? So soon? My rig, without even consulting me? She takes a deep breath and pushes down the rage.

“Wow, that is surprising. I’d have figured they’d wait a while, you know, instead of rushing back down there,” Lindsey says, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

“Yeah, well we were pretty surprised, too, but you know Benthic. They gotta make the big bucks.” She pauses. “Everyone but Sonny’s agreed to go back down with it.”

This surprises Lindsey more than anything, but after a few seconds it makes sense. Perhaps Bud’s crew’s a lot more like her than she thought. They love it, can’t stay away from it.

“Including you?” Lindsey asks.

“Well, yeah, I mean, I bought a place in Dallas, but I’ve been staying with my sister because her dumbass husband is on some business trip to New York for two weeks, and I’ve been cooped up in the house with four kids under six, so three hundred fathoms sounds pretty damn good to me right now.”

Lindsey laughs. “Wait, four? I thought she only had three.”

“She did,” One Night says, deadpan. “She just had another one about three weeks ago.”

“Oh my,” Lindsey says, laughing.

“Yeah, it’s getting a little chaotic in here,” she says. “So what about you and Bud?” One Night asks, surprising Lindsey, “You two coming back down to the depths or have you had enough?”

At this, Lindsey sighs. She knows it’s okay to tell people about her pregnancy now, but it still feels weird, to talk about it with others. She looks down at the little bulge, patting it.

“Well,” she starts, “I think I’m out of the running for doing any diving for a while, but I have no idea about Bud. He might want to. I’d definitely like to at least be around when they fix my rig.”

One Night laughs, “Oh, your rig, right, well, as much as it pains me to say, Lindsey, I’ll miss you down there. I know I wasn’t exactly your best friend for the past few years, but, I respect you now a lot more.”

Lindsey is surprised, and laughs a little, “Wow, Lisa, I never thought I’d see the day. But thank you.”

“So why can’t you dive, though? What is going on with that?”

Lindsey sighs. God, this woman saw right through her. “I can’t pressurize or depressurize for a while. According to my doctor,” Lindsey says, cautiously. She’s not going to give this one away. One Night’s gonna have to work for it.

“Oh really?” One Night asks, with a tone that suggests she knows exactly what is going on. “For how long?

“A few months,” Lindsey says, nonchalant.

“How many?” One Night asks.

“Um, about six or so, maybe a little more.” Lindsey says, grimacing.

There’s silence at the other end. Then, “Oh, no way. No way! You two are reproducing already? You’ve only been back together for, what? Four months? I can’t believe it.”

“Five months," Lindsey corrects, but she can’t help but smile. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, I felt exactly the same way when I found out. I was mostly mad at myself for being so stupid.

“Bud’s probably happier than a pig in shit, I bet,” One Night says, laughing.

Lindsey laughs, too. “He sure is,” she says, smiling, “how’d you know that?”

“Oh Lins, I know a lot of guys who aren’t meant to be fathers. But Bud Brigman is. He’s the kind of dad I wish I had. And most of the younger guys on the rig.”

Lindsey smiles as she hears the words, knowing that they’re absolutely true. “Yeah, he sure is,” she says.

“Well, congratulations to the both of you, Lindsey. I mean it.”

“Thank you, One Night. You guys have fun down there, you hear? And make sure they’re taking care of my rig.”

“Oh, it will be my pleasure. If it weren’t for that rig I’d be lying dead at the bottom of the Caribbean, so I’ll do my best. Hey, you don’t mind if I let the rest of the crew know about Baby Brigman?” One Night asks.

Lindsey smiles and rolls her eyes. “Yeah, sure, why not. But only Hippy and you and Catfish and Jammer, not Kirkhill or anyone else. Keep it to yourselves, please.” She pauses for a second, smiling, “I hope to hear from you guys soon. Merry Christmas, One Night.”

The reply came back as strong as ever, “Merry Christmas, Lindsey.”

As she hangs up the phone, that unsettled feeling settles in once again. She feels almost like a new mother whose child is under the care of someone else for the first time. Her rig, her rig, no matter what Bud or Benthic says, out there, under repair by someone who is not her. She supervised its initial construction, watched nearly every weld, every rivet and made sure the builders inflexibly followed her plans.

Her hand goes to her abdomen, to that little bulge that seems to get bigger by the day. She knows by the time Deepcore’s repairs start she will be visibly pregnant. She thinks of supervising a build in that condition, arguing with men twice her size and trying to throw her weight around, and knows she couldn’t do it. She knows her pregnancy will make her look weak and she knows, above all, that Bud will object to it.

She starts to caress her belly. God, she thinks smiling ruefully, this is like Sophie’s Choice. She must decide which one of her children is more important to her. That rig, that she designed from scratch, sketched and drafted and watched grow from the ground up. And then, she thinks about this new child, her flesh and blood, and more importantly, Virgil Brigman’s flesh and blood. That man that she has come to love irrevocably.

And her choice is made. She will trust that Benthic with follow her design, will repair the rig with the care she’d originally taken. For the next six months and at least a few more after that she will devote herself completely to this child, because it needs her more than her big iron baby, and because she knows that Bud, who has taken care of her so tenderly for the past few months, deserves to have her here with him, and not in Benthic Petroleum dry-dock, ordering around a bunch of surly men.

She’s been so locked up in her own head she does not hear the crunch of gravel and the slamming of the car door signalling Bud’s arrival, and when the front door opens, startling her from her thoughts, she nearly jumps.

He comes in with a few bags, and looks up when she stands to greet him.

He smiles when he sees her, that slow, lazy smirk that gives her a jolt right to her center.

“Hey, babe,” he says, and she can’t help but smile and drift over toward him, “how are you?”

She almost rolls her eyes at his concern, but doesn’t, because she knows it’s so painfully sincere.

“I’m okay,” she says, putting her hands in the pockets of the big fluffy sweater she’s wearing today. “I got a call from One Night today.”

His surprise is evident. “Oh really? What’s she up to?”

“Oh, she’s in Dallas, with her sister. She just had another baby.”

Bud laughs, “So how many is that now, five?”

Lindsey smiles, “Four. She’s staying with her for the next few months until her brother-in-law comes home.”

“So’d you tell her? About our own little imminent bundle?” he asks as he sheds his jacket, hanging it by the door.

“Yeah,” she groans, “I didn’t want to, but she got it out of me. She’s very talented at that.”

“Tell me about it,” Bud says, shaking his head.

She sighs, her hands fisting inside her pockets, and Bud looks at her curiously.

“Something wrong?” he asks, stepping over in her direction.

“No,” she says, right away, not wanting to worry him, “but she mentioned Benthic is going to be repairing Deepcore to start up the deep-sea trial again.”

Bud’s eyebrows go up at this. “Well, that’s good news. Hopefully this one’ll be less eventful than the first.”

She laughs, “Yeah. They’re going with April 14th as the date to start drilling. Her, Hippy and Jammer and probably Catfish are going to go down with it.”

Bud is really surprised at this. “What?” She nods, smiling. “They don’t need to work for ten years and they’re all going back down there in three months? Do you know the grief I got from them every single day down there? You’d’a thought they’d rather be anywhere but there.”

“Well,” she says, shrugging, “it’s what they do, Bud. And they do it better than anyone else. It’s in their blood.”

 “Yeah, I guess so.” He looks at her. “And what about you, Hot Rod? Isn’t it your blood?”

She sighs, but smiles, looking past him out the window. “It’s going to be hard as hell for me. But,” she starts, trying to look anywhere but at him, “even by the time the repairs are taking place I’m gonna be too big to hide it, and by the time they start drilling I’m gonna be too pregnant to even think about going underwater.

“So I am going to politely stay on the sidelines this time,” she finishes, glancing at him. The proud smile on his face gives her a flash of anger that makes it feel just like old times with them. But it is not ‘old times’ anymore. She takes a deep breath and the anger starts to fade. “And I swear to god, Virgil, if you make one smart-ass remark, I will hurt you so bad—”

But he doesn’t make any remark, instead closing the few feet of distance between the two of them and placing his hands on her shoulders. She looks at him, begrudgingly, and, by god, if his eyes aren’t astoundingly blue today.

“I’m proud of you, Ace,” he says, frankly, and she takes a breath to push down the scathing remarks bubbling up, “I know this was hard for you.”

She sighs, glancing up his earnest face. “Thank you, Bud,” she says, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “It was.”

He pulls her closer to him and kisses her on the forehead. “I would have been worried about you every damn day if you went back to Benthic.”

A thought strikes her and she looks up at him curiously. “You’re not going to miss it?”

He shakes his head, dropping his hands from her shoulders and shrugging. “Nope.”

But she is not convinced. “As much as this pains me to say, Bud, but you took good care of that rig, better than anyone but me, and you’re content just giving it all up?”

He sighs, thinking. “I had a good crew down there, and we had some good times. But what you don’t seem to get,” he says, taking her hands in his, “is that I’m content here with you.” He lifts her hand to his mouth, kissing it just like he did that day too few months ago, when she’d awoken to learn she cheated death.

She smiles, helpless to his charm, “Bud, you’re not serious.”

“I am!” he states, laughing. “Boy, you really don’t get it. I know I’m great at what I do, Lindsay, but all I want, all I’ve wanted for a long time was you. And I want to stay here with you, and with you,” he says, tapping the little swell of her belly with their joined hands, “as long as I possibly can.”

She realizes, as his blue eyes bore into her, that he’s telling the truth. And it hits her that he has always felt this way, back in the beginning, after she left him, after Michael, and even when she cruelly pushed him away before all hell broke loose on Deepcore. All this time.

“Oh, Bud,” she starts, but finds the words too hard to say, choked with guilt.

“Hey, hey,” he says, cupping her face and turning it up to his, “don’t cry, babe.” He uses his thumb to wipe the single tear that has fallen, but his words leave her struggling to keep the rest at bay. God, she hates this. It’s as if this pregnancy has opened the emotional doors for her, and she is unable to stop them from flowing out.

“I don’t deserve you,” she says, smiling in spite of herself.

“Come on, Ace, don’t be like this. You deserve me. We deserve each other. We’re the only ones willing to put up with each other. How’s that?”

She laughs. “That sounds about right.”

Chapter Text

In their three and a half years of marriage, they’ve never missed a Christmas together, though the tumultuous holiday they’d spent together the year before had been had been so fraught with discord, there had been very little holiday cheer.

It hurts Lindsey to think that only a year ago she was planning on leaving Bud. She’d been chief engineer of the Deepcore project for a little more than a year at the time, and the hunk of metal that had once been realized only in drafts and in her imagination was about to be completed.

It was a moment of jubilation, of validation for her, for her many years of fevered, monomaniacal work. Bud had been appropriately happy for her, but she’d been somehow unable to accept his praise. Looking back now, she knows he was completely ingenuous, but at the time she’d found it off-putting. In fact, for a long time, she’d been finding him off-putting.

He was just so nice. So goddamn nice, all the time. No matter how many times she’d snipped at him, denigrated him, ignored him, he just kept coming back for more. She couldn’t understand it, at the time. She didn’t want to. All she knew was that she didn’t deserve it and she couldn’t stand to be around it anymore.

It was only weeks later, after their two-week Christmas holidays, when she’d left him. Really left him this time, taken all her stuff out of the apartment, told him she was leaving, and left him.

He’d taken it as stalwartly as he took everything, though he’d done his darndest to convince her to stay, and by god if it didn’t almost work on her. Maybe if his eyes weren’t so goddamn blue.

His eyes are her one weakness.  She knows it’s because Bud, with his Nordic complexion in stark contrast to hers, reminds her of her father. Her father; tall, blond, blue-eyed and brilliant, who had swept her Sicilian mother off her feet.  She loves her father dearly, but her contempt for her mother has not faded in the ten years since they’ve spoken. And the repulsion she feels at the thought that she is at all like that woman is enough to make up her mind.

What would have been their last Christmas as husband and wife is spent doing only two things: arguing and having sex. Those were the only two things they were always good at. And as her emotional investment in the marriage waned throughout the holiday, the ratio of their activities began to shift to the former, the latter forgotten in their anger and hurt.

Lindsey rarely takes time to reminisce, but she’s the only one awake right now and her mind is wandering. She’s enjoying a rare cup of coffee—her doctor has told her she should cut down—and staring out the back sliding glass door at their frost-covered back yard. It’s New Year’s Day, and the sun is just coming up.

Lindsey was surprised when she awoke that morning to see the white stuff covering the ground. For a second, she thought it was snow and was back in New York, looking out the window of the bedroom she shared with her younger sister, wide-eyed and amazed at nature.

But, after a trip to the bathroom, and a glimpse of her midsection in the mirror—which she swears has grown in the week since Christmas, though considering how much she’s eaten over the holidays, it’s not that surprising—and she’s back in this house, certainly no longer a child and soon to be a mother to one.

This thought still hasn’t taken hold in her head, truly. She knows now, at nearly fourteen weeks, she’s very unlikely to miscarry, but that hasn’t given her the impetus to call either of her parents and inform them of her condition.

She knows her father will be happy; he likes Bud and Bud likes him and Lindsey is loath to admit it’s because they’re two peas in a pod. The two men in her life have only met on a couple of occasions, but it was all they needed before they were sitting around, drinking beer and shooting the shit like old friends.

But she can’t will up the courage to call him. Her father is living upstate now, with his second wife, a woman named Judith whom Lindsey thought highly of and their nearly twelve-year-old son, Daniel Francis.

Lindsey, at sixteen, was the only one of her four sisters to attend their wedding, though neither she nor her father had expected either them or her mother to make an appearance. Judith’s large Irish-Catholic family more than made up for the absence of Frank Thomas’s other children, and it had been a rather joyous affair.

When their son was born the next year, Lindsey again was the only one to visit them in hospital, though a few of her sisters sent flowers. She knew her father had wanted a son, and she had tried her best to fill the role. But seeing her father holding his baby boy she knew there really was a special bond between father and son. She’d never seen her father happier. And after everything her mother had put him through, she thought he damned well deserved it.

She would have to call him, she knew (if she couldn’t convince Bud to do it.)

But her mother was another story all together. The woman who had all but hated her fourth daughter since the day the nine-year-old had decided she’d become an engineer, like her father, and for a long time it didn’t matter to Lindsey. She had her father, and they loved each other. Then she had her rig, and she loved it, now she had Bud, whom she wished she’d loved then as she did now, and soon she’d have this baby, whom, despite her misgivings about motherhood, she was getting anxious to meet.

But pregnancy hormones wreak havoc. She’s over the worst of the early stuff, but her emotions remain labile and she finds herself feeling empathetic and sometimes even sympathetic where before she’d remain impassive. And one person in particular is her mother.

There’s a saying she heard once, she doesn’t know where, that went something like “Once you become a parent you realize your own were just doing the best they could.” And though she is yet to give birth, she finds herself identifying with her mother as a young woman.

She knows her mother was the child of Italian immigrants, poor, one of nine, and that the woman had spent the vast portion of her adult life trying to mold her daughters into successful women in the hopes that they would somehow erase little Catherine Mary di Angeli from existence.

Lindsey sighed as she sipped her coffee. The sun was slowly rising up past the horizon, and tendrils of sunlight were beginning to shine through the back door, warming her. She glanced at the clock; it was nearly seven-thirty and Bud would be up soon.

She knew her mother had only been doing what she thought was best. But, at the same time, she’d cut off her daughters from half of their heritage—not a single word of Italian had been spoken in their home, and the girls had not been permitted to visit their maternal grandparents, who had died a few years after Lindsey was born.

That she’d missed out on so much angered Lindsey. Later, when she was older, she’d visited cousins and aunts and uncles who had welcomed them into their homes, feeding her delicious food and teaching her Italian phrases. She wondered how different she and her sisters would be if they’d been surrounded by that sort of infectious familiarity.

She pushes down the bitterness as she sips the dregs of her coffee. She would never hide anything from her child, she decides, right then and there. She’d tell her mother about the baby, eventually, and she’d make sure her child got to meet all of his or her grandparents, and as many aunts and uncles as possible. Perhaps her mother had softened in her old age. Or perhaps not.

She shakes her head as if to clear it of all these thoughts. She knows she should not be focusing on negative things after the joyous Christmas they’ve just had.

They both went a little overboard with the gifts this year, though she supposes it can be expected. Bud bought her many interesting gifts; lots of books, topics varying from deep-diving suits to engineering marvels to what to expect when you’re expecting. And though he’s notoriously hard to shop for, she managed to wow him with some nice clothes, a new Yankees cap, and the piece de resistance, a new lawnmower to replace the lemon he’s been trying to repair for months.

But she forgot everything when he led her into the largest of the three remaining bedrooms to find it furnished with crib, changing table, rocking chair and dresser. She had had an inkling he’d been up to something in there, but not to this extent. She smiles now, thinking of his face when he’d revealed the room to her. Even if she can’t imagine herself having to use it, she appreciates the gesture.

Lindsey gets up to put her coffee cup in the sink and hears footsteps coming down the stairs. Bud is awake—and just in time to rescue her from the thoughts that won’t leave her alone.

He saunters down the stairs, what’s left of his hair sticking up awkwardly, and she stands at the sink watching him. He wipes his bleary eyes and catches sight of her.

“Hey,” he says, smiling at her, his voice gravelly.

“Hey,” she echoes as he walks over, wrapping his arms around her from behind and kissing her cheek, “Happy New Year.”

“Happy New Year, babe,” he says, kissing her again. “What’s up?” he asks and she laughs, mirthlessly. How does he know?

“Nothing,” she lies, leaning her head back onto his shoulder. She luxuriates in the contact they have these days. She was never very much for physical affection early in their marriage, but after their shared underwater ordeal and her ensuing pregnancy she’s found she likes to be held, her soft body yielding to his muscular one.

“Lins,” he says into her neck and she shivers. Goddamn this man, she thinks, smiling. She sighs.

“It’s nothing,” she says, as his hands find the hard little mound that has now pushed up past her navel, “I was just thinking. About my mother.”

She feels him tense at those last words and almost smiles.

“What about her?” Bud asks, with much less venom than she’d been expecting. While Bud has never met Cathy Thomas, what he has learned about her from Lindsey and, less so from Frank is all he needs to know.

“Ugh, I don’t know,” Lindsey says, almost embarrassed now, “I guess it must be the baby, but I’m feeling almost sorry for her.”

“Why?” Bud asks, turning her around with his hands and looking into her eyes. She looks away.

“I don’t know, Bud, I just—I...She’s my mother, okay? No matter what damages she’s inflicted on me, I can’t help but think I should tell her about the baby,” she finishes, sighing. “Though I doubt she’ll care. She was not too happy when we got married. Is it masochistic of me? To want to tell her?”

Surprising her, Bud shakes his head and smiles. “Of course not. But I’m just worried that her response is not going to be what you want to hear,” he says, catching her eye. She nods, understanding.

“Not like your mother,” Lindsey says, trying to keep her tone even. His mother’s joyful reaction is still etched in her mind. Lindsey had been helpless to join in the elation, but now, days later, she can’t help the envy that is creeping in.

“It’s her first grandchild, Lindsey!” he says, incredulous. Lindsey smiles and nods. She knows, and she knows she should not be envious of Bud, who lost his older brother as a child and whose own father has been dead for fifteen years. But she is. Her mother’s absence never bothered her before.

“Yeah,” she says, “you’re right. I don’t know, I’ve just been thinking about her a lot lately.”

“That’s fine,” Bud says, “but she doesn’t deserve it, Lins.”

Lindsey sighs and looks up into his eyes. She knows he’s right. She pushes all thoughts of her mother from her head. She’ll think about her later, when she has to, not now when the two of them are on the cusp of a new year, their fourth together.

“So,” Bud says, “what will nineteen eighty-nine hold for the Brigmans?” They both smile, thinking of the little boy or girl who will soon be making its presence undeniable.

“All three of us?” Lindsey asks, and it feels odd. Three of them. She was just getting used to the thought of the two of them again.

But the infectious smile on Bud’s face pushes that feeling away, and she soon finds herself mirroring his delight.

“Do you think the two candles can handle a third?” Bud asks, and it’s so unexpected she feels the tears threatening.

“Oh, Bud,” she says, pulling him close to her. “Yeah,” she says, after some time, “we’ll be three little candles, out there in the darkness.”

“Yeah,” Bud says, confident as always, “this is going to be a great year, Ace, I can feel it.”