Johnny grudgingly admitted she had a point with a grunt in response, though he still was in no hurry to go swimming. She was going to have to do better than that. "You remember that guy Gory mentioned yesterday?" he asked, looking to Liv. "Namor?"
"Vaguely," Liv nodded. "I wasn't really following that part of the conversation, though." She glanced at Fliss, who looked just as lost as she was. "Why do you ask?"
"He's an Atlantean. He had a thing for my sister for a while. He lives in the ocean. He went kinda crazy for a while once and..." Johnny shrugged, not really wanting to talk about it or admit that the Atlantean had almost defeated him once when he'd been crazy out of his mind. He had, in fact, tried to drown him.
"Oh, I see." And to be fair, Liv did see. She had fairly accurate intuition where Johnny was concerned.
Fliss, on the other hand, did not. "See what?" she asked, blinking at the lack of information. "What happened?"
"He tried to kill me," Johnny admitted, filling in the blanks without offering too many details. He didn't often think about it and didn't really want to think about it much now. "Can we talk about something else now?" he asked, getting up to collect the empty ice cream bowls and take them to the sink.
Aware that she'd either said something wrong, or pushed when she shouldn't have, Fliss looked to Liv for reassurance.
Liv's smile was gentle as she squeezed the girl's hand. "Some things are just too traumatic to talk about, even years after they happen," she tried to explain softly to the teen, who frowned in vague confusion, but nodded. "Why don't you take Bella outside?" Liv suggested. "We'll join you in a minute."
"Okay." Pushing up from the table, Fliss paused by Johnny, hesitating for a moment before touching her hand to his back. "Sorry, Johnny." Then she was gone, calling Bella to her as she headed out through the back door and into the sunshine.
Johnny was frowning as he washed the dishes up, feeling like a jerk, especially since he knew he'd made Fliss feel bad on her first day in her new home. He waited until he heard the back door slam shut, knowing Liv had asked her to take Bella outside. "Sorry, Livvie," he apologized without turning around.
"Stop apologizing," his wife told him quietly, rising to her feet to wrap her arms about him from behind. "She's a kid, kids push. Just because I understand without details doesn't mean she will. She just needs to learn us, Johnny; to learn all the little signs that say she needs to stop asking. That will take time." She pressed a kiss behind his ear tenderly. "And holding onto the bad moments won't help. You learn from it, and you move on. And yes, I know I'm awful at doing that, but for you, and for Fliss, I'm going to get better at it."
"I know," Johnny said, letting the water run in the sink but not really doing much with it. He was okay with that much water, but a pool or, God forbid, an open body of water was another matter all together. "I should have told you, but it was a long time ago, and I didn't want you to worry." He was only twenty-seven years old. How long ago could it have been?
"So we'll do it slowly," she told him softly. "We'll start with paddling, move up to sitting in the shallow end. I won't ever push you further than you can go, Johnny, but Fliss is right. You're going to miss out on things if you refuse to even try this. We won't always have a teenager; we might one day have a baby to look after. Don't you want to teach a child how to swim, and know that they can look after themselves in the water because of you?"
Johnny shut the water off and turned to face her, shrugging his shoulders uncertainly. He didn't understand why this was so important to everyone. Even if he did learn to swim someday, water would always be his nemesis. It was one of the few things that could extinguish his flames, and if his flames were extinguished, he was just as vulnerable as any other human being. Maybe that was the real issue. Put that way, he wasn't sure what to say. "I guess."
Arms about his waist, Liv leaned into him, holding his gaze. She understood better than he did what was worrying him, wondering if she was really going to have to point out that she was exactly that vulnerable all the time. "Do you trust me, Johnny?"
He drew comfort from her embrace, feeling horrible for letting both her and Fliss see his side of him, knowing he was being a baby about it. He still had nightmares about that little adventure, and not even Sue had known how close Namor had come to finishing her brother off. "You know I do, Liv," Johnny replied to her question. If there was anyone he trusted, it was his Olivia.
"Then do this for me?" she asked softly. "Water is the one thing that makes you just like me, but right now, it conquers you, because you don't know how to use it. Let me teach you. Even if you never swim for pleasure, I would feel better knowing that you can. And now we're almost parents, you have a responsibility to be able to look after yourself, no matter what the circumstance. I know it's frightening, but I will never take you into deep water without having a plan to get you out again. Okay?"
He nodded his head in reluctant agreement. He never could tell Liv no, not even about this, and he knew she was right. Unless he conquered his fears, he'd always be a slave to them. "Okay, but let's take it slow, okay?" he asked, even though she'd already assured him of that. "And... I don't want anyone else to know." Not Sue, not Reed, not Jon or Vicki or Humphrey, not even Steve or Lucy. This was something that was too private and he wanted to keep it that way. Fliss was another matter.
She nodded in agreement. "No one needs to know but us," she promised him, brushing a gentle kiss to his lips. "Now ... should we go and rescue Fliss from Bella, or wait until they tire each other out?"
He drew comfort from her kiss, nodding again in agreement. "Yeah, I don't want her to think I'm mad at her or something. It's not her fault."
"Well, come on, then," his wife smiled, gently pulling him away from the sink and toward the back door.
Out in the garden, Fliss and Bella were playing fetch with a frisbee. The teenager was laughing each time Bella leapt up to catch the frisbee, whether the dog caught it or not, but as Johnny and Liv emerged, Bella refused to hand the toy back. "Hey, give it back!" Fliss giggled, dropping to her knees to wrestle with the playful dog.
"Do you really think she'll be happy here with us, Liv?" Johnny asked, sliding one arm around her waist as they watched Fliss and Bella play tug of war with the frisbee. Bella had made progress there, learning finally to jump and catch the frisbee more times than not.
For all Liv's doubts, there was no denying that the girl playing on the grass was happy in the moment. She smiled, leaning back into Johnny's arms as she watched Fliss and Bella playing together. "There's no reason she shouldn't be," she said quietly. "And she's got no reason to lie to us about how she's feeling. I think we're all going to get on very well. Don't you?"
Johnny wrapped both his arms around his wife's waist as she leaned against him, a hopeful smile on his face, despite the lingering worries about his promise to try and conquer his fear of water. "I hope so, Liv. It's nice to be part of a family again."
"Yes, it is," Liv agreed softly. "Our family, no matter how we put it together. What do you say to a round dozen children, or would that be too much?" She flashed him a small grin over her shoulder.
That made him chuckle. If there was anyone who could dispel his bad moods, it was Liv. With her around, his bad moods never lingered very long. "We're gonna need a bigger house."
"One step at a time," she giggled softly. "First things first ... I dare you to get in the middle of that game and see what happens. It's your turn to get knocked on your arse for once."
"Are you daring me, Mrs. Storm?" he asked with a smirk. Far be it from Johnny to refuse a dare, but instead of heading that way himself, he tugged her along with him to spend the rest of the afternoon playing in the sun with Liv and Fliss and Bella. Theirs might be an unconventional family, but there was no doubting the depth of love between them, enough to share with a daughter, chosen rather than born, and a dog whom no one else had wanted. Orphans and misfits, indeed, but more importantly, they were a family.
[size=9]((And there you have it - Johnny and Liv are now parents, sort of. Here's hoping no one makes any huge mistakes! Massive thanks to the awesomeness of my writing partner who is awesomely awesome!))[/size]