It all started innocently enough--a typical evening at the houseboat, checking out a video Rose had brought with her. Dinner was done, the dishes washed and the two of them were curled up together on the sofa, watching the screen while Barnum lay on the rug at their feet, asleep. Rose was excited, claiming there was something special about what they were going to watch. Mac wasn't so sure, since her last great video was a two-hour study on anchovy harvests.
"Isn't it fantastic! Think of the data they're compiling with every tag!" Rose leaned closer to the TV, completely captivated. "Distance, depth, Cartesian location . . ."
Mac's stomach churned as he watched the huge sharks glide under the boat, dorsal fins grazing against the harpoon poles. The water was cloudy with blood and bits of dead seal; the scientists balancing on the gunwales looked determined but tense. MacGyver knew Rose didn't quite have the same perspective on the scene, so he nodded weakly.
"Yeah--pretty, uh, impressive."
Rose turned to him, an excited smile on her face. She bounced up and down on the cushions of the sofa, barely able to contain her excitement.
"And the best part is that I've been invited to join them! Isn't it great! Doctor Andersen sent the E-mail this morning, and had this video Fed Ex'ed right to Trevor and me. They're doing a six month follow-up on the initial tagging, and I'll be---"
"Right here on dry land!" Mac turned a startled face to her. "You're not going out there!"
"Well sure I am!" Rose laughed. "To be able to work with Andersen's team on the Fallaron islands is an incredible opportunity, Mac--the chance of a lifetime to chip away at how little we actually know about Great Whites . . ."
"--And what I already know is that you're not going. Rose, it's too damned dangerous," Mac tried to persuade her gently. He smiled. "Be reasonable, Brat--after all, you're not a linebacker, you're a hundred and twenty pound woman who's going to end up as some Great White's appetizer if the boat tips."
"Oh come on--the boat's not going to tip--and besides, I weigh a hundred and eighteen," she snapped back with a touch of vanity. "Look, it's perfectly safe--"
At that moment, the TV showed the head of a Great White rising up out of the water, teeth bared and bloody. Both Mac and Rose studied it for a second without speaking, and finally she muttered,
"Okay, relatively safe-- the footage is exaggerated and we both know that--Besides, its not as if you have the right to stop me from going, you know."
He took a deep breath, trying to stay calm, even as Rose lifted her chin stubbornly.
"Wait a minute here. Brat I love you dearly, but get real-- you are not going with a boatload of excessively macho scientists to tag sharks and that's the end of the story, period. What right do I have? The right of a man who'd like his fiancée to live long enough to get married!"
Rose snorted unbelievingly. "Are you serious?"
"That's so unfair!" Rose shot up from the sofa, eyes blazing. "You climb mountains and hang glide, Mac and those aren't even work-related! I mean, God--you used to defuse bombs for a living! I don't forbid you from doing those activities!"
Barnum whined softly.
"Come on Rose, it's not the same thing at all!" Mac countered spiritedly. "I've had years of experience with those, and I know what I'm doing!"
"Sure you do--I've seen your scars, Mac!" She walked around the back of the sofa.
"But I'm still in one piece, not in three or four down a predator's gullet, Brat. There's a huge difference here you're just not taking into account. I've been in enough about perilous situations to minimize the risks; I know my way around cliffs and bombs," he tried to point out, but she wasn't having any of it.
"And I know my way around boats and sharks, Mac," Rose's voice had dropped into a deceptively soft tone. "You know I do. How could you even think of denying me this chance?" She pounded her fists on the back of the sofa and frowned at him.
"Because it's too dangerous!" he finally exploded. Rose scowled as he got off the couch and advanced on her. "Christ! You're not even listening to me--"
"Too dangerous! Oh I forgot only you get to take the risks around here! The great and fabulous MacGyver gets to fall out of planes and get shot at while little Rose gets to safely sit at home and wait for the call from the hospital! Damn it, I have earned the right to go on this expedition--I'm qualified, the experience would be invaluable, and I'm GOING!!" She yelled.
"Nooooo, you're NOT--there is NO way in hell I'm going to permit you to be on a tippy little boat in shark-infested waters!" Mac roared, "NOT NOW, NOT EVER!" For a long hard moment they glared angrily at each other.
"ARRRRGH!" With a shriek of total frustration, Rose snatched up her car keys and purse, storming out of the houseboat, slamming the door hard enough to rattle all the windows. The Russian invectives steamed in the air behind her.
Stunned, Mac slumped over the back of the sofa and ran a hand over his face. Barnum whined.
"Shit!" he muttered to himself. "Fine. Great--she'll be back. She'll go drive around, think it over, realize I'm right and she'll be back," Mac growled. Barnum trotted over and licked his hand.
She didn't come back.
Mac called later in the evening and left a message on her answering machine, his tone mild, his words carefully neutral. He and Barnum sacked out on the sofa that night, listening for the phone, and sleeping badly. At three in the morning, Mac left Barnum and drove over to the pet shop loft in the darkness, his face grim. Rose's truck was gone, and when he let himself into the dark apartment, the answering machine light was blinking with his unchecked message.
"Fine. Still mad? Me too," he snarled at the machine. He wandered through the dark apartment, tempted to slam a door, but refusing to give into the petty desire.
"I know you're at Evelyn's," Mac tried to reassure himself, but a nagging worry skittered through his stomach. He and Rose had argued before, had gone through their squabbles over things that ultimately ended up with a compromise of some sort. Often the making up was fun, almost worth the fight itself--but this one felt far more serious. Wearily Mac stretched out on her four-poster bed, pulling the afghan over himself as he tried to figure out what made this clash so fundamentally different.
"Authority," he mumbled to himself. "We're a team, but ultimately someone's got to be in charge, and she isn't ready for it to be me . . ."
He thought some more. "Come to think of it, I don't know if I'm ready for it to be me either . . ." Mac drifted off into an uneasy sleep, comforted occasionally by the soft scent of Rose's perfume on the pillow.
Morning came, but Mac woke up alone with memories of anxious dreams. He showered, and changed, taking care to leave the apartment neat, then went back to the houseboat. No green pickup truck sat in the parking lot. A frantically glad Barnum bounced to be let out, and sighing, Mac finally reached for the phone, dialing Evelyn's number.
"Hey Evelyn--let me talk to Rose," He tried to keep his voice disinterested, but it was hard.
"Rose?" Evelyn sounded completely bewildered and Mac suddenly felt his stomach tighten.
"Yeah--we had a, well, a little disagreement yesterday, and I was sure she'd spent the night at your place."
"No, Mac, she wasn't here--did you check--"
"Yeah, she didn't go to her place either. Listen, I'm going to go look in at her office--can I leave Barnum with you for a few hours?"
"Sure--I'll call you if I hear from her. Was it a bad fight?" Evelyn asked softly. Mac drew in a breath, appreciating the sympathy.
"Bad enough--I'll be right there with Barnum. Thanks Evelyn."
"She was here yesterday," the Marine Studies secretary murmured unhelpfully. "I remember both she and Mr. Buchanan were very excited about an email from the Steinhardt Aquarium in San Francisco."
"Thanks, but was she in today?" Mac asked impatiently. The girl shook her head.
"No, not today--both of them are out. I can take a message though, if you'd like--"
"No--" Impatiently Mac turned away and walked into the small office behind the door with Rose Clowderbock, Director's Assistant on the plate. He dropped into the chair behind the desk and looked around, sighing heavily.
"Come on Brat, where the hell are you?" he muttered in exasperation to the walls. He looked over the desk, at the framed photo of him and Barnum, remembering the day Rose had taken it with a pang of clarity.
After a moment, Mac shuffled through some papers, noting Rose's elegant handwriting across the top of a notepad. The scribbles were details of a phone conversation, but Mac was amused to see the doodles around the edge of the paper: fish, a pretty good drawing of Barnum's head, a little cello. He pushed the paper back on the desk as the phone rang.
"Mac, I just heard from Rose. She told me to tell you that she's okay," Evelyn announced.
MacGyver let out a deep sigh, and some of the tenseness left his stomach. "Good. Where is she?"
"That she didn't say," came the unhappy admission. "It sounded like a long distance call though."
"Great!" came MacGyver's aggravated grumble. "She could be anywhere."
"Calm down, Mac. She sounded pretty contrite, and I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason she's not here, okay? Just give her a chance to work this through."
"I know . . ." He wanted to stay mad, but he was too tired and too discouraged. With effort, he added,"If she calls back, tell her . . ."
"You love her?' came Evelyn's intuitive prompt.
"Yeah," Mac sighed. "Thanks."
He hung up the phone and left the office. A quick stop upstairs let him off the hook for the rest of the day, and he found himself heading to the Grotto, thinking of putting in some work on the cabinets to keep his mind and hands busy. Sorting out his feelings at the moment was going to take some time, and he preferred it be productive whenever possible.
The green pickup truck was there. Startled, Mac realized he hadn't even checked the Grotto when he was looking for Rose. He debated driving off, but it seemed childish and unfair--if she was here, she was home, and that was the most important thing.
Cautiously he let himself in, hearing the running water of the shower. He strode across the huge warehouse towards the bathroom, wondering what he would say. MacGyver pulled the door open, the steam hitting his face as he looked around. She was in the shower--behind the curtain--
On the floor of the shower, fully clothed in a good blouse and dress skirt, huddled up in a ball, sobbing. Alarmed, Mac twitched the curtain back and stared down at her. Rose looked up, her face such a complete mask of dejected misery that any residual anger Mac might have felt drained away with the shower water. He knelt down and reached for her, but she sobbed harder, so he opted to join her on the tile floor, the water soaking in all around both of them.
"I'm an idiot, Mac! I can't do anything right!" she howled. "I can't even fight right!"
"Brat . . ." A dripping hysterical Rose was little out of his league, but Mac leaned over and scooped her wetly into his lap as water sloshed around them. Rose shook, her frame hitching under the strength of her sobs. The water was cold, and Mac winced under the sting of it. He reached up one hand and turned the shower off as Rose spoke up in a broken voice.
"What?" Mac thought he misheard her. She continued on in one long rush of words.
"Looks like they don't need anyone for the crew--the funding would only cover the team they already have. I embarrassed the hell out of myself by showing up as if I was already signed on. So I got dismissed with a pat on the head and sent home. I never really had a chance and I couldn't even tell you about it because I acted like an idiot and I thought you'd be furious and . . ." her voice dropped to a teary whisper, "I was too scared to come back." she burst into tears again.
"Scared? Of me?" Mac was astounded. "Dear God, Rose, you never have to be afraid of me--" he choked out. "You ought to know that by now--I get mad, but I'd never, never do anything to you--" Mac confessed as he kissed her temple.
"Look, I just put my foot down without really thinking about it," he continued, "And once you took off, I had no idea where you were or how long you'd be gone--now that was scary."
"I know--it was a stupid thing to do, but I was so angry, Mac. And God, I'm not used to being angry with you. It's very frightening."
"I agree," he murmured comfortingly. For a moment they simply sat together as the water gurgled and drained away. Finally, Rose gave a deep sigh and bit her lower lip.
"I was wrong. I shouldn't have flown off the handle like that and I'm sorry."
"Fair enough. And I'm sorry I reacted without thinking," he replied.
"You know this isn't really about sharks, is it?" Rose pressed her face to his wet shoulder. Mac leaned his head back against the tiles and gave a noisy sigh that echoed.
"Yeah, I know. It's about who we are and what we do. God! Now that I love you, it's hard to let you go do things that I know are dangerous," came his uneasy admission.
"I have trouble with that too," she confessed softly. "Sometimes when you're gone and the phone rings, I freeze, wondering if it's going to be the one call I don't want to answer."
Mac pondered that a moment, then looked down at Rose's wet woebegone expression. "And yet--"
"And yet I keep letting you defuse bombs and jump out of planes and face guns, yes I do. I have to, Mac--it's who you are and what you do. I resigned myself to all of that when I first fell in love with you. It's not easy, but I can face myself in the mirror every day knowing that you're free to be yourself."
"That's better than I'm doing right now. I'm selfish, Rose--part of me just can't easily deal with you in danger, even if it is an element of your life."
"Can you try?" Rose pleaded.
He gave a slow reluctant nod."I'm going to have to--" Mac gritted his teeth. Rose squeezed him tightly. After a long moment, he picked up her hand, kissed the palm and added,
"There is another reason I didn't want you going out on that boat-- I just didn't want to choke down all those casseroles," he confessed softly. Rose pulled her head away from his shoulder and looked at him with a curious expression on her face. He shrugged.
"See, if you fell out of the boat, you'd get eaten or mauled to death. And since most folks know we're engaged, thanks to Pete's little PA announcement in January, they'd know I was grieving. I'd be sort of an almost widower. And all the women at the Foundation would start cooking and bringing over casseroles for me--noodle burger, Tofu, chicken pot pie--after a while they'd start stopping by. Some of them might even consider offering a bit more than just casseroles--"
"Stop right there, Angus MacGyver!" Rose glared at him. "My death is no excuse to start fooling around with the secretarial pool!"
"But you'd be dead," he pointed out with a twinkle in his eye. "Ingested by a great white. I would have to consider that a serious setback to our relationship, Brat."
"Oh sure, a little thing like death and you think you're off the hook, huh?" She gave him a twisted smile. He gave a mock sigh.
"I guess not--although it would be a lot easier if you tried to avoid dying. Mind you, I'm not trying to be domineering here . . ."
"It's all right--and it's not an unreasonable request, really." Rose sighed. She looked at him, his hair wet, clothes soaked, grin on his face and laughed.
"Suddenly I have an overwhelming urge to take off all your clothes, MacGyver."
"Really? I was thinking the same thing about you."
"Think we should give into these urges?" she asked, but he was already unbuttoning her blouse, his concentration focused on the tiny pearls. Rose bit her lip, trying not to laugh. She leaned back offering him no help as he fumbled with the wet material.
"A little assistance here, Brat?" he finally begged.
"You seem to be doing just fine."
"Look, I'm trying to be considerate," he murmured in frustration. Rose put her hands over his and guided them to her ribs. She used them to tug up; the blouse went over her head in one wet peel. Mac blinked.
"Didn't think of that," he admitted in surprise and she laughed at his slightly bewildered expression. Part of his astonishment might have been due to the unexpected beauty of her sheer white lace bra. Rose looked down at her chest and sighed.
"When I was twelve, I couldn't wait to get these, and now that I have them they're not doing me much good," she lamented. Mac gave her a look of roguish good humor as he raised an eyebrow.
"Speak for yourself, Brat--they're doing a world of good for me!" He murmured, hands gliding up the sweet curved sides. Rose tried to take his seductive move seriously, but a giggle escaped her.
"Yeah--take two of these and call me in the morning," she chortled. Mac began chuckling too, and for a long moment they simply clung to each other as they laughed. As it died away, Rose wrapped her arms about his neck and pulled him into a kiss that told him in no uncertain terms that she was ready to make up.
*** *** ***
"Oooohhh--Any more relaxed and you could wring me out of this bath rug." Rose sighed deeply, stretching her toes out to touch the tile wall.
"Yeah--that was pretty good, wasn't it?"
"Pretty good, Mac?"
"Okay, pretty damn good--" He admitted with a smirk, rolling over on his side to look at her. He ran a possessive hand over her flat stomach.
"Better--you sir, have the lustful drive of a stallion and the natural erotic talents of a, a . . ."
"-A? I can't wait to hear this, Brat. Go on, don't let me stop you."
"-A full-blooded MacGyver. Homo Sapiens Maximus Libido. Sexiest beast in the jungle, you know. Stops at nothing to claim his mate," she announced, reaching up to tweak his nose.
He playfully nipped her fingers. "Really?"
"Yeah. They can be lured on with Snickerdoodles and the loud cries of the Hockey ref."
"Once pounced upon, MacGyvers can be subdued and tagged for migration."
"So that explains all the scratching and biting," he winced.
"Naturally. I couldn't let the beast escape you know." She sat up and shook her damp hair out across her shoulders.
"Don't worry. This one has no intention of escaping."
"Even if his mate is foolish enough to consider tagging great whites a good career move?"
MacGyver paused thoughtfully. "Well obviously he picks them for their beauty, not for their intelligence."
"Mac!" Rose squealed, punching his bicep. He grinned and tossed a towel over her head then rolled out of the way of her blind charge.
"Hey, Hey! Is that any way to treat an endangered species?" he chided playfully.
"You're not endangered, pal, you're doomed!"
"Careful--I'm a close personal friend of the head of the Phoenix Foundation--" he warned, getting to his feet and fishing for his jeans.
"I should have skinned you while I had the chance."
"You know, I think you did," after pulling on his pants, Mac peered over his shoulder at the rows of pink lines across his back. Contritely, Rose got up and kissed them gently. She slipped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly from behind.
"You know how much I love you?"
"Enough to scar me for life?"
"Yep," she snorted. Mac looked over his shoulder at her.
"Come on cave woman, let's go collect the beast and think about cabinets. And Rose--?"
"While we're in the process of coming to grips with mutually dangerous careers, go easy on me, huh? It's not that simple to capitulate," he added in a low voice.
"I know, " Rose sighed, smiling up at him. "I know."