“There’s a reason we got along so well from the moment we first met.” A familiar voice says from next to him.
Judson lifts his head from where it’s pillowed on his arms and blinks blearily at his companion. “You’re dead.”
Stefan’s smile is indulgent. “I was yes, but it turns out I can’t stay dead. Not unless someone takes my head that is,” he says softly as he leans closer to Judson, his eyes serious.
Judson turns his head away to stare at the empty Vodka bottle at his elbow, wondering to himself if he’d maybe drank more than he’d thought.
“I really am here old friend.” And then one of Stefan’s calloused hands is gripping the back of his neck, warm and solid and very real.
Judson’s eyes fall closed as the band that had wrapped around his chest when he’d watched his friend die eases and disappears and he can truly breathe for the first time. “It’s been months.”
“My… mentor wouldn’t let me leave to find you until he was satisfied that I could protect myself.”
The sweep of Stefan’s thumb at his hairline is almost enough to distract Judson but everything Stefan says is cryptic, and Judson has always preferred that puzzles be solved. “I need to know everything Stefan. The last time you were this vague ended up with you storming off the Vast Explorer, and then-”
“I’m sorry,” Stefan said softly, touching his cheek. “I know these past few months have been hard for you.”
“Years,” Judson said sitting up, eyes catching Stefan’s. “Nothing has been right since you left.”
Stefan’s brow furrowed. “But-”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Judson said standing. “Come back to the ship with me?”
“I doubt you could make it back by yourself,” Stefan laughed as he caught Judson’s elbow, stopping the other man’s swaying.
“And you’ll tell me everything?” Judson asked, hand gripping Stefan’s shirt, determined to get a straight answer.
“Of course,” Stefan said, stepping closer to support Judson. “And if you believe me I’ll take you to meet my mentor, I’m sure he’d be willing to teach you as well.”
“How very mysterious,” Judson said, leaning into Stefan’s side, smiling. “Does your ‘‘mentor’’ not have a name?”
Stefan’s smile grew into a grin. “Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.”
Despite Duncan’s assurance that he could also feel Judson’s potential as an Immortal, it still felt as if Stefan’s heart had been ripped from his chest when he comes across Judson’s lifeless body.
The shipwreck they’re exploring is off the coast of Taiwan, Judson is exploring the inside while Stefan takes photographs with their new underwater camera when it happens. At first it’s just a disturbance of the water but then there’s a force, like a strong wave, that pushes him and untethered, he is flung away from the shipwreck.
When he finally makes it back, the shipwreck has collapsed on itself and there is no sign of Judson, so he goes digging. He’s not sure how long he searches before he finds Judson, his energy reserves are running as low as his oxygen, but he is determined to get them both up to to the Vast Explorer.
Stefan knows he has to help Judson’s body expel the water he has no doubt swallowed but laying there on the deck of their ship, he finds he can’t move for the grief that grips him. His eyes are squeezed closed to stave off the tears when there’s coughing from the body next to him.
“Judson!” He exclaims, scrambling over to grab the other man into a tight hug. “I was so afraid I’d lost you forever.”
Weak arms wrap around his neck and Judson’s voice is raspy when he speaks. “Not going anywhere for a long time.”
“Good,” Stefan said and then, before he could lose his courage and because he could still feel the grief of losing Judson, he pressed a gentle kiss to the other man’s lips. “I don’t think I could survive losing you permanently. I love you, Judson.”
Judson laughed joyously as he hugged Stefan tighter, heart light as a feather knowing his love was returned. “Now you know how I felt after watching you die in that temple.”
“Yeah,” Stefan said brokenly, determined now more than ever to keeping them both alive for as long as possible.