He was resting in the aquarium, seemingly peaceful despite the burns and bruises which had formed after his latest adventure and which were now liberally covered with seaweed.
Elizabeth silently watched over him. She had only recently returned from her short vacation and now regretted ever going away. C.W. had told her what happened. Mark could have died. It was telling that he had been approached when she wasn’t there. It was the job of other people to take care of crimes like these. She had headed off earlier attempts at trying to use him in case solving, just because there was some water involved somewhere.
Slowly Mark opened his eyes, uncannily glowing green, finding hers easily and holding her gaze.
He remained where he was, she couldn’t even guess what he was thinking about. She was sure he could read the worry on her face.
Then he seemed to come to a decision. He came up, wincing in pain.
“Oh, Mark. Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?”
She touched his shoulder. It was silly, she knew he was as well as he could be in this situation, but touching him still reassured her that he was still here.
“Elizabeth, what am I to you?”
She blinked at that, not understanding his question. What had happened to him, he seemed so pensive.
“You are my friend. Mark, you know that.”
He looked passed her then, once again in deep thought, but he grasped her hand on his shoulder and held it there. Her hand completely hidden under the webbing between his fingers. The scientist and doctor in her noted the healthy color and the even skin. A good sign that he hadn’t been out on land longer than was good for him.
“Elizabeth, can I be more than a friend?”
She took a step back at his question. He let go, although his hand followed her as if to draw her back.
It didn’t matter how uncomfortable it made her, she couldn’t lie to him. Couldn’t pretend she had misunderstood the meaning of his honest and open question. He would only see through it and she didn’t want to see the disappointment in his eyes when he figured out that she didn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth.
But turning away from his gaze made it easier. This wasn’t a question for the scientist. She could have answered any of his question while looking him in the eye, if it had been question for the scientist. This was a question for the woman and she didn’t like to think about him in that regard.
That way lay danger. Great danger to both of them. She had nearly lost him too often and still had to fight herself from holding him back every time he went into the ocean. Fearing that deep down he would regain his memories and leave her behind above. She knew that it was unlikely after all this time. He had gone done as deep as was possible on Earth and no memories but a general awareness of the ocean had surfaced. He came back to her each time.
Still she couldn’t let herself think about him as anything but a friend needing her help to find his way in a foreign world. Too great was the fear to lose him. She didn’t know why he suddenly asked, why his awareness had been raised to such personal levels, when before it was always abstract and at best about behavior he saw in other people. He had become aware, maybe she would lose him not to the sea but to someone else. What had happened at that carnival.
She dreaded the answer, yet, she couldn’t lie to him.
She hugged herself, trying to protect herself from the outcome of what she had to say.
“Mark, you will always be a dear friend to me...”
She heard water slosh about and then he came to stand behind her. Her words were only a half truth, she had to say them all.
“It’s only too easy to let you become more than a friend. It’s not the first time I have thought about it. I didn’t want to destroy the friendship we had, if you felt differently. And I was afraid. I’m afraid, every time you go out there. I’m afraid you don’t come back, that something’s happened to you and I can’t be there to help. You had so many close brushes with death. I worry each time, and I know I can’t keep you in a tank, protected from the outside world.”
She stopped speaking, when she felt his hands coming to rest on her shoulder, the remaining water soaking through her clothes. There was a tug and she willingly turned along with it. She had said what she had to say, she had to face the consequences.
First she looked at his chest, avoiding him a moment longer, but then she worked up her courage and looked him in the eyes. Now that he was out of the water the sparkling green was fading from them. She could see the questions in his eyes, the uncertainty, he wasn’t really looking at her, his eyes were unfocused. He didn’t seem to know either what to say, maybe he didn’t know either how he felt about her. And so they stood, his hands on her shoulders, simply looking at each other.
Then it was as if a jolt went through him, he was looking at her now. She felt her stomach flutter, afraid of what he had to say.
And then his lips were on hers, his hands around her to draw her close.
He was kissing her. That was the last outcome she had expected. In her surprise she tried to draw back, but than what was happening caught up to her and she started to kiss him back. Putting her hands in his hair to draw him closer. He tightened his hold.
She was still afraid to lose him, but she guessed it was better to have had him, instead of only having had the worry.