There was a storm due. Shiro had told him, but Keith could feel it in the tide and the undercurrents he liked to play in. The merfolk usually stayed away from the surface. There were too many horror stories about small sirens being swept away and left to die on the jagged rocks that tore ships apart in storms like these.
You’re insane. Pidge, Keith’s best friend, informed the young siren.
He just flashes her a toothy, excited grin. I’ve never seen the surface during a storm. I’ve heard it’s beautiful.
You’re gonna get yourself killed. She flicks her lithe, bioluminescent green tail to follow Keith as he darted through the coral reef so he wouldn’t be seen. Pidge apparently didn’t get the message; she was still floating conspicuously by the reef, arms folded against her small frame.
You’re gonna get me caught! Keith huffs, reaching over and dragging her into the reef. She lets out a surprised squawk, a bit of floppy seaweed smacking her in the face.
I don’t even see why you’re doing this, Pidge grunts, fixing her hair. Is it because of that human? The one that Shiro told you not to go near?
I have no idea what you’re talking about. Keith darts through another crevice, stopping to listen. The patrols were supposed to be on rounds on the opposite side of the reef, but Shiro had become unpredictable lately. He’d suspected his little brother wasn’t paying attention to the rules that he’d set, because Keith was far too… civil about them.
You’re going to get hurt. Pidge blows bubbles, glancing up at the distant, roiling surface. Even the undercurrents are strong enough to sweep you away. You’re tiny.
You’re one to talk, Keith grunts, peering around a rock. No sign of the patrol. From here, it was only clear water to the surface. There was nowhere to hide if he got caught. He hadn’t even come up with an excuse if he did happen to get caught, which was sort of stupid on his part.
He hesitates, his tail fins drooping a bit as he looked around. Cover for me? He asks, without turning to look at Pidge.
The tiny siren rolls her eyes, smoothing down her electric green scales. Don’t I always?
You’re the best. Keith looks back at her. I’ll bring you back something cool.
Yeah, yeah. Go on, before your brother finds you swimming in open water and locks you in a cavern for the rest of your life.
He makes a soft, appreciative noise, before he races toward the surface, leaving bubbles and a dubious mermaid in his wake.
In retrospect, going out on a boat right before a storm was a terrible idea. As his boat rocked and swayed and creaked wildly - it reminded him of the bull-riding matches he saw on television - Lance was starting to deeply regret his judgement.
The storm had only been a few dark, menacing clouds across a blue sky when the fisherman had gone out in his boat. The news had warned of a major change in weather, which was what had prompted him to take his little rickety boat out onto the water.
He had been sure he was going to be back in enough time. But when Lance had gotten to the rocks, he had lingered a little too long. Maybe he should have heeded the weatherman’s warnings to stay inside.
Okay, but, in his defense - those nets cost him hours of labor, and thick rope wasn’t exactly cheap! And… okay, maybe he was hoping to see a certain pretty scaled siren with purple eyes. That was the real reason he was out in this storm, if Lance were being honest.
Besides, he hadn’t meant to drift this far, but the angry sea had stolen away his only oar and nets weren’t the best tool to use as a way to get back to shore. Lance could see the shore from here, but it honestly could have been a world away. There was no way he could reach the shore now.
His suspicions were proved correct when the rain started coming down. His boat was filling with water faster than he could get it out, both from the thrashing waves and torrential downpour. Lance was throwing water as fast as he could with his cupped hands. He looks up to see a monster of a wave. And then his world goes dark.
When he wakes up again, it’s to somebody shaking him and calling his name. His eyes open, but before he can register anything, his body heaves and he starts coughing up water. He turns to the side, coughing and gasping for air.
There’s a hand on his back, rubbing small, slow circles. He doesn’t remember what had happened until he remembers his nets - what had happened to his nets? Lance sits up, jerking away from the hand and looking around frantically. There was nothing - nothing! No nets, no boat, no - anything.
He twists to see who was with him, to ask questions, and stops dead when he sees the siren looking up at him, wide-eyed.
Keith had put him on a rock, above the thrashing waves and with enough handles that he wouldn’t be tossed into the tempest. He was clinging for dear life, having retreated from off the rock when Lance had tried to throw him off.
Lance stares at him for a long moment. For a split second, relief washes over him to see that Keith was here and safe. Or, well, as safe as anyone could be during a massive storm. But that fades as quickly as it comes and Lance finds himself looking out at the waves. What had happened? Where was he? He... didn’t recognize this side of the coast.
“Where… what?” He rasps, dragging a hand over his face, the salt of the water stinging his eyes and making his throat feel like sandpaper.
I saved you. Keith ducks his head, pressing himself against the rock as another wave crashed over him. His arms were shaking, his body sagged with exhaustion against the rock. I saved you. You were dying and I saved you.
“I’m not- my boat! Where is my boat?” Lance scrambles higher on the rock, trying to look for it.
There was no boat- there was only you and the waves and the water and… no boat.
The Cuban sits back hard, his eyes wide as he stares at the raging sea. “That was my dad’s boat.” He says faintly, dragging a hand through his hair. There were too many emotions swirling in his chest.
His dad had built that boat with his bare hands when Lance was just a kid - it was all he had left of him! His brother’s and sister’s and father’s initials had been carved into it before it’d been sealed. It was his favorite possession, the only piece of his dad he had left.
Grief washes over him, thick and heavy, piercing through the clouded, grey veil of shock. But it only lasts a moment. Lance turns his gaze to Keith, the shock giving way to anger merely seconds later. It was horrible, he knew, but the circumstances were ridiculous and he needed somebody to be upset at. Keith just so happened to be the closest one at the moment.
“You have to find my boat!” Even as he says it, the part of him that had fallen in love with the ideation of sirens, the color of Keith’s scales, the musical sound of his voice in his head - it screams at him to stop. This wasn’t Keith’s fault. He was supposed to be happy that they were alive.
But how was the little siren supposed to know this? Keith winces, his fingers tightening on the crevices of his life line. There was no boat. There won’t be anymore boat, the sea will have torn it apart.
“You have to bring me my boat!” Lance shouts. “What- what good are you if you can’t give me something to get back to shore in?”
Keith’s eyes widen, fear making them a dark indigo color. It almost blended with the waves. I can take you to shore… he tries to offer, but Lance shakes his head, cutting him off.
“No, don’t even- don’t even bother.” Lance rakes a hand through his hair, rage flaring hot in his veins. His relief from before is drowned out by a sudden, terrible anger. His boat was gone. He was far from home. His fishing nets were probably somewhere along the bottom of the ocean - another thing he had inherited from his father.
Even as the little voice in his head was begging him to be reasonable, pleading with him to see that Keith was just as scared as he was, he was fighting a losing battle. Lance’s logic had been poisoned by anger, his shock bleeding into something more manageable. Something easier to cope with.
As far as his brain was concerned, this had nothing to do with his recklessness. His mind was convinced that if he hadn’t met Keith, he wouldn’t be in this mess! At the moment, it seemed logical enough. It was easier than taking the blame.
“This is your fault.” He snaps after a moment, all his panic and shock rushing into this one feeling - and the only thing he could do was lash out, because if he didn’t, he was going to cry.
“If you had minded your own business and stayed out of my nets, I would have been inside for this storm!” He hisses. “And I wouldn’t be lost in who-knows-where Cuba with a stupid fish who can’t even be bothered to rescue boats!”
I didn’t… I didn’t mean to-
“Shut up. Just- go away. Get out of here.”
“I said get out of here!” Lance picks up a clump of seaweed and possibly some gravel, hurling it at the siren. It bounces off his wrist, surprising the siren enough for him to let go of his perch on the rock. It isn’t long before the waves crash over him, dragging him back into the deep with their icy claws.
His heart twists painfully, words leaving his mouth before he even has the chance to take them back and apologize. “And don’t come back looking for me, because I won’t rescue you from anymore nets!”
That’s the last thing Keith can hear before he’s swimming away as fast as he can. He had only tried to help. He had saved the human - he had torn a gash in the thin membrane of his tail, which was causing him to swim funny, and now he had to find his way home, too.
The little siren swims as far as he can before fear and exhaustion takes over. He finds a hollowed out little divot in the bottom of a coral reef, curling up there. Keith trembles, wrapping his arms around himself and staring into the water. Shiro had been right, to some extent.
He sits there until he’s dozing off, until he hears something familiar in the water far off. He blinks his eyes open, peering out incoherently.
The siren shifts, edging out to peer over the little section of the reef he was hiding in.
Shiro. Shiro had found him. He makes a noise that’s a cross between relieved and scared, pushing himself out from behind the reef. His adoptive brother was scanning the reef, Pidge trailing behind him as they searched for him.
Shiro, Keith whimpers, propelling himself with tired fins toward his brother and best friend. Shiro!
Pidge looks up, freezing when she catches sight of him. She races over, jostling into his older brother and gesturing frantically when his body language changed from searching to annoyed.
When he catches sight of Keith, however, he stops dead. There’s one silent, heavy moment. Keith struggles to keep swimming, straining his tail fins, his body trembling with effort. Shiro edges forward, then takes off like a shot, hurtling toward his little brother.
His older brother scoops the little siren up, gripping onto him and burying his face into his hair. I’ve got you, he coos, I’ve got you.
You were right. He sobs, burying his face in Takashi’s shoulder. I should have stayed, I shouldn’t have met the human.
You’re okay. Shiro coos, scooping him up and carrying him back to Pidge.
Pidge darts around them, frantic. I know I promised not to tell, but you didn’t come back and I got worried and- I’m so sorry, Keith!
Keith doesn’t answer, his eyes closing. He wanted to go home. Shiro holds him tighter. I’ve got you, his older brother says again. You’re okay.
But all Keith could see, all he could hear, was the anger in Lance’s eyes and voice.