“I can’t just leave you –“
“This is our choice. Now please, don’t let our efforts be in vain. Go, my beautiful boy.”
Lance awoke, ripping himself away from his nightmare. Looking around the desolate water surrounding him, he took a moment to remember that his nightmare was his new reality. Ten years have passed since that day, but the memory was still fresh in his mind. When he finally felt ready to move on, his subconscious abruptly reminded him of his past.
It took him a moment to remember what he was doing. He had to get away, somewhere far away.
Away from the memories and the pain.
Away from those hunting him.
Away to a new land where no one would find him.
All he could do was swim. He didn’t know how to fight those after him. He was truly alone now, and severely outnumbered. He spend most of his time moving from place to place; as to never give anyone or anything the chance to catch him. He may not have the numbers or the strength, but he definitely had the agility and brain to keep himself safe.
There was only one thing that truly made Lance feel better about his situation: the ability to walk among and observe the land people. The first time he learned he could walk on land was an accident. He didn't know what was happening as his tail began to vanish and two strange appendages took its place when he pulled himself out of the water and onto the ground inside a cove. When he fell into the water, he quickly began to sink, unable to swim until his tail reappeared. The experience scared him to the point that he didn’t go near land for almost a month.
Curiosity got the better of him and he gave into learning more about what had happened. Lance didn't understand the concept of legs. He couldn’t stand for the longest time, even though he figured that his tail strength should transfer to his legs. It didn’t work that way and Lance learned this the hard way. It took him a while, but once he learned how to walk, he headed out to see what was on this "land".
His mother had told him stories, some good and others bad, about what land people were like. Stories of heroes who risked their lives to save villages and towns. Stories of villains who killed and tortured. Throughout the years of his childhood, his father warned him not to get too close to land people because they didn't understand what Lance and his family were. No merperson risked being found out by the land people so there was no definite answer as to how they would react.
But now, the fact that he could wander on land, away from those who were after him, made him happy. The only downside to this was that no one could see him. He didn’t mind it much since he had gotten used to the idea of being alone. It was enough for him just to walk around and be amongst other creatures – merpeople or other.
This particular day, the ports were bustling. It was so much livelier than the last time Lance was here and he figured someone important came to town. He watched as workers unloaded goods off the ships and managed to do so with efficiency. The children were running around, playing games, and laughing - even the ones without a home. The street vendors, men and women alike, were calling customers over. They would fight each other with playful banter, no one meaning any harsh words.
Sure, Lance never witnessed anything his mom had told him. There were no riots in the streets, no fights between the pirates and authority on land, no damsel who needed rescuing. Over the years, he had come to learn they were just bedtime stories. But land people never ceased to amaze Lance. Despite the stories, good and bad, they had one thing in common – comradery. He watched as this was something that was true from the stories. They all worked together and helped each other. Lance never ventured too far away from the ocean so he wasn’t sure if it was like this everywhere, but he never witnessed fights or riots or even protests.
They were all so happy and cheerful, even if they had no money or home. They were enjoying their lives. For a while, he envied their ability to smile. It was a long time before he was able to smile like them again.
He walked around as usual, looking at the home goods out on display. He saw apples more red than Humboldt squids and emeralds more green then seaweed.
This had become his new life. Moving around from place to place, watching how land people interact in different areas. Lance wasn't planning on doing anything in particular on land except stay away from those trying to find him. He wasn't going to let them win. The fact that no one could see him put him at ease while walking around on land. He could go around undetected and slip back into the water when he needed to go back.
Something felt off the further Lance walked into town. Everyone was acting the same as usual, but there was something in the air. Tension? Lance couldn't place where it was coming from, but he intended to find out. He continued to walk the streets of the small town when he heard shouting.
There it is, he thought to himself. This is what's different.
He heard some people shouting, "Catch him!" while others shouted, "Move out of the way!" Lance froze in his place. It was actually happening. He was witnessing the stories his mom told him. The first time in ten years...
Lance felt his chest tighten at the thought of his family. He wanted to swim back to them and tell them what he was seeing, but he couldn't.
A tall guy, a couple inches shorter than him, ran by. Lance almost missed it. All he could really make out was black hair. Seconds later, the authorities passed in front of Lance, yelling at him to stop.
That's when Lance felt a dull ache in his chest.
No, not yet. He still had more to do. He couldn't lose the guy now.
Lance ran after them, the wind whipping passed him. He felt exhilarated. This was something he had never felt before and wasn't planning on giving up on adventure so easily. The only running he had ever done was to get back to the sea. He never chased someone. He never thought he would be able to be a part of one of those bedtime stories. He followed them into the forest, slowing down quite a bit due to his lack of stamina.
He caught up to the authorities who were standing and looking around. The authorities long since lost the black haired boy, as did Lance. He hunched forward, resting his hand on his knees. His legs felt like jelly, and he was thankful that his legs didn’t affect the condition of his tail. The dull ache in his chest grew a little bit, but it was still bearable.
Lance decided to head back to the small beach near the coves. He had heard of the people chasing after the boy and their accomplishments. They were very good at what they did. But that boy didn’t look back even once. If they couldn’t catch him, Lance knew he had no chance to find him on his own. He walked through the forest wondering if he'll ever see him again. He wanted to know what happened to him. He wanted to know his story - where he was from, what he was doing, where he was running to.
Lance let out a sigh, which stopped midway. His feet touched the sand and he looked up. The boy.
He walked up behind him quietly, even after knowing that he wouldn't be seen.
He was playing with a piece of seaweed that had washed up on shore. Lance took a seat next to him, unsure of what he was doing. There wasn’t any speech from either side. Lance rested his cheek against his knees as he stared at the boy. He had eyes that reminded Lance of the purple, blue, and green lights he saw in the sky up north. They weren’t sad. Lance could tell that much. It was something else…loneliness? The rest of his expression was one of frustration – his lips forming a tight line, his jaw tense, and his eyebrow furrowed together. His hair was on the longer side, with half of it up. His clothes looked like those of a pirates, but Lance had never seen him before.
The boy in question let out a frustrated groan. "Shiro's gonna kill me..." He tossed the seaweed to the side and rested his arms on his knees. "Why does this always happen to me? I didn't pick a fight, yet the police are after me." He fell backwards onto the sand. He sounded annoyed rather than upset. "Sure I punched them, but it was either punch or be punched.” After a few more moments of silence, he spoke again, this time much quieter. “I never asked for this."
They stayed like that for a little bit. It felt like a long time, but when Lance felt the ache in his chest worsen, he knew it had been roughly ten minutes since he sat down. It became hard for him to breathe. He had to go. As he ran over to the other side of the beach to dive into the water from the top of one of the many coves, he heard the boy. He wasn't sure if the wind brought his words to Lance, or if the boy had spoken loud enough for him to hear, but the words were as clear as day.
"I wish I could be as free as the ocean."
Lance jumped in, the coldness shocking him for a moment. The pain in his chest vanished in seconds, his two legs now fused into a tail again.
Lance looked up at the sun through the water with sad eyes.
"The ocean isn't as free as you think."
I ended up writing like half this chapter while falling asleep and it made for some interesting sentences for Kay to read...
It had been a couple days since Lance met that black haired boy. He couldn’t get him out of his head. The expression on his face before Lance jumped was engraved in his mind. He looked so alone, so broken. Lance wanted nothing more than to comfort him. He didn’t want anyone – land or sea folk – to go through what he did. Being alone in the world, no one to turn to for comfort.
Maybe this Shiro person was his comfort?
Lance wasn’t sure, but all he knew was that he hadn’t seen him again since. He never even got a name.
Lance had been spending more time on land, mainly looking for the raven-haired boy. Luck was not on his side as every trip sent him back to the sea empty handed. When he wasn’t on land, he was in the water, helping any sea creatures who needed help and playing with the others. There wasn’t much Lance could do without attracting unwanted attention from both those hunting him and fishermen.
He was swimming around aimlessly when the water around him began to act weird. He stopped, looked around and then up at the surface. He knew this feeling – a storm was coming. He headed to the surface. The cool winds hit him with force, almost sending Lance back under. He gained his composure and looked around for any ships nearby. It was typical for him to help ships get out of storms if he could. The waters began to move around uncontrollably. The storm was progressing quickly and Lance hadn’t noticed it until it was already too late. He saw the eye of the storm, very far from his current position, but wasn’t sure if any ships were there.
Lance submerged and closed his eyes as he focused on the water. He concentrated as he tried to locate any ships nearby. He wasn’t quite sure how he did it but over time, he grew to accept the idea that it was similar to how whales communicate. He first learned about it when he was about five years old during a game of hide and seek with this siblings. At first, he thought all of them could do that, but soon realized that it was only him. That was when he first learned about his ‘gift’.
Lance’s eyes shot open. He found something. He propelled himself with as much force as he could, managing to get to the ship located a couple hundred miles away within seconds. Even at his top speed, he had reached too late. The crew members had jumped into the water, fleeing the damaged ship. He began to panic for couple reasons. One, many of the crew members could easily spot him. He couldn’t risk exposure. Two, there were still people aboard the ship but he wasn’t sure where. He cautiously swam through the debris, getting closer to the hole in the side of the ship. A flash of lightning struck down, causing the ship to go up in flames.
Lance veiled himself, using his powers to condense the water around him into steam. He used the light rays from the fire on the ship to reflect off the steam, creating a sense of invisibility. He weaved between the crew members to figure out if they knew anything. Most of them were just shouting, no one discussing those that had not made it. The lack of others asking about trapped crew members made Lance think that everyone had gotten off, but wanted to check to make sure. He hoped that his gut was right and everyone had gotten off. He removed his invisibility cloak, knowing that anyone who saw him now would just think they imagined him.
He swam through the floors below, searching rooms, nooks, and even the storage. He felt himself calm down when there was no one there. He began to head back out when something caught his eye. A ball of black hair was floating in a small corner. Lance would have easily missed it if he was still panicking.
It was the boy from before! Lance swam over and held his face. He was unconscious, but there was still time. Lance pulled him out of the ship, which had sunk much lower than Lance had realized. Many of the crew members had made it onto driftwood, trying to stay afloat in the chaotic waters. Lance knew that this storm wasn’t going to let up soon, but he needed to save this boy. His hands and feet hand been bound and Lance had a feeling that he was knocked out before being tied.
Lance pulled him up to the surface. The boy’s head rolled when Lance shook him. He had always done that in the past and it worked – taking the survivors to the surface or shore and they would wake up. This time wouldn’t be any different, right?
Lance’s fear intensified when he sensed sharks approaching. The blood from the boy’s head must’ve attracted them to Lance. He didn’t have time for this. Lance began to shake his shoulders more violently in attempt to wake him. It wasn’t working. At this point, the sharks began to circle them. Lance knew they never came out during a storm unless desperate for food. He didn’t know how to handle this situation. A shark moved towards him, jaw wide open, and Lance had to make the decision to let the boy die and save himself or risk both their lives.
In a split second, Lance let go of his hold on the boy and swam backwards as the others went for their pray. He turn quickly, raising his tail. The force from the contact it made with the attacking shark numbed his tail, but he didn’t have the luxury to recover from the pain. He swam down, grabbing one of the boys’ arms before a shark could bite him, and swam away as fast as he could in his current state.
He needed to get to land. Fast.
Being born in the water, Lance didn’t know much about how long a human could survive without air, but he knew it wasn’t too long. He pulled the boy up to the surface of the water. His head lolled from side to side with no sign of waking. He looked around, swimming in a half dazed state. Once he figured out what direction the closest shore was, he headed there, full speed.
Not once has he ever swam with a human, so Lance hoped no extra harm would come to him.
By the time Lance had dragged him onto the shore, the sun had begun to rise. It wasn’t the same beach where they first saw each other, but it was along the same piece of land. Lance remembered passing by this shore multiple times when he was investigating his new home.
He looked down at the boy and moved some of his hair out of his face. His lips had started to turn blue and there was no color in his face. This had never happened before. The humans he rescued always woke up within minutes of being on shore, but they never looked like this. Lance began to panic.
“What do I do, what do I do?” He chanted this to himself over and over as he grabbed a fistful of his hair and shut his eyes tightly. He tried to remember if his parents ever told him how to save a human.
Lance let go of his hair and his eyes shot open. He carefully located the heart – he found it weird that humans only had one – and placed his palm over it. Adjusting his position, Lance placed his other hand on top and pushed down a little. His mother told him that he shouldn’t push too hard or he may risk cracking or breaking a bone. Humans were fragile creatures and Lance had much to learn about them.
He pushed down again, a little harder, hoping his actions weren’t incorrect. After about five more pushes, water spouted out of the boy’s mouth as he rolled onto his side and began to cough. Lance let out a sigh of relief and quickly got back into the water. His constant contact from the water on the boy prevented him from turning invisible and as much as he wanted to make sure the boy was safe, he couldn’t risk getting caught.
Lance got into the water and hid behind some rocks that were close enough for him to see the boy clearly, but far enough that he could make a clean get away if needed. He watched the boy slowly sit up. He touched his head and quickly moved his hand away. He found the wound, Lance figured.
The boy stood up, wobbling slightly as he took his first step. Lance winced as he fell over after a couple steps, but knew he couldn’t get out of the water and risk getting caught. Once the boy stood again, Lance left. He couldn’t help the growing feeling in his gut to help the poor boy, but he couldn’t fight his father’s echoing words in his mind. Humans were dangerous. Nothing good came from them.
Lance sank further away, making a promise to himself that he wouldn’t return to land until three moons had passed.
Keith managed to make it to Shiro’s place in one piece, but just barely. He stumbled through the captain’s doors and collapsed on the ground. When he came to, there was a damp rag on his forehead and his head hurt. He sat up, the damp cloth falling into his lap.
“Hey, don’t sit up too fast.” Keith turned to the voice and rubbed his eyes when the image of Shiro getting closer to his was blurry.
The cloth was removed from his lap and his pillow was readjusted behind him. “Where am I?”
“It’s been four years Keith…You were in a coma. I thought you would never wake up again…”
Keith’s hand fell from his face and he stared at Shiro with wide eyes. “It’s been HOW long!?”
Keith saw the glint of humor in Shiro’s eyes and groaned when the older boy started laughing. “It’s only been a day and a half. But seriously –“ he started once the laughter had ceased “– how are you feeling? You walked in and immediately passed out.”
“I have a slight headache, but I feel fine…”
“Your ankle is sprained. You have a concussion. Also, a bruised rib. What happened to you?” The humor was completely gone, and Shiro had that same concerned father look Keith remembered from when they were younger.
Keith looked at the wall in front of him, rather than at Shiro. “I…” What did happen? “I’m not quite sure. I snuck onto a ship that was headed west to the islands. They caught me and knocked me out. Next thing I knew, I was washed up on the shore.”
“Keith…” Shiro’s voice caused Keith to look at him. His expression was grave. “Everyone on that ship died. They got caught in a storm and there were no survivors.”
“That’s not – that can’t be true.”
“They were too far out from any land to have made it to shore. Are you sure that was the ship you were on?”
“I would bet my life on it. I swear that’s the ship I was on.” Shiro’s expression didn’t waver. “Shiro, I swear! I’m not lying!”
“I never said you were. I’m just having a hard time figuring out how this is possible. I’m glad you’re safe…but you shouldn’t be alive right now.”
“I need some air,” Keith said as he moved some of his hair out of his face. He felt hot all of a sudden. The air seemed thinner.
“I’ll get you a cane. Give me a minute.” Shiro got up and went to look for the wooden stick for Keith. He knew when Keith needed some space, and this was it. He knew better than to keep questioning him in his current state. Maybe he got the ship name wrong when he heard the news? Shiro would have to go back in town and find out.
When he got back to Keith, he helped him out of bed and gave him the cane. “Don’t wander too far off.”
Keith nodded once and headed out, not able to raise his eyes off the ground. He slowly walked out, feeling Shiro’s eyes on his back.
Once the door behind him shut, he looked up and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and walked to the small path on the side of Shiro’s house. Keith was grateful for this hidden villa. Shiro had built it for Keith a long time ago, to help him feel like he belonged somewhere when he had lost himself. It felt like a lifetime ago when Keith chased danger to feel any sort of emotion. He was so close to death, it never scared him. He embraced it. Yet Shiro saved him every time.
The villa Shiro built was on the outskirts of town, hidden in the dense forest near the cliffs. Keith enjoyed the location because they were able to build a staircase that lead down to a small, private beach. Given Keith was in no condition to walk up and down those stairs right now, it didn’t stop him from sitting on the edge of the cliff, staring out at the vast sea.
He was supposed to be dead. So why wasn’t he? If he was too far out from shore, how did he end up delirious, on a shore on the opposite side of town? Was this some cruel joke? Was this a dream? Was this his afterlife? His head began to hurt even more from all his questions. Keith let them go for the time being and just watched the waves crash beneath him. He was alive. That’s all that mattered.
Lance swam in a small circle. He knew there was a pod nearby, and as much as he was craving interaction with other merfolk, he didn’t want to risk them dying because of him. He was still on the run, but nothing had raised any red flags for him yet. Not that he usually waited for red flags before he moved.
He was always told about how humans were dangerous and he shouldn’t involve himself with their world by his father, but he couldn’t help what he was taught by his mother. She taught him to be kind and gentle and that he should always help out those in need. The first few times he helped drowning humans from shipwrecks, he felt like he was betraying his father, but letting them drown would betray his mother. He couldn’t find a happy medium, so after doing some soul searching, he went with his gut – to help those that he could without compromising his location.
He sighed, bubbles escaping from his mouth. This was stupid. What he did was stupid. No one had made it out of that storm alive, except the boy he saved. That would lead to suspicion. Suspicion would lead to questions. Questions would lead to theories. Theories would lead to evidence. Evidence would lead to exploration. Exploration would lead to humans finding him and –
Lance was pulled out of his thoughts when he swam head first into a rock. He pulled away while rubbing his head. Why did he save that boy? Was it because he was curious about him? Was it because he had a Shiro waiting for him?
Lance wished he had a Shiro… He had been alone for such a long time, he forgot what it felt like to have a family. Or even a friend. Maybe, somewhere deep down, he saved the boy because he wanted a friend. But saving only one person was still suspicious. He was drawing unnecessary attention to himself and needed to make sure not to mess up like this again.
He couldn’t change his actions now. The boy was alive. Wasn’t that all that mattered?
Unknowingly, Lance’s thoughts echoed those of the very same boy who occupied them.
Once Keith was able to move around without the aid of a cane, and with Shiro’s approval, he began to spend more and more time at the beach – not only where he woke up, but the area near the coves too. He wasn’t sure why he kept going back, but he would end up spending most of his days there, either walking along the shore, or just sitting and watching the water come and go.
It had been about two weeks since the incident. After some investigating from both Shiro’s end and himself, Keith learned that he really was the only survivor. He couldn’t understand how this happened, yet he couldn’t question the event since he didn’t even remember anything. Keith absentmindedly threw small rocks in the sand near him into the water.
Lance, on the other hand, had been too scared to go anywhere near land. He even considered moving to a new area sooner than he usually did. It would keep the boy safe – it would keep him safe. He didn’t think cutting himself off from the land would be as difficult as it was proving to be. He had a yearning to go back on land and explore the places he still hadn’t seen. If he never saw the raven-haired boy again, he would be okay with that. Wanting to leave the water was a feeling Lance never thought he would feel.
Something struck Lance’s tail, pulling him out of his thoughts. He looked around and didn’t realize how close he got to shore. His tail twitched from the object, momentarily breeching the water’s surface. Through the water, Lance glanced over in the direction where the object came from and saw Keith standing up. Panicking, Lance turned around, his tail slashing the water around him.
Keith moved closer to the unruly patch of water. He swore he saw something come up from it right now. It almost looked like a fin. A light blue, almost white, tail with translucent webbing. It was too large to belong to a fish, but too small to be that of a shark or dolphin. Keith immediately scratched that idea from his mind since sharks and dolphins never came this close to these shores. The amount of rock and coves made it dangerous for the animals. He almost walked into the water if it weren’t for someone calling his name from the forest behind him.
“Co-coming!” Keith replied, not fully able to take his eyes off the water. When he remembered how to move again, he slowly retreated from his spot on the beach and headed inland.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time out here.”
The comment snapped Keith out of his thoughts. “Huh?” He looked at the owner of the voice.
“I said,” they said while pushing their glasses up their nose, “you’ve been spending a lot of time out here. What gives?”
Keith shook his head. “I’m not entirely sure. What brings you out here, Pidge?”
They shrugged. “I wasn’t doing anything and Shiro wanted someone to get you. He’s been pretty worried about you since the accident.”
Keith’s eye lit up. “I may just have a theory about what happened to me. C’mon, I have to tell Shiro!” Keith took off without waiting for Pidge. He fully knew that running wasn’t the best thing to do for his ankle, but he didn’t want to waste any time.
As a child, he had heard stories. He knew it was a long shot, and that he may even sound crazy, but he needed answers.
By the time he found Shiro, Pidge had been left far behind. He slammed open the pub door, ignoring all the eyes that flew to him. He marched straight to Shiro, doing his best to keep his face neutral.
“I think I know what happened to me,” Keith said, his lips twitching up ever so slightly.
“Oh? Enlighten me please.” Shiro placed his drink down and crossed his arms. The men around him dispersed, giving the two privacy.
Shiro didn’t know if Keith was serious or not and did his best not to burst out in laughter. “A fictional creature saved you? I thought you always claimed they were evil.”
Keith ignored the second comment. “It’s not fictional. I saw the tail of one today with my own eyes. I was skipping rocks and, I think, one of them hit its tail. Or, it looked like a tail. I – I’m not too sure anymore…”
“Maybe your brain is still messed up and you’re seeing things. I’ve traveled those waters countless times, and never once, have I encountered a mermaid.”
Keith may not have been one hundred percent sure of what he saw now, but his gut told him that he wasn’t wrong. “I’m not lying Shiro! How else would I have gotten to shore if I was hundreds of miles out?!”
“Why would it save only you?”
“I – “ Keith faltered. He had a point. Even if a mermaid did save him, why…?
“I don’t know,” he replied quietly, turning his gaze down to Shiro’s feet.
“Go get some rest Keith. You might have been spending too much time in the sun.”
Keith turned and walked away without a single word. He felt disheartened. The one person who always had his back was acting like he was crazy. So maybe his story was a little out there, but there wasn’t any other explanation for what he saw.
So what if Shiro didn’t believe him? Keith knew what he saw and he would get to the bottom of it, with or without Shiro’s help. Instead of going to the beach or back home, Keith headed to the local bookstore to see what he could find about mermaids. It was harder than he thought, to locate the books without asking for help, but he was already made to be a fool by the person he loved the most. He didn’t want a stranger to make him feel the same way.
After finding about seven books, Keith took them back to the villa, knowing Shiro wouldn’t be back for another few hours. He set up a spot for himself on the couch and grabbed the first book, Mermaid: Fact or Fiction? After flipping through endless claims about mermaids being able to see the future and live forever, Keith sighed. It was a wild’s goose chase anyway to hope that these books might hold some information regarding his mysterious mermaid friend. Could he even call it that? His questions came back to the forefront of his mind.
Why did a mermaid choose to save only me?
Shiro’s words echoed in his head, ‘A fictional creature saved you? I thought you always claimed they were evil?’
It was true. Any man who has sailed on the seas has heard of the devilish sirens and their songs that would drag even the strongest man to an early grave. But could it be so black and white? Just like mankind had its gray area and different kinds of people, mermaids—if they existed—had to have its own share of diversity amongst them?
With renewed vigor, Keith returned to his books to see if there as anything at all that could aid in his cause. He pushed down any uncertainties he previously housed about mermaids and tried to take in any helpful information with a renewed mindset. He came across a peculiar statement regarding the sexes of the merfolk stating that mermen were even more shy and secretive then their female counterparts. Was it a male then that had saved him? Of course he would have given the statement more thought, if it weren’t for the fact that he hadn’t seen any females either—so it could go either way.
After what seemed like an eternity of trudging through countless tales of mermaids and conflicted opinions, Keith felt himself starting to doze off. He was determined to make his way through at least one more book. Maybe this one would contain the information he needed before he went off to bed.
However, he never made it to page five.
The lights were beautiful. Lance felt like he was in the middle of a coral reef on land. He had never seen this before – what did they call it? A ‘feast tee vail’. He heard about all the activities going on all day and couldn’t wait until nightfall. Lance had never seen a firework, but from the sound of it, it was the best part of the day.
He wandered around, not sure what the celebration was for, but enjoyed it nonetheless. He was careful to stay away from water and did his best not to bump into a human. Lance wasn’t used to being around this many humans and was taking extra precautions to avoid being caught. With the increase of people, came the increased threat of being caught by those who were after him.
While watching a show where a man had cloth over his hands and made them talk, Lance felt a pang in his chest. He hunched over from the sudden pain. How long had he been on land? Lance lost track of time, and had maxed out his limit. He ran towards the ocean, his body moving for him since he couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. By the time his feet reached sand, Lance felt like there were knives in his lungs. He clutched at his chest and heaved, even though it hurt.
After a few steps, Lance froze. No, not now. Why was he here now?! Lance looked around for a new route into the water. A route where he wouldn’t be seen. He headed over in the opposite direction the boy was walking in and decided to risk it. The pain was too great for him to worry about staying hidden. He didn’t even want to know what would happen if he went back inland to search for a new route at this time.
Lance splashed around in the water, the first few steps hitting him like ice. Water never felt so cold before. After the initial shock, Lance dove into the water, his tail taking place of his legs once again. He knew the boy had seen him. There was no way he could miss it. He tried swimming away, but soon heard the boy’s voice telling him to wait. He couldn’t wait. He couldn’t get caught. A ripple in the water told him the boy was following him.
Panic washed over Lance as he tried to get away as fast as he could. He should’ve listened to his father, he shouldn’t have ever stepped on land to begin with. This was his mistake and now he was reaping the consequences.
Lance couldn’t move. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t move forward. Looking back, he saw that his tail was caught in a net. He forgot that it was around the time the fishermen came out for their weekly catch. In all his panic, Lance swam straight into one of the nets. He began to rip at the net in a haste as the boy got closer to him. He had dived underwater and swam towards Lance, looking at him shocked. They both stopped their actions and stared at each other for a moment until a tug on the net pulled Lance out of his thoughts. The net was being reeled in. He made too big a commotion.
The boy looked at the net and pulled out a knife. If Lance was thinking clearly, he would have realized that the boy was going to help him get out of the net, but in his current state, Lance thought that this was it for him. He began thrashing hard, trying to wiggle his way free, but instead, made the net tighten around his tail.
Sudden contact with a large object caused Lance to stop moving.
He hit the boy…
He hit the boy he previously saved from drowning. Who was now going to drown because of him…
Lance turned to see the boy’s body go still and the knife in his hand float away. Both began their slow decent to the bottom of the ocean. Calming down slightly, Lance knew he had to work swiftly since the net was already begin pulled in. He grabbed the knife with a renewed mindset, and cut himself free. Next, he dove for the boy, taking him away from the fishing boats and shore. After everything he just did, he knew the fishermen would see him if he took the boy to shore. Instead, he took him to a secret alcove where he heard the boy talking the day he first saw him.
Lance pulled him out of the water and carefully place him on the ground inside. His lips weren’t blue, nor was he pale like the other time. Sitting on the edge with his tail in the water, Lance leaned forward and rested his ear on the boy’s chest. His heartbeat was faster than Lance’s and he didn’t know if it was supposed to be that way or not. Lance stayed there longer than he needed to. He never heard a human’s heartbeat before. It had a steady rhythm, one that was similar to his own. He moved away and stared at the boy’s face. Getting closer for a better look, he noticed the boy looked like an average human, nothing too special. His hair was longer than what he saw on males, and he had metal in one of his ears. He lacked the webbing Lance had in between his fingers, like all humans. His ears also looked…weird. They were round, and lacked the scales Lance had on his tips. How did humans live with such…hideous ears?
Unconsciously, Lance’s hand moved to push hair out of the boy’s face. His nails grazed against the boy’s forehead and caused him to stir slightly, opening his eyes. His eyes were a purple-gray color Lance had never seen before. The boy touched Lance’s face with the back of his fingers before caressing his cheek. His hand slowly moved down towards his neck. One of his fingers brushed Lance’s gills and he pulled away.
The boy sat up, his eyes never once leaving Lance’s. They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity before the boy spoke.
“You saved me from the ship. When it was sinking. Didn’t you?” he asked. His voice was calm. His body was relaxed. He wasn’t scared.
Lance felt his tail twitch in the water. “I did.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Why did you run from me?” This human was a strange one. Out of every scenario Lance could think of, he didn’t expect to be questioned so calmly.
“I –“ Lance bit down on his tongue. He looked at the water. It would be easy for him to slip away without being followed –
“I won’t hurt you. I promise.”
He looked back at the boy. His face was earnest. His father’s voice was echoing in the back of his head, telling him that he couldn’t trust humans, but his gut told him that this one was okay.
“My father told me to stay away from humans.”
Without missing a beat, the boy asked his next question. “Are you scared of me?”
“No,” Lance replied in a heartbeat. He wasn’t scared. In fact, he was excited. He never spoke to a human before, and from what he saw so far, this human was different from the others.
The boy rested one hand on the ground behind him and leaned back a little. He stared at Lance, now fully inspecting the face that was inches from his when he woke up. Neither of them spoke. It wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t awkward. The boy immediately noticed how sharp Lance’s teeth were. Next came the large, blue eyes. Unlike his tail, his eyes were a deep blue. He has some scales that were just as light as his tail that traveled up his shoulders and neck and littered his face like freckles. If it weren’t for the sunlight reflecting off of them, it would have been easy to miss.
“The feast tee vail. What is it for?” Lance asked.
The boy’s eyebrows scrunched together. “The feast…tee – oh, the festival. It’s the Founder’s Day celebration. This day, four hundred years ago, this city was founded.”
“Is that how old you are?” Lance asked with big eyes.
The boy laughed. “No. I’m not four hundred years old. No human is.”
Lance frowned. It wasn’t uncommon for merfolk to live that long. “Oh, then how do you know about it?”
“The stories are passed down from generation to generation. I heard it many times while growing up.”
Lance’s eyes lit up. “Your parents also told you stories?”
The boy’s smile faded slightly. “Not exactly. I didn’t have parents.”
Lance felt bad. “I don’t have parents anymore either.”
The silence that fell upon the two this time was, in fact, uncomfortable. Neither knew what to say to the other. The boy seemed to be out of questions. Lance imagined what he would talk about with a human if he got the chance, but in this moment, he couldn’t remember a single one.
He looked away. “I should go now,” Lance said as he sunk himself down into the water.
“Wait!” Lance froze. “Will…” The boy looked away. “Will you be around here again?”
Lance laughed. “Yeah, probably.” He didn’t dare to say more. He dropped himself down into the water and left without another word.
Keith waited for Shiro to return all night long. He wasn’t sure where he had gone, but stayed up all night anyway. It was around eight in the morning when the front door opened and a tired Shiro walked in. He dropped his bag on the ground and went to the kitchen for water.
“You’re up early,” he noted.
“You’re home late,” Keith retorted.
“Didn’t know I had to clear my schedule with you.”
Keith rolled his eyes. He just wanted to tell Shiro the news.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he said, changing the subject.
Keith cocked his head slightly. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah, you kept talking about shiny tails and mermaids again. I was getting worried.”
Keith felt his stomach drop. “Y-y-yeah,” he stammered.
Shiro ruffled Keith’s hair before heading to his room. “I’m gonna get some sleep. Let me know if you get hungry.”
Keith nodded, not able to form words. He couldn’t tell Shiro anything. Not now. Not without proof.
Next: Lance and Keith get closer~
And then further...
Several days had passed since the boy – Keith, he learn his name was – had met Lance. Those past several days were the happiest Lance had been in a long time. He knew he longed to speak to someone, anyone, but he didn’t realize how great the need was until Keith came back the next day.
They spoke about everything, from their childhoods up until their present lives. Lance only mentioned the good parts, coming up with a story to explain why he was constantly moving. He failed to mention the passing of his family along with his seclusion in the ocean. Keith didn’t ask about it either. Lance gave him no reason to question him.
What was questioned was Keith’s career choice. Lance knew that those who were after him hunted the waters where Keith and Shiro sailed more often than not.
“I’m just saying, it’s not completely safe. I should know –“
“Yeah, yeah, because you’ve lived in the water your whole life. But I’ve been sailing my whole life. I know what I’m doing.” Keith seemed a little annoyed, but not enough for him to get mad. Lance took this a sign to push his argument further.
“Is that why you almost drowned when you were captured?” Lance asked innocently. He didn’t mean anything malicious by his comment, but Keith took it the wrong way.
“That was a one-time deal,” he replied defensively. “You don’t know anything. And besides, I’m mostly with Shiro. He definitely knows what he’s doing.” Keith crossed his arms and turned slightly so he wasn’t facing Lance directly. They were sitting in the same cove where Lance brought Keith after knocking him out on accident.
“I have a question about Shiro. You speak so fondly of him sometimes, and others, very highly. Who exactly is he to you?”
Keith’s eyes flew open and let his arms fall. “O-oh…I never told you?” Lance shook his head. “Well – how do I put this? He’s like my adoptive brother. He took me in when I was a kid and raised me. Not that he’s much older, but he made sure I had a roof over my head, food, clothes…” Keith had a faint smile on his face. “Someone to call my family.”
Lance rested his head on his arms and looked up at Keith. “He sounds like a nice man. I would like to meet him one day.”
Keith let out a nervous laugh. “I don’t know how he’ll take to you. I tried telling him about mermaids bef–“
“Man.” Keith stared at Lance confused. “Man. I’m a merman. A mermaid is female.”
Nodding, Keith continued. “Well, he didn’t believe me. I haven’t brought you up because he thinks I’m doing better now.”
“He thinks I got hit one too many times on my head. My mind thought it saw a mermaid – merman – tail and that I might have to see a doctor about it. But now that I’ve stopped talking to him about it, he thinks I’m doing better.”
“Oh…” Lance didn’t know what else to say. He found it pleasing to hear that even someone like Shiro didn’t believe in his kind because that means that there was less of a chance of him getting caught on land. On the other hand, he was conflicted because he wanted to meet Shiro and Keith’s other friends, but was it worth risking their lives? Lives of seamen who would most likely have a run-in with those who were after him? If they didn’t know Lance, it would be blatantly obvious to them from their reactions…
“You okay there?” Keith asked, waving his hand in front of Lance’s face. “You started to zone out.”
Lance hesitated. “There’s something I haven’t been completely honest –“
Both their attention turned to a voice calling for Keith on shore. Keith looked back at Lance who wore a grim expression.
“Go. I’ll tell you tomorrow.” Lance sunk down into the water without giving Keith a chance to argue. Tomorrow. He would tell Keith everything tomorrow.
Keith didn’t know how he felt. He wanted to know what Lance was going to tell him before Pidge came looking for him, but he wasn’t one hundred percent sure if he wanted to know from the mood change in Lance. He wasn’t a fan of serious talks. Never had been. Shiro had to learn how to have serious talks with Keith without him walking out halfway through the speech.
In all honesty, Keith liked Lance. He was different and fun. He didn’t want to ruin a budding friendship because he couldn’t handle a simple conversation. He made up his mind that no matter how serious the conversation was, he would stick it through until the end and wouldn’t act like he was two. If Lance was going to confide in him, Keith promised himself that he would be worthy of his trust.
Turns out, Pidge was just looking for him because they were bored. Their brother, Matt, was off working and they weren’t allowed to wander the streets alone. Matt had always been paranoid about kidnappings that happened in the backstreet alleys Pidge always wandered into, so if they ever wanted to go into town, they went to Keith. Sure, Keith may not be the best choice given his current reputation, but it didn’t stop him from helping his friend have some fun.
Maybe he could tell Pidge about Lance…
“You’ve been coming to the beach more so than usual. Have a secret lover?” They wiggled their eyebrows and leaned towards Keith. “I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
Keith playfully shoved Pidge away. “It’s nothing like that.”
“So there is something! What is it? Tell me, tell me.”
“No. At least, not yet.”
“Why not,” they whine.
“Because I’m not sure where this is going and you’ll only get the gossip when things are settled.”
Pidge was confused. “Settled? Are ya getting hitched?”
Keith resisted the urge to slap a hand over his friend’s mouth. He didn’t answer, knowing that eventually the silent treatment would shut Pidge up itself. He didn’t know where he stood with Lance just yet, and the talk tomorrow would hopefully help him figure that out.
The day went by quickly, with Keith playing chaperone as Pidge went from shop to shop, chatting with the owners, buying books, tools, some food, and eyeing objects out of their price range. All in all, Keith was occupied and didn’t have time to think about anything. The more he thought about Lance, the more nervous he got for what was to come. But Pidge didn’t let him dwell on it.
By the time he got home, Keith was exhausted. He forgot how tiring it was to spend the entire day with Pidge. He didn’t wait up for Shiro, nor did he make himself dinner. Once his head hit his pillow, he was out.
Keith got to the cove earlier than usual. He forgot to cover the windows with the makeshift curtains he hung above them and the sunlight woke him up right after the sun rose. He rarely saw Shiro these days as he was getting ready for a shipment run, but did note the breakfast he made waiting on the table for him. Even when he was busy, Shiro still made time for Keith.
His feet were dangling in the water and he was staring at his hands in his lap. He wasn’t thinking about anything in particular because he knew that would lead to unnecessary worry.
A pair of hands around his ankles snapped Keith out of his daydream, but he wasn’t startled. A head slowly poked out of the water. He saw Lance’s blue eyes watching him.
“What?” he asked. Although he didn’t feel uncomfortable under the gaze, he wanted to know why Lance was staring.
Lance didn’t know how to answer that. What, what? Lance submerged his head and came back up. The cove air seemed drier than usual. He answered in the way he saw fit. “The way the light caught you…”
“What about it?”
“Yes?” Keith was getting impatient.
Lance didn’t know how to put it in words. Pretty? Beautiful? Ethereal? “Angelic,” he finally replied.
A ghost of a smile appeared on Keith’s lips. “If you knew half of what I’ve done, you would take that back in an instant.” Keith may not have had a clear grasp of his past – many of his memories feeling like dreams that were fading away – but he still knew it wasn’t completely clean.
“You’re past shouldn’t define who you are today… Unless, you know, you haven’t changed,” he quickly added. Lance found the silence from Keith unnerving. He shifted in the water slightly, his hands moving up to Keith’s knees. “Have you?”
Keith didn’t have to think about it. “I have, yes.”
“For better or worse?”
“Depends on how you look at it.”
Lance moved closer to Keith, slowly pulling himself out of the water. He rested his arms on Keith’s knees and leaned forward, studying him before speaking. “I’m going to say for the better.”
“You tried to save me, even with the stories that float around about merfolk and how they like to kill humans.” Lance gave him a little shrug and glanced downwards.
Keith leaned forward unconsciously. “I’ve learned that not all merfolk are dangerous.” His voice came out barely louder than a whisper.
Lance looked at Keith again. He wanted to ask Keith what he meant. He wanted more than anything, to know every little detail about Keith and his past. The good, the bad, the ugly, everything. There was little distance between the two. Lance found his eyes drifting down. Before they reached Keith’s lips, Keith cleared his throat. Lance jerked away, pushing off of Keith and moving to the opposite side of the cove.
What just came over him? Was Keith a secret siren? Lance wasn’t sure if he even had control over his own body for a moment.
“So, uh, yesterday…” Lance wasn’t sure where Keith was going. “Yesterday, you said you weren’t being completely honest?”
Lance wanted to groan. That. “Right…” He wasn’t sure where to begin. “Just, just bear with me for a moment.” He flicked his tail back and forth in the water as he thought about how he should do this. This was the first time he ever told anyone his secret and he imagined what it would be like, yet he was at a loss for words at the moment.
“I was born into an average family,” he began. “I had three siblings, an older brother, an older sister, and a younger sister. They were amazing, it was never a dull moment. We had our spats, but all in all, we loved each other very much. We were playing hide and seek when we discovered my…powers? I thought it was normal, but apparently it wasn’t. I could literally turn invisible, but none of my siblings could. Nor could my parents.” Lance recalled the terror he felt when he learned that he was different. He remembered how he felt abnormal, mutated. His brain was flooded with the worst case scenarios.
“I kept ‘acting strange’ – I would predict storms and their locations, I could manipulate the water around me, and while all that happened, my eyes would turn completely blue. This behavior was – is – completely unnatural for any of us to have. When my parents exhausted their resources, not finding any information about my case, we went to the Shrine of Allura. She’s a sort of goddess among us merfolk. In order to find the shrine, we had to complete a pilgrimage that lasted seven moons. Once we reached, a sister of the shrine took me in and prepared me for a ritual. I can’t even explain how terrifying it was for me. I had no idea what was going on.
“The head sister began the cleansing ritual. It was required in order to figure out what was wrong with me. Once I was cleansed of the outside world and deemed ‘pure’, they began the ceremony. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but after a while, the head sister’s eyes turned white and she began to glow. What she said…it’s etched into my brain.
The time shall come for power’s pass
To be hailed as the One true hero
But darkness shall overtake the light
A final clash to determine the ruling faction
The light’s darkness must be extinguished if balance is to be restored.”
Keith watched Lance as his face lost its smile and grew grimmer. “What does that mean exactly?”
“It means I’m a vessel. I’m carrying a power that needs to be protected. I guess I lied to you when I told you that I was moving around to see the world. I’m on the run, you see. There’s a power merman after me,” Lance grimaced as he spoke, “Zarkon. He attacked my family when I was a child. They gave up their lives to save me. I haven’t looked back since.”
Keith didn’t know what to say. A part of him felt bad for Lance that he had to go through all of this. He also felt angry that he lost so much of his life because of this Zarkon. Why did that name sound so familiar…?
“The reason I’m telling you this isn’t so you feel bad for me or anything. I wanted to warn you. Please don’t go into the south waters anymore. It’s where he resides, I believe, and I want you and your friends to remain safe. I can’t swim out there and watch over you, which is why I’m telling you all of this. It’s dangerous out there.” Lance couldn’t bring himself to look at Keith.
After a few moments Keith used to collect his thoughts, he spoke carefully. “I appreciate you telling me everything, but I can’t tell stop people from sailing in the south water, especially when most of our supplies come from the south. It’s crucial for the island in order for it to thrive the way it is.”
“Keith, you need to understand. It’s only time before he attacks a ship.”
“And you need to understand that even if I told people an evil merman lives in the south sea, no one will listen to me.”
“Lance. Enough. I’ve listened to you. I know you mean well, but I don’t have the power needed to cut off all trade through the south sea. For as long as I’ve known, there’s never been an attack on any of our ships in the south sea. Now, if that’s all. Shiro needs my help.” Keith got up and dusted his pants. He exited the cove, climbing up the rock pile leading outside. Lance watched him go, unable to form words as his mouth opened and shut. When Keith showed no sign of returning, Lance left the cove and sunk deep into the waters, allowing the darkness to take him.
Next chapter: Keith gets drunk because he can't handle his problems and Lance is worried (more so than usual)
Chapter by th3blackcat
I've had this chapter finished for a while and Kay finished beta-ing it like a week ago, but I literally lost all motivation to go through and fix and add things, but I managed to complete it today. I'm going to be honest, I'm not sure when I'll update next. I hope it's before I start this quarter, but it depends on if I have the motivation. I'd rather take some time off if needed, rather than posting crap.
That being said, I want to thank everyone who's been reading and supporting this fic. I appreciate you guys!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In all honesty, Keith felt bad walking away like that. Lance was just trying to warn him. He didn’t have to say anything to begin with, yet he told Keith – probably – his deepest secret and Keith still pushed it away. Sighing, he headed back inland to find Shiro. Maybe he could get him to take a different route this time. Keith immediately shook the idea out of his head. If Shiro had been fine traveling that route all this time, what would change now? The stubborn man probably wouldn’t even listen to him without proof that there was any real danger there.
Once he got to the port, Keith was put to work instantly. He quickly forgot about all his worries and fell back into a familiar pace of moving cargo boxes and supplies for friend’s journey onto his ship, as well as double checking the current equipment in place. Since he wasn’t joining Shiro this time, he was extra cautious with all his work. Once he deemed everything to be in top condition, he let the workers take a break. Keith used this free time to hunt down his friend.
He knew exactly where the captain was – hidden away in his small office a few minutes away from the port. Keith found Shiro hunched over a map on his desk. He took little notice to the mess of books and papers scattered around his workspace. Keith cleared himself a seat and watched Shiro study the map carefully. He made some notes on a separate parchment. Occasionally, he would glance up to a map hanging on his wall.
When Keith grew bored of watching this dull routine, he cleared his throat.
“I’m not exactly free to entertain you at the moment, Keith,” Shiro said, not looking up from the map on his desk.
“If you knew I was in here, you should’ve said something,” Keith muttered.
Shiro began rummaging through some papers on his desk. “You could’ve said something when you entered.”
“You were concentrating.”
“And you wanted to try to scare me.”
Keith held back a groan. He didn’t want to fight with someone else today especially over a stupid topic like whether or not he wanted to scare Shiro.
Shiro chuckled. “Who put you in such a foul mood today?”
“No one important,” Keith replied in a heartbeat. Was Lance really not important? That wasn’t true. But he wasn’t important to Shiro, a voice countered. But he’s important to me. Is he?
Keith wasn’t sure. He felt more confused than ever.
Shiro picked up on this quickly. He placed his quill down, leaned against the desk and crossed his arms. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” Keith mumbled. The last thing he wanted to do was rant like some schoolboy who got in a fight with his crush.
“Either you tell me now, or I’ll just have to pull it out of you.”
Keith knew exactly what that meant. He knew all of Shiro’s methods of getting Keith to spill his heart plus some. He also knew that it might delay the departure which could ruin the entire shipment trade. He left out a heavy sigh.
“I just –“
Keith glared at Shiro for interrupting him. “Heard a story from someone. I guess I’m taking it too seriously.”
Shiro sat down. “Tell me about it.”
“It’s nothing important. Just about a merman that lives in the south sea…dangerous and all that jazz.”
Shiro sighed, wishing his friend would let go of this mermaid business. “Keith, you can’t live in the past anymore. Move on. Mermaids aren’t real anyway, I thought we covered this.”
“This is why I didn’t want to say anything. I knew I would just be lectured,” Keith huffed.
Shiro turned his attention back to his map. “I’m just saying, you need to stop living in a fantasy world. I thought you were over mermaid’s ages ago. Then you washed up on a beach and start bringing them up again. When I get back, I’m taking you to see a doctor, no arguments.”
Keith stood up. “Have a safe journey.”
“Keith –“ Shiro started, but was cut-off by the slamming of the door. He sighed and chose to finish off his remaining work rather than going after Keith. He would be fine after a while of solitude.
Keith didn’t see off his friend, not that Shiro was expecting him to. After leaving the office, Keith headed back to the villa. It would be his for the next week, so the first thing he did when he got there was raid the kitchen for food.
Keith had a problem. One that he couldn’t get rid of as he grew up.
Keith ate everything in sight when he was mad. He was an angry binge-eater. Today was no different. He ate and ate until he realized he was going to be alone for a while. Shiro wouldn’t be here to replenish the dent he made in his rations. Keith groaned around the food in his mouth and fell backwards on his bed. Well, he always had Pidge.
He swallowed whatever was in his mouth and decided to cut himself off for the time being. Today was turning out to be an awful day. He needed something, anything to help take his mind off of his problems and knew just the place. Hopefully, things wouldn’t get any worse for him.
Luck was not on Keith’s side as Matt dragged him out of the bar. He could hear Matt speaking to him, but he couldn’t decipher the words. His body felt heavy and would give anything for a bed. The bar owner cut him off when he almost passed out with his forehead pressed on top of his glass. Since Pidge wasn’t old enough to enter a bar, Matt picked him up instead.
“’M fiiiine,” Keith slurred.
“If I wasn’t holding you up right now, you would be a puddle on the ground.” Matt readjusted Keith arm over his shoulder and carried on. “You’re staying with me and Pidge until Shiro comes back.”
Keith grunted in response, starting to feel sick.
Matt was lucky that his place was only a few more minutes away. Once they entered the houses’ threshold, Keith regained his strength and ran to the bathroom. Maybe starting with shots wasn’t a good idea…
Pidge went into the bathroom to move Keith’s hair out of his face, knowing his friend was incapable of taking care of himself. They rubbed his back while Matt brought some water.
“What happened this time that lead you to this state…?” they asked quietly once Keith was done.
“Shirro…issa…dick,” he replied in between deep breaths. “Lance…prolly hates me…”
“Who’s Lance?” Matt asked.
“LANCE!” His voice echoed slightly from the toilet.
“YEAH! Who is that?” Pidge pulled Keith’s head back by his hair so they could hear him properly.
Keith groaned. He kicked his legs like a child throwing a tantrum. “He’s Laaaaance.”
Pidge looked at Matt, both of their eyebrows raised. Neither of them had ever heard Keith speak of a Lance, nor did either of them know one. Matt handed Keith water and didn’t move until all of it was finished.
They both had to pull Keith to his feet, since he refused to get up. Matt pulled him onto his back, taking him to a spare cot in his room. Keith landed on it with another groan and curled up onto his side.
“Stupid Shirro…stupid Lance…” Keith muttered into his pillow. Matt sighed, unsure of how to deal with Keith in this state. He let Keith be, figuring that he would fall asleep soon.
Pidge watched as their brother gathered his things and headed out to work. He, too, was a captain like Shiro, but Matt specialized in research. He had his own ship and crew to help him chart the waters around the island for the royal family. As simple as it sounded, it was more complicated than finding new islands and jotting them down. He had to note currents and wave activity. He needed to figure out weather patterns and find the safest routes to sail. His social standing was much better than both Shiro and Keith’s combined. It didn’t help that Shiro started off as a looter with Keith…
Nonetheless, Matt had an important role in society and it was up to Pidge to be in charge of the drunken child. After finishing up some of their reading, they checked on Keith. He was fast asleep. Carefully taking a seat on the edge of the cot, Pidge moved some of Keith’s hair out of his face. They worried for their friend – he had been through a lot these passed months and they believed the stress of everything was finally catching up to him. Sighing, they headed out to prepare some food for when Keith woke up.
“He should be here by now…” Keith had spent his entire morning at the docks with Pidge, waiting for Shiro’s arrival. He didn’t speak to either Matt or Pidge about the reasons that drove him to drinking at two in the afternoon, nor did they press for details. It had been a week since Shiro left, the normal duration of Shiro’s trips. The seas were calm so there shouldn’t have been any reason for him to be late.
Keith was pacing and chewing his nails. He couldn’t take his eyes off the horizon. Pidge got a headache just from watching him.
“Just go home. He probably got caught up at the other town.” Pidge was sitting in the middle of the dock, not caring about blocking traffic anymore.
“No, that’s not possible –“ Keith saw a small group of people rush over to the bulletin. He pulled Pidge up from the collar of their shirt and headed over. He pushed his way through the crowd, Pidge clinging onto his shirt for dear life.
He scanned the board until he found the new notice and went cold. “No…”
“What?” Pidge peered around Keith when they didn’t get a reply and read the same notice. “Ship attacked by rogue pirates off the coast of the Balmerain Peninsula. No survivors have been located. Captain of this ship was Shirogane.” Pidge released their grip on Keith’s shirt.
“This can’t be true…”
“I’m so sorry Keith…”
“This can’t be true!”
“Keith, let’s go somewhere –“
Keith ignored Pidge’s words. “I’m going out there. Shiro can’t be dead.” With that, he shoved passed everyone around him and mad his way to where the smaller ships were tied up.
“Keith! Let’s talk about this first!” Pidge shouted, running after him. He continued to ignore his friend. “At least let Matt come with us. He knows the waters!”
That caused Keith to stop. “Go call him, I’ll get his ship ready.”
Pidge left without being told twice. They knew that traveling with Matt was a lot safer than Keith going by himself and possibly dying in the process. Matt would agree to take Keith too, they knew it. Shiro was his friend as well.
Keith began to roundup Matt’s crew who were scattered around the docks doing some odd jobs while they were stuck on land. He got everyone to begin gathering supplies and stowing it on board while he headed back to the villa real quick.
He found what he was looking for quickly – a small piece of silver that was wielded into the shape of a trident. It had a lone sapphire as adornment. It was all Keith had from his parents and he never sailed without it. He took a shortcut back to the docks which trailed next to the ocean. As he ran back, a familiar silhouette appeared next to him in the water, keeping pace with Keith. The figure flipped onto its back and Lance stuck his head out of the water.
“You’re in a rush…”
“Shiro’s ship was attacked.” Lance didn’t say anything as he continued to follow Keith. He dipped back under water and came up again after a few meters. “But you already knew that.” Keith hated to admit it, but he should’ve listened to Lance. Maybe if he went with Shiro, things would have been better.
Instead of replying, Lance swam underwater, moving further and further down, until Keith couldn’t see him anymore. He got to the ship a couple minutes later, satisfied to find not only Matt ready to go, but also the crew and the entire ship. He climbed aboard, not wasting time, knowing the crew was well trained in hasty departures.
Keith felt a tap on the side of the ship. Ignoring it, he continued with his work in helping getting ready to depart. The tapping increased and gradually got louder causing Keith to finally look over to see what the deal was.
Out of everything he expected, he didn’t think he would see Lance, much less with an expression on his face that reminded him a lot of Shiro’s ‘I-told-you-so’ expression.
“I don’t have time for you, fish face,” Keith whispered harshly.
“I warned you.”
Keith raked a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I get it. Wanna rub it in some more?!”
Lance sank quickly without explanation. Keith rolled his eyes and when he turned around, Pidge was walking up to him. They leaned over the edge of the ship and looked where Lance previously was.
“Who are you shout-whispering at?” they asked, shifting most of their weight on their arms so their legs were dangling.
Keith yanked them down and stalked off, not answering their question. He headed to Matt to confirm that everything was ready to go. Keith’s heart was sinking, he felt sick, and on top of everything, he was being mocked by a – a – a fish?!
He did his best to keep his emotions in check, sighing a breath of relief when they finally pulled away from the docks. Matt and Pidge both noticed the slight change in his mood. They glanced at each other with the same thought. I hope we find Shiro for Keith’s sake.
It took a while for Pidge and Matt to convince Keith to go to bed. He needed to rest, but refused to sleep until he found Shiro. When Matt saw him falling asleep at the wheel, he order Pidge to take him to bed. They didn’t wake him when it was lunchtime, nor when dinner came around. If Keith wanted to be of any help during this search, he needed some rest.
Keith woke up after the sun set. He found Matt at the wheel with Pidge, talking in hushed voices. He didn’t try to listen in as he approached them. Instead, the cranky pirate demanded an update in status.
“I guess that nap didn’t help with his mood…” Pidge said dejectedly. They were worried about Shiro too, but hoped the nap would make Keith less jumpy. Keith’s restlessness was beginning to affect Pidge in a bad way and they didn’t want to accidently stress out Matt with their behavior.
Although he friend was missing, Matt did his best to remain professional. Thinking about this as a rescue for some sailors who got caught in a storm was easier than thinking about how his friend was lost at sea.
Matt sighed. He knew there was no point in rationalizing with Keith until he heard what he wanted to. “We’re heading out on the same course Shiro was on. We still have another day until we reach the island, if the currents and wind work with us. If not, it may take another day and a half. No sightings of driftwood or boats yet.”
Keith didn’t say anything, but Pidge noticed how he quickly clenched his jaw and released. Maybe he did understand that his anger wouldn’t help the situation. Keith turned around wordlessly and walked away from the two. He didn’t have anything to add. Well, anything useful.
He walked over to the side of the ship and looked out at the water. He looked out as far as he could, until the line between the sky and the sea disappeared. He would find Shiro. He was strong, the strongest person Keith knew. Even after surviving everything they had been through – Shiro lost his freaking arm! – he still remained optimistic.
Leaning forward on the railing, Keith dropped his head. If he were the one to have been lost at sea, what would Shiro have done? He surely wouldn’t have been as short-tempered and chaotic as Keith. Would he? Keith didn’t even know what he was sure of anymore.
“Are you okay?”
Lance’s voice scared Keith. He looked around, the only thing giving Lance away, were his scales. They were a glowing blue-white color and his eyes were shining just as bright. Keith hid his surprise and refused to speak.
“Don’t.” His voice sounded strained. “I don’t want to hear anything right now.” Keith couldn’t bring himself to look at Lance because he knew that when he looked at that pitiful expression, he would break. His voice had begun to crack from the sob he was holding back.
Lance didn’t reply, even though he completely understood the feeling. At this moment, he wished there was something more that he could’ve done to avoid this situation. Every idea that came to mind was practically a death wish. As much as Lance wanted to help Keith, he didn’t want to kill himself in the process.
His subconscious wouldn’t let him. After years of learning how to survive and put himself first, Lance didn’t think he would be able to let go of his habits. He knew that once he sensed danger, there was a little to no chance that Lance would stay and fight. Without saying anything to Keith, Lance sunk lower and swam away from the ship. He would continue to follow, he just needed to get away. He didn’t want to keep thinking such awful things around his new friend.
Keith didn’t notice when Lance left, but didn’t mind the absence of his fishy friend. After a few moments staring down at Lance’s previous location, Keith headed back down to his bed. His head was killing him and his world was spinning. He needed more rest if he wanted to be fully alert the next day.
It took a while for Pidge and Matt to wake Keith up when they found the ships ruins. Keith finally pieced together the words ‘Shiro’ and ‘ship’ and he was up and out on deck. Some of Matt’s crew had already began searching through the driftwood and ruins to see if they could find any survivors or bodies.
Keith ended up sleeping for most of the next day, being woken up in the afternoon. He was leaning against the edge of the ship trying his best to remain calm. They were a still several hours away from Shiro’s destination and thinking about how long Shiro had stranded been out here worried Keith. He refused to accept the possibility that Shiro died.
Lance stuck his head out of the water, just enough to watch Keith. Neither of them said anything, yet there lacked a tension about the two. The initial anger the two had the day before had vanished and left behind a wake of exhaustion.
“I just wanted to keep you and your Shiro safe,” Lance finally whispered. He thought about what he could say to Keith – if there was anything he could say to Keith. In the end, there wasn’t anything he could say to help patch this up.
“And now he’s gone. I’ve lost Shiro. I could’ve saved him, but I didn’t do anything. The last thing I said to him… God, we had a fight…” He raked his hand through his hair. Taking a deep breath, he blinked back tears he knew would fall any second. Lance wanted to climb up onboard the ship and engulf Keith in a hug. He knew how hard it was to lose family, but to lose your family twice?
At first, Lance was pissed, he wasn’t going to lie. Who was Keith to give him attitude when he told him this would happen? He wasn’t surprised to hear the news and he couldn’t help but feel smug about the events that transpired. But after seeing Keith, after hearing him talk, Lance’s chest began to ache. Not the same feeling when he needed to get back water when he spent too much time on land. Not the same feeling when he saw his family being killed in front of him. It was an aching he never experienced before. It was another type of ache he never wanted to experience again.
Lance submerged and quickly began looking around for any hints or clues as to where Shiro was. He left the site of the wreckage and headed towards the land where Shiro was headed to. Lance knew how risky this was. He knew that he was practically telling Zarkon where he was. He knew that even though there was a slim chance that Shiro was alive, he was gambling on that slim chance and it was with his life.
Lance emerged right under a dock. He knew that he wouldn’t be seen and with that comfort he focused his energy on anyone talking about a local ship wreck and survivors. Calming down, Lance closed his eyes a honed in on singular voices, immediately moving on if they were speaking of irrelevant topics. After jumping between all the conversations near-by and not learning anything, he needed to broaden his radius. It took more energy the further inland he had to focus, so he prayed that he would learn something quickly.
“…a survivor was taken to the hospital. I’m not sure if there are others, but they were near the Island of Luxia…”
That’s all Lance needed before he jetted off towards the island. He knew exactly where he needed to go. The island was considered a sacred place for all merfolk, where Queen Luxia’s remains were buried. Lance recalled tales his parents told him about how she managed to save all merkind from extinction using the power Goddess Allura bestowed upon her. The same power believed to be within Lance.
He got there in a matter of seconds. Dragging his body out of the water and onto the sand as quickly as he could, he amplified the sun’s rays to dry himself faster. Once his tail spilt into two legs, he began searching the island. It was untouched by man, making it easier to spot if someone was here. The small size of the island helped too. That wasn’t enough to help Lance. He soon began to feel the toll on his body from the rays of the sun. There was a lack of shade on the outskirts of the island and he doubted Shiro had enough strength to venture deeper inland.
Lance felt the dull ache in his chest bloom as he walked slowly, reminding him of his limited time on land, when he saw finally footprints. He felt hope flood his body. He did his best to pick up his pace and follow them. They lead him to a little hut made out of palm tree leaves and vine. There was a small pit covered in ash next to it. Some broken coconuts were scattered around.
This is it. Shiro is here. He has to be. Lance was so happy, he couldn’t contain the grin that broke onto his face. Pulling his attention away from the small camp, he noticed someone approaching. With a new fire in his heart, Lance began to run to the water. He had to tell Keith. He needed to make sure his friend knew his family was still alive.
Shiro slowly made his way back to the makeshift camp. He saw no sign of any ships passing by. Deciding to take a break, his body thanked him as his sore and tired muscles were ready for a reprieve. He froze as he approached his tent. There were footprints going in the opposite direction he was headed in. He followed the footsteps back to his camp and found a message written in almost illegible writing.
Help is on the way.
Next: Shiro comes home and Keith needs to apologize
Ugh, this quarter was really stressful. Sorry I've been MIA ): I hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Keith could feel his migraine worsening by the minute. Matt took a search boat with two of his men to search the surrounding area and Pidge was keeping a close eye on Keith after catching him trying to jump off the side of the ship when Matt didn’t take him too. All Keith could do was wait. It didn’t help that he had the patience of a two year old.
He groaned loudly as his head fell forward. How long had it been? Four hours? Five? He rested his entire body weight on the railing of the ship as he leaned back against it. At least it was a calm day. He stared up into the sky, finding his mind wandering back to Lance and comparing the sky to the color of his tail. They were almost the same, right? No. Lance’s tail was much lighter. Keith felt like it turned into an opaque blue that was almost white towards the fin. His eyes were a different story.
The sound of water rippling below him pulled Keith back to reality. He glanced over his shoulder, expecting to see a dolphin or small whale of sorts near the ship, but was greeted by Lance who had a huge smile on his face.
No, Keith thought. The sky doesn’t didn’t even compare to his beauty. He doubted anything could. He shook the thoughts away and fully turned towards his friend. “Why do you look so happy?”
“I found him. I found Shiro. He’s alive, I’m sure of it.”
“You saw him?” Keith tried not to let his excitement grow.
The smile on Lance’s face wavered a bit. “Well, no. But I found a small house made of leaves with a fire that was put out. Plus, even if I had seen him, I wouldn’t know if he was Shiro. I’ve never seen him before.”
“It’s a small island called Luxia. Easy to miss, so be careful. His house is located towards the northwest side of the island.” Both of them heard voices coming from the opposite side of the ship. Matt was back. “Look, I want to apologize about –“
“Save it for after we find Shiro.” His voice wasn’t harsh, but the uneasiness in his tone made Lance think twice about whether they were okay or not. Keith ran towards Pidge and helped their brother board the ship once again.
Once Matt and the other two were back on and the search boat was secured, he spoke. “I wasn’t expecting to find anything, nor did I. I’m sorry Keith, but I just don’t think we’ll find him.”
“How about surrounding islands? Is there a chance he could have wounded up on one of them?” Keith asked. He kept his face as neutral as possible.
“There could be, but it’s a slim chance. Especially with his ship’s ruins so far out at sea.” Keith saw the small gears in Pidge’s mind turning. “But this is Shiro. He’s no amateur when it comes to this stuff. He must’ve found a way to get to some sort of safety.”
Matt sighed. “No harm in trying.” He wanted to find his friend, but the search was taking a toll on him. Having to keep a constant eye on Keith was proving to be more difficult than he thought.
As the three talked about where to begin searching, Keith slipped in the Island of Luxia and how there are a bunch of small islands around them just like it. Matt was a little skeptical at first about how Keith knew about the islands since they weren’t well known, but let it go figuring Shiro taught him about the landscape of the sea. After planning it out, they set off on the course to the closest island to them and would snake their way through the other island until the reach the Balmerian peninsula.
As the ship headed towards the nearest island, Lance traveled alongside them. He stayed close to the ship and kept an eye out. Years of running had taught Lance how to watch his surroundings while the majority of his attention was on something else. He didn’t have the heart to tell Keith, but if something seemed suspicious, he was going to leave. He would find Keith later and tell him, but his safety came first. He hated to admit it, but it was true. He needed to keep the powers within him away from Zarkon and the only way to do that was to keep his safety his top priority. Yet, a part of Lance didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay with Keith and his friends and protect them. He wanted to protect Keith. There was an internal battle going on within Lance between his head and his heart and he couldn’t figure out who to listen to. But if he left it up to instinct, he would run.
After searching the first three islands, the fatigue started to show within the crew. They weren’t prepared for this spontaneous trip and it was taking a toll on their body. The more tired the crew got, the more restless Keith became. He didn’t know what this Island of Luxia looked like, nor could he ask Lance with this many people around. All he could do was sit on his hands and pray to whatever god was listening.
“Not many islands left,” he heard Matt say to Pidge. He knew they weren’t going to tell him anything, yet without any knowledge, he felt his faith slowly slipping away. Why didn’t he listen to Lance…?
“I think I see something!” a crew member shouted from the nest. Keith immediately looked up at the nearest island. He couldn’t see much from his position, but it didn’t stop his heart from racing.
He heard Matt shouting orders and members preparing to head over to the island. Glancing down, he saw Lance emerge from the water. Keith looked at him and Lance nodded, understanding what his eyes were asking.
“I’m going there!” Keith shouted. Matt signaled for his members to begin lowering the search boat once Keith climbed in. “Hang on Shiro, we’re almost there.”
It took them little time to find evidence of human life on the island. They quickly pulled up to the island and began to search, shouting, asking if there was anyone on the island. It took a couple minutes before Keith heard a reply, and when he did, he ran. He ran as fast as his legs would take him. He didn’t stop for a second until he collided into Shiro. Wrapping his arms around his friend, he felt the tears falling.
Shiro was alive. He wasn’t alone after all. He didn’t lose his family again.
Keith quietly muttered apologies as his grip on Shiro tightened. He felt Shiro’s arms wrap around him and they both fell to their knees.
“You found me,” Shiro said, resting his hand on Keith’s shoulder.
“I’m such an idiot. I’m so sorry, Shiro. The fight was stupid and I know you only meant well and I promise I’ll listen to whatever you say, just please don’t disappear again.”
He felt the chuckle through Shiro’s chest. Keith pulled back. “You look like hell.”
“Well, I was attacked and barely made it here. How did you find me?”
“There was a bulletin…” Keith wasn’t going to say more about the situation. He wanted to get Shiro home so he could rest up, not start an argument about Lance, the non-existent merman.
Shiro frowned. “Huh… Well, okay then.” It wasn’t the answer he was expecting, but he was willing to wait for the proper answer when Keith was ready.
“Let’s get you back home.”
Once Shiro had eaten a little and was patched up, Keith left him to get some much needed rest. He headed down to their private beach. It took him some time to realize that Lance had disappeared, but couldn’t do much about a missing mermaid. Making it down the steps, he took a seat on the soft, white sand, watching the sun set.
“I’m not sure where you are Lance, but I just wanted to say that I’m sorry. I was rude for brushing you off the way I did and I completely understand if you never want to see me again. Also, thank you…for helping me find Shiro…” Keith ran a hand through his hair. “After the way I treated you, I was expecting to never see you again. But you still showed up and helped me. I don’t think I could ever repay you for that.”
Keith looked away from the orange and pink horizon and glanced down at the sand. “I understand if you never want to see me again after how I acted, hell I know I wouldn’t want to see me after all that…but if you do, I mean—“ Keith choked up a little and took a deep breath to steady himself. “What I mean is you are the first person to actually want to be friends with someone like me. The first who didn’t run for the hills when they learned what I did. Even after I pushed you away, you still came back to help me. Lance, if you’re out there…” Keith bent his head towards the sand and spoke out in a whisper, impossible for any but the waves to hear:
“Don’t you get lonely too?”
Lance couldn’t help the ache in his heart at Keith’s last words. Little did he know, Lance could not only hear everything, but he had been sitting next to Keith the entire time. Without knowing, Keith had sat down right next to Lance, but didn’t know since he was invisible.
Without making too much of a commotion, Lance got back into the water, swimming close enough to the shore to throw water on Keith with his tail.
Catching Keith completely by surprise, Lance pulled his upper body onto the shore, keeping his tail in the water. “Mm, so you admit to being wrong and that you should have listened to me?”
Keith stared at Lance in complete shock. “You were listening?!”
“No…let’s just say that when you speak from the heart, the waves help carry your words.” He rested his chin in the palm on his hand and looked at Keith with a smug look.
Keith pushed his wet hair back so it was out of his face. He kept staring at Lance, unable to form words.
“I accept your apology.” His smirk faded into a soft smile that barely lingered on his lips. His eyes glanced down, unable to say his thoughts while looking at Keith. “I…It does get very lonely. And I won’t lie, I’ll probably move away soon. I’ve never stuck around this long, plus I’ve been out into the south sea. I’m sure someone spotted me. So, as much as I enjoy your company, it won’t last much longer…”
“Why don’t you let me help you?”
“It’s too dangerous for you.”
Keith rolled his eyes. “Because I don’t have a tail?” Lance shook his head. “Then why is it ‘too dangerous’?” Keith asked in confusion.
Lance finally looked up at Keith with sad, cold eyes.
“Because you’re weak.” He turned away, not being able to look Keith in the eyes anymore.
Next: Shiro meets Lance and Keith learns more about Zarkon