I'm trying not to think about you
Can't you just let me be?

~Almost Lover, by A Fine Frenzy

Chapter One - Monk

The deep blue spreads slowly, herding the sun over the horizon. Tonight's sunset isn't Midas; it grants only a touch of pink and orange before its benefactor slinks off to light up another part of the world. He picks a memory to match in tone, staying away from any after he moved to Neptune. He's not in the mood for those tonight.

He lets himself remember his mom, and a dreary day when he'd been ten and they were still living in Los Angeles. Just his mom and dad were home, his sister thankfully gone, staying with a friend for the weekend. The sky was a slate gray, the deluge of rain keeping him stuck in the house.

But he'd been so bored. His father, Aaron, was in one of his moods, the kind that usually kept Logan outside even when his stomach growled for food. Logan ran toward his room to get another Hot Wheel for the chase scene he was putting together on the living room rug.

Aaron lay on the couch, reading a script with his feet resting in Lynn's lap, and looked up. "Logan! When you come back here you will walk. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir." It didn't take a genius to hear the threat in his dad's voice. Logan forced his feet to slow, and made his way quietly to his room. He considered moving his setup to the bedroom, but it had already taken an hour to get just how he wanted it and didn't feel like starting over. He just had to remember to walk.

Moving in measured steps on the way back, he dropped to the rug and put the car in place, smiling at what he'd created. He started to execute the scene he pictured, making what he thought were realistic siren and explosion sounds in a low voice.

Logan was surprised when he felt his mom drop to the carpet behind him, curving herself over his back and whispering in his ear. "I have a great idea. Let's go build a fort in your room. Then I'll make popcorn and hot cocoa and we'll have a picnic in it."

He wanted to say no so he could finish his car chase idea but, catching the tight, angry expression his father wore, he realized he messed up. Maybe it was the noises he made, or the way he'd spread his toys over the carpet. It didn't matter why; Dad was mad again and it was his fault.

So, instead of arguing, he asked his mom to help him clean up his cars and they did just as she'd said. The fort they built was cozy and private, using chairs borrowed from the guest bedrooms to create a circle enclosed with sheets. They enjoyed the picnic she'd promised while playing hours of Go-Fish and War, marooned on their own island where Aaron didn't live.

That night she tucked him in and, like always, brushed the hair off his forehead before placing a kiss on it and whispering, "I love you, Logan."

Another memory tries to invade his mind. A night in a hotel lobby when he truly realized his mom was dead. He had bent over and grabbed his knees, and then—

No. Not tonight. Go back. Remember Mom tucking you in.

And he does. Remembers again the motion of her brushing back his hair and then laying a kiss on his forehead. How both gestures made him feel loved. He remembers the soft way she looked at him when she said his name.

The sky now dark, he tucks the memory away where it belongs, with the name. He isn't Logan anymore. He hasn't been for a long time.

Heading down the stairs, he evaluates his options for the evening. He's not tired. There isn't a lot of entertainment on the Penelope to begin with, and this is the last night of an extra- long run. Their route usually takes them on a three-week circuit; however, another tub in their four-reefer fleet is laid up for repairs so they've been going straight for almost six.

All the time at sea has exhausted the crew's meager options for amusement. He's read every book he brought at least twice, and is saving a third reread of Lonesome Dove for tomorrow. The large flatscreen broke about a week ago so group movies are out, and he's not in the mood to watch one alone. There are a few games on the shelf in the mess, but he's played more chess with Carlos this month than he'd ever thought possible. As for the rest, this isn't the kind of crew that considers Milton Bradley a good time guy. Since payday isn't until tomorrow, everyone is too broke to play poker.

Not wanting to head for his berth just yet, he walks to the mess to see if there's any coffee. Most of the seventeen-man crew is hanging out in there, restless like he is. Once they drop off their load at Coquimbo in the morning, it will take the day to reach their home base in Antofagasta, in northern Chile. They'll get a week of freedom before it all starts again.

As he enters the room, only Carlos calls outs "Monk" in greeting. Nobody else looks up.

His first week on the ship some cleversmith teased him about taking a vow of silence and called him 'Monk'. The cleversmith left to work on another boat, but the name stuck.

He doesn't mind; it's as authentic as the name on his passport.

The coffee is fresh and hot. Monk grabs his java, then sits on the couch, closes his eyes and tilts his head back while listening to the others in the room.

Predictably, the guys' conversation is focused on how they will spend the time off. Captain Diego runs a dry ship so, as usual, the talk is as much about getting drunk as it is about getting laid. Monk hasn't had a drink in over eleven years, nor does he want one, so the discussion about alcohol bores him. As for getting laid, he doesn't get a lot of charge hearing about other people's sexual exploits. He seemed to outgrow that vicarious thrill about the time he watched the video of his—

No. No. If you can't keep your head straight, go to bed.

Nobody says anything to him as he swallows down the last of his coffee and puts the mug in the bus bin. That doesn't bother him; he's used to slipping in and out of these rooms unacknowledged.

Though, when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, somehow corporeal ghost never made it to the top of the list.

He hesitates a minute before going into his room. The evening is beautiful, though chilly. The cold doesn't bother him and he's spent more than one night sleeping on deck, staring up at the stars until he can't keep his eyes open. He discards that notion tonight, though. The mood the other men are in, they won't be settling in any time soon and their laughter carries.

He attempts to read a little, but gives up after a few minutes and turns out the light. His memories want to come to the surface and it's taking an inordinate amount of concentration to keep them locked away where they belong.

So he turns his thoughts to Eva. She's his salvation on nights like these, when he would otherwise give in to every thought that tries to pull him backward. Knowing he'll be with her tomorrow is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. This job, this lifestyle, works for him on many levels, but he's happiest during the one week a month he gets to spend at home with her.

Nine years as lovers; hard to believe it's been that long. Monk feels content knowing he'll be with her soon. He'll stroke that dark skin and kiss those sweet, pink lips. He'll sink into her softness and fall asleep holding her sturdy form in his arms.

One more day, sweetheart.

Moving his hand down, he strokes himself; sometimes that's all that's needed to help him sleep. He imagines Eva's large, warm hands touching him as his own hand moves. He pictures her soft, warm mouth lowering down on him. As the pressure builds he envisions that mouth replaced with her straddling him, dropping down and bucking her hips until he calls out her name.

As often happens when he's doing this alone, he has to push away memories of a smaller woman, one with fine, silky hair and petite hands that were always a little cold. The name that falls from his lips begins as Eva, but extends into something else. Saying it aloud is as much of a release as the rest of this act.

Sated, his mind finally stills and he drifts into a quiet sleep.

The next morning, they pull into Coquimbo and unload the shipment of Argentinian beef they're carrying. As reefer ships go, theirs is moderately sized, only about sixty meters long. The cargo doors are built into the side of the ship, and the stock is removed by forklifts, hand trucks, and a lot of old-style muscle. It takes a couple hours, but knowing they're almost home puts everyone in a last-day-of-school mood. Their planned replacement cargo is small, but before they begin loading it Diego waves Monk over.

Though he spent a fair amount of time at home with his mother, Diego also traveled the world on his father's ship. His accent is slight, and he oddly sounds more like he's from Southern California than South America.

"I've been fighting with Manny in the business office. We just got pulled for another job, and I couldn't get us out of it. Dammit! It'll add another five or six days between picking up our cargo, taking it to Los Angeles, and coming home. We'll drive straight through, with no stops. To pull that off, I need both you and Carlos to help me with taking shifts at the wheel. Es Bueno?"

No. No "es bueno". You're from El Salvador, dude. I'd think you'd know what bueno means and use it correctly..

Shit. Monk's been looking forward to spending the next week at his La Culpa beach house, surfing and hanging out with Eva. But he also knows that they need three helmsmen, so there's not a lot of options. He nods - Eva will understand. Diego rarely asks much of him beyond the norm, so he can delay his homecoming by five days.

"Ok. We only need a small crew; three for bow watch, and three to handle navigation and engine checks. There'll be help with the loading and unloading at both ends. I know Carlos will help drive, and Javier will stay on as cook."

Javier cooking is a good thing? Tell me our cargo is frozen rats again and I may die of starvation.

Diego and Monk walk over to where the other men mill around, wondering why they aren't loading up their cargo yet. With a loud whistle, Monk gets their attention so Diego can speak.

"Change of plans. We got a one-time job. It means another five day stretch."

The resultant moans sound like the death rattles of a herd of zombies. Diego raises his hands and bobs them up and down as he lowers them.

"I know, I know. A couple navigators assigned to the Angelica live here and agreed to help us out, but I need four more, three for bow watch and one navigator. There's good news and bad news. Good news, is double pay, and you'll get two weeks off when we're done. Whoever doesn't work it, another boat is coming through in an hour to take you home."

The men look more appeased and the grumbling lessens. Monk sees a couple of the crew raise their hands, and then lower them when Diego talks again.

"Now the bad news. Something went down; there is an American yacht about 45 knots from here. The crew and all the passengers are dead. The bodies need to go into cold storage and be transported to L.A. We just got hired for the job."

Oh. That's one delightful little detail Diego left out. Who knew rat cargo could be topped?

The men shift and shuffle their feet, looking at each other and whispering. This time no hands are raised. The desire to go home is pretty strong, but Monk suspects it isn't why the majority are hesitating. When they are out at sea conversation often turns to ghosts and legends. Spending even a few days with a boatload of bodies is enough to unsettle anyone, but especially a bunch of superstitious sailors. Monk feels a little queasy himself at the thought.

I think I just figured out the perfect setting for another Reanimator sequel, though.

Diego nods, knowing their concerns as well as Monk does. "Come on guys. Double pay? Two weeks off? No volunteers?"

Not surprisingly, only a handful of guys put up their hands. Monk groans at the slim pickings. The navigator, Louis, is an okay guy. He's just a young man who doesn't yet have a family, so the extra sea time isn't an inconvenience. But the others are ones who drifted into this job because a conventional life just didn't suit them. They bring brawn, rather than brains, to the crew; Chuck is a braggart and an asshole, and George follows Chuck like he's a messiah. Winston, though a hell of a nice guy, has the IQ of a mollusk with special needs.

And, oh yeah, there's that whole gullible, hypochondriac thing. I swear I could convince him he had water-elf disease.

They have to wait for the other two navigators to show up, and spend the time filling the freshwater tanks, disposing of garbage, and loading the food stock to get them through the next week. Since this jaunt wasn't planned, their choices are limited to what they can exchange with other ships docking, and the supplies loaned to them by their sister ship, La Concepción, when it comes to pick up their leftover crew.

Awesome, ragtag rations. What the hell are we going to do with currants? I have to remember to tell Javier not to get creative.

When they finally get underway, Monk hangs out in the helm while Diego points the ship toward their destination. Anxiety laces his boss' voice. "What the hell, Monk. It's good money and we just have to tell ourselves its meat, right? We transport meat all the time. There's no difference, right?"

Nope. Absolutely no difference between people who were walking, talking, thinking human beings, and a bovine whose best skill was sticking its tongue entirely up its nose.

Monk shrugs; he won't interfere with this need to rationalize. They're three hours away from picking up their cargo regardless of how they feel about it, and it's obviously freaking Diego out a little. The guy is in his fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair and a face that looks like it was taken off, put out in the sun to dry, and then stretched back on. He's been a sailor most of his life and believes in much of the lore and legends that come with the life.

Diego lets out a huge sigh, and looks over at Monk. "They say it's over thirty bodies. I want the large port bay lined with visqueen to keep it from getting contamined."

In case they leak? Okay, that's just gross.

Grimacing, Monk heads off to find his help. It's just after lunch, and at this time of day the crew that isn't working is usually hanging out in the mess. He can find a few loafers for the task.

Monk enters the room to a round of raucous laughter from four men sitting, their bodies oriented to face a portly fifth man, Chuck, who's standing with one foot on a chair, leaning toward the group. "…so I came home, naked, staggerin' drunk, and covered in puke. With a parrot I got, who knows where, sitting on my shoulder." His shoulders shake with laughter. "That's when she finally decided it was time to throw my ass out."

Stifling an audible snort, Monk avoids eye contact with anyone until he's sure he can keep his face from showing the derision he feels.

I've seen you naked, Chuck. Something tells me the parrot wasn't the deciding factor in that decision.

He's heard this story before, as have most of the other men. But time moves slowly when you're trapped on a boat with the same people, travelling the same familiar waters, and even repeated stories break the monotony.

It's Chuck that notices him first. They aren't friends; Monk can't stand the man, but Chuck doesn't know that. Every snarky comment Monk's ever thought has been held back and, since Chuck understands subtlety about as well as he understands women, the other man is under the illusion they are actually friends. No matter, it makes things easier since they have to work together.

"Monk, hey man! We're talking about things we've done to piss off broads. Got a story to throw down?"

How about I throw down a helpful tip, instead? Calling them broads might be what's pissing them off.

Monk stares at the man in answer. He has many stories to throw down but he won't allow himself to think of them. Most of the time he doesn't even allow himself to think of the names of any of the women he's angered, except for Eva. Instead he distracts himself in these moments by imagining all the ways he'd like to hand Chuck's ass to him.

Shoving a handful of live, baby eels into that hole on his faces. Make him keep his mouth closed until he swallows them. At least he'd be quiet for a few minutes.

After a couple of seconds of waiting, Chuck shakes his head. "Nah? Well, makes sense. Women are harder to piss off when you aren't talking to them or nailing them, right Monk?" Chuck laughter follows his own statement, as he looks at the other men to join in.

Hmmm…with women, my tongue has gotten me out of as much trouble as it's gotten me into. One more thing Chuck hasn't figured out, I guess.

No one else laughs at Chuck's taunt, instead shifting their eyes away and shuffling uncomfortably. Monk's used to this, too. He knows there's speculation about him. The crew accepts his muteness; it's not the strangest trait a sailor can have. They respect that he's a hard worker and Captain Diego's right hand. But that's all they know, and that bothers them. Rumors have gone around that he's everything from an assassin, to a descendent of Black Bart.

Whenever there's a new theory, Diego tells him and they share a laugh. The most recent is that he is a government spy. Why Monk would spend eleven years working on a refrigerated cargo boat, or which government he's working for, doesn't seem to matter.

But Diego keeps his secrets, the few he knows. Thinks the crew being scared keeps them in line. They initially bonded over their alcoholism, though Diego told let on he banned booze from the ship for religious reasons; no one wants to know their Captain and First Officer are drunks. Diego is the only one that knows about Eva and the beach house. And, due to a long night spent reading the abbreviated story Monk wrote down for him, Diego is the only one that knows Monk never leaves the ship when they're in the U.S. because he is an American, and his passport says something different.

Monk points to three men, George and the two navigators loaned to them by the other ship, and indicates they should follow him. George isn't bright, but the job ahead of them is easy. Though he doesn't know Connor or Vincente, he wants the opportunity to find out what kind of workers they are.

They grab the visqueen he indicates on the way, then follow him to the refrigeration bay and watch while he makes their needs clear. He's gotten good at using pantomime to give instructions. With the four of them working, they have the bay cleared and prepped like a kill room in just under two hours.

It's another hour before they spot a ship. It's a large luxury yacht, the kind that carries as many crew members as it does passengers. The Chilean police force is anchored nearby. Diego anchors the Penelope as close as possible, though they are still several hundred yards away. Even a moderate sized reefer like theirs needs some lead room for stopping.

They use the winch to lower the smaller boat from the deck to the water. Diego selects two guys, Javier and Louis, to accompany him. Connor stays by the radio, relaying the plan after Diego reaches the other ship and checks in. The bodies are being photographed, tagged and bagged, then will be loaded six at a time onto the smaller boat Diego took with him. The rest of the crew stay on their reefer to unload and place the corpses into the refrigeration bay.

The day is beautiful; sunny and hot, with enough of a breeze to make it comfortable to stay outside. The guys start up a shuffleboard game, interrupted briefly when a helicopter flies over their head to land on the yacht. Within a few minutes Connor tells Monk that two FBI agents will accompany the bodies back to L.A. Berths need to be cleared and cleaned for them.

The FBI. Fuck. A yachtful of dead Americans. Rich, dead Americans. Monk should have realized the U.S. feds would be involved. A wake of fear goes through him, and he forces it down.

There's no reason they should care, or even ask about him; they're coming on the ship for the bodies and nothing else. Nobody pays attention to the bus driver. All he has to do is keep his mouth shut, which isn't a problem. His quiet, hidden life will stay just that.

Logan Echolls has been gone for a long time. He can damn well stay gone.

The ship's central hub consists of a four-story rectangle. The entire fourth story is a glass encased wheelhouse, with an upper deck that allows the bow watchman a 360 degree view around the ship. On the second and third levels are several berths that sleep two to three people each, and the master head and shower room. Lastly, the main deck level has another head, a mess, and a galley on one side. On the other side are a few storage rooms, and three private berths with outside entrances, one occupied by Monk, one normally occupied by their third driver, Carlos, and the last by Andy, a senior crew member who has gone home during this trip.

It's Carlos' and the Andy's rooms that will be used by the feds playing body escorts. Monk assigns Chuck the room prep since it will keep the guy out of his way for a while. Little is required other than making up the beds and going over the rooms with a dust cloth, but it takes five minutes to make this clear with motions. However, from experience Monk knows written instructions are wasted on Chuck.

Incredible. Chuck can barely read, but acts like he's smarter than me because he can recite a limerick.

In another hour the first boatload comes over, accompanied by a couple of the cops from the Carabineros de Chile, and they spend the rest of the afternoon in staggered shifts. The fragrant, black body bags are unloaded from Diego's small boat via a net and pully system, then placed side by side on the floor in the cold storage.

It's surprising, the weight of a body after death, which makes the work hard. Also, their unfortunate guests have been gone long enough that there is no rigor. They have to have a man on each end of the bag, pulling as well as lifting, or it tends to sag at the middle. It takes a few awkward tries to figure this out, but they soon work out a rhythm.

The gruesome work naturally leads to talk of death; other bodies they've seen, family members who've died. Monk tunes them out.

No way, man. Think about Eva or book. Think about surfing. DO NOT think about that.

After the last body is loaded, while the cops take the small boat back to the yacht, Monk and the other men go clean up, taking extra-long showers to wash away the imagined contamination of death.

Monk returns to his berth and his books. The smell from the bodies is still in his nasal cavities, removing any appetite for dinner. He pulls out a book at random and retreats into a fantasy world until it's time to watch the sun set.

Climbing the final flight of stairs to his spot, a small observation deck on the third level, Monk is irritated to see a pair of dark boots on the floor above his head. This is unprecedented. Everyone knows he has staked out this corner to watch the sunset. Eleven years on this ship and he's been out here, alone, every fucking evening. And he likes it that way.

He doesn't ask for a lot. He gets the job done and keeps to himself, doesn't complain or cause any trouble. Diego depends on him to run the crew and he always delivers. The least they can do is leave him alone for thirty minutes a night. Just because they aren't doing their usual work right now doesn't mean this has changed.

Taking the last few steps, he comes around the wall to toss overboard whoever is sitting on his bench. But it's not a member of the crew. Instead its confirmation he's finally managed to make himself go crazy. He'd thought allowing himself only this time each day to dwell on the past would keep him within the lines of sanity, but apparently he was wrong. Because if that were true, he wouldn't be imagining Veronica sitting there.

But, as frightened as he is for the trick his brain is playing on him, he's also grateful. She's been just a memory for so long that the mirage is welcome. Even if she looks different. Her hair is shorter and straighter than the last time he saw her, and a little darker. She's rounded out a bit more, adding a slight fullness to her face. There are faint lines at the corners of her eyes, her cheeks are wet with tears, and she wears a familiar, irritated expression.

Funny, you'd think when I finally got around to hallucinating about her, she'd be smiling at me. But this actually makes sense, since the last time I saw her she was also crying.

Just as he's about to give her a smile, she snaps at him. "Trying to have a private moment here. Do you mind?"

Her talking is what makes him realize she's real. Thirteen years since he's heard her voice, and he's been remembering it wrong. In his mind it was just a decibel higher, and friendlier. But no, it was always like this; just low enough to be sexy, and brimming with snark.

He can't move. It's as if his feet are soldered to the floor and, instead of watching the sky, he's watching the golden, fading light on her skin.

You found me. How did you find me? After everything I did to disappear! What the hell are you doing here?

The words are caught, panic snagging them in his brain before they can ever attempt to leave his mouth.

She glares at him, her eyes narrowing in anger. Her hands wipe at her cheeks. "If you're going to insist on being here, can you at least turn around? You didn't pay for the show."

He has no idea what to say to her. She's owed an apology, but if he apologizes for one thing he'll have to apologize for a thousand. Better to wait for her to lay into him, and deal with her accusations individually.

But instead of the tirade he expects from her, she turns her head slightly, enabling her to avoid his gaze but still keep an eye on him. When she lifts her right hand to wipe at her cheek again her jacket falls open, revealing the gold badge on her hip.

You're FBI? Shit. I don't know if I should be proud of you, or scared. Is this some fucked-up twist of fate, or did a little Mars-nipulation get you here?

Either way she doesn't seem surprised to see him now. He doesn't know what to do with a Veronica that hesitates to yell a list of her grievances at him. Even the amount of time and distance that has separated them shouldn't make her treat him with the coldness of a stranger.

Come on, Veronica. You always come into a fight with a set idea of how you want to bring me to heel. Let me know what you want from me.

While he's just continued to stare at her, not saying anything, color has filled her cheeks, creating a blush made of pique. Her silence, combined with obvious fury, has him impatient to get this started. Just as he's about to end this standoff, she stands up and stomps toward the stairs.

"Fine. It's all yours tonight. But I call dibs tomorrow."

He's frozen by this unexpected turn, watching as she glares at him for the first couple steps of her descent. Their eyes don't connect, and he doesn't know if it's because of the sunglasses he's still wearing, or because she's so angry at him. Long after she's gone he continues to watch the stairs, both hoping and dreading that she'll come back.

Is this your game, Mars? Track me down in a place where you have me captive for the next three days, then make me sweat it out? If I know you, and I still might, I bet you won't make any part of this easy.

A/N: A huge debt of gratitude to nevertothethird for so many things: Encouraging me to continue with this story, your brilliant beta advice, not holding back on either praise or criticism, and for suggesting the song Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy as the accompaniment to this story. Not only does it fit perfectly, you've played cupid between me and a new favorite artist.

A/N: I am finally on tumblr (link is in my profile) so maybe I'll catch you there as well. As always, please review. Even if it's to tell me this story line is completely bonkers. I may not argue with you, but plot bunnies have to be fed or they start eating your brain.