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often found over sandy flats

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"Ray," Brad says, "come with me into the bathroom for a minute?"

Ray looks at him, then back to the television screen where Darth Vader has just Force-choked a guy, then back to Brad. "Uh. Sure."

"Don't worry, it's not weird," Brad says, standing up.

That guarantees it will be weird, but Ray follows him into the bathroom and frowns as Brad starts filling the bathtub with water. "Is this some sort of bizarro friend hazing ritual? Are you going to shove my face in the tub and I have to get away? Are you going to just drown me? Are you a secret serial killer? Oh my God, you're a secret serial killer."

"Ray, come on, I'm not a serial killer." Brad gives him that sunny sort of smile, the one Ray knows precedes something big. Brad's about to make A Statement. "But I am a shark."

In the two seconds in which Ray closes his eyes and prays for some deity, any deity, to give him strength, Brad disappears. Ray looks down. Brad's clothes are on the floor and in the bathtub there is indeed a shark. "No fucking way, man," he groans.

The shark - it's not a large shark, but it does take up most of the bathtub - turns a lazy circle in the water. Judging from the spots, Ray thinks it's a leopard shark. "Seriously, Brad?"

The shark turns another slow circle. Cautiously - because he doesn't remember what leopard sharks even eat - Ray dips a hand in the water. The shark bumps it, then moves so that the length of its side skims along Ray's fingers. The skin is rougher than it looks.

There's a weird ripple, then Ray's sputtering against the water that's splashed his face. Brad is standing in the tub, naked and dripping. He grins down at Ray. "Told you."

"What the fuck, dude?"

Brad takes the towel that's hanging on the bar and starts patting himself off, apparently unconcerned that he's naked and only about six inches from Ray. Whatever, it's not like Ray hasn't seen it before. Just not this close. And not because Brad was just a shark. "Seriously, what the fuck?"

"Been like this since I was little," Brad says with a shrug. "I couldn't control it at first; I'd be in the swimming pool and turn without even knowing it was happening, then turn back after a few minutes. Scared the shit out of my parents. Then when I was maybe twelve, thirteen, I started practicing. Now it doesn't happen spontaneously anymore."

"That's good, since we were in the desert." Ray doesn't mean for his voice to rise to much on the end of that sentence, but from the look on Brad's face, he's probably gone a little wild around the eyes. "Uh. You just - really freaked me out. Next time you spring it on someone, maybe lead with the backstory? But thanks for telling me, I guess."

Brad pulls his shorts and t-shirt back on, and hangs the towel back over the bar, straightening it out neatly. "So you want to come to the beach with me?" he asks over his shoulder.

"Now?"

"No. This weekend."

Ray follows him out of the bathroom. "Sure, I guess."

"I like going at night," Brad says, like that's supposed to mean something.

"Okay."

*

Being in the ocean at night is nothing new for Ray, but usually there are at least a half-dozen other guys out here with him. Not just Brad folding his clothes at the end of this pier. "Usually I come by myself," Brad is saying.

"Yeah," Ray replies, because he understood that part already.

"But you're only here another two weeks," Brad continues, which - Ray isn't sure he really understands this part. Then Brad jumps off the pier and into the water. He doesn't resurface, and after a few seconds Ray sees a trail of ripples as the leopard shark swims back towards the pier.

Ray shrugs and jumps in. The shark - Brad, it's Brad - bumps his snout against Ray's arm, then swims away slowly, pausing to look back a few times. Ray figures Brad wants him to follow, so he does. Brad keeps the same slow pace and it's nice; Ray hasn't really been swimming for fun in a long time. He turns to float on his back for a while, looking up at the night sky. Brad brushes along his arm, then glides in slow circles around Ray, his pectoral fins brushing against Ray's arms and legs every so often. Then he bumps up against Ray's hand. "What's that?" Ray asks, and carefully strokes, as lightly as he can, over Brad's head and dorsal fin.

After a few passes, Brad swims away from him again. Ray continues to float, watching the stars and thinking idly about what he's going to do when he's back home. Go to school, maybe. After all that time he spent getting shot at, the Marines can sure as shit pay for a bunch of school. It feels weird, to think about going back to Nevada. It's been a long time since he was there for more than a brief visit. He's happy about getting to see his family again, maybe reconnect with some high school friends if they're still around, but there's also a part of him that's sad to leave the brothers he made in the Corps.

"You know I'm gonna miss your fucked-up face, right?" he asks out loud. He's not even sure if Brad can hear him right now, or if he's close enough to.

Then Brad's snout bumps his shoulder, pushing for just a moment. "Yeah," Ray sighs.

Brad splashes his tail at the surface, getting water in Ray's face, before Ray sees him start to swim back to shore.

"Thanks," Brad says when they're both sitting on the dark pier, clutching at towels.

Ray smiles, but it feels sad. "Anytime."

*

Brad comes to see him off, although there's not much to see, just Ray's two bags and a ride to the airport. "I hope you never have to go back," Ray tells him, because that's all he can think of to say, but Brad just smiles.

"That's my job, isn't it?"

"You're still an asshole," Ray feels confident in saying.

Brad laughs at that and steps in to hug him. "Keep in touch, okay? And hey, I got you something." He grabs the weirdly shaped bag he'd brought into Ray's now-empty room and holds it out.

It's a stuffed leopard shark, just small enough that Ray will be able to tuck it into his carry-on. "So you don't get scared on the plane," Brad adds, smirking.

Ray punches him hard in the arm. "Asshole," he repeats.

Something softens a little in Brad's face. "I'll miss you watching my back, Ray."

"You better." Ray swallows, then clears his throat. "Don't be a shark too often, okay? Even the Iceman needs some human interaction."

Brad flips him off easily, then picks up one of Ray's bags to take out to the waiting car.