She was about midway across the tiny channel, and that’s when she knew that this had been a big, big mistake. There’s no way that she would reach the other shore before succumbing to hypothermia, and the only choice now was to try and make it back to Bell island, but even her chances of doing that were growing slimmer and slimmer by the second.
“Help!” she found herself yelling; it had been a purely automatic reaction. “H-help! Some -” Icy saltwater sluiced down into her open mouth and she sputtered, coughing.
There was a loud splash behind her, and a few seconds later, something warm was around her waist.
It was… Jack.
His brows were furrowed in equal parts discomfort and determination as he too fought with the cold water, but he brought Brooke, shivering and altogether rather helpless, to his still-warm body and headed with powerful, expert strokes to shore. He stepped out of the water and rushed through the tall trees to get them back to the house, and it was all she could to to catch her breath and cling to him, pressing her frozen cheek to his chest.
Jack set her down in the middle of his nest of cushions and blankets, and when he quickly began to strip off her clothes, it didn’t even occur to her to argue. Amos appeared with several towels, which Jack snatched from the robot when she was naked, and bundled her up tightly, rubbing vigorously. She still didn’t have the bodily strength to do anything but lay there, nor did she have the mental wherewithal to think of anything to say. Brooke just listened to her breaths, and focused on the feeling of the terrycloth against her skin.
The giant rumbled to himself, studying his handiwork for a second, before apparently deciding that it wasn’t enough. He gathered up a few of the blankets and wrapped them around her too, until she resembled a large ball of fabric with a little face peeking out of the top.
“That water is 49 degrees,” he said quietly. “Not sure what you were thinking.”
“T-trying to protect m-mys-self,” she stammered weakly, trying not to slur her words.
A long silence passed before she heard him sigh and say something she thought she’d never hear: “I’m sorry.”
Brooke just stared at the ceiling, unable to do much else, and feeling curiously drunk, she just started to laugh. She laughed until she didn’t have the strength to laugh anymore.
“What’s so funny?” he demanded.
“You, this place, this situation… me, almost drowning…”
Jack Ilyin considered this, then a faint smile crept across his face. “Gallows humor,” he said, eyes meeting hers. “You sure you’re not Russian too?”
She chuckled, feeling the blood creep back into her extremities and the fog clear from her head. Brooke tested her fingers and toes a little from inside the warm towels and blankets, but they were still awkward and sluggish. Her face deepened into a frown, though, as she remembered their altercation.
“You were a piece of shit, Ilyin,” she said quietly.
“I’m not that man anymore.”
“…No.” He shook his head and looked away. “I’m not so sure.”
“You’re impatient and you treat people like they’re disposable. There are other ways of getting people to do things for you without threatening or throwing money at them.”
There was more Brooke wanted to say, but she didn’t want to overstep – and besides, now was probably not the best time. She turned her head a little so she could look at him. He looked so real here, too. His wet hair clung to his neck, and the drying rivulets of water gave his powerful form a vibrant, vital sheen as they caught the light from the recessed fixtures. Jack Ilyin sat, slightly bent as he wrapped one elbow around a bent knee, with immaculate posture. He was naked too, she noticed for the first time. The sheet was long gone, probably lost to the waters of the sound when he dove in, and though the swell of his thigh hid most of what hung from between his legs, she still quickly averted her eyes before he caught her staring.
Brooke realized that the blood had returned to her extremities after all.
She decided to use her second wind to get back upstairs and into bed before she fell asleep down here. Shedding the outer layer of blankets and keeping her collection of soft towels, she stood up, swaying a little.
“You’ve warmed up enough?”
“I’m not too keen on nodding off in a strange man’s giant bed, is all,” she said with a nervous chuckle.
“Do you need help getting upstairs?”
Brooke sucked in a breath. “You can help me by putting on some pants.”
“Shit.” She turned and watched as he snatched up one of her blankets and hastily draped it across his lap, holding it in place with his hand. “Sorry, nobody needs that.”
She just laughed again and went to hobble up the two flights of stairs to her room. Brooke was on the landing at the top of the first set when his deep voice carried up to her. “Let me know if you need anything, Miss Foster.”
“I will, thank you.”
Brooke slipped into bed a few minutes later with an extra blanket, and fell promptly to sleep, dreaming this time of big hands, broad chests, and strong thighs…