A/N: Thanks to everyone who read, followed, reviewed, alerted, etc. this story. I hope you've enjoyed it.
Disclaimer: As ever, don't own.
Seven years later
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, the pride and joy of San Diego Aquarium – Oberon and Titania, the performing orcas!"
The two immense black-and-white beasts erupted from the pool, somersaulted twice in the air, and crashed into the water, sending a spray over the laughing and applauding audience members in the front rows. Their trainers tossed them a reward of fish, which they chomped greedily.
Beck, watching attentively, noticed how Titania shuddered and withdrew slightly when the substitute trainer approached and tried to stroke her head. He turned to his boss, a slovenly, nervous man in his mid-forties. "I should be out there. Titania trusts me more than anybody else here – I've been working with her for almost a year now."
"I know, kid, and in an ideal world I'd happily let you perform with her, but…"
"Well, there are children in the audience, some of 'em really young, and they might…y'know, if they saw…" He couldn't finish the sentence, but his hand unconsciously rubbed the left side of his face, telling Beck all he needed to know.
Once the insult would have made him boil with anger, but now he merely sighed and nodded his head. "I'll go check on her once the crowd clears out, okay?"
"Yeah, great. And you might wanna take a look at her back teeth – I think she's got an abscess or something."
"No kidding," Beck muttered as his boss left. He had long ago noticed the orca's pain when she bit down too forcefully. A veterinary dentist would be coming from LA next week, and she had promised to let Beck assist in the examination.
He waited until only a handful of spectators remained, zipped up his wetsuit, and approached Titania. It pained him a little to see this magnificent animal compelled to do tricks like a performing monkey, but it paid the bills – for the aquarium, and also for Beck, who wouldn't have been able to pursue his graduate studies at UCSD without this job.
"Hey, girl," he whispered. "You did a great job today. How're you feeling?"
The orca clicked at him, rapidly and cheerfully.
"I'm going to take a look in your mouth. Is that okay?" He reached out with gloved hands and gently separated her jaws. She made no resistance.
There was no doubt about it- a nasty patch of red and black marred the inside of her jaw. He clucked his tongue in sympathy. "That's gotta be hurting you something fierce, girl. But don't you worry. We'll get it taken care of."
"Does she really understand what you're saying?" someone asked.
Beck removed his head from the orca's mouth. A freckle-faced, slightly gap-toothed boy of about thirteen was staring at him from under the brim of a Giants cap.
"I don't know, but I like to think so," he replied with a smile. "Orcas are intelligent creatures, after all." He noticed that the boy's shirt front was dripping wet. "Did you enjoy the show?"
The boy grinned. "It was cool. Got a good splash."
Beck realized that there was something oddly familiar about the youngster's face. "Have…have we met before?"
"I dunno. You do look kinda familiar, though. Hey, listen – do you think one day I could do what you do? Work with whales and stuff, I mean?"
"I don't see why not. As long as you don't mind spending a lot of time in the water, that is."
"Oh, yeah. I used to be scared of it, 'cause of somethin' that happened when I was little, but not anymore. Now I pretty much hate to be on dry land."
"Tommy!" a woman's voice called. "Hurry up! We're headed to the cafeteria!"
"Coming, Mom!" he yelled back. "Listen, I hope I didn't bother you, mister."
"Not at all," said Beck quietly. "Not one bit. And good luck."
He watched the boy run off. Guess I'm not the only one who's matured with age.
Titania clicked and whistled again. "What is it, girl? You can't be hungry – you just ate!"
She stuck her snout out of the water and waited patiently.
Beck laughed aloud. "Oh, you want a kiss!" He planted one on her wet, smooth skin, and listened to her screech joyfully.
"Seeing other women behind my back, are you?" came a voice from the top row of the bleachers. Beck looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun, to spy a familiar black-clad figure.
"It's purely platonic, I swear!"
"Yeah, likely story," Jade Oliver replied as she came down the steps. "Who was that kid you were talking to just now?"
"He was…I guess you could call him an old friend. Speaking of which," he said as he got to his feet, "how's Tori?"
"Vega has the worst taste of anyone I've ever met. She wants us bridesmaids to wear orange dresses. Orange! Can you believe it?"
"Well, seeing as how you made all your bridesmaids wear black, it might just be a case of karma coming home to roost."
"Careful, buddy, or I'll push you in the water."
"If I go in, you're going in with me!" He grabbed her about the waist.
"Beck Oliver, don't you dare! I just had my hair done – NOOOO!"
As they toppled into the water, Beck caught, for one brief moment, a glimpse of both their faces reflected in the sunlit surface.
And, he decided, he had never seen anything more beautiful.