It was a lot like the world they came from, this Isla Paradiso in an alternate universe. Back in their own world, they hadn't been on the island long enough to really get to know the inhabitants, but Jillyan recognized some of the family names in the local directory. Most important, though, was the absence of their own names in any of the addresses here, laying to rest Julian's fears of encountering their own doppelgangers in this universe that was so like their own.
It was not home, but getting back to their real home might not be possible, not with so many universes linked through the undersea portals the merman Meri had shown them, allowing them to escape the mysterious island between worlds that they had become trapped on. It was not the home they'd come from, but at least it was familiar, a place they could fit in, so Julian and Jillyan rented a small beach bungalow to get them started in their new life.
They easy wealth they had both been born to was gone, of course, and learning to live without being able to simply buy whatever they wanted was an adjustment. Back in their homeworld, Jillyan had spent countless hours under the water, exploring, simply for her own amusement. Now, it is not just sport, but her lifeblood, catching fish and finding shells to sell in the local markets.
The transition was a little more difficult for Julian. This world did not require much in the way of personal documentation to allow the young couple to rent a house, and Jillyan found ready buyers for her fish and shells in an economy that depended on the bounty of the sea to feed their thriving tourism and provide souvenirs for those tourists to purchase. But all of Julian's education back in their home world meant nothing here, and he could not walk into the local scientific research facility and expect to be taken seriously. At best, he would be offered an internship, and that was not enough.
With the money Jillyan was bringing in, they were able to purchase a small island that was of no use to anyone, and Julian was able to set up his own laboratory to engage in his independent research.
Not wanting to let Jilly be the sole breadwinner in their family and the supporter of his rather expensive hobby, Julian contributed to their income by fabricating 'mood enhancing' potions that Jilly could sell along with her fish and shells.
But the work in chemistry was a just a sideline to his real research. Julian spent hours collecting samples from around the island, the meteorites, the fish, the plant life, and analyzing them , comparing their molecular structures to those he had known in his own world, looking for the differences that might help him discover a path back to their own world.
Meri had told them that the seaborn always knew how to find their homeworlds when traversing the portals and visiting other worlds, but he could not explain how they knew. Julian's theory was that their bodies were tuned to their homeworlds on the molecular level, that there were subtle differences in the atomic structures of each world, and if he could just create some kind of tuning device that would filter these differences out, he could take them home again.
It was not for himself that Julian wanted to find their home so badly. He'd done some research into the history of this world, looking for traces of the life and the people they'd known. Here, the Landgraabs were still a wealthy and important family, leaders in industry, scientific research and invention, and even in politics, just as his own family had been. But in all his searching, Julian found no mention of MorcuCorp, no conspiracy theories linking the Landgraab name to any secretive shadow governments, and no traces of the invisible empire the Landgraabs had built. For that, Julian believes this might be the better world. But this world lacked the one thing Jillyan missed, her own family. Her parents, who she'd wanted to be at their wedding, her cousin Fergus, who she loved despite what he had become, and whole extended Brannon family. For her, Julian would go back, even if it meant being tied in servitude to MorcuCorp under Fergus' reign.
"How was your day, baby?" Jilly greets him as she comes up behind him.
As usual, the time had slipped by, and it was near sunset already. "The usual," he answers, getting up from his desk to wrap his arms around her. Whatever world he finds himself in, he's automatically the luckiest man in it, as long as he's with her. "Dis you catch anything good?"
She nods, caressing his chest. "I got some octopus, they always sell really well. And abalone shells, the shops love those. I guess the tourist can't get enough of them. Malaya was asking about the potions."
"Malaya?" Julian asks, unable to put a face on the name.
"The bartender at the cantina on the boardwalk," Jilly reminds him, "She needs more potions for his drinks."
"Right," Julian remembers. His mood enhancing potions have become a popular drink ingredient at the local watering holes, "I made another batch today. Do you want to deliver it now?"
Jilly shakes her head slightly. "I want to clean up. And then we can go to the boradwalk together. It's a beautiful night tonight."
"The sun hasn't set yet," Julian observes.
"Well, it's going to soon. And I want us to be on the boardwalk together to watch it," Jilly answers, "That will make it beautiful."
The setting sun had already painted the sky a deep purple by the time they got the potions delivered to the cantina, and as Jill had promised, the evening was beautiful. With their tight budget, the couple did not get to indulge in eating out very often, but tonight they make an exception and have dinner on the boardwalk.
After they eat, Jill challenges him to an arcade hoops contest, which she easily wins.
"You weren't even trying," she accuses with a pout.
"I was," Julian laughs, "I'm just not as good as you are at this."
"Julian, seriously, what is up with you?" Jillyan asks as they stand together by the shore.
"Nothing," Julian answers, taken aback by her sudden concern.
"It's not nothing, Julian. You're, like...it's like you aren't really here, you know? I talk to you, and you barely seem to hear. You're mind is somewhere else, and you won't even talk to me. I'm worried about you...worried that, you know, you might not be yourself."
"I'm still me," he assures her, knowing what she fears, though he's long past worrying about losing his identity, reverting back to his original personality. Julian knew who he was now, and there was no chance of him ever losing that.
"Then, tell me what's up with you," Jilly insists, "If you're still Julian, why are you so...distant? And cold."
"I'm sorry, Jill. I don't mean to be distant. I just have a lot on my mind."
"Like what?" she demands, her exasperation evident.
"I didn't want to tell you, until I'd actually found something. I didn't want to get your hopes, in case I failed. But, I'm trying to find a way home, Jill. I'm trying to take you back to your family. But, you're right, I've let it consume me," he says, reflecting on their time. His dedication to his purpose he left him somewhat empty, "And because I didn't tell you what I was working on, I left you to worry. I'm sorry, Jill."
Jilly lets out a sigh of relief. "You want to go back?"
"I know you miss your family," Julian explains.
"Julian, I miss YOU. Yes, I miss my family, but what we have here is pretty good. I'm happy here. Or I would be if you were back to yourself, you know? I don't want to be on a holding pattern, waiting to find a home we might never get to. I want to put down roots and make a home, with you. And to have a family. Our own family."
"Really?" Julian asks. He'd been working so hard to find a way home, for her sake, "You don't want to go back?"
Jilly shakes her head, "No. And you would have known that if you'd talked to me about what you were doing. Stop looking backwards, Julian. I need you to look ahead, to the future. With me. Here."