Title: An Interlude On Mount Wannahockaloogie
Finding Nemo universe, pairing: Nemo/Gill. Rated R for non-explicit you-know-what's-going-on.
Disclaimer: They're not fish, guys. They're DISNEY fish. They have prehensile fins and name their children and sing songs and tell jokes and darnit, don't look for an ichthyologist's interpretation of fishy love here. This is Disney fishy love. Well, this sick puppy's version of Disney fishy love.
You think you can do these things but you just can't.
That wasn't the worst of it.
His dad's words had hurt, and the words had made him do something really, really stupid.
But someone had believed in him. Someone had told him he could.
And then he'd proven his dad right. And that was the worst of it.
All of them, Gurgle and Peach and the rest, with their "This isn't a good idea," and "You're not the best swimmer, kid." All of them except that one voice, repeating, over and over again, He can do this.
It was nothing his dad had ever said. Or sounded like.
He had wanted to succeed, not just so that they could escape, not just to show them that he could do it, but because he wanted that voice to be right.
And now they were all going nowhere. No...that wasn't right. He was going somewhere soon.
Nemo shuddered. It still wasn't clear to him what Going Bellyup meant, but he understood all the same. Going Bellyup was the look Dad got when Nemo asked him about Mom. Going Bellyup was the way Dad grabbed his tail when he tried to swim ahead.
Going Bellyup was the others in the Tank hovering just outside his hiding cave and talking very quietly.
They all had seemed so okay with the Tank. Gill was the only one who talked about getting out. So the Tank wasn't that bad, if you had others to be with. Well, okay, Bubbles was a little weird, but he was still pretty happy, it looked like.
What would it be like, if he could stay here instead of going with that awful girl?
He wouldn't have school, but you still grew up, even if you didn't have school. You grew up and you found a mate and you had babies. Only...there weren't any other clownfish here to do that with, either.
Maybe the Dentist would get one. He'd get a girl clownfish and that would be all right, then, wouldn't it, because then Nemo could do the growing up and having babies thing like he was supposed to.
He didn't feel any better. He wanted his dad. He didn't want to be a dad.
Besides, Nemo had no idea what to say to girls. There was only one fish here who really talked to him in a way that made him feel he wasn't being treated like a kid.
Oh, and now they were spelling words in front of him. Great.
"It's okay," he said, swimming out of the tiny cave and past them. "I know who you're talking about."
He went to go see Gill.
Stupid. Selfish. Stupid and selfish.
And now he didn't even want to meet the kid's eyes.
The kid wasn't old enough to get that Gill was pissed at himself. Not at the kid.
So this whole I'll-just-hide-in-here act was making it worse.
The kid was going away with the fishkiller, for Big Blue's sake. In just a few days. Is this what he wanted to treat him to--all of them, especially him, sulking around like it was the kid's fault?
"…I'm sorry I couldn't get you back to your father, kid."
Nothing for a moment but the sounds of the filter bubbles.
"Maybe she won't come."
Gill looked at the kid. Nemo didn't look hopeful. But he looked…stubborn. That gutsy core that reminded Gill of himself at that age.
"Maybe she'll come, but she won't like fish anymore. And--and I won't have to go."
Gill knew that if he acted too cheery, the kid would know he was being patronized. He would have hated that at any age, so he couldn't do that to Nemo.
"You know, Sharkbait, anything's possible." Turning to make room so that the kid could join him in the skull cave, he let himself look thoughtful. "Those land dwellers, they're like that when they're young. Got too many things to distract 'em. One year it's fish, the next year it's…I don't know, bicycles."
"What's a bicycle?"
"One of a whole lot of things I'm going to teach you about." Now he did allow himself a smile, one that he knew Nemo wouldn't take wrong. "When she shows up and tells the dentist that she thinks fish are oh so last year, and leaves empty-handed...I'll teach you about everything."
"Really. Gotta make up for the fact that you're not getting to go to school, don't I?"
The kid looked like he'd just handed him the best birthday present. Argh. No. Don't think about birthday presents. Well. He looked happy.
"And I can stay in the Tank and I can grow up and maybe when I'm older I'll think of another way to escape! I will, Gill. You'll see."
"That's the stuff, Sharkbait." Gill nudged the eager guy with a fin. "There's always another way."
In fact, what was he doing sulking in the first place? He should have been working on finding that other way. He didn't have half the spirit he'd once had. Took a gutsy little squirt like Sharkbait to show him how far he'd sunk.
One too many falls on dental tools.
"And maybe..." Nemo stopped.
Gill could tell from the press of the kid's mouth that he was embarrassed. He could barely hear the words: "Maybe it'll be okay even if there aren't any other clownfish."
Ah, kid. "I know you miss your dad."
"N-no, it's not that. Just...I'm the only kid here. Because--because you guys don't have kids. Because there's only one of each of you."
Gill blinked. Kid was observant. Not only picking up on that but understanding that.
"Have--have you guys ever tried telling Deb that she--doesn't have a sister?"
Gill laughed out loud. It was such an odd feeling, doing that--made his skull suddenly seem too small for his brain. He realized he hadn't laughed like that in a long time.
"No, kid, it makes her happy. We don't bother trying anymore. Would be cruel."
"Oh. But--even if she was real, they still couldn't have kids. They're both girls."
"You want someone your own age to play with."
"No! I--I just--if I have to grow up, I'm supposed to have someone to take care of. Like my dad took care of me. I can't--if there aren't--"
It wasn't fair, Gill reflected, that his next chuckle came at the kid's expense. "Don't get ahead of things, Sharkbait." There's a lot your dad didn't tell you yet about clownfish, he thought but didn't say. That would lead to questions, and damned if he was going to be the one to explain to Nemo about clownfish's gender-switching capabilities.
"But maybe if you and I--"
Whoa! Coming on the tail of his earlier thought, that was just too weird a segue. "What?"
"Hold on, slow down, Sharkbait. Start over." Why did he suddenly feel-- well, it was too much like his earlier feeling, just not in a good way. Like a skull that wasn't big enough, suddenly. Except it was the skull they were lurking in, and it was too small for the two of them.
He shifted away a fraction.
"It's just that I--I--I--" There were a few more "I"'s before the kid could get any more out. "--I won't mind so much if you like being with me. Even if we stay here."
Oh, for-- "Course I like you, kid. We're..." We're so much alike. Ocean-dwellers. Stubborn as hell.
And there was that fin thing they both had going on.
He became aware that he wasn't saying any of this, that Nemo was staring at him, waiting for him to finish.
What...what in Big Blue was this? He was getting...choked up about this.
The kid, looking at him like he'd found someone to worship.
Stop that. He's looking for someone to replace his dad, that's all.
Gill knew he was excrement as far as parental instincts went. His failed escape plan should have been enough to show him that. Should have been enough to show the kid that.
How old had he been when he'd first looked at someone like that? Not very old, and it hadn't been another Moorish Idol, either. It had been a Ballina Angelfish, name of Sinker. He'd only met him the once, but he'd been ready to follow the bold bastard to the ends of the great wide, just like that. He'd never forgotten that.
Had Gill been thinking of his dad when he'd looked at Sinker?
Not by half.
Gill shook himself, literally, twitching from nose to tailtip to get out of this current of thought.
"And--and it doesn't matter if I don't have kids. We can take care of each other." Nemo's eyes went wide, and he added in a rush, "All of us can."
Oh, Big Blue on a denuded coral reef.
Definitely too crowded in here.
Gill allowed himself to use the kid's amendment as a chance to pretend there was no other context going on. "Sure thing, kid."
And then Nemo smiled again, and it wasn't too crowded after all.
Too much like himself. Too much like the smile he'd given Sinker. Too much because it was suddenly easy to imagine the kid a little older, a little more shaped by the tedium of the Tank and the need for escape: less nervous, more capable. More cynical, true, by necessity, which seemed...just a little sad to imagine. He didn't like the idea of that enthusiasm dessicated in the kid.
No, not too crowded. Companionably close.
He wasn't going to let this happen, Gill told himself. But he still felt no urge to move, to tell Nemo not to fixate on him like this, that he wasn't anything to be admired. It had been too long. Too long with the skepticism of Peach and Gurgle and Bloat nay-saying all his escape plans.
It was nice to be admired.
The arrival of Nigel, calling for the kid, was, Gill thought later, decently face-saving. He'd have to do something nice for the pelican.
That didn't involve fish.
"Sharkbait, you're still up."
Nemo almost hadn't seen Gill approaching through the mucky water. "I can't sleep." He knew he was so excited he was twitching, but he didn't care. "We're getting out tomorrow!"
"Yep. And it's all because of you."
Yes. That was what he'd wanted to hear, what he'd wanted that voice to be able to say. "'M gonna see my dad. Three sharks! Did you hear that?"
"Your dad's quite a guy."
Nemo stopped long enough to look at him. Oh.
"Oh...y-you don't think that...that I think he's...b-braver than you are...because I don't--I mean, I didn't think that. That wasn't--"
Gill's smiled. "You should be proud of him. Don't be sorry."
"I know, but--"
"Kid, I got it."
Nemo beamed at Gill. Gill understood. He wasn't even trying to get him to calm down and go to sleep, like his dad would have. He didn't try to hide his twitchiness any more, but gave in to it and swam to and fro in another burst of energy.
He heard Gill chuckle. "Sharkbait, you are filthy."
"I know, I know! Isn't it great!" Nemo twirled in circles, trailing green grunge through even more green grunge.
"Well, slow down a minute here. I can't even tell what color you are any more." Gill brushed a fin--his good fin--against his side.
"That tickles! Hey, I thought you said no cleaning."
"Never mind what I said. You're thick with it and it would be just fu-- just fabulous if you went belly-up with the ick after all this." The fin swept over him again. "Big Blue, this stuff's disgusting."
Nemo closed his eyes reflexively as Gill's damaged fin wiped the scum from his face. It didn't feel strange, or wrong. In fact, he couldn't tell just from the touch that it was the bad fin at all, if he hadn't seen.
And for just a moment, he thought about how nice it would all be if he didn't have to open his eyes. If no one had their eyes open, and couldn't look at things--couldn't look at his fin or Gill's fin or his scars, and had to go by what everyone could do, instead of what they looked like.
He opened his eyes. But he liked the way Gill looked, he decided.
He flipped over onto his belly. "Do more."
He thought Gill drew back a little. "You're okay now, Sharkbait."
"No, I'm not. You said so yourself. Could get--whatever it was that you said. The yuck."
"Ick." He said it quietly. That was the other great thing about Gill--he never made fun of him.
Nemo stretched himself out further from nose to tail and then flipped over again. "Do my back, then."
Gill seemed to stare at him for a minute, then, finally, leaned closer and scratched at Nemo's back with his nose. "Spoiled kid," he muttered.
Nemo wriggled. "Ooh, that's nice." He thought Gill stopped for just a moment, but then he continued, so maybe it was just his imagination. "I have to brush twice a day at home. Dad makes me. We live in an anemone, so he says I have t--hey..." He sighed happily, but didn't move, not wanting Gill to stop grooming him. "That's the first time I ever said it right. That's so great."
"Congratulations," said Gill, and Nemo thought it sounded like his throat was hurting him all of a sudden.
Every fold of his back fin, as Gill de-grunged it, seemed to react like it did when he was swimming very fast; it was that same feeling of how very nice it felt to have the water moving over him fast like that. It made him want to twirl again; at the same time it made him want to fall asleep in spite of everything. It was just that good. And when Gill's nose--or maybe it was his fins again, he couldn't tell the difference just now--worked his tailfin free of the scummy gunk, he wanted to shiver. Did shiver.
He flipped onto his back once more, eyes closed with how good it felt. "Finish."
A pause. "Sharkbait..."
He opened one eye, saw Gill so very close. Upside-down, it was hard to read the look on his face. "Finish?" he said quietly, not even sure why he was being quiet. "Please?"
Not even sure why it seemed so important that Gill not stop touching him. Not yet.
And it was just one fin, the damaged one, that Gill reached out, and Nemo closed his eyes again, and no, he couldn't tell the difference. It just felt so good, stroking over his belly like that, and it was as if it wasn't just stroking his belly but as if his fins, his tail were still being groomed at the same time, the way all the feeling seemed to race out into his fins, and for a moment, it was as if the right fin wasn't smaller, wasn't anything different from the other, from the way it felt, tingling and rushing and making him feel as though he was holding his breath to go out of water, but not scary, not scary like that was, not at all. Everything was all right, everything was wonderful, he was never ever going to be scared again. Not ever ever again.
He didn't know how long it was before he opened his eyes, slowly turned himself right-side up, saw Gill a little ways away from him, almost invisible in the night lights of the Tank and the mucky water. "Gill?" he said, and yawned.
"Go to sleep, Sharkbait," said Gill.
And this didn't sound like Gill was talking to him like a kid that time, either, because suddenly he really was tired. Really really tired.
He closed his eyes, and knew just from the way the water moved around him that Gill had moved a little closer, not away from him.
He slept, and as far as he could remember, did not wake until Peach's scream of "The Tank is CLEAN!" split the morning water.
All right, so he had overlooked one part of the escape plan. A minor flaw, that was all.
Yes, it would have been smarter to get Nigel in on the plan from the beginning (thank you very much, Gurgle, for pointing that out again and again), but fortunately he'd come along at that moment and torn open the plastic sacs and they were out, so what did it matter at the end of it all? Big Blue, you'd've thought he'd forgotten to make sure they'd have water in the bags, or something.
And there were Bloat and Peach, trying to make themselves heard above Deb's bewildered cries of, "I've lost Flo! Flo, where are you, Flo?"
Ah, let them do it. Somebody else could break the news to her; he'd done enough for one escape.
He knew most of them would want to stay together, travel together. He wasn't so sure about Jacques, but the rest would.
That was just fine with him. As long as they went where he wanted to go.
Anemone. Coral reef. Ocean view.
Not as hard as it sounded. He'd find it. If it took a while...well, the kid had growing up to do, didn't he?
Besides, didn't they say that once you had saved someone's life, you were responsible for them? Sure. It was fate. It'd happen.
Distance wasn't going to change that.
Nah. He knew it wasn't going to be hard at all, finding Nemo.