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it's not about the ones you lose

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The day the last of Mana One's labs finally went online, the new permanent crew held a party down on the O-level. Coloured lights, beach-themed drinks, sea-themed music, the lot. Jonas showed up long enough to hang round the fringes of the crowd for a few minutes, because he'd promised to report back to Meiying; even semi-omniscient nine-year-olds had to respect their bedtimes. But it didn't take long to notice who else wasn't there, so after exchanging a few greetings he liberated a couple of tumblers with little umbrellas in them and went looking.

He found Suyin about where he'd expected: in the curving outer corridor of the underwater research station that still bore the scars from the megalodon's bite. Jack Morris had left a nice bequest to each of the research projects he'd supported in his will, more than enough for Mana One to replace that particular section of transparent wall even after the estate finished dealing with the inevitable legal challenges, but the survivors of the original crew had universally decided to leave it in place as a memorial.

Suyin glanced over her shoulder as she heard his footsteps, then turned back to the night-dark ocean outside. Faint shapes moved dimly in the distance, swimming by just beyond the range of the station's downtime lighting, but nothing big enough to pose a threat.

"We got lucky, you know," she said, reaching out to trace her fingertips over the glass. Polycarbonate. Whatever.

Jonas took that as his cue to approach. He held out the second tumbler, then wrapped an arm around her waist, offering himself as extra support. The interior lighting cast their reflections on the window like a pair of friendly ghosts looking back at them from the water, surrounded by a halo of triangular indentations. "Nah, that wasn't luck. That was Jaxx's ridiculous over-engineering. How many hundred thousand pounds per square inch would it take to break this stuff again? Should have called it transparisteel." He reached out to clink his glass against the tooth marks. "Your father sure knew how to pick 'em."

Her reflection met his gaze with a wry smile as she leaned into him. "Yes, he did," she said teasingly, then glanced back out into the water. "But that wasn't what I meant."

"Hmm?" he murmured, taking a sip of his drink. Too sweet; he really did prefer beer, but he wasn't one to turn down a free drink either, and it had seemed somehow appropriate to the occasion. Celebrating the belated realization of Dr. Zhang's dream. There'd been a time they weren't sure if Mana One would reopen, but after the media coverage had made it increasingly clear that someone would dive the Trench again even if they didn't, there'd been no question of their not going back.

At least, for Suyin, Jaxx, Mac, and Lori. It had taken DJ a bit longer to make up his mind – and to arrange for some swimming lessons. But Meiying went where Suyin went. And as for Jonas ... well, that beach in Thailand would seem a little dull after everything, and all of his favourite people were in the same place these days.

"A lot of people died," she replied. "And we had to destroy them. But if the megalodons had left the area instead of following us back here, if they'd begun breeding somewhere above the thermocline…." A delicate shudder passed through her shoulders.

Jonas thought about it for a moment, then gave her reflection a rueful look. "Hate to tell you, if they were going to, they probably already have. No way was that the only time – ever – that a vent eruption's given them a path out. Or did you forget why I believed in that thing in the first place?" The sub he'd been trying to rescue during his first encounter with a meg had been in the Mariana, sure, but not the Challenger Deep, and he definitely would have noticed if they'd descended through a layer of hydrogen sulphide to get there.

"If they were going to be a problem for anything other than the occasional submarine down in the hadal zone, though, we'd have noticed long since. No," he continued. "The real question is, just how much hunting grounds does one of those things need? Meiying says they need about a tonne of food a day apiece, but the larder didn't look all that bare when I was down there. So either there's enough habitat under the thermocline to keep all the scientists on a dozen stations like this one busy for a hundred years, or…."

He shrugged, and Suyin sucked in a sharp, wondering breath. "Or there's some other limit keeping their population in check. Like a predator. Something that can threaten a twenty-meter shark."

"Have you noticed how all your daughter's sketches lately are full of kraken and sea serpents?" Jonas commented, smirking. Resilient kid; Meiying had been over all the new subs and gliders already, christening them with her chalk pens.

Suyin's expression softened, and she finally took a sip from her glass. It didn't seem to be to her taste either, though; she wrinkled her nose, then bent to set it on the floor before turning round to face him. He followed suit, freeing his hands so he could settle them at her waist as she reached up to link her arms round his neck.

"Could be they keep their own population under control. Could be those were the only two left. No way of knowing until you go back down there," he added, quietly. "Sure you're ready for it?"

She tilted her head to one side, studying him for a moment, then nodded. "I'm sure. We're better prepared this time. Are you ready to come to our rescue, if we do run into more trouble?"

The question was lightly asked; but he knew she meant it. She'd experienced plenty of his nightmares over the last few months, same as he'd experienced hers. But Jonas had never let his fears keep him from doing what he needed to before; it had been spite, not dread, that had kept him from diving after the first meg had taken two of his friends, six of the sub's crew, and his career down with it. He'd known what people would say, and refused to offer himself as a target. Things were different now.

"Meiying would never forgive me if I didn't," he replied, equally lightly. "And sorry to have to tell you this, but I'm more scared of her than I am of you."

"Probably wise," Suyin said, fondly. "She'll be running this station one day." Then she rose on her toes to press her mouth against his.

Jonas returned the kiss with interest, gathering her close as they reassured each other that they'd both survived before, and would do so again.

They broke apart again after a moment, and he waggled his eyebrows at her. "But as long as you're still in charge ... permission to relocate this party to the director's quarters?"

"Well, considering the director's quarters are currently occupied by a sleeping little girl ... how about the safety officer's quarters instead?" she replied, eyes bright as she brushed a hand over his chest. "I've had some ... thoughts about that particular shower."

He chuckled, remembering the way she'd tried not to even look at him that first time she'd barged in on him, determined to apologize. They'd struck sparks off each other right from the start – but it had been her big heart, her brilliance, and her determination to do the right thing even when it cost her that had hooked him in the end. Lord knew why she'd taken him up on it, but he was crazy, not an idiot.

"Sounds like a plan," he said, taking her hand in his as she turned, grinning, to head back toward the elevator.

He cast one last glance back toward the transparent wall as the curve of the corridor led them away, remembering too late the tumblers they'd left behind ... and wrinkled his brow as he thought he saw something big and round and dark, pressed to the glass just beyond where they'd been standing.

Then Suyin laughed and tugged impatiently at his hand. Jonas shook his head, smiled, and turned to follow where she led. If there was something else out there in the water, it could wait.