“Holy shit,” is the only thing that comes to Shiro’s mind.
The answer is a warning thrill, reverberating around the rocks of the small cove. It’s a tiny place, covered by trees so well, even when he can hear the racket of the highway behind them from here, that he’s never seen it. Shiro doubt anyone ever has seen any of this place. It’s crescent-shaped, keeping most of the waves of the sea outside its walls.
Which is a good thing, seeing there’s a beached… creature on it, laying on its side, gills opening with great gulps of air. Shiro can’t believe his eyes. It’s a bright pink, tail shimmering even when its coated in sand, shining under the blaring heat of the sun. The scales scatter for smooth skin near the hips, leading to a very small waist. Shiro sees spines and scales on the middle of the creature’s back, carrying on behind its arms…
Is this a mermaid? Shiro blinks again. Then another time. Is this even possible? It doesn’t seem possible at all. He approaches, slowly, careful. There’s a deep gash on its lower back, leaking blood, stark red against the pastel scales. Shiro winces just at the sight.
“H-hey,” he tries, softening his voice as much as he can. The rouge eyes narrow to slits, another hiss telling him to get away. Of course. It’s scared, trying to tell him to go away. Shiro recognize the patterns of nets on him, criss-cross splits on its pale skin. Both its hands are mangled, from what Shiro assumes comes from ripping the fishing net he was trapped in. There’s even some more attached to its tail, bright blue against the baby pink scales.
Shiro is compelled to come closer, just to see if he can help. “I’m not here to hurt you,” he tries, as if he can understand, hands up as he leaves his surfboard to the side. It eyes his prosthetic like it’s a weapon, gleaming in the sunlight and Shiro can’t blame it. It must have been there for a few hours; its hair has dried and falls in lazy curls around its face. From so close, Shiro assumes the angular features of his face might mean the mermaid might be a merman, whatever the societal norm might say about his colouring.
He raises a clawed hand, lips lifting in a snarl, revealing sharp rows of needle-like teeth. A shiver runs down Shiro’s spine, his brain urging him to flee. If he was caught intentionally, this creature will not trust anything that remotely resembles what trapped him in that fishing net.
“I want to help,” Shiro says again, slow and gentle, kneeling to the creature’s level. He sniffs him, as if his smell would determine if he is friend or foe. It could be mistaken for a feline gesture, with the way the merman’s nose twitches slowly.
He’s still wary when he looks up, trashing less as Shiro picks part of the painful fishing net tangled all around him. As careful as ever, Shiro shows him the buck knife he always brings on these excursions, always useful, and starts cutting.
It’s crazy to think this isn’t a dream.
“Holy shit,” Shiro says to himself, He pinches his forearm, blinking as if both actions will change the sight of what is sitting in his claw foot tub, curiously picking at the bandages over his tails.
It’s even weirder to think about that even brighter pink mermaid now that he’s under the fluorescent light of the room is named something that sounds deceptively much like Keith.
The orb-shaped lights of the vanity seem to greatly fascinate him too. Keith taps at it, turning to Shiro once he notices him looking. The numerous gills open quicker, as if the creature doesn’t trust him so fully yet. It must be an inane reaction, the distrust of humans. Shiro can’t say that’s something he’s against, but, as he’s already brought the merman here, he offers him an amiable smile.
Nothing to fear. He tries to make Keith understand this through his body language, open and gentle, coming dangerously close to this creature of teeth and claws, watching his nose move.
He makes a noises, points behind him.
Shiro laughs. It shouldn’t be surprising that similar hominids have similar behaviours. Similar expressions of the face – Keith’s initial distrust was clearly recognisable. And now… pointing to what Shiro brings from the kitchen. Keith’s nose, however, is much more sensitive and detected the salmon fillet he has to offer. He planned to smoke it but Shiro knows Keith needs it more than he does.
Shiro produces the salmon and presents it to Keith, watching his child-like excitement as the mermaid pokes and smells it. After whats seems to be an inspection to insure edibleness, Keith looks up, as if to ask for permission.
“Take it,” Shiro assures, pushing it toward the creature.
The reaction is something out of nightmares. Keith grabs the meat with impressive speed, not even taking a second to tear a piece or rip the small bit of skin and scales left on the salmon. Keith’s mouth, seemingly human-sized, opens wide, as low as half his neck, revealing immense teeth. Shiro’s eyes are glued to the way the pink flesh of his his throat is littered with countless of hook-like teeth.
The soft flesh of the fish stands no chances, swallowed whole as Shiro can only watch.
Keith has the audacity to burp once he’s done, covering his mouth sheepishly. His big, pink eyes look at him with endless gratitude, the Barbie-pink merman imitating his smile, showing rows and rows of needle-like teeth.
He’d like to think of himself as brave. As someone who would never judge on looks. But those – those big, hundreds of teeth – are without a doubt, the dentition of an apex predator. One who would have no troubles to eat him whole, his mind supplies to an unpleasant flip of his stomach.
Keith makes a little noise, watching him expectantly. It’s a little chirp, accompanied by a cock of his head.
Oh. He’s waiting for the rest.
Keith recovers to a trickle’s pace. The fishing nets cut deep, leaving the skin nearly diced in some more fragile areas. Keith seems to be somewhat aware of what should be done for healing, even if, it’s obvious, none of them are anything remotely close to doctors. His fins have frayed near the tips, some of the smallest ones along his tail being the most damaged.
Shiro tries all the creams and ointments he can get his hands on, going through a tube of Polysporin in less than a day. After that, he tries looking up natural recipes, from ground herbs to flower salves, anything that might help. Keith already seems better after a few days, even if he could only do so when on that first night, he was weak from blood loss, sun burn and dehydration.
The progress, from what Shiro gathers from reading Keith’s disappointment, is too slow. A meagre comfort, still, is that the wounds never seem to become infected. Keith, though discontent with the pace of his own healing, does not seem particularly worried. Shiro guesses that’s good. His abyssal friend is energetic and in a good mood, even, learning how to mimic Shiro’s smiles.
He’s so highly intelligent, after only a week, Keith understands how to reproduce a few words and understands much more. His voice sounds much different than most humans from the numerous gills across his body, but Shiro distinctly hears a soft “Please?” before he gives him his meals during the second week. By that time, he’s moved him to his backyard, in a deep pond with a quaint little waterfall he made last summer, when he felt like his backyard could have used some life.
Keith takes the carps as an offering, munching on them in an instant. None of the fat kois, well-fed and used to come close to anything approaching the surface with open mouths, even get to have the thought to escape. Shiro can’t even be mad when Keith looks at him with a pout of disappointment. It wasn’t to his tastes.
“Sorry,” Shiro says, then. What else can he be? He’s not sure if he’s sorrier for the fishes or Keith. Or himself. His life has become a reclusive mess ever since he’s found Keith. Not that he was anything but before. Ever since coming back from his last deployment, Shiro’s preferred surfing the waves and being solitary, living a good distance away from any neighbours and spending much of his time alone.
No one understands what it is, blissfully ignorant and judging the tension that never leaves him now. He did miss company. It’s a natural instinct to seek out Keith’s company, coming out every morning to the image of Keith, curled around his rose-coloured tail, head peaking out of the water on a pillow of moss, hair slipping out of his braid.
Just being in the water seems to help him more than the confined space of the bathroom. Keith is much more discreet than Shiro would have expected something of his size to be and certainly more sociable. When Keith sees him, his eyed light up with a now open expression of happiness, thrilling to call him close.
Somehow, even with so few words, they grow to have a complicity. It’s weird to think he truly gets along with someone, especially when he felt like, after coming back home, no one could ever understand him again.
In his quiet moments, Keith leaves him space. There’s curiosity rather than fear for his prosthetic, eyes searching for consent before touching, exploring the textures with delicate hands.
They have no way to communicate it bug Shiro thinks they both know it. They are both lonely people, in maybe not so different ways. Shiro isn’t sure how he can sense this. Maybe it’s something in their eyes, in their quietness, the need for company but not words.
It feels like it’s too soon but after some time, Keith finally healed. Even if the rose-coloured scales now bear the marks of the accident, everything underneath the skin seems to be as well as can be.
Shiro knows he should be ecstatic to finally be able to return Keith to the sea. It’s a perfect night too, with the moon high in the sky, reflecting on the waves like a strike of milk in black tea.
Shiro knows his body already fears loneliness, more so when he steps out his car and helps Keith out the back of the truck, bringing where the waves lick at his fins. They wriggle, much like toes would do, feeling the temperature and the currents.
Keith leaves his hold to leap into the sea. Shiro’s heart pinches.
Keith comes back in just a minute, beaching himself like an orca, laughing in joy. It’s contagious, just as it should be, and Shiro fonds himself sharing the sensation with ease.
Keith will finally go back where he belongs, Shiro thinks, happy yet.
Keith looks at him, a mix of grateful and unreadable, reaching out to hold his hands. He saved him. He healed him. He brought him back.
“Thank you,” Keith says, again, voice tight from emotion.
Just like humans.
Neither are good at goodbyes. They play, for a little moment before Shiro doesn’t see Keith rise above the waters.
He stands there for a moment, watching the sea, hearing the breeze and feeling the waves against his calves.
Shiro turns around without any more words. Maybe some things just… weren’t meant to last.
It’s a beautiful day. The sun makes the sea look like an immense jewel, shining and shimmering under its powerful rays.
The waves are good today and Shiro needs quite some time before finally finding a quiet spot to catch the swells of the water. There’s nothing like the feeling of riding the water as the wave folds on itself, nothing like the exhilaration of speed. He admires nature’s power, laughing as he paddles to find another wave.
Shiro carved a sharp turn to come out of an impressive barrel, finds another just after to hitch on. He comes atop of it, scanning the scenery behind his wet bang when something jumps out of the water next to him, twisting in the air to dive back into the waters.
Surprised, Shiro loses his balance and falls over, rushing up to catch his surf. He comes out of the water with a cough, looking forward to catch something very pink in front of him.
Shiro laughs. It feels like it’s the only appropriate thing to do to show his joy. Keith follows with a cute giggle. His old friend – in the flesh, healed and with some meat to his bones.
“Shiro,” Keith thrills, holding the board as Shiro reaches over to hug him and pat his back
“I’m glad you’re back,” he says, knowing Keith might not understand. His eyes speak for what words can’t , with Keith’s bashful smile.
It quickly changes to mischief, something Shiro can recognise without fail on the boy’s face. “Shiro,” he says. “Play?” he points to the waves, fidgeting into the water. Keith wants to race with him and Shiro wants nothing more than that.
It’s not a fair game but Shiro loves to overcome odds.
As the wave comes, Shiro climbs on his board, watching Keith already threading the surface with elegance, faster than any dolphin.
The water picks him up, gives him momentum. And, with boundless joy, Shiro starts giving chase, following Keith’s pastel streak through the hills of the sea.