When Keith was a kid, he enjoyed the rain. He liked sitting on his mom’s lap and watching lightning through their kitchen windows. Something about the dark weather made the world seem a lot smaller, and quieter, and safer.
Now, as he leans his elbows on the counter, he thinks about biking home. His shift ended twenty minutes ago and Keith should really be locking up, but he hasn’t gathered the courage to head out in the storm. Theoretically speaking, there is still daylight out there, hidden under sheets of rain and inky clouds. Keith jingles the set of keys on his fingers and wonders if he’ll ever see the sun again.
The weather network plays on his phone - it makes him squirm with discomfort yet he forces himself to watch. This is one of the worst storms to ever hit Arus. Though most of it happens over the ocean, the town’s location means they are struck hard, also. Wind has taken down trees, rain has flooded the streets, while thunder and lightning dance over tall waves on a very dark, very angry ocean. Keith has not slept in days.
Most of his recent nights have been spent huddled under a blanket on the couch, while his brother snores in the chair beside him, having attempted to stay up and eventually falling victim to his exhaustion. Keith has gotten used to the storms - sort of. What he’s actually gotten used to is the shaking and sweating and feeling nauseous when the power goes out. It’s a routine.
Eventually, Keith slips on his jacket and takes his time on the way to the back door, squinting with disapproval at the wall of rain. He hides under the overhang and checks his phone one last time. His brother, and also the shop owner, had sent him a text only a few minutes ago.
from: shiro roads are messy. probably won’t be back til 11, will drive you if you want to wait
As the only brother with a car, Shiro always makes an effort to give him a ride when the weather looks nasty. This time, unfortunately, Shiro is out of town on business and 11pm is over two hours away. He can be home in less than ten minutes, if he can handle getting a little wet.
(A lot wet).
Somewhere in the mass overhead, there is the telltale growl of thunder. Keith winces as he tucks his phone into a safe pocket.
Motivated by the thought of his comfortable couch indent, he pulls his hood low over his eyes and sprints across the parking lot to his well-loved bike, Red. It’s a battle to keep his balance in the wind that whistles around him. With each crack of lightning, Keith squints his eyes further as he tries to hold the bike steady at the side of the road. He pedals hard, wheels sending off a constant spray of water as they chewed up the pavement. It doesn’t take long before he is soaked to the bone and chattering with cold.
Downpours used to excite Keith. He and Shiro would slide around the grass in their backyard, and come inside dripping water, covered in mud and lawn clippings. They would both be shivering and smiling as they were ushered into the shower together for their parents to rinse them clean, clothes and all.
Red hops the curb as they turn onto the road that borders the ocean. A rusting white guardrail is all that separates the pavement from an empty beach, giving Keith an unobstructed view of the water, marred by rain. His bike slows almost instantly. He’s overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of it, something that used to inspire wonder in him.
He remembers, vaguely, leaning against the rail with his family and watching storm clouds roll in. Sky and sea were inseparable as rain blurred the horizon. Lightning flashed over the water. The sight filled him with an energy not unlike the air around him. They would race home, tucking themselves safely inside before the storm, which had seemed so far away over the ocean, swept their town up in swirling winds and fat raindrops.
More recently, Keith remembers hiding under the kitchen table as weather more powerful than he could ever remember shook their windows and filled the room with so much noise. Shiro was sitting beside him, trying to act brave. He was fourteen. Only fourteen, and Keith was half that. It had happened suddenly. Once the boys would have been exhilarated in the face of such a storm, but now they were alone and wondering when their parents would be home because it had been hours, and Keith was scared.
Hours turned into days turned into months. Even over a decade later, Keith still finds himself watching the horizon as if he will see their boat returning to shore.
Tonight he sees nothing on the water. He turns himself in the direction of home - opposite what it used to be, when he was a child - and lifts his feet to the pedals again.
A gust nearly topples his bike as Keith stumbles to a stop. On the beach, a tall shadow hovers at the edge of the water. A person. They stand with their back to Keith, and in the downpour, it’s impossible to find anything discernable about their features, yet they seem to be slouched as if in pain. He watches in silence as the figure straightens up and begins to hobble into the frothing tide.
He wants to call out to them, though the words are smothered before they have a chance to leave his mouth. The water welcomes them, snaking around their legs, tugging at them with hunger. Keith narrows his eyes through the rain, blinking hard as he loses track of the shadow. No matter how hard he stares he cannot find them again. His chest tightens as he realizes that they may have been pulled under. At high tide, in weather like this, even the shallow water can have a strong enough current to knock someone down.
Keith tosses his bike aside, sprinting awkwardly across wet sand and slamming on the brakes before he touches the edge of the water. The wave is drawn back into the ocean, while he stands at a safe distance. The person is nowhere to be seen. If there was even something that Keith could have done, it’s too late now.
He lingers at the water for a moment longer before retreating to stand up Red, shivering from both cold and nerves, fumbling to find the pedals. He does not look back.
Keith sleeps - for once - on the couch in the apartment that he and Shiro share, curled into a tight ball with his head under a pillow as he attempts to muffle the storm outside. When he wakes to light grey skies and fading puddles, thoughts of the shadow on the beach are distant, and he wonders if they are nothing more than fleeting fragments of a dream.