So this is it - last chapter...
For a further month, the seaQuest relentlessly patrolled the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, while her counterparts performed similar duties on the opposite side of the continent. On high alert, any unregistered sub or unofficial activity was treated with suspicion until verified otherwise. The statistics were difficult to live with. By the end of the month, eight out of ten call outs were false alarms, making the high alert status difficult to maintain. The situation was even more intense for the crew of the seaQuest, because in many ways they all believed they could have done something to prevent what happened. If they'd somehow been able to talk Samson out of it in the Solomon's, but as Bridger reminded them, if Samson had been stopped, someone else would just have taken his place.
The removal of the science contingent had also left the boat a very different place to live. Although at first their presence had been received with contempt and resentment, the military members of the crew now had to admit they missed having them around. They had become a form of escapism – a distraction from the otherwise strict regime of life onboard a submarine. Without that distraction, life was a lot harder to bear, and the only thing left to focus on had been the end of the patrol, thankfully now only a few hours away.
As with the other friends and families of the crew onboard, Lucas stood by the side of the dock, waiting anxiously for any sign that the infamous sub was on it's way.
After the attack, civilians weren't allowed anywhere near the UEO Naval Base, so the homecoming ceremony had been moved to a smaller harbour a few miles along the coast. Afterwards she would be moved to dry-dock for a month long maintenance.
It had been a long month, but a month in which a lot had been accomplished.
After hearing what had happened, his father had asked him to come and stay. He'd been reluctant to go, but since an olive branch had been offered, he decided to accept it. Things had been awkward, difficult and at times downright unbearable. When the month was up, Lucas found himself eager to leave, but not because he couldn't stand being there, but because he had his own life, of which his parents were no longer a large part. The visit had done a lot to diffuse tensions and had created an acceptance between them. His parents accepted that they hadn't done enough for their son, and as such, weren't held high in his regard, and Lucas accepted that they regretted it. He'd made the right decision in going, but had been glad to return to welcome back the crew from their patrol.
He looked around him, eager to spot anyone else from the science team who might have come back for the same reason. He thought he saw a figure he recognised, but even after a double take he wasn't sure. He looked again, waiting for them to turn face on, and was rewarded with a huge grin as the figure recognised him too.
"Lucas!" Beth shouted, as she ran over to him. They met in the middle, arms around each other, laughing with delight. They pulled back and looked at each other.
"I didn't recognise you…your hair!" Lucas exclaimed.
"I know, it needed it!" she smiled.
"No, no, it's good, it's nice," he said honestly. She'd had a good bit cut off. He was so used to seeing her with it sleeked back into a bun, or a plait, that having it down made her look completely different – less severe – more happy.
"How did things go at home?" she asked as they walked back to the barrier.
"As well as could be expected I guess," he said. "We laid a few things to rest. How about you?"
"Yeah, I did the same," she nodded.
After Wendy's funeral she'd flown back to Cape Quest, and settled in Jim's apartment. She'd had a day of intermittent sleep and tears, a day of watching television, and a day of listening to music and cleaning up, before she'd contacted a solicitor in Portland. She gave him instructions to initiate the sale of the house on her behalf, and have all personal belongings forwarded to Jim's address. It had been hard getting rid of it; Bill had left the house to her in his will, so it almost felt like a betrayal. In many ways it made sense to keep it. The Briers-Allen Reserve Management Group was also based in Portland, at Portland State University, where she'd graduated. So not only was it close to a source of work, but also to the social circle she'd once belonged to. But it was part of the past, and was a loose end that needed tying off for good.
The same solicitor was able to re-activate her bank accounts; giving her access to the money Bill had also left her. Between that, and her wages from working on the seaQuest, she was, financially, quite comfortable for the time being. With that in mind, she went on several shopping trips, buying a range of both necessary and unnecessary things; all symbolising the new beginning she was making for herself.
Soon after, she also got in touch with Doctor Levin, who was still in Vancouver, and had been delighted to hear from her, inviting her up to visit straightaway. As soon as her things arrived from Portland, that had been her next stop – two weeks conducting research on Orcas in the straits of British Columbia.
The world of research Joshua was involved in was a world away from the research environment of the seaQuest. It was so much more relaxed and informal, and did wonders for relieving the stresses of the past few months. All in all, she found their way of life easy and enjoyable, and something she would consider doing in the future. The experience had certainly changed her point of view, but it was with relief that she now stood by the harbour, waiting to welcome her friends, and Miguel, back home.
"It's strange to think of the seaQuest out there without us," Lucas admitted.
"For you, yeah I imagine it would. That boat's like your home," Beth commented. "Have you ever thought of doing something away from it?"
"Like what?" he asked, sensing she had something up her sleeve.
"Like, coming to work with Levin for a couple of weeks, up in B.C. with me."
"Yeah, really, I'd like you to come. Did you have something else planned?"
"No," Lucas smiled, "Just finishing off some papers."
"Take them with you," she suggested.
He really didn't need to think about it. "Alright," he agreed.
"Good," Beth said, satisfied. It was about time he got out and saw a bit more. She was about to get into specifics when two figures loomed behind them.
"Look who I found hobbling by the entrance," Kristin smiled at the young woman attached to her arm. Lonnie, although looking much better, was still cradling her stomach in discomfort.
"It's ok, I'm not going to break," she laughed at Lucas and Beth's indecision, who then moved forward to greet her, with care, before hugging Kristin fiercely.
"How're you doing?" Lucas asked them both.
Lonnie answered first. "Getting there. My folks were completely against me coming down here but I had to see them home safe."
"Oh, I'm fine, fine as ever," Kristin smiled, giving nothing away as usual.
Lucas and Beth made space by the barrier as the horn in the harbour blared, indicating for the other boats to keep the channel clear; seaQuest was on its way in.
They could feel the tension at their backs from the hundreds of relatives crowded round for the first glimpse, and as it appeared, the whole crowd erupted in spontaneous applause. The seaQuest laboriously bubbled to the surface and manoeuvred to a slow stop alongside the dock. Kristin, Lucas, Lonnie and Beth all clung to each other, grinning from ear to ear. The suspense was unbearable, knowing that their friends were moments away, but waiting as minute by drawn out minute ticked by. The crowd had fallen silent again, all attention focused on the stairs leading down to the docking hatch. Standing side by side on the platform, McGath and Noyce waiting just as anxiously.
The crowd collectively inhaled as the pressure in the hatch equalised and the lights turned from red to green. The wall of noise that exploded when the door opened was enough to startle the man who stepped out first. Blinking, Nathan walked out into the welcoming sunshine and led his crew onto the dock.
There was no segregation of ranks. They'd all gone into this together, and they were all going to end it together, side-by-side as equals. Nathan stood in front of the microphone stand, shaking hands with McGath and Noyce, while the crew deposited their duffle bags off stage and lined up along the platforms.
Beth's heart leapt when she saw Miguel emerge from the tunnel, but her smile soon faded when she noticed the stern expressions they were all wearing. Battle-weary, tired and disillusioned, they had worked hard on the front line of an invisible war, in which nothing really seemed to happen. She hoped that he had seen her, so he would know she'd kept her promise.
The crowd hushed as McGath took the stand.
"Ladies and Gentlemen…" he began but was instantly stopped as Nathan stepped forward unexpectedly to speak.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have a few words I would like to say. The men and women behind me, although brave and honourable, and held in my highest esteem, do not make up my entire crew. More than half the crew compliment of the seaQuest was left behind in Norfolk before we set off on this patrol, and I feel it wouldn't be right to have a welcoming ceremony without them. So…if the guards would allow those of them who are here to come forward, I'd like them to join us on the stage."
Lucas, Lonnie and Beth all looked at each other, unsure.
"Go on," Kristin said softly, pushing Lucas in the direction of the gate leading to the stage. Leaning heavily on Beth, Lonnie also slowly walked up the stairs. Jonathan and Jim came down to meet them; taking Lonnie from Beth and helping her reach the top of the platform. Seeing Miguel, Beth hesitated slightly, but he was already in motion, walking over to her and scooping her hand up in his. The touch of his skin was electric, and they gripped each other tightly, ferocious desire tugging at every nerve. Grouped together, they all stood looking out on the crowd as McGath began his speech.
It wasn't memorable; lots about bravery and how they'd performed their duties well, but it was a formality that washed over the crew. They were home and that was all that mattered. As they stood listening to the words, a photographer took a picture of them all. By that point they were all scanning the crowd for familiar faces, and as the speech ended and the crowd erupted into rapturous applause once again, whooping and shrieking, they finally allowed themselves to feel something other than cold. Embraces, handshakes and kisses soon followed, causing Nathan's heart to lighten ever so slightly.
Lucas found himself sandwiched between Tony and Dagwood as they ruffled his hair and prodded his belly, with Tony commenting that he wanted some of whatever he'd been eating. With her arms around both men, Lonnie leaned in and planted a kiss on Jim and Jonathan's cheeks. She shouted for Tim to come over, and promptly wrapped her arms around him, before confessing that she'd missed them all.
Miguel pulled hard on the hand in his and took Beth into his arms, planting a kiss on her forehead with open tenderness, as they both sighed with relief.
"How you doing?" she asked with concern.
"I've been better, but I'll be alright," he replied, downbeat.
"How were things out there?"
"It's my job."
"I know, but I'm still sorry. I missed you."
"Me too," he said, squeezing her tight. "God, it's good to be back!"
Soon they were all making their way off the stage to greet their families.
Nathan wasted no time in walking down the stairs to greet Kristin. She gazed at him sympathetically, knowing instantly that he was torn inside and had a great deal of healing to do. She put his arm around him and simply rubbed his back, while they looked out on the seaQuest. It wasn't long before they had company.
"Captain?" Lucas asked tentatively.
On hearing his voice, Nathan set aside his concerns, and turned to give him a warm smile, genuinely pleased to see him. They both gazed at each other appraisingly, before breaking into enormous grins and launching into each other's arms. Kristin stood back and watched, realising that Lucas was probably the best prescription she could have given for Nathan's grief.
"I'm glad you made it back alright," Lucas admitted.
"Me too, kiddo, me too," Nathan said, patting his back. "You managed to tear yourself away from Piccolo, huh?" he joked.
"And Dagwood. I didn't think my shirt was gonna survive intact!" Lucas moaned, much to Nathan and Kristin's amusement.
"Uh, I hate to break it to you, but I don't think it did," Kristin added, admiring a large rip in the back of his new checked shirt.
"Great!" he sighed.
Nathan looked at him more seriously. "Did you visit your father?"
Lucas' smile changed slightly from joyful to sarcastic. "Yeah," he groaned, and began telling them both about his month at home, while the sounds of joyful reunion continued behind them.
Jonathan walked straight into the welcoming embrace of Ben and his father, Charles. Rose and Angie were eagerly waiting to smother Tony in wet kisses and laughed as he struggled against their affections. Tim and Miguel were also among their families, and were quickly lost in the crowd, leaving Jim, Beth and Dagwood to stand and watch.
"Are you alright?" Beth asked as she wrapped her arm around Jim.
"I am now," he sighed, returning her gesture.
She understood. They were each other's family.
"Makes me happy," Dagwood mumbled.
"What does, Dag?" Jim asked.
"Seeing everyone else happy," he said simply.
"That's what makes you a better human that any of us will ever be," Jim admitted, patting him on the back.
Dagwood smiled and stuck out his chest, proudly.
"Do you think I should go and say hello?" Beth asked, looking at Miguel with his family. He had one nephew tucked in his arm as he bent down to speak to the other. Her heart warmed to see him so relaxed. He set the boy down and stood up, leaning in towards an older woman and man, who Beth guessed must be his parents. They were engaging each other in serious discussion, with another young woman and man listening in, intently. He quickly turned his head towards where she and Jim were standing. Beth gulped.
"Looks like the introductions are going to be made for you," Jim smiled, as Miguel eagerly waved her over towards him.
She hung back, clinging to Jim nervously.
He pulled her arm from around him. "He wants you over there, go!" he said, laughing at her reluctance.
"He was waving in this general direction! He could have been waving at all of us!" she insisted.
"Yeah, like he wants me to meet his parents!"
"You're one of his commanding officers," she continued.
Jim grimaced at her, then smiled. "Alright," he said, taking her by the hand and jerking her towards Miguel and his relatives.
She tugged against him, furiously. "Jim, no! Jim! Stop!" she bellowed.
He turned to her, laughing, and gave her cheek a light pat as she walked past him. With a shy smile, she walked to where Miguel was still standing, gesturing her over.
'Who do they think I am?' she thought suddenly. 'Am I a member of the crew? A friend? His girlfriend?'
She was still wondering when Miguel gently placed his hand on the small of her back and drew her in towards his family.
He glanced at her, making sure she was alright, before proceeding. "Everyone, this is Elizabeth Allen; Beth this is everyone," he said, proudly. Beth smiled at him, amused at his use of her full name, and held out her hand. "My parents, Walker and Romona," he continued.
"Hello, how are you? Nice to finally meet you," she said, shaking their hands.
"Likewise," Romona agreed, "We've heard and seen a lot about you. You look different from the photographs."
Beth's eyes widened. 'He'd shown them photographs?'
"Mama!" the young woman standing next to her exclaimed.
"Uh, this is my sister, Daniella, her partner, Benton Valero, and these guys," he smiled, bending down to sweep one of the boys into the air, "are Jasper and Denver." He was rewarded with screams and giggles, from both the one in his arms, and the one tugging at his trousers.
"I've seen pictures of these two," Beth said to Daniella. "They must keep you really busy!"
"You have no idea!" she sighed, batting Denver away from Miguel.
"Ow!" He exclaimed, as Jasper grabbed hold of a large chunk of hair and attempted to remove it from his scalp.
"That's what you get for having such a mane!" Daniella quipped, raising a laugh from them all. Miguel simply rolled his eyes – he'd heard it all before.
He looked at Beth and gave her a knowing nod. "This one's been telling me the same thing," he nodded towards her.
"Then I suggest you listen," Daniella added. "That thing's bordering on a 'fro!"
"So, how long are you all in town?" Beth asked.
"No time at all," Walker replied.
"We're all flying out in a couple of hours," Miguel explained, sheepishly, setting Jasper back on the ground.
"Can't wait to get him home," Romona added.
"Oh," Beth said, trying to maintain a brave smile. "In that case I'm glad I caught you." As Miguel rubbed his hand against her back, she looked up at him, unable to hide the devastation in her eyes.
"What are you doing over the break, Elizabeth?" Walker asked.
"Oh, it's Beth, please. I've been working on a project in British Columbia, so I'll be going back there for a couple of weeks," she told them.
"So you did go up there?" Miguel asked.
"Yeah, it was great," she smiled.
"What were you doing?" Benton asked.
"Observation work on Orcas. But we're hoping to do a similar survey to the one I did on humpbacks with the seaQuest, so we can map the most important areas for conservation."
They all looked at her, impressed at her enthusiasm.
"When are you heading back?" Miguel asked.
"By the end of the second week probably." She looked down, as Jasper, or Denver, she wasn't sure which, tried to butt in between her and Miguel. "Sorry, did I steal your playmate?" she laughed.
Miguel scooped him up and nestled him in his arm. "This is Beth," he told the boy. "Can you say Beth, Denver?"
"Hello," Beth smiled, but Denver turned his head away and buried it in Miguel's shoulder. "Aw, are you shy?"
"Shy my backside!" Daniella laughed. "Come here, you!" she said, taking Denver down from Miguel and setting him at her feet.
Awkward silence fell between them for a few moments. Beth was still unsure how much Miguel had told his family about their relationship.
"Are you doing anything before you head back north?" Miguel asked her.
"I haven't got anything planned," she answered, slightly suspicious by now of all the questions, but too scared to ask for fear of making a fool of herself.
Romona cleared her throat. "In that case, we'd like to ask whether you'd consider coming to stay with us for a while. Of course we understand you can't fly out right away, but maybe in a few days?"
Beth's eyes widened again – she was completely unprepared for that turn of events.
Daniella laughed. "You look like a deer in headlights, poor chick. Mama, you're awful!"
"You don't have to," Miguel insisted.
Beth shook her head. "No! It would actually be really nice," she said, still not quite believing what she'd just agreed to.
Miguel wrapped his arm around her, holding her tightly against him, and planted another kiss on her head, thus resolving any questions Beth still had about how much his family knew. "Come with me, I need to get my bag," he told her, taking her hand and leading her away. "We'll be right back."
"You used my full name," she teased, once they were out of earshot.
"I can't believe you said yes!"
"I can't believe she invited me!"
"Yeah, well truth is, when I told them you were back onboard, she insisted on constantly telling me that I shouldn't let you slip away this time."
"I guess she knew from the way I spoke, that the way I felt about you was different to other girls I've been with. She thinks I'd regret it if I didn't give it a go."
"And would you?"
"I regretted it the moment you left Hawaii three years ago," he said, leaning in and smothering her in a heartfelt kiss, leaving her beaming as he pulled away. "I'm really glad you said yes," he admitted.
They met most of the others at the pile of duffle bags.
"No missing limbs, no war wounds!" Jim teased.
"Hey, enough of the in-laws jokes, my folks aren't that bad!" Miguel quipped.
Jonathan grinned. It was good to hear them wise-cracking again. "Well guys, my Dad and Brother are waiting, so I'm gonna go," he announced, regretfully.
As he said goodbye to Jim, Miguel and Tim, Tony sidled up to Beth.
"Hey, listen, I know you and Doc Smith had this special bond or whatever, but I kinda understand how you feel with all this psychic stuff, so…I dunno, I just want you to know that you can share it with me, if you ever feel like it's gettin' too much y'know?" he rambled.
Beth rubbed his arm, appreciatively. "Thanks, Tony. I'll remember that," she nodded, and stepped back to allow Jonathan to say goodbye to him.
"What are you doing with yourself for the next month, anyway?" she asked him when it was her turn.
"Going to work with Ben. I think I need to spend some time with the family."
"I'll agree with that," Tony added.
"Me too," Tim agreed.
Simultaneously, they all awkwardly realised that Jim had no family to spend time with, except Beth, but now she had Miguel.
"You know, any of you guys are welcome to come and work with us," Jonathan suggested. "Hard work and no pay, but the food's good and the views are lovely."
"I might just take you up on that one, Commander," Jim said.
"Well great, considering you were really the only one I was offering."
"Jee, thanks, Commander! Nice to know who your friends are!" Tony quipped. "Listen, I gotta run, have a great vacation guys!" he yelled as he ran back into the crowd.
"I've got to do the same. Take care you guys," Tim waved and light heartedly saluted.
"Me too," Jonathan added. "Call me about coming out!" he pointed at Jim.
"So," Jim said, as only he, Beth and Miguel remained.
"I'm going to say goodbye to Lucas and Kristin, and then I'll come and say goodbye to your family, alright?" Beth announced.
"Yeah, sure," Miguel smiled, watching her go. "You really gonna go work for the Commander?" he asked Jim.
"Work with, Ortiz, not for," Jim corrected, "there's a difference."
"Right," Miguel groaned, hoisting the duffel onto his back. "I can't wait to do nothing for a whole day!" he grinned.
"Tell me about it," Jim agreed. "Sports channels, a bowl of chips and a six-pack of beer – all you need for hours of entertainment."
"Except now you're gonna have a woman under your feet telling you to stop lazing around," Miguel teased.
"So are you!" Jim laughed.
He shrugged – he wasn't bothered.
Exchanging hugs, it looked as though the woman in question was almost finished with Lucas, Kristin and Nathan, so he parted ways with Jim and started to walk over and meet her next to his parents.
"Hey, Miguel!" Jim shouted after him.
He turned, eyebrow raised, not sure what to expect.
"You'll be good to her, right?" Jim asked.
Though half frustrated by the insinuation that he still couldn't do right by women, he knew Jim was only looking out for her. He looked at him, deadpan, and nodded. Jim seemed satisfied with this response, so Miguel turned back towards his family, already focused on getting back home, and secretly ecstatic at the thought of having Beth coming to visit.
'Home cooked meal, or carry out?' Jim wondered to himself, as he waited for Beth to finish with Miguel and his family. 'I think carry out,' he decided, 'but that doesn't narrow it down. What kind of carry out? Indian? Thai? Pizza? Chinese? All four? And then there's dessert!'
He was still debating when Beth sidled up alongside him. They stood in silence for a few moments, leaning into each other, watching the dissipating crowd and contemplating the events of the last year, never having thought it would turn out the way it had, but not complaining either.
"And then there were two," he joked.
"Jim," she began. "What would you say if I offered to buy half the apartment?"
He looked down at her, astonished. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah. What do you think?"
He looked out onto the harbour, weighing up the decision in his mind. In the end there wasn't really any decision to be made. "Let's go home," he answered happily.
"I like the sound of that," Beth agreed, and fell into step beside him, leaving the seaQuest to be moved into dry dock, where she would wait for them all until the next tour began.