The lighthouse is 238 steps to the top.
The first time Shiro makes the climb, his hand clinging to the banister in fear of tumbling back down the twisting spiral, it’s a warm, sunny day. In the lantern room, he can see over the rocky outcropping where the tower perches like a skinny upright bird, its one flashing eye all-seeing. The blue sky meets the gray sea with without any fuss. Shiro admires the two waifish clouds that pass by the sun.
“The ships come in from that way,” Iverson says, pointing to the mouth of the bay. He draws a line in the air with his pointer finger to show the trajectory of the boats. “They come along here.” He stops to gesture at the center of the bay with a small, circular motion. “Before the lighthouse was built, they’d always wreck right around there.”
“Hm,” Shiro says, surveying the water. When he’d come here as a child he’d heard the stories of the dozens of ships downed in fair weather and stormy alike as they entered the bay. Unfortunately, this is the mouth of the only viable route to the port.
“Those sailors are depending on you,” Iverson goes on. “If you don’t do your duties every night, they could perish.” He gives Shiro a shrewd look. “Are you sure you can handle this, Shirogane?”
Shiro knows it’s a well-meaning question, but that doesn’t keep him from feeling some irritation.
“Definitely,” he replies, trying to hide his annoyance behind a resolute tone.
“That’s every day you have to come up here,” Iverson says, expression unchanging. “No matter the weather.” He pauses. “No matter how you’re feeling.”
Shiro grits his teeth, and his hand curls into a fist at his side. “I know.”
Iverson doesn’t prod him any further, so Shiro turns his attention back to the water, letting the pristine seascape wash his frustrations away. He takes a deep breath, and the windowpane left cracked open to the sea air allows his lungs to be flooded with the fresh, brinish breeze.
“The water looks so calm,” Shiro notes. “It’s hard to believe there are such deadly rocks beneath the surface.”
They allow a long moment of silence to go by, in which Shiro continues watching the placid expanse of the bay, the sun glittering from its mirror surface.
“Well, that’s the strange part, son,” Iverson finally says.
Iverson’s expression is frowning when he turns his attention from the view back to Shiro, the lines at the corners of his mouth deep and concerned.
“There are no rocks in Kogane Bay.”
Shiro isn’t one to believe in superstition.
He doesn’t chronicle tall tales or take myths to heart. He can enjoy a good story without subscribing to a faith in the supernatural. He knows when those in town talk about the creature who must stir in the depths of the bay, it must have some sort of natural basis that they simply don’t understand yet.
In his youth, when he thought he could still be an explorer, still captain a ship, Shiro spent years studying the sea. He knows the ocean is mysterious and deep, swirling with expanses yet unseen by human eyes. It contains wonders that people won’t be able to witness, let alone comprehend, for hundreds of years to come. He knows they only understand a fraction of what exists out there. And that, more than anything, intrigues him.
But he won’t believe that there’s truly anything out there worth whispering about. The sea should be regarded with a healthy amount of fear, yes, but that’s just Mother Nature’s way. There’s nothing intellectual—nothing sentient —about it. A wave will drown you whether you build a mythology around it or not.
Shiro was a sickly child who grew into a sickly young man. He remembers a time his mother took him to the shore here as a child, thinking the fresh sea air might do his complexion some good.
He remembers not wanting to leave the beach, even when his mother grew concerned about overexhaustion. He remembers getting tired of being told no, of being told where he could and couldn’t go. He remembers flinging open the door on a stormy night and running down to the shore to see waves thrashing like dying horses on a battlefield.
He remembers watching the swells and somehow wishing that they would swallow him. That he could swim out into them and travel to a world where he could chase down his dreams. Where he could see what the ocean had to offer for him. Where he wasn’t limited by stupid things like his weakening muscles or the fact that he’d never once stopped to contemplate the things that lie beneath a girl’s dress.
He’s always respected the sea for what it is. But he’s never believed that there’s anything worth superstition in those waters.
Shiro stands watch outside some nights.
It’s his job to make sure the wick stays lit all night, every night, that it’s visible from the sea and that the mechanisms don’t fail, but otherwise there’s nothing limiting him to the lighthouse’s lamp room. Sometimes when his muscles ache it’s just easier to stay there, to not have to climb up, and then down, and then back up, and then back down. But he likes to taste the night’s salt air on the back of his tongue. He likes to feel the lick and spittle of the high tide as he watches its undulations against the black rocks.
It’s when he stands out there under the roving beam of the lighthouse, under the thick, heavy light of the moon, that he begins to see flashes of movement in the waves.
“Do dolphins usually come out at night?” he asks as he’s paying at the general store the next time he makes the trek into town for supplies.
The young clerk frowns at him. “Not that I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh.” Shiro thinks. “Whales then? Tuna?”
The clerk turns the question back around on him, eyebrows rising. “You seen something out there?”
“It’s probably just a trick of the light,” Shiro says, but he can tell right away from the look in the clerk’s eyes that he’s about to be on the end of another whispered lectured on the topic of The Thing that Lives in the Bay.
He quickly gathers his things before that can happen and makes his swift escape.
It must be a whale, he decides after several more nights. The thing he’s seeing, it’s enormous. It seems to be everywhere at once. It’s possibly several whales. An entire pod, come to visit him every night.
It doesn’t explain the constant feeling that he’s being watched. Every time he looks up into the water he expects to find eyes on him, but the theoretical whales keep their heads submerged. All he sees instead are pale flickers of flesh, dark shapes sliding just below the surface. Sometimes the moon hits something just right, and Shiro catches fragments of dark red, bruised purple, black.
He searches the books left in the lighthouse keeper’s apartments by its prior occupants for literature on sea life. He finds some illustrations of whales in a thick, dusty tome, but their descriptions insist whales are gray, white, sometimes bluish in the right light. It’s the only nonfiction book about the sea he can find on the shelves, which are instead lined with sailor’s myths and tales of sirens and selkies.
Shiro gives up his research and watches the red and purple flash in his peripherals.
Shiro has always had these dreams.
Frigid water makes his hair stick to his neck, his shirt plastered to his spine and his chest. He has a whalebone sailor’s knife in his hand, and can barely see what he’s hacking away at in front of him because the night is dark and frothy and thick with howling wind, pelting rain. His hands are too small to properly grip the handle of the blade, and every time it slips he fears splitting his hand open or severing a finger.
But he continues to saw at the thick ropes, intertwined and crisscrossed into a massive black nebula, like the wings of bats darkening the dusk.
Something more than the rhythmic yank of the towering, furious waves pulls and strains at the ropes, and every time Shiro pauses what he’s doing to reach out, to place his hand against the rain-slicked rocks, to say, “ Shh, shh, I’m almost done ,” though he knows he’ll be working until dawn peeks its way over the horizon and he has blisters on the palms of his hands and he’s shivering so hard from the ocean spray that he can barely walk straight.
He looks down and sees the rocks wet with something darker than rainwater, more treacherous than sea spray, and though he knows it’s not his own his stomach clenches every time.
Sometimes the dream ends with him finally biting through the rope, the fibers splitting and falling away into the darkness. He doesn’t get to say goodbye to it, which always leaves a strangely fierce pang of longing in his chest when he wakes, but he does toss the knife into the ocean, knowing that it’s not his own.
But sometimes the dream ends with him endlessly, ceaselessly, eternally sawing at the ropes, with the weight of a feeling in his stomach that it’ll never be enough.
One evening, Shiro arrives at his favorite spot on the rocks to find something reflecting the milky moonlight lodged between two enormous boulders. He draws closer to see something intricate, metallic, brassy, and leans down to find a handsome sextant. Its elegant, mathematical angles and curves speak of precision and practicality, its surface in places oxidized to a cheerful green.
Shiro looks around. The surf doesn’t reach these rocks, so even if something as dense as this instrument were to be carried by the waves, he can’t understand how it ended up wedged into this space. It’s possible, he thinks, that there might have been some freak swell, but something about its placement seems very deliberate, slid into the narrow canal between blankets of clinging mussels as though for safekeeping.
Either way, finders keepers, he supposes. He’s far enough from town, from most other civilization, that it seems highly unlikely that there were people here on the beach to leave it. Shiro lifts the instrument in his hands and marvels at the clean design again. He’s used a sextant before, but given the scant few times he’s actually boarded a boat, his experience with them is strictly textbook. He decides to set it upon the empty surface of the chest of drawers in his bedroom when he returns home. He considers it a stroke of luck that something so lovely ended up in his possession when it very likely was adrift at sea until now. It just as easily could have sunk to the bottom of the ocean and remained there for all eternity.
The next night, Shiro descends from the lighthouse to find his attention once again caught by something poking out from between the rocks. Frowning, he goes to investigate and finds a fine spyglass in the exact same position as the sextant from the night before, sheltered in the fissure between two large boulders.
He looks up at the flicker of unnatural movement in his peripherals, and swears he catches a flash of red.
When Shiro first began working overnight, his body found the idea of staying awake all night and sleeping during the day unnatural. He would struggle to sleep during the day and stay awake at night, and as the time neared dawn and he began to sway on his feet more and more, he would imagine things in the corners of his eyes. This is just like that all over again.
Except Shiro doesn’t feel tired.
The only other explanation, Shiro thinks as he tucks the spyglass into an inner pocket for safekeeping, is that the whales are leaving him presents.
That, of course, is a thought as unrealistic as it is silly, but he can’t imagine how or why these things keep washing up here.
It doesn’t stop him from amassing a collection of small treasures. Navigational tools, mostly, regal and perfectly balanced, left every night in the same exact spot on the rocks, as though waiting patiently for Shiro to happen across them. Sometimes a folded sail, or a bit of rope contorted into an interesting knot, or an ornate piece of silverware. Shiro has a lot of questions about each of them, but no one to ask, so he carries each of them home and arranges them neatly into a gorgeous little nautical museum on his chest of drawers.
He starts to watch from the lantern room on the tower, his eyes trained on the rocks from dusk to the time he descends to the beach, but when the sun sets the light from the lamp blots out everything beyond the panes and Shiro can only see his own scarred reflection staring back at him. By the time he makes it out of the lighthouse, there’s already something, some bit of flotsam, sitting in the crook of the rocks for him.
But Shiro is determined. He wants to know. Where these things have come from, and why. Some current, maybe. Some trick of the tides. He’s always loved learning about the sea, unlocking its mysteries. This is a personal one for him.
It’s with mounting frustration and bewilderment that he comes to stand on the rocks one night and stares out over the water. The sky is bruised dark and moonless with clouds, and the waves are wild and choppy from a stiff breeze that soars over water and sand alike. A smattering of rain dances across Shiro’s skin at intervals, and the jagged stone under his feet is stained dark and slick with the tossing of the sea and an earlier downpour.
He thinks, maybe, that he shouldn’t have come here tonight, not out this far on the singular outcropping of rocks that spears out into the bay. Not when picking his way out here had been so treacherous, even in his treaded boots. But he’d been curious to see if another find awaited him out here, if he could figure out more of the origins of the objects that rest here for him in the night.
Shiro’s newest possession looks to be some kind of colorful fabric, a flag maybe, drenched and folded into a small rectangle, and he’s just bent to examine it when he catches a shiver of unnatural movement in the flash of the lighthouse. He snaps his head up, blocking his face against wind-kicked spray, and searches the sea.
He sees nothing. Not overtly. But it feels like his peripherals are crawling. Like any second now he’ll turn his head and be face-to-face with another living creature.
Leaving the flag where it sits, Shiro strikes out further down the rocks to get a better view. He has to squint against the wind as he goes, irritated by how rainwater and sea salt weighs his hair down and into his eyes. The ridge of rock that he carefully steps along is narrow and battered on all sides by waves, and Shiro has to pay special attention to each footfall. It’s not a good night to be out here like this, he’s reminded again. But somehow he feels closer to the mystery in the dark like this.
His vision catches and snags on something. The tiniest flicker of motion among the surf. Something that doesn’t seem quite right. A color that doesn’t fit with the background, a movement too irrhythmic to be ocean waves.
Shiro leans forward. Takes a step, and then another, and then—
Sole meets wet, smooth rock. Shiro’s foot slides violently, and he teeters for a moment, swinging his arm to stay upright, but finds himself lacking the symmetry he’s used to. He flails until the ground slips out from under him. His feet rush towards the sea, and his body follows.
The ocean is frigid as Shiro plunges into it with a thundering splash. For a second all he can register is cold , and then it’s the pressing, panicked need to surface as his layers of clothes soak in water and keep him held under. He tries to claw towards the sky, but his arm slams hard against rock and stuns his nerves. He kicks out with his feet, and finds nothing in any direction, and begins to lose sense of which way is up . Everywhere is dark. Everywhere is water. Panic bubbles in Shiro’s chest like the bubbles released as air escapes from his lungs.
I’m going to die here , Shiro realizes frantically, between thrusting out with his arm, with his legs reaching for anything. But he can’t get a grip , he can’t find the bottom or the top or even the rocks he came from. He can’t feel anything but the strain of his lungs and the cold that’s seeped through to the marrow of his bones. It hurts . Shiro lashes out, unable to stop himself from struggling.
His body aches. He wants to breathe, and when his mouth opens automatically to gasp for air, putrid seawater surges in. His muscles twinge. His body is numb with the cold, cold, cold. He can’t see or hear or breathe or even think now, as darkness encroaches on his mind. After all he’s been through, this ending seems silly, anticlimactic.
Anticlimactic, but fitting. He would drown in the sea.
Something touches him.
Through his haze of panic and airlessness, he thinks he’s imagining it for a moment, but then he realizes it’s insistent, and it’s not going away. There’s definitely something moving of its own volition, something not attached to the motion of the sea, and it’s wrapping around him. It’s warmer than the water but still cool, and Shiro’s initial instinct is to pry it off, so he begins to claw at it with his hand.
But then it’s around his wrist too. And around his kicking legs, and his waist, and his thighs, and the more Shiro struggles and fights the tighter it gets. And then it begins to drag. It pulls him through the water with a startling insistence. Sea snakes? Shiro’s desperate, unworking brain tries to supply, but that doesn’t make sense. Octopus? Squid?
None of it works out. It’s probably just kelp that got caught around him as he struggles, Shiro thinks, but then his head breaks the surface, and he takes an enormous gulp of air. Relief floods through him, but not too much relief, because he’s still being pulled, still being physically manipulated by the hold around him.
He shivers and drips, helpless and terrified, as he’s dragged out of the water completely, suspended above its surface by the mysterious force that has its grip on him. He tries to see what it might be, but he’s still disoriented and waterlogged and the world is whooshing by his ears and nothing is registering correctly. He thinks he sees smooth, dark skin, but he’s more concerned about the blurry sand of the beach and he rapidly approaches it. He tries to reach out a hand to slow his descent towards it, but whatever is holding him handles him gingerly as it rests him on the ground.
Shiro frantically turns to look at what’s in the water, but his vision is still fuzzy with seawater, and he’s shaking so violently from the sudden cold that he can barely process his own body. He thinks he catches the sight of a dark, humanoid silhouette, and a hundred million thick, writhing, tapered limbs undulating and wriggling above the surface of the ocean.
That’s when Shiro scrambles to his feet and bolts, kicking up wet sand under his squelching boots.
He doesn’t look back at the sea again until he’s high in his tower.
Shiro doesn’t sleep a single minute the entire next day, but he feels too much bone-chilling fear to let even a finger out from under his blankets. As he lies there, he can almost feels the cold grip of the sea on him, the strangely muscled limbs contracting around him. His memories and the fading pink circular imprints in his skin are the only proof that what happened last night did, in fact, happen, but it’s enough for him to rethink moving out here to an isolated lighthouse near the bay.
He spends the morning convincing himself it was a dream, it was the hallucination of a dying man. But the fact of the matter is that Shiro was drowning, was lost under the water, before something effortlessly lifted him up and placed him on the beach.
It isn’t until noon or so that Shiro can think clearly enough to realize that whatever the strange force of nature he came into contact with last night was, if it had wanted to kill him, it already had had him at his mercy and had instead gently returned him to the shore. What’s more, it suddenly seems not unlikely that it’s the same thing that has been leaving him gifts on the rocks. He has no substantial evidence for those things being related except for proximity and that they’re both unexplained happenings in Shiro’s life, but he figures it’s time to learn more.
So that night, after he’s maintenanced the lamp and returned to the beach, he stands at the line of the high tide and peers out to the sea. Tonight, the sky is a patchwork of dark nebulous clouds shoved around by the whistling wind, and the surface of the bay leaps and jumps in fits. He can’t see anything besides the peaks and valleys, but a feeling in the pit of his stomach rather than anything tangible tells him that he’s not alone.
“Who are you?” Shiro shouts instinctively into the battering wind. “I know you’re there! Who are you?”
He feels ridiculous, standing at the water’s edge as the moon hangs high above, its light mottled by the shifting clouds. There’s nothing unusual in this bay, he wants to tell himself, but the ruins of old ships at its floor. Shouting at the sea when there’s nothing out there that can comprehend him is the action of a madman.
But he wonders now if the tales might have some truth to them. That there might, in fact, be something sleeping here.
The clouds sweep over the moon again, casting the beach, the bay, Shiro into darkness, and in the distance the occulting beam of the lighthouse flashes once and leaves Shiro’s eyes blind in the black.
He shudders with the sudden overwhelming sensation that there’s something in front of him. Not just something, something that dwarves him completely, that exists in the blurry, dark space between the ocean and the sky, its edges fuzzy in the dimness. Shiro feels his heart rate kick up, feels his breath come in an abrupt inhale. A fear he can’t identify the origin of strikes straight into his heart, and he squints and stares, hand shaking, to try and discern anything about what might be before him.
The clouds part; the beam of the lighthouse returns. Shiro’s eyes open wide. There is something in front of him, something that wasn’t there before. A looming, hulking presence, dark against the sea and the speckle of stars on the horizon. It rises out of the water, parting the waves like it doesn’t feel the pull of them, seawater cascading down its form in sheets. Its main mass consists of a thousand long writhing, wriggling limbs, like something out of a nightmare or a dark fairytale. They’re seemingly everywhere, thick and long and reaching, propping the creature out of the ocean above its surface, stretching out in all directions, disappearing back into the sea and giving the impression of more and more and more, bigger and bigger and bigger.
And in the center of that, unbelievably, is the torso of a man.
“I’m Keith,” it says, and its eyes are the deepest, most enamoring purple that Shiro has ever seen.
Shiro could run. Shiro could clamber up the rocks, race across the sand, go back to his bed in his home, hide his head beneath his pillow. He could go to town in the morning and tell the people of the monster in the deep. That they were right, that it’s here, inhabiting the bay. He could lash out, in fear, in self-defense. He could give under the weight of his panic.
But he could also not do that. He has to make a decision, and he does.
“It’s nice to meet you, Keith,” he says, and his voice is breathless, foundationless. “I’m Shiro.”
Keith’s human upper portion is smaller than Shiro; if he was a man, he’d only come up to Shiro’s chin, Shiro estimates. Keith’s hair is jet black and sticks to his face, his head, his neck where it’s slicked back with water. Keith’s irises are bright and shining like gemstones, even in the dark, and nearly blot out his sclera. Keith’s skin is pale, almost translucent, and he’s hairless from the neck down. Keith has a set of slowly shifting gills on the sides of his neck.
He also has an impossibly large writhing tangle of tentacles that flow off the end of his body like a squid’s might, but larger, thicker, and infinitely more numerous. They’re black in the dark but various jewel shades of red and purple under the light of the moon. They support his body as he stands up out of the surf, and help drag him onto the beach beside Shiro once he’s certain that Shiro isn’t going to go into cardiac arrest at the sight of him.
Keith lives here, in the bay. The people know he exists, but they don’t know he exists. Shiro, on a seemingly noble impulse that inexplicably strikes through him, swears not to tell anyone. Keith stares at him, examining his face.
“You’ve been leaving things here,” Shiro says. It’s not a question. He knows it’s true. “You saved me last night.”
Keith turns his head away and thins his lips. For a ridiculously large creature of the deep, he manages to somehow look bashful.
“Thank you,” Shiro says, earnest. His heart is still pounding, and he figures it’s in his best interest to be polite.
But Keith is dismissive. Not arrogantly, but rather like he hasn’t been thanked for anything and doesn’t know how to accept the words. “It was nothing.”
“It wasn’t nothing,” Shiro insists, stepping closer. He wants to see better, because he suspects Keith’s skin, though scarred in places, is otherwise smooth and unblemished. He regrets that this meeting had to take place at night. “I would have died if you hadn’t caught me.”
Keith shrugs it away. “You would’ve helped me too.”
How do you know that? Shiro wants to ask, but he also doesn’t want to outright challenge something with enormous limbs capable of dragging him out of the water without any energy expended. He lets the matter drop.
Keith is fascinating, and more than that, he’s not aggressive, or malicious, or in the mood for devouring human flesh. These were Shiro’s immediate concerns, but though Keith’s attitude seems a little rough, a little closed-off, it’s not in any way that makes Shiro feel uneasy. In fact, he’s so wholly humanlike that until Shiro lets his gaze trail down Keith’s body, he forgets who— what —he’s speaking with.
Shiro makes an attempt to make this whole situation seem a little less impenetrable.
“You’re very…large,” he says, trying to take in all of Keith at once. He can’t. Parts of him are submerged, and he doesn’t know how far he goes.
Keith looks him up and down.
“So are you,” he replies.
Shiro finds himself blushing at the comment. Compared to Keith’s human torso, maybe he is. Keith’s evidently toned musculature attests to strength, but his wrists are narrow and delicate-looking, the lines of his collarbones fine. Shiro’s shoulders are much broader than his, his arm span and spine much longer. It’s unclear how old Keith is, and Shiro won’t pretend to be aware of how mysterious sea creatures age, but he has the appearance of someone maybe half a decade younger than Shiro. Somehow, Shiro is struck with the strange thought that he’s more beautiful than any person Shiro has ever seen walking the land.
But he brushes that from his mind. Now the answer to the question of “what is leaving items on the rocks” may be answered, but leaves a million more questions in its wake. Shiro never would’ve imagined something like this was living here in the bay.
Right there, on the beach, they get to talking.
“Is it just you down there?” is one of the questions Shiro asks. “Do you often talk to humans?” “Are you going to kill me?”
Yes. No, never. Of course not.
Shiro takes his word for it and continues on his mental litany. There’s so much he doesn’t understand that he feels like he’s ankle deep in an ocean he can’t see the depths of. As he wades further out, he can only become more aware of what’s already come, and what’s immediately underneath his feet. Everything else is a mystery.
Shiro’s a little bit peeved that Iverson didn’t warn him that there would be a giant sea monster giving him presents.
“Do you talk to every lighthouse keeper?” Shiro asks, brandishing the flag from the rocks in implication.
Keith looks at him sharply, face morphing into a scowl. “No. Of course not.”
Okay, Iverson is possibly forgiven then.
Of course, Keith has questions too. He takes a little while to start to ask them, as though he’s not used to conversation, but they do come, in perfect, unaccented speech. Why did Shiro come here? To work in the lighthouse. Where is Shiro from? Somewhere far from the ocean. What does Shiro do with all the things Keith has left him? Treasures them.
In between all of this, Shiro feels like his head is swimming. He’s still not convinced he didn’t fall down the lighthouse stairs and this is his dream as he’s been knocked out. He feels as though he’s barely learned anything at all, perpetually drowning in more and more questions, besides the fact that a creature like Keith lives beneath the waves, and that he’s quiet, brief in his words, but not unfriendly.
Before he knows it, the sun is threatening to appear at the corner of the sea and the sky. Keith eyes the dawn warily, and Shiro knows he has to make the climb back up the lighthouse to extinguish the lamp.
He needs to get in one last question.
“Can I touch you?” he blurts, just as it looks like Keith is readying to push himself back down the beach into the waiting tide.
Keith swivels to look at him, wide-eyed.
“I’m just curious,” Shiro says quickly. “I’ve never touched a sea creature like you before.”
Slowly, Keith nods once, and then extends a single tentacle in Shiro’s direction. He does it with a cautious, gradual movement, as though he’s worried its proximity will cause Shiro fear, even though Shiro is the one who asked in the first place. Shiro bridges the gap with an outstretched hand and meets the end of it.
It’s cool, slick with some substance more than just seawater, and smooth. There’s a thin line of dawn at the horizon, the sky turning to shades of periwinkle and lavender, and through all that Shiro can see the gorgeous colors at all the different angles that Keith’s limb could be viewed at. There are more shades here than Shiro would ever have names for, and he finds himself admiring far beyond what is probably socially acceptable.
When he realizes he’s been holding onto a part of Keith’s body for the past many moments, he grins sheepishly and lets go gently. Just as slowly as he’d offered it, Keith pulls the limb back towards his body, cradling it almost tenderly. Then, with the hint of a smile, the first Shiro has seen from him, he begins to slide back into the surf.
Just before he’s disappeared, he half turns back towards Shiro.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” calls Keith over the crashing waves.
Maybe Shiro’s imagining it, but he sounds hopeful. Maybe Shiro’s imagining it, but he feels hopeful too.
“Yeah,” he replies. “See you.”
Shiro swears he catches the glint of a full grin over Keith’s shoulder just before he drops into the water and disappears.
Shiro heads down to the beach after dusk, wondering if he had hallucinated the entire night prior, but when he calls Keith’s name out over the waves, Keith’s head pops up above the surface of the water almost instantly. He lets himself be washed to shore, and Shiro can’t take his eyes off the way his sinewy body moves and flows. He finds himself eager to talk to Keith, to ask him more questions, especially as Keith offers up a waterlogged globe.
“From the wrecks,” he says as he transfers it gingerly into Shiro’s waiting arms.
Grateful, Shiro admires it, and then admires Keith, who is staring up at him expectantly.
Part of this is that Shiro doesn’t talk to a lot of people these days. He’s entirely a homebody, holed up in his house or the lighthouse most of the time, spending his time reading. He has no kin nor acquaintances. Social interaction, even with a monster from the sea, is nice.
Another part of it is that Shiro is genuinely interested. He’s always wanted to know more about the sea, and here is somewhere who not only knows of it, but is a component of it. A link in the food chain, a creature that lives inside of it.
And part of it is that Keith is simply fascinating. Shiro tries to push past his aesthetic appeal, because there’s nothing good that can come of that. But he finds he wants to get to know this inhabitant of the sea.
So Shiro gets to ask his questions, and Keith does too. He finds that Keith isn’t the most natural conversation partner, probably since neither of them often interact with others with any regularity, but Shiro feels comfortable talking to him. In fact, the more they talk the more Keith’s self begins to come through in his words, and the more Shiro finds that their personalities are quite seamlessly compatible.
They leave each other that night with another promise to meet again the next night. Which they do, and the night after that too. And before Shiro knows it, he has a friend.
“It was you who wrecked the boats, then.”
It’s not a question. It’s a statement, and one that Shiro has put considerable thought into giving real form. He trusts Keith not to harm him after half a dozen nights spent in his company, but part of him has been grappling with the truth of this.
The other part is worried how Keith will react, and rightfully so. His expression closes up like a pestered clam.
“Yeah,” he says, staring out over the water. He’s perched on a rock, and the moon hangs behind him, and Shiro is again struck with realization of his natural beauty. “Almost everyone survived though. I tried to make sure the people who were trapped and drowning could get to shore.”
It seems like a pre-rehearsed reassurance.
“That’s good of you,” Shiro says, cautious.
Keith doesn’t open at the acceptance of his actions or the praise, as Shiro hoped he might. He keeps staring off into the distance and gives a singular shrug of a sharp, slender shoulder.
Shiro gets the feeling like he shouldn’t follow this thread of conversation further. And not just because Keith has begun to fidget with a knife in his hands. It’s a nervous habit of his that Shiro has noticed over the past several days. Though Shiro doesn’t know quite where on Keith’s person he keeps it, he seems to always be able to have it in hand when he needs it, like when he showed Shiro how he pries oysters open to eat them raw with the blade of it.
“That’s a beautiful blade,” Shiro says, tactfully changing the subject. “Did you get it from one of the ships?”
Keith shakes his head.
“It’s actually my mother’s,” he says. He holds it out for Shiro to show it off, and Shiro finds that it’s a sturdy, handsome thing, with a hilt of whalebone. It looks familiar, somehow, but Shiro can’t think of how he might have.
Then the words sink in.
“You have a mother?” Shiro asks with surprise.
Keith cocks his head with a frown, and slides the knife back into its sheath with the deft tip of a tentacle. He carelessly drops it behind himself into the ocean water, trusting himself to be able to find it in the cold gray depths. “Everyone has a mother. Don’t you?”
It is true. Everybody, everything had to come from somewhere, he guesses.
“I did,” Shiro replies. “She died a while back.”
Keith goes quiet, and leans closer to lay one of his cold hands against Shiro’s arm. It feels different than the touches from his tentacles that Shiro has grown accustomed to over the past several days, but in a way that’s somehow more intimate, more premeditated.
“I’m sorry,” Keith says. “My….” He bites himself off, and looks to the side. “My father died too.”
Looking at the expression on Keith’s face, some of Shiro’s own mourning feels fresh. He’d never known his father, but he misses having one regardless. It seems that’s another thing between the two of them that easily bridges their differences, and Shiro, looking into Keith’s eyes, wishes it wasn’t.
“Where is your mother?” Shiro finds himself asking, if just to distract from the grief.
Keith shrugs again. “I think she’s with her pod. She asked me if I wanted to come with her last time she came back, since it’s less dangerous now and I’m older.” He looks around. “But I want to be here.”
Again, Shiro finds himself with a hundred million questions. There are entire pods of creatures like Keith? How many are in a pod, and why are pods formed? Why was it dangerous for him to go to them?
But the one question he finds himself asking is, “What’s so great about this place?”
Keith’s twilight eyes find him, and stare deep into him.
“You’re here,” he says simply, though painfully earnest.
The breath leaves Shiro’s lungs, and before he can kickstart his heart again, Keith refocuses his gaze to somewhere over Shiro’s shoulder.
“Also, you know the old keeper’s house?” Keith asks.
“Yeah,” Shiro says. “Where I live?”
Keith nods. “That one. That’s where my father used to live. Before they even built the lighthouse.”
Shiro’s entire thought process, once again, comes to a screeching halt.
“Wait,” he says. “Your father was human ?”
“Yeah,” Keith replies softly.
That meant, supposing he really does mean his biological father, humans and Keith’s kind are...compatible. It’s an intriguing thought, and blushingly, Shiro tucks that away into the back of his mind to consider at a later time. Perhaps when he’s in bed later as the sun rises over the bay.
Pushing that aside, he does some quick mental math.
“Keith, if your father lived here before the lighthouse was built, how long have you been here?”
He gets yet another shrug in response. “I don’t know. A while.”
It’s been longer than a while if Shiro’s arithmetic is right. Keith doesn’t look much older than 20, if older at all, and he certainly doesn’t act it. But he must be, if even just a little bit. Shiro wonders if all of his kind have naturally longer lifespans than humans, and what that might have meant for Keith’s father and mother.
In the distance, swaying lights on the sea distract Shiro from his thoughts. A ship, coming into port, guided by the lamp at the top of the lighthouse. He looks back to Keith, quickly, and finds Keith’s eyes trained on the vessel, bobbing on the waves.
“I’m leaving,” Keith says, voice low and quiet, as he always does when the ships appear.
He dips into the water and leaves no sign of where he once sat, and barely a ripple on the water’s surface where he disappears into it. When he leaves, it’s like he was never there at all.
Except in the morning, when Shiro walks the beach just before retiring to bed, he finds a string of pearls left on Keith’s rock.
They don’t meet every night. The nights when the rain comes down in impenetrable sheets Shiro stands in the well-protected lantern room, staring out over the whitecaps and wondering how the storm sounds muted at the bottom of the sea. Some nights he doesn’t trust his weakening body to make the up-down, up-down climb, and he guiltily imagines Keith loitering in the shallows until dawn’s first rays threaten the sky.
Rains come and drag heat along in their wake, parting to reveal a crystal sky shining along its starry facets, reflected on the shimmering waves. Shiro strolls along the line of the high tide at the base of the rustling dunes until, suddenly, the sea washes an enormous creature up to his feet.
“Hey,” Keith says, slicking his hair back from his face. “I missed you.”
His voice is low, almost quiet, like he doesn’t want Shiro to hear. Shiro’s heart thuds as he takes in Keith sitting up in the sand, his lower half trailing back into the water, sprawling across the beach like unearthed roots of an enormous tree.
“I missed you too,” Shiro says, and sits beside him, ignoring the twitching at the ends of his tentacles.
They share the food Shiro brought along. Keith has a ravenous appetite for human-made food, especially sweets, though he’s told Shiro that he eats more than enough of the fish that live in the bay. Shiro can’t get the image out of his head of Keith ensnaring helpless fish in his all-reaching grasp and bringing to his mouth to bite into, still thrashing in his hold.
It should be a disgusting thought, but the image of it branded into his mind is raw and feral with power, and Shiro finds that’s something else he likes about Keith. He’s so human, but also a wild animal, an apex predator. He can wreck ships and snap a mast in two without a second thought, but he always chooses to handle Shiro gently.
Shiro breaks apart a piece of bread into even halves, one for Keith and one for himself, while he tells Keith about how the oil reserve above the lamp broke this week and that he had to fix it.
“I don’t like the lighthouse,” Keith responds lowly, taking the half of the bread proffered to him and biting past the thick crust with his visibly sharp canines. “It’s too bright on the water. I can’t see.”
Shiro looks at him. “Is that why you don’t attack the ships that come through here at night anymore?”
“If they built it so that ships wouldn’t get wrecked, it worked.”
Shiro, for some reason, finds this endearing. Like everything else about Keith. He smiles.
“Just not for the reason they expected, huh,” he says.
With innumerable limbs writhing, Keith beaches himself, pushing up onto the sand. At first, Shiro thinks it’s because he wants to get closer, but with some effort, Keith pulls himself further onto the beach, until he’s sitting a number of yards from the surf. Only then does he turn his attention back to Shiro, frowning with a creased forehead.
“Turtles come here to lay their eggs,” he says of the dunes. “They bury them in the sand. When they hatch, the young find their way back to the water by the light of the moon. But when the lighthouse is lit, it confuses them. They end up dying of exhaustion on the beach, trying to reach water that’s not there.”
Shiro feels guilt strike through him. He’s not the one who built the lighthouse, or the one who requires it to be lit. But he is the person who climbs the 238 stairs every single night and makes sure the fire consumes the wick.
“I’m sorry,” Shiro says.
Keith meets the apology with a shrug. “If I had known wrecking those ships would lead to this, I wouldn’t have done it.”
It’s a quiet admission of guilt, and it waters the bulbs of a million other questions in Shiro’s mind. Keith isn’t malicious. He’s misanthropic, sure, but he doesn’t mean harm. In fact, his tender concern over the baby turtles shows a deep compassion.
He may be an enormous, powerful creature of the deep, but something in Keith’s eyes when he talks about his parents, when he talks about helpless thumb-sized turtles struggling their way over the unforgiving sand, betrays the soft heart he keeps hidden like those turtles hide their soft parts under their shells. He seems young, almost childlike, someone who is owed more love than he’s ever received.
“Why did you do it?” Shiro asks. He’s never asked before, but he wonders if now, after their weeks of acquaintance, Keith might open up about it.
Keith is quiet for a long moment, watching the waves creep up the shore and then pull back, creep up and pull back, over and over.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I was angry. Humans took my father away, with their fire. They took my mother away when she went back to her pod to help keep them safe. Dad always taught me to stay away from them.” His gaze, glinting like a pearlescent shell in the light of the moon, finds Shiro. “You were the first one I’d ever met who was kind to me.”
Something stirs in Shiro’s chest. He wants , he finds. He wants to give Keith some reason to love humans. Something that he won’t be angry about.
Without thinking, he reaches out and places his palm against one of Keith’s tentacles, right where it’s the thickest, as wide across as his own shoulders. Keith’s skin is smooth beneath his touch, pleasant and cool, and Shiro can feel his pulse deep inside of it, the way the strong muscles slide and move, even when he’s still.
Keith is still turned towards him, eyes catching the moonlight, and Shiro can’t draw his attention away. He can’t even remember a time when his focus wasn’t completely devoured by this man who, by all natural rules, should likely not exist.
“I’ll always do my best to be kind to you, Keith,” he says, the words more honest than he expected.
Keith doesn’t answer, but the way he looks up into Shiro’s face tells him that he understands.
The warm late spring boils over into a sweltering summer. Shiro finds himself grateful that he lives so close to the sea, but even the wind that whips in off the flat surface of the bay isn’t cool enough to combat the sun’s rays on most days. The days are bright and it’s often hard to sleep, so he walks down to the beach and wades in until the ocean darkens the bottoms of his rolled-up pant legs.
It’s on a day like this that Keith finds him, tucked into the shadows of the cliffs that rise sharp and fierce out of the water. Even in the shade, Keith is squinting hard against the sun, his hand cupped over his brow. Shiro’s never seen him in the daylight before, and takes a moment to appreciate the sight of him, his pale glistening skin and his jet black hair, before greeting him. His lower half is hidden well beneath the thick gray of the sea, but Shiro imagines that with sunlight glinting off of it, it’s more majestic than any treasure sunk to the bottom of the water.
“Hey,” Shiro says, heart snapping like a sail in his chest. “Can’t sleep?”
Keith nods, and pulls in close to the rocks where Shiro has chosen to sit and dangle his feet into the water. The seat of his pants are growing damp, but he doesn’t care, especially now.
“Me too,” he says. “It’s hot.”
“Is it?” Keith asks, and hoists himself out of the water to sit beside Shiro.
Shiro lets his gaze trail down Keith’s body, all of his firm, defined muscles and the smooth, soft skin over them, until he sees where it flows into the oil slick of his lower half. All the ends of his tentacles remain in the water, but Shiro can see where they start to split off from Keith’s body and divide.
Something tickles at his ankle and Shiro jumps, until he sees Keith trying to hide a grin under an impassive expression. Giving a playful kick, Shiro almost manages to dislodge him but only succeeds in drawing a low laugh out of Keith before the tentacle draws tighter. There’s no pressure on it, and Shiro feels no real fear of being yanked into the water. It just feels good.
Coolness radiates off of Keith’s body in the heat of the day, and Shiro finds himself instinctively drawn to it. He slides closer. Keith slides closer in turn, a natural motion, like his automatic response is to mirror Shiro. Like he wants to be as close to Shiro as Shiro wants to be to him.
Shiro focuses on the sensation of Keith wrapped around his ankle, which doesn’t go away.
Neither of them talk, but they don’t have to. They’re comfortable, in a way where Shiro doesn’t have to expend any energy, or pretend to be something he isn’t, or prove himself. Keith may not have much knowledge of the land but he doesn’t need that. He doesn’t need that to enjoy spending his time with Shiro. So they can sit side-by-side, almost touching along their arms but not quite, Keith’s tentacle looped loosely around Shiro’s ankle, watching the glitter of the bay.
“It is hot,” Keith says after a while. “Come into the water.”
“Keith—” Shiro starts to say, but Keith is already sliding out of his space, falling away, disappearing into the crests of the inky waves with one elegant splash.
Shiro, saltwater-splattered and stunned, peers into the water after him. A wave breaks against the rocks before Keith’s head peeks up over the surface again, blinking at Shiro from beneath his dark, plastered-down bangs.
“ In the water?” Shiro asks.
The dark tentacle that was around Shiro’s ankle comes loose and reaches up to make contact with Shiro’s forearm, sliding wet and slippery around his wrist. It’s cool to the touch, but not so much as Shiro knows the ocean will be.
“I won’t let you drown,” Keith promises, giving a gentle, beckoning tug.
Shiro knows that. With a sigh, he heaves himself to his feet and pulls away from Keith’s touch only to shuck his shirt off over his head. He folds it as neatly as he can against the rock, and then does the same with his pants, trying not to feel self-conscious with Keith’s eyes on him, even as he’s left only in his drawers and undershirt.
When he turns back, Keith’s head is still bobbing among the sloshing waves, the single tentacle reached out halfway between them. Shiro unthinkingly extends his fingers towards it, and Keith moves to meet him, wrapping around his hand as though holding it. It offers support and guidance as Shiro picks his way back down the rocks, and when he gets to the edge, he can see the flickering of many other waiting to support him, just below the surface.
“Come on,” Keith says again.
Shiro steps off the rock.
The air is hot and thick with summer, the sun bright during the day, but the ocean stays chilly. The cold comes as a shock to his system, but it feels good after the heavy humidity that hangs over the beach. Keith is there to catch him as he shivers, holding him easily upright with a secure tentacle around his waist, giving Shiro no reason to expend any effort on treading water. He focuses instead on keeping his head up as the waves pass, and the strange feeling of security and affection that blooms in his gut as the tentacle loops, firm but not crushing, around him.
“Isn’t this better?” Keith asks, keeping his own head above water and pulling Shiro closer until they’re face to face.
“It is,” Shiro admits, relaxing into his grip. He thinks he may be able to reach the bottom here himself, but Keith’s gentle cradling means he’ll never even have to try, even when the water swells up with the natural rise and fall of the waves. He feels secure here. Safe.
He trusts Keith.
Keith trusts him too, obviously. Otherwise, he never would’ve left him the gifts on the rocks. Otherwise, he never would’ve shown himself to him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here with him right now in broad daylight, his limbs buoying Shiro up.
Otherwise, he wouldn’t be staring into Shiro’s face right now.
“You’re so bright in the day,” he murmurs, close and appraising. He brings a hand over the water to brush Shiro’s white forelock from his eyes. It sticks to his forehead with sea salt.
Shiro’s stomach does a funny thing inside of him. He feels like he needs to hold onto something, but he isn’t sure what. “You are too.”
He grabs onto Keith’s tentacle, and he knows he’s completely surrounded. There’s no backing out of this, whatever this is. He cut off all his escape routes as soon as he climbed into the water, but, of course, that may be what he wanted in the first place. Keith says nothing else, and Shiro says nothing else, and they look at each other, studying, examining, as the water swells and relaxes around them.
Shiro is certain he’s never seen anything so beautiful. He was sure of that the first night he saw Keith, but he’s been growing more and more confident in his belief by the day. It’s a beauty that, somehow, he wants a part in. He doesn’t really understand how these feelings that threaten to fill his chest whenever he sees or even thinks of Keith are supposed to work, but he understands that now, touching Keith, being near him, he feels gratified.
Keith is close to him now, enough that when he brought his hand down from Shiro’s face it came to rest easily on Shiro’s chest, as though it belongs there. Shiro knows Keith can probably feel the rapid pounding of his heart, his quickened pulse. All of this is more intimate than they’ve ever been before, but Shiro would be a liar if he said he didn’t think they’d spent the past few weeks on a slow climb headed inexorably towards this.
But Shiro has an open wound.
“Keith, are you sure?” he asks, his thumb stroking slowly back and forth over his limb under the water.
Keith’s expression is quizzical. He has that pout that’s cuter than it has any right to be. Cuter than Shiro has any right to find it. It means he’s contemplating something that he doesn’t completely understand.
“Am I sure of what?” he asks, and his tone is deep, dragging-in-the-dirt deep. It makes Shiro shiver.
It also makes him clear his throat.
“You’re a man,” he says. “I’m a man….”
Keith’s forehead folds under his confusion. “Yes,” he replies, clearly not picking up on where Shiro is trying to go with this.
Well, if it doesn’t bother him, it certainly doesn’t bother Shiro. At least, not as much as it should. He still averts his eyes.
“Humans generally don’t like that,” he tells Keith.
“Humans have a lot of weird rules,” Keith says, and he draws in so close as he says it that Shiro can feel his breath on his lips. “What do you think about it?”
Shiro can’t draw his eyes away. Aside from the loop around his waist and the palm on his chest, Keith’s bare skin is singing to him, not touching him anywhere but just barely inches away from him, everywhere. In Shiro’s peripherals, his tentacles wriggle and writhe.
“I happen to like men,” Shiro replies. Then, on a whim, he reaches up and places the palm of his hand against Keith’s hip, right where the human flesh gives way to inhumanly smooth, soft skin. “I happen to like you.”
Keith’s gills flutter, and a blush strikes pink across his pale cheeks. Shiro is the lucky audience for this all, watching the color bloom bright. Luckier still, when Keith bridges the small gap between them to press his forehead against Shiro’s shoulder, effectively hiding his face.
“I like you too,” he says there.
Something inside of Shiro’s chest sparks to light. He’d long ago given up on hearing things like that.
For a second he lets himself forget. He lets himself forget how the world turned him into a solid metal automaton, incapable of love or being loved. He lets himself forget the words whispered behind his back about his unnatural inclinations. How his sickness is a punishment from God for his sins. He lets that fall away too. The illness that limits his time here on Earth down to the countable seconds ticking on his pocket watch.
He lets the things that have defined him in so many terrible, awful ways fall away from him, and he leans in, and places his lips against Keith’s.
Keith’s body may be cold, but here, now, he feels warm. Maybe it’s Shiro’s own warmth, transferred through their contact, magnified by the intensity of his feelings for this strange creature, so wholly human in his desires. He presses in, clumsy with inexperience and eagerness, and Shiro flows with him, takes what Keith wants to give, and sets him right.
It’s a little different when Keith pulls off only to go in again, a little harder, a little more intense. Shiro steadies him with his hand on his jaw, holding him still so that he can demonstrate the way he likes it: parting his lips, sucking Keith’s bottom lip into his mouth for a nip, letting it slide back chased by his tongue. Keith learns fast, his own tongue responding, his mouth opening, giving Shiro access and then chasing Shiro back. His teeth are pointed and sharp, a different shape from Shiro’s that Shiro learns through running over them carefully with his tongue.
It feels good. It feels good to be kissing someone, a man. It feels good to be kissing Keith . He’s firm in places, the places he should be, that Shiro expects, because he’s Keith. But he’s also pliant, willing to defer to Shiro’s guidance as he always is. He’s a happy, willing partner, and he’s smooth and pulsing with life, and he’s all around Shiro, everywhere.
Shiro is just starting to get the rhythm of him, just starting to fully fall into the feeling of him, when Keith pulls away sharply. Shiro’s stomach drops, expecting the worst, but Keith tugs Shiro right back in, resting their foreheads against each other. Keith’s eyes shine like midnight waters and Shiro is hopelessly gone.
“I want to show you something,” he says, closing his eyes. He’s smiling a little bit, and it makes Shiro feel warm all over. Keith doesn’t always smile easily, but if this makes him happy then Shiro is overjoyed.
“What is it?” Shiro asks, feeling completely breathless.
“This way,” Keith says, and it’s the only warning Shiro gets before Keith dives under and Shiro is yanked along through the water.
His hand flies to the tentacle around him, grabbing on as Keith pulls him through the surf with startling speed. The thick of it pushes up against Shiro’s torso, giving him something to wrap his arm around and lifting him enough above the surface that when the sea parts for it, the water doesn’t spray back into Shiro’s face. The consideration for Shiro’s need to breathe is touching, especially as the rest of his body stays invisible beneath the dark, impenetrable waters. Shiro wonders, and not for the first time, what the elegant, long lines of his body must look like down there as he swims, speeding through the currents, slipping between swaying fronds of seaweed. He still has no concept of how big Keith’s body is, how long each of his tentacles stretch.
Someday, Shiro thinks, watching the water part before him, he would somehow like to see Keith swim, and admire all his muscles and tendons working in the incredible way they were intended to.
They stay along the shore, curving in a gentle arc around the sheer cliffs that rise straight out of the water like ancient walls. Keith skirts the few rocks that hide in the shallows until he takes a sharp turn towards the cliffs. Shiro can’t figure out his end goal for a long moment until his eyes begin to pick out a recess in the cliff face, a narrow opening which seems to give way to a bigger one beyond. Shiro feels a little claustrophobic just looking at it as they approach, but not enough that he stops Keith as Keith gently tugs him through the space.
They come up on a small beach, surrounded on all sides by cliffs and overhangs. At the top of the cliffs, the trees come nearly to the edge, blocking most sunlight and leaving the space dark and cool. The surf is gentle here, sloshing leisurely onto the pristine, untouched sand. It’s isolated and cozy, a private oasis.
“What is this?” Shiro asks, awed, as Keith deposits him high enough that he can stand without effort. The water laps at his waist.
“A place I like.” Keith shrugs. “I thought maybe you’d like it too.”
“I do,” Shiro says, overwhelmed with affection. He wades from the water onto the beach, hearing the telltale splashing of Keith in the shallows behind him. The sand gives way easily under his feet, soft and warm from the day, and he wanders into a patch of sunlight to ward off the chill from his wet body.
He turns around to find that Keith is staring at him, something equal parts soft and intense. Shiro feels a rush of emotion when he meets his eyes: happiness, tickled embarrassment, warmth, pride, caring. Desire.
Shiro remembers suddenly that Keith’s father was a human, and feels ashamed that his mind would wander in that direction, but not unpleased when he realizes that Keith is drinking him in, head to toe.
“Come here,” Shiro says, and sits on the sand, ignoring the way it sticks to his damp body.
Keith unquestioningly obeys, following him up the shore with slithers of his tentacles, until he’s pushed himself high over Shiro. He hasn’t taken his eyes off him once, and a fire lives there. Something Shiro wants to feed and to quench. He reaches up for him, but he’s barely made a move before Keith throws himself down on him, mouth meeting him hard and wantful.
They’re kissing again. Not because it’s the only thing to do, but because Keith so obviously wants to, crowding against Shiro, and Shiro won’t ever be able to deny him his wants. He gives himself so completely to Shiro, sliding his torso as close to him as he can get until Shiro has a lapful of man and tentacle. Keith is completely bare under his hands, his skin smooth and his muscle strong, and nature takes its course. It’s only a matter of moments before Shiro’s blood begins to travel south.
Keith makes a questioning noise, low in his throat, and pulls away. His eyes have dropped to Shiro’s lap, where Shiro’s wet white drawers aren’t doing very much to hide anything. Shiro shifts, trying to put his thigh between Keith’s line of sight and how Shiro’s body is reacting to him, but he just ends up with Keith’s eager hands on his knee.
“What’s that?” he asks, and Shiro feels his face flood with heat.
Of course Keith wouldn’t know what a human looks like. Which of course begs the question what does he , but Shiro is far too busy feeling humiliated of his body and grappling with the realization that he needs to give Keith a quick sexual education lesson before either of them can continue with their night.
“It’s my…,” Shiro struggles for the right word, and then gives up with a sigh of, “cock.” He rubs his hand over his face. “It gets hard when I’m aroused.”
“ Oh ,” Keith says, with the tone of someone who has heard explanations before but didn’t think to connect the dots. It’s something of a relief, knowing that Shiro won’t have to go through the entire birds and the bees with him. But the relief is short-lived, because Keith’s smile turns dark, and he looks up at Shiro through dark eyelashes. “Am I arousing to you?”
“I,” Shiro tries. “Well.”
But Keith has already turned his attention back to the junction of Shiro’s legs. His staring is unabashed, his face flooded with open curiosity.
“Can I see?” he asks, voice like waves breaking on the shore.
Shiro isn’t sure he would be able to say no to a voice like that, even if he wanted to.
He nods, cheeks warm, but before he can begin to peel the wet fabric from his skin, the ends of two tentacles climb up his legs, sliding thick and wet against his inner thighs, and hook into the top of his drawers. They drag the clinging garment down, revealing the jut of Shiro’s hip bones, pulling until the tops of his thighs are bared.
Shiro’s cock falls into the open, bobbing slightly as it comes to rest against his stomach. Keith draws closer to observe it, leaning in over Shiro’s legs, close to Shiro’s pelvis.
“It’s big,” Keith says, as if in awe. Shiro blushes further. “Can I touch it?”
“Go ahead,” Shiro says, and watches as the end of a tentacle draws closer, closer, until he feels the gentle, hesitant touch of it on him, sees it caress the side of him. So soft, so tentative. Gentle.
He’s amazed that a creature so enormous, so equipped for life at the bottom of the sea, can touch him with such care and warmth. But that’s just another aspect of Keith’s beauty. It’s a piece of the puzzle that makes up such a beautiful thing.
Because Keith, he is beautiful. His eyes are focused on Shiro as he prods at him gently, and then, with the most cautious movements, slides his tentacle around him, to form a loop. Unwittingly, Shiro makes a breathy sound in his throat. Keith’s gaze slides up to his face, and he tightens the circle of his tentacle, as though testing for a reaction.
He gets it. Shiro is sensitive at the head, and when Keith moves over him it makes his entire body jolt.
“Is that good?” Keith asks in a murmur so low Shiro thinks he must’ve found it on the seafloor.
Shiro nods. “That’s—yeah, that’s good.”
He takes a deep breath, in through his nose and out through his mouth, before readjusting his position to get some leverage. He’s come this far. He might as well dive in.
“And so does this,” he says, before thrusting up into the loop of Keith’s limb.
They both watch wide-eyed as Shiro’s head pushes up through the reddish-purple circle of Keith’s tentacle, and then back down, and then up again.
Keith’s a quick learner. He reaches out with a second tentacle and pushes it against Shiro’s hip, keeping him pinned against the sand, as he begins to pump with his own motions instead, sliding up and down Shiro’s hard length.
It feels unbelievably good. Shiro, not a stranger to sin, has felt another’s touch on him before, but it wasn’t like this, and his own hand certainly isn’t like this either. Something about the smooth, slick vice of Keith’s hold is a wonder beyond wonders. He’s only gotten a few pumps in before Shiro can’t stop the sounds climbing out of his throat anymore. He lets them go with every breath and motion.
He makes eye contact with Keith, and it’s less awkward than it should be. Keith’s eyes are trained on his face, studying him, examining him, and Shiro finds that he wants to show him, wants to show off for him. Wants him to learn the human body, if it’s his human body. Wants what Keith wants to give him, wants to take from him, because Keith isn’t going to judge him for his desires. And his desires are for Keith.
He seems to know it, too. He leans in and presses his lips to Shiro’s forehead, and then the tip of his nose, and then his mouth. He pulls back and looks at him, not breaking his incredible rhythm the entire time.
“What else, Shiro?” Keith asks, enthusiastic, desperate. “What else feels good?”
Shiro hesitates, opening his mouth once and then closing it, before deciding it’s too late to be timid. He eyes the tentacles, their tapered ends, their natural lubrication, and knows where they’re meant to belong.
He leans back onto his elbows and parts his thighs.
As if on instinct, one of Keith’s tentacles slides between his legs, and Keith’s pupils blow wide like an animal catching sight of its prey. It would be almost frightening if Shiro hadn’t already laid himself completely at Keith’s mercy, and found himself treated with the utmost care and near-reverence each and every time.
Keith’s up-and-down hasn’t stopped yet, and now it’s joined by a second sensation. Shiro jolts as something wet and cool begins to make blind explorations between his legs, stroking down his perineum, sliding into his cleft, and pausing when it finds something worth exploring deeper. It feels unfamiliar, but not bad, Shiro learns, as it circles, plays.
“Can I?” Keith asks, leaning over him, the tips of his fingernails like pinpricks of sea spray on Shiro’s cheeks. He’s toying, teasing at the edge, and Shiro feels a strange desperation for it, like he’s been meant his whole life to feel Keith there.
“ Please ,” Shiro gasps out.
Then, he is breached. He lets out an unwitting soft moan at the sensation. It’s unbelievable how sensitive he is there, and how he can feel Keith’s tapered tip moving, wriggling inside of him. It’s a little unnatural, a little odd, but something about having Keith inside of him makes Shiro’s entire body hot.
“It’s tight,” Keith says, curious and reverent.
He’s taking his time, and Shiro is grateful for the care, but he has voracious wants. Slowly, Keith pushes in further, careful not to stretch Shiro too much too fast. But Shiro wants more of him, wants to feel him everywhere, and bears down on him even though he knows he should take his time. But Keith is looking at him in awe, in ferocious desire, and Shiro wants that, wants more, wants him.
“Does that feel good for you, too?” Shiro asks, because Keith’s face has gone red and his lips are parted with heavy breathing, and then gasps when Keith undulated inside of him. He’s never felt anything like that there, and it makes his thighs jerk.
“Yeah,” Keith says, breathy and pleasure-strained. “It’s good...right around the tip…I’m sensitive.”
He opens Shiro a little wider as if to prove it, and Shiro feels the stretch, the pleasure all around and through.
There’s a tentacle resting on Shiro’s chest, almost possessive, and Shiro reaches out with his hand and grips it close to the end. Keith shoots him a questioning look, but Shiro ignores him in favor of dropping his jaw, opening his mouth wide, and guiding the tentacle inside. Shiro takes it gratefully, swallows around it greedily, and feels it push his jaw wide, stretch his lips, lay against his tongue, slip towards his throat.
Keith makes a sound above him, something almost animalistic, and Shiro tries to open his mouth wider, suck it in further. Keith seems more than happy to help him with that, thrusting into his mouth, chasing what must feel amazing. Shiro accepts it, hoping he’s making Keith feel even a fraction as good as he feels right now.
Because Shiro is feeling good. Indescribably incredible, actually. Keith has him filled below and above. He’s still stroking over his cock with movements that are becoming more frantic in pace as time goes on. His thrusts inside are accelerated to match that rhythm, and as each moment passes Shiro feels more and more filled and stretched.
It’s overwhelming, in the best way possible. Shiro forgets how to think. Almost forgets how to breathe. Moans around the bulk in his mouth and forgets who he is. That he’s a man who loves men and that he’s missing an arm and that he’s ill and that he’s here feeling better than he ever has before in his entire life with an enormous, terrifying sea creature. His vision is blurry, swimming, faded around the edges with involuntary tears, but when he opens his eyes (and when did he close them?) he can see Keith above him, face flushed, eyes lidded, mouth hanging open, and he feels honored that this gorgeous creature is sharing this moment with him.
“Shiro,” Keith calls, and reaches out, threads his fingers through Shiro’s hair, meets his hand and grabs it tight in his own. “Shiro, please —”
Shiro would answer but his mouth is full, so he gives a throaty moan instead, and Keith gasps audibly at the sensation. Shiro knows he’s not going to be long now, especially when Keith’s lithe body moves like that over him, strong and sleek and smooth and pale and when Shiro looks up into his eyes, sees the pleasure and desperation there, he comes instantly, his body snapping and bowing like he’s the latest ship that Keith has wrecked.
The sensation rushes over him so fast and intense and from all angles that by the time his shuddering breathing has slowed, he’s barely noticed that Keith’s thrusting has became frantic, erratic, and when Shiro swallows around him Keith lets out a sharp sound. Then, suddenly, Shiro’s mouth is full, overflowing, and he’s choking on something thick and warm, dripping from the corners of his mouth. On the other end of him, he feels himself filled, liquid pouring out inside of him. He looks at Keith through it all, tries to memorize the expression on his face as he feels this.
They both come down, breathing hard. Shiro takes his mouth off of Keith and inhales, swallowing down what he can and wiping his lips with the back of his hand. Keith pulls out of him, releases him, and leans over him in concern.
“Are you okay?” Keith asks breathlessly.
“I’m a mess,” Shiro laughs. His voice is raw and wrecked and somehow that makes him feel happy.
“Come here,” Keith says, and tenderly reaches out with smooth, careful tentacles. He supports Shiro’s body and lifts him towards the water. Gently, he pulls Shiro into the sea, and the cool, placid water washes over Shiro’s legs, relaxing his spent muscles, cleaning the stickiness off his thighs. Keith helps wipe him down with warm, soothing motions, and Shiro thinks he could fall asleep, just like this.
It’s not dangerous. He doesn’t know how high the water gets here when the tide comes in. But he trusts that even if he did, Keith would carry him to safety.
Keith climbs up his body, sliding their bare skin together, and settles down with his torso pressed to Shiro’s side, his wet-haired head coming to rest on Shiro’s right shoulder.
“Was that good?” he asks, in a tone like he’s trying not to sound too hopeful.
Shiro chuckles low in his throat, and leans down to press a kiss to the top of Keith’s head. It smells like fresh ocean air and leaves the taste of sea salt on his lips.
“It was incredible, Keith,” he replies. “I’ve never felt that good before.”
He feels Keith’s smile against his shoulder rather than sees it.
“How about for you?” he asks.
“Me too,” Keith says, and Shiro feels stirrings like a bird in his chest.
They lie there in quiet for a long time, listening to the rush of the waves, the wind whistling outside their private beach, the call of gulls and other seabirds circling above. The air is warm and the sea is cool and Keith’s skin is smooth and soft against him. Shiro doesn’t think he’s ever felt so at peace in all of his twenty-five years, and he finds himself smiling, unbridled.
“What happened?” Keith asks, breaking the silence, guileless as ever.
It’s obvious what he’s talking about, because he says it with his lips against Shiro’s shoulder. The one that ends abruptly past the joint. Shiro is certain that Keith knew about it, given that Shiro’s sleeve almost always hangs limp at his side, or is tied off to prevent it from getting snagged or otherwise becoming an obstacle. But, Shiro realizes, this is the first time he’s been so completely bared to Keith. He wonders if Keith is offended by what he sees.
Shiro knows the answer to that before he can even finish thinking it. Keith’s mouth is still pressed against the scars, as though they’re something to love and give his affection.
“There was a doctor,” Shiro says simply. “A woman but—respected, followed, by many. She said she could cure my disease if she removed my arm.”
Keith’s head picks up, and he rolls until he’s half splayed across Shiro’s chest. Their bare skin sticks with salt water and the grit of sand. He leans over Shiro with stormcloud eyes.
“Your disease?” he asks.
Shiro reaches up and cards his fingers through Keith’s ocean-matted hair. It always dries in thick, fluffy waves, like a cloud in a dream.
“I’m sick,” he says simply.
Keith reaches up and puts his hand to Shiro’s forehead. It’s a strangely human gesture, and Shiro wonders if he even knows what he’s checking for when he does that. Is it something he picked up from a human father struggling alone to care for a child of a different species?
“You don’t look sick,” Keith replies.
“It’s inside,” Shiro says, practiced at responses about his condition. “There’s something wrong with my muscles.”
With a featherlight touch, Keith runs his fingers down the bridge of Shiro’s nose, over the hills of his lips, tracing the points of his fingernails across his Adam’s apple, until he’s resting the flat of his hand on Shiro’s chest, light curled over his pectorals as though he could feel the malignant force that rests within.
“Does it hurt?” Keith asks, face troubled.
“No,” Shiro lies with a soft smile, bringing up his own hand to lay over Keith’s.
“What about this?” Keith asks, head bowing to nose at what remains of what was once Shiro’s arm.
“A little.” Shiro feels okay admitting that one, especially as a heavy tentacle, as thick around as Shiro’s own thigh, rises and wraps around the shoulder in a loose loop, undulating to knead at the muscle there. “That feels good, though.”
Keith makes a thoughtful hum in the back of his throat and continues looking into Shiro’s face with unsubtle concern.
“Why your arm?” he asks.
Shiro’s asked himself that question many times. His disease is mysterious, and no medical expert until that one has ever had a conviction about how it works or why it afflicts him. None of them had ever posited that it might be the fault of a single limb. She was the only one who had maintained that removing Shiro’s right arm was the key to survival. And Shiro, desperate, had thought that losing an arm is a small price to pay for gaining years on his life.
But Shiro knows better now. Whatever her dark and twisted goal had been, it was never his health.
“She wanted it,” he says, in a voice barely audible above the ocean waves. “She wanted to study it.”
She wanted to study him too. He thinks of the fishy-tasting tinctures she made him choke down. Of the pinkish-gray things she kept suspended in jars of clear liquid. Of some of the plans he overheard her formulating before he knew he had to leave, move, come out here to the sea. He takes a shuddering breath, and Keith’s hands are there, his body is there, his tentacles all around, sheltering Shiro from anything that would try to hurt him.
“She cut me open all over,” he says. “For science, she said.”
A tapered end of one of Keith’s many appendages ghosts light and careful across the bridge of Shiro’s nose, as though he knows without having to ask where that scar came from. He’s not wrong.
“She won’t ever touch you again,” promises Keith, and Shiro falls somehow harder for the bright ferocity in his eyes.
As summer heightens, Shiro sets aside his responsibilities to focus on Keith. They let the nights grow thin with the light of dawn together. Shiro buys a small rowboat, and during the days he can’t sleep, if Keith hasn’t appeared to him already he’ll row to their protected cove and lay down on the sand. Sooner or later Keith always finds him there, crawls up his body and falls asleep against his chest.
At night they talk, sitting on the rocks or the shore. Shiro learns more about the seafloor than exists in any encyclopedia. Sometimes they kiss, sweet and slow, Keith’s hand in Shiro’s hair and Shiro’s hand on Keith’s hip. Sometimes they do more, hidden in their alcove, or late at night on the rocks, or, one memorable time, in the center of the open beach in front of the lighthouse.
It’s dangerous, Shiro knows, for a variety of reasons, but he’s happy. He’s never felt this happy. In a lifetime of illness, of being shunned for the wicked, sinful proclivities he was never quite able to keep hidden, of wanting and waiting and finding opposition at every turn, he’d never imagined that he’d be left in peace to feel this way about a person, and that that person might feel the same about him.
I love you, thinks Shiro, like he’s never thought, never been allowed to think, before.
Keith’s head peeks over the surface of the waves, eyes shining soft with joy. I love you.
Keith murmurs in his sleep against Shiro’s chest in a patch of sunlight on the beach. I love you.
Keith kisses Shiro hard in the middle of the bay, his limbs keeping Shiro afloat, the full moon pouring its milky light down on them. I love you .
Keith is grinning. Smiles like this once were rare, but they bloom on Keith’s face like poppies in the sun and Shiro finds himself wanting to press his own mouth to them every single time. It’s soft and happy, and it’s half hidden against Shiro’s shoulder where he’s resting his face, cool and comfortable. His arms are around Shiro’s chest, a spill of tentacles in his lap as they talk and joke and play with each other’s hair. He tilts his head so he can see Shiro out of the corner of his eye, and there, smiling, warm, happy, entwined together, he says it.
“I love you.”
I love you. Shiro’s breath freezes in his throat. His heart stops in his chest. His muscles decay and waste away under his skin. I love you .
He surges forward, lifting Keith to his mouth and kisses him.
He doesn’t say anything back.
What he does do is come to a cold, frightening realization.
He spends a day packing. He doesn’t have room for all the things he’d amassed, his gifts from Keith, and he hadn’t ever expected he would be moving them anywhere. Not when he had come out here to waste away in the first place. So he picks a few things he likes best. The sextant from the very first night. An interesting knot that Keith had gifted him by tying it around his wrist with a deft flick of tentacles. A beautiful bit of dark sea glass from the ocean floor. He slides them into a bag with a book he’d found on the shelves in the bedroom, full of illustrations of sea creatures. Sea monsters. In the same shape and form as Keith.
Then, when night falls, he goes down to the beach.
He strips naked, right there on the rocks, and then cups his hand around his mouth. He calls Keith’s name over the bay, and there Keith is, head popping up, smile dazzling. Shiro’s heart still thunders in his chest at the sight of him, his eyelashes glimmering with the refracted light of the moon in droplets of seawater that cling to him. He steps off the rocks into his waiting tentacles.
In their secret, quiet cove, with Keith splashing him playfully with flicks of his tendrils, Shiro prepares the words he’s spent his day thinking of, the speech he’s been carefully pruning. He opens his mouth to speak, but Keith rises before him, propped up by his tentacles like a periscoping snake. His outline is darkened into a silhouette by the light of the moon, and Shiro is struck breathless once again by the incredible creature that shares his life.
“You seem upset,” Keith says, now muted from his earlier good mood. He draws in close and presses a thumb to Shiro’s brow, while wrapping a tentacle around his wrist. “Come here.”
He pulls Shiro out into the shallows until Shiro is in up to his thighs. There’s a wide, flat rock here, sometimes submerged completely in the high tide and dry in the low, but now the water washes just over its top in uneven pulls. Keith sprawls himself over it, letting his tentacles trail behind him all over the beach and in the water.
Pulling himself up close to Shiro, he murmurs something against his ear.
“I want to try something.”
Before Shiro can divert him, Keith falls back against the rock, ensnaring Shiro among the thick tangle of his tentacles. He looks so regal there, elegant, sensual in the light of the moon that plays between the leaves on the trees high above, that Shiro’s brain empties of everything except the call of his skin.
Keith’s body unfurls, multitude of limbs spreading wide, leaving Shiro situated at their center. When it all opens, it reveals Keith’s carefully hidden inner workings, parts of himself that even Shiro has never seen before. But he looks now, accepting this gift proffered to him, and in the sharp moonlight catches sight of what looks like a slick, puckered hole.
“Keith,” Shiro gasps out. “What...?”
But Keith gives no answer. No audible one, at least. Instead, a stray tentacle wraps around Shiro’s wrist and pulls his hand closer, closer, until Shiro has no choice but to give into the urges that tug at him like the riptide and press a fingertip to the sphincter.
He can’t think too hard about what he’s doing. Doesn’t want to. So he puts it aside. Compartmentalizes. Seizes the moment before him, like he’s spent so much of his life trying and failing to do.
A shudder runs up Keith’s body, accompanied by a breathy gasp. At the barest touch, the muscle loosens and throbs, a deluge of some clear, slick substance pouring out.
Shiro is immediately overcome with the realization that he has never wanted to put any part of his body inside something so terribly.
“I’m going to—” he starts, unable to tear his eyes away from where it glistens, still contracting under Shiro’s featherlight touch.
“ Yes ,” Keith says, voice rough like the sand beneath them.
Shiro doesn’t have to be asked twice. He pushes the tip of his finger past the first ring of muscle and finds himself inhaling sharply at the sensation on his skin. It’s tight and vicelike, sucking him in further with continuing little contractions, and so slippery that his finger slides in without protest. Whatever this liquid is, it’s the same slick, viscous substance that coats Keith’s tentacles.
Without even pausing to think about it, Shiro slips a second finger in alongside the first, and catches the frantic flutter of Keith’s gills out of the corner of his eye. It reminds Shiro that Keith is watching him, violet eyes half-lidded under heavy eyelashes, pink lips parted as though he can’t help his small, shuddered breaths. It’s amazing how fast, how intensely, Keith is reacting to this, and Shiro has the sense that he’s been held out on. He wants this desperate, rapidly-undone Keith all the time.
“Does that feel good?” Shiro asks, and drags the pads of his fingers along the smooth inside wall, applying gentle pressure as he reaches as far as he can.
“Yeah,” Keith says, and his voice is heavy with labored breathing, the grip he has around Shiro’s wrist tightening in wild, unmediated ways. His nipples, pink against his porcelain skin, jut up hard from the flat surface of his chest, rising and falling with the effort of his inhales.
When Shiro puts in the third finger, Keith makes a raw sound in the back of his throat that Shiro wants to hear again, and again, and again. Shiro spreads them, pulls them out an inch only to press them in harder, and Keith’s hands scrabble for his shoulders like he needs something to hold on to.
“Do you ever put anything in here?” Shiro asks, unable to contain his lustful curiosity.
Keith nods, eyes clenched shut on his obvious pleasure.
“Baby, look at me,” he says, and crooks his fingers. Keith moans, but his eyes open, unfocused and foggy with pleasure. They land on Shiro. “What do you use?”
“Myself,” he gasps out. “Myself, I—”
A tentacle brushes against Shiro’s wrist, slides against his hand, pushes towards where Shiro is buried inside of him. It’s dripping with cloudy slick, and the tapered point of it pushes in easily next to Shiro’s fingers. Keith makes a raw sound, and Shiro is about to lose his mind.
“I do that and think of you,” Keith says, words inarticulate, thrusting irrhythmically beside Shiro’s fingers before pulling out completely. “But it’s not as good as this.”
Shiro stops moving. He takes a deep, shuddering breath to center himself, and then removes his fingers completely. Keith keens, upset and empty, the ring of muscle contracting down on nothing.
“Shh, hold on,” Shiro says in the most comforting tone he can muster, and gets down on his stomach until he’s eye-to-eye with the entrance.
Before Shiro has even touched him, Keith makes a loud sound of earnest, unbridled pleasure, reading Shiro’s intentions in the way his mouth draws near. Keith tastes like his slick here, salty with a tang like seawater but also fresh like an ocean breeze. Shiro laps up as much of it as he can from around the hole, the lubricous texture of it pleasing on his tongue. He swallows it down and presses his lips to the sphincter, sucking a bit at the puckered skin around its edges.
When Shiro’s tongue breaches him, Keith writhes. Shiro is cocooned by the mass of his many tentacles, some of which tighten their grip around his thighs, his biceps. An image flashes in Shiro’s mind of himself being willingly restrained by them, held down to the sandy ground on his back as Keith hovers over him and lowers this part of himself to Shiro’s face so that Shiro is helpless to do anything but worship Keith with his tongue and his lips. But for now Keith seems incapable of anything but producing moans as Shiro circles his tongue around the ring of muscle, more and more slick spilling out over his lips, his chin, smearing across his nose and his cheeks.
He has to swallow some as more floods his mouth, and the taste of it, the feel of it sliding down his esophagus, is heavenly. He can barely breathe around the press of Keith’s body, the thick honey pouring out of him, the feelings rising in his own chest. It’s the most incredible sort of asphyxiation, and if he could drown here, if he could never come up for air, he would.
But Shiro has other plans. If this is his last act, he at least wants to make it good for the glistening, gorgeous creature splayed out in front of him. He draws away, pulling against the tentacles that are urging him closer, closer, and ignores Keith’s whine.
“Shiro,” he calls, voice strained and raw. “Shiro—!”
Instinctively, Shiro reaches out for the nearest part of Keith that he can reach with his hand, which happens to be his hip, the junction where his human skin gives way to his smooth lower half. Here he strokes his thumb calmly, taking just a moment to enjoy the contrast between the two textures, the desperate tones in Keith’s breathing, his own aching need.
“Keith,” is what Shiro says in reply, and he’s shocked by the pure dark want infused in his voice.
“Come on,” Keith begs, weak and desperate.
Shiro lets himself smile at the way Keith moves his torso and scrabbles his tentacles frantically against him, like even this momentary break is too much for him to bear. It makes Shiro’s heart burst with joy and his body alight with desire. Shiro brings his hand to himself, stroking slowly and closing in, lining himself up.
Keith moans aloud at the brush of Shiro’s head against him, the flirtation of the idea of Shiro sinking inside. Shiro draws it out, tantalizing and almost painful for the both of them, smearing his precome around the hole to mix with the lubricant already dripping there. Shiro doesn’t need anything more than what Keith has already produced in that regard, and he scoops up some of it with his fingers to spread up and down his length.
“Inside me,” Keith begs. “Put it in, Shiro. Please .”
Keith’s voice breaks him. He figures he’s tortured the both of them enough. Shiro lines himself up, and with the smallest tilt of his hips allows the tip to slide inside.
They both moan, Keith’s breathy and sharp, Shiro’s low and stifled. He’s never been inside anything that felt like this, that was so wet and smooth and tight, that seemed to want to drag him in further without any problem. Shiro doesn’t hesitate to sink in farther, and when he meets no resistance but delicious tightness, he thrusts intoin to his base.
“ Fuck , Keith,” he groans. He’s going to come in no time like this, and while part of him wishes he could feel this good forever, he can’t pull himself out of the immediate sensation of pleasure to care.
Right away he sets up a hurried pace. He can’t stop chasing the feeling of thrusting into Keith, and he wouldn’t want to if he could. It’s tight inside of him, sucking him in, and the glide is incredible. His hips snap forward each time, strong and intense, and Keith begins to let out little breathy noises with each thrust. All Shiro can do is grab onto him for leverage, a hand on his waist, and drill his hips forward until his thighs tremble.
Shiro’s world funnels down to just this: Keith, all around him. Keith, and the pure joy of him, of knowing him, of knowing that he exists. Wanting to protect him. Wanting to spare him pain. Loving him, loving him, loving him so deeply and wholly that it feels like this is what Shiro was born to do.
And now that he’s done it. Now that he’s been here, and now that he’s given Keith this, he can be satisfied. Maybe this sort of pleasure, happiness, connection was what he was born to do. This moment sparks meaning into the life of a boy sick in the body and sick in the mind.
He makes eye contact with Keith, leans in low over his body, kisses him hard on the mouth. It’s sloppy and inaccurate and filled with Keith’s moans but Shiro just wants to be near him, be as close to him as possible. Keith seems to share the sentiment, tentacles wrapping around Shiro’s thighs, pulling him in closer, closer. The end of one trails up between Shiro’s legs, brushing up behind him, but Keith is shaking so hard with pleasure, writhing under him, that he can't seem to pull together the coordination needed to actually do anything.
That’s okay with Shiro, because more than anything right now, he just wants to give pleasure to Keith.
And he does. Keith’s back arches, his tentacles curling, his insides convulsing, squeezing around Shiro, his face scrunched in pleasure and his mouth open around his moans. Wet spurts out of him, thick and plentiful, and Shiro can’t remember what it felt like to not be completely overwhelmed, overcome with pleasure like he is right now.
When he comes, it’s fierce and hot and breaks over him like a tidal wave. He cries Keith’s name and holds on to him, holds him tight, while the electric feeling courses through him. It sings through him and pulls him apart and puts him back together a different person, shaking, shaking, breaking him at his core.
Shiro comes down with shallow breaths and looks at Keith. He’s sprawled out on the rock in the moonlight, eyes glinting in the beams sifted through the trees. It dapples his body in a shifting white glow, and as he catches his breath he eyes Shiro with a feeling clear on his face that Shiro can feel echoed in his own heart: awe, tenderness, love. His tentacles have come to rest, lazy and sated, in the wake of his orgasm, floating around Shiro like shining, otherworldly sea plants.
Keith is beautiful. Keith is so beautiful, and he’s so good, and so inspiring, and Shiro wants nothing more than to spend every single moment of the rest of his life in his company.
Which is exactly why he can’t.
So many people have left Keith already. So many people have abandoned him. Shiro refuses to heap hurt upon hurt by becoming just another in the list of names belonging to those who have loved Keith and then left him alone.
Unfortunately, he has no choice. If Shiro had had any control over the life he lives, if he’d known anything about his lifespan beyond too short and gone too soon maybe things would be different. But he knows. He knows he can’t love Keith and leave him alone. He knows he can’t put Keith through the agony of watching someone who promised to always be there for him slowly decay, atrophying into nothing.
This is for the best , Shiro thinks. I love you.
He shouldn’t have had sex with him just before telling him this, and as he pulls out the regret comes piling down on him. He’s quiet as he helps clean Keith up, gently splashing sea water on him as the evidence of Shiro’s pleasure dribbles out of him. Keith luxuriates under Shiro’s gentle touch, looking much like a pleased cat as he stretches and closes his eyes. Shiro watches him, and his ribcage splits with pain at the sight.
At least it was a good goodbye. Shiro couldn’t have asked for anything more. His only regret is that he’ll never get to experience this again, but the likelihood of that sharply decreases by the day anyway.
“Keith,” Shiro asks him quietly. “Can you take me back to shore? I want to talk to you about something.”
Shiro isn’t a crier. He’s never been. He didn’t cry when he got his diagnosis, even as a child. He didn’t cry when men he loved condemned him for his lifestyle. He didn’t cry all the times he thought about the life he wished he could experience a longer life, live out his dreams. He barely cried when his mother died, even. Shiro is good at keeping it together. He’s good at muting his feelings. He’s good at handling things maturely with emotional distance.
There are tears in his eyes by the time they reach shore. He turns away from Keith as he dresses to hide the expression on his face.
“Shiro,” Keith says quietly, gruffly, sensing something is wrong before Shiro even opens his mouth. “What is it?”
Shiro swallows around the lump in his throat and turns towards Keith. He sets aside the infinite sea of sadness within him and takes a deep breath before he speaks.
“Keith,” he starts, and his voice comes out pinched. “You know I’m very sick.”
Before Shiro can even begin his next sentence, Keith’s face looks stricken. He doesn’t know where this is going yet, but he knows it won’t be nice.
“This body is going to fail me someday soon,” Shiro tells him, before he can say anything. “I can’t...I can’t ask you to keep being with me like this. Not when I don’t have much longer.”
“Shiro,” Keith cuts in sharply, disbelief and confusion and anger coloring his face. “You know I don’t care about that. You’ll be fine and—And I’ll stay with you until the end. Forever.”
It’s cute. It’s a nice thought. Very idealistic. But there will eventually come a point when Shiro won’t have the strength to walk down to the beach anymore. When he can’t move his arm or come to see Keith. And Keith will have to witness that, his slow decline, wondering if every single day will be the last one, wondering when he will finally move on from Earth.
Shiro doesn’t want that. He would never want that for anyone, especially not Keith. He doesn’t want every single goodbye, every single goodnight, to be as tearful as this one, just in case. He doesn’t want to live with the feeling that every single day of his existence is hurting Keith, when he can just end it in one clean break.
If only he could hurl himself into the sea and live here forever with Keith. That would satisfy him in a way nothing else ever has.
“I’m leaving,” he says. “I’m going back to my hometown.”
“That’s—” Keith chokes, distraught. “There’s no ocean there, Shiro.”
Shiro knows that. He does.
“Yeah,” he says, voice quiet.
Keith seems to be unable to help it when he makes a small wounded sound in the back of his throat. It drives into Shiro, striking down to the marrow of his bones, but he can’t take it back. Not when he’s already come to this decision. He knows what he’s doing.
Keith’s limbs slide around him as he draws closer. Shiro doesn’t—can’t—touch him in return.
But it doesn’t stop Keith from leaning in towards his face. “I’ll save you, Shiro,” he whispers.
Shiro almost laughs, wry and teary and distraught, but he only manages to bite his lip and shake his head. “You can’t save me, Keith. I’m sick.”
Keith searches Shiro’s face, his eyes cloudy with barely-contained tears. Shiro can feel his fingernails, sharp and belonging to skillful hands, digging into his clothes and his skin, as if Keith thinks holding tight enough will prevent Shiro from going. From dying.
When he doesn’t find anything in Shiro’s gaze, he drops his head, and it lands hard on his shoulder.
“Just….” Keith’s face is hidden. “Just wait. Please. Give me one day.” He takes a deep shuddering breath through his mouth, and it sounds wet in a way that isn’t natural for him. “Just one more day to say goodbye.”
Shiro’s heart feels overlarge in his chest, threatening to obstruct his throat and smother his lungs.
“Okay,” Shiro agrees. He’s not going to wither away and die overnight. It’ll probably make things harder for them both, but if it’s what Keith wants, Shiro can give him this one thing.
Neither of them says anything at all for the rest of the night. Keith stays tucked against Shiro, and eventually, Shiro sits and pulls him closer. They hold each other, and sometimes cry, but mostly Shiro makes an effort to memorize every note of Keith’s scent, the way his skin feels under Shiro’s hands, the sound of his breathing.
Finally, the sun rises, and Keith slips out of Shiro’s arms into the water. Before Shiro can say goodbye, he gives a quick flash of a wave over his shoulder and then dips beneath the waves.
Shiro barely sleeps, his room desolate and empty. He wakes in the evening to light the lamp for the last time. When Shiro leaves, Iverson will do it until he can find a replacement.
Then Shiro goes down to the water. He takes off his shoes and walks along the shifting line where the sea washes over the shore, tracing the residue of seafoam with his footsteps. After he’s walked about a dozen yards and Keith hasn’t appeared, he calls his name.
Keith doesn’t appear.
Shiro walks further, down the shore to the rocks, and begins to clamber up them, careful to not split his feet open on jagged edges. He calls Keith’s name again, and then when he sees no flicker of tentacles of moonlight glinting off twilight eyes, he starts to feel sick.
Hours pass. Keith doesn’t appear. Shiro sits on the rocks and waits, and waits, and waits.
He wonders if something happened. Maybe there was an accident. Maybe he got hurt. Except Shiro knows Keith has lived here for years before he came along, and will continue to live here for years after he leaves. Keith will be fine. He’s okay. The most likely story is that he decided it hurt too much to say goodbye. It’s too painful to face Shiro, knowing he’s going to leave.
That’s fine. Shiro’s already steeled himself for this.
As dawn approaches, Shiro pushes himself up off the rocks and walks away.
“I’m sorry to ask something so morbid of you, but I don’t have anyone else,” Shiro says to his new doctor, miles and miles inland. She seems kind enough, but her prognosis is realistic. “When I die, can you make sure they float my body out to sea?”
“Okay,” she says, after a beat. “I can do that.”
Shiro spends his days in bed, and his nights pacing his house while he still can. He doesn’t want a job when his body can fail any time now, and he has enough money saved to live until his disease consumes him. It’s not an enjoyable way to live the end of his life, but it is a comfortable one. His doctor is nearby in town and he wants for nothing.
He picks up his few baubles off his shelves every day. He runs his fingers over the tight, salt-encrusted knot in the rope. He examines the illustrations in the book he brought from the lighthouse keeper’s house. He stares at the sextant, holding it in his palms with reverence. He thinks, and reminisces, and wishes, and longs. His chest hurts, but that seems like a reasonable symptom of dying.
His doctor recommends diets. Medicine. Exercises. She tells him the inexorable truth that we’re all headed towards death. Shiro’s journey has just been accelerated. It’s a shame for someone so young. So bright, so brilliant, with so much potential. That’s what they all say in town where he can hear, anyway, but he knows what they say about people like him. He deserves this. Most of them are smart enough to stay away from him, anyway. Don’t get attached to something that’s going to be gone soon, after all.
Shiro develops symptoms. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes moving is a struggle that it’s never been before. It feels like every time he goes to see the doctor it’s with some new litany of matter-of-fact complaints. He can’t sleep. He sleeps too much. He spends all his time staring out the window. He dreams of the sea, every single night. He dreams of slicing open rope on a stormy night. He dreams of something disappearing into the water, never to be seen again. There’s a sharp pain in his chest like his ribs have thorns.
She listens to him, frowning, and impatiently taps her pen against her desk.
“I had an idea,” she interjects into his descriptions one day. “I know someone.”
Shiro’s heard that one before. Absentmindedly, his hand goes to knead at the remains of his arm.
“That’s okay,” he replies. “I’ve come to terms with it. I don’t think anything can help me now.”
“No.” The young doctor frowns. “I really think this can help you, Shiro.”
Shiro’s expression turns down to match hers. “With all due respect, Dr. Holt—”
“I told you to call me Pidge.”
“With all due respect, Pidge, no doctor has ever been able to do anything for me before.”
“This isn’t a medical procedure.” She sounds like she’s getting irritated. With the situation? With him? Shiro doesn’t know. “Have you been to the beach lately? Since you started having those dreams?”
“No.” Shiro frowns. “Of course not.”
“You’ve got months.” She shakes her head. “Weeks, probably.”
Shiro feels queasy. And once the idea is planted in his head, it’s hard to get out.
It doesn’t have to be that beach. In fact, it’s better if it’s not. He doesn’t want to run the risk of having to see someone he already said his final goodbyes to. But a beach. Any beach.
He misses the salty tang of the air and the sound of the waves folding into each other and, most of all, he misses Keith. But he doesn’t let himself think of that part. Instead he tells himself just one more time. Just one more time, to see the gulls riding the updrafts, to feel the sand slide underfoot, to feel the sharp bite of the cold water against his ankles. To look out towards the horizon and see a mysterious, miraculous infinity before him.
It’s his last chance. The last time.
Shiro arrives at the shore and looks out at the ocean, takes a lungful of air. It smells like he smelled, breaching to greet Shiro with a kiss. The sunlight on the water glints in the same way it glinted off his smooth body when he laid in the sun in their cove. The nip of the water feels the same as when he would wrap himself around Shiro and tell him, Don’t worry. Trust me. I’ve got you .
It’s rare that he mourns his own mortality anymore, since he’s spent such a great deal of his life accustomed to the cold, unforgiving, looming reality. But today under the beating sun, looking out at the white-capped sea, he allows himself a lamenting thought. Maybe, Shiro thinks as he lets the waves wash over his feet over and over, there’s some universe out there where Shiro got to live a full and happy life with Keith at his side. He’s jealous of that version of himself. The ache in his chest grows.
He takes a step further into the surf, and then another, placing one foot in front of the other in the direction of a horizon that moves inexorably away from him as he gets closer. He wonders what it would take for him to drown here. If he could just keep walking and walking and walking, traversing the sea floor, until his lungs collapse under the pressure of the water above him. Where would the current take his body? How far would his remains go? Will Keith find his skull? His spine? His ribcage?
He’ll never know himself, but right now, leaving it for the universe to find out doesn’t seem to be the most terrible idea he’s ever had. This way at least he has some control over it. This way, he can beat the disease that’s always reigned over his mind and body.
Uncaring of his clothes, wet and heavy and sticking to his body, he wades further and further. He knows he won’t actually go through with it, but it’s such an appealing idea. To disappear into the waves forever.
He’s in up to the middle of his thighs when he first catches the glimpse of something in his peripherals. Something dark and shifting, way out in the water. He pays it no mind at first, because it could be anything. Seagulls or dolphins or driftwood or a stray buoy. There are many things out here in the water that look like that. Whales. Tuna, maybe. Not everything is a miracle.
But it’s getting closer, and as Shiro walks forward, he’s positive he notices a shadow beneath the surface rocketing towards him.
Shiro rubs his eyes, thinking that maybe the sparkling sunlight is playing a trick on his eyes. He’s hallucinating. He’s dreaming again. There’s no chance, not even the slightest spark of hope. But when he blinks and squints against it, he sees it again: the flash of something dark at the edge of the waves. Something big. Something many-limbed.
It’s on instinct and not without its unique kind of pain when Shiro says, softly, “Keith?”
When Keith’s body bursts above the surface of the water, it’s with an impressive spray of brine that shimmers in the sun. His face is hard, intense, like an avenging angel in an oil painting, and he propels himself up, towering over the surface with the strength of his long, thick tentacles.
“ Shiro !” he shouts over the crash of the waves.
Shiro doesn’t know what his heart is doing in his chest, or how a person can feel both like they’re going to vomit and fly at the same time. He doesn’t understand how quickly his throat closed up, or how weak his knees feel. He can’t wrap his head around how he both desperately wants to splash forward through the waves to meet Keith by crashing into his arms, but also turn and run, run, run away as fast as his failing legs will possibly take him.
“Keith,” Shiro says in awe, is fear, in love, because he’s unable to do anything else.
Keith reaches him with a fierce wave of water that laps around Shiro’s torso and comes to a stop before him, standing high on his tentacles so that Shiro has to look up to look at him. He’s majestic, powerful, and Shiro understands why everyone in the town is so frightened of him, even if in his own heart all he feels is yearning.
It’s an emotion that’s mirrored in Keith’s face, in every shift of his muscles, as he reaches out with a hand as though to touch Shiro’s cheek. He pauses just before he makes contact, and lets his hand hang there.
“Keith, what—” Shiro stutters over his words. “How are you here —?”
“Allura told me you’d be here,” Keith says in a rush, finally letting his hand drop. “Come on, Shiro, you need to come with me. She’s waiting for us.”
Is this a dream? This feels like a dream. Shiro tries to process and finds that he can’t.
“Who’s Allura?” Shiro asks. “How did she know I’m here? Why is she waiting?”
Keith lowers himself closer to Shiro’s height so their faces are near each other. His expression is pleading, his fists locked at his sides.
“She’s someone who can help you,” Keith says. “Please, Shiro. She can save your life.”
“Keith...,” Shiro says uneasily. His heart still pounds a confused, rapid rhythm.
But Keith’s right fist rises and lands on Shiro’s chest. Not hard, but forceful enough to get his attention. It rests there, a strong, hard weight, begging.
“Shiro, please,” he says, his eyes like frothing waves and hurricanes. “Trust me.”
Shiro looks at him, then takes a single glance back towards the beach where he’s left his automobile, and then look at Keith again. His brow is crumpled with the intensity of his emotion, his mouth twisted in determination and his eyes pleading. His wild hair is slick with seawater and his pale skin is touched by the golden light of the sun and Shiro is struck anew by how incredible, how consummately gorgeous this surreal creature before him is.
And, well, he was about to give himself to the sea anyway.
“Okay,” Shiro breathes. And then, stronger, “Okay.”
Immediately, Keith’s expression breaks apart into one of relief, and before Shiro can gather himself he feels the familiar sensation of Keith’s tentacles sliding around him, grabbing him by the waist and lifting him.
“I’ve got you,” Keith promises, and then dives into the water.
The trip to Kogane Bay, which over land would take a significant amount of time, is reduced to a few shorts hours via water, especially at Keith’s breakneck swimming pace. Shiro knows this but still finds himself tugging on Keith’s limbs and asking for a break when he pauses and surfaces to ask what’s wrong. The water isn’t too cold as Shiro is dragged along through it, and Keith carries him like he would carry a set of precious china, but the sun is beating down on the top of his head. He feels rubbed raw, inside and out.
Keith places him gently on a quiet, remote stretch of shore and comes up to rest beside him, stretching his arms and his tentacles as he does. Shiro watches him, admires him, and finds himself reviewing the situation again and again in his head as he’s spent the past hours clinging to Keith doing. The sun is beginning to descend, and the water is splashed with hues of pink and purple and blue.
“Are you feeling okay?” Keith asks him, patting him as though checking for injuries. “It’s not too much farther.”
“I’m alright,” Shiro replies, even though he’s seen better days. He’s thirsty and a little hungry, but that can wait. Right now he’s still reeling with the reappearance of Keith, and the shock of getting whisked away down the ocean by him.
Part of him wonders briefly if this is some elaborate ruse. If this is Keith’s way of getting revenge for being abandoned. If he’s going to leap back into the sea at any moment and leave Shiro here on this remote beach to rot. But even if it is, Shiro’s considered dying in worse ways. And anyway, the way Keith is looking at him, like he’s some treasure he found in a sunken vessel, makes Shiro certain that Keith’s feelings haven’t changed.
Which doesn’t make any sense .
“Why, Keith?” Shiro blurts suddenly. “Why me? Even after leaving you? Even as I’m dying?”
Keith looks back at him, his face uncharacteristically soft in the way it is whenever he looks at Shiro.
“Because I love you,” he says simply. “But also, I told you. You’re the first human who was ever kind to me. I waited years for you to come back so I could thank you and—”
“What?” Shiro feels helpless, breathless. “You did what?”
Keith contemplates him, his head cocked to the side. “You don’t remember, do you?”
Is there something Shiro is supposed to remember? His stomach twists unpleasantly with unease. “Remember what?”
“I met you when we were young,” Keith says. “When you were a child you came down to the bay.”
Shiro gapes. “How do you know that?”
“The people of the town were always trying to kill me. I got caught in their net one night, but you cut me out.”
“Wait.” Shiro feels his entire world tilt on its axis. “That happened? I thought that was just a dream I have. I-I don’t—”
Keith indulges him in his first smile of the day, and it’s somehow even more beautiful than the sunset-painted waters.
“You were a lot smaller then,” Keith says. “Less scarred. But I’ll never forget what you looked like. I watched you playing on shore for days.” His smile turns inward as he reflects. “I thought you were so special for doing that. And I was right.”
Shiro leans back and feels his world resort itself around him.
“So you knew it was me when I came back?” Shiro asks. “Is that why you started leaving me things?”
Keith blushes, gills fluttering. “Yes, and—” he tucks into himself shyly, an impossible feat for an enormous sea monster “—I thought you were very handsome.”
Before Shiro can speak another word or express the multitude of emotions he’s experiencing right now, the happiness vanishes from Keith’s face; he’s all business again.
“We should go,” he tells Shiro, and begins to push himself back down towards the shore. Shiro follows, and this time when Keith wraps a tentacle around Shiro, Shiro holds back, clutching it to his chest.
“Allura!” Keith calls out. “Allura, he’s here!”
It’s a cloudy night, the sky occasionally parting to show a sliver of the full moon or a smattering of stars. The ocean is calm, though, for which Shiro is grateful, because as they sail into the bay he’s soaked from head to toe from their long swim. In the distance, the light of the lighthouse blinks at him, harsh in the dark but welcoming him home nevertheless.
It hasn’t been that long since he’s been here. But it feels like it’s been an eternity. Even just here, in the bay, he feels more settled than he has since he left.
Keith’s voice has barely echoed back to them from the cliffs when the water before them erupts upward, and with it comes first the head, and then the shoulders, and then the torso, of a person in a spray of ocean water. But she’s not just a person. Keith is big, his tentacles long and expansive, but his upper body is the same size that it would be as a human. This is not true for this woman. If she had legs, she would easily tower over Shiro, perhaps at twice or three times his height. Her hair is silky and white, cascading in long, thick sheets down her back, and her dark skin is flawless and smooth.
“Set him down,” the woman says, and the end of a pearlescent tentacle rises above the surface of the water to flick towards the beach.
Keith places Shiro gently on the shore, near the very same rocks where they met, both for the first time and the second. Shiro tries to stand tall, tries to not feel overwhelmed, but it’s difficult when not one but two enormous sea creatures are staring down at him.
“Shiro,” Keith says, “this is Allura.”
“H-hello Allura,” Shiro says. “It’s nice to meet you.”
She’s gentle and slow when she lowers herself to his level, as though fully aware of the near-terrorizing effect she has on him.
“The pleasure is mine,” she replies in an accent Shiro has heard before but isn’t quite in the right mindset to place. “I’m glad that Keith managed to locate you.”
“How did you know?” he asks. “I mean—Keith said you told him I’d be at the beach. How did you know?”
She has a warm smile. Shiro finds that he’s not scared of her, just awed. Of course, she’s a friend of Keith’s, so he’s sure she’s a good person anyway.
“I have several connections among humankind,” she says. “I believe your acquaintance Pidge may have mentioned something to a mutual friend of ours.”
Shiro did tell Pidge he was going to the beach, and where and when. But he finds it mind-boggling that there are humans enough who are aware of these creatures living in the sea that the information was able to find its way back here. He wonders how much of this has been orchestrated, by Allura, by Keith, by Pidge.
“Allura,” Keith cuts in. “Can you help him?”
She considers Shiro, head to toe, and then allows him a slow but assured nod.
“Shiro,” she says. “I can give you a new body, free from disease, but you would be like us. You would never be able to leave the sea again.”
Stunned, Shiro stares at her. “You can do that?”
She smiles, beautiful and gentle. Shiro has to wonder if every member of their species is so ethereally gorgeous, and then realizes with a slow, dawning hope that he may live long enough to find out.
“I can,” she replies. “And I’d like to, for Keith. If you’ll allow me.”
Eyes wide, Shiro looks at Keith, and finds Keith’s steady gaze already upon him. His expression is muted, but some strong emotion shines fierce in his eyes. It makes Shiro feel steady. Unshakable.
Shiro turns his attention back to Allura and finds her waiting patiently with a smile.
“Please,” he says to her. “Please.”
Her smile only grows. She twists and slides back into the water, her elegant body falling in with barely a splash.
“Come into the water, Shiro,” she beckons.
Shiro takes a step towards the surf, but then turns. He takes a good look: at the beach, at the lighthouse, at the rolling hills and the trees and the sheer cliffs.
He’ll never be able to touch them again. To experience driving in a car, or climbing a tree, or scaling the steps of a lighthouse. But, then again, he wouldn’t have been able to do those things anyway if he were dead.
He turns back towards the sea and walks into the water, one step at a time, the tide tugging at his ankles, his calves, his thighs.
The water is pulling at his waist before Allura addresses him again.
“This may be uncomfortable,” she warns him. “Are you ready?”
Keith leaves his perch on the rocks to draw close again. Shiro watches him approach, the sinewy, elegant motions of his body, and finds himself, for the first time in a long, long time, hopeful and excited about the future. Keith slides himself naturally into a spot at Shiro’s side, takes his hand in his own, lets his tentacles drift around Shiro’s ankles, and looks up into Shiro’s face with the light of the moon shining in his eyes.
“Yes,” Shiro replies, not looking away from Keith.
Suddenly, he’s swept off his feet. Something pulls at his ankles, caught around his legs, and yanks him out, out, away, down. One second he’s above the surface and the next he’s being tugged under, with barely enough warning to grab a lungful of air, the glow of the moon becoming faint and warped under the refraction of the water. Shiro’s instinct is to panic and flail, but Keith’s hand is still in his, so Shiro just shuts his eyes and lets go.
For a long moment, nothing happens except he’s dragged further and further under, and his lungs strain, and his nose is filled with stinging saltwater. Shiro wonders if he’s going to die here. If he’s going to let the water pour into his lungs, let the cold of the deep seize his muscles. If his skeleton will end up like the skeletons of the ships littered at the bay floor. If Keith will collect his heart and leave it as a present for the next lighthouse keeper foolish enough to walk out on the rocks.
His entire body feels strange, jellylike, shifting like the underwater currents that he’s trapped in. He tries to blink open his eyes, but they burn, cold and sharp. He can’t see anything anyway except a dull gray that’s closing in black at the corners. When he shuts his eyes again, the black at the corners is still there, converging over his consciousness.
He’s going under, he knows. It might finally be his time. His hand has gone numb in the cold and he can’t even feel Keith’s grip on him anymore. He can’t see or feel or think and everything is hazy. His sense of self vanishes, and he loses touch with his nerve endings completely.
Is this what death feels like? Shiro floats, untethered, into the black.
Something shakes him violently.
“Shiro,” Keith says, voice distorted. Is that because he’s dead? Or because he’s underwater? “Shiro, breathe .”
Shiro tries to follow the frantic instructions, but when he opens his mouth he only gets a mouthful of salt. He chokes, and then chokes more.
“Your gills!” Keith says. “Come on, Shiro!”
Gills. Gills? Does Shiro have those? Something on the sides of his neck shifts, and suddenly his brain floods with oxygen.
His eyes fly open, and he can see everything . It’s not dark anymore, and Keith hangs before him, his features as clear as when they were on shore. His expression is concerned, but as soon as he realizes Shiro is looking at him, his face grows soft.
“Shiro,” he says, and reaches out to pull Shiro in a crushing embrace against him.
Keith fits to him perfectly, warm in comparison to the cool water. Shiro can feel his pulse in his veins, and Shiro’s own pulse echoing against him. His body is strong and smooth, and Shiro never wants to be out of his reach again.
“You saved me,” Shiro says against his neck.
Keith’s grip on him tightens, and he laughs a little into Shiro’s ear. “We saved each other.”
When Keith finally lets go of him, only to let him float to an arm’s length away, Shiro takes stock of his body. He feels strong. Healthy. He’s still missing an arm, but he stays suspended in the water with ease. Something from his waist down feels unusual, but good, and when he looks he realizes that he’s gained more limbs than he’ll ever know what to do with. He gives some testing flexes, and then reaches out with the end of one to wrap around Keith’s midsection.
Keith lets out a pleased chirp of a sound that travels cleanly through the water, and it fills Shiro with joy. He wants to gather Keith to him again, crush their lips and their bodies together, but there will be time for that, now that Shiro has it.
For now, Shiro takes a look around. The sea floor is littered with the decaying carcasses of ships brutally murdered. Shiro can make out the splintered boards of once-airtight hulls, towering masts bent to bow to the forces of the ocean. He imagines picking through them for treasures, exploring their holds and the depths of their quarters. He turns to take it all in, the swaying seaweed, the faraway shadows of creatures slipping through the currents, and his eyes set on Allura, floating a short ways away and watching them with a smile.
Shiro doesn’t know what she did, or how she had the ability for it, but he does know that he’ll never be able to even begin expressing the depths of his gratitude.
“Thank you,” he tells her, emotion flooding his voice as he floats closer. It’s incredibly easy to swim, to float in the currents, and he loves the feeling of it. It’s like flying. “Thank you so much, I—”
Allura shakes her head. “Don’t thank me. Keith was the one determined to grant this to you.”
Filled anew with emotion, Shiro’s throat closes. He thinks if he wasn’t underwater, he’d probably be crying. Keith’s hand in his gives a squeeze, reassuring. Shiro begins mentally making plans on how he’s going to spend the rest of his life, suddenly elongated, making this up to Keith. But for now, he dips his head in Allura’s direction.
“But still, we owe you,” he says. “I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
“Don’t concern yourself over that,” she says kindly. “I must go now, but Keith will take good care of you, I’m sure. You know where to find me if you need me.”
She’s there one moment and then gone the next, darting away with a speed surprising for her size. Keith and Shiro watch as her powerful movements carry her away from them, and then out of sight around the outcropping of rocks.
“She’s amazing,” Shiro comments, and then turns back to Keith. “But she’s right. Thank you, Keith.”
Keith draws in close again. The natural motion of the water causes their tentacles to mingle, and Shiro reaches out and tangles them together even more, keeping Keith braided to him. Keith seems happy to stay that way, floating even closer, close enough so that their faces are only an inch away and his arms are suddenly around Shiro again.
“I’m just glad you’re here,” he says, and leans in for a kiss.
Shiro meets him hungrily, devouring his mouth with every ounce of the fear, desperation, and love that he’s kept inside of him for the past several months. But he has something important to say. Something that he doesn’t want to leave for any longer, as much as he enjoys this.
“Hey,” Shiro says as he pulls off, using his hand to tilt Keith’s chin up to meet his gaze. He finds only the most tender affection swimming there, and he can’t wait to spend the rest of his long life drowning in it. “I love you.”
Keith’s expression clears into the most spectacular, beautiful smile that Shiro has ever seen in his life. “I love you too.”
Shiro can’t help but return his smile with a ferocity that startles himself.
“Now what?” Shiro asks. He remembers laying in the cove with Keith and thinking he would never feel so happy as he did then, but this feeling is easily tenfold the beautiful intensity of that.
Keith presses their smiling mouths together again, and then backs away just far enough to look into his eyes.
“How would you feel about coming with me to see my mom?” he asks. “We can explore the ocean on the way.”
Shiro, with his hand in Keith’s, doesn’t think he has ever heard a better plan.