At first, Obi-Wan thinks he is drifting at sea. His fingers twitch as he hears a distant splash. Even more faraway, there is the sound of water dripping and it echoes in his hollow head.
Time passes. Obi-Wan begins to count every drip, filling his head with numbers, then words, then memories. He remembers vaguely the small boat, the net dragged by the waves, the taste of salt in his mouth. He isn't floating in the sea but lying on the ground. No, a flat rock, made slippery with the waves lapping over it and around him. The cold bites next, and Obi-Wan thinks he must have been shivering for a while. His clothes are wet, sticking to his flesh raised in goose-pimples. All of these things come to him one by one, his mind still slow. He runs his clumsy tongue along the back of his upper teeth.
There had been a storm. Earlier than that, he'd pushed his boat off the docks to fish despite the thunderclouds rolling in the distance. Foolish, he thinks, keeping still to listen to the rustling of the water against his ears.
His boat is in a million pieces drifting out in the open sea. Obi-Wan is - somewhere, he supposes, carried by the current. His eyes are still closed. Obi-Wan blinks them open, stinging from the salt water dripping from his eyelashes. Bright splotches of light fill his view, strange glowing shapes that eventually coalesce into seaweed catching the light streaming in from the natural skylight in the rock formation almost directly above him.
Obi-Wan carefully pushes himself up, an arm going across his lower ribs in support when they twinge. He takes in his surroundings slowly in confusion. The blow - and there had been a blow, the bottom of his skull throbbing dully as proof - had addled him some, but the shock is fading. He's in a spacious grotto, about twice as big as his own home on land. The water is breathtakingly clear, blue light dancing against the rock in the narrow tunnel which, Obi-Wan surmises, leads in and out of the cave. Sand gleams at the bottom of the cave, shallow enough that Obi-Wan glimpses the shells and pebbles sticking out, but further on towards the entrance it dips into impenetrable shadows. A wide ledge of uneven rock curves out from the wall, the right side of it lowering into the water. There is half a rowboat smashed into the wall on the other side of the ledge and spilled amongst rotting planks of wood are books and cloth and gold coins, reflecting spheres of light all over the chamber. Some of the sharp rocks create a winding staircase that forms the back of the grotto, and though the first few steps are manageable, the higher ones appear spaced to be taller than Obi-Wan himself. He follows the curve of the stairs with his gaze, leading up to the skylight where now and then a seagull swoops past. Birds mean land nearby.
Sighing, Obi-Wan leans back against the mostly smooth step behind him. He carefully inspects himself; bruises instead of cracked ribs, the muscles of his arms and legs and back sore from the desperate fight to keep afloat. His head aches, centred round the tiny bump on the slope of his skull.
He couldn't have found this place by himself. There are still gaps in his memory but Obi-Wan is certain he would have been dashed into the rocks if he'd attempted to swim here. The mystery will have to wait. Already, Obi-Wan is tiring, the cold leeching what meagre strength remains in him. He drags himself up higher on the ledge so his feet are out of the water. Soon, the rocks heat up under his forearms, pleasantly so, and Obi-Wan curls under the slant of light, swimming back into unconsciousness.
Water, water everywhere, filling his mouth and nose and ears. He can’t breathe and he can’t scream, though he tries. He reaches for salvation, fingers slashing through the churning sea.
Gods, help me!
Obi-Wan wakes up abruptly, like the clean snap of a fishing line. He remembers the face in the turbulent water, calm and curious, watching him drown. He'd cried for help, arm striking out of the water, and the face had gone under the waves. The sky thundered, and the sea finally sucked Obi-Wan down, the brief flash of light illuminating the shark coming at him with its jaws wide open. But pain didn't come, nor death, and Obi-Wan next woke up to the breeze ruffling his hair as he sliced through the water. No, not him; he was splayed on its back, arms held fast around its neck, and the cold wind and the even colder water had lulled him back to sleep before he could name the creature.
Now, Obi-Wan is awake, heart thundering as the memories spread themselves over the gaps in his mind. He's been staring at the creature in the water for a while, the same face and wild hair in his memories, but instead of looking back, it - he - is focussed on Obi-Wan's bare feet with an expression of utter bafflement. Obi-Wan wriggles a toe and the creature startles down into the water with a trill, throwing sand up into clouds.
It takes a while for the dust to settle, and Obi-Wan grabs the opportunity to roll onto his stomach, closer to the edge. He feels like a giant bruise but he's lived a hard life of labour and these aches are nothing to his worst days in the fields under the sun.
A head pops out of the water, slowly, followed by pale shoulders and arms, the torso lean and narrow, and here the human flesh smoothens out into scales of deep red and purple in perfect continuity. Through the swirling water, Obi-Wan clearly sees the long tail lazily flicking up more sand. The pelvic fins are a softer shade of purple, unfurling out from the creature's hips, and a graceful swish brings the tail in front so the caudal fins are displayed with their delicate, half-transparent skin, the colour of a blush, sweeping wide in the water like an exotic fan. Behind them, the merman - merman, a merman! - pushes aside the fins and swims back up out of the water, the gills under his jaw clamping shut. Golden hair sticks to his face and he shoves them back impatiently, eyes wide and intent on Obi-Wan.
With a start, Obi-Wan realises how close their faces are but he's too mesmerised by the merman's eyes to look away: irises the colour of a perfect powder sky but the pupils are vertical ripples; to daze its prey, Obi-Wan reckons. He feels spellbound himself, and his hand reaches out to touch the scales clustered on one shoulder. The merman draws out of reach with another warble, arms crossed protectively over his torso and mouth bared to reveal two rows of sharp teeth.
'Oh,' says Obi-Wan, blinking out of his dreamy state, 'I didn't mean to startle you. Well, that is, you shocked me.' He laughs, suddenly, the sound amplified in the chamber. The merman's head jerks back, mouth slackening in amazement.
There are scales on the creature's face, glimmering shapes in different shades of blue on his temples and a mixture of reds and violets along the sides of his neck, under his gills. Obi-Wan blinks again, just to make sure there really is a half-man, half-sea creature in the water before him.
Obi-Wan sits up, rolls his trousers up to his knees, and then holds out a leg in the water with the other folded underneath him. The water is warm. The merman moves closer, slowly.
The creature seems as fascinated with Obi-Wan as Obi-Wan is with him, stopping a few inches away from Obi-Wan's feet directly under the ray of sunlight, lighting up all the pretty parts of him, and there are plenty. He's a lovely thing, and not just by virtue of being a creature straight out of a storybook. The merman makes a sound that is distinctly curious as his nose stops an inch away from Obi-Wan's toes. Obi-Wan wriggles his toes again, then flinches when something soft brushes the back of his knee. He looks down and sees the gossamer fins spread out under his leg.
The sway of the fins is hypnotic. 'You saved my life, didn't you?' asks Obi-Wan softly so as not to scare the merman away again. Blue eyes flicker up to his face and then go back to the feet in front of him. He purses his lips and Obi-Wan obliges, rotating his foot, amused and moved beyond words when the merman smiles brightly and gives a trill - this one in notes of utter delight - as his pelvic fins try to mimic the movement.
Obi-Wan is alive because of this creature, and in being so, has been gifted with the wonder of knowing his existence.
He extends his right hand, catching the sunlight at his fingertips. The merman lowers half his face in the water, the tips of his hair floating like seaweed, his eyes peering through the lace of his eyelashes up at him.
'My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi,' says Obi-Wan, heart caught in his throat, 'and you have my lifelong gratitude, and friendship, for saving my life.'
The merman tilts his head to the side, gives a hum: crystal notes stretching out and sounding like church bells, the way the chimes overlap and cut through the air to reach inside your chest plucking at some resonant chord in you. Quick as a fish, the merman touches his fingertips to Obi-Wan's, then, giving a cheeky smile, dives back in the water and swims a lazy circuit round the grotto. Obi-Wan glimpses his dorsal fins, three spines that grow shorter the closer they are to his back and stretched over with the same pink gossamer of his tail fins.
With a flick and a splash, the merman disappears into deeper waters, leaving Obi-Wan to drop his hand on his lap, confused and amazed, waiting for night to fall.