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Sweet, Salty, Sour

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In the middle of the storm, the ships are tossed around like the toys of a god. Waves break against the hulls, storm breaks above the sails, and the ships creak with the pressure, promising that they'll soon be the ones to break. They're holding out for now.

Above you, the battle is already raging.

Lightning streaks the night sky, deafening a moment the thunder of cannons firing. Flames rise on both ships, turning the masts into a giant's torch. Flickering specks of cinders fall in ashen snow around you, fragments of wood or sail, screams and discarded weapons. Waters are turning dark with the heavy spice of powder, prickling your gills and making your mouth water with anticipation.

Deftly, you avoid the body plummeting nearby. The water you're splashing around in is warmer already than when you emerged from the deep, stirred by the starting battle. Soon it'll be warmed further with the blood of humans and the wrecks of their ships. You ignore the sinking corpse; it's missing almost half, torn away by a cannonball.

Eridan hisses a disapproving curse. The fires reflect in the surface of his glasses, the golden buttons of his waistcoat glittering under the surface. He looks like the ghost of some drowned admiral.

“C'mon, get to it.” He's losing patience. “It’s not that complicated to burn down one goddamn ship. Humans. They act like they’re so bloodthirsty, but when it’s down to causin real damage, suddenly no-one’s willin to get their hands dirty!”

As in answer, the highest mast of the frigate creaks. Sails tear in a ripping sound, ropes snap, as the mast crashes, majestic and brutal, into the waters. A wave cuts Eridan off mid-rant, and you grab his arm, smiling excitedly.

“It won’t be long now!”

Around you a world is falling to pieces, muffled with screams and a glittering rain of fiery particles.

*

From the looks of clothes you encounter as you scavenge, it's military against pirates today. Eridan would be able to state the country, speed, and maybe how old the captains are, but you're not as knowledgeable about humans. It doesn't make much difference to you, pirate and honest sailor flesh tastes the same.

You're looking around for your next prey, ignoring the pulp of limbs that were crushed in the explosions, when you see Eridan fussing about a pirate.

The human is unconscious, lolling on a wooden debris, and Eridan is clumsily shoving her further on her makeshift raft, preventing her fall. He keeps glancing around, head hunched between his shoulders, obviously trying to be secretive.

Since when does Eridan care about humans?

Human: singular.

Silent and shadowed, you slink to the raft when he moves away, satisfied he's saved the girl.

You've seen plenty of humans drowned. Once deep enough, they stop fighting and screaming and you tie them to algae, with their arms or their unwieldy legs, to keep for later. After a few days they start floating, as if even dead their body craved for the surface. All around your reef it's a rippling school of bodies, their hair and clothes and limbs bustling softly like the tentacles of an anemone.

She's short even for a human, with a pirate's eyepatch and a pirate's metal hook in the place of her hand. Her bony chest heaves at irregular intervals, and the water streaming down her face and her ink-black hair is mixing with fresh blood from her cuts. The scent is powerful enough that it fills your gills, even in the air.

All humans are weak, and this one is pathetically, pitifully so. If you dunked her head under the water now, the way your hands are itching to, she might not even thrash around, she's so deeply unconscious.

It's a whim if you decide you want her, but is it curiosity for Eridan's surprising tenderness, or is it for your own sake?

Eridan's not looking. You snatch your newfound treasure and take her, swift and discreet and keeping to the surface as much as you can afford, to a secret cave you and Eridan explored a while ago.

The tunnel's entrance is half-hidden behind colorful droves of algae, and on the other side, leads into a wide creek. The only way out is the one you took; only birds may leave otherwise, through the opening high above, higher than the tunnel's entrance is deep.

The cave doesn't have animals, but otherwise seems complete with all the comforts you've learned to expect from the small desert islands in the open seas where mutineers are sometimes abandoned. This one is turned inside-out, sandy beach locked inside the enormous crater of a dead volcano, but you can pick the smell of fresh water in the air.

Humans need it to survive, you've learned. It's only the castaways on those islands without fresh water that come to agree to you eating them.

You push her on the sand, as Eridan was doing earlier, so that she won't slip back down.

And you wait for her to wake up.

*

Her name is Vriska Serket, she’s a pirate, and she’s Eridan’s kismesis somehow. She’s a patched-up slip of a girl, and the biggest thing about her is how she talks.

She doesn’t tell you how they met. She doesn’t tell you how she lost her eye. She doesn’t tell you that she’ll make you pay when you say you don’t want to let her go right now, and she shrugs off your saving her life like it’s a consideration she’s entitled to.

She reminds you of a spider crab, spiny and skinny-limbed. She doesn't have its hard shell, though, and her arrogant smile tells you she's unaware how vulnerable she is. Her flesh gleams appetizingly above the water; with one bite you could rend into her.

*

“Eurgh, I can't believe he needed to save me.”

“You're his kismesis. He didn't want to lose you,” you say, tracing the edge of her eyepatch with your webbed thumb.

“It's so humili8ing,” she insists, but she doesn't swat you away. Her breathing brushes your damp skin, dry and warm. You swim in the same water, her legs kicking rhythmical currents against your tail and your tail trailing around her legs, and it's somehow more thrilling than if she still needed to clutch to you.

“Would it be humiliating too if I saved you?” you inquire. “Because I would! I don't want to ever lose you, either.”

Under the water, you grasp her fingers and squeeze. She grins quickly, then shakes her head, fierce.

“I'm the pirate here, I don't need to be saved!” She pries her fingers from your cold hand, and pushes back, until she's swimming on her own, keeping her head and her shoulders stubbornly raised. “That's why I'm learning to swim!”

She's trying too hard. She couldn't keep this up forever, and she'd get cold. The cold always gets to humans, clawing into their bones and pulling them under as surely as you would. If you listen to her bragging she's as fearsome a warrior as the pirates from the tales you've cajoled from Eridan, but she's a foreign body in the water.

You sidle up to her, and you wrap your clammy arms around her as if you were going to drag her under, so close. Under her skin, thin as the sheen of foam, you feel the blood pulsing, warm and vibrant and just a scratch away. Humans have no scales or rolls of fat to protect them, breaking just from hauling them deep in the water and their eardrums and their eyes burst into anemones of blood, and Vriska's an assemblage of wiry muscles and flimsy bones, and one dulled hook that she pretends is deadly.

You could put your hand through her ribcage and rip her apart.

You kiss her, nibbling her lips, and the tender flesh prickles as she moans, kisses you back.

*

That was some s)(ipwreck!
meh
it wwas nothing special

But it’s been so long since we )(unted on a battle scene! I wis)( we’d been t)(ere since the beginning!
i thought that wwas kind of boring
Reelly? You love it when we just need to wait for sailors to fall over and pirates do t)(e work for us!
come on only little guppies like that
But t)(ere were so many corpses. T)(ere were all of t)(e corpses!
i dunno fef
i didnt think it was anything special

You try to get him to share. You fish for a reaction, but he never says anything.

W)(ew, t)(ese )(uman pirates certainly are SOM-EFIN.
somethin useless is wwhat they are
thinkin theyre the masters of the sea
ha
theyre not evven wworth the spit to mention them

W)(ale they fight w)(ale! For )(umans. And t)(ey only krill ot)(er )(umans. Since w)(en don't you appreciate t)(at?
um fef youre the one wwho wwants to savve the cuttlefish
i honestly cant give a fuck wwhat theyre killin when theyre doin it on our sea
fuckin impudent
landlubbers

How is it, between him and Vriska? He calls you Fef; maybe he calls her Vris. You can hear Eridan's accent distorted with anger, echoing in your inner ear. Vvris.

How does it feel, to hate Vriska? She's so frail and reckless, and she's already missing several pieces. She brags of exploits that have left her half-dead – you should see the other guys! - of legendary thieveries and assaults to dye the sea red, gesturing with clawless hands, tossing back hair that hangs limply, the blackened corpse of a jellyfish you drag out of the water. If you dunk her head under the water she's wracked with a cough that leaves her unable to fight back as you twine yourself around her.

They deserve each other, proud Eridan with his allergy to blue algae and the spectacles he took as a trophy from a landdweller, and jagged-edged breakable Vriska. It fills you with soft, warm relief that they've found each other. You protect him and you protect her as the small fry they really are, because the sea – the wild ocean that is your mother – would swallow them whole if you didn't.

You want to talk about her with him. You want to learn how he hates her and swap how you see her. You want to gush about her fishbone wrist, about how her widest grins make you ache, savage glint in her eye ruined by her dull landdweller teeth, about the scars she's so proud off, and hear him back, raging at her impudence, verbally ripping into her.

You want him to tell you where his weapons caught her, and confide in you when she's driving him crazy, and cling to your shoulder when she makes him suffer.

You want that when he's back from visiting her, smug and his gills bruised, he'll tell you where he's touched her, and when you're with her again you'd put your hands where the diamond half of you put his.

You want to share her like you share everything.

*

You bring her a set of flippers and a breathing apparatus that you drowned a brilliant engineer for.

Sweet,” she says. “Aren't you scared I'm gonna swim the hell away?” To demonstrate, she flaps the flipper in the air.

You give her as sweet a smile as a matesprit can wish. “Oh, Vriska, you could never outswim me!”

“Haha. You think you're so funny, don't you?” She wrangles herself flat on her belly, so that she can kiss you.

You put your arms around her neck and her shoulders, wetting her skin – she only wears shirts to sleep, all her clothes get drenched otherwise – and pull her in the water.

She lands with a splash and a shriek.

You laugh uncontrollably as she splutters, hair dragged in front of her eyes like the anchors over the prow of a ship. “You are such a bitch.” When she looks at you there's admiration and helplessness in her eyes, like she's drowning already.

“Is it going to wreck our relationship?” you want to know.

She snorts.

“Such a bitch,” she repeats, affectionate as the knives clumsy sailors try to spike you with.

*

When you and Eridan were just guppies, back when the scales hadn't fallen off from your hair yet, and you hadn't even learned how to lure sailors from their vessel, screaming as though you were drowning or singing strange lullabies, once the body of a dead mermaid floated by your reef.

It sloshed along the currents, slow and irregular, and when it drifted closer you saw part of its belly was gone, as the flesh on its arm, bare bones showing.

The edges of the wounds were uneven, as though rows of teeth had gnawed and torn at the flesh. Scratches ran down the stump of its arms, like claws had held it, and your own tail curled in sympathy when you noticed its scales were rubbed raw.

Hunger had wafted over your region, ships few and far between, and there hadn't been a shipwreck for months. People were hungry.

You didn't like the texture much – it was stringy and gristly – but Eridan could barely eat, too tough for his duller teeth to chew.

*

You're not scared she's going to swim off. You've taken care of things before Vriska, and your cuttlefish are always happy to return to the safety of your bubbles and the certainty of set meals.

She wouldn't go far, anyway. The tunnel is underwater and you're the sea's favorite daughter.

The world is your oyster and Vriska is the pearl.

*

You smell the blood in the water before you enter the grotto, invisible nets by the entrance. It's not the first time you return to find Vriska banged a knee against the rock, or misjudged the distance to a wandering fish and ended up hurting herself. She's taken to enthusiastically try and catch her own fish, but she's not that good at it.

I'm a pir8, not a fisherman,” she complains loudly when you make fun of her. “And I'm getting so fucking bored of fish!”

So you've taken to varying her meals. It didn't occur to you before she said something that she might be tired of eating the same thing; all your meals have always been comprised of human meat, more or less ripened in salt water. You like the way the meat goes mushy after a whole, sea-savored, and the tastiness of fresh blood and crunchy bones when the meat is new.

Vriska eats plants from the land, fruits and vegetables that she devours with relish, and she gripes about the lack of meat and something that she calls dessert.

“It's strong, and it always feels like you've got your mouth full with it even when you take just a small bite. It's—it's intoxic8ing,” she tried to explain.

You listened carefully, but when she was done it didn't sound any clearer to you. “It sounds like fresh meat,” you told her earnestly.

She grimaced. “That's so not what I meant.”

“Do you want me to bring you back dessert?”

She shook her head. “That's so sweet, but it'd crumble in two minutes tops. Salt water would take it to pieces.”

The coppery taste is light at first, only titillating your gills as you swim through the tunnel. When you arrive in the lagoon, your gills flare. The stink of blood drenches through everything, long streams in the quiet waters, so much, too much.

The creek is muddled with it, swirls of Vriska's smell filling and filtering through your gills.

You shatter the surface to find Eridan sitting on the rock where Vriska used to sit, glaring down at you. His tail is dipping in the blood-stained water, his arms crossed stiffly, and the jabot of that stupid shirt hangs half-torn over his waistcoat.

Out of the corner of your eye, you can see a shape rolling, a mess of hair and ragged fabric pinned together. A floating corpse that used to be Vriska.

You can't look at it; can't catalog which limbs are torn, which organs were bitten off.

“Eridan,” you say. His name echoes in the cave, jarring and out of place. You sound calm, to a human ear, but Eridan's earfins flare up all the same. “What did you do?”

His tail twitches, annoyed. The scales are glistening a redder shade than they should, painted over with human blood. You want to rip them off him.

“Wwhat does it look like I fuckin did. Fuckin fixed it is what I fuckin did.”

You look at him through a distance. You wonder, if you shattered his glasses, would you find his eyes bleary like he’s just cried?

“You ruined us,” you say.

He laughs, bitter and disbelieving.

“Us? She stole you, Fef, she told me she stole your heart, she was gloatin—she got you hooked, you don’t know her like I do!”

In his words Vriska is a fisherman and you're the fish caught in her net.

You never told me anyfin! You were keeping her to yourself and you never said anyfin about her!”

“You’re never with me anymore, you’re so selfish—”

I’m shellfish?! You killed my matesprit!

Your voice reverberates against the rocky shores, and before the echoes have died away Eridan’s eyes widen – narrow. Slowly, he retrieves the bloodied harpoon resting by his side – the favored weapon he stole from a dead sailor a long time ago. Now he intends to turn it against you.

Moiraillegiance is diamond because it’s never meant to break, but hearts do, and Eridan broke yours. Diamond charred, heart sunk and filled with pitch-black ink, all you see when you look at him goes dark.

You grip your trident as he slides back into the water.

The abyss whispers in your hair, promises of dangers he's never faced.