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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Phoenix Blue fic: Breaking the Surface 1/2

March 15th, 2012 (07:06 am)
disappointed

feeling: disappointed

Title: Breaking the Surface

Disclaimer: I do not own Phoenix Blue.

A/N: This is for blackdog_lz on her birthday! She prompted this fic a while ago after writing a Chaos fic about Billy diving. It is good to note that this takes place after the movie and has spoilers for the movie with a heavily Rick/Rachel focus. It should also be remembered that I’ve seen this movie once, about five months before writing this so my command of the canon is, well, not so commanding. I also know nothing about free diving except from the movie and a quick perusal of Wikipedia. kristen_mara did a fantastic job beta’ing and pointed out a great many plot lapses and other mistakes. Anything remaining that is haywire is entirely my own fault. Oh, and this isn’t Brit-proofed, so please forgive my z’s and any other American slips.

Summary: Rick and Rachel figure out life together.



-o-

The first time Rick went under, it had terrified him.

The vast blue, pressing in against him from all sides. It had felt like he was trapped and suffocating, like the entirety of the ocean was pushing against him, trying to squeeze him into nothingness. He had thought he could die there, just shrivel up and disappear and no one would ever know.

And in that, Rick had found his freedom. The vastness of the ocean became his solace precisely because it was endless and unforgiving. It had no right or wrong; it simply was. All of Rick’s life had been a mess of doing good things and bad things, of trying to live up to some impossible expectation and never finding his footing. But when he floundered above ground, people were there to hurt him and get hurt. The choice to live and die wasn’t his, it was taken from him. Everything was taken from him.

He’d practically drowned on dry land. Duped and betrayed and abandoned, Rick had had it all taken away in a haze of pain and guilt.

But under the water, the ocean squeezed that all out. There was no room for hurt. There was no time for guilt. There was just him and the water, slowly becoming one as he dove deeper and deeper.

The burning in his lungs reminded him he was alive. The gallons of blue reminded him that there were places where no one could ever find him. He could hear himself think, down here. Everything was crystal clear for the first time.

When he’d given up the drugs, the thrill of not breathing had been his new high. When he’d been stripped of his freedom, he’d found a new domain under the surface. He was a solitary entity down there, important and yet insignificant, and that was how he wanted it to be.

Now, when Rick was under the water, it was a lot like going home.

Such things still meant something to him, even after he’d gone home. His life had been given back to him, but he’d found that the years he’d spent trying to make things right had been something of a vain display. He didn’t want fame or fortune. Even reuniting with his family, seeing his mother, explaining what had happened didn’t mean as much as he thought it would. It was good to see them all, of course, but he didn’t belong there anymore. He wasn’t that person anymore.

So going back had been an easy choice. It had everything he wanted – a place to think, to dive, to be. He could run the dive shop, record his music, dive every day. It had everything.

Except for Rachel.

She had found him when no one else had. She had helped him when everyone else had tried to hurt him. She had given him a chance when most people wanted to take them away.

But if he’d learned anything, he had learned this: protecting his freedom was more important than the company he kept. After all these years, he had to be true to himself or it was just another way of dying. And really, Rick had had enough of dying. He was ready to live.

And live, he did.

Writing music, living simply, finding himself beneath the waves. He spent his days running the dive shop, working on his music, and diving. The shop wasn’t hugely profitable, but it kept him busy, and he was close to finishing his next album. He wasn’t sure about a tour – although Ralph told him he’d be crazy not to – but he hadn’t ruled the idea out. He let those ideas percolate on his dives. This was his life; this was living. Now, when he pushed, the boundaries were entirely his own now.

Not everything was the same, though. He used to want to stay under because there was nothing on land worth keeping.

But now, he had a reason to surface.

With that thought, he turned himself, feeling the need for oxygen start to build. He turned his eyes up and focused on the faint patch of light at the surface. He kicked and felt himself rising. The pressure pounded in his head and his vision blurred just slightly around the edges. He steeled his lungs, slowing his heart, narrowing his vision.

When he broke the surface, he gulped greedily. His lungs labored, hungering for air. His head throbbed a little but it was under control as he pulled himself onto the deck and oriented himself.

“I’m still not sure I see how that’s fun.”

Rick grinned, his vision still clearing. He sucked air in and tilted his head up, squinting toward Rachel.

His reason.

“That’s because you haven’t tried it yet,” he told her.

She quirked an eyebrow. It had been a month since she had come to be with him. A wonderful, glorious month. The best month of his life, as far as he was concerned. They lived a simple life together, falling into tandem without even trying. He worked on his album, ran the dive shop, and spent his time under the water when he could; she found herself writing madly, working on a book she was determined to make a bestseller.

Sometimes he still worried it could fall apart – but everyone who might tell was dead now. That worried him sometimes – he was tied to all of them in more ways than he wanted to admit – but as a best selling musician, the police seemed too distracted to consider his questionable past. They’d contacted him about Persha, and telling them that he didn’t know anything was the last lie he’d ever told.

“I’ve been busy,” she said.

He laughed, throwing his head back. “You don’t need to lecture me on the creative process.”

She blushed. “It’s still all something I’m getting used to,” she said. “You’ve been playing this part of creative recluse for years now; I’m still new at it.”

“You’re not a recluse,” he told her. “You’re online all day, every day with your mates back home. Not to mention your editor and agent. Plus, we both know that you and Ralph are practically best mates now.”

Rachel blushed again, deeper this time. “Jealous?”

Rick scoffed. “No more than you and my love of the sea.”

“So that’s a yes, then?” she asked, a bit coy.

Laughing, he lunged at her, pulling her with force toward the water. She squawked – giggling with surprise – as they hit the water. She flailed, bopping him playfully beneath the surface. He came up quickly, sputtering slightly, as he inched closer to her and wrapped his arms around her while he waded in the deep.

Hovering there, legs kicking, he met her eyes and smiled. “What do you think?” he asked.

Her face was flush with laughter, eyes sparkling. “Well—“ she started.

He didn’t let her finish. Instead, he moved in, kissing her. She melted into him, arms pulling him closer.

When they parted, he kept his forehead touching hers. “Just give it some time,” he advised. “You’ll come to love the sea as much as I do.”

She bit her lower lip, smiling broadly. “You may be right about that,” she replied before she leaned forward and kissed him again.

-o-

It was hard to believe, in all honesty. It wasn’t even a year ago that she’d been working at the paper, doing the daily grind and getting nothing for her work. To think, she’d staked everything on this story.

Turned out, she’d gotten a lot more than the byline. She’d gotten the vindication, the confidence and paycheck she’d wanted.

And then, she’d got the guy, too.

At first, she hadn’t thought she wanted to leave the UK. But even with her vindication, her confidence and her paycheck, something had been missing.

Someone had been missing.

So she’d left. Let her lease expire, gave her cat to Ralph and just left.

It was impetuous, but since she’d already risked her entire career and won for Rick, packing up and following him didn’t actually seem nearly as scary as she thought it might. After all, everything she had done since picking up this story had been impetuous, so she figured she might as well see where it led.

And she had to admit, this wasn’t a horrible destination. The weather was perfect, the life was comfortable. She had all the time in the world to write what she wanted to write. She could complete her book; she could find herself. Plus, she had a handsome man who was quite pleasant to shag.

In all, she was jumping in with both feet in just about every sense of things. Except, of course, the literal sense.

She’d found Rick through diving, not his music, and she had come to realize that the diving was how Rick centered himself. Music was his self expression but diving was his self discovery. She would often watch him while he prepped, watched him wriggle into his wet suit and load up his gear. He never smiled; he hardly looked happy at all.

Instead, he looked focused, intent. This wasn’t fun for him – it was necessary.

It had been off-putting at first, and more than somewhat vexing. It didn’t make sense to her, watching him dive without almost any joy whatsoever.

But over the last few weeks, she had come to realize why. Because it wasn’t about joy – it was about who he was. Diving wasn’t his hobby; it was part of him.

There was a surreal sort of dedication to that she still didn’t totally grasp, though she began to suspect that Rick needed to dive like most people needed to breathe. It was counterintuitive, perhaps, but he never seemed more alive than after a dive.

It was all very fascinating. Rachel found herself able to watch, to listen to him talk about it, but so far, she hadn’t gotten past the theory behind it. She liked the water and had never minded swimming, but when Rick described it to her, the idea of being disconnected from reality so much unnerved her.

Plus, she rather liked breathing.

“You’re being melodramatic about it,” Rick teased her at dinner that night.

She shook her head, swallowing her bite. “You’re the one who told me how many things can go wrong,” she said. “Loss of consciousness, nose bleeds, headaches. Death.”

“But life is full of risks,” he said, completely undeterred. “Every time you get in the car or cut vegetables. Even when you get in the shower.”

She looked at him banally. “You really are going to equate taking a shower with free diving?”

He grinned sheepishly. “Not entirely,” he conceded. He shook his head, though. “But I’ve done life where I just let it happen to me. And I wound up shot and left for dead.”

He had a point there, and she wasn’t about to argue against something that she knew had been that traumatic for him. “And I respect that,” she said. “But we all have our different needs. You need to dive; I need to write.”

“But you have to know your subject, don’t you?” Rick asked.

Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Yes,” she said cautiously.

He looked a bit smug. “Then if you’re going to write about me, you have to know me,” he said. “And if you want to know me, you have to know diving.”

“I’ve been snorkeling before,” she protested, reaching her foot across to tease him under the table. “And besides, I think I do know you pretty well.”

His eyes lit up with amusement but he didn’t back down. “Not as well as you’d like to think.”

She lifted her eyebrows. “Is that a challenge?”

“You bet it is,” he returned, without missing a beat.

“Fine,” she said, because he had found her weakness and played it beautifully. Of course, he played everything beautifully and at this point, Rachel would promise him the moon to get him back into the bedroom for the night, eating dinner be damned. “Then I accept.”

He looked hopeful. “You’ll do it?”

“Sure,” she said, her foot drifting up his leg, higher and higher. “Tomorrow.”

He shifted, mouth lifted into a satisfied smile even as he edged off his seat and closer to her. “Tomorrow.”

But Rachel hardly heard him. Tomorrow was all well and good, but for now, she was really far more interested in tonight.

-o-

When Rachel had first showed up on the dock after the entire ordeal was over, he had thought it was quite possibly the best day of his life.

Out on the water, just her and him and the depths around them, he was certain now he’d been wrong.

He hadn’t even totally realized it – just how much it meant to him. Persha had humored him in it, allowed it to him as an indulgence. He understood that better now, now that he understood what he had been to her. A plaything, nothing more. She had been affectionate, but she hadn’t loved him.

In this, he was almost glad she hadn’t gone diving with him. He would hate to think he shared the experience with someone so undeserving.

It was different with Rachel, though. She had seen him through so much; she had given up the security and familiarity of her life back home to be with him. Her choices mattered, showed her for who she was. She loved him and he loved her. And he had nothing more personal, nothing more of himself he could give, than this. Even writing a song for her didn’t begin to cover it.

“Okay,” he said, looking her directly in the eyes. They were treading water, not far from their small boat. The water was warm and the sun filled the vast sky, glittering over the gentle waves that rocked them as they treaded water in the deeps. “So you understand the concept?”

She took a breath, slightly shaky, and nodded. “It’s the art of diving without any kind of equipment,” she said carefully, the words a clear recitation. “It relies entirely on the diver’s ability to hold his or her breath.”

It was just like her to know all about it even without knowing it at all. He smiled a little. “That’s the technical definition, I suppose.”

She wet her lips as the salt water lapped at them. “It is a controversial sport because of the risk of apnea and unconsciousness, but proponents are largely enthusiastic for the test of physical endurance and sense of connection with the water that is not deterred by other human interventions.”

He laughed. “So you’ve done your homework.”

“I did find you at a free diving competition,” she reminded him. “I needed to know what I was looking for.”

Rick remembered. In all the years he’d been on the run, she’d been the only one to find him. Of course, he hadn’t realized that she’d probably been the only one looking.

He owed her for that. For caring enough not just to look but to keep looking and to stay. “It’s something you can’t know until you do it,” he said.

Her face scrunched up. “I don’t know, shouldn’t I train first?” she said. “I was reading about the breathing exercises. I’m not sure about my mammalian diving reflexes. I was reading about an apnea walk—“

No doubt she had read that and so much more. Rachel was good at research – better than Rick could ever understand. She was deep and broad in her reading habits, and it showed in her keen understanding on a wide range of topics. Indeed, ever since she’d come here, Rick had never been in want for things to talk about. Every day, she regaled him with details from her daily search, and she often recited the details with so much enthusiasm that he couldn’t help but listen and be enthralled.

This was the woman who had lost her job to find him, after all. Tenacity was simply a part of her makeup, though she was decidedly better at research than actually doing, it seemed.

Rick had always been something of the opposite. He had never planned much of anything, so when his life had fallen apart, it was probably entirely his own fault. He’d been an addict and a two-bit performer. If he’d had any forethought at all, he could have avoided the disasters that brought him here.

It still made him shudder to think about it. He’d been high before, but the cold of the drug-induced haze he’d been forced to endure was one of the most pervasive and frightening experiences of his life. He could remember being there, being walked around against his will, but he couldn’t move. Couldn’t change it. He’d been helpless and confused and yet still completely awake when they’d shot him.

When they’d tried to murder him. The puckered scars on his knees were a hard reminder and the ridged, marred skin under his hairline made sure he never forgot.

The only thing he’d planned was his redemption. Now that he had it, all he knew was that he wanted to live each day purposefully, doing what he loved and being a better person than he was before.

That meant less talking, more doing. He’d wasted too many years thinking about things and not enough time doing them. If he had, he could have spared himself so much.

But it was hard to regret entirely, since it had brought Rachel to him. She had taught him a lot about himself, pushed him beyond his boundaries and into something better. It was time to return the favor.

Nodding, he grinned, cutting her off. “And we will train you,” he said. “We’ll have to work on teaching you to control your breathing and your heart rate for extended dives.”

She blinked at him, a little innocent. There was a flicker of fear, just beneath the surface of her cool confidence and knowing demeanor. “But shouldn’t we do that before we go under?” she asked. “You know, so we don’t drown?”

It was a sincere question, which was why he couldn’t bring himself to laugh at its innocence. “We won’t go down very deep,” he assured her. “And we’ll be down together so in case something does go wrong—“

“I just think that I’d be better prepared—“

He shook his head. “You can’t be prepared for your first dive,” he told her, holding her gaze. “You have to experience it. It’s something you need to feel to understand. You have to feel the water, see it, be part of it. Only then, when you’re down there in the silence, will you actually understand what it’s about. You can train all you want, but none of it will mean anything until you experience it for real.”

He said it plainly, but it was the simplest, most intense truth he knew.

She was watching him, eyes on him, searching him in that way of hers. She took a breath, clear and decided. “Okay,” she said, nodding a little convulsively. “I guess I can’t argue that.”

She could, Rick knew, and clearly wanted to. But when she looked at him, she trusted him.

Rick grinned, taking her hand. “Good,” he said. “Now we’re going to do a few deep breaths and then we’ll go down. Not very far, of course, but just deep enough to give you a feel for it. I’ll be with you the entire time so if you feel yourself panicking, just let me know. You think you’re ready?”

There was hesitation in her eyes, but she nodded anyway. She smiled back. “I’m ready.”

-o-

Saying she was ready wasn’t exactly the easy part, but compared to actually diving, it was much, much easier. She wasn’t entirely sure why the thought of it bothered her so much. She was all about diving as a general concept. She pursued most things in her life by diving in with both feet, no holds barred. When she’d picked up the lead on Phoenix Blue, she hadn’t exactly taken time to prepare herself before jumping in and going on the adventure of a lifetime.

And that had turned out. Better than she ever could have hoped.

So really, free diving made sense. Everything Rick said made sense.

But then there was the whole diving into the ocean without oxygen thing to contend with. Rachel fancied herself to be determined and brave, but she was also inordinately fond of breathing. And, in general, not dying.

It made sense for Rick, she knew. He had come so close to dying and had forfeited so much of his life already that she figured part of the thrill was the adrenaline. She’d done research on how people respond to near death experiences, and Rick’s love of free diving definitely fit the bill.

Rachel had been in her share of peril since chasing the story about Phoenix Blue, but she knew it wasn’t quite the same. She was neurotic in her own right, and she liked an adrenaline rush as much as the next person, but she preferred her highs to be from chasing a lead or getting her byline published.

And really, she just liked breathing.

But it was too late. She was fond of breathing but she was also fond of proving herself. She’d agreed to this, Rick was counting on it, and really there was no way to turn back without making a thorough mess of things. Rick would understand, she knew, but she wouldn’t know how to face him after that.

So there was no choice left but to dive.

He was slow and careful, graceful as he arched his body over and went head-first under the waves. She could feel the rush of bubbles against her and her heart started hammering in her chest. She whispered bits of the only prayer she could remember, took a ragged breath and followed him.

She knew how to dive. She had taken swimming lessons as a child, so tilting her body down and kicking her legs as she cut through the blue after him was easy.

He was going slowly, craning his head back to see her. Through her goggles, things were clear and the endless blue around her was momentarily overwhelming, so she focused on Rick instead.

Mouth pressed closed, he almost smiled at her as his hand wrapped around hers and he led her down.

She focused on that contact, his fingers warm in the water, trying to ignore the growing pressure in her lungs and the deepening sea around her. When he stopped and pulled her upright, they hovered, and she realized just what she was doing.

She had known all along of course, but he was right. Knowing was different than knowing. Because there she was, next to him, surrounded by the ocean. The water stretched in every direction, darkening around the edges even as fish darted about. It was as vast as a desert but nowhere near as barren.

The water looked different here, wafting and full. There was no sound except her heartbeat, amplified in her ears. The water pressure pounded at her, and for a moment, she felt like panicking.

There was too much water. It could crush her. If she died here alone, no one would know. Her body could sink to the bottom and no one would ever find her. It was almost desolate in that; lonely and afraid.

But then, she looked at Rick. He was still there, floating close beside her, but she realized he wasn’t looking at her. He was looking out at the water. Where she felt panic, he was at peace. It was almost a foreign expression to her. In the time since she’d met Rick, she’d seen him come out of his shell more and more, but this – this was something different. He was complete here.

Then she looked beyond him and back at the water. They were small here, insignificant in a way, but not really. It wasn’t about disappearing; it was about finding perspective. About discovering how things fit together. How he fit together.

Time was suspended. Her thoughts were clear and that clarity was a special, singular thing. It was its own kind of freedom, knowing that what she did didn’t matter in the way she thought it did.

This was why Rick had come back. Not to hide but to find himself.

The revelation was invigorating but as it came to her, her ears popped and her lungs burned. Suddenly, the need for air was paramount. Her fingers twitched and Rick squeezed back and the next thing she knew, they were moving up.

The water pushed past her and her lungs seized with panic. Things went hazy but she was aware of Rick, hand around her, her necessary anchor until—

Light.

It blasted her, burning at her eyelids.

Then, she breathed.

The air was fresh and she filled her lungs greedily. The rush of air made her heart swell and her brain ignited with fresh sensation.

And suddenly, there were a thousand thoughts, a million realizations. It wasn’t just about life and death, it wasn’t just about adrenaline. It was about clarity, it was about being. It was about being complete, because what was missing inside, the water filled in. It was nature, it was self, it was the thrill, it was all that and more.

Spluttering, she found herself laughing.

Rick’s hands were on her shoulders now. “Are you okay?”

She laughed again, trying to make her eyes work. It was hard to see through the droplets on her goggles but it didn’t matter. It was clear now. Rick, diving, everything.

“Rachel?” he asked – demanded really – his fingers tightening around her.

“That’s why you do it?” she asked finally.

He looked a little uncertain.

“That’s incredible!” she exclaimed, flinging herself at him.

Rick was taken by surprise, and they both fell back, dipping below the waves. They came up together and his legs were kicking to keep them afloat. She didn’t care, though. She didn’t care about anything else but them.

And when she kissed him, it was the best kiss yet. There was a shared understanding, a shared intensity. He looked both pleased and surprised, innocent and knowing, and there was no doubt in her mind how much more she loved him now.

“Now,” she said, matter-of-fact when she pulled away. “When can we do it again?”

-o-

Rachel was a quick study.

This wasn’t exactly a surprise to Rick; she was a smart and talented woman. He had never doubted that she’d be a capable diver once she tried it. However, he had perhaps underestimated her tenacity for it.

The good news was that she wanted to dive all the time. Rick never had to cajole her into it. To the contrary, she was up before he was, lying out their wetsuits for their next jaunt. She read about it, talked about it, lived it.

In this, Rick was both amused and satisfied. Sharing this with her – it was the ultimate intimacy. There were times when they could be totally in tandem, holding their breath under the surface until their hearts slowed in time together. In short, it was as much bliss as Rick had ever known.

Of course, it wasn’t all perfection. Because in Rachel’s tenacity, Rick discovered a less appealing impatience. Being impetus had its merits, Rick knew this, but free diving was about more than the thrill.

“It’s a sport,” he explained. “There are rules and techniques.”

“And I can master them,” she said, whining a little. “I thought you said I had to learn by doing.”

“For the first dive,” he reminded her. “And we do go diving. A lot.”

“Which is how it should be,” Rachel protested. “And this isn’t close to the water.”

She nodded toward their small living room. Money wasn’t exactly an issue, but it also wasn’t exactly the point. Rick would have preferred something on the water, but the thought of Rachel completely sequester on the water had always struck him as a less than good idea. The place they’d found was nothing fancy, but it was close to the dive shop and had easy access to the water and all the amenities they’d ever need.

“You’re the one who told me I should train you,” he said.

“And you’re the one who told me to dive without thinking,” she said with burgeoning confidence.

“For the first dive,” he said, shaking his head and tsking his tongue. He sighed, more amused than annoyed. They were sitting together on the floor, cross-legged for deep breathing exercises. Their stretching had gone without much discussion, but as soon as Rick asked her to be quiet and concentrate, the questions had started. “For a reporter, you have a very selective memory.”

“No, I just know that all details aren’t relevant to the story,” she returned without missing a beat.

He loved that about her. She was fearless in a way he never had been, and he respected the hell out of that. If he had had half her gumption, he might never have ended up in such a mess to begin with.

Still, respecting that didn’t make her right. He inclined his head, smiling coyly as he looked at her. “If you want to be any good at free diving, you have to train your body,” he said. “It flies against the instincts to hold your breath that long, and the last thing you want is to lose control of yourself while underwater. One screw-up, and you’re dead.”

“But you’d be there with me,” she said, the whine picking up again.

“And I’m not infallible either,” he said. “My early dives, I didn’t have a buddy but I always had myself on a tether with someone spotting me from the yacht.”

Her eyes piqued with curiosity. “Did they ever have to use it?”

Rick nodded. The memories were hazy to him, but he could remember waking up with his ears ringing while he coughed up water. “A few times,” he said. “Nothing too serious, though. When I upped my training, I didn’t have black-outs anymore.”

Those incidents had made Persha scold him, quite vigorously. In retrospect, her concern was a confusing thing. She had been the one to set him up as the convenient fall guy but still the one who had saved him. It was hard not to be grateful – just as it was hard not to hate her.

Rachel was nothing like that though. She was a veritable ball of energy now, taking the tidbits and gobbling them up, just like the reporter she was. “Did the risks ever worry you?”

Rick shrugged one shoulder. “I had already lost everything,” he said. “It wasn’t until I started diving that I got any of it back. It helped me kick the drugs; it helped me start writing music again.”

She looked a bit awed. “See, that’s what I want,” she said. “That’s what I want to understand. It’s such an invigorating thing!”

“And you’ll get there,” he said. “The more you practice, the better the experience.”

Sighing, she flopped her head back. “We could be there now!”

“Hey,” he said, chiding slightly. “When you have a lead, don’t you do the legwork necessary to suss it out?”

She rolled her head back toward him, face twisted morosely. “I suppose.”

“Then this is exactly the same thing,” he said.

“But it’s not,” she insisted. “I’d never sit in a room if I had the ability to be out in the field. Restraint is only important when it’s necessary.”

Watching her talk, it was hard not to be mesmerized. She’d had that effect on him from the very beginning. She paid no heed to circumstances; she simply did what needed to be done, all else be damned. He had been attracted to that from the start, even if he hadn’t intended to humor it.

Through it all, it was perhaps her dedication more than anything else that made him fall for her. She didn’t quit – she literally didn’t know how, as far as he could tell. The contrast had been so pointed, and she had been the reason he finally left the safety of the yacht. Because it was the right thing to do, and for better or worse, Rick had been determined to find the truth.

So Rick could understand dedication. After all, it was why he dived every day, why he had recorded music even while in exile. But for him, such dedication had always been about discipline and control, consistency and determination. Fate could be unkind, he knew, and he refused to entrust anything more to it than he had to. His dedication was carefully calculated and expertly executed.

For Rachel, on the other hand, dedication had a different bent. It was wild and neurotic, fully-fledged and without restraint. She pursued her passions recklessly, almost obsessively. The details ceased to matter to her because the big picture was her singular goal. It made her a formidable force, to say the least, and watching her in the throes of obsession made it abundantly clear to him how she had found him despite his hard work to stay hidden.

He was grateful for that dedication; he was also in awe.

But she was also wrong in this case.

Gently, he placed his hands on her shoulders, using his touch to bring her back into focus. She seemed restless but when their eyes met, she settled somewhat.

“This is necessary,” he assured her, his confidence matching her own.

She made a face but didn’t look away. “It doesn’t feel necessary,” she muttered.

“Free diving can be an amazing experience,” he said. “But only when you do it right and only when you’re properly equipped. I don’t want anything happening to you.”

She sighed, but some of the fight drained out of her. “You’re certain?”

His cheeks tugged up as he grinned. “I’m quite certain.”

“I’m still doubtful,” she said.

He ran his hands down her arms, eyes still locked on hers. “Then just trust me,” he said, more of an invitation than a demand.

She visibly settled herself, lips quirking into a smile as her eyes narrowed. “Well, since I did move all the way out here for you,” she relented, “I suppose this bit more isn’t asking too much.”

-o-

A year ago, her life had been in shambles.

Fired, disgraced, broke, nearly friendless. The entire thing had been a mess.

Now, she was renowned, decently paid, and had a book deal on the line.

Plus, she had a super-hot boyfriend and a Caribbean home with absolutely no demands of stresses to bother her whatsoever.

Life was pretty much perfect.

Which was probably why Rachel was going crazy.

She had everything – the means to do whatever she wanted – she had someone to snog when she wanted and a comfortable and quiet place to write. She had ready access to the internet and unlimited access to source material for her book regarding the whole ordeal.

Plus, she had free diving, which was more of a high than Rick had even led her to believe. It was damn near addictive, and she found herself dreaming about new wetsuits and shopping for goggles online when she was supposed to be writing her book.

And that was the problem. The only foible in paradise. She had everything going for her and yet she couldn’t get herself to write a coherent chapter at all.

This was a common issue, she knew. Throughout her life, she had always been most prolific when she had other things to do. Her best work always came on deadline – usually for a different piece entirely. The weeks ahead of deadline, though, the ones specifically set aside for writing, were always an utter wash.

She couldn’t help it. She liked the eleventh hour. She was one for the last minute win.

So this newfound life of total relaxation and freedom was perfect and wonderful and total hell on her writing.

In the two months since moving here, she had a rough outline and two chapters, not nearly enough to send back to her agent in the UK.

But it wasn’t her fault. Not really. It was Rick’s fault because he was rather distracting walking around in a wetsuit and besides, he was the one who had insisted she try free diving.

She did love to dive, though. Rick’s fault or not, she sincerely loved it. It was unlike anything she’d ever done. It was risk and freedom. She needed the challenge – it kept her motivated, kept her going. The only time she could write at all was after she came back up, in the few hours of clarity that followed the rush of the water in her ears.

Plus, it was her time to be with Rick. She had known him before – she had loved him, too – but going down, being under – it was a new intimacy. They were suspended together and it was so surreal that it was almost orgasmic.

Well, almost. Her tendency for hyperbole didn’t always have the best literary effect.

All figurative language aside, she did recognize that diving was different for her. It was an adrenaline rush, yes, and it was a bonding experience, and it was also a distraction. She had no deadline to keep her motivated, so she was finding distractions to serve her appropriate counterpoint in the writing process. She often used it like a carrot: if she wrote a few paragraphs, she was entitled to another dive.

It was research, she tried to say. And it was. And it was more than that.

It was an obsession. Which made it something of a problem.

Because when she was diving, she wasn’t writing. If she wasn’t writing, then her book wasn’t getting done. And her book was the issue. She had accomplished much in the last year but she hadn’t yet accomplished that. It was her priority. It had to be. The only impediment was herself and she knew it.

Looking at her outline, the entire gist was good. She was framing it in a first person narrative – essential, she thought, to bridge the gap between generic third person nonfiction and appeal to a wider audience. However, writing the frame was the easy part – the hows and whys of her journey were self evident to her because they were, frankly, hers. And the culmination of finding Rick, of overcoming the odds, of restoring him to the public – that was quintessentially plain to her.

There were some tricky parts to it all, of course. Rick’s past wasn’t exactly squeaky clean and while she could write about his initial drug addiction without too much trouble, it was harder to write her way around the less savory parts in between. Persha’s demise proved particularly problematic, but with editorial vagueness, she knew she could tell the story without incriminating Rick or anyone else. After all, Rick didn’t know for sure what had happened to Persha – or Cutter or Otis, for that matter – and even if there were implication, they were nothing the police hadn’t already entertained.

And if Otis had an extra gunshot to his knee, then that was just poetic justice and sheer coincidence, nothing more. It made for a compelling narrative, all things considered.

Still, there was something missing. Because frame aside, this wasn’t her story. If she tried to market it that way, it would flop as unimportant and self indulgent. She was counting on making this a success by virtue of Rick’s popularity and mystique. Her original expose had done wonders talking about the conspiracy and citing Phoenix Blue’s victorious restoration. The book deal, however, was not just for her journey – but for Rick’s.

This was where she needed to focus. She had the facts but not much beyond that. Rick hadn’t told her how he felt, who he had been. Journalists took facts and found stories. She had the facts but hadn’t quite gotten her story yet.

Which meant, it was time to start up her research again. Journalists didn’t just quit; they kept researching until the story unfolded. She already had talked to whomever she could that was still alive from the incident – it had been hard to track some of them down, harder still to get Rick to tell her their names. But even with all that, there was one person left to interview.

Rick. In all of this, she had stayed lightly away from talking to Rick directly on the record. It was complicated when she was shagging her subject, and there was probably some ethical concerns involved. But mostly, she was being entirely remiss because she wasn’t leveraging her proximity at all.

And that wasn’t to say that this was a relationship of convenience for her. She would shag Rick quite happily, with or without the story. She loved him; the book just happened to coincide with all that.

Still, that didn’t mean she should shirk her responsibility as a writer. Proximity could be an asset, not a detriment. Rick had never been anything but supportive of her efforts.

Which was why she needed to sit him down, get out the recorder and put it all on the record once and for all. She needed to know about his childhood, how he got started in the business. She needed to know about his fall into addiction and his presence on the low-key pub scene that led to all this. She needed to know about those early acquaintances, how much he knew, how much he didn’t.

She needed to know about that night. She needed to know how he felt, what he understood. She needed to know about the pain and the confusion and the slow rebuilding.

She just needed to know.

The list of questions came fast and furious, and soon she had filled over three pages with her inquiries. It was the most writing she had done in a few weeks, and the progress made her almost vibrate with excitement. She was so bent up with the energy that when Rick came back in from his morning work out on the water, she nearly assailed him entirely.

He was startled, but kissed her gently in response to her barrage of questions. “Good day?” he asked.

She grinned manically, following him toward the kitchen where he set out a bag of groceries. “I had a breakthrough!” she said.

He looked at her, clearly pleased. “That’s great,” he said. “And you didn’t even need to dive.”

“No,” she said. “I mean, I’d still like to but that’s not the point.”

He laughed, bemused, as he laid out some ingredients. “Then what is the point?”

“The point is that I need more information,” she said readily.

He glanced up, eyebrows raised. “How can you need more information for a partially autobiographical incident?”

“Ah, but that’s the thing,” she said, lifting a finger into the air knowingly. “I’ve been focusing so much on it being my story that I’ve missed the point entirely.”

“And what is the point, then?”

Eyes bright, she worked to control her enthusiasm. “It’s your story,” she said purposefully. “And I just came to realize that I haven’t interviewed you properly since before the gig in London.”

He was still unpacking, but his expression was reserved now. “I’m the story?”

“Of course,” she said. “No one wants to read about some neurotic journalist who lost her job and then proved herself and got the guy.”

He looked at her, eyebrows up.

She laughed. “Okay, yeah, that does have some appeal,” she said. “But that’s not what will make this thing sell.”

“And I’ll make it sell?” he ventured.

“You’re a top selling artist!” she exclaimed. “You’ve been driving the entire world mad by being a complete recluse! You’re the entertainment story of the year, hands down. Maybe even the decade!”

He looked dubious.

“Have you not talked to Ralph?” she asked. “Because he can tell you how many calls he fields and totally disregards. Every major media outlet around the world would kill for an exclusive with you and here I am, sleeping with you, and I haven’t even put you on the record yet.”

She meant it earnestly enough but as soon as she said it out loud, she knew how it sounded. Rick’s expression turned slightly hurt.

Moving around the counter, she took his hands and turned him to look at her. “It’s not like that,” she said. “I just…you have a story to tell. And I’m a storyteller. You’re a musician; I’m a writer. It’s in our nature. I can’t fight the need to tell this story any more than you could stop recording while on the run.”

Her point was valid, and she could see in his eyes that he understood.

She could also see that there was an unexpected reticence. “I don’t know,” he said.

“You’ve got nothing to hide anymore,” she said. “You’ve been entirely vindicated. You don’t need to hide from the world anymore.”

“I know that,” he said. “And I’m grateful to you for that. But…”

“But?” she prompted.

He wet his lips, eyes skittering away. “But it’s a part of my life I’m not proud of,” he said. He looked up and there was a pain in his eyes now. “I wasn’t a good person back then. I was screwed up. I got used because I left myself wide open.”

“We all make mistakes,” she said.

“It’s just not something I like reliving,” he said. “It took me a long time to put it behind me.”

“And that’s why you need to tell your story,” she said. “To show you’ve conquered it. It doesn’t have to define you.”

“But what if it does?” he asked.

Her shoulders fell, her enthusiasm faltering. She pulled away and turned toward the counter.

He moved closer. “I’m not trying to be difficult.”

“So I can’t write about it?” she asked.

“That’s not what I said,” he said.

“I can’t write about it unless I interview you,” she said, turning back to look at him.

“I can’t handle that pressure,” he said. “I don’t want to choose between you and my past.”

“You don’t,” she said, quick to assure him. “I swear, it’s not like that at all. I just – I have to get this story out of me. If I don’t, I might go mad. And I don’t know how to tell it without you.”

His jaw worked but he didn’t look away. “I’ll think about it,” he said.

She brightened. “Really?”

He smiled back, a little tight. “Really.”

Squealing, she reached out and hugged him. “Thank you!” she said, scampering around the counter.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

She paused in the doorway, all smiles. “To write,” she said. “I have to write while the muse is fresh!”

He grinned back at her. “You still want dinner?”

“Of course,” she said. “Because I certainly don’t plan on writing tonight.”

She quirked her brow salaciously and he laughed as she darted back to her computer.

-o-

Rick could hear her, the keys on her computer clicking rapidly as she typed. Every now and then, she paused and muttered, before the frantic tapping of the delete key was clearly evident.

She was in her zone, he knew. It only happened sporadically, but since she’d moved here, he knew not to bother her once she was engrossed. Not because she was mean or difficult, but because she couldn’t be distracted. He could try to talk to her, but she simply wouldn’t hear him. At first, he had been offended until he realized it was a genuine physical impossibility for her.

He couldn’t deny her that. And he was more than willing to play the domestic partner when the occasion arose.

At least, most of the time. Tonight, though, with the ingredients for stir fry still unprepared on the counter, he couldn’t quite bring himself to get started.

The sound of her typing was distracting. She typed with force when she was excited; she pounded the keys like she was trying to chase down a notion and pin it to the page. Normally, he found that fascinating. Today, it was just disconcerting.

Because he knew what she was chasing; he knew what she wanted to pin down: him.

He had made a point to keep no secrets from her, which was really no small task. He’d lived a life of secrets the last few years, holding in the darkest things. Letting that go – letting himself be open and real – had not been an easy transition. But he trusted Rachel, and she’d proven herself loyal and deserving of his trust.

But the idea of an interview…

The notion of recounting what had happened to him…

It was almost too much.

He would tell her anything, but how could he tell her the things that he wasn’t sure he could even accept just yet? After all this time, he still woke up in the middle of the night, sweaty and terrified. Rachel didn’t know – she was apparently a very sound sleeper – and he had no intention of tell her. Of telling anyone. Because he could still feel it. The helplessness. The hurt. The humiliation.

And it wasn’t just that. It was who he’d been. The druggie with the nowhere career. He’d been committing slow suicide, condemning himself to a lonely anonymity and unnecessary mediocrity. Persha had saved his life, and that was still a bitter truth. She’d arranged to have him killed and saved him all the same.

He should have known. He should have been smarter. He should have been able to defend himself.

But he didn’t. He’d been weak and stupid and when he’d ended up drugged in a robbery, his only thought had been no one would believe him that it was a set up. That was why he’d never questioned Persha’s story. It made sense that people would believe he had a role in it.

The drugs had made things hazy and the pain had made things surreal. The first bullet had torn through his leg, the second through the other leg, and the last his head. He’d been left for dead.

He should have died.

Lying there, splayed in the seat of the car, he should have died.

He still remembered that, staring up at the ceiling, feeling the blood on his head. He should have died there.

And the worst realization was that no one would miss him. It would hardly be a loss at all. He hadn’t done anything, he hadn’t been anyone. His mother would have been the only one to come to his funeral.

He didn’t remember dialing the phone. He just remembered Persha’s voice saying she’d be right there.

The pain had taken over until she was there, holding him. Her fingers were smeared with blood and he couldn’t hear her, but he could see her. He could see her and she looked like hope.

After that, it was blank, punctuated by the antiseptic smell of a hospital and a doctor taking his pulse. The next time he knew anything at all, he’d been on a ship at sea and everything was different.

Everything was still different.

Because here he was, in his own house with his girlfriend typing in the next room while he tried to make dinner. And she wanted to talk. About that.

Jaw tight, he closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. It made his knees weak, his arms shaky.

He should be dead. He should be dead and he owed his life to the person who had ruined it. How the bloody hell was he supposed to make that parse?

Opening his eyes, he looked back toward Rachel. He couldn’t see her from the kitchen but he could hear her, writing away. She was the one who had found him. She was the one who had really saved him from himself. She was the one he owed everything to.

He wanted to give this back to her. He wanted to…

He just didn’t know how.

Sighing, Rick moved around the counter and sat down at the bar. Chewing his lip, he reached for his pad of paper. The top sheet had lyrics scrawled across it and a few bars to the latest melody he’d gotten stuck in his head. Tearing it off, he pushed it aside and found his pen and sat for a moment.

He didn’t know if he could say it, but maybe he could write it. Maybe if he could understand, then he could help her understand. Maybe if he helped himself, he could finally help her as much as she’d helped him.

Fingers stiff and stomach cold, he could only hope as he started to write.

-o-

She typed through dinner.

This hadn’t been Rachel’s intention, but when the muse was kind, she knew better than to ignore it. Rick brought her a bit of food at some point and she stopped long enough to shovel mouthfuls in before she kept her thoughts flowing, streaming almost unheeded onto the screen.

When Rick came to say goodnight, she was surprised to find that it was in fact dark out. She had apologized but he had told her there wasn’t any need and that he wouldn’t wait up for her.

He was the perfect boyfriend, all things considered.

Not that she could have stopped. For him, maybe, but it would have been detrimental to her sanity.

Sometime around two, the computer screen started to blur but she kept typing – she didn’t need to see the words at this point. At four, she laid her head down to think for a moment and woke up with a start when Rick put down a cup of coffee next to her.

“I’m up!” she exclaimed, jolting back into awareness with rapid understanding.

Above her, Rick smirked. “Clearly.”

She straightened, rolling her stiff shoulders while trying to hide how much it hurt. “Well, more or less,” she amended, a bit sheepish despite her better efforts. Her eyes felt sticky and her mouth was full of cotton and she reached for the cup of coffee anxiously. “I didn’t realize I’d fallen asleep.”

Rick circled around, sitting on the nearby chair, sipping his own cup of coffee. “I thought you were going to break your keyboard; you were typing so fast,” he commented.

Taking a drink, she found that the hot caffeine piqued her senses. “You could have stopped me,” she said.

He inclined his head. “I know better than that,” he quipped. “Besides, I know how it is when you get an inspiration. You have to run with it. It’s the same way in music.”

She took another long drink, letting the coffee settle in her stomach. “I’ve just been stuck in the same place in the book so long,” she said, waking her computer up again. “It was like I had a breakthrough.”

He smiled. “I’m glad.”

“I know,” she said, scrolling up the screen to read her last train of thought. “It’s like, with the diving, things are finally flowing again and then when you agreed to the interview – it was like floodgates.”

Rick blanched, just slightly, but she still noticed.

She paused, eyes narrowing on him. “You are still going to give me an interview, aren’t you?” she said. She clicked through the open files, looking for the right one. “I have all the questions written up. You could look at them –“

“I know,” he said. Then he hesitated. “It’s just – it’s a lot.”

“I know,” she replied readily. “Which is why it’s so important. It literally is the heart of my book. Without it, I mean, I’ve got nothing.”

There was something like guilt on his face. “And I want you to be able to write your book.”

“So one interview,” she said. “We could do it now. Get it out of the way. I just need to find my pen—“

She trailed off, sifting through the mess of papers and supplies on her desk.

“Just – maybe not now,” Rick said.

With trepidation, she looked up. “But why not? I have to get this down. You said so yourself.”

“I know,” he said. “It’s just—“

He seemed to be lost for words.

“It’s just what?” she asked.

Sighing, his shoulders slouched. “It’s just not that easy for me.”

She couldn’t help it: she groaned. The night had been productive but long and her nerves weren’t what they should be. More than that, her emotions were loose and her neck hurt and Rick was being wishy washy. “It’s not as hard as you make it out to be,” she said. “I mean, one interview. With me. You know me. You love me.”

He put his coffee down, scooting closer to her and looking at her earnestly. “I know that,” he said. “And I want to, but—“

She shook her head, adamant. “No buts.”

“I just don’t know if I can yet,” he said. “I mean, I can barely think about it myself, the idea of telling it to someone else—“

“I’m not just someone else,” she countered. “I’m your girlfriend.”

“I know that,” he said.

“So what’s the big deal?” she asked. “I know everything anyway.”

There was a flicker of hurt on his face. “The facts are different than the emotions.”

“I know that,” Rachel said, hoping he’d understand. The muse was pressing her, niggling insistently at the front of her mind, desperate to be indulged. Denying that was like refusing water after a trek through the desert. “Which is why I need this interview.”

“I thought you said the interview would have no impact on our relationship.”

It sounded like a copout. After everything, he was plying her with excuses. “And I thought you said you would do it for me.”

“I said I’d try.”

“So you were just placating me,” she snapped, the pain in her neck rising to her head. The lack of sleep was burning in her eyes and she felt the pounding build at her temples. She didn’t want to be mean but his complete lack of understanding was slowly becoming infuriating.

“I meant it,” he insisted, a little indignant.

“Clearly not enough to do it,” she snarked.

“Trying and doing are not the same thing,” he said.

“I’m aware,” she returned, shifting her body defiantly. His semantics did not help his cause; she only minced words when she knew she was in the wrong. “You’ll notice that when I said I’d try diving, I actually did it. For you.”

His jaw worked and his eyes hardened. “This isn’t the same thing.”

“No?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “So I’m the only one in this relationship that has to make sacrifices?”

He huffed.

She cut him off. “I mean, I did move here for you. I left everything for you.”

He sat back in his seat, now equally defiant. “And I thought you did that because you loved me,” he said. “Not because I was just a story to you.”

It was a low blow – it stung. But Rachel wasn’t going to curl up from it – not with this headache, not with her story, not with Rick leading her on just to leave her with nothing. “The interview was never a prerequisite and you know it,” she said tersely. “But I believed you.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “I never said I’d do it!”

“So it was an empty promise?”

“I tried!”

“No, I tried diving. For you. You won’t even try talking for me,” she said. She laughed bitterly, shaking her head. “I am such an idiot. I came here, I stayed because I thought you loved me. But you don’t. You love diving and you love music but what am I? A nice perk?”

He gaped. “You can’t mean that.”

“Well,” she said, gesturing widely. “This is all feeling a bit one-sided.”

“That’s not fair.”

“No, what’s not fair is you telling me you support me with one breath and then denying me the one thing I ask from you to get my job done,” she said. “Writing is my life. It’s my passion. I wouldn’t deny you diving but that’s exactly what you’re doing to me.”

“That’s not—“

Making a face, she shoved her chair back and got to her feet. “Oh, sod off,” she said. “Don’t even bother pretending. If it mattered to you, you’d give the interview. Since you don’t, go do whatever it is that really matters to you.”

She saw his face, just for a moment – a mix of surprise and hurt. He deserved that, she thought, stalking toward the door, because it was exactly how he was making her feel. It was like a sucker-punch – to have her muse so willfully indulged only to have it so pointlessly denied.

He trusted her. He loved her. But he couldn’t give one bloody interview? For her life’s work? Did she mean that little?

In the bedroom, she slammed the door, then sat on the bed, sulking. He had nothing to hide from her; she’d given up so much to be with him already. And he was holding out.

Running her hand through her hair, she cursed under her breath. She’d been so stupid to follow him here; so stupid to believe that this mattered. She’d just been stupid.

After a moment, she heard the front door close. Glancing out the window, she saw Rick walking stiffly toward the dock where their boats were moored. He had his diving gear.

Figured.

She snorted and flopped back, staring at the ceiling in resentment. He couldn’t give an interview but he could dive, so that made it pretty clear where she was in the pecking order.

At the bottom.

And she had no one to blame but herself, she realised.

Maybe this was why it wasn’t recommended to mix business with pleasure. Maybe this was why it was bad form for writers to sleep with their subjects. Maybe she should have stayed in England; maybe she never should have picked up the story of Phoenix Blue to begin with.

It was a lesson she was learning – the hard way.

Sighing, she flopped an arm over her eyes. Definitely the hard way.

Part Two

Comments

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: March 15th, 2012 05:43 pm (UTC)
Torch

Already loving it :)
And off to read the second part.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 20th, 2012 08:34 pm (UTC)
billy approves

Sometimes LJ's desire to limit post sizes is very frustrating. But I'm quite glad you liked the start :)

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: March 20th, 2012 10:33 pm (UTC)
James and Cat


Yay for a continuation to Phoenix Blue! I love the examinations of how both Rick and Rachel are adapting to the changes in their lives, or trying to adapt, and what diving means to them both.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 21st, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC)
james entreaty

I still love that icon :)

And with a movie like Phoenix Blue with so much pretty and angst and whatnot, it seems a pity not to expand it a bit. It was quite enjoyable to write at any rate!

Thanks!

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